Album Of The Year 2020 – Number 5

Welcome to instalment number twenty-six of my 2020 ‘Album of the Year Top 30 countdown’. That means we have reached the Top 5. The five best albums that, in my opinion, were released during a turbulent, hideous 2020. Thank goodness for music is all I can say.

Thank you for sticking with me all this time. I hope you continue to enjoy this series, and are interested in the final five picks.

Before I dive into the main event though, please excuse the usual reminder to anyone new to this series, to check out the links at the bottom of the post to find out who made the cut, from 30 down to 6, as well as my lists from previous years too.

Number 5

Katatonia

City Burials

Peaceville Records

Score Of Much Metal: 98%

It says an awful lot about the quality of the music released in 2020, when another fantastic, magical album from one of my all-time favourite bands only reaches number 5 in my end-of-year list. I wasn’t expecting it, and I bet for those of you who know me, this is a slight surprise for you too.

I absolutely love ‘City Burials’, but I think that my heart ran away with my head just a smidge. At the time of the review, I gave it a score of 98%. It was relatively early on in the first pandemic lockdown, and here I was listening to a typically emotional album from an amazing band, a band that had previously announced they were going on a hiatus. So to hear a new record from them at such a difficult time, made me very happy indeed.

In late December of the same year, I’d admit that a score of 95-96% would have been more accurate. It means that ‘City Burials’ is still an incredible album, just not quite worthy of top spot when you consider what else was released this year. There are some world-class songs nestled within ‘City Burials’, such as ‘Lacquer’, ‘Heart Set To Divide’, and ‘The Winter Of Our Passing’, all of which stand among Katatonia’s very best. And I love the more organic feel of the music, the atmospheres, and the intriguing ebb and flow, from heavy to quiet and back again with such ease and smoothness.

I can honestly and confidently say now that this isn’t their best album ever. But, as I said in my review, Katatonia cannot write poor music. They don’t come close. So even a band like Katatonia at 85% is better, in my opinion, than most other bands at 100%. It most certainly deserves its place in my top 5 for the year because I still listen to it so often, and I remain beguiled by much of the beautifully-composed and executed material. It is, after all, Katatonia, and I adore them. I utterly adore them.

Credit: Ester Segarra

What I  wrote at the time:

And the simple fact of the matter is that Katatonia are incapable of creating bad music. Further, they are incapable of writing anything that could even be considered as ‘sub-par’. When you listen to a Katatonia record, there is very rarely an occasion where the word ‘filler’ springs to mind. Even if the songs take a little more time to make their mark, they will eventually hit you and you understand what it is that they are trying to achieve. That’s very true here.

What is immediately striking about ‘City Burials’ is the amount of variety on offer, as we are treated to quieter, more introspective songs, right through to some impressively heavy material, arguably the most overtly aggressive since the almost peerless ‘The Great Cold Distance’. The various press releases that I’ve read fail to mention the name Frank Default, the guy who has been responsible for the electronic sounds that have adorned much of Katatonia’s more recent output. I can only surmise that he is not involved this time around. But those now-familiar textures and sounds remain evident throughout ‘City Burials’, much to my personal delight as I find them to be intriguing, beguiling and a welcome addition to the Katatonia palette.

I also mentioned that ‘City Burials’ features some genuinely heavier material and that’s equally true.

…I am emotionally invested and moved by ‘City Burials’ and the more I listen to it, the more in love I become. I will fully admit to the fact that I am a fanboy of Katatonia, but you don’t become one for any old reason. You become a fanboy because the music speaks to you, it moves you, it scratches an itch that cannot be touched by any other band. And ‘City Burials’, despite its forays into ‘softer’ territory, or its subtly different textures and ideas, scratches that itch for me. But more than that, the music has burrowed itself deep into my heart and I already cannot imagine a world in which this music does not exist. I know that I will listen to this album for the rest of my days and it will maintain a special place in my heart;”

Read the full review here.

The list this year so far…

Number 6

Number 7

Number 8

Number 9

Number 10

Number 11

Number 12

Number 13

Number 14

Number 15

Number 16

Number 17

Number 18

Number 19

Number 20

Number 21

Number 22

Number 23

Number 24

Number 25

Number 26

Number 27

Number 28

Number 29

Number 30

If you’ve missed my lists from previous years, you can check them out here:

2018

2017

2016

2015

2014

2013

2012

Katatonia – City Burials – Album Review

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Artist: Katatonia

Album Title: City Burials

Label: Peaceville Records

Date of Release: 24 April 2020

When news reached me that Katatonia were to go on a hiatus, it was like being stabbed in the heart with a rusty blade. It hurt. Here is a band that means more to me than just music. I have a connection with the Swedes that I only have with a handful of bands. They also provide me with a vital link to my late brother, the guy that sat for hours and hours trying to convince me that this was the greatest band on the planet. Katatonia have released three or four albums in the decade since his passing but every time, my first thought on hearing new material is ‘I bet Nick would’ve loved this’. So, the thought of having no new music from this band meant that I’d be deprived of a vital link to a loved one no longer with us. I’ll admit, I shed a tear, but resolutely hoped that the hiatus would not be permanent and that, with patience, I’d hear new music one day.

It turns out that today is that day. I’ll admit that I shed another tear on finding out that Katatonia had returned and another when the first notes emanated through my headphones for the first time. Up until this point, I had resisted the urge to listen to the lead single, ‘Lacquer’. I’d heard rumblings of disquiet on social media from certain quarters but rather than weigh in, I instead waited for the full experience before making any judgement.

I have now listened, and listened to ‘City Burials’, digesting everything as much as possible along the way. And the simple fact of the matter is that Katatonia are incapable of creating bad music. Further, they are incapable of writing anything that could even be considered as ‘sub-par’. When you listen to a Katatonia record, there is very rarely an occasion where the word ‘filler’ springs to mind. Even if the songs take a little more time to make their mark, they will eventually hit you and you understand what it is that they are trying to achieve. That’s very true here.

The other simple fact is that Katatonia will never be a band that sits still. They are always evolving, be it gently or more markedly, from album to album. There will be new ideas that emerge, new textures, new vistas, new directions. But ultimately and inescapably, the music remains instantly that of no other. Katatonia’s music, be it the black/death of ‘Brave. Murder. Day’, the darker metal trappings of ‘Tonight’s Decision’, or the more progressive, urban soundscapes of ‘Dead End Kings’ is laced with their own unique and unquantifiable magic. ‘City Burials’ is no different.

What is immediately striking about ‘City Burials’ is the amount of variety on offer, as we are treated to quieter, more introspective songs, right through to some impressively heavy material, arguably the most overtly aggressive since the almost peerless ‘The Great Cold Distance’. The various press releases that I’ve read fail to mention the name Frank Default, the guy who has been responsible for the electronic sounds that have adorned much of Katatonia’s more recent output. I can only surmise that he is not involved this time around. But those now-familiar textures and sounds remain evident throughout ‘City Burials’, much to my personal delight as I find them to be intriguing, beguiling and a welcome addition to the Katatonia palette.

