Charlie Griffiths – Tiktaalika – Album Review

Artist: Charlie Griffiths

Album Title: Tiktaalika

Label: InsideOut Music

Date of Release: 17 June 2022

My love and admiration for the progressive metal band Haken is something with which regular readers of manofmuchmetal.com will be all too familiar. Hell, I even wrote a piece suggesting that Haken might be the best band from the UK currently plying their trade. That thought may resonate, or it might seem like misguided hyperbole but either way, it demonstrates the strength of feeling I have for a band that I have steadfastly followed since the beginning. It was something of a no-brainer then, when I was presented with the opportunity to check out the debut solo album, ‘Tiktaalika’ by Haken guitarist Charlie Griffiths.

Handling the guitars, bass, keyboards, as well as writing the material and even singing lead vocals on a song, Griffiths demonstrates just how annoyingly talented he is as a musician on ‘Tiktaalika’. He is then joined throughout the album by drummer Darby Todd (Frost*, Devin Townsend), as well as a number of guest musicians including Dream Theater keyboardist Jordan Rudess, and saxophonist Rob Townsend (Steve Hackett). The list of guest vocalists is also eye-watering, as it includes Tommy Rogers (Between The Buried And Me), Danïel De Jongh (Textures), Vladimir Lalić (Organized Chaos), and Neil Purdy (Luna’s Call).

In anyone’s language, this is a hefty cast of musicians, so undoubtedly, expectations in various quarters were very high. But all of the star names in the world cannot save an album that suffers from poor songwriting, so it is imperative that this is not a stumbling block right at the outset. Thank goodness that Charlie Griffiths is a talented guy and a consummate professional, because almost immediately, I was able to relax and absorb the music on ‘Tiktaalika’ with a smile on my face.

As a side note, whilst there might be some slight play on words with a certain Bay Area thrash band, the bulk of the title of this album is inspired by the ‘Tiktaalik’, an extinct species that was present on Earth some 375 million years ago, a special creature that helped us to better understand the evolution of dinosaurs, fish, and land mammals. I’d never heard of it, so props to Mr Griffiths for making another day a school day. Love that!

My oblique reference to Metallica makes sense from the very get go of ‘Tiktaalika’, because the opening track, ‘Prehistoric Prelude’ begins in a manner that immediately reminds me of the wonderful opening of the classic track, ‘Battery’. When you hear the tone of the acoustic guitar and the chosen melody, you’ll understand. From there, the heaviness cranks up, eventually opening up into a full-on, speedy thrash metal work out complete with energetic riffs, thunderous drumming, and exuberant lead guitar soloing.

One of the big selling points with ‘Tiktaalika’ is Griffith’s return to a six-string guitar with the man himself remarking just how easily the riffs started to come to him. And this album is a proper riff heavy affair that leaves the listener in no doubt about the truth of this statement. ‘Arctic Cemetery’, featuring Tommy Rogers is a microcosm of everything that Charlie Griffiths is clearly striving for with this record; it is subtle, nuanced, heavy, and memorable. But most of all, it is varied, keeping the listener on their toes. It helps that Rogers delivers both his quiet, clean tones as well as his more aggressive style, because it creates another layer of variation. But between the chunky, groovy riffs, delicate melodies, and whimsical, atmospheric chorus, not to mention the numerous peaks and troughs, the song never sits still, with creativity seemingly oozing from every pore.

From there, we’re confronted with further experimentation, seemingly at every turn. ‘Luminous Beings’ is far more progressive in tone, with a stronger jazzy, fusion feel to large portions of it. The vocals of Danïel De Jongh are really excellent, completely in keeping with the soundtrack upon which he sings. The quieter moments allow Griffiths’ not inconsiderable bass talents to come more to the fore too, as he delves deeper into out-and-out prog before pulling us back from the brink with a satisfyingly bruising riff alongside a typically non-standard time signature.

As my favourite track of them all begins, you’re left in no doubt about the quality of the production, handled by Nolly Getgood. It is superb, bringing all of the songs to life. However, ‘In Alluvium’, one of three songs that extends beyond eight minutes, is a stand-out affair. The synth-heavy opening is melodious and enticing with the ensuing mid-paced groove utterly compelling, enhanced by Vladimir Lalić’s singing. The drumming from Darby Todd is marvellous too as the song slowly increases the intensity, dishing out killer riff after killer riff. The one-take keyboard solo courtesy of Jordan Rudess is impressive, but so is the whole song which again acts as a smorgasbord of different styles and inspirations, all wrapped up in some catchy as hell melodies.

I wasn’t originally as much of a fan of ‘Dead In The Water’ given my general dislike of the saxophone but I have been won over for the most part thanks to Griffiths’ songwriting prowess. Once again, the disparate has been forged into something surprisingly cohesive, dominated again by some instantly memorable and muscular progressive metal riffing and a hint of ‘The Mountain’ era Haken. Then there’s the epic-sounding segment that emerges after a brief foray into more extreme metal territory. Neil Purdy’s clean vocals join what feels like an outpouring of melodic emotion, before there’s a clever return to the motif from ‘In Alluvium’ at the death.

On ‘Digging Deeper’, an overall more delicate song, Charlie sings. It’s more of a hushed, delicate and tentative delivery, often strongly effect-laden, but it is a great vehicle to explore another different soundscape. With an echo of ‘Affinity’-era Haken thanks to the chosen samples and electronic effects, it further demonstrates Charlie Griffiths’ desire to keep experimenting.

The title track is an instrumental piece that is positively brimming with exuberance, instant feel-good melody and yes, you’ve guessed it, a ton of riffs. It feels very much as if this was the chance for Griffiths to go all-out and tell the world what an incredible guitarist he is – and he succeeds in the strongest of ways. Blazing solos, clever time signatures, light and shade, and groove by the truck full, it has everything you could want if you’re a lover of the six-string.

And finally, ‘Crawl Walk Run’ rounds things out in tandem with ‘Under Polaris’. The former reminds me a little of bands like latter-day Symphony X thanks to the high tempo and intricate riffs, despite some savage growls from Danïel De Jongh. The latter sees the album come full circle with a return of some impossibly fast guitar work that’s part prog, part thrash akin to the opener. But led by the vocals of Tommy Rogers, it also sees a reprise of several of the melodies seen throughout the album. I love this sort of thing, and it means that, as far as I’m concerned, ‘Tiktaalika’ ends in the strongest and most captivating way possible. The return of the acoustic guitar at the death in particular sends a shiver down my spine.

I had a feeling that ‘Tiktaalika’ would be good, but I wasn’t banking on it being quite this good if I’m being brutally honest. There is much to enjoy about Charlie Griffith’s debut solo effort, and I keep discovering new things with each passing listen too. No doubt it’ll appeal first and foremost to lovers of the guitar and the almighty riff, but given the diversity of the material and the quality of the songs themselves, I’m certain that the appeal of ‘Tiktaalika’ will be much wider, and rightly so. The only problem for Charlie Griffiths now, is how does he go about topping this on his sophomore release? Tune in 375 million years from now to find out!

The Score of Much Metal: 93%

Check out my other 2022 reviews here:

Seven Kingdoms – Zenith

Brutta – Brutta

White Ward – False Light

Winds Of Tragedy – As Time Drifts Away

Tim Bowness – Butterfly Mind

Denouncement Pyre – Forever Burning

Truent – Through The Vale Of Earthly Torment

Wind Rose – Warfront

Kardashev – Liminal Rite

Artificial Brain -Artificial Brain

Seventh Wonder – The Testament

All Things Fallen – Shadow Way

Def Leppard – Diamond Star Halos

Lord Belial – Rapture

Buried Realm – Buried Realm

Stiriah – …Of Light

Remains Of Destruction – New Dawn

Crematory – Inglorious Darkness

IATT – Magnum Opus

Iris Divine – Mercurial

Decapitated – Cancer Culture

Bekmørk – The Path Nocturnal

Septic Flesh – Modern Primitive

Blut Aus Nord – Disharmonium – Undreamable Abysses

Drift Into Black – Earthtorn

Spheric Universe Experience – Back Home

Outshine – The Awakening

Cosmic Putrefaction – Crepuscular Dirge For The Blessed Ones

Zero Hour – Agenda 21

Scitalis – Doomed Before Time

Morgue Supplier – Inevitability

Visions Of Atlantis – Pirates

Evergrey – A Heartless Portrait (The Orphean Testament)

OU – One

Haunter – Discarnate Ails

Aara – Triade II: Hemera

Pure Reason Revolution – Above Cirrus

Demonical – Mass Destroyer

I Am The Night – While The Gods Are Sleeping

Haunted By Silhouettes – No Man Isle

Delvoid – Swarmlife

LionSoul – A Pledge To Darkness

Watain – The Agony And Ecstasy Of Watain

Dischordia – Triptych

Dragonbreed – Necrohedron

Audrey Horne – Devil’s Bell

Vanum – Legend

Stone Broken – Revelation

Radiant – Written By Life

Skull Fist – Paid In Full

Hurakan – Via Aeturna

Incandescence – Le Coeur De L’Homme

Imminent Sonic Destruction – The Sun Will Always Set

Monuments – In Stasis

Soledad – XIII

Viande – L’abime dévore les âmes

Credic – Vermillion Oceans

Postcards From New Zealand – Burn, Witch, Burn

Darkher – The Buried Storm

Treat – The Endgame

Bjørn Riis – Everything To Everyone

Destruction – Diabolical

Et Moriemur – Tamashii No Yama

Angel Nation – Antares

Wolf – Shadowland

Denali – Denali EP

Centinex – The Pestilence EP

Meshuggah – Immutable

Chapter Of Hate – Bloodsoaked Decadence EP

Ancient Settlers – Our Last Eclipse

Tranzat – Ouh La La

Playgrounded – The Death Of Death

Father Befouled – Crowned In Veneficum

Abbath – Dread Reaver

PreHistoric Animals – The Magical Mystery Machine (Chapter 2)

Kvaen – The Great Below

Michael Romeo – War Of The Worlds, Part 2

Dark Funeral – We Are The Apocalypse

Carmeria – Advenae

Agathodaimon – The Seven

Moonlight Haze – Animus

Hellbore – Panopticon

Konvent – Call Down The Sun

Idol Of Fear – Trespasser

The Midgard Project – The Great Divide

Threads Of Fate – The Cold Embrace Of The Light

Arkaik – Labyrinth Of Hungry Ghosts

New Horizon – Gate Of The Gods

Cailleach Calling – Dreams Of Fragmentation

Tundra – A Darkening Sky

Sylvaine – Nova

Hath – All That Was Promised

Sabaton – The War To End All Wars

Kuolemanlaakso – Kuusumu

Oh Hiroshima – Myriad

Godless Truth – Godless Truth

Shape Of Despair – Return To The Void

Eight Bells – Legacy Of Ruin

Embryonic Devourment – Heresy Of The Highest Order

Serious Black – Vengeance Is Mine

Allegaeon – Damnum

HammerFall – Hammer Of Dawn

Immolation – Acts Of God

Veonity – Elements Of Power

Nightrage – Abyss Rising

Arjen Anthony Lucassen’s Star One – Revel In Time

Pure Wrath – Hymn To The Woeful Hearts

Dagoba – By Night

The Last Of Lucy – Moksha

Arð – Take Up My Bones

Embryonic Autopsy – Prophecies Of The Conjoined

The Devils Of Loudun – Escaping Eternity

Cult Of Luna – The Long Road North

WAIT – The End Of Noise

Abysmal Dawn – Nightmare Frontier

Amorphis – Halo

Nordic Giants – Sybiosis

Persefone – Metanoia

Vorga – Striving Toward Oblivion

Mystic Circle – Mystic Circle

Nasson – Scars

Burned In Effigy – Rex Mortem

Silent Skies – Nectar

Celeste – Assassine(s)

Abyssus – Death Revival

SOM – The Shape Of Everything

Ashes Of Ares – Emperors And Fools

Beriedir – AQVA

Lalu – Paint The Sky

Nocturna – Daughters Of The Night

Battle Beast – Circus Of Doom

Lee McKinney – In The Light Of Knowledge

Descent – Order Of Chaos

Aethereus – Leiden

Toundra – Hex

Ilium – Quantum Evolution Event EP

Power Paladin – With The Magic Of Windfyre Steel

Necrophagous – In Chaos Ascend

Infected Rain – Ecdysis

Wilderun – Epigone

You can also check out my other reviews from previous years right here:

2021 reviews

2020 reviews

2019 reviews
2018 reviews
2017 reviews
2016 reviews
2015 reviews

Tim Bowness – Butterfly Mind – Album Review

Artist: Tim Bowness

Album Title: Butterfly Mind

Label: InsideOut Music

Date of Release: 17 June 2022

Cards on the table, I know nothing of the band No-Man and up until I was presented with the opportunity to listen to this record in advance of its release, I’d never clapped ears on any of Tim Bowness’ previous solo material either. You could say then that I’m a true novice, something that will either work in my favour or against me. What you can guarantee though, is that I come to this review with literally no expectations or prior knowledge, as well as a viewpoint that’s unencumbered by any outside influences. Not for the first time, I’m a blank slate.

