Tag Archives: InsideOut Music

Leprous – Malina – Album Review

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Artist: Leprous

Album Title: Malina

Label: InsideOut Music

Date of Release: 25 August 2017

One of the very biggest compliments that I can bestow upon a band is to say that they sound unique. In a day-and-age where originality is harder to come by than a public sector pay rise, it is quite an accolade to be able to declare to the world ‘we sound like no-one else’. And that is exactly what Leprous can boast. Good on them too, I say.

Ever since their debut, ‘Tall Poppy Syndrome’ (2009), the Norwegian outfit has delivered superb music. In the early days, there was a touch more of the generic about them as they cut their teeth in the tough world of music whilst proudly wearing a few of their inspirations on their sleeves. The album was still brilliant, with a vibrancy and confidence thoroughly belying the incredibly young age of the individuals concerned. However, as they have become older, wiser, and ever-more proficient, the output has become more unique and, as a result, ever more intriguing.

I confess here and now my love for Leprous. However, that being said, my love is not the easy kind where I metaphorically fall into their arms, swooning at the immediate saccharine beauty of their music. Instead, it is a more reserved love, born out of respect, admiration and often astonishment at what I am hearing. That’s not to say that Leprous’ music is not beautiful, because it is, but they never seem to make it easy. And why should they? This is prog after all.

Whatever album you listen to within the back catalogue, you must make the effort, listen hard and work at it. If you do, ultimately the rewards will come. The same is true of ‘Malina’, the quintet’s fifth release to date.

At this point, I will admit to a certain amount of sympathy for Leprous, although the reason for the sympathy has been somewhat self-induced by the Norwegians. You see, their debut placed the bar very high. And remarkably, every release since then has nudged that bar higher and higher. Not one of their four previous albums has been less than brilliant. Always pushing themselves, always honing their output and tweaking their sound, they have consistently released brilliance without ever standing still. That’s all very well and good, but how can Leprous possibly continue to improve when each previous release is so strong?

Whatever the answer and whatever their strategy, something must be working though because, with ‘Malina’, they’ve done it again. You can hear the influences of previous albums, ‘The Congregation’ (2015) specifically. But importantly, the output and musical direction has been tweaked yet again; some might even baulk at the word ‘tweaked’. Nevertheless the Leprous of 2017 via ‘Malina’ sounds fresh, interesting, compelling whilst remaining totally, unequivocally unique.

True to form, my first spin through did not result in love at first listen, far from it. Instead it resulted in shrugged shoulders and apathy. My second brought consternation; would I ever like what I am hearing? The answer is ‘yes’, but not until at least the fifth pass through. Suddenly, chinks of light began to emerge, my mind opened and I now hear music full of variety, full of drama, full of melody, and full of emotion.

The rumours circulating on the internet are true, in that ‘Malina’ is definitely a less heavy beast, but to these ears, that’s only if you consider heavy guitars and pounding rhythms to be sonically heavy. ‘Malina’ has these elements and they use them wisely. But they are used less. And, as with each and every Leprous release before this, the music remains intricate, full of atmosphere and crushingly intense. It is also a multi-layered and multi-faceted affair too, with plenty going on in each composition, even if that’s not how it immediately appears.

Much of the intensity is down to the vocals of Einar Solberg, the guy that only got into music because he was coerced into it by his family. Solberg has a tone and delivery quite unlike all others. He can be melodious, he can be angry and he can be sombre, fragile, and deeply emotional. Like a chameleon, he can bring exactly what is needed to each and every composition. And he does it effortlessly. On ‘Malina’, Solberg has clearly worked a lot on his clean singing and in fact, has all but ditched the more abrasive delivery that featured so strongly on earlier albums.

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Credit: Bjørn Tore Moen

The aforementioned intensity is also created, in part, by the song writing and the absolute attention to detail. Each of the eleven tracks has been beautifully crafted and executed with a loving care. There is an ebb and flow to the material too, from atmospheric minimalism to the bang and crash that you’d expect from a band consistently labelled in some quarters as ‘progressive metal’, despite more of a rock sheen of late. Whether or not ‘Malina’ is a concept album, the music itself undeniably tells a story. Dip in and out of the record if you wish, for each track stands on its own. For maximum enjoyment however, ‘Malina’ should be listened to in its entirety.