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Credit: Ester Segarra

In terms of the ‘softer’ material, the two songs that spring to mind are the aforementioned ‘Lacquer’ and ‘Vanishers’. Beginning with the former, I can understand why, in isolation, some fans were concerned. It isn’t so much a radical departure from previous material, but rather a further exploration of tones, textures and atmospheres that are led by some bold electronic samples and synth work. In the context of the album, it makes perfect sense and it is one of the tracks that most entertains me, because it feels so emotional, dark and full of that melancholy for which Katatonia have always been known and loved. The melodies are subtle but they soon tug at the heartstrings, whilst the vocal performance from Jonas Renkse is sensational, especially at the 3:55 mark where he lets his voice soar, sending shivers up and down my spine. The beautifully delicate ‘Vanishers’ then features a guest vocal appearance from Full Of Keys’ Anni Bernhard, whose breathy and soft tones duet with Renkse to devastating effect. It is a soothing song on the one hand but it builds in intensity almost imperceptibly, whilst carrying within it an aching solemnity that’s difficult to articulate. It’s just a beautiful song and another interesting addition in the Katatonia library.

I also mentioned that ‘City Burials’ features some genuinely heavier material and that’s equally true. New guitarist Roger Öjersson wasn’t in place to really influence the material on ‘The Fall Of Hearts’ other than by providing some solo embellishments. Here though, I get the distinct impression that he was a more integral part of the team, influencing the way that some of these songs came together and now finally sound. For one, I cannot remember a Katatonia record with as many lead guitar solos, especially such flamboyant and vibrant ones as heard here.

Take ‘Behind The Blood’ as the obvious example. The song flies out of the blocks led by a fabulously bold lead break, whilst the remainder of the band beat seven bells out of their instruments. The song then settles to deliver a cheeky, groovy verse riff where guitarists Öjersson and Nyström seem to work together in perfect harmony with each other. The chorus takes a while but it works its magic to the point where I find myself singing it when least expected; the final recital of it features yet more stunning vocals from Renkse who seems to be a man reborn of this disc. Naturally, there are a few darker twists and turns within the song that allow the synths to take centre stage alongside the sophisticated Earth-rumbling bass playing of Niklas Sandin. It all comes together to create a near-flawless, heavy Katatonia composition.

Opening song, ‘Heart Set To Divide’ is another of those heavier tracks, although it starts in a typically dark, bleak and atmospheric manner, with only the synths and vocals for company at the outset. There’s a wonderful sense of anticipation that builds before the floodgates open to reveal a cracking and heavy riff, topped off by the occasional but sublime pinched harmonics. The monochrome world painted by the music looms large and claustrophobic, pulling the listener immediately into the unforgiving world inhabited by Katatonia. The melodies are strong and engaging, but the best aspect of the song is the way the intense heaviness is blended effortlessly with quieter parts, creating real drama in the process.

I can’t possibly dissect every one of the eleven songs in such detail, so instead allow me to signpost a few of the many highlights. Firstly, there’s the pulsating, dark beast that’s ‘The Winter Of Our Passing’, which unleashes one of the most devastating and powerfully melodic, hook-laden choruses from the band in many years. And speaking of strong choruses, it would be impossible to ignore the scintillating ‘City Glaciers’. Sandin’s bass and Daniel Moilanen’s drums lead the song deftly and stylishly from the off, before I’m absolutely floored by the majestic and sprawling chorus that emerges from an otherwise typically bleak soundscape. For me, it has to be these moments of warmth and hope within the otherwise cold and impenetrable misery that catapault Katatonia onto another level of brilliance; these guys are so skilled at what they do, they can play with our emotions seemingly at will.

As with any Katatonia album, it is way too early to start thinking about it’s position within the back catalogue and whether or not it is amongst their best. What I can say however, is that I am emotionally invested and moved by ‘City Burials’ and the more I listen to it, the more in love I become. I will fully admit to the fact that I am a fanboy of Katatonia, but you don’t become one for any old reason. You become a fanboy because the music speaks to you, it moves you, it scratches an itch that cannot be touched by any other band. And ‘City Burials’, despite its forays into ‘softer’ territory, or its subtly different textures and ideas, scratches that itch for me. But more than that, the music has burrowed itself deep into my heart and I already cannot imagine a world in which this music does not exist. I know that I will listen to this album for the rest of my days and it will maintain a special place in my heart; we may be prisoners to an unprecedented pandemic, but ‘City Burials’ sets my heart free and it brings me closer to departed loved ones once again.

The Score of Much Metal: 98%

Check out my reviews from 2020 right here:

Wolfheart – Wolves Of Karelia
Asenblut – Die Wilde Jagd
Nicumo – Inertia
The Black Dahlia Murder – Verminous
Omega Infinity – Solar Spectre
Symbolik – Emergence
Pure Reason Revolution – Eupnea
Irist – Order Of The Mind
Testament – Titans Of Creation
Ilium – Carcinogeist
Dawn Of Ouroboros – The Art Of Morphology
Torchia – The Coven
Novena – Eleventh Hour
Ashes Of Life – Seasons Within
Dynazty – The Dark Delight
Sutrah – Aletheia EP
Welicoruss – Siberian Heathen Horde
Myth Of I – Myth Of I
My Dying Bride – The Ghost Of Orion
Infirmum – Walls Of Sorrow
Inno – The Rain Under
Kvaen – The Funeral Pyre
Mindtech – Omnipresence
Dark Fortress – Spectres From The Old World
The Oneira – Injection
Night Crowned – Impius Viam
Dead Serenity – Beginnings EP
The Night Flight Orchestra – Aeromantic
Deadrisen – Deadrisen
Blaze Of Perdition – The Harrowing Of Hearts
Godsticks – Inescapable
Isle Of The Cross – Excelsis
Demons & Wizards – III
Vredehammer – Viperous
H.E.A.T – H.E.A.T II
Psychotic Waltz – The God-Shaped Void
Into The Open – Destination Eternity
Lunarsea – Earthling/Terrestre
Pure Wrath – The Forlorn Soldier EP
Sylosis – Cycle of Suffering
Sepultura – Quadra
Dyscordia – Delete / Rewrite
Godthrymm – Reflections
On Thorns I Lay – Threnos
God Dethroned – Illuminati
Fragment Soul – A Soul Inhabiting Two Bodies
Mariana Semkina – Sleepwalking
Mini Album Reviews: Moloken, The Driftwood Sign & Midnight
Serenity – The Last Knight
Ihsahn – Telemark EP
Temperance – Viridian
Blasphemer – The Sixth Hour
Deathwhite – Grave Image
Marko Hietala – Pyre Of The Black Heart
SWMM – Trail Of The Fallen
Into Pandemonium – Darkest Rise EP
Bonded – Rest In Violence
Serious Black – Suite 226
Darktribe – Voici L’Homme
Brothers Of Metal – Emblas Saga
A Life Divided – Echoes
Thoughts Factory – Elements

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

2019 reviews
2018 reviews
2017 reviews
2016 reviews
2015 reviews

Anticipated Album Releases in 2020

Welcome to 2020. I thought I’d start it off in familiar fashion by giving you a hint at what’s to come during the year, although I have tried to be a little more streamlined and not waffle on for ages about each release. There are likely to be further posts in this series, so watch this space. In the meantime, here are a handful of very exciting releases coming our way in 2020…

Vanishing Point – TBC

Hurrah! A new Vanishing Point album is nearly upon us. Sometime in 2020 is 99% guaranteed, maybe more certain than that. It has been a long time coming and the frustrations of band mastermind Chris Porcianko have been there for all to see. However, despite a large number of hurdles and obstructions, the Australian melodic metal band with progressive tendencies have remained together, remained focused and are on the brink of delivering a new record.

