Tag Archives: Kscope

Anathema – The Optimist – Album Review

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Artist: Anathema

Album Title: The Optimist

Label: Kscope

Date of Release: 9 June 2017

Anathema is one of my top 5 bands of all time. As such, their new full-length release, ‘The Optimist’ is easily my most highly anticipated album release of 2017.

Put simply, Anathema are a band that speaks to me. They are a band that seem to know instinctively how to press my buttons and touch me whatever my mood. From euphoric and uplifting, to fragile and poignant, they cover the gamut of emotions, leaving me exhilarated one minute and sombre the next, frequently with tears as my constant and ubiquitous silent companion.

I have always liked Anathema, discovering the Liverpudlians via the magnificent ‘Eternity’, back in 1996 as a teenager. However, it was with 2010’s ‘We’re Here Because We’re Here’ and 2012’s ‘Weather Systems’ that my admiration grew into a full-blown love affair, further cemented by ‘Distant Satellites’ in 2014.

To some extent, timing was everything. ‘We’re Here Because We’re Here’ was born less than two years after the heartbreaking passing of my younger brother. And so, when the song ‘Presence’ delivers the spoken word lines of ‘Life is not the opposite of death. Death is the opposite of birth. Life is eternal’ atop a gorgeously ethereal soundscape, I was floored. I know it sounds nonsensical but I felt like Anathema knew me and had put this into the album just for me to help ease my own inner turmoil.

‘Weather Systems’ was released just two years later. Stronger human beings might have moved on from personal tragedy better than I but truth be told, I was still struggling. As such, when I heard ‘Internal Landscapes’ with another powerful spoken word intro delivered by a man who had suffered a near-death experience, I was hit once again. Was this written for me? Of course not, but the conflicting emotions that it stirred in me made me think so. From despair at my loss to the comfort of gaining a little insight into what my brother might have felt as he slipped from us, this masterpiece within Anathema’s undeniable tour-de-force continues to have a huge and lasting impact.

And then, if that wasn’t enough, along came ‘Distant Satellites’ in 2014. I had the pleasure of meeting and interviewing Daniel and Vincent prior to its release. The guys graciously listened to my babblings as I tried to ineloquently describe the importance of their music to me. To my eternal gratitude, the brothers then gave me the gift of a whole new perspective on ‘The Lost Song, Part 2’. Already an achingly gorgeous song, their words made this composition even more important, further cementing the bond between Anathema, my brother and me.

Given all this history, it is very difficult for me to remain entirely objective where Anathema is concerned. And naturally my expectations will be massive ahead of the release of any new material.

And, to begin with, I struggled with ‘The Optimist’, the eleventh album of the Liverpudlian’s career. Never ones to shy away from experimentation, ‘The Optimist’ is yet another shift in Anathema’s own personal evolution. Whilst the core ingredients of atmosphere, emotional depth and lyrical eloquence are present and correct here, the output framed loosely by alternative/prog rock, has a much darker feel to it in general. There is also a more pronounced use of loops, electronic sounds and percussion that were hinted at within the title track on ‘Distant Satellites’. If I’m honest, whilst I love that specific track, I had my doubts and concerns should Anathema venture further down this musical avenue.

The fact that they have done just that perhaps explains why my initial thoughts on ‘The Optimist’ were not overly favourable. The selfish side of me wanted ten more close variations of ‘The Lost Song Part 2’ or ‘Internal Landscapes’ and I felt disappointed that together, Vincent Cavanagh (vocals, guitars, keys), Daniel Cavanagh (guitars, keys, vocals), John Douglas (acoustic/electronic percussion), Lee Douglas (vocals), Jamie Cavanagh (bass) and Daniel Cardoso (drums/keyboards) hadn’t indulged me.

Anathema-promo-2017-1-1024x683 Caroline Traitler

Credit: Caroline Traitler – http://www.carolinetraitler.net

With the benefit of time and perseverance though, I can now admit that it is not the music on ‘The Optimist’ that was at fault, but my own issues, my own limitations and my selfishness. ‘The Optimist’ is not an instant fix, an immediate score of your favourite musical drug. What it is instead, is a multi-layered, multi-faceted record that demands time and effort on behalf of the listener to unlock its true potential. And when it unlocks…wow!

Interestingly the band have married this latest step forward sonically with a thematic step backwards. In 2001, Anathema released an album called ‘A Fine Day To Exit’ which told the story of a man who wanted to escape his life and the modern world. ‘The Optimist’ reprises this story and in so doing, provides closure to a story that was left unfinished. In typical Anathema style however, the conclusion remains deliberately ambiguous, inviting personal interpretation by the listener.

This thematic decision explains the somewhat strange title of the opening track on ‘The Optimist’, namely ’32.63N 117.14W’. These are in fact the co-ordinates for the beach in San Diego where ‘A Fine Day to Exit’ concludes and which, I assume, adorns the cover of that album, a cover that becomes quite emotional with closer scrutiny. I’ll admit that this is in no way my favourite album in the Anathema back catalogue but I had often thought about that cover and the family photo that sits on the dashboard of the empty car wondering how this story ultimately played out. And now I can.

