Tag Archives: heavy metal

Iced Earth – Incorruptible – Album Review

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Artist: Iced Earth

Album Title: Incorruptible

Label: Century Media Records

Date Of Release: 16 June 2017

The phrase ‘only time will tell’ features a lot in music reviews, certainly in mine. Over the years, I’ve had to listen to hundreds of albums and put pen to paper in double-quick time to submit my thoughts in time for the deadline. All too frequently, I have to make a snap decision about whether I like something and sometimes I’ll add in the caveat ‘only time will tell’ to buy myself a little breathing space regarding a record’s long term status and whether it’s a classic or the band’s best. Sometimes, I get my reviews right and sometimes I get them wrong.

When it comes to Iced Earth, I have to hold my hands up and admit to getting it very wrong. I’m a long term fan of the Indiana metal band, discovering them in the late 90s via ‘Something Wicked This Way Comes’. This is the album lauded by many as the band’s best and I certainly hold it in high regard. However, with interest piqued, I delved into the back catalogue and I also enjoy the vast majority of their earlier material, favouring ‘Night of the Stormrider’ if my life depended on it. In terms of the post- ‘Something…’ era, I lapped up ‘Horror Show’ and ‘The Glorious Burden’, both of which are fabulous records. Their unique blend of classic metal, power metal and thrash has proved to be a potent formula amongst their ever-growing army of fans, myself included.

More recent output, beginning with 2007’s ‘Framing Armageddon: Something Wicked Part 1’ and ending in 2014 with ‘Plagues of Babylon’ garnered very positive reviews from me in the pages of Powerplay Magazine. However, as time has told, I don’t return to them as frequently as I thought that I would. If I want a fix of Iced Earth, I’ll tend to go for something older. In fact, as I type, I’m hard-pressed to remember very much from any of these more recent albums.

Many will point to the instability of the line-up and, in particular, the frequent changes of the vocalist. However, I think that’s unfair. Matt Barlow will remain a fan favourite since he stood front and centre over some of the best material of the band’s career. That’s unavoidable. However, Tim ‘Ripper’ Owens did an excellent job on a couple of records including the aforementioned ‘The Glorious Burden’ and then, after a brief return for Barlow with ‘The Crucible of Man: Something Wicked Part 2’, Iced Earth have since 2011, turned to ex-Into Eternity vocalist Stu Block to deliver their diatribes. And make no mistake; he does a very good job, sounding very similar to both Barlow and Owens when delivering in the lower and higher registers respectively.

The revolving door syndrome that has affected almost every other position within the band is not entirely to blame either, although it can’t have been the most conducive atmosphere in which to create high quality music. Neither can Schaffer’s ongoing medical problems which fortunately have never drastically curtailed his endeavours. At the end of the day, this is Jon Schafer’s band; he founded Iced Earth and he remains the central creative force, creating most the material and having a say in just about everything else.

With that said, all of the albums between 2007 and 2014 have some very good material on them and I’m in no way saying that they are bad. It is just that they haven’t stood the test of time with me.

This time around however, with no deadlines or time constraints, I could listen in more detail and form a much firmer opinion over the material. And the material in question is the ten songs that feature on ‘Incorruptible’, the twelfth album in the Iced Earth discography.

The accompanying press release sees the ever-confident and bullish Shafer referring to this album as one of their strongest and whilst I approached this hyperbole with caution, I now must agree with him. Having allowed this album to burrow deeper into my brain than many others, I feel much more confident in delivering a very positive review of ‘Incorruptible’. I shall go so far as to stick my neck out and venture that this record is the best material to emanate from the Iced Earth camp since ‘The Glorious Burden’, possibly even longer. Indeed, alongside vocalist Stu Block, in-out drummer Brent Smedley, bassist Luke Appleton and new lead guitarist Jake Dreyer, Schaffer has clearly hit a rich vein of form with ‘Incorruptible’.

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What I like about this album so much is that it manages to blend powerful riffs and heavy music with plenty of melody and strong choruses to make the music truly memorable and rather addictive. Add in to the mix a sense of theatrics, drama and storytelling for which Iced Earth have become known and synonymous and suddenly things start to stack up in the right way.

Given the dark album cover complete with the ubiquitous Set Abominae character, I was expecting something more along the lines of ‘The Dark Saga’ with this record. But what I actually get is more of a ‘Something Wicked…’ vibe, where just about every track delivers something that makes me bang my head, smile or reach for the repeat button. There will no doubt be some who suggest that Iced Earth are cynically trying to recapture the magic of ‘Something Wicked…’ but I humbly disagree. Of course there are some similarities but on ‘Incorruptible’, I hear some of that magic that has imbued all classic Iced Earth material, whatever the era, whoever the clientele.

Kicking off with a dark and theatrical, almost cinematic intro, ‘Great Heathen Army’ offers fans of this band a thoroughly rousing and raucous opening salvo. Block screams and croons with gusto, the rhythm section pounds away and those trademark fast-picked rhythm guitars of Schafer create some tasty riffs. The chorus is a bit of a grower too, blossoming into a full-blown anthem after a few spins.

One of the most ear-catching aspects of Iced Earth on this record though, is the lead guitar work of newbie Jake Dreyer. His lead breaks litter the opener but they have a genuinely melodic edge to them, transforming the solos into something more nuanced than just a gratuitous shred-fest. To further illustrate this point, just check out the fabulous ballad-esque ‘Raven Wing’, complete with lush acoustic guitars. It is here that Dreyer indulges in some lead work that is full of depth, subtlety and bluesy soul, as well as the necessary all-out shred. It doesn’t do any harm that the entire song itself is a well-crafted monster, but it is the lead work alongside the changes in pace and heaviness that leaves the greatest impression.

The variety of the music is also a definite strength of ‘Incorruptible’ too. This is not a one-dimensional album and it benefits greatly as a direct result. You get the mid-tempo stompers like ‘Black Flag’ which in itself is a muscular metal track laced with plenty of melody. And there are the more sombre and brooding compositions like ‘The Veil’ which arguably features my favourite chorus on the record, one that I find myself humming at the most unexpected of times, unable to dislodge it from my head.