According to Porcianko himself, this as-yet untitled record should find favour with fans. “I’m pretty sure that most people who like Vanishing Point’s music will find something cool with this one, it’s a ride of emotions and subject matter lyrically speaking is going to be a cross between the usual anxiety issues , questioning and this time questioning morals and ethics when it comes to the human race, the environment and all the instability going on.”

Caligula’s Horse – TBC

Anyone who enjoys modern progressive rock/metal music should be thrilled with the news that Australian band Caligula’s Horse are due to return in 2020 to follow up the magnificent last couple of releases, 2015’s ‘Bloom’ and ‘In Contact’ released in 2017.

As recently as New Years Eve, the band posted on social media to update fans on the latest progress:

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“Let the big sing begin. Vocal tracking is off to a soaring start with Sam
and Jared at the helm.

Getting close now.

#caligulashorse #CHalbum5 #vocals #vocalist #progressiverock #progressivemetal #recording #studio
#studiogear”

And then there’s the following tantalizing snippet that sounds very enticing indeed. Anyone else excited?

https://www.facebook.com/plugins/video.php?href=https%3A%2F%2Fwww.facebook.com%2Fcaligulashorseband%2Fvideos%2F437772473797612%2F&show_text=0&width=476

 

Katatonia – TBC

Nothing is confirmed yet but after being on hiatus for a period of time, a recent social media post from the band has ignited the enthusiasm of their fans, me included.

This photo appeared alongside the following quote: “However, 2020 is the threshold to a new decade and will see us keepin’ busy for other reasons than paying tribute to our past. Actually, here’s a pic to give you a clue about what’s waiting on the other side…”

I’ll let you judge for yourselves, but I’m definitely thinking ‘new album’! Fingers are firmly crossed.

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Serenity – The Last Night
Napalm Records – 31 January 2020

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Over the past few years, Austria’s Serenity have become one of my favourite, go-o bands in the melodic metal genre. In fact, with their blend of melody, power and symphonics as well as a penchant for historical subject matter, they are often hard to beat. So it’s great to be able to confirm that Serenity will return on January 31st with their latest record, ‘The Last Night’. I just wish it wasn’t via Napalm Records, which means my review will have to be written based on streaming only. But I’ll do my best despite this impediment!

Sylosis – Cycle Of Suffering
Nuclear Blast – 7 February 2020

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It’s always nice when a band you like returns from nowhere and announces that they are not only back, but that they are releasing a brand new album as well. Marvellous.

In this case, it is the turn of Sylosis to return to the gaze of the public eye, with ‘Cycle of Suffering’, released at the beginning of February. I have certainly missed the UK-based extreme metal band’s style and sound and, based on the track below, they’ve lost none of their bite during their extended hiatus.

God Dethroned – Illuminati
Metal Blade Records – 7 February 2020

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Ever since I discovered the Dutch death metal band via ‘Into The Lungs of Hell’, back in 2003, I have been a huge admirer of God Dethroned. They create music that’s brutal, with some great riffs and strong melodies that mean the music is often memorable and addictive. Admittedly, I haven’t been as enamoured with a couple of their most recent releases, but based on the track below, I’m very interested in hearing more of this album as I suspect it’ll be a powerful listen.

Mercenary – TBC

At long last, after a protracted hiatus that has probably lasted longer than anyone expected, including the band themselves, Mercenary are finally back and we can expect a new album at some point in 2020. That’s definitely music to these old ears!

I love the blend of aggression, groove and melody that this melodeath band creates. It’s brutal yet catchy, not to mention frequently epic and anthemic. If this isn’t a winning combination, then I don’t know what is.

No news on when, but, in the same vein as the Katatonia picture above, it can’t be too far away now.

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Demons & Wizards – III
Century Media Records – 21 February 2020

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An incredible 15 years after releasing their second album, ‘Touched By The Crimson King’, Demons & Wizards have returned. The collaboration between Blind Guardian’s Hansi Kursch and Iced Earth’s Jon Schaffer wowed fans of both bands at the turn of the millennium when the partnership began with the incredible self-titled debut. However, as a decade and a half passed, it was feared we may never see more than two albums. Thankfully, that isn’t the case and I’m looking forward to getting my teeth stuck into the appropriately-titled ‘III’ as February draws to a close.

Anathema – TBC

The only hint that we have been given regarding a new Anathema album in 2020 came buried within the press release to announce the Liverpudlians’ departure from KScope and new contract with the Mascot Label Group. Within that press release, the bands’ manager, Andy Farrow of Northern Music Company is quoted as saying: “I’m delighted to be working with them on Anathema’s next release in 2020.”

Not much else to say at this stage, except that if this happens to be true, I have high hopes for another masterpiece from this sensational band.

Bloodbath – The Arrow Of Satan Is Drawn – Album Review

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Artist: Bloodbath

Album Title: The Arrow of Satan Is Drawn

Label: Peaceville

Date of Release: 26 October 2018

It has been four years since death metal ‘supergroup’ Bloodbath last butchered our ears with a slab of dirty and depraved extreme metal. ‘Grand Morbid Funeral’ was released in 2014 to mixed reviews but I have always had a real soft spot for Bloodbath, regardless of the clientele involved or the musical direction that the band have taken.

The love affair started with the debut, although I must admit I initially only listened because of the involvement of key members of my beloved Katatonia. But once I listened to the debut, ‘Resurrection Through Carnage’ way back in 2002, I classed myself as a fan. This fan status has remained because, as far as I’m concerned, Bloodbath have always produced high quality gory death metal and latest full-length, ‘The Arrow Of Satan Is Drawn’, is no different.

The current line-up consists of Katatonia duo Jonas Renkse (bass) and Anders Nystrom (guitar) alongside Opeth’s Martin Axenrot (drums), Paradise Lost’s Nick Holmes (vocals) and new addition Joakim Karlsson of Craft on guitar. And it is this new addition that seems to have had quite a big impact on the band if the music on ‘The Arrow Of Satan Is Drawn’ is anything to go by. For whilst the output here is undeniably death metal of the Scandinavian persuasion, with parallels to the likes of Dismember and early Entombed, this record brings a hefty hint of black metal to the overall sound.

This shift in the Bloodbath sound is noticeable right from the off, as ‘Fleischmann’ rips the speakers apart with the sound of buzzsaw guitar riffs, wailing feedback and dark, ominous atmosphere. Nick Holmes sounds as possessed as ever, spitting and growling his diatribes with venomous intent. The tones of the lead guitars when they emerge are cold but carry a certain eerily melody with them to counterpoint the filthy death metal beneath, culminating in a cracking first track.