It’s probably an unnecessary exercise for many but for those who, like me, are less familiar with the work of Tim Bowness, it is worth mentioning that he is joined by a stellar cast of musicians on ‘Butterfly Mind’. Joining the vocalist and multi-instrumentalist throughout this record are Nick Beggs (bass, chapman stick), Brian Hulse (guitars, keyboards, programming), and drummer Richard Jupp. And then there is a whole host of guests that add their talents to a song or two. The list runs into double figures but most eye catching for me are Big Big Train’s Greg Spawton (bass pedals) and Jethro Tull’s Ian Anderson (flute).

My desire to listen to anything and everything this year in particular has paid off numerous times so far, but it can’t always be a successful approach – the law of averages alone will dictate that some of my exploration will result in a dead end, or with an artist failing to ignite the fires within me. Sadly, this is one of them. So why continue with my review? Because I have spent a lot of time listening to ‘Butterfly Mind’ and so I feel I can put together a cogent set of reasons why I don’t personally get hit square in the feels by Tim Bowness’ latest creation, rather than simply dismissing it. It may be that my reasons for failing to connect are the exact reasons why someone else will love it or give it a listen when maybe they otherwise wouldn’t.

After all, an album can be very good and still not be someone’s cup of tea. And ‘Butterfly Mind’ is absolutely a very good album that is full of great material. I’m not deaf to this, and I’d certainly not decry otherwise. But at the end of the day, after careful listening and consideration it’s just not for me. But why?

My normal musical preference is at the heavier end of the spectrum, of that there is no secret. However, I enjoy my fair share of music that’s quieter, more relaxed, or of a different genre entirely. The fact that I adore bands like Big Big Train, Toto, Fleetwood Mac, White Moth Black Butterfly, and any number of gentler prog rock acts go some way to demonstrate this. Therefore, there’s every chance that I’d like this offering from Tim Bowness.

The key factor in my enjoyment of this music is the melodic sensibilities contained within. And that’s the first issue I have personally with ‘Butterfly Mind’. It is a very melodic, warm, and inviting album that sounds a million dollars in terms of the production that envelops the listener like a faithful favourite blanket. But the melodies that feature within the album rarely get me excited or send a tingle down my spine. I nod appreciatively occasionally, but that’s about it.

As a result, I don’t have that emotional connection with the music that others will have. If the melodies don’t resonate strongly with me, I find the listening experience to be a perfunctory one, rather than a truly emotional one. That’s what I find here. It’s a sorrowful sounding album, but without the hooks and melodies to really tug at my heartstrings.

Songs like ‘It’s Easier To Love’ will be massive hits for many, but for me, this track is one that’s a bridge too far. The abundant saxophone is always going to be a problem for me given my prejudices towards the instrument, but regardless, the song is too whimsical, smooth, and bland for my tastes. If it had a killer hook within it, I might think differently, but it doesn’t, and I’m not too displeased when it ends.

The pulsing bass lines within follow up ‘We Feel’ as well as the increased energy injected by some nice guitar tones, embellishments, and sparingly used riffs rouses me a little from my near comatose state. It is one of the more immediate songs on the album, alongside ‘Always The Stranger’, which is a lively and vibrant affair albeit too short and sweet. It features some nice melodic touches that I latch on to, whilst I like the breathy, almost whispered vocals at points.

The vocals of Bowness himself are both a help and a hindrance to my enjoyment. At times, his delivery feels really unique and interesting, whilst at others, I’m less keen on his voice. It’s odd because I’ve rarely had this experience – I either like or dislike a voice outright.

‘Lost Player’ could be an even better track than it is, but it just fails to do anything particularly special or irresistible despite threatening to do so before fizzling out to nothing rather disappointingly. Then there’s ‘Only A Fool’ which is just plain odd, which could be a positive attribute were it not for some of the electronic sounds which I find a little overbearing and jarring. It’s a similar appraisal for ‘Glitter Fades’ which features an electronic beat to accompany the organic drums. It’s here that I find Bowness’ vocals most hard to enjoy, but I fully appreciate that this is me rather than his delivery which will no doubt hit the mark for his loyal fans and fans of this kind of music in particular. And it is a nice song, especially with the onset of some gentle orchestration in the latter stages; it’s just not a composition that I can warm to, as hard as I try.

I really do hope that I have been fair and transparent with this review, and I have given an insight into why I am not as enamoured as many others will be by this record. As I have said many times, almost ad nauseum, ‘Butterfly Mind’ is not a bad album, far from it. Indeed, I wish I liked it more than I do. But I don’t, and that’s a genuine shame because I came to this with genuine interest and an open mind ready to be impressed, to announce to me in glorious technicolour what I’ve been missing over the years. Ultimately, it wasn’t to be, but don’t be put off by my thoughts on this – if you think that this might be something you’ll enjoy, check it out. And if you do, I honestly hope you will have a more positive experience than I’ve had.

The Score of Much Metal: 70%

Check out my other 2022 reviews here:

Denouncement Pyre – Forever Burning

Truent – Through The Vale Of Earthly Torment

Wind Rose – Warfront

Kardashev – Liminal Rite

Artificial Brain -Artificial Brain

Seventh Wonder – The Testament

All Things Fallen – Shadow Way

Def Leppard – Diamond Star Halos

Lord Belial – Rapture

Buried Realm – Buried Realm

Stiriah – …Of Light

Remains Of Destruction – New Dawn

Crematory – Inglorious Darkness

IATT – Magnum Opus

Iris Divine – Mercurial

Decapitated – Cancer Culture

Bekmørk – The Path Nocturnal

Septic Flesh – Modern Primitive

Blut Aus Nord – Disharmonium – Undreamable Abysses

Drift Into Black – Earthtorn

Spheric Universe Experience – Back Home

Outshine – The Awakening

Cosmic Putrefaction – Crepuscular Dirge For The Blessed Ones

Zero Hour – Agenda 21

Scitalis – Doomed Before Time

Morgue Supplier – Inevitability

Visions Of Atlantis – Pirates

Evergrey – A Heartless Portrait (The Orphean Testament)

OU – One

Haunter – Discarnate Ails

Aara – Triade II: Hemera

Pure Reason Revolution – Above Cirrus

Demonical – Mass Destroyer

I Am The Night – While The Gods Are Sleeping

Haunted By Silhouettes – No Man Isle

Delvoid – Swarmlife

LionSoul – A Pledge To Darkness

Watain – The Agony And Ecstasy Of Watain

Dischordia – Triptych

Dragonbreed – Necrohedron

Audrey Horne – Devil’s Bell

Vanum – Legend

Stone Broken – Revelation

Radiant – Written By Life

Skull Fist – Paid In Full

Hurakan – Via Aeturna

Incandescence – Le Coeur De L’Homme

Imminent Sonic Destruction – The Sun Will Always Set

Monuments – In Stasis

Soledad – XIII

Viande – L’abime dévore les âmes

Credic – Vermillion Oceans

Postcards From New Zealand – Burn, Witch, Burn

Darkher – The Buried Storm

Treat – The Endgame

Bjørn Riis – Everything To Everyone

Destruction – Diabolical

Et Moriemur – Tamashii No Yama

Angel Nation – Antares

Wolf – Shadowland

Denali – Denali EP

Centinex – The Pestilence EP

Meshuggah – Immutable

Chapter Of Hate – Bloodsoaked Decadence EP

Ancient Settlers – Our Last Eclipse

Tranzat – Ouh La La

Playgrounded – The Death Of Death

Father Befouled – Crowned In Veneficum

Abbath – Dread Reaver

PreHistoric Animals – The Magical Mystery Machine (Chapter 2)

Kvaen – The Great Below

Michael Romeo – War Of The Worlds, Part 2

Dark Funeral – We Are The Apocalypse

Carmeria – Advenae

Agathodaimon – The Seven

Moonlight Haze – Animus

Hellbore – Panopticon

Konvent – Call Down The Sun

Idol Of Fear – Trespasser

The Midgard Project – The Great Divide

Threads Of Fate – The Cold Embrace Of The Light

Arkaik – Labyrinth Of Hungry Ghosts

New Horizon – Gate Of The Gods

Cailleach Calling – Dreams Of Fragmentation

Tundra – A Darkening Sky

Sylvaine – Nova

Hath – All That Was Promised

Sabaton – The War To End All Wars

Kuolemanlaakso – Kuusumu

Oh Hiroshima – Myriad

Godless Truth – Godless Truth

Shape Of Despair – Return To The Void

Eight Bells – Legacy Of Ruin

Embryonic Devourment – Heresy Of The Highest Order

Serious Black – Vengeance Is Mine

Allegaeon – Damnum

HammerFall – Hammer Of Dawn

Immolation – Acts Of God

Veonity – Elements Of Power

Nightrage – Abyss Rising

Arjen Anthony Lucassen’s Star One – Revel In Time

Pure Wrath – Hymn To The Woeful Hearts

Dagoba – By Night

The Last Of Lucy – Moksha

Arð – Take Up My Bones

Embryonic Autopsy – Prophecies Of The Conjoined

The Devils Of Loudun – Escaping Eternity

Cult Of Luna – The Long Road North

WAIT – The End Of Noise

Abysmal Dawn – Nightmare Frontier

Amorphis – Halo

Nordic Giants – Sybiosis

Persefone – Metanoia

Vorga – Striving Toward Oblivion

Mystic Circle – Mystic Circle

Nasson – Scars

Burned In Effigy – Rex Mortem

Silent Skies – Nectar

Celeste – Assassine(s)

Abyssus – Death Revival

SOM – The Shape Of Everything

Ashes Of Ares – Emperors And Fools

Beriedir – AQVA

Lalu – Paint The Sky

Nocturna – Daughters Of The Night

Battle Beast – Circus Of Doom

Lee McKinney – In The Light Of Knowledge

Descent – Order Of Chaos

Aethereus – Leiden

Toundra – Hex

Ilium – Quantum Evolution Event EP

Power Paladin – With The Magic Of Windfyre Steel

Necrophagous – In Chaos Ascend

Infected Rain – Ecdysis

Wilderun – Epigone

You can also check out my other reviews from previous years right here:

2021 reviews

2020 reviews

2019 reviews
2018 reviews
2017 reviews
2016 reviews
2015 reviews

OU – One – Album Review

Artist: OU

Album Title: One

Label: InsideOut Music

Date of Release: 6 May 2022

There’s a reason I’m slightly late with this review, and that’s because I have had the hardest time deciding what I think about it. ‘It’ is the international debut full-length release from the Chinese progressive rock/metal band called OU. Entitled ‘One’, the album is the creation of four musicians from Beijing, brought together by drummer Anthony Vanacore. He is joined in OU by vocalist Lynn Wu, guitarist Zhang Jing, and bassist Chris Cui who, together, are possibly the very first Chinese-based band to be signed to a record label in the West. That in itself is worthy of some kudos, surely?

But that’s the easy bit, because now, I have to turn my attention to the music that features on ‘One’, and I’m not entirely sure where to begin if I’m honest. On paper, citing influences that range from Devin Townsend to Radiohead to The Gathering, it would seem like a relatively straightforward task, given that I am familiar with each of these named artists. However, press play, and there’s a strong argument to suggest that we’ve been lulled into a false sense of security.

On the one hand, each of these references bears fruit. But this tells only a fraction of the story, because OU sound like no-one else that I’ve ever heard. You can easily add names like Haken, Frank Zappa, and Dream Theater to the list as well as genre descriptors like psychedelic, djent, math rock, and alternative. There’s even a big synth element to much of the music that brings an air of anime to the party. In fact, whilst OU are labelled as a ‘prog’ band, there’s a fairly decent case to be made to refer to the quartet as avant-garde, or jazz metal, simply because I get the sense that anything goes here, and it leads to an intense and original final product.

I think, having grappled with the music a lot over the last little while, that one of the most important elements is the voice and vocal delivery of Lynn Wu. As technical as the music is around her, Wu’s style is such that it feels a bit like a stream of consciousness at times; she goes wherever she wants, whether or not it entirely goes with the music within the confines of the songs. Within some of the tracks, barely a second goes by without her voice being present, even if, on occasion, Wu isn’t even singing any lyrics at all. This is not a criticism at all though, because Wu has a beautifully smooth, ethereal voice that also has a childlike quality to it at times. She can shout and scream with the best of them when the mood takes her too, but generally, her approach is much more reserved, quiet, and mellifluous.