This opener very much has the feel of a concept album introduction. The sound of waves lapping on the shore, footsteps crunching on the beach, a car engine starting and then station-hopping on the car radio. It is more a scene-setter than a piece of music per se but it then segues rather seamlessly into ‘Leaving It Behind’ and we’re off. And we’re off at some pace, because this is a massively up-tempo, loud and abrasive piece of rock music. The electronic aspect is present from the beginning but with a bit of listening, it really enhances the track, adding an interesting slant to the composition, particularly in the brief atmospheric mid-song break down. As the song develops, the intensity increases as guitars begin to build up into walls of jangly sound whilst the drumming from Cardoso is relentless, ably assisted by bassist Jamie Cavanagh. To my mind, it is the perfect way to introduce an album that has deliberately and consciously been recorded ‘live’ in the studio, because the resulting energy is palpable and thoroughly infectious, pulling the listener along for the heady ride immediately.

As ‘Endless Ways’ begins quietly with just a lone piano and plaintive melody, I’m still catching my breath a little. But as Lee Douglas enters the fray for the first time, accented by some lush orchestration, my attention is well and truly undivided. The melodies and angelic vocals are more reminiscent of the last couple of albums, even if Douglas has parked the vibrato which characterised previous performances. Here, as the song majestically builds from humble beginnings into a powerful and heartfelt outpouring of emotions, Lee demonstrates that she is one of the shining lights in rock music today, whilst Anathema demonstrate that they haven’t lost their mercurial spark, whatever I might have first thought. And yes, you guessed it, the tears flow as I find myself being emotionally nourished by the incredibly important rock in my life that is Anathema.

“Hold on, hold on for dear life
And run, and run all night
For you are loved in endless ways
Stay with me, please believe
I can be your memory

My world will never be the same
And my heart is never going to regret
For you are loved in endless ways
Are loved in endless ways”

This wasn’t written for me, just as previous lyrics weren’t. But they could have been. These words resound with me, they touch me and they comfort me.

More piano introduces the title track, but it is Vincent that initially joins in vocally, joined by Lee at times but only fleetingly. Delicate melodies that are pure Anathema begin to work their charm after a few listens and further orchestration embellishments help to propel the song to a new level of sophistication. The track ebbs and flows, toying with the listener’s moods, but as with its predecessor, there is a subtle build-up towards a crescendo where there’s a hint of a wailing guitar in the vein of songs like ‘Anathema’.

‘San Francisco’ is a bit of an odd one. It is an instrumental that is dominated by a rather repetitive yet strangely beguiling melody, a reprise of sorts of ‘Endless Ways’ if I’m not mistaken. It is then accented by atmospheric synths and electronic sounds which help to set a completely different tone, one that I warm to more and more as time goes by.

In keeping with the concept vibe, the sounds of a train in full flight acts as a pause before ‘Springfield’ is introduced, almost shyly and reluctantly via a quiet and delicate guitar melody which is quickly taken up by the piano. Electronic sounds make a subtle return but it is the insistent rhythmic beat that makes the biggest impression in the early stages, driving the song towards what ultimately becomes an imposing wall of post rock-inspired sound led by urgent guitars and topped off by Lee’s serene voice almost pleading to the heavens. The track then falls away to conclude in a minimalist manner accompanied by the sounds of waves, distant sirens and the whispers of a male voice.

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Credit: Caroline Traitler – http://www.carolinetraitler.net

‘Ghosts’ then offers one of the most poignant and immediate melodies on the album which is enhanced by a beautiful string arrangement and a beat that together suggests something reminiscent of a film soundtrack. By contrast, ‘Can’t Let Go’ ups the pace and features arguably Vincent’s strongest performance on the entire record. Once again, drummer Cardoso provides the drive to a track that begins in bold fashion but which builds sublimely through a clever injection of rich and vibrant aural textures.

We return to another snippet of action from the central character before we delve into the murky world of ‘Close Your Eyes’, which evokes images in my mind of a dark and smoky backstreet jazz club. I can appreciate the composition and I don’t dislike it but it is by far and away my least favourite track on the album. The fact that a trumpet plays a significant role no doubt feeds my apathy as I continue to fail to warm to brass of any kind in my music.

Any lingering misgivings are short-lived however as ‘The Optimist’ ends in genuinely commanding fashion courtesy of ‘Wildfires’ and the fittingly-titled epic closer, ‘Back To The Start’.

The former has a dark, eerie tone created by the haunting, echoed vocals of Vincent atop the ubiquitous piano which for large portions of the track delivers something monotone, incessant and deliberately uncomfortable. But it works, as does the controlled explosion of sound before another swift descent into a minimalist, thought-provoking abyss.

The album is then brought to a close by the near 12-minute ‘Back To The Start’ and it is nothing short of magical, the perfect way to round out this impressive body of work. The sound of waves gently lapping onto the beach ushers in an aching and gorgeous melody that, when coupled by some devastatingly honest lyrics, threatens to reduce this grown man to tears yet again. I’m not normally someone who likes choral vocals, especially when they have a vague gospel ‘happy’ feel to them, but here, it just sounds right. Perfect in fact. The combination of voices, orchestration and lyrics as the song builds and ultimately reaches its climax is truly epic and a feeling of barely contained euphoria washes over me, bathing me in a warm glow. It’s all too much, so when the final act of the central character follows, I get tingles, chills and all manner of conflicting emotions.