Then there’s the short, sharp and intense thrash blitzkrieg of ‘Seven Headed Whore’ with its intro riff that’s instantly reminiscent of Slayer in their prime followed by the potent combination of machine-gun drumming and matching riffs. In contrast, ‘Brothers’ is imbued with a satisfying groove that’s infectious as hell.

‘Ghost Dance (Awaken The Ancestors)’ is an instrumental but far from being a snooze-fest, it is actually one of the most intriguing tracks on the record. I find the tribal vocals fascinating and a really nice touch whilst I’m genuinely taken by the pronounced, powerhouse drumming that is a firm feature of the track.

And ‘Incorruptible’ ends in fitting Iced Earth style with a slightly longer track, ‘Clear The Way (December 13th, 1862)’. At just shy of ten minutes, it isn’t the longest epic that Schaffer has ever penned but it does still pack a punch. Complete with occasional Celtic overtones, a certain amount of quiet homage to Iron Maiden and the sounds of war, it tells a story within the Battle of Fredericksburg to great effect. It’s a glorious romp and the perfect way to end such a glorious album.

Mind you, I’m struggling to pick out any of the songs on ‘Incorruptible’ that demonstrate a lessening of the quality as I genuinely like them all. In that respect, this has to be the most consistent record from Iced Earth for a significant number of years. In fact, as I alluded to earlier, this is without doubt their best release since ‘The Glorious Burden’ and it pushes the likes of ‘Horror Show’ and ‘Something Wicked This Way Comes’ as one of their best ever releases. In short, ‘Incorruptible’ is unmistakeably the sound of Iced Earth firing on all cylinders and I love it.

The Score Of Much Metal: 9.25

If you’ve enjoyed this review, you can check out my others from previous years and for 2017 right here:

2015 reviews
2016 reviews

Anathema – The Optimist
Solstafir – Berdreyminn
Dream Evil – Six
Avatarium – Hurricanes And Halos
Ayreon – The Source
Until Rain – Inure
MindMaze – Resolve
God Dethroned – The World Ablaze
Bjorn Riis – Forever Comes To An End
Voyager – Ghost Mile
Big Big Train – Grimspound
Lonely Robot – The Big Dream
Firespawn – The Reprobate
Ancient Ascendant
Pyramaze – Contingent
Shores Of Null – Black Drapes For Tomorrow
Asira – Efference
Hologram Earth – Black Cell Program
Damnations Day – A World Awakens
Memoriam – For The Fallen
Pallbearer – Heartless
Sleepmakeswaves – Made of Breath Only
Ghost Ship Octavius – Ghost Ship Octavius
Vangough – Warpaint
Telepathy – Tempest
Obituary – Obituary
Fen – Winter
Havok – Conformicide
Wolfheart – Tyhjyys
Svart Crown – Abreaction
Nova Collective – The Further Side
Immolation – Atonement
The Mute Gods – Tardigrades Will Inherit The Earth
Ex Deo – The Immortal Wars
Pyogenesis – A Kingdom To Disappear
My Soliloquy – Engines of Gravity
Nailed To Obscurity – King Delusion
Helion Prime – Helion Prime
Battle Beast – Bringer Of Pain
Persefone – Aathma
Soen – Lykaia
Exquirla – Para Quienes Aun Viven
Odd Logic – Effigy
Mors Principium Est – Embers Of A Dying World
Firewind – Immortals
Slyde – Back Again EP
Sepultura – Machine Messiah
Deserted Fear – Dead Shores Rising
Kreator – Gods Of Violence
Borealis – World of Silence MMXVII
Pain of Salvation – In The Passing Light of Day

Dream Evil – Six – Album Review

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Artist: Dream Evil

Album Title: Six

Label: Century Media

Date Of Release: 26 May 2017

Dream Evil have been knocking around the metal scene for many years, having been created before the millennium by the renowned Studio Fredman producer Fredrik Nordström. It was his burning desire to create his own power metal band and Dream Evil was the result. In the early days, the band featured the notable names of guitarist Gus G (Firewind, Ozzy Osborne) and drummer Snowy Shaw.

These guys have moved on, with Dream Evil now comprised of Nordstrom alongside lead vocalist Niklas Isfeldt, lead guitarist Mark U Black, bassist Peter Stålfors and drummer Patrik Jerksten. Nevertheless Dream Evil have remained steadfast throughout and ‘Six’ being, you guessed it, their sixth studio album to date, albeit following a hefty seven-year hiatus since ‘In The Night’ was released in 2010. However, on the basis of the music on ‘Six’, it might have been kinder for all concerned if Nordström and his merry men had moved on to pastures new as well.

Long term readers of the Blog of Much Metal will know that I am not the kind of person who takes any satisfaction from writing more negative reviews. So when I can only conclude that ‘Six’ is a distinctly average album with more filler than stand-out material, you know that I am not saying this lightly or for effect.

So why have I reviewed this then? I was actually interested in hearing the new album because I have a couple of early Dream Evil albums nestled in my collection and there is some decent material to be heard on them. And additionally, I have invested too much time trying to like this album to abandon it without committing my thoughts to paper. However, from the first spin, with no agenda or axe to grind, I simply found myself feeling thoroughly disappointed and entirely underwhelmed for the most part.

But let me begin with the positives, as no album is completely devoid of such things. For a start, I do enjoy the hefty guitar tones that deliver some decent riffs. They pack a fair punch, offer plenty of grunt and help to dispel the thoughts that power metal is a softer form of metal. The rhythm section is equally commanding and muscular, as demonstrated on the self-monikered opening track, ‘Dream Evil’. It is one of the few tracks on this record that’s a genuine grower, becoming a bit of a pulsating, headbanging anthem that I am sure will come alive on stage during the upcoming festival season.

The production must be mentioned as it is this that helps to lend the guitars, bass and drums such a rich sound. Naturally, this comes as no surprise given the clientele and it is where Nordstrom comes into his own, being the quality knob-fiddler that he is.

In terms of other songs on the album that are worth mentioning, there’s the brooding, slower-paced ‘Creature of the Night’ which features some of the strongest melodies on the album. ‘The Murdered Mind’ is a fun, breezier number with a pleasant chorus whilst ‘Six Hundred And 66’ offers some great grooves and arguably the catchiest chorus on the record.

Sandwiched in between though, are too many compositions that do very little for me. The musicianship is perfectly acceptable, very good in places. And that makes things even more frustrating because they clearly have the talent to produce a higher-quality or at least a more consistent product.

