Tag Archives: Leprous

Vangough – Warpaint – Album Review

wpflt3

Artist: Vangough

Album Title: Warpaint

Label: Independent Release

Date of Release: 17 March 2017

The heavy metal underground. Is there a better place? I’m being serious here, because as I see it, some of the very best music being created can be found lurking in the underbelly of this fine genre. Sure there are the bigger hitters that keep producing fantastic albums and they deserve the plaudits. However, there’s something even more special about those bands that beaver away under the radar of the masses and then release quality material. Enter Vangough.

Vangough is the Oklahoma-based progressive creation of a highly talented chap by the name of Clay Withrow. This name might be familiar to some as he stepped in to assist Pain Of Salvation on tour when Daniel Gildenlow was in a bad way with his health a couple of years ago. The guitarist and vocalist released a solo album in 2008 (‘Dissonance Rising’) but formed Vangough soon after as he hankered after something more band-oriented. I somehow got wind of the 2009 Vangough debut, ‘Manikin Parade’ and fell for its charms in a big way. Here was a trio comprised of Withrow alongside bassist Jeren Martin and drummer Kyle Haws that threatened much and, I was convinced, should have a bright future ahead.

The following two albums maintained the quality, but for some reason, didn’t click so hard with me. Nevertheless, the name Vangough remained of interest and so when I realised that a fourth album was on the horizon, I had to investigate. As it turns out, ‘Warpaint’ is very much the album that I hoped I’d hear from Vangough and, as such, puts them firmly back on my radar. I hope too, that ‘Warpaint’ will ensure that the name Vangough now appears on significantly more progressive metal fans’ radars, because it fully deserves to.

I will admit to struggling with this review. Not in terms of my conclusions, for these began to form with some clarity very quickly. The difficulty I had here and still have to a certain extent, is being able to accurately and helpfully describe the music of Vangough for it is highly involved. It might not be the most overtly flamboyant and virtuosic music you’ll ever hear; if you’re looking for extended sections of instrumental gymnastics, you’ll want to move on. Even on the lengthy closer, ‘Black Rabbit’, where there is plenty of space for instrumental expression, the end result doesn’t feel over-indulgent or overblown. Rather, it just perfectly fits with the album as a whole.

That’s not to say though that Vangough are not accomplished musicians or lacking in ambition, far from it. There is no confusing ‘Warpaint’ as anything other than a progressive metal album. Each member of the trio and associated guests who assist in fleshing this album out are of the highest calibre and deliver their technical and subtly complex parts with assuredness and plenty of confidence. And yes, this does shine through as the music unfolds.

However, rather than their individual performances taking centre stage, the compositions themselves clearly come first. The Vangough sound on ‘Warpaint’ is therefore quite dramatic and dynamic, with a focus on producing music that is strong and powerful but also quite fragile and human-sounding. Atmospheres and emotions are explored to great effect and there’s also a subtleness to the compositions that creates longevity, allowing the music to keep giving long after the initial impact has been made.

band_01782

‘Warpaint’ opens up in moody fashion courtesy of ‘Morphine’ which immediately captures my imagination. The riffs are huge, the bass rumbles ominously and the drums pound with power and panache. The pace is initially slow and ponderous, but gradually increases to heighten the tension within what is a dark and claustrophobic beast that ebbs and flows wonderfully. The vocals of Withrow start off in quiet introspective fashion but become more urgent and fuelled by anger and frustration as things develop, punctuated by a few guttural growls along the way. I get hints of Pain of Salvation but equally, I hear artists like Devon Graves’ Dead Soul Tribe within this impressive opener which ultimately dances to its own original tune and becomes rather addictive in the process.

By contrast, ‘Dust’ is a much punchier, to-the-point track where the melodies are slightly more immediate and pronounced. If Vangough released a single, this would probably be it.

‘The Suffering’ comes out of the blocks kicking and screaming, driven by a high-tempo rhythm-section that morphs into a dampened djent-inspired chugging, churning riff with an off-kilter time signature. The heaviness drops away momentarily to be replaced by a really rich acoustic guitar and vocal section before returning with real urgency and style, complete with a well-placed wailing guitar solo that doesn’t outstay its welcome. What I like most are the extreme contrasts that litter this track. One minute it is quiet and tentative, the next, it explodes with fury and barely-controlled rage, all the while keeping one eye on what makes enjoyable music, as the final epic and utterly compelling final act demonstrates. The guitar sings and the melodies really come to the fore, making this one of my firm favourites.