Opening track, ‘Travel 穿’ is big on the odd synth sounds that call to mind the anime and psychedelic stylings, but it’s also a bold and strong song elsewhere. The musicianship of the quartet is incredibly high, with plenty of complexity delivered without seemingly breaking a sweat. The composition is tight and precise, one of the heaviest on ‘One’ with some djent leanings to the guitar sounds, drawing those vague Devin Townsend comparisions. As the song draws to a close, it opens out a little too, offering one of the closest approximations of genuine catchy melody. Admittedly there’s a charm about the song that gets under the skin the more you listen, but it’s the final stages, preceded by some breakneck drumming that is my personal highlight here.

The vocals that accompany what would otherwise be a standard modern prog intro to ‘Farewell 夔’ are, frankly, bizarre, and at odds with the music, leading me to bring up the ‘avant-garde’ tag; there’s nothing straightforward about OU, as this song ably demonstrates. ‘Mountain 山’ is arguably my favourite track on the album, as the prog is strong here, with the occasional Haken-ism, as well as a stand-out performance from bassist Chris Cui who, just like Lynn Wu, never stops, forever embellishing the song with barely a breath taken throughout.

From there, things take a bit of an unexpected turn, with the progressive rock/metal trappings taking more of a back seat as the album continues. ‘Ghost 灵’ is a three-and-a-half-minute quiet, largely instrumental affair, dominated by sombre synths, accented by acoustic guitars and bass notes. Wu does appear later on, with a truly ethereal performance, but it is definitely the bold synths that make the biggest impression. I’m not entirely sure that I like it still.

The quieter delivery continues with the seven-minute ‘Euphoria 兴’, although the opening couple of minutes are quite vibrant and fast-paced with acoustic guitars, bass, Wu’s gentle, smooth vocals, and stunning drumming from Anthony Vanacore. However, the longer the song goes on, the more the synths come to dominate, and the more the track starts to slowly unravel, become more and more ominous in tone, as well as more and more minimalist, eventually becoming a full-on ambient affair before fading to nothing.

The juxtaposition between ‘Euphoria 兴’ and ‘Prejudice 豸’ is stark and powerful, as Wu offers some of her most angst-ridden vocals to accompany a blast of all-out heavy prog. However, despite the heaviness, intensity, and the amazing performances of all concerned, the song fails to fully grab me. It’s a decent song, with a lovely clean guitar sequence at the three-quarter mark, but despite this and some killer bass towards the end, the song as a whole is not one that I want to listen to over and over again.

And the same is broadly true of the final two songs, ‘Dark 暗’ and ‘Light 光’. Again, the musicianship is out of the top drawer, but the music fails to fully ignite my enthusiasm. IT may only be a little over 41 minutes in length, but the sheer intensity and complexity of the music begins to wear me down towards the end I think. I’m dying for Lynn Wu to sing what I consider to be a ‘normal’ vocal line just once, but it never materialises which, for me, is a slight disappointment. I guess though, this isn’t the OU way, and neither should it be if they don’t want it to be.

And there we are – after intently listening to ‘One’ for a number of days, I am no closer to being able to say whether or not I like the music on the album. There are a handful of tracks that have begun to work their charms on me, primarily the opening trio, and I have no doubt that with more time, I might get closer to a decision. But I fear that’ll be six months or a year down the line, if I stick with it for that long, truth be told. Do not let my comments distract from the truth about the music though, because on that score, there is nothing but admiration from me. The complexity, the originality, and the sheer focus that is involved to bring this record to fruition is staggering. If you have a more open mind than I have, or you are a musician yourself, I suspect you will lap this album up and consider it to be one of the best things you’ve ever heard. I’m still on the fence though…I can’t decide whether I like it or not and that’s maddening.

The Score of Much Metal: 80%

Check out my other 2022 reviews here:

Haunter – Discarnate Ails

Aara – Triade II: Hemera

Pure Reason Revolution – Above Cirrus

Demonical – Mass Destroyer

I Am The Night – While The Gods Are Sleeping

Haunted By Silhouettes – No Man Isle

Delvoid – Swarmlife

LionSoul – A Pledge To Darkness

Watain – The Agony And Ecstasy Of Watain

Dischordia – Triptych

Dragonbreed – Necrohedron

Audrey Horne – Devil’s Bell

Vanum – Legend

Stone Broken – Revelation

Radiant – Written By Life

Skull Fist – Paid In Full

Hurakan – Via Aeturna

Incandescence – Le Coeur De L’Homme

Imminent Sonic Destruction – The Sun Will Always Set

Monuments – In Stasis

Soledad – XIII

Viande – L’abime dévore les âmes

Credic – Vermillion Oceans

Postcards From New Zealand – Burn, Witch, Burn

Darkher – The Buried Storm

Treat – The Endgame

Bjørn Riis – Everything To Everyone

Destruction – Diabolical

Et Moriemur – Tamashii No Yama

Angel Nation – Antares

Wolf – Shadowland

Denali – Denali EP

Centinex – The Pestilence EP

Meshuggah – Immutable

Chapter Of Hate – Bloodsoaked Decadence EP

Ancient Settlers – Our Last Eclipse

Tranzat – Ouh La La

Playgrounded – The Death Of Death

Father Befouled – Crowned In Veneficum

Abbath – Dread Reaver

PreHistoric Animals – The Magical Mystery Machine (Chapter 2)

Kvaen – The Great Below

Michael Romeo – War Of The Worlds, Part 2

Dark Funeral – We Are The Apocalypse

Carmeria – Advenae

Agathodaimon – The Seven

Moonlight Haze – Animus

Hellbore – Panopticon

Konvent – Call Down The Sun

Idol Of Fear – Trespasser

The Midgard Project – The Great Divide

Threads Of Fate – The Cold Embrace Of The Light

Arkaik – Labyrinth Of Hungry Ghosts

New Horizon – Gate Of The Gods

Cailleach Calling – Dreams Of Fragmentation

Tundra – A Darkening Sky

Sylvaine – Nova

Hath – All That Was Promised

Sabaton – The War To End All Wars

Kuolemanlaakso – Kuusumu

Oh Hiroshima – Myriad

Godless Truth – Godless Truth

Shape Of Despair – Return To The Void

Eight Bells – Legacy Of Ruin

Embryonic Devourment – Heresy Of The Highest Order

Serious Black – Vengeance Is Mine

Allegaeon – Damnum

HammerFall – Hammer Of Dawn

Immolation – Acts Of God

Veonity – Elements Of Power

Nightrage – Abyss Rising

Arjen Anthony Lucassen’s Star One – Revel In Time

Pure Wrath – Hymn To The Woeful Hearts

Dagoba – By Night

The Last Of Lucy – Moksha

Arð – Take Up My Bones

Embryonic Autopsy – Prophecies Of The Conjoined

The Devils Of Loudun – Escaping Eternity

Cult Of Luna – The Long Road North

WAIT – The End Of Noise

Abysmal Dawn – Nightmare Frontier

Amorphis – Halo

Nordic Giants – Sybiosis

Persefone – Metanoia

Vorga – Striving Toward Oblivion

Mystic Circle – Mystic Circle

Nasson – Scars

Burned In Effigy – Rex Mortem

Silent Skies – Nectar

Celeste – Assassine(s)

Abyssus – Death Revival

SOM – The Shape Of Everything

Ashes Of Ares – Emperors And Fools

Beriedir – AQVA

Lalu – Paint The Sky

Nocturna – Daughters Of The Night

Battle Beast – Circus Of Doom

Lee McKinney – In The Light Of Knowledge

Descent – Order Of Chaos

Aethereus – Leiden

Toundra – Hex

Ilium – Quantum Evolution Event EP

Power Paladin – With The Magic Of Windfyre Steel

Necrophagous – In Chaos Ascend

Infected Rain – Ecdysis

Wilderun – Epigone

You can also check out my other reviews from previous years right here:

2021 reviews

2020 reviews

2019 reviews
2018 reviews
2017 reviews
2016 reviews
2015 reviews

Pure Reason Revolution – Above Cirrus – Album Review

Artist: Pure Reason Revolution

Album Title: Above Cirrus

Label: InsideOut Music

Date of Release: 6 May 2022

The last album by Pure Reason Revolution was the first that I encountered, having missed out on their early career. And, despite not necessarily being the archetypal kind of music that I’d normally gravitate towards, it is fair to say that ‘Eupnea’ made a positive impression upon me. Of it, I wrote:

“And there you have it. Consider me a convert to the Pure Reason Revolution cause. ‘Eupnea’ is an intelligent blend of electronica, progressive rock that is made all the stronger due to some beguiling melodic sensitivity. I like the music more with every listen and I’m now very excited to delve into the band’s past at the earliest opportunity.”

Almost exactly two years later, Pure Reason Revolution have returned with ‘Above Cirrus’ and this time, the core duo of Jon Courtney (guitar, vocals, keys) and Chloe Alper (bass, vocals, keys) have brought with them a new full-time member to extend the band to a trio. I say ‘new’, but the new addition will be a familiar name to long-term fans, as it’s guitarist/vocalist Greg Jong who features as a full member for the first time since the 2005 EP, ‘Cautionary Tales For The Brave’.

Having spent some considerably time digesting ‘Above Cirrus’, it’s almost a cut and paste job from the quote above in many ways. Once again, Pure Reason Revolution have created a record that, on paper, I shouldn’t really take to, too heavily, but they have won me over. And the success of this new album is the combination of fascinating, deep lyrical content, emotion, the variation of styles, powerful melodies, and strong songwriting that means it all comes together in a really enjoyable package. It’s a bit of a grower too, with several songs suddenly, out of nowhere, finding their way into my brain to be hummed or sung when least expected.

Returning to the lyrics for a moment, and once again, the words are inspired by Courtney’s personal thoughts and journeys, with an overall message routed in optimism. ‘Above Cirrus’ isn’t a concept album though, as each song stands on its own, but with a central idea that ‘through the turbulence, we’ll help each other through the darkness.’ I find this to be an appealing central thread, which only serves to add greater strength and poignancy to the music. Even the cover art, which might seem sad on face value, is an extension of the lyrical content, in that the polar bear is suffering, but is adapting, surviving, and in so doing, offers hope.

Moving on to the music itself, and the electronic nature of the Pure Reason Revolution sound is exposed from the very beginning, with a gentle beat sitting beneath a spoken-word sample. From there, a powerful, almost tribal drumbeat kicks in to move the song forward forcefully, before an equally abrasive riff emerges. There’s a strong energy to the song that’s infectious, and even though I’m not totally sold on the heavily effect-laden vocals at points, the mix of layered male and female vocals really shines. It’s a short, sharp track to open the album, but it contains a melodic intent to ensure it’s as memorable as it is striking.

The contrast between the opener and ‘New Kind Of Evil’ is pronounced, as this song begins much more delicately and sedately, with a much greater emphasis on melody from the outset. That said, you can feel the increase in intensity that’s lurking just below the surface, wanting to break loose. The sense of drama that this creates is excellent, as is the central chorus melody which is one of those big earworm affairs. I also love the precise, yet smooth ebb and flow which leads to a bold release just shy of the half-way mark yet recedes just as quickly into calmer waters. The addition of tinkling piano notes is a very welcome addition, nicely juxtaposing the more overt electronic sounds that appear later in the track, as it ends on an authoritative note.

‘Phantoms’, another shorter composition, is arguably my least favourite on the album, but I do like the more pronounced electronics that feature alongside more male/female duetted vocals. It’s then superseded by one of the very best songs on ‘Above Cirrus’, that of ‘Cruel Deliverance’. It’s a slower, more introspective piece, but it contains the most gorgeous of melodies, the one more than any other that I find myself singing in my head at three in the morning, or whilst out with the dog on the park. Ironically, for one with the moniker of ‘The Man Of Much Metal’, this is also the most mainstream sounding, and least ‘heavy’ of all of the seven compositions on the record. But a great melody is a great melody, and it’s this that speaks to me above everything else. Mind you, the mid-song minimalist, cinematic section is inspired too.

At a touch over ten minutes, ‘Scream Sideways’ is the longest single composition, but it uses the time wisely, exploring a myriad of textures and soundscapes, from gentle, ethereal minimalism to driving prog rock, and from bold, experimental electronic vistas to spiky, aggressive post rock walls of sound. Once again though, despite the variations on offer, the song writing is such that the whole thing feels homogenous, tied together by some subtle melodies along the way.