Once again, Anathema have delivered an album that is more to me than just a collection of beautifully and lovingly-crafted songs. It is an album that lives and breathes. It has a vibrancy, an intense raw honesty and a human depth that many strive to deliver but that very few succeed in achieving. Whether or not it ultimately surpasses the last couple of records in terms of my overall enjoyment, only time will tell. For now though, I am content to lose myself in ‘The Optimist’ via its aural magnificence and the emotional succour that it provides to this fragile and damaged soul.

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

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

The Pineapple Thief – Your Wilderness – Album Review

Pineapple cover

Artist: The Pineapple Thief

Album Title: Your Wilderness

Label: Kscope

Date Of Release: 12 August 2016

If I’m being honest, I knew very little about The Pineapple Thief until a couple of years ago, when the mastermind behind the band, Bruce Soord, teamed up with Katatonia vocalist Jonas Renkse to deliver the delicious Wisdom Of Crowds record. I interviewed both Soord and Renkse about this release, getting to know a bit more about The Pineapple Thief in the process.

This duly led to a voyage of discovery and the realisation that, in Pineapple Thief, here was another great band, entirely worthy of my attention. Taking their cue these days from the end of the prog spectrum that also plays host to the likes of Radiohead, Porcupine Tree and their ilk, The Pineapple Thief’s more recent output tends towards heavily atmospheric, moody and more subtle progressive music as opposed to the ‘let’s play as many notes and scales as we can’ school of prog.

‘Your Wilderness’ is The Pinapple Thief’s eleventh album and prior to getting my own ears around it, I had heard some very positive noises from other reviewers. I was therefore expecting to hear something good. And I haven’t been left disappointed either.

I’m still not perhaps sufficiently versed in The Pineapple Thief’s back catalogue to be able to make a worthwhile comment about where it stands against previous albums, particularly when, as a latecomer, the progression of the band is so marked. However, it is fair to say that ‘Your Wilderness’ is one of the smoothest and ‘softest’ of the band’s 17-year career but within which unquestionably sits some of my very favourite moments from the Somerset-based band.

The Pineapple Thief is today comprised of Soord himself who handles the guitar and vocal duties alongside longstanding bassist Jon Sykes and keyboardist Steve Kitch as well as Porcupine Tree’s Gavin Harrison perched on the drum stool.

Credit: Unknown

Credit: Unknown

It takes precisely 10 seconds of opener ‘In Exile’ to understand the flavour and direction of ‘Your Wilderness’. A lone drum beat opens the song before the swathes of haunting and moody yet understated keyboards offer plenty of depth and atmosphere. Nicely nuanced bass work enhances the rhythmic output, whilst the unmistakeably smooth tones of Soord breeze in and out of track, adding much in terms of melody and sophistication.

‘No Man’s Land’ is an instant favourite of mine. It is built around a picked acoustic guitar melody that is then joined by a solemn piano and quietly-delivered introspective vocals. At least that’s where it begins, because as the song develops, so does a sense of urgency and menace which finally explodes in the latter stages. The drumming from Harrison is really great, injecting a sense of increasing tension before heavier guitars enter the fray, underlining Soord’s more metallic credentials.

In contrast, ‘Tear You Up’ begins in much more overtly heavy territory, more in keeping with other records. I hear a touch of Muse or even Coheed And Cambria in the song but more so, I hear a great individual instrumental performances and super dynamics created by an intelligent variation in tempo and heaviness. It’s then topped off by a chorus melody that lingers long in the memory.

Another high point on ‘Your Wilderness’ comes in the shape of ‘That Shore’, an utterly gorgeous and sensitive track that, on paper, I might have skipped or at least had little interest in. And yet, the more modern-sounding electronic stylings of this composition are utterly beguiling, leading to a powerfully emotive and insidiously compelling piece of music with echoes of latter-day Katatonia within it.

Speaking of music which has an insidious quality, look no further than ‘Take Your Shot’ which may be more mainstream-sounding in many ways thanks to a demonstrable indie/alternative swagger but is another example of the power of a strong chorus, atmosphere and lead guitar embellishments that get right under my skin.

And I have to mention ‘The Final Thing On My Mind’ which, at nearly ten minutes in length, is the longest composition on the record by a long way. However, it is a track that fully justifies the extended life in that it manages to move beautifully from section to section with an incredible smoothness within an overall framework that allows a pronounced ebb and flow, not to mention further noteworthy performances from all concerned.

The more I listen to ‘Your Wilderness’, the more I like it and the more I want to listen to it. There is so much to discover within the entire album and I’m finding new, subtle moments of interest and intrigue every time I press play. With ‘Your Wilderness’, The Pineapple Thief are at the top of their collective game and eloquently demonstrate that you don’t have to go at one hundred miles an hour or play every note in the book to create sophisticated and intelligent music.

