Tag Archives: Iced Earth

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

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

Anticipated music in 2017 -An Update – 21 Jan

Since I wrote my series looking at some of my most anticipated album releases of 2016, there have been some updates. I’ve never really done this kind of thing before, so let me know if you like it or find it useful. My plan is that if it is welcome, I could continue these bulk update posts throughout the year. I’ve shied away from re-posting individual press updates as there are plenty of sites that do this and I like my updates to involve a little effort on my part rather than simple regurgitation.

Over to you…what do you think?

Soen – Lykaia

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First up, here’s a new song from prog band Soen, from their upcoming album ‘Lykaia’ due for release on 3rd February. Soen are a band that I really like but completely forgot to mention in my ‘most anticipated of 2017’series, sorry. I’m a sucker for Marcus Jidell’s guitar playing in particular, as well as the more organic sound that they employ, so I’m really looking forward to hearing some new material from this vastly underrated band.

 

Ayreon

In the last couple of days, Arjen Anthony Lucassen has revealed the title and artwork of his new Ayreon album. Entitled ‘The Source’, I’m sure you’ll agree that the cover is very cool, not to mention quite dark and sinister, suggesting an album full of music with a similar tone. If that’s the case, it is bound to be a hit with me. Mind you, I’m not sure that there is an Ayreon record that has been released to date that I haven’t liked!

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Iced Earth

On 15th January, Jon Schaffer went live and provided an update on the world of the American metallers. Essentially, the upshot is that the studio that Jon had built is now complete and the pre-production for the album appears to be all but done. What this means is that the various members of Iced Earth will be heading to the studio over the next month or so to record their parts.

And then, just yesterday, we had an update from the studio where drummer Brent Smedley has arrived to lay down his material for the new album. So, whilst there’s yet to be a final release date, things are progressing nicely for a mid-late 2017 release.

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Lost In Thought

A few days ago, a new video was posted by UK prog metallers Lost In Thought. It isn’t very long, but it gives a little insight into the musical direction of the new album and proves that the finished article can’t be a million miles away. I’m liking this riff – it is getting me very interested in hearing the final product that’s for sure.

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Cynthesis/Jasun Tipton

Whilst keeping my eyes open for news on the new Cynthesis album, I had cause to make contact with Jasun. The guy is seriously one of the nicest guys on the planet and his response gave me cause to be extremely happy. Not only is a new Cynthesis on the horizon, there is other music in the pipeline from Mr Tipton. I quote:

“Plenty of music on the horizon actually. A Dying Planet is almost tracked. Cynthesis 3 is in focus again. Plus if I can make Zero Hour – DeEvolution come to life that would be great!”

With regard to the latter, it appears that the material for a new album from Zero Hour was recorded back in 2002-03. There are problems in finding out what programme the files are in given that it is 15 years ago, but this is being worked on as I type. The band is now officially defunct due to the fact that Troy Tipton can’t play the bass guitar any more. However, the music exists and hope is not lost for it to see the light of day eventually. If, like me, you love Jasun’s guitar playing, all this is superb news.

Anathema

In my previous series, I listed Anathema in hope as much as expectation but felt it was a calculated risk based on their normal release cycle of late. There is still no definitive word on a new album in 2017, but the omens are good based on a recent post by the band on social media. The picture is below and I invite you to draw your own conclusions. Personally, I am buoyed by this latest inferred development and will keep my eyes open for more concrete news very soon.

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Seventh Wonder

According to a post on social media, Seventh Wonder are hard at work in the studio at the moment, working on a long overdue follow-up to ‘The Great Escape’. It is too early to say for sure when the new album will be released but at least we now have definitive confirmation that a new record will see the light of day before too long. Finally!

Vanishing Point

Whilst the band pages have been quiet of late, guitarist and all-round top bloke Chris Porcianko posted an update on 17th January to say that vocalist Silvio and he had met up for another pre-production vocal. No samples sadly, but in Chris’ own words: ‘he’s killing it!!’ In addition, he goes on to say: ‘Totally loving the new shit, it’s sounding really, really great…’

Anyone else’s excitement levels just go up a notch? I think we’re guaranteed a new album in 2017 now.