‘Bloodicide’ carries more of the typical Bloodbath death grunt and plenty of satisfying groove, led by the chunky riffing of Nystrom in particular. The drumming of Axenrot is more flamboyant here, indulging in some great tom fills along the way, whilst necks are snapped at the 1:51 mark with the entrance of one of the grooviest riffs on the album, which give way to an expansive, wailing solo. As the song advances, the black metal hints re-emerge via some frosty guitar work and the pace is temporarily quickened, but this is devastating brutal and filthy death metal of the highest order. When you add into the mix guest appearances from Carcass’ Jeff Walker, Karl Willets of Bolt Thrower/Memoriam fame and John Walker of Cancer, it is hardly surprising that this is easily one of my favourite tracks on this record.

I can’t help but think of ‘Wayward Samaritan’ as more of an extreme death ‘n’ roll number thanks to the catchy opening riff which appears at points throughout the fast-paced composition. It is a real grower actually and well worthy of a place on this record, especially when topped off by an inspired slowing of the pace at the death to emphasise the central larger-than-life riff. And ‘Chainsaw Lullaby’ reinforces the death metal credentials with a classic homage to the likes of Grave or Dismember, complete with graphic and violent lyrics of the ‘cut him, rip him, chop him’ variety, alongside the sounds of agonised screams for good measure.

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Not content to repeat themselves, Bloodbath mix things up nicely on ‘The Arrow of Satan Is Drawn’. As such, ‘Levitator’ sees the quintet exploring more of a claustrophobic and exhausting death/doom approach. I’m reminded of Morbid Angel’s ‘Where The Slime Live’ thanks to the lurching, grinding buzzsaw riffs and the effects at play on Holmes’ vocals, which make him sound like he’s gargling bitumen.

Speaking of death/doom, both ‘March of the Crucifiers’ and ‘Morbid Antichrist’ feature elements of this within them. The latter is doused in cinematic, theatrical grandeur thanks to the injection od choir vocals and evil-sounding spoken-word embellishments, not to mention more wailing leads, icy riffs and frantic drumming. The former contains some classic pinched harmonics, for which I have a real weak spot. That said, the central riff, accented by near blastbeats at times is a behemoth and worthy of the entrance fee alone.

Featuring the brilliantly sinister lyric, ‘Sinfully, I lust for my death’, ‘Deader’ has to be another highlight amongst many on this record, especially the echoes of Dissection within some of the intense, blackened and frosty riffing and subtle melodic intentions. The swirling leads and sense of malevolent cloying atmosphere are the icing on this maggot-infested cake.

‘Warhead Ritual’ has to be one of the catchiest cuts on the album, whilst ‘Only The Dead Survive’ has some of the most pronounced black metal elements woven into it thanks to some spine-tingling lead guitar lines that could freeze you at one hundred paces.

The more I have listened to ‘The Arrow of Satan Is Drawn’, the more I am certain that this almost certainly has to be Bloodbath’s finest hour. It simply has everything that you might want from a brutal death metal record – the riffs, the atmosphere, the groove, the melodic hints, the variety, the intensity and the note perfect execution from a group of musicians whose ability and commitment to the music that they love is unquestionable. Yes, I’m certain, ‘The Arrow Of Satan Is Drawn’ is Bloodbath at their extreme, evil and gory best.

The Score of Much Metal: 9.25

If you’ve enjoyed this review, you can check out my others from 2018 and from previous years right here:

2017 reviews
2016 reviews
2015 reviews

Nochnoy Dozor – Nochnoy Dozor EP
Vola – Applause of a Distant Crowd
Lost In Thought – Renascence
Into Eternity – The Sirens
Fifth Angel – The Third Secret
Ashes of my Memory – Raptures /// Disillusions EP
Anathema – Internal Landscapes
Samskaras – Lithification
Seventh Dimension – The Corrupted Lullaby
Hate Eternal – Upon Desolate Sands
Witherfall – A Prelude To Sorrow
Northward – Northward
Seventh Wonder – Tiara
Warrel Dane – Shadow Work
Haken – Vector
Beyond Creation – Algorythm
Ultha – The Inextricable Wandering
Amaranthe – Helix
Ghost Ship Octavius – Delirium
Decembre Noir – Autumn Kings
The Odious Construct – Shrine of the Obscene
Fauna Timbre – Altering Echoes
The Moor – Jupiter’s Immigrants
Revocation – The Outer Ones
Riverside – Wasteland
Ethernity – The Human Race Extinction
Dynazty – Firesign
Deicide – Overtures of Blasphemy
Brainstorm – Midnight Ghost
Krisiun – Scourge of the Enthroned
Kingcrow – The Persistence
Cast The Stone – Empyrean Atrophy
Omnium Gatherum – The Burning Cold
Helion Prime – Terror of the Cybernetic Space Monster
Madder Mortem – Marrow
A Dying Planet – Facing The Incurable
Árstíðir – Nivalis
Mob Rules – Beast Reborn
The Spirit – Sounds From The Vortex
Aethereus – Absentia
Unanimated – Annihilation
Manticora – To Kill To Live To Kill
Rivers of Nihil – Where Owls Know My Name
Halcyon Way – Bloody But Unbowed
Michael Romeo – War Of The Worlds, Part 1
Redemption – Long Night’s Journey Into Day
Distorted Harmony – A Way Out
Tomorrow’s Eve – Mirror of Creation III – Project Ikaros
Atrocity – Okkult II
Lux Terminus – The Courage To Be
Kataklysm – Meditations
Marduk – Viktoria
Midas Fall – Evaporate
The Sea Within – The Sea Within
Haken – L-1VE
Follow The Cipher – Follow The Cipher
Spock’s Beard – Noise Floor
Ihsahn – Amr
The Fierce And The Dead – The Euphoric
Millennial Reign – The Great Divide
Subsignal – La Muerta
At The Gates – To Drink From The Night Itself
Dimmu Borgir – Eonian
Hekz – Invicta
Widow’s Peak – Graceless EP
Ivar Bjørnson and Einar Selvik – Hugsjá
Frequency Drift – Letters to Maro
Æpoch – Awakening Inception
Crematory – Oblivion
Wallachia – Monumental Heresy
Skeletal Remains – Devouring Mortality
MØL – Jord
Aesthesys – Achromata
Kamelot – The Shadow Theory
Barren Earth – A Complex of Cages
Memoriam – The Silent Vigil
Kino – Radio Voltaire
Borealis – The Offering
W.E.T. – Earthrage
Auri – Auri
Purest of Pain – Solipsis
Susperia – The Lyricist
Structural Disorder – …And The Cage Crumbles In the Final Scene
Necrophobic – Mark of the Necrogram
Divine Realm – Nordicity
Oceans of Slumber – The Banished Heart
Poem – Unique
Gleb Kolyadin – Gleb Kolyadin
Apathy Noir – Black Soil
Deathwhite – For A Black Tomorrow
Conjurer – Mire
Jukub Zytecki – Feather Bed/Ladder Head
Lione/Conti – Lione/Conti
Usurpress – Interregnum
Kælling – Lacuna
Vinide – Reveal
Armored Dawn – Barbarians In Black
Long Distance Calling – Boundless
In Vain – Currents
Harakiri For The Sky – Arson
Orphaned Land – Unsung Prophets And Dead Messiahs
Tribulation – Down Below
Machine Head – Catharsis
Bjorn Riis – Coming Home EP
Twilight’s Embrace – Penance EP
Bloodshot Dawn – Reanimation
Rise of Avernus – Eigengrau
Arch Echo – Arch Echo
Asenblut – Legenden
Bleeding Gods – Dodekathlon
Watain – Trident Wolf Eclipse

Apathy Noir – Black Soil – Album Review

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Artist: Apathy Noir

Album Title: Black Soil

Label: Independent

Release date: 31 January 2018

Formed back in 2003, Apathy Noir is the given moniker for the artistic output of solo artist Victor Jonas, who welcomes into his personal musical vision, Andy Walmsley, vocalist with Twilight’s Embrace and Beyond Grace. ‘Black Soil’ is the fourth full-length release from Jonas under the Apathy Noir banner, although just to confuse things, prior to 2016, the ‘band’ went by the name of Apathy.