‘Bonneville’ is the perfect introduction to the record and a firm insight into the overall stylistic direction of ‘Malina’. With its stark, minimal soundscapes at the outset, it gently builds as it develops, ultimately becoming heavier and more robust as it nears its conclusion. The melodies become more pronounced with repeated listens and those familiar guitar tones of Tor Oddmund Suhrke and newbie Robin Ognedal offer some reserved muscularity.

Unfortunately for ‘Bonneville’, it is then followed by ‘Stuck’ which is an absolute monster, arguably my favourite track on the album currently. I could spend hours dissecting it but suffice to say that there is a lot going on within the composition. Again, with perseverance, the melodic intent becomes more obvious and addictive, culminating in a very strong chorus, almost pop-like in many ways. However, I love the way the song frequently undulates and transitions from quiet introspection to something altogether more powerful. And then there’s the wonderful juxtaposition in the latter stages between the modern and the traditional, when the utterly gorgeous cello/strings of guest musician Raphael Weinroth-Browne join the electronic sounds created by Solberg’s synths. It makes for a truly epic finale.

Thereafter, we’re treated to a run of songs that are very nearly as excellent in their own way. ‘From The Flame’ offers one of the most openly catchy choruses as it ploughs a slightly more straight-forward construction, relative to the usual Leprous output of course. The properly progressive ‘Captive’ by contrast is all about the rhythms, with drummer Baard Kolstad and bassist Simen Børven working overtime to act as the foundation for this lurching number, enhanced by layers of vocals and more genuinely interesting synth sounds and effects. ‘Illuminate’ reintroduces strong melodies and manages to be the perfect contradiction by simultaneously being both upbeat and densely introspective, the latter achieved in part by the swathes of gentle keys that nestle just beneath the surface.

‘Leashes’ is smothered in emotion, quiet and unobtrusive for large parts but then dominated by some of the best, most impassioned vocals from Solberg when things take a turn for the heavier and more intense. The ebb and flow continues courtesy of ‘Mirage’ which enters the fray with some seriously heavy-sounding instrumentation from what I assume emanates from the four and six-strings respectively. But the chorus, when it hits, is bright, breezy and distinctly pop-ish in tone albeit underpinned by a clever, complex beat that seems second nature to Leprous. The djent-esque outro is a clever touch too, with props going to Børven again for some flamboyant bass work.

The title track, with the reintroduction of those lush strings is a dark, sombre composition that occasionally bubbles up via some well-placed percussion from Kolstad, but generally remains an intense, claustrophobic experience due to its fragility and emotional minimalism. It’s not an easy listen, but the pay-off is well worth the effort.

‘Coma’ reintroduces a faster pace, interesting because of the impressive drumming and incessant nature, whilst ‘The Weight of Disaster’ is a lumbering, loping hector but in the best way possible. The hint of groove finds much favour with me, particularly with the way I which it is not overplayed. In fact, this is another track of huge contrasts, where extended passages of quiet contemplation are butted up against moments of forceful intent. And it works thanks to the adeptness and sophistication of the song writing.

It is left to ‘The Last Milestone’ to close out ‘Malina’ and it does so in fabulous style. It is a crushingly beautiful, poignant and sad hymn, led by the strings of Raphael Weinroth-Browne and the sorrowful, almost operatic delivery of Solberg. It is a very different approach for Leprous but not for a single second do I believe that it doesn’t belong on this record. It is a bold way to end, but just like the opening track, it is perfectly placed, providing maximum impact in the process.

To conclude, ‘Malina’ is ultimately a stunning record. In so many ways it remains faithful to the core Leprous sound but it is bound to raise the eyebrows of many existing fans at the same time. The more rhythmic, staccato guitar work remains, as does the flair for the deceptively complex compositional and instrumental work. That said, ‘Malina’ feels smoother, even more assured and, dare I say it, more mature. Put simply, it is the sound of progressive music par excellence. Just don’t dismiss it after the first listen because if you do, you’ll be making a big mistake.

The Score of Much Metal: 9.5

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

2015 reviews
2016 reviews

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

BlogOfMuchMetal – Metal News – 31 July 2017

Buckle up because this round-up feature some big and exciting news if you share music taste that is in any way similar to me. With that in mind, I’m not going to waste time. Instead, allow me to dive right in.

