Tag Archives: heavy metal

Wintersun – The Forest Seasons – Album Review

Wintersun - The Forest Seasons - Artwork

Artist: Wintersun

Album Title: The Forest Seasons

Label: Nuclear Blast

Date of Release: 21 July 2017

If there’s one thing I can’t stand, it’s when the off-stage antics become bigger than the music. I understand that in an environment as volatile, unpredictable and fast-paced as the music industry, very little ever runs smoothly. Sometimes the issues are kept strictly behind closed doors whilst others are just too big to be kept hidden. However, when the issues completely overshadow the music, the thing that I’m most interested in, I lose interest. Particularly when it feels, at least to me anyway, that the dirty laundry is being deliberately aired in public.

It is also for these reasons, generally speaking, that I have never been a fan of Finland’s Wintersun. I am pretty sure that, had I given them more time and attention, I might have found a band with which I could click. After all, originally starting life as the side project of Jari Mäenpää from Ensiferum, the DNA was strong. The fact that Wintersun play melodic extreme metal with strong symphonic and folk overtones, with a flair for the dramatic only adds to the likelihood that they’d find favour, musically-speaking, with my ruined ears.

Unfortunately however, over the years, there have been so many dramas surrounding the Helsinki-based quartet that I have felt reticent to get too involved with the entire saga. From dramas with record labels, to huge delays with releases, to crowdfunding campaigns and a myriad of other ‘stuff’, the whole thing is draining and not conducive to building a positive relationship between the band and potential fans. As a result, aside from the occasional cursory dabble, I have kept Wintersun firmly at arm’s length.

It comes as a surprise therefore, that I find myself penning a review for ‘The Forest Seasons’, only the third album of the Finn’s 14-year career. I don’t really know why I have taken this step if I’m honest, but I was sent the promo by the good people at Nuclear Blast and here I am. It certainly wasn’t the hype, I can tell you. Ever since their inception, Wintersun have been the recipients of some of the most insane hype ever. Some of it is undeniably of their own doing, whilst some of it is, to be fair, not their fault. But either way, the hype has been enormous, almost making me shy away from this.

Right from the off, the fact that this isn’t ‘Time II’ will bother many longer-term fans. I’ve never really listened to it, so I’m not bothered in the slightest. But this review cannot ignore the fact that ‘The Forest Seasons’ is not the sequel to ‘Time I’, the record that many quote as being Wintersun’s finest moment to date. Maybe that’s the reason then – the fact that I can review this record unencumbered by the baggage of expectation and without the inevitable, palpable disappointment experienced by others. Or maybe it’s because I was drawn in by the impressive cover artwork which I rather admire.

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Whatever the reason, what do I think of ‘The Forest Season’? Yeah, I’d better get round to that hadn’t I?

Well, to cut to the chase, I like parts of it, I am slightly bored by other parts and I have an overall feeling that can be best explained by a puff of the cheeks and a shrug of the shoulders. Let me explain.

‘The Forest Seasons’ has a running time of around 55 minutes but is split into just four distinct compositions. This means that each track requires the expenditure of quite some time, as the shortest clocks in at 12 minutes whilst the longest falls just shy of 15 minutes. Now, as many of you know, I love long, epic tracks – it’s in my blood as a fan of prog. However, this love is predicated on the fact that the composition has a reason for the extended life. If it doesn’t, I do get bored. And that’s part of the problem here with ‘The Forest Seasons’. Each track contains some excellent moments where either a riff, a melody or a symphonic arrangement will strike a chord with me. The problem is, these are not quite frequent enough to keep my attention unwavering throughout. I tried, I really did, but something fails to click enough for me to fully immerse myself in it and therefore it prevents me from recommending it unconditionally.

The opening track is entitled ‘Awaken The Dark Slumber’ and naturally for an album that is clearly meant to represent the seasons, it is Wintersun’s interpretation of Spring. What I wasn’t quite expecting was the overt black metal feel, complete with dramatic swathes of synths and raspy vocals. However, it takes until the fifth minute for my interest to be fully piqued, when the vocals break out into a bold, almost pleading clean croon. For a couple of minutes, I get swept up in the music but as the track ploughs on, I again switch off as it lacks sufficient variety to pull me along. The last two minutes then see out the longest composition of the four in a much more positive vein.

Summer follows in the form of ‘The Forest That Weeps’ and it’s here that Wintersun’s game is upped. With a much stronger folk element to it, this slightly shorter track bounds along at a great pace and with a little swagger too. The melodies, although a little repetitive in the latter stages, are a lot more memorable, to the point where I find myself humming the chorus when I least expect it. I really like the over-the-top choir vocals, as they add an epic gravitas to the composition and nicely juxtapose the extended foray into quieter, more laid-back folk territory which arrives around the mid-way point. This is a very nice song, possibly my favourite on the album.