Then there are the lyrics. Now I’m far from a lyric snob and very often I couldn’t care less what’s being sung about if the music is of a high quality. But even I struggle to ignore the words that accompany some of the songs on this album. Take ‘Sin City’ as the perfect example. ‘…they met my older brother, who was rich, he was poor.’ C’mon, seriously? Then there’s the line in the same song: ‘the devil proved to be a really nice guy and they partied all night long. And those who always believed in God, admitted they were wrong.’ How are your toes? Have they uncurled yet?

I also have to be honest and venture the opinion that I’m not the greatest fan of Niklas Isfeldt’s vocal delivery. He has a powerful set of lungs with a decent range but I quickly tire of his higher-pitched tones which veer perilously close to annoying territory for my tastes.

And that’s about it. I could go on, but I’ll leave it there. Dream Evil have a lot going for them and when they get it right, they get it very right. Regrettably, their conversion rate isn’t that high on ‘Six’ and so for every decent track, there are two or three that fall flat. It’s a shame and I genuinely hate being negative, but I have to be honest. Sorry guys, I won’t be returning to this record any time soon.

The Score Of Much Metal: 6

If you’ve enjoyed this review, you can check out my others from previous years and for 2017 right here:

2015 reviews
2016 reviews

Avatarium – Hurricanes And Halos
Ayreon – The Source
Until Rain – Inure
MindMaze – Resolve
God Dethroned – The World Ablaze
Bjorn Riis – Forever Comes To An End
Voyager – Ghost Mile
Big Big Train – Grimspound
Lonely Robot – The Big Dream
Firespawn – The Reprobate
Ancient Ascendant
Pyramaze – Contingent
Shores Of Null – Black Drapes For Tomorrow
Asira – Efference
Hologram Earth – Black Cell Program
Damnations Day – A World Awakens
Memoriam – For The Fallen
Pallbearer – Heartless
Sleepmakeswaves – Made of Breath Only
Ghost Ship Octavius – Ghost Ship Octavius
Vangough – Warpaint
Telepathy – Tempest
Obituary – Obituary
Fen – Winter
Havok – Conformicide
Wolfheart – Tyhjyys
Svart Crown – Abreaction
Nova Collective – The Further Side
Immolation – Atonement
The Mute Gods – Tardigrades Will Inherit The Earth
Ex Deo – The Immortal Wars
Pyogenesis – A Kingdom To Disappear
My Soliloquy – Engines of Gravity
Nailed To Obscurity – King Delusion
Helion Prime – Helion Prime
Battle Beast – Bringer Of Pain
Persefone – Aathma
Soen – Lykaia
Exquirla – Para Quienes Aun Viven
Odd Logic – Effigy
Mors Principium Est – Embers Of A Dying World
Firewind – Immortals
Slyde – Back Again EP
Sepultura – Machine Messiah
Deserted Fear – Dead Shores Rising
Kreator – Gods Of Violence
Borealis – World of Silence MMXVII
Pain of Salvation – In The Passing Light of Day

Ancient Ascendant – Raise The Torch – Album Review

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Artist: Ancient Ascendant

Album Title: Raise The Torch

Label: Spinefarm Records / Candlelight Records

Date Of Release: 21 April 2017

When the legendary Dan Swanö is quoted as saying that Ancient Ascendant are ‘one of the best brutal bands to come out of Britain, well, ever’, I don’t really have any choice but to investigate further. Who am I to ignore a ringing endorsement like this from such an important name within extreme metal circles?

To be perfectly honest, I’m not sure that I’ve have given this album a go if it hadn’t been for Swanö’s interjection, so I have yet another reason to be indebted musically to the legendary Swede.

‘Raise The Torch’ is the third album from the UK extreme metallers and the first to cross my path. And the first thing that strikes me is just how different this sounds. It is no exaggeration to describe the output of Ancient Ascendant as a blend of death metal, black metal, classic metal, hard rock, thrash metal and prog. There’s even a faint echo of a few other things in the melting pot too. The way I’m describing this, you must be thinking ‘oh, that sounds like it could be messy’.

And you’re right, the result could sound messy, disjointed and lacking cohesion. And yet it doesn’t. This is a rip-roaring album that works pretty much from start to finish, where the enjoyment levels are cranked up to the max, accentuated by a strong production courtesy of Ritual Sound and Swanö himself (Unisound).  I’ve become pretty hooked on this record if I’m honest.

The black and death metal genres, by their very nature are usually associated with the darker side of life but whilst these elements play a big part in the Ancient Ascendant sound, the music here frequently comes across as being quite upbeat and infectious. Yes, there are sections that are extreme and intense and in no way can ‘Raise The Torch’ be considered ‘happy’. However, the venom is tempered all the while by huge grooves, large slabs of melody, interesting song structures or simply an almost intangible vibrancy that permeates the album.

The juxtaposition of various, competing ideas in turn then creates something of a progressive vibe. Whether this was by accident or design, it matters not because to my mind, the end result is all that matters. Each of the nine compositions has a strong identity at its core but within that, Ancient Ascendant afford themselves the space to experiment. And this experimentation, although not overdone, makes the listening experience exciting and rather exhilarating. I’m struggling to think of another band currently on the scene who has anything significant in common with Ancient Ascendant, something that can only be positive.

Haste Malaise Photography

Credit: Haste Malaise Photography

On to the music itself in more detail and ‘Raising The Torch’ kicks things off with an atmospheric instrumental that is elegant and refined. It has a sinister edge that’s pure black metal intro fodder but it is also quite beautiful and cinematic in scope.

After one minute and 31 seconds, ‘Our Way’ enters the fray to kick things off properly. It starts with a frosty guitar line, very old school black/death in tone before exploding thanks to some frenetic drumming from Dave Moulding and faster-paced riffing from guitarists Alex Butler and Nariman Poushin. At this point, vocalist Alex Butler delivers a deep, guttural death growl which shakes the earth. The pace slackens slightly to be replaced by a groovy and melodic riff that has burrowed right under my skin. The fact that it is overlaid by a much higher-pitched, raspy and thoroughly caustic black metal scream, only enhances its overall impact. There’s a nice moment of respite where the bass of Alan Webb comes through nicely in the mix before the track gallops to a close via some expressive and exuberant lead guitar work. Dare I begin to call this ‘nasty, feel good music’?