(Previous update posts can be accessed via links at the bottom of this page.)

Ne Obliviscaris – new album and new song….

20294172_10155509955749898_2381867514676896945_nNe Obliviscaris – Urn
Date of release: 27 October 2017
Label: Season Of Mist

Many column inches have been filled with commentary about Ne Obliviscaris in recent months after the Australians announced a ‘patreon crowd funding campaign’ to essentially fund them to be full-time musicians. The initiative was designed to raise enough money to pay the technical progressive death metal band a wage to allow them the time to write a new record and continue touring. The idea polarised opinion but despite the naysayers, the sextet have seemed to succeed with the venture because a new album has finally been announced.

If you like bombast and over-the-top cinematic sounds blended with intelligent extreme metal, then news of a new Ne Obliviscaris will be very welcome indeed. It certainly is as far as I’m concerned. It has been three years since the immense ‘Citadel’ was released, so I’m chomping at the bit to hear new material. Well, here you go – here’s ‘Intra Venus’ from the forthcoming album and yes, it is a monster.

Caligula’s Horse bring us the track-listing for their new album…

19146029_10154398261857105_6108765129743949462_nCaligula’s Horse – In Contact
Date of release: 15 September 2017
Label: InsideOut Music

Any new information from the Caligula’s Horse camp is worthy of sharing in my opinion, however small. And so, I bring you news that the track listing for the highly anticipated ‘In Contact’ has been released. Check it out below, in all its glory. However, to summarise, we are soon to be treated to ten new compositions, the titles of which can be seen below. ‘Bloom’ remains on frequent rotation at the Mansion Of Much Metal** so all I can say is that if these new compositions come even close to the quality heard on the majestic predecessor, they will be very exciting to hear indeed.

**I don’t really live in a mansion, I might have made that up just because it makes me sound more windswept and interesting.

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Redemption are working on a new album…

dsc_5905Redemption – TBC
Date of release: TBC
Label: Metal Blade Records

It seems too good to be true doesn’t it? For fans of quality progressive metal, the name Redemption is a very important one. Fronted by Fates Warning vocalist Ray Alder, masterminded by the extraordinarily talented guitarist/songwriter Nick Van Dyk, and boasting talent in every position, Redemption is without doubt one of the best prog metal bands out there at the moment.

And so, when you consider that the band released the excellent ‘The Art of Loss’ just last year (review here), I can hardly believe I’m reporting that there is plenty of activity afoot in the Redemption camp. Chris Quirarte has posted updates of drum recording ‘for our upcoming new record’, whilst within the last few days, bassist Sean Andrews has confirmed that the tracking of his instrument is complete.

No release date or further information has been released, but the fact that a new album is so far advanced is more than I could have hoped for. In the meantime, in case you need the nudge, allow me to remind you just how good ‘The Art of Loss’ is:

Some more hints are given about one of the most exciting new bands around…

17218771_387176474982109_6918641734903355632_oCyHra – TBC
Date Of Release: October 2017?
Label: Spinefarm Records

The name CyHra has been doing the rounds for a fair while now, and it’s a name that has got me very excited. And I’m sure I’m not the only one because how can certain sections of the heavy metal community not get excited about a band that features none other than Jake E (ex-Amaranthe), the ex-In Flames pairing of bassist Peter Iwers and guitarist Jesper Strömblad, as well as drummer Alexander Landenburg from Luca Turilli’s Rhapsody? Come on, this is one very capable quartet, the stuff of dreams.

We are yet to hear any clips of completed songs, so we can only dream about what CyHra sound like. And, whilst I don’t hate the new direction that In Flames are going in, I am secretly hoping that a little of the early In flames melodeath magic creeps into the compositions. What I can tell you is that the guys have been in front of the cameras with Patric Ullaeus, working on their first video. Rumours abound that the debut album will see the light in or around October 2017, so I’m expecting the video to be released relatively soon. And then we’ll know. For now, all I can bring you is this slightly awkward video where the band introduces itself to an expectant metal community.

My Soliloquy finally edge closer to releasing their new record…

16558419_710300499129700_1372606098_nMy Soliloquy – Engines Of Gravity
Date of release: 14 September 2017
Label: Rare Artist Records

It feels like an age ago that I reviewed ‘Engines Of Gravity’, the new album from Pete Morten who, until recently and amongst many other things, was the rhythm guitarist for Threshold. In every way, ‘Engines Of Gravity’ is a step up for Pete from his debut ‘The Interpreter’. And when you consider how much of the writing, playing and producing is dealt with by Pete alone, this is an impressive feat. Want to read the review again? Click here.