And to close, we have ‘Lucid’ that is a beguiling track, full of great musicianship, from all members of the band, not to mention further memorable melodic intent. Even the brief inclusion of a saxophone barely dulls my enjoyment of the song, a song that once again shows the expertise in building drama and tension through passages of light and shade, of quiet contemplation, and all-out explosions of near-metallic strength.

On balance, as much as I enjoyed ‘Eupnea’, I can only conclude that I find myself enjoying ‘Above Cirrus’ even more. I’m not sure I can put my finger on quite why, but once the dust has settled and I am able to observe things from a distance, I get the feeling that it will ultimately come down to the strength and potency of the melodies. ‘Above Cirrus’ continues where ‘Eupnea’ left off, but also ups the ante and, in so doing, provides forty-five minutes of genuine musical pleasure. I heartily recommend ‘Above Cirrus’ to anyone with a liking for intelligent, melodic, electronic-infused progressive rock.

The Score of Much Metal: 89%

Check out my other 2022 reviews here:

Demonical – Mass Destroyer

I Am The Night – While The Gods Are Sleeping

Haunted By Silhouettes – No Man Isle

Delvoid – Swarmlife

LionSoul – A Pledge To Darkness

Watain – The Agony And Ecstasy Of Watain

Dischordia – Triptych

Dragonbreed – Necrohedron

Audrey Horne – Devil’s Bell

Vanum – Legend

Stone Broken – Revelation

Radiant – Written By Life

Skull Fist – Paid In Full

Hurakan – Via Aeturna

Incandescence – Le Coeur De L’Homme

Imminent Sonic Destruction – The Sun Will Always Set

Monuments – In Stasis

Soledad – XIII

Viande – L’abime dévore les âmes

Credic – Vermillion Oceans

Postcards From New Zealand – Burn, Witch, Burn

Darkher – The Buried Storm

Treat – The Endgame

Bjørn Riis – Everything To Everyone

Destruction – Diabolical

Et Moriemur – Tamashii No Yama

Angel Nation – Antares

Wolf – Shadowland

Denali – Denali EP

Centinex – The Pestilence EP

Meshuggah – Immutable

Chapter Of Hate – Bloodsoaked Decadence EP

Ancient Settlers – Our Last Eclipse

Tranzat – Ouh La La

Playgrounded – The Death Of Death

Father Befouled – Crowned In Veneficum

Abbath – Dread Reaver

PreHistoric Animals – The Magical Mystery Machine (Chapter 2)

Kvaen – The Great Below

Michael Romeo – War Of The Worlds, Part 2

Dark Funeral – We Are The Apocalypse

Carmeria – Advenae

Agathodaimon – The Seven

Moonlight Haze – Animus

Hellbore – Panopticon

Konvent – Call Down The Sun

Idol Of Fear – Trespasser

The Midgard Project – The Great Divide

Threads Of Fate – The Cold Embrace Of The Light

Arkaik – Labyrinth Of Hungry Ghosts

New Horizon – Gate Of The Gods

Cailleach Calling – Dreams Of Fragmentation

Tundra – A Darkening Sky

Sylvaine – Nova

Hath – All That Was Promised

Sabaton – The War To End All Wars

Kuolemanlaakso – Kuusumu

Oh Hiroshima – Myriad

Godless Truth – Godless Truth

Shape Of Despair – Return To The Void

Eight Bells – Legacy Of Ruin

Embryonic Devourment – Heresy Of The Highest Order

Serious Black – Vengeance Is Mine

Allegaeon – Damnum

HammerFall – Hammer Of Dawn

Immolation – Acts Of God

Veonity – Elements Of Power

Nightrage – Abyss Rising

Arjen Anthony Lucassen’s Star One – Revel In Time

Pure Wrath – Hymn To The Woeful Hearts

Dagoba – By Night

The Last Of Lucy – Moksha

Arð – Take Up My Bones

Embryonic Autopsy – Prophecies Of The Conjoined

The Devils Of Loudun – Escaping Eternity

Cult Of Luna – The Long Road North

WAIT – The End Of Noise

Abysmal Dawn – Nightmare Frontier

Amorphis – Halo

Nordic Giants – Sybiosis

Persefone – Metanoia

Vorga – Striving Toward Oblivion

Mystic Circle – Mystic Circle

Nasson – Scars

Burned In Effigy – Rex Mortem

Silent Skies – Nectar

Celeste – Assassine(s)

Abyssus – Death Revival

SOM – The Shape Of Everything

Ashes Of Ares – Emperors And Fools

Beriedir – AQVA

Lalu – Paint The Sky

Nocturna – Daughters Of The Night

Battle Beast – Circus Of Doom

Lee McKinney – In The Light Of Knowledge

Descent – Order Of Chaos

Aethereus – Leiden

Toundra – Hex

Ilium – Quantum Evolution Event EP

Power Paladin – With The Magic Of Windfyre Steel

Necrophagous – In Chaos Ascend

Infected Rain – Ecdysis

Wilderun – Epigone

You can also check out my other reviews from previous years right here:

2021 reviews

2020 reviews

2019 reviews
2018 reviews
2017 reviews
2016 reviews
2015 reviews

Michael Romeo – War Of The Worlds, Part 2 – Album Review

Artist: Michael Romeo

Album Title: War Of The Worlds, Part 2

Label: InsideOut Music

Date of Release: 25 March 2022

There comes a time in every reviewer’s life when your integrity is tested. In 2018, I reviewed ‘War Of The Worlds – Part 1’, the first solo album by the Symphony X guitar maestro Michael Romeo for many years. And now, four years later, here I am presented with ‘War Of The Worlds – Part 2’, the companion album to Romeo’s last. It would be incredibly simple for me to take the vast majority of that review, cut and paste it here and claim it’s brand new and original work. That’s because to a greater or lesser extent, it’s more of the same, meaning that if you liked ‘Part 1’, you will almost certainly like ‘War Of The Worlds – Part 2’.

Based on the opening paragraph, you might be expecting a negative review of ‘Part 2’, but you’d be wrong. Very wrong. On a scale of wrongness (sic) you’d be at about eleven. That’s because this is a monster of a record, a beast that fills me with that rarest of emotions these days – joy. Here is an album filled with just about everything I like in my heavy metal, and I love listening to it. So what if it is more of the same? Who cares? ‘Part 1’ was great, so to be able to say the same about ‘Part 2’ is an unbridled delight. I mean, who buys a favourite chocolate bar, or meat pie in my case, and moans because it tastes just like the last one? That’s just silly. I’m all for progression, but when something isn’t broken, don’t try to fix it.

The biggest change this time around is in the vocal department. For ‘Part 2’, Dino Jelusick takes up the mantle, replacing Rick Castellano. He therefore joins Romeo, bassist John ‘JD’ DeServio and drummer John Macaluso, and he does a fantastic job here to put it mildly. His voice is powerful, melodious, and dramatic. There are occasions when he might even push the mighty ‘Sir’ Russell Allen such is his performance here, which fits the music perfectly.

As I mused in my review of ‘Part 1’, this record does contain echoes of Symphony X within it; some might argue that there’s more than an echo, and perhaps they’d be correct. But such a resemblance is hardly a shock when Romeo is in charge of the guitars, the keys, and the orchestrations, not to mention the bulk of the songwriting too. Rather than worry about this, just sit back, relax and let me explain why ‘War Of The Worlds, Part 2’ is so good.

I love the cinematic nature of ‘Part 2’ to begin with. The opening composition sees Romeo channelling his inner film-score composer skills to wonderful effect. This isn’t an unnecessary, throw-away intro piece, this has drama, gravitas and, with the embellishment of his guitar work alongside the orchestration, it’s a grandiose and inviting start to this record, something that’s later built upon via ‘Hunted’ and ‘Brave New World (Outro)’.

‘Divide And Conquer’ is the first ‘standard’ metal track, but there’s precious little standard about it. It thunders out of the speakers with heavy riffs and deft lead embellishments to get the blood pumping. The neo-classical style that Romeo favours is present, but it’s the enormous, anthemic chorus that is the most devastating aspect of this track. For all the clever instrumentation, of which there is much, and the further cinematic orchestration, when the voice of Jelusick soars over the melodic and immediate chorus, something in my heart awakens. The drumming is slick, the bass is commanding, and the lead solos touch warp speed at times; this is a cracking opening statement, proving that Romeo has some serious skills as a musician and as a guitarist. Well duh!

As the album continues, so too does the quality. Much like the name might imply, ‘Destroyer’ is a heavy and uncompromising track. The riffs remind me of recent Evergrey a little, with its chunky, down tuned presence, laced with a certain amount of darkness. It carries a sense of the dystopian with it, in keeping with the album’s concept, and there’s a touch of Middle Eastern mystique to add further flavour. And, whilst the chorus isn’t as immediate as its predecessor, it’s a genuine grower as well as something to really test out those neck muscles.

It would be very easy for me to descend into a track-by-track run through of ‘War Of The Worlds, Part 2’, but then you’d not have much of a surprise when you eventually hit play for the first time. Instead, I’ll undertake the unenviable task of picking a few favourites.

‘Metamorphosis’ dials back the all-out intensity just a touch, allowing Jelusick to stand further out within the verses and within a quieter, more atmospheric passage in the centre of the song. But the chorus is another thing of quality, making an immediate impact, whilst I love the lead guitar melodies that Romeo delivers at the outset and then at further points within the song. Even the ubiquitous ballad, ‘Just Before The Dawn’ provides five minutes of full enjoyment, thanks to some delightful melodies, a committed vocal performance, and a very strong chorus. I haven’t even mentioned the closing sequence to ‘Hybrids’ either, which rises out of the muscular composition in stunning, rousing fashion, just like the closing, triumphant piece might at the end of the score to a Hollywood blockbuster when the aliens or monsters have been sent packing. Goosebumps. Every. Single. Time.

Then there’s ‘Maschinenmemsch’ is a nine-minute tour-de-force that displays a more varied, progressive feel overall, complete with longer instrumental passages, tempo changes, variations in intensity, and a chorus that’s every bit as epic and special as this monstrous song deserves. With a gun to my head, I might just declare this as my favourite track on ‘War Of The Worlds, Part 2’. I love the instrumentalism from every corner of the band, but the drums and throbbing bass stand out wonderfully in the quieter, more contemplative sections. I love the cinematic orchestration within the song, and Jelusick absolutely nails the vocals in the chorus, giving me chills in the process. Oh and the emotional and dextrous extended lead solo by Romeo is pure class.

In fact, ‘class’ is what ‘War Of The Worlds, Part 2’ is. From beginning to end, it sparkles and fizzes, delivering track after track of powerful, memorably melodic progressive heavy metal with style and panache. It sounds great too, blessed with a strong, clear production, thus enhancing the music considerably. It may have been delayed by the global pandemic having been nearly fully written several years ago, but the time has given Michael Romeo and Co. the opportunity to fine tune, hone, and polish the material that features of this record, making it the perfect follow-up to ‘Part 1’. In fact, I think it’s probably even better. Those who have high expectations are very unlikely to be disappointed one iota.