‘Scaling The Gods’ comes out of the traps like a scolded rat, full of energy and intent. Again, whilst it has extreme metal tendencies, there’s a playful edge to much of it, particularly when the guitars go all classic hard rock on us in the mid-section, complete with hand-clapping if my ears aren’t deceiving me.

The doom metal references loom large within ‘Unearth’ as the pace is slowed slightly, fed by twisted, vaguely discordant riffs before being replaced by a truckload of groove interspersed with moments of black metal malevolence or extreme death metal brutality.

For me, ‘Foreign Skies’ is the absolute high point within this excellent record. It begins in very chilled fashion, delivering delicate atmospheric melodies with gorgeous clean guitars and some stunning bass work. The heaviness comes in out of nowhere like a slap in the face. The guitars chug with menace one minute and then inject black metal voracity the next whilst the vocals are venomous either in black or death mode. However, the music retains its melodic edge wonderfully, occasionally reverting to the quieter intro melody to create variety and keep the listener fully engaged. The groove-laden chug at the mid-point is marvellous as is the ensuing riff which is equally groovy but more expansive and brimming with cheekiness. This is the kind of music that’ll have you grinning like a loon, trust me.

‘Grasping The Torch’ is thoroughly infectious thanks to yet more solid and commanding riffing. Out of nowhere the heaviness departs to be replaced by an all-too-brief jazz-tinged progressive interlude that calls to mind the likes of Opeth. However, just as quickly, this is eclipsed by one of the most thunderous sections anywhere on the record as the song powers to a conclusion. Naturally, as is the Ancient Ascendant way, the conclusion is reached via a few ubiquitous twists and turns fuelled by a large helping of daring do in the process.

If ‘The Great Curve’ doesn’t get you banging your head from the outset then the conclusion must be that you’re deaf, whilst it is left to ‘To The Cold’ to see ‘Raise The Torch’ to its conclusion, which it does with the kind of panache and uniqueness that is a hallmark of this album. Frequent shifts in tempo and a demonstrable classic heavy metal vibe supplement the more extreme elements. And the outro delivers a wonderfully dramatic and epic-sounding conclusion, just as it should.

To conclude, ‘Raise The Torch’ is a fabulous record. The music is hugely engaging and memorable but what I like most about it is that these guys clearly enjoyed making this music, they are assured and accomplished in what they are doing and it shows. Nothing is off limits for Ancient Ascendant and ‘Raising The Torch’ is all the stronger for it. What a record!

The Score Of Much Metal: 9

In the absence of a new track to bring you, check out ‘Driven By The Dark’, from the EP ‘Into The Dark’:

If you’ve enjoyed this review, check out my others from previous years and for 2017 right here:

2015 reviews
2016 reviews

Pyramaze – Contingent
Shores Of Null – Black Drapes For Tomorrow
Asira – Efference
Hologram Earth – Black Cell Program
Damnations Day – A World Awakens
Memoriam – For The Fallen
Pallbearer – Heartless
Sleepmakeswaves – Made of Breath Only
Ghost Ship Octavius – Ghost Ship Octavius
Vangough – Warpaint
Telepathy – Tempest
Obituary – Obituary
Fen – Winter
Havok – Conformicide
Wolfheart – Tyhjyys
Svart Crown – Abreaction
Nova Collective – The Further Side
Immolation – Atonement
The Mute Gods – Tardigrades Will Inherit The Earth
Ex Deo – The Immortal Wars
Pyogenesis – A Kingdom To Disappear
My Soliloquy – Engines of Gravity
Nailed To Obscurity – King Delusion
Helion Prime – Helion Prime
Battle Beast – Bringer Of Pain
Persefone – Aathma
Soen – Lykaia
Exquirla – Para Quienes Aun Viven
Odd Logic – Effigy
Mors Principium Est – Embers Of A Dying World
Firewind – Immortals
Slyde – Back Again EP
Sepultura – Machine Messiah
Deserted Fear – Dead Shores Rising
Kreator – Gods Of Violence
Borealis – World of Silence MMXVII
Pain of Salvation – In The Passing Light of Day

Pyramaze – Contingent – Album Review

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Artist: Pyramaze

Album Title: Contingent

Label: Inner Wound Recordings

Date Of Release: 28 April 2017

Melodic progressive metallers Pyramaze are one of those entities that prove that the band is bigger than the individuals within it. Since their inception in 2002, the Danes have had no fewer than four lead vocalists and have also lost their founding member, guitarist Michael Kammeyer and bassist Niels Kvist along the way. And yet, despite all this, the name Pyramaze still exists and, if the hype surrounding this latest release is anything to go by, they are gaining in popularity.

‘Contingent’ is the band’s fifth full-length studio release but only the second outing from the current line-up, in existence for only a couple of years. Following in Lance King, Matt Barlow and Urban Breed’s considerable footsteps, Pyramaze is now fronted by vocalist Terje Harøy, ably surrounded by keyboardist Jonah W., lead guitarist Toke Skjønnemand, drummer Morten Gade Sørensen and guitarist/bassist Jacob Hansen. Yes, the producer. And yes, Hansen has produced, mixed and mastered this record as well.

And as you might expect, one of the biggest strengths of ‘Contingent’ is indeed the production. This is a record that sounds as good as you’d hope it would, with a nice mix of clarity and clout.

Now, I’m a bit of a sucker for melodic progressive metal and so when I read that ‘Contingent’ was to be ‘an epic post-apocalyptic conceptual piece’ with ‘cinematic film score elements’ I had very high hopes for this release. Unfortunately, at the beginning, I struggled to get to grips with it and I felt more than a little underwhelmed. The hooks and melodies weren’t as strong as I had hoped and it all felt a little bit overblown to the detriment of the songs themselves. As such, after a handful of spins, I shelved it temporarily.

However, the more I listened to other music in this period, the more I found myself thinking ‘I need to hear the new Pyramaze again’. What witchcraft was this? Whatever the answer, I found myself gravitating back to ‘Contingent’. And finally, it all started to click into place. I now find myself really enjoying this album to the point where I can only wonder incredulously why I didn’t like it from the very beginning.