After a dark foreboding intro, ‘Eternal Darkness’ explodes into something very Dimmu Borgir-esque. Furious double-pedal drumming, layer upon layer of grandiose synths and raw, spiteful growls combine to create a very striking passage of music. However, in my opinion, it goes on a little too long without sufficient variety and so it’s not until the six-minute mark that my attention is fully held. At this point, the song slows and opens up allowing a really nice passage that builds whilst all the while being dominated by some increasingly flamboyant lead guitar work. I will also accede to enjoying the bombastic closure of the track which is rather epic and atmospheric

The final season, winter, is represented by ‘Loneliness’, a track that begins quietly and then plods along at a markedly slower pace than their norm. The swathes of synths literally drench the music in atmosphere in keeping with the song’s title, whilst there is a greater variety in the vocal delivery for my money. In fact, I wish we’d heard more of Jari Mäenpää’s clean delivery elsewhere because when he lets go, he can really sing, as demonstrated in the sequence that leads up to the mid-way point as well as the truly excellent final crescendo. At points, this vies for top spot with ‘Summer’ but in between, my mind wanders yet again.

So, in summary, ‘The Forest Seasons’ is a frustrating record. There is a lot to like about it when you start to dissect the music. However, these moments or passages of excellence feel to me like they are too few and far between, padded out by some average music along the way. Put it like this – if ‘The Forest Seasons’ was a ten track record, there’d be about four killer tracks surrounded by six disappointing fillers. That, to me, is not the recipe for a great album. And that’s a shame because when Wintersun fire on all cylinders, it sounds immense.

The Score of Much Metal: 7

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

2015 reviews
2016 reviews

Witherfall – Nocturnes And Requiems
Tuesday The Sky – Drift
Anthriel – Transcendence
Decapitated – Anticult
Cosmograf – The Hay-Man Dreams
Orden Ogan – Gunmen
Iced Earth – Incorruptible
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

Witherfall – Nocturnes And Requiems – Album Review

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Artist: Witherfall

Album Title: Nocturnes and Requiems

Label: Independent Release

Date of release: 10 February 2017

I’m going to start this review in a blunt manner: I am enjoying the hell out of this album. With that in mind, allow me to elaborate in a style more familiar to those who follow this site.

‘Nocturnes And Requiems’ is the debut album from Witherfall, a band comprised of four extremely talented musicians in their own right, namely guitarist Jake Dreyer, vocalist Joseph Michael, bassist Anthony Crawford and drummer Adam Sagan. Dreyer will be a familiar name to many as an ex-member of White Wizzard and current lead axeman for Iced Earth. Michael is also ex-White Wizzard stock whilst Sagan plied his trade with the likes of Circle II Circle and a personal favourite of mine, Into Eternity.

‘Nocturnes and Requiems’ was apparently recorded in 2014 but has taken until 2017 to be released. Tragically, in the interim, drummer Sagan has passed away having bravely battled with a form of blood cancer. The release could be viewed then as something of a tribute to a fallen comrade and what a fitting tribute it is to a talented sticksman. But more than simply being a tribute, ‘Nocturnes And Requiems’ is an excellent heavy metal album in its own right, regardless of the circumstances surrounding its release.

If you have a weakness for superlative musicianship, you’ll lap this record up, particularly if that weakness focuses on the six-string instrument. If you are also a fan of progressive metal, then this record might just have you jumping for joy.

That said, there isn’t much within Witherfall’s approach that screams originality but somehow that doesn’t matter to me here. In fact, if anything, I’d argue that there is a heavy indebtedness to the likes of Symphony X, Nevermore and many others within the six full tracks and two shorter interludes that comprise ‘Nocturnes And Requiems’. Speaking personally, as a fan of both of the aforementioned, this is no a bad thing.

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Whilst every member of the band has skills, it is inevitable that the stand-out member of Witherfall for most of us is going to be guitarist Jake Dreyer. It is no wonder that Iced Earth snaffled him up because the guy is utterly immense. In fact, dare I suggest that he might be just a little under-utilised with Iced Earth? It may seem like overenthusiastic hyperbole but there is a strong case for putting Dreyer into the same league as the likes of Jeff Loomis or Michael Romeo, albeit he has his own style.

Given the neoclassical bent to some of the material, the parallels to Romeo are clearer, as is firmly demonstrated by the lightning fast playing which introduces the rather epic ‘End Of Time’ which is actually split into three parts. The intensity and technicality of the opening solo, followed by the flamboyance of the ensuing riff is enough to make me grin from ear to ear. If that wasn’t enough, the acoustic work that is incorporated into the track is sublime, adding plenty of darker tones to the track, enhanced by the emotive delivery of Joseph Michael.