The Score of Much Metal: 93%

Check out my other 2022 reviews here:

Dark Funeral – We Are The Apocalypse

Carmeria – Advenae

Agathodaimon – The Seven

Moonlight Haze – Animus

Hellbore – Panopticon

Konvent – Call Down The Sun

Idol Of Fear – Trespasser

The Midgard Project – The Great Divide

Threads Of Fate – The Cold Embrace Of The Light

Arkaik – Labyrinth Of Hungry Ghosts

New Horizon – Gate Of The Gods

Cailleach Calling – Dreams Of Fragmentation

Tundra – A Darkening Sky

Sylvaine – Nova

Hath – All That Was Promised

Sabaton – The War To End All Wars

Kuolemanlaakso – Kuusumu

Oh Hiroshima – Myriad

Godless Truth – Godless Truth

Shape Of Despair – Return To The Void

Eight Bells – Legacy Of Ruin

Embryonic Devourment – Heresy Of The Highest Order

Serious Black – Vengeance Is Mine

Allegaeon – Damnum

HammerFall – Hammer Of Dawn

Immolation – Acts Of God

Veonity – Elements Of Power

Nightrage – Abyss Rising

Arjen Anthony Lucassen’s Star One – Revel In Time

Pure Wrath – Hymn To The Woeful Hearts

Dagoba – By Night

The Last Of Lucy – Moksha

Arð – Take Up My Bones

Embryonic Autopsy – Prophecies Of The Conjoined

The Devils Of Loudun – Escaping Eternity

Cult Of Luna – The Long Road North

WAIT – The End Of Noise

Abysmal Dawn – Nightmare Frontier

Amorphis – Halo

Nordic Giants – Sybiosis

Persefone – Metanoia

Vorga – Striving Toward Oblivion

Mystic Circle – Mystic Circle

Nasson – Scars

Burned In Effigy – Rex Mortem

Silent Skies – Nectar

Celeste – Assassine(s)

Abyssus – Death Revival

SOM – The Shape Of Everything

Ashes Of Ares – Emperors And Fools

Beriedir – AQVA

Lalu – Paint The Sky

Nocturna – Daughters Of The Night

Battle Beast – Circus Of Doom

Lee McKinney – In The Light Of Knowledge

Descent – Order Of Chaos

Aethereus – Leiden

Toundra – Hex

Ilium – Quantum Evolution Event EP

Power Paladin – With The Magic Of Windfyre Steel

Necrophagous – In Chaos Ascend

Infected Rain – Ecdysis

Wilderun – Epigone

You can also check out my other reviews from previous years right here:

2021 reviews

2020 reviews

2019 reviews
2018 reviews
2017 reviews
2016 reviews
2015 reviews

Arjen Anthony Lucassen’s Star One – Revel In Time – Album Review

Artist: Arjen Anthony Lucassen’s Star One

Album Title: Revel In Time

Label: InsideOut Music

Date of Release:  18 February 2022

I’ve had a few struggles this year already with a couple of reviews, with writer’s block and a lack of clarity causing me to procrastinate and not know what to think or what to write about a particular record. However, this has been by far and away the most difficult to get to grips with and get to a point where I feel like what I’m writing is fair, accurate, or honest. Let’s hope that what you are now reading at least comes across as a blend of all three.

Arjen Anthony Lucassen is nothing short of a workaholic, always seeming to be working on one project or another at any given time. From Guilt Machine to Stream Of Passion, and from Ayreon to The Gentle Storm, Lucassen is a big name and well-loved musician within progressive rock and metal circles. But it’s not just the albums that he writes and records, it’s the fact that almost all of them will feature an ambitious cast of musicians to assist bring Lucassen’s musical visions to life. The logistics, the ball-juggling, and the sheer breadth of what is attempted is always incredible, meaning that a new release from the self-titled ‘tall skinny hippie’ is almost always an event rather than just an interesting date on the calendar.

Personally speaking, it is with Ayreon and Star One that I find most of my enjoyment, with my well-worn Star One T-shirt one of my most prized assets in my extensive ‘black’ wardrobe that I have dedicated to my collection. However, with that said, I must also go on record as saying that I don’t always like what Arjen Lucassen creates; some of his music is incredible, whilst some doesn’t resonate with me much at all. This is hardly surprising when you consider just how diverse his music can be, albeit always recognisable as the work of one man and one man only. Nevertheless, I have been excited about the release of the third instalment in the Star One franchise, following on from ‘Space Metal’ (2002), and ‘Victims Of The Modern Age’, released over a decade ago in 2010.

I became more excited when I discovered more about the ‘cast’ of musicians to be involved on this third Star One record, ‘Revel In Time’. I’ll go into more detail as the review continues, but names like Ross Jennings, Jeff Scott Soto, Roy Khan, Michael Romeo, and Michael Mills all feature in creating a genuinely mouth-watering prospect. It’s also a departure from the previous Star One offerings, both of which featured ‘just’ four vocalists throughout, namely Floor Jansen, ‘Sir’ Russell Allen, Damian Wilson, and Dan Swanö. All of these artists appear on ‘Revel In Time’ but rather than constantly dip in and out of songs as their parts demanded, each is responsible for one song within the eleven. In part, a product of the worldwide pandemic, but also an opportunity to reboot the Star One sound and make it fresh and interesting.

I also became intrigued when I learned that each of the songs on ‘Revel In Time’ would be based around a film featuring some manipulation of time within the plot. However, not being the biggest movie buff, or fan of the sci-fi genre in particular, it’s here where I reveal that I have only seen three or four of the eleven films referenced. I feel it’s therefore best if I focus almost entirely on the music within this review.

Or at least, I thought it would be best to focus on the music. But it’s on that score that I have had the most difficulty. It has taken an awful lot of time and listens to get to this point, where I feel able to coalesce my thoughts into a review. In short, being 100% honest, at the outset, I wanted to like ‘Revel In Time’ more than I found that I did. I didn’t want to face a reality, which sucks enough as it is, where a Star One album wouldn’t bring a smile to my face and light up my wizened prog-loving heart. So I listened…and listened…and listened some more. Having been fortunate enough to have had access to the album for several weeks, I am sitting here on the eve of it’s release, ill, but content that I have reached my verdict. There are still one or two songs that I like a little less than others, but now that the dust has settled, I can confirm that Arjen Lucassen has once again done himself proud and the vast majority of long-term fans will be very pleased with the results.

There’s no getting away from the fact that I am going to have give a blow-by-blow description of the songs, as each brings a different flavour thanks to the subject matter and the chosen vocalist. I’ll be as succinct as I can, but here goes…

Up first is ‘Fate Of Man’, based on ‘The Terminator’ and Lucassen has chosen Unleash The Archers’ vocalist Brittney Slayes to lead from the front. The sci-fi trappings are evident from the beginning thanks to a cinematic synth-led intro that segues into a full-on progressive metal song, big on neo-classical effervescence, and driven along by the drumming of Ed Warby at an energetic pace, matched at every turn by the powerful lungs of Slayes. Michael Romeo delivers a typically impressive lead solo, but for me, it’s the heaviness of the material that leaves the lasting impression and delights me following recent, less metallic outings, such as Ayreon’s ‘Transitus’.

If you think that the first track is heavy, wait until you hear the ‘Donnie Darko’-inspired ’28 Days (Till The End Of Time)’; the opening guitar riff is down-tuned and monstrous, sludgy and menacing. The pace is slower, but it allows the keys to add layers of atmosphere, upon which ‘Sir’ Russell Allen delivers a spellbinding masterclass of the highest order. Timo Somers provides a soulful and wailing lead solo before a groovy riff enters for good measure. The heaviness gradually recedes until the final sequence that sees the return of those Earth-shaking guitar tones.

On an album that is generally about stellar individual performances rather than complex progressive compositions, ‘Prescient’ bucks the trend somewhat. Michael Mills and Haken’s Ross Jennings provide a compelling, multi-layered vocal performance over what is arguably the most overtly proggy track on the album, complete with acoustic guitars and some potent keyboards throughout. Inspiration comes from the film ‘Primer’ and it was a slow-burner for long periods, but it has eventually worked its magic on me; how could it not with two singers of this calibre coming together some impressively?

‘Back To The Future’ had to feature in some form or another, and it is up to Jeff Scott Soto alongside able assistance from Ron Bumblefoot Thal, to bring Lucassen’s composition to life. Given the clientele, it goes without saying that ‘Back From The Past’ would be more of a straightforward, hard-rocking number, full of swagger and more of a ‘classic’ hard rock sheen, albeit with some proper grunt from the guitars in the mid-section in particular. The title track on the other hand, based around one of my favourites, ‘Bill & Ted’s Excellent Adventure’, brings the groove and the heaviness all in one. Fronted by Brandon Yeagley, and with some superb guitar solos courtesy of Adrian Vandenberg, it benefits from one of my favourite choruses on the album; so catchy and full of character, it cannot fail to raise a smile.

Joe Lynn Turner is the box office draw for ‘The Year of ‘41’, a track that builds upon a more straightforward hard rock framework, complete with acoustic guitars to counteract the chunky riffs that sit at the heart of the song. Will Shaw, Joel Hoekstra, and Jens Johansson contribute strongly to the composition too, even though I must be honest and say that it isn’t a personal favourite despite the brighter, breezier attitude that comes through as well as a fantastic performance from Turner.

Death, taxes, and Damian Wilson on an Arjen Lucassen album – the holy trinity of life’s certainties. It takes until track seven for Wilson to appear, but appear he does on ‘Bridge Of Life’, based on a hitherto unheard of 2000 film called ‘Frequency’ (insert ‘shrug’ emoji here!). I love the stark juxtaposition between thunderously heavy riffs, and quiet minimalist sections, over which Wilson can sing in his inimitable style. As I sit here now, listening to the stupidly catchy chorus, I cannot fathom why it took me so long to take this composition to my heart, but it was definitely a dark horse until very recently.

Like Pavlov’s dog, for some of us, just the very mention of the name Dan Swanö can do strange things to us. It’s great to hear his voice breathe life into ‘Today Is Yesterday’ (‘Grundhog Day’), even if it took all my strength to take to it. I love the thunderous riffs and Swanö’s distinctive tones, but the almost cartoonish feel in places to what is undoubtedly deliberately a more relaxed, fun song, threatened to derail my enjoyment. However, given some of the exceptional instrumentalism from Lisa Bella Donna (Moog synths), Lucassen himself, and the backing singers Marcela Bovio and Irene Jansen, it has finally converted me.

A definite favourite has to be ‘A Hand On The Clock’ for two reasons: firstly, as is always the case seemingly, Floor Jansen is pure fire. And secondly, the sprawling, majestic chorus is absolutely brilliant, kicking my butt from the first listen, something that was rare across ‘Revel In Time’. Inspired by the Source Code movie, this has to be one of the finest compositions on the album. I really enjoy the darkness to the song, not to mention a top drawer Hammond solo from Joost van den Broek transporting us back to the 70s effortlessly.

The penultimate song, ‘Beyond The Edge Of It All’ sees the return of a familiar face and voice to those who have witnessed an Ayreon live show, in the form of John Jaycee Cuijpers. The guy has a fantastically powerful voice and he, along with a rare Lucasson lead guitar solo, really steals the show within a solid song overall.

The final composition, ‘Lost Children Of The Universe’, happens to be the longest on ‘Revel In Time’, clocking in at just under ten minutes. The cinematic inspiration is 2014’s ‘Interstellar’ but for me and many others I suspect, the biggest draw is the fact that Roy Khan lends his wonderfully smooth, characterful, and mellifluous voice to the song. And what a closing song it is, complete with an appearance of the Hellscore Choir for added bombast and gravitas, not to mention an otherworldly guitar solo from Mr Steve Vai himself. The ebb and flow is superb, balancing some heavy riffing with more introspective moments where Khan can cast his spell on us. The tempo alters, the soundscape morphs, the emotion shifts, and the drama permeates at every turn. What a fantastic way to end the album, eh?

Based on the fact that I have rambled on for hours, I’m going to wrap up this review swiftly. What started out as an album that I wasn’t sure about has, via many a dark cul-de-sac of uncertainty, ended up being something of a triumph. When you add in the fact that some of the versions of the album come with a second CD where the same songs are voiced by different singers, this is really a ‘must have’ release. For anyone who’s a fan of Arjen Lucasson’s work, or for prog fans in general, there is some brilliant material on ‘Revel In Time’ that only further enhances the reputation of one of the hardest working and genuinely lovely people within progressive music world. But you already knew that, and have it on pre-order, don’t you?!

The Score of Much Metal: 92%

Check out my other 2022 reviews here:

Pure Wrath – Hymn To The Woeful Hearts

Dagoba – By Night

The Last Of Lucy – Moksha

Arð – Take Up My Bones

Embryonic Autopsy – Prophecies Of The Conjoined

The Devils Of Loudun – Escaping Eternity

Cult Of Luna – The Long Road North

WAIT – The End Of Noise

Abysmal Dawn – Nightmare Frontier

Amorphis – Halo

Nordic Giants – Sybiosis

Persefone – Metanoia

Vorga – Striving Toward Oblivion

Mystic Circle – Mystic Circle

Nasson – Scars

Burned In Effigy – Rex Mortem

Silent Skies – Nectar

Celeste – Assassine(s)

Abyssus – Death Revival

SOM – The Shape Of Everything

Ashes Of Ares – Emperors And Fools

Beriedir – AQVA

Lalu – Paint The Sky

Nocturna – Daughters Of The Night

Battle Beast – Circus Of Doom

Lee McKinney – In The Light Of Knowledge

Descent – Order Of Chaos

Aethereus – Leiden

Toundra – Hex

Ilium – Quantum Evolution Event EP

Power Paladin – With The Magic Of Windfyre Steel

Necrophagous – In Chaos Ascend

Infected Rain – Ecdysis

Wilderun – Epigone

You can also check out my other reviews from previous years right here:

2021 reviews

2020 reviews

2019 reviews
2018 reviews
2017 reviews
2016 reviews
2015 reviews

Dream Theater – A View From The Top Of The World – Album Review

Artist: Dream Theater

Album Title: A View From The Top Of The World

Label: InsideOut Music

Date of Release: 22 October 2021

This review is a big deal for me. I fully understand the esteem and reverence with which Dream Theater are held by their enormous fanbase. As a progressive metal fan above almost all other genres and subgenres of heavy music, I wholeheartedly get the importance of the band credited by many as the one of, if not THE, creators of progressive metal. But I have seen forums and social media reactions following both positive and negative reviews of their albums. I’ve also gone on record to say that I have grown a little fatigued with the American quintet over the last few years. It has absolutely nothing to do with the saga of the drum kit, and the replacement of Mike Portnoy with Mike Mangini. If anything, it has more to do with my apathy towards the vocal performances of James LaBrie, alongside a personal feeling that the songwriting has not always lived up to the band’s lofty standards.