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The first thing to say is that ‘Contingent’ is indeed a very ambitious record, arguably the boldest of their career to date. It is full of bombast, drama and the symphonic elements are prominent, up front and centre much of the time. The good thing is though, that despite my early misgivings, the songs themselves are strong enough to cope with the additional baggage. The metal quota remains high, with powerful riffs, a muscular rhythm section and a commanding vocal performance from Terje Harøy. The progressive nature of the riffs and the changes in tempo are evident and the choruses, an integral part of any metal with the word ‘melodic’ in the title, take their time but eventually deliver the goods too.

The opening salvo, the impressive ‘Land Of Information’ is the perfect example of everything that Pyramaze have managed to do so well with this release. The first few moments introduce mechanical, almost dystopian sound effects amidst a bold cinematic score which then segues nicely into a powerful, progressively-tinged riff and a bulldozing rhythm section. It doesn’t take long either for Terje Harøy to make his presence felt behind the mic either, coming into the song with authority, confidence and an on-point delivery.

It may not have been the most immediate chorus to my mind but it has worked insidiously to get under my skin without me even realising it. The more I listen, the grander it feels and the more addictive it becomes. Keyboard and guitar solos litter the latter stages but it signs off in suitably bombastic fashion, with everything coming together in a final rousing chorus to leave a lasting impression on the listener.

This sense of grandiosity continues throughout the album but thanks to some strong songwriting and plenty of experience from this group of musicians, it never spirals out of control and crucially, focus isn’t lost.

Even when the metal falls away within ‘Kingdom of Solace’ to be replaced by a filmic passage of respite, everything works. In fact, this is a lovely touch that adds drama and intrigue whilst allowing the track to breathe. And then, in turn, the change of pace allows the wailing and gnashing solos of both keys and guitars to make a bigger impact when they arrive.

‘Star Men’ begins with tinkling ivories and a brilliantly heavy and menacing chugging riff as the frenetic pace of the opening tracks is deliberately slowed. It also features one of my favourite choruses on the album which has a faint ballad feel about it, such is its sprawling grace and beauty. I hear echoes of Evergrey in the ensuing guitar solo from Toke Skjønnemand, but this entire track is an utter delight in its own right.

The introduction to ‘A World Divided’ is a thing of magnificence where an orchestral score is built around a sorrowful-sounding piano melody. In a heartbeat, it is replaced by a barnstorming riff and rhythm combo before settling down into a bold mid-tempo, dominated by yet another deceivingly catchy chorus. Morten Gade Sørensen’s inventive yet thunderous drumming catches the ear on this track, as does the rumbling bass of Jacob Hansen.

Then we come to ‘Nemesis’ and I’m blown away. This has to be my favourite track on ‘Contingent’. It bounds along with at a great pace, exploding into the chorus. And the chorus is one of the best I’ve heard from this kind of music in a while, it’s completely killer, taken to a new level by an inspired performance by Harøy. You can’t help but reach for the volume dial, crank it up and sing along. I also love the way it slows to introduce a hard rock-esque segment before increasing in intensity towards the close, led by Sørensen’s powerhouse double-pedal drumming.

Comprised of thirteen tracks, ‘Contingent’ lasts for a good hour but it never really feels that long. In fact the whole thing zips by in a blaze of barely-contained glory. There are a couple of symphonic, cinematic interludes that help to underline the conceptual nature of the album whilst offering some brief yet sophisticated respite to the listener.

Other highlights within a consistently tremendous album have to be the feel-good anthem that is ’20 Second Century’, the stomping mid-tempo majesty of ‘Heir Apparent’ and the piano and vocal ballad, ‘The Tides That Won’t Change’ which features a guest female vocal performance from Kristen Foss to duet delightfully with Harøy.

2017 is not even four months old and already we have yet another contender for the best melodic progressive metal album of the year. ‘Contingent’ has slowly and cleverly worked its way into my affections and now I can’t sing its praises highly enough. Pyramaze have quite simply delivered a stunning album that’s ambitious and highly impressive.

The Score Of Much Metal: 9.25

If you’ve enjoyed this review, check out my others from previous years and for 2017 right here:

2015 reviews
2016 reviews

Shores Of Null – Black Drapes For Tomorrow
Asira – Efference
Hologram Earth – Black Cell Program
Damnations Day – A World Awakens
Memoriam – For The Fallen
Pallbearer – Heartless
Sleepmakeswaves – Made of Breath Only
Ghost Ship Octavius – Ghost Ship Octavius
Vangough – Warpaint
Telepathy – Tempest
Obituary – Obituary
Fen – Winter
Havok – Conformicide
Wolfheart – Tyhjyys
Svart Crown – Abreaction
Nova Collective – The Further Side
Immolation – Atonement
The Mute Gods – Tardigrades Will Inherit The Earth
Ex Deo – The Immortal Wars
Pyogenesis – A Kingdom To Disappear
My Soliloquy – Engines of Gravity
Nailed To Obscurity – King Delusion
Helion Prime – Helion Prime
Battle Beast – Bringer Of Pain
Persefone – Aathma
Soen – Lykaia
Exquirla – Para Quienes Aun Viven
Odd Logic – Effigy
Mors Principium Est – Embers Of A Dying World
Firewind – Immortals
Slyde – Back Again EP
Sepultura – Machine Messiah
Deserted Fear – Dead Shores Rising
Kreator – Gods Of Violence
Borealis – World of Silence MMXVII
Pain of Salvation – In The Passing Light of Day

Damnations Day – A World Awakens – Album Review

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Artist: Damnations Day

Album Title: A World Awakens

Label: Sensory Records

Release date: 24 March 2017

I have gone on record before about the strength of the heavy music scene in Australia; there is literally no let-up in the number of bands that are coming through. It’s like a torrent. But more than that, these bands almost all display an incredibly high standard, whatever their chosen subgenre. And now you can add the name Damnations Day to the list because, as ‘A World Awakens’ demonstrates, they more than threaten to muscle their way into the competitive antipodean melodic prog metal scene.

In fact, come to think of it, the title of this record is very apt. Prior to the arrival of this sophomore release, I had never even heard of Damnations Day. I suspect I am not alone. But now, the world must surely awaken to the merits of this talented band from Geelong, Victoria.