Unusually, the review was written before any confirmed release date had been set. But now, finally, Pete has confirmed that pre-orders will begin from 14th August and the release date is 14th September. So it won’t be too long before one of the stand-out prog metal albums of 2017 will be let loose and then the superlatives can begin to flow from progressive music fans the world over. And with no music released from the new album yet, here’s something from the debut to tide you over for now.

Previous updates:

24 July 2017
22 July 2017
28 March 2017
23 March 2017
11 March 2017
5th March 2017
26th February 2017
13th February 2017
3rd February 2017
30th January 2017
21st January 2017

Tuesday The Sky – Drift – Album Review

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Artist: Tuesday The Sky

Album Title: Drift

Label: InsideOut Music

Release date: 30 June 2017

You’ll already be aware of my general feelings towards instrumental albums as I’ve made no secret of it on this blog. I’m not the biggest fan as a rule, because I tend to find them a little one-dimensional and just a bit dull to be perfectly honest. There are exceptions to every rule of course, the most significant being the magnificent ‘A Dream In Static’ from Earthside which rightfully finished top of my 2015 Album of the Year list.

And now, the latest album to buck the trend is ‘Drift’, the debut release from the slightly absurdly-monikered Tuesday The Sky. I hesitate to refer to Tuesday The Sky as a band because this is more accurately a project, at least it is at this stage anyway. What happens over the long term of course remains to be seen. Involved with this project is none other than Jim Matheos, guitarist and song writer with the iconic progressive metal band Fates Warning. Joining him in this venture is Lloyd Hanney, drummer with God Is An Astronaut. If that isn’t enough to pique your interest, then let me add the names of Kevin Moore (ex-Dream Theater) who provides his keyboard skills to two tracks and Anna-Lynne Williams (Trespassers William) who provides non-lyrical vocals on two songs.

The overall output of Tuesday The Sky could best be described as ambient instrumental rock; indeed that’s how they are billed in most corners of the internet. It is an accurate description but it also fails, in my opinion, to do the music full justice. Having had the privilege of sharing many a precious hour in the company of ‘Drift’, it is patently obvious that this record is far more involved, nuanced and brilliantly constructed than this generic description suggests.

‘Drift’ is comprised of ten individual tracks that all stand on their own merits but which are at their most powerful when listened to as a whole. At times the music is barely audible, a gentle minimalist ambience at best. At other times, it explodes with real force and is surprisingly heavy. But the heaviness is in no way angry or confrontational; instead, it is like the outpouring of pent up emotions, the bursting of a dam. In the case of the perfectly-named ‘It Comes In Waves’, the heaviness has a demonstrably euphoric feeling to it, as the floodgates are opened and the strong, vibrant guitars crash around the quieter elements in a way that conveys so much human emotion, albeit positive, almost life-affirming.

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The melodies throughout ‘Drift’ are consistently excellent, forcing me to question how this material was created with such apparent nonchalance by Matheos in the downtime between the release of ‘Theories of Flight’ and the ensuing touring cycle. It is no secret how talented Matheos is as a musician and song writer but the music of Tuesday the Sky shows a whole new side to him and he comes out of it with bucket loads of integrity and my increased admiration.

‘Dyatlov Pass’ is one of the most striking compositions on the entire record for a number of reasons. The first half is pure ambient territory but with vaguely unsettling overtones due to the use of some strange dystopian sound effects. It has a cinematic vibe which then gives way to a pounding rhythm and arguably the heaviest riffs found anywhere on the album. The guitar tone delivers a real crunch and serious bite in what is quite a stark juxtaposition with what is on offer elsewhere.

And, even though I initially thought my download had been corrupted in light of the deliberately tremulous and static-plagued fragile opening guitar melody, opening track ‘Today The Sky’ has to be my current favourite. I love the crispness of the drumming, the vibrancy of the guitar tones and the way in which the atmospheric ambience rises and falls, building in intensity, delivering beautiful melodies and culminating in a glorious crescendo of sound that sends a shiver down my spine.