The Score Of Much Metal: 8.5

If you’ve enjoyed this review, check out my others via my reviews pages or by clicking the links right here:

Evergrey – The Storm Within
Dream The Electric Sleep – Beneath The Dark Wide Sky
Periphery – ‘Periphery III: Select Difficulty’
Karmakanic – Dot
Novena – Secondary Genesis
Witherscape – The Northern Sanctuary
Eric Gillette – The Great Unknown
Tilt – Hinterland
Cosmograf – The Unreasonable Silence
Fates Warning – Theories Of Flight
Wolverine – Machina Viva
Be’lakor – Vessels
Lacuna Coil – Delirium
Big Big Train – Folklore
Airbag – Disconnected
Katatonia – The Fall Of Hearts
Frost* – Falling Satellites
Glorior Belli – Sundown (The Flock That Welcomes)
Habu – Infinite
Grand Magus ‘Sword Songs’
Messenger – Threnodies
Svoid – Storming Voices Of Inner Devotion
Fallujah – Dreamless
In Mourning – Afterglow
Haken – Affinity
Long Distance Calling – Trips
October Tide – Winged Waltz
Odd Logic – Penny For Your Thoughts
Iron Mountain – Unum
Knifeworld – Bottled Out Of Eden
Novembre – Ursa
Beholder – Reflections
Neverworld – Dreamsnatcher
Universal Mind Project – The Jaguar Priest
Thunderstone – Apocalypse Again
InnerWish – Innerwish
Mob Rules – Tales From Beyond
Ghost Bath – Moonlover
Spiritual Beggars – Sunrise To Sundown
Oceans Of Slumber – Winter
Rikard Zander – I Can Do Without Love
Redemption – The Art Of Loss
Headspace – All That You Fear Is Gone
Chris Quirarte – Mending Broken Bridges
Sunburst – Fragments Of Creation
Inglorious – Inglorious
Omnium Gatherum – Grey Heavens
Structural Disorder – Distance
Votum – Ktonik
Fleshgod Apocalypse – King
Rikard Sjoblom – The Unbendable Sleep
Textures – Phenotype
Serenity – Codex Atlanticus
Borknagar – Winter Thrice
The Mute Gods – Do Nothing Till You Hear From Me
Brainstorm – Scary Creatures
Arcade Messiah – II
Phantasma – The Deviant Hearts
Rendezvous Point – Solar Storm
Vanden Plas – Chronicles Of The Immortals: Netherworld II
Antimatter – The Judas Table
Bauda – Sporelights
Waken Eyes – Exodus
Earthside – A Dream In Static
Caligula’s Horse – Bloom
Teramaze – Her Halo
Amorphis – Under The Red Cloud
Spock’s Beard – The Oblivion Particle
Agent Fresco – Destrier
Cattle Decapitation – The Anthropocene Extinction
Between The Buried And Me – Coma Ecliptic
Cradle Of Filth – Hammer Of The Witches
Disarmonia Mundi – Cold Inferno
District 97 – In Vaults
Progoctopus – Transcendence
Big Big Train – Wassail
NightMare World – In The Fullness Of Time
Helloween – My God-Given Right
Triaxis – Zero Hour
Isurus – Logocharya
Arcturus – Arcturian
Kamelot – Haven
Native Construct – Quiet World
Sigh – Graveward
Pantommind – Searching For Eternity
Subterranean Masquerade – The Great Bazaar
Klone – Here Comes The Sun
The Gentle Storm – The Diary
Melechesh – Enki
Enslaved – In Times
Keep Of Kalessin – Epistemology
Lonely Robot – Please Come Home
The Neal Morse Band – The Grand Experiment
Zero Stroke – As The Colours Seep
AudioPlastik – In The Head Of A Maniac
Revolution Saints – Revolution Saints
Mors Principium Est – Dawn of The 5th Era
Arcade Messiah – Arcade Messiah
Triosphere – The Heart Of The Matter
Neonfly – Strangers In Paradise
Knight Area – Hyperdrive
Haken – Restoration
James LaBrie – Impermanent Resonance
Mercenary – Through Our Darkest Days
A.C.T. – Circus Pandemonium
Xerath – III
Big Big Train – English Electric (Part 1)
Thought Chamber – Psykerion
Marcus Jidell – Pictures From A Time Traveller
H.E.A.T – Tearing Down The Walls
Vanden Plas – Chronicles Of The Immortals: Netherworld

Essential Metal Releases Still To Come in 2015 – Part 3

Isn’t it always the way? You think you’ve finished a series or a project, only to be proved wrong almost immediately! In my case, I’d gone through all of the albums that I was still looking forward to during 2015 and thought I’d exhausted every avenue. It turns out that I missed a few. Therefore, here’s Part 3 in my ‘Essential Metal Releases Still To Come in 2015’ series.

If you missed Parts 1 and 2, they can be accessed via the following links:
Essential Metal Releases Still To Come in 2015 – Part 1
Essential Metal Releases Still To Come in 2015 – Part 2

So, who do I have to apologise to for missing out in the previous two blog posts? Read on to find out…

Redemption – TBC

In my defence, news only came of a new Redemption album a couple of days ago. With guitarist Bernie Versailles recovering from serious illness, I hadn’t even considered a new Redemption album this year but, fresh from inking a new record deal with Metal Blade Records, the US progressive metal band have informed the world that a new album is currently being mixed. This is great news because the quality of this band’s music is sensational, full of complexity, emotion and melody. If you’re unfamiliar with Redemption, check out this more detailed article I wrote about them a couple of years ago: Unknown & Underrated – Redemption.

Borknagar – TBC

Norwegian folk-tinged progressive black metal band Borknagar have always been a favourite of mine due to the fact that they always manage to write and record quality music that genuinely sounds like no-one else. With a unique vocal delivery, a penchant for intriguing melodies that shun the norm and with a flair for the epic, Borknagar delight with each and every release. It seems an age since the magnificent ‘Urd’ was released and with the band announcing that the master recordings are with Century Media Records, it’s entirely likely that the new album will be upon us before the year is out.