Damnations Day, who released their debut ‘Invisible, The Dead’ back in 2013, is comprised of vocalist and guitarist Mark Kennedy, his brother Dean Kennedy on drums and Jon King on guitar. Those already familiar with this kind of music will almost certainly recognise the name Teramaze and it might therefore be of interest to know that Dean Kennedy is also their tub-thumper. The Teramaze links don’t stop there either, as Dean Wells was drafted in as session bassist and knob-twiddler extraordinaire.

On that note, it has to be said that ‘A World Awakens’ sounds very good indeed. The production affords the music the power required for a metal band, providing plenty of grunt and muscularity. However, there is clarity too and so the melodic sensibilities, the technicality and the vocals are given the best opportunity to shine.

Speaking of vocals, there’s really no other place to start because boy, this guy can sing. Low range, upper range, soft, powerful, emotive; there’s no place he can’t seemingly go and nothing is off limits. And you can hear that he is giving it everything. There’s an enthusiasm and a vibrancy that comes through, even when Kennedy is leading the music down a darker or more aggressive path. What this means is that Damnations Day are able to compete in a genre that already boasts some amazing singers, when they might have otherwise struggled.

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It’s just as well because the music that sits alongside the vocals is genuinely out of the top drawer. When Damnations Day hit full pelt, the riffs are big and bold, the drumming is aggressive and the tone is brooding and intense. Opener ‘The Witness’ is the perfect example, coming out of the blocks with fists flying. The guitar tone that delivers the bruising riffs catches my ear immediately, as does the surprisingly sophisticated rhythm section. The bass rumbles but with understated finesse and the drums deliver both intricacy and an all-out double-pedal assault.

But within the same song, there are some great melodies to be heard, a catchy chorus and brief moments when the foot is taken off the pedal to allow something more subtle and nuanced to come through.

‘Dissecting The Soul’ reminds me of a cross between Circus Maximus and Tomorrow’s Eve. It is a moody composition that has a slightly greater progressive edge whilst the sophisticated chorus is sprawling, dreamy and utterly irresistible, topped off by some dextrous lead guitar work. And I love the dramatic and dark outro too.

The high quality continues as the album develops. For example, ‘Colours of Darkness’ plays around with light and shade to great effect, underlining the bands’ progressive leanings in the process. And then there’s ‘I Pray’ which is an ambitious composition that pulls together a number of different elements into a cohesive and compelling listening experience.

Then there’s my favourite track of them all, ‘A World Awakens’. It was the track that I heard first and immediately pulled me under its spell. It begins with a slow, atmospheric intro before opening up into a galloping verse aided by a commanding vocal performance. It takes a while to materialise but after a suspense-filled build-up, the chorus is absolutely enormous, begging to be sung along to with gusto. Everything about it is just about perfect, culminating in a hair-raising scream from Kennedy that segues into a quieter, more introspective passage before skipping towards its conclusion.

Like most good melodic-leaning metal bands, Damnations Day are not averse to a ballad either, giving us two on ‘A World Awakens’. The first, ‘Into Black’, is dominated by an acoustic guitar and sumptuous vocals initially but introduces well-placed orchestration to provide an elegant and grandiose conclusion. The second, ‘Diagnose’ is also the closing track, bringing the album to an end in style. Again, acoustic guitars figure in the opening stages alongside some deeper and more sombre vocals but are eventually placed by a wonderfully strong and emotive guitar riff that compliments and indeed enhances the melodic intent of the composition. However, the real strength of this last song is its relative simplicity, which allows the atmosphere and the tangible emotions to take centre stage.

To be honest, I can find very little to criticise about Damnations Day and their sophomore album ‘A World Awakens’. It has certainly caught my attention for all the right reasons and deserves to be heard by anyone who enjoys properly powerful melodic metal with a progressive edge.

Powerpoints: 8.75

If you’ve enjoyed this review, check out my others from previous years and for 2017 right here:

2015 reviews
2016 reviews

Memoriam – For The Fallen
Pallbearer – Heartless
Sleepmakeswaves – Made of Breath Only
Ghost Ship Octavius – Ghost Ship Octavius
Vangough – Warpaint
Telepathy – Tempest
Obituary – Obituary
Fen – Winter
Havok – Conformicide
Wolfheart – Tyhjyys
Svart Crown – Abreaction
Nova Collective – The Further Side
Immolation – Atonement
The Mute Gods – Tardigrades Will Inherit The Earth
Ex Deo – The Immortal Wars
Pyogenesis – A Kingdom To Disappear
My Soliloquy – Engines of Gravity
Nailed To Obscurity – King Delusion
Helion Prime – Helion Prime
Battle Beast – Bringer Of Pain
Persefone – Aathma
Soen – Lykaia
Exquirla – Para Quienes Aun Viven
Odd Logic – Effigy
Mors Principium Est – Embers Of A Dying World
Firewind – Immortals
Slyde – Back Again EP
Sepultura – Machine Messiah
Deserted Fear – Dead Shores Rising
Kreator – Gods Of Violence
Borealis – World of Silence MMXVII
Pain of Salvation – In The Passing Light of Day

Memoriam – For The Fallen – Album Review

Memoriam - For The Fallen - Artwork

Artist: Memoriam

Album Title: For The Fallen

Label: Nuclear Blast Records

Date Of Release: 24 March 2017

Bereavement. We’ve all experienced it in our lives to a greater or lesser extent. Personally, I’ve suffered greatly due to the death of loved ones and, nearly a decade on from the most significant and heart breaking of these, I am still a hollow shell of the person I used to be. But whereas some of us handle these tragedies badly, there are others who use the raw emotions more positively, as a catalyst for change or as inspiration for creativity.

When UK death metal stalwarts Bolt Thrower lost their drummer, Martin Kearns in 2015, the band were understandably beside themselves with grief. However, rather than succumb to negativity and other dark thoughts like some of us weaker mortals have, vocalist Karl Willetts took a different path. Bolt Thrower was put to rest as things just didn’t feel the same any more but to fill some of the void left behind, Willetts was instrumental in the formation of a brand new band.

Three weeks after the death of Kearns, Benediction bassist Frank Healy sadly lost his father. Therefore Willetts and Healy joined forces and out of the immense tragedies, Memoriam was born as a way out, to channel their grief. The duo recruited ex-Bolt Thrower drummer Andy Whale and guitarist Scott Fairfax to the Memoriam cause and now, in 2017, after an impressive EP, ‘The hellfire Demos’ (2016), we’re faced with their debut album, ‘For The Fallen’.