The aforementioned vocals of Williams are also a masterstroke. Her heart-rending ethereal approach bathes the sumptuous ‘Vortex Street’ in a warm embrace that is impossible to not take to your heart. In fact, I am struggling to think of a composition outside of Anathema with such depth of feeling and emotion. But crucially, the vocals are not overused; it could have been a temptation to employ Williams on every track but then their impact would have been diminished. As it is, when they surface, they are a delight.

The final tick in the box for ‘Drift’ is the variety on offer. There are common themes and threads that run through each song but they all have their own identities, be it the more robust post-rock/metal leanings of ‘Kite’ or the filmic nature of ‘Roger Gordo’, complete with its dense atmospherics and multitude of spoken word samples.

I know that I have published this review well after its release. However, I make no apologies for this. There are some records that require a little extra attention, a little more time and this is one of those. I feel like I understand it a lot more now, but more importantly, my admiration has grown into a genuine fondness for what has become a go-to record when I wish to be emotionally nourished and surrounded by music that has something subtle yet powerful to say. There will be no other instrumental album released in 2017 that will get close to topping this, I guarantee it.

The Score of Much Metal: 9.25

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

2015 reviews
2016 reviews

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

Essential rock & metal releases still to come in 2017 – Part 1

It’s true what they say – the older you get, the faster time disappears. I mean, it doesn’t seem possible that we are already half-way through 2017 for a start. And yet here I am. With my round-up of the best releases so far in 2017 under my belt, it is time to turn my attention to the future and consider what else is due to cross our paths this year.

If the first half is anything to go by, we’re in for a treat, I can tell you. I don’t remember a year where I’ve given out so many high scores. Unlike last year though, I have yet to bestow a perfect 10 on anyone, although the new Voyager album, ‘Ghost Mile’, Persefone’s ‘Aathma’ and Big Big Train’s ‘Grimspound’ all came deservedly close.

But enough about the past, here’s to the future…

19106010_10154760456619077_388154856530751419_nCradle of Filth
Cryptoriana – The Seductiveness of Decay
Release date: 22 September 2017

I was going off the boil regarding Suffolk’s most famous extreme metal export. I was a member of the fan club many years ago in my late teens having worshiped the likes of ‘Dusk…And Her Embrace’ and ‘Cruelty And The Beast’. But after a string of less-than-stellar releases throughout the noughties, I began to re-evaluate. That was until a couple of years ago and the release of ‘Hammer Of The Witches’. Their best since their heyday, it brought me kicking and screaming back into the fold. I now cannot wait for the next chapter in the saga of Dani Filth and co.

This next chapter is entitled ‘Cryptoriana – The Seductiveness of Decay’ and is due for release on 22nd September via Nuclear Blast. Watch out for the first single release very soon too.

19146029_10154398261857105_6108765129743949462_nCaligula’s Horse
In Contact
Release date: 15 September 2017

There are a huge number of excellent bands coming from Australia these days but alongside Vanishing Point and Voyager, Caligula’s Horse are one of the very best. Their previous album, ‘Bloom’ was superb, one of the best releases of 2015. In fact, the more I listen to this record, the better it gets – I should have placed it even higher in my end of year list, but hindsight is a wonderful thing. It is undeniably prog but it is intelligent, modern and full of the kind of swagger and assuredness that only the very best bands display.

The new album is quoted as being “an immense conceptual work”. Enigmatically-entitled ‘In Contact’, it is due for release on 15th September via InsideOut Music, one of the best and most consistent labels out there today. Just listen to the teaser trailer below and tell me this doesn’t sound exciting…

18556032_10155643571650101_6880641999645372966_nLeprous
Malina
Release date: 25 August 2017

It is an undeniable fact that Norwegian band Leprous are now regarded as one of the very best bands in the prog metal genre. They have yet to release anything less than extraordinary in their 16 year-career to date. And they are still young and still learning. But crucially, they appear to remain extremely hungry and out to prove that they deserve to build upon the accolades that they have rightly received so far in their career.

They have released a new track, ‘From The Flame’, from their upcoming new album, entitled ‘Malina’ which is released on August 25th. It remains very recognisable as Leprous but also a little different at the same time. In interview, the band describes the record as a ‘natural-sounding organic album’, but still modern with great songs. If that’s the case, and based upon the first single, count me in.