Any time the email or press release mentions names like Katatonia, I’m going to sit up and take notice. In the case of Apathy Noir, the reference was to old Katatonia and Opeth. And, when the words ‘progressive death/doom’ are also mentioned, it was a done deal, even if I am a little late to the party on this occasion.

I must admit that I have not been misled by the references above, because this is pretty much what I expected I’d hear before I hit the ‘play’ button. The mournful lead guitar notes do call to mind the output of early Katatonia, whilst the crushing heaviness is tempered just a little by a production that is authentic to the genre some 20 years ago. Is that a kind way of saying that the production isn’t that great? Well, no, because the production isn’t actually that bad – with a bigger budget, the album could have sounded fuller, richer and clearer of course. However, it is perfectly acceptable and provides some raw grittiness and a taste of bygone days, regardless of whether this was deliberate or not.

I seem to be saying this a lot lately when it comes to the death/doom genre, but ‘Black Soil’ will not win any awards for originality. This is not re-setting the bar or moving it into completely new territory for others to hastily follow. However, what it is, is a thoroughly enjoyable slab of death/doom metal with plenty of melodic sensibility and just enough ‘progressive’ intent to allow then the use of the tag. That said, it’s in no way challenging in that respect, so don’t expect a plethora of tempo and time changes or a radical juxtaposition of apparently disparate ideas. These elements exist on occasion, but instead, Jonas tends to prefer a subtler approach, with plenty of light and shade and dark atmosphere his main weapons to stave off boredom and keep things sufficiently interesting.

Alongside the aforementioned Katatonia and Opeth influences, I also hear a dose of Swallow The Sun as well as, unsurprisingly, Twilight’s Embrace within the seven tracks that make up ‘Black Soil’. None of the songs come in at under the six-minute mark, meaning that there is still over 50 minutes of material to wrap your ears around.

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This is the kind of album that proves that I must have a huge soft spot for this kind of music. I say this because whilst it is not at the very highest end of the melodic death/doom genre league table, I still derive an awful lot of pleasure from it.

Opening track, ‘The Glass Delusion’ starts things off wonderfully. The atmospheric sound of synths is joined by a bass and drum beat to set a nice tempo before the track explodes. The savage, almost black metal retching vocals of Andy Walmsley take no prisoners as they do battle with some expertly crafted staccato-style riffs which are both rich and icy sharp. The central melody that is introduced subtly in the intro is maintained throughout via the lead guitars to provide a mournful yet sumptuous feel to the song. It is then topped off quite surprisingly by a flamboyant guitar solo and more layers of atmospheric synths and an occasional foray into much quieter territory.

The Katatonia-isms are brought to the forefront of proceedings within ‘Samsara’, most notably through the sorrowful lead guitar lines. The use of melancholy minor notes is classic ‘Brave Murder Day’ era fodder but the song is executed with such style and elegance that the plagiarism is easily forgiven and forgotten. The introduction of deep and resonant clean vocals is a nice touch too, as are the changes of pace and intensity.

The clean vocals make a return within the beautiful dirge that is ‘Black Soil’, one of the more overtly ‘progressive’ tracks on the record thanks to its more complex and varied structure. Another strong melodic thread runs through the song, but what I also like are the more pronounced tempo changes and the way in which the guitar is allowed to hold a note or two, to allow a little more space into the composition.

If I’m being extremely critical, the clean vocals within longest track, ‘The Void Which Binds’ could do with being just a little stronger, especially early in the song. And I am not overly convinced that it warrants its nine-minute life – there are some nice moments within it, particularly the juxtaposition between the crushingly heavy riffs and the more atmospheric and minimalist interludes. However I certainly think it could have been trimmed by a couple of minutes.

There are a few other very small quibbles I have with the music on ‘Black Soil’, like the fact that I wish I could hear the bass more and occasionally, even the drums are a little anaemic within the final mix.

However, these issues aside, the quality demonstrated in the opening songs by-and-large remains present until the very end. The twisting and writhing riffs that emerge from the calm within ‘Bloodsong’ for example are very nice indeed, as are the particularly anthemic melodies that unfurl in the song’s latter stages.

It all makes for a very pleasant listening experience indeed, one that I am more than happy to recommend to anyone who might be looking for a quality slab of melodic death/doom metal away from the usual suspects and big hitters within the genre.

The Score of Much Metal: 8

(no embedded track because I refuse to embed the entire album – I urge you to go forth and discover Apathy Noir of your own accord!)

If you’ve enjoyed this review, you can check out my others from 2018 and from previous years right here:

2017 reviews
2016 reviews
2015 reviews

Deathwhite – For A Black Tomorrow
Conjurer – Mire
Jukub Zytecki – Feather Bed/Ladder Head
Lione/Conti – Lione/Conti
Usurpress – Interregnum
Kælling – Lacuna
Vinide – Reveal
Armored Dawn – Barbarians In Black
Long Distance Calling – Boundless
In Vain – Currents
Harakiri For The Sky – Arson
Orphaned Land – Unsung Prophets And Dead Messiahs
Tribulation – Down Below
Machine Head – Catharsis
Bjorn Riis – Coming Home EP
Twilight’s Embrace – Penance EP
Bloodshot Dawn – Reanimation
Rise of Avernus – Eigengrau
Arch Echo – Arch Echo
Asenblut – Legenden
Bleeding Gods – Dodekathlon
Watain – Trident Wolf Eclipse

Soen – Lykaia – Album Review

soen

Artist: Soen

Album Title: Lykaia

Label: UDR Music

Release Date: 3 February 2017

I’m a relatively late convert to the Soen cause having only discovered the Swedish band via their previous, sophomore release, ‘Tellurian’, although it is an album for which I have a lot of time. However, I can safely say that ‘Lykaia’ is another step up in almost every regard and as such, this is an album that any self-respecting prog fan needs to hear. In fact, given many of the other ingredients within the Soen sound, you don’t even need to be a fervent fan of progressive music to fully appreciate this record. I could end the review there, but I won’t as there is a lot more to say.

The truly great thing about Soen, particularly on ‘Lykaia’ is that they don’t sound like anyone else. There are definite nods towards the likes of Opeth and Tool, but ultimately, Soen have cultivated their own sound. Given that I’m not a fan of either Tool or Opeth, that bodes well for me when listening to this.