Immediately, those familiar with Bolt Thrower will realise that Memoriam are cut from a very similar cloth. As a result, what we are treated to with ‘For The Fallen’ is an intense, monolithic slab of brutality and groove, familiar enough to offer Bolt Thrower fans a whiff of nostalgia but with enough of an individual identity to sound fresh and appealing to a wider audience.

For the most part, this album rumbles along at an inexorable mid-tempo from which there is little or no escape. Bulldozing riffs, a bludgeoning rhythm section and those deep vocals from Willetts form the bedrock to the Memoriam sound and I have to say that it is a sound that I am digging an awful lot. In fact, the more I listen, the more enjoyment and satisfaction I glean from ‘For The Fallen’.

As the striking cover artwork more than hints at, the lyrical content primarily deals with war and the way it shapes us as humans, as well as the aftermath from a more human angle, namely dealing with the death of a loved one. I can think of few more fitting themes to entwine within music of this nature.

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The opening title track begins in a fashion that vaguely calls to mind the likes of early Paradise Lost thanks to the chosen guitar tone. However, the huge, chunky riff that enters the fray just shy of the minute mark blows those references out of the water. The groove quota on this sub-three-minute blast is insane and impossible to avoid headbanging to. But then the same can be said for the vast majority of the eight tracks on this album; whilst out for a walk with the dog, I must have seemed like a possessed zombie with my head slowly nodding with force, in concert with long loping steps, also measured to be in time to the music.

The voice of Prime Minister Neville Chamberlain declaring war on Germany ushers in ‘War Rages On’, a powerful introduction to an equally powerful song. After a slow start, the drums drive the composition on in a slightly brisker fashion, complete with blastbeats and fast, aggressive riffs. But then, at the half-way mark, the mother of all mid-tempo grooves hits and hits hard. I can’t help but grin at this point given how infectious it is.

‘Reduced To Zero’ introduces a modicum of depraved melody to proceedings before steamrollering the listener into submission. The churning, roiling riffs and unrelenting power of the drum and bass combination are a thing of malevolent brilliance as is the utterly killer groovy riff that dips in and out of the track to great effect. In fact, I really enjoy the way that there’s a surprising number of twists and turns within the song if you listen carefully enough. If such music could ever be referred to as epic, then this is the piece of music to justify that term.

In an effort to keep us on our toes, ‘Corrupted System’ then clatters onto the scene with the urgency and pace more akin to punk rock or a slightly more measured form of grindcore. It is attitude and aggression channelled the right way but this being Memoriam, something slower and pummelling cannot be far away and so there are slower interludes within the speedier tumult which ultimately unravels at the end into something disquietly dystopian in tone and delivery.

‘Flatline’ then returns to the out-and-out groove and brutality, featuring one of my favourite riffs anywhere on the record. It is a real stomper but so cheeky and addictive, nevertheless remaining heavy as hell and forceful in the extreme. The blast beats that surround it are thunderous and only enhance the overall impact, as does the fabulous grinding beat down that acts as an irresistible outro.

There’s space for a brief guitar solo within the brisk and pulverising ‘Surrounded By Death’, whilst ‘Resistance’ is another great track that, as the title suggests, acts as a song of defiance, introducing a little more speed at points as well as another flamboyant solo.

It is then left to the longest composition on ‘For The Fallen’ to see the album out. ‘Last Words’ begins with a distant-sounding guitar riff that offers a fair amount of melody and which is built on with the introduction of all of the other instruments. It still sounds suitably dark and malevolent but with a slightly more immediate edge to it. Even when things increase in speed and intensity, the over-arching melodic framework remains intact. Scrub what I said earlier in the piece, this is the song that demonstrates that this kind of music can be genuinely epic. And it is the perfect way in my opinion to close the album.

The strength of Karl Willetts and Frank Healy is incredible. They have used Memoriam as a way to channel all of the substantial and gut-wrenching misery they felt into something positive. It puts me to shame in many ways and as such, I really wanted to like ‘For The Fallen’. It may not be the most original of recordings but it is a bona-fide brute of a death metal album and I have grown to love it.

The Score Of Much Metal: 9

If you’ve enjoyed this review, check out my others from previous years and for 2017 right here:

2015 reviews
2016 reviews

Pallbearer – Heartless
Sleepmakeswaves – Made of Breath Only
Ghost Ship Octavius – Ghost Ship Octavius
Vangough – Warpaint
Telepathy – Tempest
Obituary – Obituary
Fen – Winter
Havok – Conformicide
Wolfheart – Tyhjyys
Svart Crown – Abreaction
Nova Collective – The Further Side
Immolation – Atonement
The Mute Gods – Tardigrades Will Inherit The Earth
Ex Deo – The Immortal Wars
Pyogenesis – A Kingdom To Disappear
My Soliloquy – Engines of Gravity
Nailed To Obscurity – King Delusion
Helion Prime – Helion Prime
Battle Beast – Bringer Of Pain
Persefone – Aathma
Soen – Lykaia
Exquirla – Para Quienes Aun Viven
Odd Logic – Effigy
Mors Principium Est – Embers Of A Dying World
Firewind – Immortals
Slyde – Back Again EP
Sepultura – Machine Messiah
Deserted Fear – Dead Shores Rising
Kreator – Gods Of Violence
Borealis – World of Silence MMXVII
Pain of Salvation – In The Passing Light of Day

Obituary – Obituary – Album Review

12 Jacket (3mm Spine) [GDOB-30H3-007}

Artist: Obituary

Album Title: Obituary

Label: Relapse Records

Release date: 17 March 2017

My love affair with Obituary dates back to the mid-nineties and their ‘World Demise’ album. It was a discovery, on cassette, at a time when I was getting more and more into extreme forms of music. I’d started out with the likes of Def Leppard and Guns ‘N’ Roses, moved on to Metallica and Iron Maiden, then discovered Slayer and Cradle of Filth. From there, my tastes went in all kinds of directions and Obituary were one of the bands that was randomly hit by my manic teenage scattergun approach.