19420708_1698781136823429_4102190633439104941_nArch Enemy
Will To Power
Release date: 8 September 2017

I’m no longer the biggest Arch Enemy fan, it has to be said. I loved ‘Stigmata’ and the follow-up ‘Burning Bridges’. But that was several years ago and since then, the Swedish extreme metal band with a penchant for over-the-top guitar histrionics have ditched original singer Johan Liiva, replacing him with first Angela Gossow and now Alissa White-Gluz. In fact, there will be a dwindling number of fans even aware that Liiva was ever involved now that the band have re-recorded those aforementioned albums. A bad move in my opinion, but what do I know?

Nevertheless, when a highly-respected fellow journo of long standing makes positive noises about the new material due to see the light of day in the near future, who am I to not take notice? Particularly when the positive noises refer to some brilliantly flamboyant guitar work, for which I am a sucker at the best of times. The door for Arch Enemy has not been slammed shut yet, but this is probably their last chance as far as I’m concerned.

‘Will To Power’ is due to be released on 8th September 2017 on Century Media Records.

Threshold
Legends Of The Shires
Release date: TBC

The Threshold camp has gone a little quiet since the rather shock news surfaced that the UK progressive metal band had parted ways for a second time with Damian Wilson. Aside from news that the band are looking for fans to take part in the shooting of a new video, we’ve not heard anything new about the new material. Until that point, we were fully expecting the new album, ‘Legends of the Shires’ to surface in the latter stages of 2017. I still think we will have the double record, it’s just a matter of exactly when.

It is also a matter of who will be the vocalist on the record, as I understand that the album had been recorded with Wilson behind the mic. I suspect it’ll be Morgan, but nothing as far as I’m aware has been confirmed. You wait, as soon as I publish this post, an announcement will be made. An announcement is also still to be made regarding the guitar position made vacant by the recently departed Pete Morten. Interesting times ahead for one of my favourite prog bands.

Lonely Robot – The Big Dream – Album Review

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Artist: Lonely Robot

Album Title: The Big Dream

Label: InsideOut Music

Date Of Release: 28 April 2017

Those who know me and my style of writing will know that I never shy away from bringing personal experiences into my reviews, particularly if it helps to contextualise or explain my feelings towards an album. And this review is to be no different.

Not many people will know this about me but when I was very young, I struggled with the subject of death. I used to lie awake at night, snuggled up in my Garfield or Paddington Bear duvet and think. I’d think about dying and the fact that after I die, there will be nothing. Forever. Just as there was nothing for millions of years before I was born. For a small boy, these were deep thoughts and were thoughts that I struggled to get my head around. They would send me into a nauseous spin and it got to the stage that I even had some counselling about it.

It’s a part of my life that I’ve tried to put firmly behind me but occasionally my mind will wander and I’ll have a flash of panic, usually in the dead of night when I should be asleep. So when an aged and learned-sounding Englishman begins talking after 46 seconds of the opening track of ‘The Big Dream’ entitled ‘Prologue (Deep Sleep)’, the hairs on the back of my neck stand on end and my heart skips a beat.

“I have often puzzled and puzzled about what it must be like to go to sleep and never wake up. To be simply not there, forever and ever. After all, one has some inclination of this by the interval that separates going to sleep from waking. When we don’t have any dreams but go to sleep and then suddenly we’re there again and in the interim, there is nothing. And if there was never any end to that interval, if the waking up didn’t happen, that’s such a curious thought.”

It is like someone is voicing aloud my darkest fears. And the voice returns at points within the album, to make me think further and more deeply. Depending on my mood, the music on ‘The Big Dream’ is powerful enough to move me to tears. At others, I just allow myself to be enveloped in the rich tapestry of sounds, textures and moods that Lonely Robot seems able to effortlessly create, all wrapped up in a cosy progressive rock blanket.

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‘The Big Dream’, which reintroduces the central astronaut character from the debut, certainly touches a raw nerve but it is also comforting to think that I am not alone in these thoughts. It makes the whole experience bittersweet to a certain extent. But ultimately, I am blown away by this album, regardless of the meaningful threads that clearly run through it.