My most anticipated releases of 2017 – Part 5

Persefone – Aathma
Release date: 24 February 2017

15822914_10154850738374328_8733489291274272477_nFor anyone looking for a quality dose of progressive death metal, then look no further than Persefone. Hailing from the absolute hotbed of metal that is Andorra, Persefone have made more than a few waves in what is an ever more competitive and crowded genre of metal over the past 15 or so years since their creation in 2001.

‘Aathma’ will be the talented sextet’s fifth release and, from the teaser trailer that I have heard (below), I have no doubt that this record will be another positive stepping stone in the Persefone career, one that I hope will make them much more of a household name in metal circles. With a release date of 24th February 2017 on Vicisolum Records, we won’t have to wait too much longer to find out.

Iced Earth – The Judas Goat
Release date: TBC

A genuine favourite of mine, Iced Earth are surely due another album in 2017, seeing as though the band have had the working title for their new album for around a year already. Nothing official has yet been confirmed beyond the usual rumours that are circulating, although there are photos around that confirm that some recordings have begun to a greater or lesser extent.

It was a shame that vocalist Matt Barlow has left the fold but in Stu Block (ex-Into Eternity), Iced Earth have found the perfect replacement. His range and natural ability behind the mic is the idea accompaniment to the classic/thrash/power metal for which guitarist and founder Jon Schaffer is famous. After a couple of hit and miss albums in recent times, Iced Earth returned to form in blistering style with 2014’s ‘Plagues Of Babylon’, meaning that the excitement for its follow-up, tentatively titled ‘The Judas Goat’ is even more feverish than before amongst the legions of loyal Iced Earth fans, myself included.

Lonely Robot – TBC
Release date: TBC

From the creative mind of John Mitchell, he of Frost*, It Bites, Arena fame, plus several others, comes Lonely Robot. The debut album released in 2015 easily made it into my top 30 albums of that year because it was so damn excellent. Progressive rock with a hugely cinematic feel was the order of the day and boy did it work. At times it was dark, at others almost sci-fi in tone and on occasion quite moving. However, it was lush, grandiose and bold throughout, creating a memorable and compelling listen.

It was only by chance that I picked up on the fact that Lonely Robot was not going to be a one-off and that writing was underway for a follow-up. This news was like nectar to my ears. And, whilst a 2017 release hasn’t been confirmed as yet, it’s entirely possible.

Lost In Thought – TBC
Release date: TBC

I have been a fan of Lost In Thought since before they released their debut album ‘Opus Arise’ back in 2011. I heard snippets of this young Welsh prog metal band on social media and elsewhere and I quickly got the bug. Theirs is a more classic style of progressive metal, from which I pick out hints of Dream Theater and Threshold, whilst at the same time, they do have elements that are unique to them.

After a long hiatus during which time the band actually folded, they have joyously returned and are in the midst of recording their sophomore album. In recent months, vocalist Nate Loosemore has parted ways with the band and it remains to be seen how the new material will sound. However, I’m open minded and still very keen to hear what this talent from the UK will produce.

Subsignal – TBC
Release date: TBC

There will definitely be a new album from Subsignal in 2017. So says their official Facebook page. In fact, they have also revealed that the lyrics are being written as I type this. They have revealed a few lines but no music as yet. But hey, let’s not be greedy eh?

Those unfamiliar may not know that Subsignal are the band that rose from the ashes of prog metal band Sieges Even. Subsignal’s output is less overtly progressive than their former incarnation but the similarities are unmistakeable. Beautiful melodies, deep, thoughtful lyrics and rich, deep, powerful and technically adept compositions are the order of the day as Subsignal straddle the rock and metal worlds with confidence and style. A new Subsignal album is something to be very excited about, so I am duly very excited.

Most Anticipated Metal Releases of 2016 – Part 3

Welcome to Part 3 of my most anticipated album releases of 2016. Missed Parts 1 and 2? Click the links below and find out why I’m thinking that 2016 could be one of the strongest years for rock and metal for a long time:

Most Anticipated Metal Releases of 2016 – Part 1
Most Anticipated Metal Releases of 2016 – Part 2

If these weren’t enough, today I bring you another 10 potential releases, in no particular order, all of which are highly exciting for me.