I also hear inflections of Katatonia although this similarity is born out more from the overall tones on ‘Lykaia’ than the music itself if that makes sense. With Soen here and with Katatonia, I get that same sense of frustration, despair and darkness of the human psyche as well as an overall sense of a claustrophobic urban dystopia where negativity is rife and constantly threatens to stifle anything more positive and hopeful, albeit not always successfully.

The subject matter explored on ‘Lykaia’ is difficult to fully decode but I think that this is part of the charm of Soen’s music. There are definite religious connotations and themes about the journey of mankind but the lyrics force you to think and also to use your imagination, which I like. And they’re definitely not light-hearted or facile, something else I welcome with open arms.

What strikes me when I listen is the assured nature of the band and their output. It doesn’t sound forced or contrived; instead, I get the sense that what has been created has come about because of a clarity of purpose as well as a strong focus and belief, not to mention the accomplished performances from within the Soen collective. My conjecture is that something this creative and effortlessly stunning could not have materialised otherwise. Everything sounds just right, whether it is an intense or groovy rhythm, a carefully-crafted melody, a powerful riff or a majestic vocal. In fact, the word ‘majestic’ fits the entirety of ‘Lykaia’ perfectly.

All of this is even more impressive given the fact that the band boast two new members for this recording. Avatarium guitarist Marcus Jidell has joined the fold alongside keyboardist/guitarist Lars Åhlund. They both slot into Soen apparently seamlessly and effortlessly alongside existing members Martin Lopez (drums), Joel Ekelöf (vocals) and Stefan Stenberg (bass). The music output certainly has its differences to ‘Tellurian’ and to ‘Cognitive’ before it, but it feels like the result of an increasing maturity rather than a premeditated change of direction brought about by the line-up alterations. Confidence breeds quality and this is a perfect example.

Another really wonderful aspect of ‘Lykaia’ is the way in which it has been recorded. The accompanying press release talks of a deliberate shunning of more modern, synthetic and digital methods in favour of something more authentic. And be left in no doubt that this is evident. Whether it be heavier and more abrasive in tone or softer and more introspective, the music has a gorgeous organic feel to it. The instruments therefore sound more honest and vibrant, warts and all. That’s not to say that there are many warts to be heard, it just means that the performances have been captured as they were played without too much studio enhancement or tweaking. Credit for much of this must go to Marcus Jidell who handled the production of ‘Lykaia’ and who has done a most excellent job. I would venture to suggest that those who choose the vinyl option are in for a treat.

‘Lykaia’ is one of those albums that is best enjoyed as a whole, as the smooth transitions from song to song mean that the record has the feel of one distinct body of work. And, at around 50 minutes in length spread across eight tracks, the complete work sits at a nicely digestible length, a length that flies by at times. However, it wouldn’t be a review on the Blog of Much Metal without going into further detail about some of the aural pleasures to be found.

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The records gets off to a seriously powerful start via ‘Sectarian’. It demonstrates quite a Tool-esque prominent bass line which works alongside the bold tom-heavy, almost tribal-sounding drumming in providing a strong and striking backbone to the track. The rhythm-heavy beginning eventually gives way to a strong, beguiling chorus that makes an immediate impact but which only gets better with repeated listens. Vocalist Ekelöf has a rich timbre and a hypnotising delivery that adds gravitas to the composition, not to mention a certain amount of palpable melancholy – a trend that continues throughout ‘Lykaia’.

‘Orision’ begins with a seriously cool and understated riff and then opens up into a sumptuous chorus that contains a delectable melody. Later, the track then falls away into minimalist territory, dominated by pervasive atmospheres, led in part by Åhlund’s keys. It is a real grower, almost surreptitiously becoming a favourite.

The exquisite and tenderly performed composition, ‘Lucidity’ follows and my heart is won over. The heavier guitars are stripped away in favour of a more subtle and soulful approach from Jidell, who never ceases to amaze me with his touch and feel with the guitar. The guy is able to say more with one or two notes than others can with a full-on shred or lightning fast solo. There are hints of Opeth to be heard but equally, I can hear echoes of Wolverine thanks to the sense of bleakness and emotional fragility brought to life via Ekelöf’s vulnerable-sounding performance. The result is a truly profound listening experience.

‘Opal’ closes in simple yet eloquent fashion after spending the majority of its length indulging in something altogether heavy and dramatic. ‘Jinn’ introduces some of the most beautiful melodies on an album full of melodic highlights. Here, they have a real bittersweet feel to them; euphoric and intensely sad at the same time. It is a personal favourite, one of the most immediate tracks on the entire album, if also one of the most poignant and emotionally draining. Oh and there’s the middle eastern flavour to the closing bars which sounds as if it should be incongruous but actually fits perfectly.

Lopez’s drumming and Stenberg’s expressive, rumbling bass dominate the early stages of ‘Sister’. The song builds and becomes very intense, one of the heaviest compositions on the record. However, it shows measured restraint by always remaining one step away from exploding into full-blown anarchy. ‘Stray’ delivers yet more stunning, heart breaking melodies atop a driving rhythm whilst ‘Paragon’ closes a fabulous album in a suitably classy manner. Beginning quietly, the song gently builds to a mid-song crescendo with agonised wailing guitars that sound like the breaching of an immense dam of human emotion, where all the frustration, anger and bitterness floods out, only to revert to calmer climes in the blink of an eye.

I had come to ‘Lykaia’ hoping for an album from Soen that I could like and from which I could take some genuine enjoyment. What I hadn’t bargained on was an album that would very quickly make a profound and indelible impression on me, to the extent where I have found myself listening to nothing else for the past few days since I first heard it. ‘Lykaia’ isn’t far away from being the perfect record and I implore you to listen and to revel in its many treasures. Nicely done, Soen, nicely done.

The Score of Much Metal: 9.5

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

2015 reviews
2016 reviews

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 best individual songs of 2016

What can I say? I’m a glutton for punishment. Having spent the last month counting down my favourite 30 albums of 2016, I thought that it would be a great idea to shine the spotlight on the best individual songs of 2016.

If you’re interested in checking out my top 30 albums of 2016, here’s the link:

Top 30 albums of 2016

These songs are in no particular order, except my first choice below, which has turned into my anthem of the year, the song that I have been far and away most obsessed with.

So here goes:

Borknagar – Winter Thrice

This is my song of the year without any shadow of doubt. When I first heard it even ahead of receiving the promo, I listened to it about five times back-to-back. And it was around midnight. That should tell you something about it.

The four vocalists, the huge melodies, the extreme bombastic sections, the atmospheres and the lyrical content…this song has it all. It is arguably the most perfect and accessible extreme metal song of the year, if not longer. Even now, I get the urge to listen to it from out of nowhere and when I placate the cravings, I enjoy it as much now as I did at the very beginning.

Katatonia – Takeover

The masters of dark melancholy had to feature on this list somewhere. There are many contenders but it has to be ‘Takeover’. It is an exquisitely-crafted piece of music that sums up Katatonia perfectly for me. The bleakness, the serenity and the feelings of darkness, loneliness, despair and anger are all encapsulated here. The ebb and flow as well as a bittersweet recurring melody make it an addictive listen.