I can still remember hearing tracks like ‘Final Thoughts’ and ‘Don’t Care’ for the first time, drinking in the brutality, the groove, the extreme sounds and those gurning, guttural vocals that sounded like nothing I’d ever heard of before. Ever since, Obituary have remained a firm fixture in my collection and I retain a soft spot for the Floridian death machine. There have been a few highs and lows along the way, including a six-year disbanding between 1997 and 2003 but no-one can question the ability and the integrity of one of the most steadfast bands in the entire death metal genre.

Fast forward to 2017 and we’re presented with Obituary’s tenth album, the self-titled ‘Obituary’. Normally bands will release a self-titled album as a debut or at a point in their career where they feel that they are unleashing their best material. In the case of Obituary, there’s no doubt that it is very much the latter. Laying my cards on the table at the outset, I’d have to consider ‘Obituary’ to be one of the best records of their career, pushing the brilliant ‘Slowly We Rot’ and even my fond personal favourite ‘World Demise’ close in my estimations.

Obituary in 2017 is comprised of the ever-present Tardy brothers, vocalist John and drummer Donald alongside rhythm guitarist Trevor Peres, lead guitarist Kenny Andrews and bassist Terry Butler. I don’t think the guys would mind me saying that they are no longer spring chickens but this has had literally no adverse effect on their output. If anything, the quintet are even more fierce and aggressive in their advancing middle age, certainly if this album is anything to go by.

‘Obituary’ features ten tracks and a running time of around 33 minutes, meaning that it is not going to require the greatest outlay in terms of time. However, it uses the time wisely, delivering a monstrous death metal assault from start to finish, leaving you battered, bruised and with a sore neck. Quite literally, my head does not stop banging for the entirety of this record and as far as I’m concerned, that’s a very good thing indeed.

By and large, long term fans of the Floridian quintet will not be surprised by the output of ‘Obituary’ as the bulk of the material follows a familiar blueprint. The instantly recognisable vocals of John Tardy are present throughout, sounding as wonderfully disgusting and ferocious as ever. And then there’s that trade mark muscular yet raw and dirty guitar tone which smothers the material, giving it that superbly rotten and depraved sound, as if the music has been pulled kicking and screaming from the gutter.

 

Ester Segarra

Photo credit: Ester Segarra

 

What might raise an eyebrow or two is the consistent quality of ‘Obituary’, something that has arguably been lacking at times within the more recent discography. Not only that, but ‘Obituary’ reasserts that hunger, desire and sheer brutality for which Obituary is known and loved. Personally-speaking I really like the mixture of faster-paced material and the slower, more groove-oriented compositions; this blend creates a sense of variety which can often be lacking on records of this nature.

The album opens up with a real statement of intent via the intense up-tempo one-two of ‘Brave’ and ‘Sentence Day’. Both miserably fail to hit the three-minute mark but they both pack a serious punch. ‘Brave’ has more of a loose, thrashy feel to it as it motors along at a fair lick whilst ‘Sentence Day’ is liberally seasoned with blistering solos and lead breaks galore courtesy of Kenny Andrews. It is a frenetic but hugely enjoyable beginning to the album.

The pace is then slowed courtesy of ‘Lesson In Vengeance’ which creates that churning groove which makes Obituary such a pleasure to listen to. Unless my ears deceive me, there’s an almost imperceptible 70s vibe to the central riff that won’t go unnoticed by the faithful I’m sure.

After a swift opening, ‘End It Now’ settles into one of the most satisfyingly groovy tracks on the record, making it without doubt one of my favourites. Tardy’s voice descends even lower into the sewers on top of a killer mid-tempo stomping riff, backed up by a solid, no-frills rhythm section which becomes more intense as the song draws to a gigantic close. This has to be one of my all-time favourite Obituary tracks, particularly when the swirling, dextrous lead guitar solo appears out of nowhere to add a touch of finesse.

The wailing guitars that punctuate more groovy death metal brilliance within ‘Kneel Before Me’ are a masterstroke, as is the menacing, rumbling bass of Terry Butler that underpins the ferocity that plays out around it. ‘It Lives’ by contrast churns and bulldozes the listener whilst almost delivering something approximating a melody within the infectious groove.

It sounds daft I know, but if there is such a thing in the Obituary vocabulary, ‘Betrayed’ has an almost fun, playful vibe to it as it skips along at a decent tempo, dominated by a simple-sounding but effective central riff. ‘Turned To Stone’ then reverts to something more akin to old school Obituary dominated by a slow, ponderous and heavy-as-hell riff that slithers ominously and gets your head really nodding whether or not you want it to.

‘Obituary’ is then closed out by the duo of ‘Straight to Hell’ and ‘Ten Thousand Ways To Die’ and it’s a fittingly high quality end to the album. The former begins at a high tempo before slowing right down into near doom territory in the mid-section as the guitar riffs wade through concrete whilst John Tardy apparently gargles it. ‘Ten Thousand Ways To Die’ kicks off with an ear catching, almost tribal-sounding drum performance from Donald Tardy but it is the lead guitar work in the closing stages that ultimately steals the show, rounding things out with one last decadent hurrah.

And there you have it. Proof if ever proof was needed that one of the biggest names in death metal is well and truly back on form with an album that delivers just about everything that you could possibly want from them. On this form, Obituary are irresistible.

The Score of Much Metal: 9.0

If you’ve enjoyed this review, check out my others from previous years and for 2017 right here:

2015 reviews
2016 reviews

Fen – Winter
Havok – Conformicide
Wolfheart – Tyhjyys
Svart Crown – Abreaction
Nova Collective – The Further Side
Immolation – Atonement
The Mute Gods – Tardigrades Will Inherit The Earth
Ex Deo – The Immortal Wars
Pyogenesis – A Kingdom To Disappear
My Soliloquy – Engines of Gravity
Nailed To Obscurity – King Delusion
Helion Prime – Helion Prime
Battle Beast – Bringer Of Pain
Persefone – Aathma
Soen – Lykaia
Exquirla – Para Quienes Aun Viven
Odd Logic – Effigy
Mors Principium Est – Embers Of A Dying World
Firewind – Immortals
Slyde – Back Again EP
Sepultura – Machine Messiah
Deserted Fear – Dead Shores Rising
Kreator – Gods Of Violence
Borealis – World of Silence MMXVII
Pain of Salvation – In The Passing Light of Day