Redemption – The Art Of Loss

This US-based band is one of the very best within the progressive metal subgenre. Adventurous song writing, clinical execution and innate understanding of the role that melody has to play in such music. Add to this the ability to pen beautifully poignant and raw lyrics and you’re on to a real winner. Redemption are one of those bands that can seemingly do no wrong, with each and every album offering high quality progressive metal. Of course it helps that they are blessed with a singer in the form of Fates Warning’s Ray Alder, but it’s the overall song writing and vision of guitarist Nick van Dyk that helps take Redemption to a whole new level of excellence. The new album, entitled ‘The Art Of Loss’, is scheduled for a March 2016 release. I can’t wait!

Vanishing Point – Title ‘TBC’

I make no secret of my love for Vanishing Point. Ever since I heard the superlative ‘Tangled In Dream’ back in 2000, I have been smitten. To me, it was the perfect melodic progressive metal album, full of memorable songs both beautiful and sophisticated. Subsequent albums fell slightly short but in 2014, with ‘Distant Is The Sun’, the Australians well and truly rediscovered their mojo. Melody, intelligence and a satisfying amount of heavy metal crunch, it pressed all my buttons and remains an album that I return to on a frequent basis. Again, as with other picks in this post, there’s no official confirmation of a new album in 2016 but I have a feeling we’ll see new material. Bring it on, I say.

Voyager – Title ‘TBC’

Australian metallers Voyager have been around for a while but their rise in recent years has been rather meteoric in metal terms. Beginning in 2011 with ‘The Meaning Of I’ and then well and truly cemented with the astonishingly good ‘V’ in 2014, the world had no choice but to sit up and take notice of this rather unique band. Blending progressive metal with melodic rock, pop and an understated dash of modern electronic music, the result is ultra catchy and totally addictive. It of course helps that Voyager are a close-knit group with excellent musicians in every department topped off by the superlative Daniel Estrin behind the microphone. If the recently-released new single ‘Misery Is Only Company’ is anything to go by, a new album in 2016 threatens to very special indeed.

Cynthesis – Title ‘TBC’

Seemingly everything that the Tipton brothers touch turns to gold and Cynthesis is no different. We’ve already seen two albums under the Cynthesis moniker and when I spoke with Jasun Tipton during 2015, he confirmed that the third Cynthesis album was written, thus completing a dystopian trilogy in the process. Cynthesis is the most atmospheric, melodic and sensitive of all of the bands that feature the Tipton brothers and I absolutely adore the atmosphere and the lashings of gorgeous melodies that are a feature of both ‘DeEvolution’ and ‘ReEvolution’ respectively. Given the preposterously brilliant technical prowess of the musicians involved, I expect nothing short of a sonic treat when finally the third Cynthesis instalment sees the light of day.

Long Distance Calling – Trips

Beginning life as an instrumental band, German post-rockers Long Distance Calling took the decision with ‘The Flood Inside’ to introduce a vocalist. The results as far as I was concerned were superb, turning a hitherto unloved band into an act that now sits front and centre in my affections. Atmospheric, multi-layered, intelligent and somewhat enigmatic, the compositions are not always easy to grasp to begin with. However, with repeated listens, the music bears its fruit and snares the listener without them even realising what’s going on. With a brand new vocalist, it remains to be seen what a new Long Distance Calling album will sound like. Mind you, if it anything like the last, the late April release ‘Trips’ will be a sure-fire winner with me.

Big Big Train – Folklore

In recent years, I have become a sucker for the more relaxed sounds of classic progressive rock. One of the biggest and best finds for me has unquestionably been Big Big Train. The music borrows a little from the likes of early Genesis and is English pastoral progressive rock at its finest. As far as I’m concerned, Big Big Train are the undisputed genre leaders thanks to a willingness to experiment within and outside the confines of the progressive rock sphere, all the while creating music that is utterly compelling. From cheeky upbeat numbers right through to sprawling epic affairs via plenty of emotionally-charged compositions full of beautiful melodies and wonderfully imagined sonic vistas. Following on from the highly acclaimed ‘English Electric’ double-header, get ready in 2016 for ‘Folklore’.