TesseracT – Polaris

tesseract coverTessaracT are one of those bands that were always on the periphery of my consciousness despite being one of the biggest names to emerge within the increasingly popular djent scene. However, the UK based metallers well and truly grabbed my attention with their last album, the sensational sophomore release ‘Altered State’. It blended the aggression of djent with more subtle progressive and ambient influences. The result was an album of huge proportions that challenged and delighted in equal measure. Scheduled for a September release, ‘Polaris’ is one of the most hotly-anticipated releases of 2015. I’m certainly looking forward to hearing it.

Draconian – Sovran

draconian coverIf melodic and Gothic doom is something you’re interested in, you’re bound to be aware of the name Draconian. The Swedish gloomsters cite everyone from Anathema to My Dying Bride and from Porcupine Tree to Katatonia as influences and these bands do indeed crop up from time to time within the compositions of Draconian. Theirs is a heavy yet relatively accessible style of music that’s as lush and lavish as it is extreme and confrontational. Huge atmospheres are created as well, which makes the music all the more engrossing. Listening to Draconian can be a melancholy affair but it can also be hugely rewarding at the same time.

The Dear Hunter – Act IV – Rebirth In Reprise

dear hunter coverA few weeks ago, I had no idea that this band even existed. Thanks to the members of Haken waxing lyrical about the band on their social media pages, I felt it only right and proper to investigate further. What I have subsequently discovered is that US prog rock band The Dear Hunter is an incredibly talented band that manage to bring together a vast array of different and apparently opposing musical styles and influences only to segue them together into a cohesive whole. I’m not sure how they do it, but they certainly succeed. Folk, prog, jazz, indie…you name it, it’s in there. Just have a listen to this track and tell me you’re not impressed.

Swallow The Sun – TBC

I’m not entirely convinced that we’ll see a new Swallow The Sun release in 2015. However, their social media pages would suggest that the band have been recording new material and, having announced that they have signed to Century Media Records, there have been a few cryptic comments about something being on the horizon, something different. The masters of ‘gloom, beauty and despair’ are a firm favourite with me and many others as they create some of most crushingly heavy yet stunningly beautiful and fragile atmospheric doom metal I’ve ever heard. If a new album is forthcoming before the end of 2015, trust me, it’ll be a reason to rejoice.

Into Eternity – Sirens

Into Eternity have been a band I’ve always enjoyed. Admittedly, I’ve lost touch with the Canadian metallers since they parted ways with vocalist Stu Block, who has since joined US thrash titans Iced Earth. However, their 2004 album ‘Buried In Oblivion’ remains a firm favourite thanks to a winning combination of heavy, aggressive death metal, great song writing and some of the most addictive melodies heard from an extreme metal band. With a new vocalist at the helm in the form of Amanda Kiernan, a newly-inked deal with Kolony Records and a renewed fire in their collective bellies, it has been announced that we should see a new album in the autumn. I’ll be very interested to hear how it sounds and whether it matches up to their past output.

Hecate Enthroned – TBC

When I was discovering the delights of black metal in my late teens, Hecate Enthroned were one of my favourites. They were heavily inspired by Cradle of Filth in that their compositions were full of Gothic theatrics, symphonics and more melody than you’d think on a first listen. The band turned all death metal on us in the late 90’s and since then, the output from the UK band has not been prolific. However, they are a band that always piques my interest when I hear their name mentioned and I remain hopeful for a new album sometime in 2015.

Pathosray – TBC

Italian prog metallers Pathosray are a slightly different proposition to many of their peers in that they are certainly prog but not in the classic, conventional sense. Their compositions are full of the requisite complexity but they’re also full of snarl and bite and more chops than you’d find at a butcher shop. Their melodies are also interesting in that they’re not always what you’d expect. This makes their releases a challenge at times but ultimately very rewarding. It has gone quiet in recent months but the comments coming out of the Pathosray camp ahead of their third album and first for some six years have seriously captured my imagination.

Madder Mortem – Red In Tooth And Claw

Alternative metal? Progressive metal? Avant-garde? Extreme metal? Whatever label you wish to place on Madder Mortem, they will still remain one of the most unique-sounding bands within the metal world. The band do not conform to the norm and this is to be celebrated. Their output can be challenging, quirky and occasionally downright odd. However, give the Norwegians time and your full attention and everything begins to make sense in a glorious way. Fronted by the irrepressible vocalist Agnete M. Kirkevaag, the first new album in around seven years, ‘Red In Tooth And Claw’, threatens to be a very interesting and exciting proposition.

And the big ones…

Yup, there are also new albums due from Iron Maiden, Def Leppard, Slayer and a number of other rather huge bands. I’m certainly excited about these too, but you can read about them in numerous places elsewhere. Instead, I wanted to focus on the bands that perhaps are in need of a bit more exposure than the big boys.

Album of the Year 2014 – Number 2

Today is the penultimate day in my epic labour of love otherwise known as my ‘Album of the Year 2014′ countdown. If you’ve joined this lengthy and in-depth series late, you can find links to the rest of my Top 20 at the bottom of this post – please feel free to check them out should you wish to do so.