Naturally, for a song that spans the better part of ten minutes, there are plenty of different sections that I could mention, including several of the extended guitar solos or the brief classical guitar segments that are beautifully delivered. But as good as all these parts are, the icing on the cake is the chorus that introduces a strong melody and a sense of the grandiose that is catchy enough to pull me in for repeated listens and proves that Witherfall are more than just clever instrumentalists; they are accomplished songwriters too.

Indeed, the songwriting prowess can be heard littered throughout the record. The Nevermore-tinged aggression of opener ‘Portrait’ is a huge winner thanks to the powerful riffs, driving rhythms, dark tones and strangely addictive introspective chorus of sorts not to mention its overt classic prog metal sheen. It contains a little bit of just about everything I want in my metal these days if I’m honest.

Then there’s the equally compelling follow-up in the shape of ‘What We Are Dying For’. It begins in frenetic style with a melodeath-style riff before descending into modern Symphony X territory, all the while keeping the foot to the floor in terms of pace and tempo. Sagan’s drumming is a key factor to the success of this composition, along with clever changes of pace that bring the track more into line with the doom genre. The solo guitar work atop the repetitive rhythm guitar notes is superb as is the bass playing of Anthony Crawford. I love the diversity of the song which, in true clichéd style, genuinely takes the listener on a journey. The Spanish-influenced classical guitar playing has to be, above all else, my favourite part though – it has to be heard to be believed, such is its blend of technicality and rich warmth.

I’ve yet to really mention vocalist Joseph Michael but when discussing yet another epic track, ‘Sacrifice’, his name comes top of the list. With a range that allows the guy to sing softly with emotion, snarl with naked aggression, soar with melodious intent or burst his lungs with the kind of high-pitched wails that the likes of Tim ‘Ripper’ Owens or Rob Halford would be proud of, Michael has it all. And he demonstrates this impressive repertoire on ‘Sacrifice’ which is as bold and ambitious as his vocals. If I’m being hyper-critical, this track lacks a killer hook or melody to ensnare the unwary listener. However, it makes up for this with the sheer variety, drama and myriad of tones and textures on offer, meaning that it still holds your attention throughout.

So there you have it. An album that I knew nothing about until a copy was thrust upon me has ended up making a huge impression upon me. It remains to be seen what the future holds for the remaining three members of Witherfall but I sincerely hope that ‘Nocturnes And Requiems’ is not a one-off because it is just too damn good and newly-converted fans (myself included), simply need more of this kind of music in our lives. To deny us this would be a huge travesty.

The Score of Much Metal: 9

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

2015 reviews
2016 reviews

Tuesday The Sky – Drift
Anthriel – Transcendence
Decapitated – Anticult
Cosmograf – The Hay-Man Dreams
Orden Ogan – Gunmen
Iced Earth – Incorruptible
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

Anthriel – Transcendence – Album Review

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Artist: Anthriel

Album Title: Transcendence

Label: Lion Music

Date Of Release: 15 June 2017

I don’t think I have ever been bullied so relentlessly by a reader in the quest for me to publish a review. But I’m nothing if not willing to please my loyal followers, so here I am with some considered thoughts about ‘Transcendence’, the sophomore album from Anthriel.

Having not been aware of the debut album, ‘The Pathway’, I come at this follow-up without the baggage of expectation and without the need to compare the two. If you’re looking for a review that specifically does this, I’m afraid you’ll need to go elsewhere. From what I can glean from various sources that I tend to trust, this record might be in a heavier and darker vein to its predecessor. Indeed this is borne out by the band on the accompanying press release, as they admit exactly that.

Well, for the Man of Much Metal, darker and heavier is almost always a good thing and so it has proved here. The reason for the delay in penning this review is because, drowning under a host of new releases, I disregarded it to begin with. Then I heard a few comments about it and, resulting from the aforementioned bullying, I was browbeaten into finding a track online to listen to. Well blow me down with a feather, I rather liked it, so here I am now with my considered review.

It has been a lengthy wait for new material, some seven years. In the intervening time, the Finns have suffered problems with their rehearsal studio and then the almost inevitable line-up issues, losing both their drummer and bassist. It means now that Anthriel is comprised of Simo Silvan (lead vocals & backing vocals), Timo Niemistö (guitars & backing vocals), Antti Hakulinen (keyboards), Antti Horttana (bass & backing vocals) and Henrikki Markkula (drums).

It’s not all bad news though, because to me, this sounds like a very strong unit playing together to create a rather glorious racket. Naturally the band suggests that this is their strongest incarnation to date but that is definitely backed up by the end result. The inter-album turmoil has also led to the inspiration for the lyrical concept which follows on from the debut but is more about the time in a person’s life where there is almost no hope at all.