Regardless of all these contributing factors and concerns, I have finally decided to offer my thoughts of the fifteenth Dream Theater album, entitled ‘A View From The Top Of The World’. Here goes…I’m actually thoroughly impressed and have quite possibly rediscovered my admiration for a band that had, for me at least, fallen by the wayside over the last decade or so.

But why am I so impressed by ‘A View From The Top Of The World’? At first, I couldn’t quite articulate my reasons but, with repeated listens aplenty, I believe I’m in a better position to tackle this most important of questions. The fact is, this is the first album for a long time that feels like it contains some genuine magic. Dream Theater have always been able to impress listeners with their technical abilities, and at other times, they’ve been able to delight us with some strong melodies. They have also dabbled with heavier and softer material, not to mention the progressive metal staple that’s the concept album. But on ‘A View From The Top Of The World’, it genuinely feels like Dream Theater have, concept disc aside, managed to pull it all together into their most cohesive and engaging record for quite some time. It’s heavy, it’s melodic, it’s technical and it’s sophisticated. At least, that’s what I think when I listen to this record. And, despite the long run-time at around 70 minutes – which, to maintain my consistency is too long – I honestly don’t feel like I want to lie down in a darkened room afterwards. Instead, I actually find myself drawn towards another listen. And that hasn’t happened since 2011’s ‘A Dramatic Turn Of Events’. And even then, I was only drawn back to selected songs, not the entire disc.

Before delving into the music itself, I feel I have to mention the artwork and the production for this album. The cover artwork is stunning; it is classic prog imagery but Hugh Syme has created something beautiful, quirky, and compelling. In terms of the production, there’s little that can be said other than ‘wow’. It is a beautifully clear and authoritative sound, nicely balanced, with excellent separation between the instruments. It allows the heavy parts to punch hard, whilst giving space for the softer parts to work their charms without any loss of intensity of drama; credit therefore must go to Petrucci alongside engineer James “Jimmy T” Meslin as well as Andy Sneap who mixed and mastered the record, for making this album sound so good.

But as the saying goes, ‘you can’t polish a turd’, so it is really great to be able to report that the music is not a giant dollop of faeces. Instead, it is rather marvellous.

The flurry of urgent riffing, emphatic drumming, and bold synth work ushers in ‘The Alien’ in breathtaking fashion. No slow build-up or acclimatising intro here; it’s full-on progressive metal attack from the first second. Those that know me, will know that I’m not qualified to discuss the tempos, time signatures, or the techniques employed, instead preferring to focus on how the music sounds and makes me feel. On that score, it’s a heady beginning, demonstrating a palpable hunger and desire from each corner of the band. And yes, it is a technical affair that leaves the less musically educated standing open-mouthed in admiration. From there, the composition slows to allow a melodic lead guitar solo to provide the much-needed hook upon which Dream Theater guarantee repeat visits. When James LaBrie enters, he sounds as good as he has ever done, leading the band through the labyrinthine track with style and confidence. There’s just enough melody within the song to keep my attention, whilst there’s the ubiquitous extended instrumental sequences that allow guitarist John Petrucci, bassist John Myung, drummer Mike Mangini, and keyboardist Jordan Rudess to each have their moment in the spotlight. However, unlike previous records, I find the histrionics rather engaging, rather than distracting from my overall enjoyment.

To underline their metal credentials, ‘Answering The Call’ begins with a heavy guitar chord that’s allowed to resonate whilst surrounded by a cool drum beat and futuristic synth effects. The ensuing riff is heavy and groovy, with a proper metal crunch to it, which I really like. It isn’t long before the melody seeps in, but those downtuned, meaty riffs are never far from the surface. I really like the orchestration created by Rudess that adds a depth to the song that counterpoints the heaviness expertly, whilst there are some strong melodic strains that run throughout the song, only getting stronger with repeated listens. I’m a sucker for a good tom roll and Mangini obliges several times much to my delight, as does Petrucci with his well-crafted lead solos, a good blend of technical endeavour and proper melody.

Next up is ‘Invisible Monster’ which does begin in quiet fashion, offering a momentary respite from the frenetic opening duo of tracks. As the song develops, it becomes clear that it is one of the more instant tracks, one that features the usual Dream Theater flamboyance, but cleverly blended with a strong, melodious chorus, one that just gets more and more powerful the more you listen. At six-and-a-half-minutes, it is the shortest composition so far, but it is no less striking because of it, especially given the pronounced use of light and shade, from quiet sections, to much more ostentatious as the song demands.

By contrast, ‘Sleeping Giant’ is an all-out prog metal behemoth, that provides an eloquent summary of why Dream Theater are so well-loved within the prog metal community. The quintet uses the ten-minute plus runtime to offer listeners a little bit of everything, from insane levels of technicality to strong melodies, to frequent tempo changes and differing dynamics. There is even a moment when Rudess goes all Vaudeville on us, but it’s short-lived with a swift return to the incredibly catchy chorus before we’re seen out courtesy of a thunderous Mangini drum solo.

Depending on your viewpoint and taste, ‘Transcending Time’ will either be a highlight or a song to be forgotten. For me, it’s very much the former, and one of the most enjoyable tracks on the album. Written and performed in the major scale, it shouldn’t work, but this is Dream Theater and, on this form, of course it will work. It’s like a happy, up-beat breath of fresh air but crucially, it benefits from strong performances all round, as well as memorable melodies, accentuated by a revitalised James LaBrie behind the microphone who sounds as animated and on-form as ever. And, as a harsh critic of his in the past, I’m delighted to be able to say that, I can tell you.

‘Awaken The Master’ follows and in an effort to distance itself from the happiness of the song before, it kicks off with a seriously chunky, downtuned riff that chugs away with authority, whilst Mangini and Myung lay down an incessant rhythm upon which Rudess unleashes his full-on ‘odd’ side. And then, when you’re least expecting it, out come the rich piano notes that usher in a deceptively strong melodic section, complete with singing lead solo from Petrucci. The song literally dances from one idea to another, many apparently disparate and markedly different from each other. And yet, they all work, pulled together by a dark but epic chorus of sorts, full of drama, but arguably my favourite melody of them all on this album, especially after several concerted spins. It even seems to fit when Dream Theater explore their doom metal side one minute, then their dramatic film-score side the next; it’s just a cracking track when all is said and done.

In keeping with their modus operandi of albums of the past, Dream Theater then unleash the epic title track as the closing composition on ‘A View From The Top Of The World’. I don’t use the word ‘epic’ lightly either; this piece of music is well over twenty minutes long and it deserves just about every minute of its runtime. Again, I don’t want to get into a detailed blow-by-blow account of all of the techniques used by the musicians because you’d rumble the fact that I’m talking out of my backside within seconds. I am not qualified on that score. But what I feel I am qualified to comment on is the way in which this song takes us on that most cliched of things – a journey. The journey is up-beat, dramatic, atmospheric, epic, and everything in between. There’s a section, where the bass of Myung comes to the fore but is surrounded by some wacky ideas that verge on discordant or jarring at times, whilst there is even a blast of death/black metal drumming from Mangini that lasts for a few fleeting seconds. Then there’s the rich cello sounds that emerge from the darkness, I assume created at the hands of Rudess; they are really beautiful. That said, I’d have loved a little more by way of melody throughout if I’m being completely honest. But this small gripe is set aside in the final third of the song. First, John Petrucci unleashes a couple of solemn but stunning guitar solos, then as the end gets ever closer, the track builds towards the necessary crescendo. And when it hits in the last few minutes, it is every bit as intense and resounding as I’d hoped it might be; dark and oppressive but beautiful, hopeful, and suitably rousing. My only complaint? It doesn’t last long enough, instead descending into an almost doom-laden deconstruction of what went before.

Just when I thought that Dream Theater had ceased to become relevant for me as a true progressive metal fan, they unleash ‘A View From The Top Of The World’, the album that pulls them back from the brink, at least as far as I’m concerned. Not only does the record contain all of the technicality and instrumental dexterity that you want from this supremely talented band, but it has an energy and enthusiasm about it that has arguably been lacking in recent years. I know that every Dream Theater fan has their favourite album and I could never hope to please them all. But when I say that ‘A View From The Top Of The World’ puts forward a very cogent argument to become my new favourite, I honestly mean it. I will let the dust settle of course, and likely reassess at that point. But in the here and now, I am delighted to be able to genuinely and deservedly sing the praises of an album by one of the most important and influential bands that there has ever been within progressive music. ‘A View From The Top Of The World’ is as stunning musically as it is visually, thus creating the full package.

The Score of Much Metal: 92%

Dessiderium – Aria

Cynic – Ascension Codes

TDW – Fountains

Hypocrisy – Worship

W.E.B. – Colosseum

Navian – Cosmos

NorthTale – Eternal Flame

Obscura – A Valediction

Nightland – The Great Nothing

MØL – Diorama

Be’lakor – Coherence

Hollow – Tower

Doedsvangr – Serpents Ov Old

Athemon – Athemon

Eclipse – Wired

Swallow The Sun – Moonflowers

Dream Theater – A View From The Top Of The World

Nestor – Kids In A Ghost Town

Beast In Black – Dark Connection

Thulcandra – A Dying Wish

Omnium Gatherum – Origin

Insomnium – Argent Moon EP

Kryptan – Kryptan EP

Archspire – Bleed The Future

Awake By Design – Unfaded EP

Cradle Of Filth – Existence Is Futile

Seven Spires – Gods Of Debauchery

Sleep Token – This Place Will Become Your Tomb

Necrofier – Prophecies Of Eternal Darkness

Ex Deo – The Thirteen Years Of Nero

Carcass – Torn Arteries

Aeon Zen – Transversal

Enslaved – Caravans To The Outer Worlds

A Dying Planet – When The Skies Are Grey

Leprous – Aphelion

Night Crowned – Hädanfärd

Brainstorm – Wall Of Skulls

At The Gates – The Nightmare Of Being

Rivers Of Nihil – The Work

Fractal Universe – The Impassable Horizon

Darkthrone – Eternal Hails

Thy Catafalque – Vadak

Terra Odium – Ne Plus Ultra

Hiraes – Solitary

Eye Of Purgatory – The Lighthouse

Crowne – Kings In The North

Desaster – Churches Without Saints

Helloween – Helloween

Fear Factory – Aggression Continuum

Wooden Veins – In Finitude

Plaguestorm – Purifying Fire

Drift Into Black – Patterns Of Light

Alluvial – Sarcoma

White Moth Black Butterfly – The Cost Of Dreaming – Album Review

Silver Lake by Esa Holopainen

Bloodbound – Creatures From The Dark Realm

Nahaya – Vital Alchemy

Frost* – Day And Age

Obsolete Theory – Downfall

Vola – Witness

Acolyte – Entropy

Dordeduh – Har

Subterranean Masquerade – Mountain Fever

Seth – La Morsure Du Christ

The Circle – Metamorphosis

Nordjevel – Fenriir

Vreid – Wild North West

Temtris – Ritual Warfare

Astrakhan – A Slow Ride Towards Death

Akiavel – Vae Victis

Gojira – Fortitude

Hideous Divinity – LV-426

Benthos – II

Evile – Hell Unleashed

Ninkharsag – The Dread March Of Solemn Gods

Bodom After Midnight – Paint The Sky With Blood

Morrigu – In Turbulence

Mother Of All – Age Of The Solipsist

Throne – Pestilent Dawn

Sweet Oblivion (Geoff Tate) – Relentless

Exanimis – Marionnettiste

Dvne – Etemen Ænka

Cannibal Corpse – Violence Unimagined

Arion – Vultures Die Alone

Maestitium – Tale Of The Endless

Wode – Burn In Many Mirrors

Everdawn – Cleopatra

Unflesh – Inhumation

Mourning Dawn – Dead End Euphoria

Wheel – Resident Human

Wythersake – Antiquity

Odd Dimension – The Blue Dawn

Metalite – A Virtual World

Cryptosis – Bionic Swarm

Ghosts Of Atlantis – 3.6.2.4

Memoriam – To The End

Aversed – Impermanent

Secret Sphere – Lifeblood

Enforced – Kill Grid

Liquid Tension Experiment – LTE3

Turbulence – Frontal

Iotunn – Access All Worlds

Warrior Path – The Mad King

Stortregn – Impermanence

Mariana’s Rest – Fata Morgana

Orden Ogan – Final Days

Witherfall – Curse Of Autumn

Plague Weaver – Ascendant Blasphemy

Ephemerald – Between The Glimpses Of Hope

Paranorm – Empyrean

Einherjer – North Star

Epica – Omega

Humanity’s Last Breath – Välde

Simulacrum – Genesis

Forhist – Forhist

Evergrey – Escape Of The Phoenix

Empyrium – Über den Sternen

Moonspell – Hermitage

Infernalizer – The Ugly Truth

Temperance – Melodies Of Green And Blue EP

Malice Divine – Malice Divine

Revulsion – Revulsion

Demon King – The Final Tyranny EP

Dragony – Viribus Unitis

Soen – Imperial

Angelus Apatrida – Angelus Apatrida

Oceana – The Pattern

Therion – Leviathan

Tribulation – Where The Gloom Becomes Sound

Asphyx – Necroceros

W.E.T. – Retransmission

Labyrinth – Welcome To The Absurd Circus

TDW – The Days The Clock Stopped

Need – Norchestrion: A Song For The End

You can also check out my other reviews from previous years right here:

2020 reviews

2019 reviews
2018 reviews
2017 reviews
2016 reviews
2015 reviews

Leprous – Aphelion – Album Review

Artist: Leprous

Album Title: Aphelion

Label: Inside Out Music

Date of Release: 27 August 2021

I have reviewed every single studio album of Leprous’ career, since they released ‘Tall Poppy Syndrome’ back in 2009. And I can safely say that none of the reviews have been easy to complete. In fact, I would go so far as to say that reviewing a Leprous album is one of the most challenging things I do under the ‘Man Of Much Metal’ moniker. The thing is, I can’t ever shy away from doing it, because the Norwegians are such a special entity, and their music deserves to be talked about and celebrated.

I struggled to write about the band’s previous release, ‘Pitfalls’ because it was such a personal record for vocalist Einar Solberg, dealing with his struggles with anxiety and depression, something that hit a very raw nerve with me. But it was equally difficult from a musical perspective, to describe exactly what I was hearing and doing it justice with the written word. The same is very true of album number seven, ‘Aphelion’, an album that came together almost by accident, as there was no intention at the outset to record a full-length body of work. But then, has anything for any of us over the past eighteen months been expected, planned, or normal?

Within the accompanying press release Solberg talks about ‘Aphelion’ being more of a collection of songs rather than being anything akin to a concept record. And that’s certainly borne out of my listening over the past few days; ‘Aphelion’ simply follows its own path, exploring soundscapes at will, meandering where the inspiration takes it, or where the musicians’ inspiration leads. And yet, there is a thread that connects much of the music on the album, at least lyrically. And, to coincide with my recent bout of darkness of despair, ‘Aphelion’ takes another look at the issues of anxiety and depression. However, this time, Solberg explores how he has dealt with his issues and sought to overcome them. Right now, I embrace the slightly more positive vibe that emerges in places on this record, even if it is just tentative and fleeting. Mental health is not a linear process, there are ups, downs, peaks and troughs along the way, and ‘Aphelion’ reflects this so eloquently.

From a musical perspective, as I’ve alluded to already, ‘Aphelion’ is a very varied beast, displaying ingredients familiar to long term fans as well as plenty of new ideas as well; we have come to expect a little of the unexpected where Leprous are concerned, and this release is no different. To begin with, I don’t think I’m being mistaken when I detect a greater range of sound across the ten tracks. By this, I mean that there are pronounced peaks of heaviness led in part by the stylish guitar work of six-string duo Tor Oddmund Suhrke and Robin Ognedal, juxtaposed with plateaus of greater calm and quiet serenity, with the latter more at large throughout. In fact, it is becoming more of a stretch than ever to be able to define Leprous as a band with overt metal credentials anymore; they certainly delve into those realms from time to time on ‘Aphelion’, but by-and-large, the output is less metallic overall, much more nuanced and multi-faceted.

Take the opening cut off the record, ‘Running Low’, if you’re looking for a flavour of what to expect on this album. Starting off quietly and delicately, the layers are added carefully, precisely, bringing dynamism to the rather dark-sounding composition, ultimately unravelling to present what is, with repeated listens, a really catchy song upon which Solberg delivers his devastatingly passionate and unique vocals. I particularly love the precise, sharp beats from drummer Baard Kolstad, and the assured bass rumble of Simen Børven. The strings, courtesy of cellist Raphael Weinroth-Browne and violinist Chris Baum add a richness of texture that is then wonderfully juxtaposed with passages of complete minimalism, as well as measured blasts of heaviness. We even get an appearance from a Norwegian brass group by the name of Blåsemafiaen to provide an extra layer that will appeal to some more than others. It’s at once a new and fresh song, whilst being recognisable as no-one else other than Leprous.

The band also experiment ever more heavily with electronic soundscapes, often coupling some bold beats and textures with string-led orchestration. The apparent juxtaposition works really well, as evidenced by ‘Silhouette’ and ‘Have You Ever?’. The former is a more urgent-sounding composition, making great use of strong beats both electronic and organic at the talented hands of Mr Kolstad, whilst the latter uses the electronics differently, to create a dark, brooding atmosphere, accented by the lush strings and sparing use of keys.

‘All The Moments’ is another grower, where I hear some of that aforementioned positivity. It is a composition of strong contrasts, starting with an unexpected slide guitar-infused intro that quickly turns into a minimalist soundscape that then gently builds, only to burst forth with what I can only describe as a euphoric-sounding chorus. I’m not such a fan of the Indie-like jangling guitar sounds that introduce ‘The Silent Revelation’, but the body of the song itself is another genuine grower full of great musicality, stunning textures and variety. And when Solberg sings about being a prisoner of his thoughts, it is a personal experience brought to life powerfully and emotionally through the music. It becomes magnetic and rather irresistible as a result.

In my opinion, the best is saved for last though in the form of the final three songs. First of these is ‘The Shadow Side’, arguably the most immediate of all of the songs on ‘Aphelion’. From spin one, I loved the chosen hook-laden melodies, the rich and resonant string arrangements and that rarest of beasts, a proper guitar solo, full of attitude and swagger.

If ‘The Silent Revelation’ felt honest and raw, wait until you hear ‘On Hold’. The lyrics are painful to listen to because they are so heart breaking, delivered with an honesty that never ceases to amaze me. Here, Solberg talks about the depression and anxiety returning, singing:  

“I am back here once again, in the mist…without signs. Thought I’d fought my way back. Now I’m afraid…Will I ever be the man in control…of his world. Open wounds that never heal, pull me back…”

I can relate 100% to this. But even if I couldn’t, I defy anyone, with or without a similar first-hand experience, to listen without a lump in the throat, without a tear in the eye, without the desire to hold out their arms to Einar and anyone else in need of help and support. And, as the song develops, the intensity builds, ebbing and flowing, almost discordant at brief points near the end, before a gloriously powerful and all-encompassing crescendo completes the emotional rollercoaster of a song.

After the intensity of the song before, it seems perfectly fitting for the final composition, ‘Castaway Angels’ to be a much gentler affair, dominated by the line ‘never look back’. The melodies are graceful, elegant and poignant, led initially by a quiet acoustic guitar. I’m reminded of recent Anathema thanks to the fragility at the outset, and then the way that the song cleverly builds to leave us on a sad, but ultimately positive, hopeful note.

If ‘Aphelion’ is an unexpected by-product of the global CoVid pandemic, then it is difficult to entirely hate the last eighteen months on Planet Earth. With this, their seventh album, the Norwegian quintet by the name of Leprous have delivered yet another incredible slab of modern progressive music. At this juncture, the band stand on their own, peerless, making music quite unlike anyone else. It won’t be to everyone’s taste, but I have given ‘Aphelion’ a great deal of time and attention and I can safely say that it is a near masterpiece, an intelligent album that’s beautiful, honest, and authentic both musically and lyrically.

The Score of Much Metal: 95%

Dessiderium – Aria

Cynic – Ascension Codes

TDW – Fountains

Hypocrisy – Worship

W.E.B. – Colosseum

Navian – Cosmos

NorthTale – Eternal Flame

Obscura – A Valediction

Nightland – The Great Nothing

MØL – Diorama

Be’lakor – Coherence

Hollow – Tower

Doedsvangr – Serpents Ov Old

Athemon – Athemon

Eclipse – Wired

Swallow The Sun – Moonflowers

Dream Theater – A View From The Top Of The World

Nestor – Kids In A Ghost Town

Beast In Black – Dark Connection

Thulcandra – A Dying Wish

Omnium Gatherum – Origin

Insomnium – Argent Moon EP

Kryptan – Kryptan EP

Archspire – Bleed The Future

Awake By Design – Unfaded EP

Cradle Of Filth – Existence Is Futile

Seven Spires – Gods Of Debauchery

Sleep Token – This Place Will Become Your Tomb

Necrofier – Prophecies Of Eternal Darkness

Ex Deo – The Thirteen Years Of Nero

Carcass – Torn Arteries

Aeon Zen – Transversal

Enslaved – Caravans To The Outer Worlds

A Dying Planet – When The Skies Are Grey

Leprous – Aphelion

Night Crowned – Hädanfärd

Brainstorm – Wall Of Skulls

At The Gates – The Nightmare Of Being

Rivers Of Nihil – The Work

Fractal Universe – The Impassable Horizon

Darkthrone – Eternal Hails

Thy Catafalque – Vadak

Terra Odium – Ne Plus Ultra

Hiraes – Solitary

Eye Of Purgatory – The Lighthouse

Crowne – Kings In The North

Desaster – Churches Without Saints

Helloween – Helloween

Fear Factory – Aggression Continuum

Wooden Veins – In Finitude

Plaguestorm – Purifying Fire

Drift Into Black – Patterns Of Light

Alluvial – Sarcoma

White Moth Black Butterfly – The Cost Of Dreaming – Album Review

Silver Lake by Esa Holopainen

Bloodbound – Creatures From The Dark Realm

Nahaya – Vital Alchemy

Frost* – Day And Age

Obsolete Theory – Downfall

Vola – Witness

Acolyte – Entropy

Dordeduh – Har

Subterranean Masquerade – Mountain Fever

Seth – La Morsure Du Christ

The Circle – Metamorphosis

Nordjevel – Fenriir

Vreid – Wild North West

Temtris – Ritual Warfare

Astrakhan – A Slow Ride Towards Death

Akiavel – Vae Victis

Gojira – Fortitude

Hideous Divinity – LV-426

Benthos – II

Evile – Hell Unleashed

Ninkharsag – The Dread March Of Solemn Gods

Bodom After Midnight – Paint The Sky With Blood

Morrigu – In Turbulence

Mother Of All – Age Of The Solipsist

Throne – Pestilent Dawn

Sweet Oblivion (Geoff Tate) – Relentless

Exanimis – Marionnettiste

Dvne – Etemen Ænka

Cannibal Corpse – Violence Unimagined

Arion – Vultures Die Alone

Maestitium – Tale Of The Endless

Wode – Burn In Many Mirrors

Everdawn – Cleopatra

Unflesh – Inhumation

Mourning Dawn – Dead End Euphoria

Wheel – Resident Human

Wythersake – Antiquity

Odd Dimension – The Blue Dawn

Metalite – A Virtual World

Cryptosis – Bionic Swarm

Ghosts Of Atlantis – 3.6.2.4

Memoriam – To The End

Aversed – Impermanent

Secret Sphere – Lifeblood

Enforced – Kill Grid

Liquid Tension Experiment – LTE3

Turbulence – Frontal

Iotunn – Access All Worlds

Warrior Path – The Mad King

Stortregn – Impermanence

Mariana’s Rest – Fata Morgana

Orden Ogan – Final Days

Witherfall – Curse Of Autumn

Plague Weaver – Ascendant Blasphemy

Ephemerald – Between The Glimpses Of Hope

Paranorm – Empyrean

Einherjer – North Star

Epica – Omega

Humanity’s Last Breath – Välde

Simulacrum – Genesis

Forhist – Forhist

Evergrey – Escape Of The Phoenix

Empyrium – Über den Sternen

Moonspell – Hermitage

Infernalizer – The Ugly Truth

Temperance – Melodies Of Green And Blue EP

Malice Divine – Malice Divine

Revulsion – Revulsion

Demon King – The Final Tyranny EP

Dragony – Viribus Unitis

Soen – Imperial

Angelus Apatrida – Angelus Apatrida

Oceana – The Pattern

Therion – Leviathan

Tribulation – Where The Gloom Becomes Sound

Asphyx – Necroceros

W.E.T. – Retransmission

Labyrinth – Welcome To The Absurd Circus

TDW – The Days The Clock Stopped

Need – Norchestrion: A Song For The End

You can also check out my other reviews from previous years right here:

2020 reviews

2019 reviews
2018 reviews
2017 reviews
2016 reviews
2015 reviews

Frost* – Day And Age – Album Review

Artist: Frost*

Album Title: Day And Age

Label: InsideOut Music

Date of Release: 14 May 2021

I’m very late to the party with this album, but that might have something to do with the fact that I wasn’t going to review it initially. I was really not that enamoured with the band’s 2020 EP ‘The Others’, so I didn’t review that and was therefore reticent to give the new album, ‘Day And Age’ a listen. Having been a casual fan since the beginning and the debut album, ‘Milliontown’, I probably shouldn’t have been so reluctant to dive in, especially as I rather liked their last full-length ‘Falling Satellites’ a few years ago. But with reviews coming out of my ears, I delayed in favour of other releases. It wasn’t until some trusted friends and acquaintances of mine started to sing its praises that I finally decided that I ought to take a listen. The fact that I am penning a review now should tell you all you need to know – yes, I like ‘Day And Age’.