I am a big fan of the Lonely Robot debut, ‘Please Come Home’. But if anything, I think ‘The Big Dream’ is even better. Much of this has to do with the aforementioned themes that run through this record, giving me that intensely personal attachment. But more than that, I just feel that the music itself is just that little bit stronger. It is definitely more consistent, simply because there isn’t a wasted moment, a weaker track or a let-up in the quality on offer. It takes its time to work its magic though, so if you feel uneasy or underwhelmed after a first spin, listen again. And then again, several times more. The payoff is well worth it.

In a departure from the debut, Lonely Robot is no longer Mitchell surrounded by a team of guest musicians. Instead, whilst the studio entity is very much just Mitchell with Craig Blundell (Frost*) on drums, there’s more of a ‘band’ feel this time around for the live arena. The bass is handled by Steve Vantsis (Fish) and the keys by Liam Holmes. If ever there was a case for using the word ‘underrated’ or even ‘unappreciated’, it’s here. Not only is John Mitchell involved with Arena, It Bites and Frost*, he has now crafted two excellent albums where he is driving creative force, in charge of just about everything. He needs to have a lot more coming his way in terms of praise and plaudits, because he thoroughly deserves it.

The music on ‘The Big Dream’ will be immediately recognisable as a John Mitchell product for anyone who follows his career. However, this feels a lot darker and more introspective than much of his other work. Undoubtedly prog rock at its heart, there is a much more dreamy and almost dark feel to this album, whilst the melodies feel more refined and take longer to make their mark. ‘The Big Dream’ is arguably less cinematic than its predecessor as well, but the synths remain an integral ingredient, bathing each and every composition with a sophisticated, multi-layered glow, without which the whole offering would be fatally undermined.

The precise and bold drumming of Blundell should not go unnoticed, as he acts as the perfect heartbeat for the album, whilst allowing himself a little in the way of flamboyance when the compositions allow or demand it. The very best thing about ‘The Big Dream’ however, is Mitchell’s guitar work. I know that I say this every time I review an album that features Mitchell, but it can’t be helped. The guy is a genius with the instrument, he really is. The way in which he makes the guitar sing is impeccable. But more than that, he is able to convey such emotion in his solos with a touch and feel that I find difficult to express in words. Just listen to the myriad of solos that litter ‘The Big Dream’ and tell me I’m wrong. But in particular, ‘Awakenings’ and the title track feature some of his best work to date.

It feels a little redundant to refer to individual songs such is the consistency and smooth flow that is evident here. However, ‘Sigma’ features one of Mitchell’s best ever vocal performances in my opinion, especially the urgency and power he displays in the rousing chorus. Then there’s the gorgeously bittersweet ‘In Floral Green’, featuring female vocals alongside Mitchell or the more instantly powerful and impactful ‘Everglow’. I also have to mention ‘False Lights’ because it contains what is currently my favourite chorus on the album as well as some excellent bass work in the quieter sections. And I love the reprise from ‘Please Come Home’ nestled within the poignant near-instrumental title track.

‘The mystery of life is not a problem to be solved, but a reality to be experienced.’ These are the words that bring ‘Symbolic’ to a close and they are profound in the extreme. But, similar could be said for this record. Set aside the better part of an hour, settle down and allow yourself to get swept up in ‘The Big Dream’. Live it, experience it and fall in love with it.

The Score Of Much Metal: 9.25

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

2015 reviews
2016 reviews

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

The Mute Gods – Tardigrades Will Inherit The Earth – Album Review

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Artist: The Mute Gods

Album Title: Tardigrades Will Inherit The Earth

Label: InsideOut Music

Date Of Release: 24 February 2017

The debut album from The Mute Gods, ‘Do Nothing Till You Hear From Me’ was an album that tore me in two. On that record, there were some very good songs and a few that I wasn’t so keen on. I still listen to the likes of ‘Nightschool For Idiots’ and ‘Father Daughter’ but I don’t think I’ll ever be a fan of ‘Your Dark Ideas’ and ‘Swimming Horses’ if I’m honest.

Nevertheless, given that The Mute Gods is essentially a trio comprised of Nick Beggs (Steven Wilson, Steve Hackett, Kajagoogoo), Roger King (Steve Hackett) and Marco Minnemann (Joe Satriani, Aristocrats), I felt compelled to give their sophomore release, ‘Tardigrades Will Inherit The Earth’ a try. Despite their wealth of experience, I put the hit and miss affair of the debut down to the fact that the trio were still finding their feet and exact direction. I’m not saying that the musicianship was ever in question, because it wasn’t. Instead, it was just more down to personal taste and that some songs didn’t hit the mark with me.