Haken – Earthrise

The sound of my ringtone for the last few months, I love the gorgeously melodic opening and the way in which this track has a refreshing positivity about it. Others might have chosen ‘1985’ or ‘The Architect’. However, it is this track that puts me in a good mood and gives me goosebumps the most.

Maschine – Make Believe

This was the first song on this impressive album that gave me the chills and had that ‘wow’ factor for me immediately. The entire album is staggeringly good with time but this track remains the stand-out for me. I love the almost ethereal female vocals and the strong melodies, as well as the dark undercurrent that accompanies this sumptuous piece.

Odd Logic – Lighthouses

Like an oasis of calm in an intense progressive metal concept album, ‘Lighthouses’ is a luxurious neo-prog-meets-AOR-meets pop workout with serene melodies and expressive lead guitar work. It’s beautiful and begs to be repeated.

Enbound – Feel My Flame

Quite frankly, this is the ultimate melodic metal track. Nothing in 2016 even came close and I seriously wonder when a contender will challenge for the honour. I hope there will be something in 2017, but I’m not convinced. It is just so damn catchy with one of the most upbeat and catchy choruses I’ve heard in a long, long time.

Big Big Train – Brooklands

On an album where there are some many strong compositions, this is, for me, the very best. The way in which the music so eloquently fits the subject matter and then also delivers one of the stand-out melodies of the year. What a cracking song.

Witherscape – Marionette

I love the way in which this song builds from quiet beginnings with clean softly delivered vocals before erupting with a massive catchy chorus. The fact that the music explodes with a keyboard drenched AOR-esque chorus overlaid by guttural death vocals is inspired and just adds to the sense of the epic.

Evergrey – Disconnect

Given that it is my number one album of the year, Evergrey had to have a representative here. So many options but I have plumped for a slow-burner that has become my favourite track on the album. It comes out of the blocks with heavy intent before opening up into one of the most cinematic and epic tracks on the album. It brings something new whilst being faithful to the old days and the vocals from Tom are just so impassioned. Killer.

Frost* – First Day

It might be a tad controversial to pick an intro song as one of my favourites of the year, particularly when it is only around 90 seconds in length. However, I find it a hugely rich and emotional piece of music. It sets the tone for the album perfectly, but it moves me too – to the point when I press repeat frequently.

Sadly, I can find no link to embed, so you’ll have to buy the album or just trust my opinion!

Airbag – Broken

When I first listened to ‘Disconnected’ by Airbag, I was convinced that the opening track, ‘Killer’ would feature on this list. As it turns out, as good as that song is, ‘Broken’ has become even more captivating to me. The poignant and heartbreaking lyrical content marries with some of the most beautifully elegant music to create something very special and rather moving in the process.

Alcest – Onyx

To quote my review: “Given the effects, sounds and textures at play, this instrumental track is claustrophobic, dark and menacing, verging on noise at times. However, underneath the apparent tumult is a softer, more haunting and somber underbelly that sends shivers down my spine every time I listen. The melody conveys such loneliness, emptiness and melancholy that it strikes straight at my heart.” I stand by every word. This is spine-chilling.

Album of the Year 2016 – Number 3

Welcome to day 28 of my ‘Album of the Year 2016′ top 30 countdown and with it, we’re into the top 3 of the year. Thanks to everyone who has stuck with me over the past month, I hope you’ve found it as fun as I have to write.

As ever, if you are new to this blog, you’ll find links to my previous 27 choices at the bottom of this post along with links to the full series’ from previous years. I hope you enjoy them if you decide to take a look.

Now, I have a bit of a confession to make at this point in the proceedings. The final three choices of mine are so damn-near inseparable that in all reality, they should be a joint no.1. All three have seriously kicked my backside this year and deserve all the accolades that can be bestowed upon them. In my heart, they are as one and cannot be separated.

However, in the spirit of this countdown and to demonstrate that I am able to make a decision however impossible it might be, I have put these three albums into some semblance of an order, based on one simple thing: how they made me feel. They are all superb in their own right, all written and executed with care, passion and finesse.

With that firmly in mind, here’s the bronze medal winner…

Number 3

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Katatonia
The Fall Of Hearts
Peaceville Records

“…in short, it is almost impossible for me to not laud ‘The Fall Of Hearts’ as one of the very best releases in the band’s 25-year career. I have weighed it up thoroughly as I’ve lain on the sofa late at night, almost every night, soaking up the music on offer here within album number ten.

…it is a huge album. At nearly 70 minutes in length and spread over 12 tracks, you certainly get value for money and any concern that Katatonia may have been lacking inspiration or drive coming into this recording is immediately expunged. Come on, this is Katatonia after all and so, if anything, it’s exactly the opposite, as if the quintet has come out of the blocks with all guns blazing to prove that the recent instability has not impacted on the band in anything other than a positive manner.

I feel emotionally drained yet elated as it dawns on me that I have just spent an hour in the presence of greatness. Is it their best release ever? It’s too early to say for sure. However, it has had a huge impact on me, just like every release before it. As far as I’m concerned, music is all about the here and now though – how it makes you feel as you listen, how it makes you think and whether or not it gives you strength or a sense of comfort. Right now, ‘The Fall Of Hearts’ calls to me, it speaks to me on a myriad of different levels and I feel stronger and more enriched by it. And that’s more than enough for me right now.

Majestic and peerless, where there is darkness, Katatonia is your master, so allow your heart to fall to them.”

Read the full review here

Ester Segarra
Credit: Ester Segarra

At the time of my review, I gave ‘The Fall of Hearts’ a perfect 10/10. I stand by this decision wholeheartedly. It deserves this score because  of its genre, if such a thing even exists, it is at the very pinnacle, a superlative slab of melancholy dark rock/metal with a progressive sheen. And, if you’ll forgive a further quote from my review:

“Not only is their music of the highest calibre, it is also one of the strongest links between my late brother and I. You see, he had great music taste and it was he that got me to see the light about Katatonia many years ago. Subsequently, whenever I hear Jonas Renkse’s delectably emotive voice or that unmistakeable guitar tone of Anders ‘Blakkheim’ Nystrom, my little brother’s face looms large in my mind every time, usually accompanied by a smile and the odd tear. For that alone, I owe Katatonia a debt of thanks.”

So not only is the music out of the very top drawer, there is a more personal connection between the music of Katatonia and I. It all comes together to create something immensely powerful but intangible and hugely difficult to express in words.

What makes ‘The Fall of Hearts’ so special, even above some of their own extraordinarily strong back catalogue, is that it is the sound of a band still growing, still experimenting and still learning even after so many years. They’ve never stood still but there’s an even greater feeling of exploration and soul-searching on this record.

And inevitably, it is a success. Listen to any of the songs on this record and you can feel the magic. And you can hear something incredibly vibrant and explosive yet poignant, fragile and bleak. What a combination; it is something that Katatonia have mastered and, I hope, will continue to master for many years to come.