I’m not going to sit here and say that ‘Transcendence’ reinvents any wheels. However, what it does do, is provide a hugely enjoyable and immersive listen that gets better and better with each spin. This is bombastic and occasionally over-the-top progressive power metal but unlike other bands who proclaim to play a similar style of music, this is a really excellent blend of all of these elements.

Firstly, it is most definitely heavy enough to be accurately referred to as metal. It also has the symphonics and sprawling qualities of power metal and finally, it is definitely progressive thanks to an abundance of chops, tempo changes and intricate compositions. Two of the tracks extend beyond ten minutes, with the album closer falling just shy of the 20-minute mark. ‘Transcendence’ is also a lush and layered album where, on repeated listens, new intricacies and depth comes through.

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In terms of reference points, there is more than a hint of mid-era Symphony X about some of the Anthriel output. But equally, I hear smatterings of Dream Theater, the pomp of Edguy or compatriots Sonata Arctica at their most epic and numerous other influences including a smattering of Shadow Gallery and Seventh Wonder. The opening cinematic and symphonic instrumental also has a touch of ‘Chariots of Fire’ about it thanks to the prominent keys.

I sometimes wish that bands dispensed of these instrumental intros, particularly where the entire album only consists of eight tracks. However, it is difficult to be too churlish about ‘The Calling’ as it fits the feel of ‘Transcendence’ nicely, even if it isn’t the most essential and memorable piece of music in and of itself. Get that out of the way and from there on, the remaining seven tracks that break the hour mark, rightfully rack up the positives.

‘Under Burning Skies’ is a high-octane opener that bounds along at a great pace. I love the riffs that feature as well as the pinched harmonics that dominate the opening few bars of the first major riff. The two newbies Horttana and Markkula immediately make their mark, creating a strong rhythmic spine at the centre of the track. The synths of Hakulinen bathe the song throughout and the quiet mid-section is a great touch, injecting loads of introspective atmosphere, entirely fitting with the dark tones and a great juxtaposition with the heaviness and in-your-face drama that sandwiches it. The icing on the cake is the vocal performance of Simo Silvan, who impresses me with his rich, commanding and melodious tones. This is where many bands of this ilk fall down, but not Anthriel.

The 11-minute ‘Oath Of Darkness’ is even better in my opinion. This is ‘proper’ full-on, no holes barred classic-style progressive metal with a plethora of twists and turns, from dark and brooding atmospheres to triumphant euphoria led by lead guitar solos and rousing keys. Starting with a Mike Oldfield-esque melody, it then lurches forward, building in intensity whilst experimenting with many keyboard-soaked aural textures along its journey. The angry, quasi-gruff vocals add to the aggression but then in come some great melodies to transform the song into something quite excellent, deceptively catchy and thoroughly satisfying.

Tinkling piano, choppy riffs and strong melodies dominate the excellent, slightly more balladic ‘Siren’s Song’, alongside duelling keyboard and guitar solos for which I’ll admit to having a soft spot occasionally. ‘Painted Shadows’ and the angrier follow-up ‘Rhapsody Of Fire’ both revisit those Symphony X influences thanks to strong riffs, layers of key, flamboyant guitar work and plenty of neo-classical affectations, particularly within the former.

‘My Morning Star’ in contrast blasts forth with the kind of symphonic bombast that Nightwish would be proud of, before reining things in to create something altogether more slow-burning and poignant whilst retaining much of the heaviness and catchiness witnessed elsewhere on this record.

It falls to ‘Fallen Souls’ to complete the album. At 19 minutes long, it is the very definition of ‘epic’ but crucially for a track so long, the time most certainly does not drag. There’s simply too much going on for my mind to wander, beginning with an enormously dramatic and cinematic introduction. Extended instrumental passages, tempo changes, virtuosic instrumentalism and symphonic bombast come together in a surprisingly cohesive manner to make this final act a memorable one, with a tiny Haken hint in places. If I’m being picky, I’d have liked a few more memorable melodies within it, similar to those earlier on the album but otherwise it’s a very powerful closing piece of music.

I must admit that I have been left more impressed with ‘Transcendence’ than I thought I would be at the beginning. This is so good in fact, that it might muscle its way into my end-of-year top 30 at this rate. Vibrant, complex, nuanced…this is progressive power metal of a very high standard indeed.

The Score Of Much Metal: 9.0

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

2015 reviews
2016 reviews

Decapitated – Anticult
Cosmograf – The Hay-Man Dreams
Orden Ogan – Gunmen
Iced Earth – Incorruptible
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

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