It may have also had something to do with the fact that the debut featured a plethora of guest musicians including drummers Nick D’Virgilio (Spock’s Beard, Tears for Fears) and Gary O’Toole (Steve Hackett, China Crisis, Kylie Minogue), keyboardist Adam Holzman (Miles Davis, Steven Wilson), and multi-instrumentalist Rob Reed (Magenta). With the best will in the world, this can sometimes muddy the creative waters and lead to a ‘too many cooks…’ scenario.

This is clearly something that Nick Beggs and Co. have taken on board. As such, ‘Tardigrades Will Inherit The Earth’ is very much a three-man affair, with only Lula Beggs and Lauren Rogers providing backing vocals here and there.

As with any album that bears the name of Nick Beggs, ‘Tardigrades Will Inherit The Earth’ has a powerful message to give. In this instance, the record takes a look at the self-destructive tendencies of humankind. It’s a laudable and extremely topical message and will find favour with many who listen no doubt.

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Photo credit: Hajo Muller

But enough of the background, let me address what most of you are interested in: the music. On that score, ‘Tardigrades Will Inherit The Earth’ does not tear me in two like the debut album. Unfortunately, I have to report that I really don’t like this album very much at all.

In terms of musical direction, ‘Tardigrades Will Inherit The Earth’ travels a largely similar path to the debut in that it provides listeners with a dose of progressive rock that veers towards neo-prog on several occasions. And of course, it goes without saying that there are plenty of pop influences to be heard throughout.

Once again, I have to point out that my negativity is not directed at the musicianship, for this album features some very accomplished performances and is intelligently put together. Instead, my negativity is directed the songs themselves and an almost complete lack of music that makes me want to take a repeated listen.

Now, I am not a reviewer who will ever write about an album after a solitary listen. That’s not fair and it isn’t professional. I therefore nearly didn’t write the review because I simply couldn’t bring myself to listen to it a second or a third time. And then I realised that maybe I had missed something on the first spin, so I forced myself to listen again. Sadly, despite the occasional bright moment here and there, my first impression was largely confirmed. For good measure, I tried a couple more times including a play via some headphones.

I simply have to conclude that this record is simply not for me. Aside from the more overtly pop-centric and quirky title track, or the closing number ‘Stranger Than Fiction’, there are virtually no hooks or melodies that speak to me and every time I listen, I’m left feeling thoroughly disappointed. I wanted to like this record, but I can’t.

‘We Can’t Carry On’ has its moments but I don’t like the majority of the vocals, which grate on me and the same could be said at a push for ‘Animal Army’, which very nearly delivers but I can’t get on with the more bouncy pop-infused sections. ‘The Dumbing of The Stupid’ features deliberate discordance in the latter stages which just irritates me whilst ‘The Singing Fish of Batticaloa’ has a running time of over eight minutes but doesn’t deliver anywhere enough in that time; instead it meanders slowly to a close without ever offering anything remarkable.

I thought long and hard about whether or not to write this review as I hate writing negative reviews. Generally, I leave that to other publications. In the end though, having reviewed the debut, I felt it only fair to offer my thoughts on the follow-up. What I would ask though is that you listen to the music, including the track below and draw your own conclusions. There are bound to be many opinions that differ from mine and I’d hate people to miss out on something just because I dislike it. The score reflects that prowess of the musicians involved, but very little else I’m afraid.

The Score Of Much Metal: 6

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

2015 reviews
2016 reviews

Ex Deo – The Immortal Wars
Pyogenesis – A Kingdom To Disappear
My Soliloquy – Engines of Gravity
Nailed To Obscurity – King Delusion
Helion Prime – Helion Prime
Battle Beast – Bringer Of Pain
Persefone – Aathma
Soen – Lykaia
Exquirla – Para Quienes Aun Viven
Odd Logic – Effigy
Mors Principium Est – Embers Of A Dying World
Firewind – Immortals
Slyde – Back Again EP
Sepultura – Machine Messiah
Deserted Fear – Dead Shores Rising
Kreator – Gods Of Violence
Borealis – World of Silence MMXVII
Pain of Salvation – In The Passing Light of Day