Anathema – Title ‘TBC’

Ok, so this is a bit of a long shot. I’ve heard nothing from the Anathema camp to suggest that there is definitely a new album on the horizon for 2016. However, such is my love for this band, I live in hope, especially given the fact that the last studio album saw the light of day in 2014. Anathema are one of those bands that transcends genres to the point that talk about whether they are prog, post-rock, alternative rock or whatever is meaningless. Anathema write music that is emotionally charged, honest, poignant and utterly beautiful. I have lost count of the number of times that the brothers Cavanagh and Co. have brought me to tears via their music such is the elegance and raw honesty that is baked right into every Anathema composition. I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again: forget the Beatles, Anathema are the best band to emerge from Liverpool, end of story.

Treat – Title ‘TBC’

If there’s one melodic hard rock album I’m really looking forward to in 2016, it’s the new studio album from Treat. In 2010, the Swedes released ‘Coup de Grace’ and it blew me away. Melodicrock.com gave it a full 100% review and it isn’t hard to see why. Huge hooks, massive choruses, driving tempos and enough oomph to satisfy those looking for a little bite to their melodic rock, I fell in love with it almost immediately. ‘Coup de Grace’ remains on heavy rotation on my stereo and I never get bored of it. I therefore have high hopes for the new record, due out sometime in 2016.

Bal Sagoth – Title ‘TBC’

Ah Bal Sagoth. That most intriguing and entertaining of extreme metal bands. I discovered this UK-based band very early on in my exploration of music that pushed the boundaries and they’ve been an important part of my collection ever since. Led by the enigmatic Byron, they fuse the fury and aggression of black metal with fantasy lyrics and more synth-led bombastic symphonics than you’d think possible in music of this kind. One glance at album titles such as ‘Starfire Burning Upon The Ice-Veiled Throne Of Ultima thule’ and you get the idea. This is overblown, pompous extreme metal but it works brilliantly. The band have gone very quiet since signing for Nuclear Blast and releasing ‘The Cthonic Chronicles’ banck in 2006. However, I remain ever hopeful that after a wait of the best part of a decade, we get another record. Please Byron, sir, please?

Iced Earth – The Judas Goat

A perennial favourite, Iced Earth are surely due another album in 2016, although nothing has yet been confirmed beyond the usual rumours that are circulating. It was a shame that vocalist Matt Barlow has left the fold but in Stu Block (ex-Into Eternity), Iced Earth have found the perfect replacement. His range and natural ability behind the mic is the idea accompaniment to the classic/thrash/power metal for which guitarist and founder Jon Schaffer is famous. After a couple of hit and miss albums in recent times, Iced Earth returned to form in blistering style with 2014’s ‘Plagues Of Babylon’, meaning that the excitement for its follow-up, tentatively titled ‘The Judas Goat’ is even more feverish than before amongst the legions of loyal Iced Earth fans, myself included.

Pantommind – Searching For Eternity – Album Review

Pantommind cover

Artist: Pantommind

Album Title: Searching For Eternity

Label: Spectastral Records

Year Of Release: 2015

691. That’s the current number of ‘likes’ that progressive metallers Pantommind have on Facebook. I know very well that social media is in no way the only measure of an artist’s success and neither should it be. But like it or not, it is a snapshot; a barometer of the popularity of a band. And so 691 likes for a band of this quality? That’s unbelievable. But crucially, I think things are about to change in the near future. Let me explain why…

Pantommind are, I think, the only Bulgarian band that features in my music collection, although I stand to be corrected of course. The quintet from Gabrovo in Bulgaria can trace their roots all the way back to 1993, when a group of friends came together through a love of music and called their band ‘Lavender Haze’. In 1995, the name changed to Pantommind, but it wasn’t until 2005 that debut album ‘Shade Of Fate’ was released. 2009 then saw the release of sophomore effort ‘Lunasense’. I have both albums and enjoy the music contained within them, although I wouldn’t have referred to Pantommind as one of my very favourite prog metal artists. As with most bands, line-up changes have played their part, most notably with the departure of drummer Dragomir Minkov to devote more time to surrealist painting. This departure led to a temporary disbanding of Pantommind and so it has taken around six years for the third album to see the light of day. ‘Searching For Eternity’ is the title of this record and, simply, it is a game changer.

Pantommind have not drastically altered their approach to songwriting and execution on ‘Searching For Eternity’. Listeners are still treated to complex and technical progressive metal with melody and atmosphere but the entire band have honed their skills in all departments thus creating an album that delivers a huge step up in terms of overall quality and enjoyment. I’ve lived with this album for about a week now and I have to say I’m hugely impressed with what messrs Tony Ivan (vocals), Pete Christ (guitars, bass keyboards), Ross (guitars), Drago (drums) and Sunny X (keyboards) have to offer.