In case you’ve missed any of the other posts in the 2016 series, here they are for you to explore and enjoy:

Album of the Year 2016 – number 7
Album of the Year 2016 – number 8
Album of the Year 2016 – number 9
Album of the Year 2016 – Number 10
Album of the Year 2016 – Number 11
Album of the Year 2016 – Number 12
Album of the Year 2016 – number 13
Album of the Year 2016 – number 14
Album of the Year 2016 – number 15
Album of the Year 2016 – Number 16
Album of the Year 2016 – number 17
Album of the Year 2016 – number 18
Album of the Year 2016 – Number 19
Album of the Year 2016 – number 20
Album of the Year 2016 – number 21
Album of the Year 2016 – number 22
Album of the Year 2016 – number 23
Album of the Year 2016 – number 24
Album of the Year 2016 – number 25
Album of the Year 2016 – number 26
Album of the Year 2016 – number 27
Album of the Year 2016 – number 28
Album of the Year 2016 – Number 29
Album of the Year 2016 – Number 30
And from previous years:

Album of the Year 2016 – Number 24

Welcome to day 7 of my ‘Album of the Year 2016′ top 30 countdown. That’s right, that’s the first week of posts complete and I’m nearly 1/4 of the way through now. And, honestly, I’m enjoying writing this series more than any other. The sheer quality of every album mentioned here is staggering and it is a complete joy to be re-listening to them all whilst I write.

But that’s just me. How are you all enjoying it so far? Judging by the feedback, I’m not going too far wrong yet, but that can change very quickly I’m sure. Judging by some comments, I fear that there will be a few disappointed people when they realise that some albums have not even made it into this list. But the beauty of doing a countdown is that no-one will realise the omissions until right at the very end. Exciting huh?…

As always, permit me a quick reminder that all of the previous posts in the 2016 series can be found via links at the bottom of this post along with links to the entire series’ from 2012-2015 inclusive. Perfect if you’re new to the Blog of Much Metal or if you’re just curious.

And now, onwards, with my next choice….

Number 24

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Witherscape
The Northern Sanctuary
Century Media Records

 

“However, to refer to Witherscape as purely a melodic death metal is a little misleading and slightly disingenuous as well. Theirs is a hybrid of styles that borrows from 90s death metal, melodic rock, AOR, progressive rock as well as classic metal and even an occasional touch of thrash for good measure. Blend into the mix a fair amount of atmospherics courtesy of Swano’s bold keyboard style and it’s fair to say that my mouth begins to water at the prospect.

‘The Northern Sactuary’ contains a little bit of everything that I like in my metal these days. Yes it’s heavy but if you take the time to take a close listen to the music of Witherscape, you’ll hear so much more. ‘The Northern Sanctuary’ is a beautiful album that blends the extremity of death metal with so many wonderfully engaging sounds and textures. Oh and I guarantee you’ll be humming several of these tracks for weeks on end. You have been warned.”

Read the full review here

Pic: Erik Ohlsson
Pic: Erik Ohlsson

Dan Swano and Ragnar Widerberg have teamed up once again to bring something quite magical to the lover of extreme metal in 2016. ‘The Northern Sanctuary’ is an utter delight from start to finish, full of brutal metal and plenty of melodic excess, led by some brilliant clean vocals, expressive lead guitar lines and some gorgeous keyboards that bathe the whole thing in some kind of warm glow. If melodeath could ever be classed as ‘happy’, then ‘The Northern Sanctuary’ is the immediate and perfect example of this apparently contradictory description.

And, to top it all off, this album features one, maybe two contenders for ‘song of the year’, in the form of the beautifully epic, ballad-like ‘The Examiner’ and ‘Marionette’ which is, if anything even better. The marriage of melody and brutality is inspired as Swano’s growl acts as the perfect counterpoint to a chorus that is so enormous, it borders on AOR territory. Trust me, it’s magnificent.

In short, ‘The Northern Sanctuary’ is a triumph.

In case you’ve missed any of the other posts in the 2016 series, here they are for you to explore and enjoy:

Album of the Year 2016 – number 25
Album of the Year 2016 – number 26
Album of the Year 2016 – number 27
Album of the Year 2016 – number 28
Album of the Year 2016 – Number 29
Album of the Year 2016 – Number 30

And from previous years:

Album of the Year 2015
Album of the Year 2014
Album of the Year 2013
Album of the Year 2012

Album of the Year 2016 – Number 29

Welcome to day two of my ‘Album of the Year 2016’ top 30 countdown. If you missed the first post in this series, check it out here:

Album of the Year 2016 – Number 30

As I stated at the beginning of the last post, 2016 has been an incredibly strong year for my personal music taste. I have listened to countless new releases and have reviewed, in full, nearly 100 of the best. Whittling them down into a top 30 has been excruciatingly hard and even now, I’m still tinkering with the order and making 11th hour swaps.

In some cases, my opinion of the music has increased whilst in others, my initial love has waned disappointingly. As such, my final 30 contains a few surprises even to me. Mind you, going back and revisiting all these super albums has been a delight and is something I’ve enjoyed immensely. However, rest assured that every album that’s featured in this list is worthy of its place, whether it was released 11 months or 11 days ago.

So, back to the main issue at hand – what is today’s album of choice?…

Number 29

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In Mourning
Afterglow
Agonia Records

 

“‘Afterglow’, the fourth album from In Mourning, is such a positive album because Messrs Tobias Netzell (guitars, vocals), Pierre Stam (bass), Björn Pettersson (guitars, vocals), Tim Nedergård (guitars) and former katatonia drummer Daniel Liljekvist have really come up trumps in terms of merging three or four key ingredients into a cohesive and believable end product. They take the crushing brutality of death and doom metal and blend it with mournful, elegant melodies, a progressive bent and a liberal dose of dark, foreboding atmosphere.

I am hugely impressed by what I have heard. There’s not a weak track anywhere to be found and the consistency of the song writing and indeed the execution is out of the top drawer…‘Afterglow’ is a damn fine record and is one of the finest melodic death/doom releases I’ve heard in a while, right up there with label mates October Tide and last year’s opus from Swallow The Sun.”

Read the full review here

Photo: Daniel Jansson
Photo: Daniel Jansson

This record was released back in May 2016 and, if anything, the more I listen to this album, the more I like it. ‘Afterglow’ made a big impact right away but it is one of those releases that actually gets stronger with time and repeated listens. It is particularly satisfying when it is returned to after a bit of a break because I find that the heavy and uncompromising riffs hit harder whilst the melodies and the dark atmospheres feel even more emotive and elegant.

Some six months on, ‘Afterglow’ really feels like a remarkably consistent record with plenty to enjoy throughout, most notably the progressive elements that keep the listener on their toes. However I have to admit that ‘Ashen Crown’ is the standout moment; I just love the juxtaposition between the heavy opening and the shoegaze-infused second half that sends shivers down my spine thanks to its subtlety and acoustic-led elegance that conveys real depth, emotion and poignancy, not to mention its uplifting overtones. That said, there are plenty of other fantastically mesmerising moments to be found littering this impressive album.

If you’re looking for an album that is brutal, sophisticated and dripping with dark atmosphere, make sure that you check out ‘Afterglow’ as it is easily the best and most accomplished release from this talented Swedish extreme metal band.

In case you’ve missed any of the other posts in the 2016 series, here they are for you to explore and enjoy:

Album of the Year 2016 – Number 30

And from previous years:

Album of the Year 2015
Album of the Year 2014
Album of the Year 2013
Album of the Year 2012

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