But now to my silver metal choice, the album that has taken the Number 2 spot for 2014:

Distan_SatellitesAnathema
‘Distant Satellites’
Kscope

Winners in 2012 with the stellar ‘Weather Systems’, Anathema make a return to my end of year countdown in 2014 in the number two spot with ‘distant satellites’. Even though it was released relatively early in the year, I knew that it would feature extremely highly in my end of year round-up. Indeed, I knew then that it was a special record and that it would take something utterly breathtaking to keep it out of the top few positions. It is simply that good.

Over the last couple of albums, Anathema have managed to achieve what very few other bands are capable of: move me to a point where I’m reduced to a gibbering wreck. The music that this Liverpudlian sextet create is unlike any other artist out there and the results are spine-tingling, heart-wrenching and full of a depth that’s difficult to put into words. I was lucky enough to interview Vincent and Daniel Cavanagh in person this year and was able to get a bit more of an insight into what makes them tick as musicians. The experience was every bit as emotional as their music, thanks to some frank and brutal honesty on both sides. It’s one of the stand-out moments of my year.

Credit: Scarlet Page

Credit: Scarlet Page

The net result is that I now find ‘distant satellites’ even more emotional than ever before. The lyrics make more sense, the themes and ideas come to the fore more and the intent behind the material has become clearer. Here is a band that are at the very top of their game, are utterly confident in their abilities but who also maintain a very human fragility that helps to imbue their music with an honest and brittle beauty that defies words.

And yet, there is no other album released in 2014 that has divided opinion quite so much. There are those who believe that ‘distant satellites’ is every bit as good as the previous two releases and, as such, is a majestic work of art. Then there are others who have been disappointed with the result, who suggest that the album sounds too samey and devoid of original ideas. I cannot for the life of me fathom the argument of the latter because ‘distant satellites’, despite being deliberately more stripped-back, is a rich, vibrant affair that plays host to a wonderful collection of compositions, with the final few songs even throwing fans something of a curveball.

I will be the first to admit that the final three tracks took me by surprise and, to be honest, took their time to work their magic on me. However, given the time and attention that they deserve, they are firm favourites. In fact, the title track is one of my favourite Anathema tracks full stop. Beginning with these compositions first then, the trio begins with ‘Firelight’, an ambient synth-led instrumental that is subtly beautiful in its own right but which acts as something of a buffer between the indie-rock stylings of ‘You’re Not Alone’ and the title track. On first listen, ‘distant satellites’ sounded a little shocking. Dominated by more rich synths, a piano and electronic drum beat, it initially comes across as an ambient dance track rather than a rock song. At the half-way point, ‘real’ drums enter the fray and the track begins to make more sense as a whole, creating those stark juxtapositions that work when realised so cleverly. Throughout, the central melody is fantastic as well, making a real impact alongside Vincent’s distinct vocals. And to close this fascinating trio and indeed the album, is the Sigur Ros-esque ambient post rock magnificence of ‘Take Shelter’, a composition that is filled with emotion but which creates something of an uplifting, euphoric finale.

But what of the opening and mid-section compositions? ‘distant satellites’ opens in similar fashion to its predecessor by offering an intrinsically-linked pair of songs. In this case, it’s ‘The Lost Song (Part 1)’ and ‘The Lost Song (Part 2)’ and they are magnificent. ‘Part 1’ is the more up-tempo, urgent and heavy of the two led by Vincent’s vocals, whereas ‘Part 2′ is dominated by Lee Douglas’ serene voice atop goose bump-inducing melodies and lyrics that combine to bring me to tears. And I don’t mean a solitary tear down the cheek, I mean floods of tears. During the interview, I was given an insight into what appeared at first glance to be an insignificant lyric. It turns out that with Anathema, nothing is insignificant. Now when I hear it and I understand the meaning behind it, it warms my heart, fills it with love and then breaks it all at once.

Elsewhere, ‘Ariel’ is another stunning song of epic depth and meaning, whilst ‘Anathema’ harks back to the band’s early, more Gothic metal days, thanks to a superb lead electric guitar solo which stops me in my tracks each and every time. It really is music that makes you stop whatever you’re doing and listen.

So why is ‘distant satellites’ not at the top of my list in 2014 I hear you cry? It’s here that I must be brutally honest. At its best, ‘distant satellites’ is better than ‘Weather Systems’ but whereas ‘Weather Systems’ was perfect from the first note to the last, there are a couple of tracks that I fail to warm too 100% on ‘distant satellites’. I’m not a big fan of ‘You’re Not Alone’ for example. Additionally, and arguably more significantly for me personally, there’s another issue. Such is the emotional depth of this record, I find that there are times when I cannot bring myself to listen to it. When the lyrics speak to me so clearly and force me to re-live past tragedies, it’s not always easy. Most of the time, I love the album and find it a very positive and cathartic experience. Indeed, I have taken this record to my heart and will forever love it. However, occasionally, very rarely, ‘distant satellites’ is too tough to listen to. But these are my failings, not those of Anathema. As such, ‘distant satellites’ is utterly sensational and damn-near peerless.