Photo: Ivelin Andreev

Photo: Ivelin Andreev

Whether or not you’ll enjoy this album will largely depend on whether you’re a fan of technical musicianship and huge keyboards within your music. If the answer is no, I suggest you’d be better served listening to something else. If the answer is ‘yes’, read on.

What I personally love about the overall genre of progressive music is that, in general, there are no rules and so musicians are afforded the freedom to pursue their personal visions, unconstrained by convention or prevailing trends. In the case of Pantommind, they have taken no heed of the fact that in 2015, guitar solos are not ‘de rigeur’ and instead deliver song after song chock full of blazing examples of six-string prowess. Some may consider it self-indulgent or over-the-top but personally, I love it. The guitar work is fast and complex but it is also very precise, melodious and expressive. Yes there are fast runs through the scales but there’s so much more on offer than that. A prime example of this being ‘Lost Lullaby’ where the speed is decreased in favour of a much more emotive and thoughtful tone, underpinned by some lovely acoustic guitars and subtle keys. The guitar riffs themselves are also well thought-out and executed with plenty of satisfying chops and headbanging fodder at regular intervals. There’s even room for a few bass flourishes courtesy of Pete Christ which is a nice touch from my point of view.

The aforementioned synths play a huge part in the Pantommind sound, as they bathe every composition in a rich, warm glow, whilst softening the edges and creating depth and atmosphere at the same time. I also rather like the vocal delivery of Tony Ivan. His is a very accomplished clean tone that offers a good range, enabling him to hit both high and low notes without any apparent effort or strain. At times, whilst in the higher register, his vocals are reminiscent of Stu Block (Iced Earth) from his Into Eternity days.

Speaking of reference points, I have to say that there is a definite old-school feel to a lot of the material throughout ‘Searching For Eternity’. As such, I hear elements of early Shadow Gallery, Crimson Glory, Cloudscape and Suspyre alongside hints of 80s Bay Area thrash such as very early Metallica, particularly when Pantommind wheel out the acoustic guitars and slow things down a touch.

References aside, what I particularly like about ‘Searching For Eternity’ is the way in which the technicality never takes over. At no point do I find myself thinking that the music is merely a directionless or disjointed exercise in technical posing or muscle-flexing. Instead, each composition has a clear structure and is held together via some strong melodies, particularly within the choruses. The likes of ‘Moon Horizon’, ‘Tell Me’ and the epic title track are particularly noteworthy thanks to their power and infectious nature. That said, ‘Searching For Eternity’ is a surprisingly consistent record where the quality rarely dips below being excellent.

As I said before, this album could be the game-changer for this group of talented eastern Europeans. Frankly, it deserves to be. Admittedly it will appeal in the main to a niche market but with the right promotion, there’s no reason that ‘Searching For Eternity’ couldn’t propel the name Pantommind into the conscious of a much wider audience of music fans who appreciate high quality heavy progressive music.

The Score Of Much Metal: 8.75

If you’ve enjoyed this review, check out my others right here:

Subterranean Masquerade – The Great Bazaar
Klone – Here Comes The Sun
The Gentle Storm – The Diary
Melechesh – Enki
Enslaved – In Times
Keep Of Kalessin – Epistemology
Lonely Robot – Please Come Home
The Neal Morse Band – The Grand Experiment
Zero Stroke – As The Colours Seep
AudioPlastik – In The Head Of A Maniac
Revolution Saints – Revolution Saints
Mors Principium Est – Dawn of The 5th Era
Arcade Messiah – Arcade Messiah
Triosphere – The Heart Of The Matter
Neonfly – Strangers In Paradise
Knight Area – Hyperdrive
Haken – Restoration
James LaBrie – Impermanent Resonance
Mercenary – Through Our Darkest Days
A.C.T. – Circus Pandemonium
Xerath – III
Big Big Train – English Electric (Part 1)
Thought Chamber – Psykerion
Marcus Jidell – Pictures From A Time Traveller
H.E.A.T – Tearing Down The Walls
Vanden Plas – Chronicles Of The Immortals: Netherworld