The first thing that struck me on a first spin, was the relative darkness of the material. Frost* are renowned and loved for their ability to blend progressive rock music with unashamed pop sensibilities and a bright, modern edge. So to say that the music is dark may seem to be a far fetched notion for many. However, whilst there is an audible edge to some of the music itself, it is mainly within the lyrical content that ‘Day And Age’ is at its darkest. From the opening moments of the title track when we’re treated to a girls voice tell us to ‘enjoy yourselves…you scum’, to rampant acidity and cynicism elsewhere, it is clear that the trio are angry about things. We all know that extremes of mood can be catalysts for creativity, and that’s definitely true with ‘Day And Age’. I get the distinct impression that this thread that occurs throughout the album is a thinly-veiled swipe at those in ‘charge’, and the way in which the wider public is viewed and treated by these individuals, namely with contempt and derision.

Following the departure of drummer Craig Blundell in 2019, Frost* could have taken any of a number of paths. In the end, the remaining trio of John Mitchell (guitars, bass, vocals), Jem Godfrey (keyboards, railboard, vocals), and Nathan King (bass, keyboards, vocals) decided to carry on as a three-piece, inviting guest drummers to appear on their compositions. Three clearly is the magic number because three drummers were used on ‘Day And Age’, namely Kaz Rodriguez (Chaka Khan, Josh Groban), Darby Todd (The Darkness, Martin Barre) and Pat Mastelotto (Mister Mister, King Crimson).

It’s certainly noticeable that there is a great emphasis on the drumming on this record, regardless of the guest, whilst it is equally obvious early on that John Mitchell does not indulge at all in his favourite pastime, soloing. Yes, you read that right, there are literally none of those beautiful, mellifluous guitar solos on ‘Day And Age’. Instead, it’s Jem Godfrey and his keys that provide most of the elaborate, flamboyant sounds. That should be it as far as I’m concerned, the nail in the coffin. Why would I want to listen to a prog rock album with keyboard histrionics but no guitar solos? But oddly, it works. And the reason it works is because each song is blessed with quality across the board; excellent songwriting craft, superb instrumentalism, and obvious hunger and passion.

Speaking of the songwriting, I’m almost shocked by the strength of the melodies that liberally litter ‘Day And Age’. Many will cite ‘Milliontown’ or maybe ‘Experiments In Mass Appeal’ as their favourite by Frost*, but as far as I’m concerned, ‘Day And Age’ pushes them close. Actually I’m fairly certain, despite this being early days, that this might be their very best yet. I have taken to it immediately and I can’t stop listening, principally because it sounds amazing, and the hooks and melodies do some real damage to any resolve that I may have had.

I’m going to start my deeper analysis of the songs themselves with arguably the most controversial of the eight, ‘The Boy Who Stood Still’. It’s predominantly a spoken-word track, courtesy of Lucius Malfoy himself, Jason Isaacs about, predictably, a boy who stood still. On the one hand, the story is preposterous, but Isaacs’ narration is captivating, as is the largely electronic soundscape that envelops the words. The deeper meaning of the tale is more profound than it appears on the surface, whilst the chorus that interjects the words gets under the skin and is catchier than first thought. It means that what should be a song that I dislike, becomes one that I like as strongly as the rest, even when it threatens to descend into anarchy at the end with a flurry of strange sounds.

Then there’s ‘Island Life’ that’s a shorter song with a bright, breezy chorus juxtaposed with some of the most dark and angry lyrics on the album, sung from the perspective of the politicians to whom the band appear to be directing their ire. I love this dichotomy, but more than that, I love the song, as it sparkles with an effervescent quality that plants a great big smile on my face. It’s immediate successor on the other hand is of a similar length but has a completely different vibe. From the start, it displays a more oppressive and gloomier feel, but Mitchell’s voice really catches the ear alongside yet more powerful and gratifying melodies, led by swathes of synths from Godfrey.

I cannot find a single song that I dislike, even the more jagged and confrontational ‘Terrestrial’ that dials back slightly from the melodies in favour of bolder, weirder, and more challenging sounds.

The title track, the longest of the lot at over eleven minutes is an utter delight from start to finish. There’s a palpable urgency to the song at the same time as it creates some wonderfully hook-laden moments, including a chorus that becomes irresistible with repeated listens. There is an extended instrumental workout too, that features some great chugging guitar notes, superb drumming, an insistent pulsing bass, and swirling, textured soundscapes from Jem Godfrey. But nothing is surplus to requirements; it all fits together perfectly, resulting in a simply breath taking composition.

‘Kill The Orchestra’ is fascinating too, as it features some of the strongest contrasts on the album. Beginning with a light piano melody and breathy vocals, it later introduces arguably the heaviest guitar work to be heard, Mitchell apparently delighting in letting go with some meaty chords and riffs in lieu of his normal smooth leads. And then, after the storm, comes another wave of soothing calm to see us out, beautiful and soulful, including one or two gorgeous guitar notes that could, so easily, have developed further had the guys not had other ideas.

And finally, we have ‘Repeat To Fade’, an incredibly dark, poignant, and emotional conclusion to an already dark affair. The voices that emerge at various points deliver devastatingly simple and provocative lines to enhance the bold electronics and spinetingling crescendos of sound that serve as a chorus of huge proportions. Could this be my favourite track on ‘Day And Age’? Given the quality of music across the record, it’s a moot point and not overly important if truth be told. All you need to know is it’s the perfect ending to a near-perfect album.

What a revelation. Frost* have always been an admired entity as far as I was concerned, but never fully embraced and loved. I would strongly suggest that this has changed with the creation of ‘Day And Age’, because I do love this record. And it’s a love that has emerged in spite of the fact that, on paper, this shouldn’t be the kind of music to make me giddy and excited to such an extent. But, as I’ve said elsewhere in this review, everything is of the very highest order here: the musicianship, the song writing, the clarity of purpose, and a bucketload of memorable hooks, catchy choruses, and stunning melodies. This is pop-infused, synth-laden progressive rock of the very highest order and I’m thoroughly blown away.

The Score of Much Metal: 95%

Dessiderium – Aria

Cynic – Ascension Codes

TDW – Fountains

Hypocrisy – Worship

W.E.B. – Colosseum

Navian – Cosmos

NorthTale – Eternal Flame

Obscura – A Valediction

Nightland – The Great Nothing

MØL – Diorama

Be’lakor – Coherence

Hollow – Tower

Doedsvangr – Serpents Ov Old

Athemon – Athemon

Eclipse – Wired

Swallow The Sun – Moonflowers

Dream Theater – A View From The Top Of The World

Nestor – Kids In A Ghost Town

Beast In Black – Dark Connection

Thulcandra – A Dying Wish

Omnium Gatherum – Origin

Insomnium – Argent Moon EP

Kryptan – Kryptan EP

Archspire – Bleed The Future

Awake By Design – Unfaded EP

Cradle Of Filth – Existence Is Futile

Seven Spires – Gods Of Debauchery

Sleep Token – This Place Will Become Your Tomb

Necrofier – Prophecies Of Eternal Darkness

Ex Deo – The Thirteen Years Of Nero

Carcass – Torn Arteries

Aeon Zen – Transversal

Enslaved – Caravans To The Outer Worlds

A Dying Planet – When The Skies Are Grey

Leprous – Aphelion

Night Crowned – Hädanfärd

Brainstorm – Wall Of Skulls

At The Gates – The Nightmare Of Being

Rivers Of Nihil – The Work

Fractal Universe – The Impassable Horizon

Darkthrone – Eternal Hails

Thy Catafalque – Vadak

Terra Odium – Ne Plus Ultra

Hiraes – Solitary

Eye Of Purgatory – The Lighthouse

Crowne – Kings In The North

Desaster – Churches Without Saints

Helloween – Helloween

Fear Factory – Aggression Continuum

Wooden Veins – In Finitude

Plaguestorm – Purifying Fire

Drift Into Black – Patterns Of Light

Alluvial – Sarcoma

White Moth Black Butterfly – The Cost Of Dreaming – Album Review

Silver Lake by Esa Holopainen

Bloodbound – Creatures From The Dark Realm

Nahaya – Vital Alchemy

Frost* – Day And Age

Obsolete Theory – Downfall

Vola – Witness

Acolyte – Entropy

Dordeduh – Har

Subterranean Masquerade – Mountain Fever

Seth – La Morsure Du Christ

The Circle – Metamorphosis

Nordjevel – Fenriir

Vreid – Wild North West

Temtris – Ritual Warfare

Astrakhan – A Slow Ride Towards Death

Akiavel – Vae Victis

Gojira – Fortitude

Hideous Divinity – LV-426

Benthos – II

Evile – Hell Unleashed

Ninkharsag – The Dread March Of Solemn Gods

Bodom After Midnight – Paint The Sky With Blood

Morrigu – In Turbulence

Mother Of All – Age Of The Solipsist

Throne – Pestilent Dawn

Sweet Oblivion (Geoff Tate) – Relentless

Exanimis – Marionnettiste

Dvne – Etemen Ænka

Cannibal Corpse – Violence Unimagined

Arion – Vultures Die Alone

Maestitium – Tale Of The Endless

Wode – Burn In Many Mirrors

Everdawn – Cleopatra

Unflesh – Inhumation

Mourning Dawn – Dead End Euphoria

Wheel – Resident Human

Wythersake – Antiquity

Odd Dimension – The Blue Dawn

Metalite – A Virtual World

Cryptosis – Bionic Swarm

Ghosts Of Atlantis – 3.6.2.4

Memoriam – To The End

Aversed – Impermanent

Secret Sphere – Lifeblood

Enforced – Kill Grid

Liquid Tension Experiment – LTE3

Turbulence – Frontal

Iotunn – Access All Worlds

Warrior Path – The Mad King

Stortregn – Impermanence

Mariana’s Rest – Fata Morgana

Orden Ogan – Final Days

Witherfall – Curse Of Autumn

Plague Weaver – Ascendant Blasphemy

Ephemerald – Between The Glimpses Of Hope

Paranorm – Empyrean

Einherjer – North Star

Epica – Omega

Humanity’s Last Breath – Välde

Simulacrum – Genesis

Forhist – Forhist

Evergrey – Escape Of The Phoenix

Empyrium – Über den Sternen

Moonspell – Hermitage

Infernalizer – The Ugly Truth

Temperance – Melodies Of Green And Blue EP

Malice Divine – Malice Divine

Revulsion – Revulsion

Demon King – The Final Tyranny EP

Dragony – Viribus Unitis

Soen – Imperial

Angelus Apatrida – Angelus Apatrida

Oceana – The Pattern

Therion – Leviathan

Tribulation – Where The Gloom Becomes Sound

Asphyx – Necroceros

W.E.T. – Retransmission

Labyrinth – Welcome To The Absurd Circus

TDW – The Days The Clock Stopped

Need – Norchestrion: A Song For The End

You can also check out my other reviews from previous years right here:

2020 reviews

2019 reviews
2018 reviews
2017 reviews
2016 reviews
2015 reviews

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