Check out the other posts in this series:

Album of the Year 2014 – Number 3
Album of the Year 2014 – Number 4
Album of the Year 2014 – Number 5
Album of the Year 2014 – Number 6
Album of the Year 2014 – Number 7
Album of the Year 2014 – Number 8
Album of the Year 2014 – Number 9
Album of the Year 2014 – Number 10
Album of the Year 2014 – Number 11
Album of the Year 2014 – Number 12
Album of the Year 2014 – Number 13
Album of the Year 2014 – Number 14
Album of the Year 2014 – Number 15
Album of the Year 2014 – Number 16
Album of the Year 2014 – Number 17
Album of the Year 2014 – Number 18
Album of the Year 2014 – Number 19
Album of the Year 2014 – Number 20

And if you’re interested, my similar countdowns from previous years can be accessed here:

Top 20 of 2012
Album of the Year 2013

The Best Live Releases of 2013 – Number 1

This is my last post in this mini series, taking a loom at those live releases that have had the most significant impact upon me during 2013.

If you’re interested, the previous two posts can be viewed here:
Number 3
Number 2

In addition, if you missed my Album of the Year 2013 countdown, where I look at my favourite studio albums, that can be accessed here.

in the meantime, on to the main topic of conversation today, namely my favourite live release from 2013. And the winner is:

anathema universalANATHEMA
‘Universal’
KScope

For the second year in a row, an Anathema release sits at the top of a ‘best of’ list. In 2012, the Liverpudlians released the utterly perfect ‘Weather Systems’ and this featured at the top of my Top 20 for 2012. And now, we have the equally stunning ‘Universal’.

Offered to fans as a four disc combined audio-visual package, ‘Universal’ captures the awe-inspiring one-off show that took place in September 2012 at the ancient Roman theatre at Philipoppolis, Bulgaria. Not only is the outdoor amphitheatre setting spectacular, those lucky enough to attend the show, also had the pleasure of seeing the Plovdiv Philharmonic Orchestra join Anathema on the stage.

The first time that I watched the DVD, I was literally blown away. Events in my life over recent years have turned me into quite an emotional sort if the mood takes me, and within seconds of the band hitting the stage and breaking into “Untouchable, Part 1”, the opening track from the aforementioned ‘Weather Systems’, by body was awash with goosebumps and my skin tingled from head to toe. And, before I knew it, silent tears ran down my cheeks, as I was completely overcome by what I was watching.

Does this sound a little bit over-the-top, slightly melodramatic, too full of hyperbole? Maybe you’re right, but I’m only writing the absolute truth. Only a handful of bands have this effect on me, but Anathema are one. Their music is so beautiful, so deep, so rich, vibrant and emotional.

Having calmed down and over the weeks, given ‘Universal’ more time to sink in, what strikes me is how absolutely spot-on everything is. From the rhythm section, through to the melodic leads, the acoustic guitar picking and to the vocals themselves, to these ears, the music is delivered flawlessly. In a day and age where pop ‘stars’ sing out of tune live on TV and yet still receive standing ovations from tone-deaf judges, it delights me to know that there is so much genuine talent in the genres of music that I listen to.

The show has been filmed by renowned film maker Lasse Hoile and his deft touch can be seen all over this release. The whole thing is brought to the living room with clarity and professionalism but without losing any of that magic that must have been zipping around the Roman arena that September night in 2012.

The set-list itself is also fantastic. Naturally, coming so hard on the heels of ‘Weather Systems’, the bulk of the material is culled from this masterpiece. That’s fine by me, but there’s also room for some other Anathema classics in the shape of “A Simple Mistake” and “Deep” to name but two. The show also features a half-hour encore where the orhhestra are absent and it’s just the Anathema boys rocking out as only they know how. There’s room for another tear-jerker (and personal favourite) in the form of “Internal Landscapes”) as well as a full-on, more hardcore version of “Fragile Dreams”. ‘This is the version of “Fragile Dreams” that you want to hear’, quips Vincent Cavanagh, in a parting ‘goodbye’ of sorts.

Courtesy of Kscopemusic.com

Courtesy of Kscopemusic.com

As the end draws near, each and every time I watch this show, I feel sad. I want to watch it again, I want to be transported back in time so that I could get to see the show live, actually in the arena. Sadly I can’t, so I have to make do with the DVD. Thank the Gods that the whole package is just about perfect then!

An Interview with Bruce Soord & Jonas Renkse – Wisdom Of Crowds

Woc pic cropped

The collaboration between The Pineapple Thief’s Bruce Soord and Katatonia’s vocalist Jonas Renkse is an intriguing one. It brings together two relatively unlikely bedfellows, one from the world of English prog rock, the other from a Swedish dark metal band. That said, the response from almost all quarters to the project known as Wisdom Of Crowds has been positive thus far. Keen to find out more, I find myself sitting opposite the duo in question, in a booth in one of the side rooms at the Highbury Garage in London ahead of their debut live show as part of the Kscope fifth anniversary celebrations.

“Wisdom Of Crowds was born about four years ago”, begins an affable and very talkative Bruce, “from a guy called Johnny (Wilks) who works at the label (Kscope) as the marketing director. We were talking about gear and studios and things like that. He told me he has some ideas and asked if I’d listen. He sent me these basic rough ideas with him singing and he asked me whether I’d be interested in producing it or at least doing something with the music. I took these ideas, stripped them down to nothing and then had some fun. There were no aspirations at that time and no-one thought it would be released. But over the years, it got a life of its own. The thing was that it never had any vocals; it was only guide vocals, so it never got finished. But that’s how it finally all came together when Jonas came on board.”

According to the press material though, the Katatonia singer had always been in mind for the project and many of the tracks had been written especially for Jonas Renkse.

“That’s probably a little bit of Kscope spin doctoring”, Bruce laughs with honesty. “I remember though that when I first joined Kscope, I nicked a copy of “The Great Cold Distance”. When I heard that, maybe in 2007, I emailed Jonas and told him how much I loved it. Jonas was always the number one but I never thought it would ever be possible, knowing how busy Jonas is with Katatonia.”

And yet here we are, proof if ever proof was needed that if you wish hard enough, magical things can happen. And, if that wasn’t enough, Jonas seems to have fit like a glove.

woc 1

“I don’t know how you felt after the session”, Bruce asks of Jonas as he looks to his musical partner, “but I felt that it was so easy…”

“Yeah, I felt that as well”, Jonas agrees immediately and about as emphatically as he is able to in his laid back style. “I was a bit worried before because I really liked the music and I wasn’t sure if it would work out or if I would be good enough for it. But when we started recording, it all fell into place. Everything was so smooth and easy.”

‘Not good enough’, I mutter shaking my head. Jonas is blessed with one of the most iconic voices in metal and still he battles an undercurrent of minimal self-belief. Bruce rolls his eyes at me before smiling warmly, clearly agreeing with my slightly feigned incredulity.

“It would have been a long week though”, he offers, “if it had been like ‘take 65’ or whatever. But it was nailed within a couple of takes and we ran off a couple more just in case.”

Given his apparent concerns over his own abilities, I enquire of Jonas as to whether he had to think long and hard before agreeing to get involved with Wisdom Of Crowds.

“It was pretty much an instant yes”, is the thoughtful and quiet reply, “because I knew Bruce’s music from before and when I heard the songs I thought they were really good, really interesting.”

“I know he’s sitting here and everything, but I was really lucky”, Bruce interjects. “Katatonia had just come off a big American tour (with Devin Townsend and Paradise Lost) and were back working on the “Dethroned & Uncrowned” album. We just managed to find a week where Jonas could jump on a plane, so we were lucky and it was good timing. Also, there was no pressure in producing the album, it was always very chilled out and I think that’s why it came together so nicely. Our mind set was more like ‘ok, let’s just give this a go’.”

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For an album that came together so smoothly in the final stages, it comes across as a remarkably dark record. There is a lot of warmth and accessibility within the compositions but the overriding atmosphere certainly borders on the bleak. Bruce suggests that, to a large extent, this was accidental.

“I don’t think that there was ever a point where I was thinking that it had to sound like anything”, he offers. “The bleakness is a result of how it naturally came together I think. There are some dark synths, distorted beats and lo-fi beats which help to make it sound like it does. And then I’ve always enjoyed the darker side of music both sonically and thematically.”

On the subject of the project’s chosen moniker, Bruce offers his explanation to me.

“Kscope and I were sitting there thinking ‘what the hell are we going to call this band?’ I hate coming up with band names. I mean”, he smirks, again looking over at his colleague, “I bet you’ve not had to think of a band name in years…oh, except Bloodbath of course.” Laughter ensues before Bruce continues. “I was sent a list of possible names and when I saw ‘Wisdom Of Crowds’ I thought that was perfect. It is interesting because a lot of the time, there is no wisdom in a crowd.”

“The response has been really good”, nods Jonas when I venture that the project has been received favourably for the most part. “Speaking from a Katatonia point of view, I don’t believe that they all know about this project yet. Not everyone pays attention to the news and our posts, so I think there may be more fans to come. But the fans that I have been in touch with, they have given a really good response so far.”

woc cover

“I have been really surprised actually”, Bruce adds eagerly. “We have got a lot of press that we wouldn’t normally have got because of the Katatonia angle. There have been a lot more metal journalists reviewing the album and in general, they’re saying that they really like it, which is cool. If anything, people have been very open-minded to this music.”

Given the feedback and the apparent popularity of Wisdom Of Crowds, it would be a shame if this was just a one-off. Fortunately, it seems like I’m not the only one who thinks this, as Jonas confirms.

“We hope there will be more from this band, yeah. It is something that we talk about all the time when we see each other. Again, it is about finding the time to do it because we really enjoyed working together, so there’s no problem there.”

“Also”, Bruce offers, “because Jonas came quite late to the process, next time I hope that it will be much more of a true collaboration. That’s what we hope for anyway.”

And the good news is completed when it transpires via Bruce, that more live shows are definitely on the agenda too.

“We hope so. We’re meeting our agent soon to discuss this very subject. Fingers crossed we can organise some kind of tour. A lot of it depends on the album’s penetration and how far the album gets out there. It has had good press, but we need to see how the album goes down with the fans to a certain extent and gauge the demand for more shows.”

“We will see how this gig goes first too”, Jonas quietly chuckles, before allowing Bruce to continue.

“We’ve been cramming for the past two days in a little sauna of a rehearsal room. So you may have to interview us after the show as well because it might be our last ever gig!”

“We’ll keep saying that after every song: “Remember, this is our first show.” Cue more laughter from the apparently-relaxed duo before Bruce ends things on a slightly nervous note.

“That’s the worrying thing in a way because everyone keeps saying ‘it’ll be great, they’re pro’s, it’ll be great.”

And you know what? They were great. Who would have thought it eh?!

“Wisdom Of Crowds” is out now on Kscope.