The almost thrashy overtones of ‘Gravity’ do not go unnoticed, underlining the ambition evident on ‘Warpaint’. Again, the contrasts within the song create drama and pull the listener into the music, forcing them to live the emotions rather than simply listen to them. It is another brooding monster, full of hugely impressive but understated instrumental prowess. It fleetingly reminds me of Haken in terms of the background sounds that add to an already multi-layered affair, serving to increase the strong atmospheres that permeate Vangough’s output.

‘Til Nothing’s Left’ is a song of two halves. The first produces a nice blend of bouncier, vaguely up-beat material, juxtaposed by slower, more tentative and moody passages. However, as the composition develops, it changes tack, to introduce a much more pronounced melodic refrain, which builds in intensity. The sumptuousness of the melody, alongside the dark subject matter and more gorgeous lead guitar work strikes a chord with me. Underpinned by more superlative rhythm work, it fades out having made its indelible mark, begging repeated listens. Who am I to refuse?

Echoes of Leprous confront me as ‘Knell’ introduces itself as the penultimate track. If the preceding material could be classed as moody or dark, this piece of music ratchets things up yet another notch. It is minimalist at the beginning with Withrow’s vocals taking centre stage. Synths then play arguably their most important role anywhere on ‘Warpaint’ as they provide an atmospheric and all-encompassing backdrop to the other instruments which themselves slowly build the intensity whilst remaining as sharp and precise as ever.

It is then up to the aforementioned ‘ Black Rabbit’ to close out ‘Warpaint’, doing so in grandiose fashion, stretching over eleven minutes, effectively summing up everything that is great about ‘Warpaint’ in the process.

The more I played ‘Warpaint’, the more I felt I had to keep checking that this is indeed an independent release. It is and, given the quality of the music on offer here, that’s quite extraordinary. This is as good as any other progressive metal release this year so far and even at this early stage, I am confident that it will take something quite special to upstage it. ‘Warpaint’ very much has its own identity but if you are a fan of the likes of Leprous, Pain Of Salvation or quality progressive metal in general, then Vangough’s latest effort has to be checked out. This is essential listening, trust me on that.

The Score of Much Metal: 9.0

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

2015 reviews
2016 reviews

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

Album of the Year 2016 – Number 5

Welcome to the top 5 of my ‘Album of the Year 2016’ top 30 countdown. It has been a long time coming but here we finally are – the five best albums of 2016, according to the Man of Much Metal.
as I’ve said many times before, this is just one man’s opinion of the music he has heard over the last 12 months. I have not taken votes, I have not compiled the list in an effort to get extra traffic to my site or a procession of positive, fawning comments. Frankly, given the quality of the music this year, I could have compiled a top 60. But instead, I have kept it to the very best 30 from my subjective viewpoint.
I’m always keen to have a debate, so let me know what you think of my choices.
If you’ve missed any of the previous 25 posts in this series, you can find links to them all at the bottom of this post. In addition, you can also find links to the entire lists I have compiled since 2012, should you be curious about my choices in years gone by.
And now, here comes my pick for the fifth best album of 2016…
Number 5
Press_Cover_01
Borknagar
Winter Thrice
Century Media Records
“It’s only mid-January and already I’m confronted with an album that has well and truly put the cat amongst the proverbial pigeons. The enigmatic and evergreen Borknagar have released what I consider to be their magnum opus. ‘Winter Thrice’ is nothing short of magnificent, a triumphant album full of almost flawless music. You think I’m kidding? You think I’ve begun this review with unnecessary and frivolous hyperbole? Just wait until you hear this beast an then tell me I’m overstating things.
…the first place to start with this record has to be with the vocals. Most bands would kill for a world-class singer but in Borknager circa 2016, there are four.
It is a sensational slab of intelligent, powerful and sophisticated extreme metal that is as beautiful as it is brutal. I have been captivated since the first listen and I cannot see how the spell that Borknagar has cast upon me can be broken. Mind you, I don’t want it to be broken. This is a near perfect aural experience and I am all the richer for having it in my life.”
12508932_10153931766602082_2205725726582082745_n

Credit: Martine Petra Photography & Dance

 

‘Winter Thrice’ was the first album of 2016 that knocked me sideways. In fact, it knocked me backwards, sideways and upside down. I knew when I heard it back in early January that it would feature in my top 30 countdown. I knew in January that it would feature in my top 10. But it is testament to its brilliance that it finds itself at number 5 in the face of stiff competition from all quarters since.
In fact, ‘Winter Thrice’ has ended the year being my favourite extreme metal record of 2016. And why have I bestowed this honour upon Borknagar ahead of all other more extreme metal releases this year? The reasons are many but here goes…
Firstly, the four vocalists that appear on the record are sheer class. The variety that each individual brings to the table is immense and gives ‘Winter Thrice’ an added dimension that is lacking almost everywhere else. From growls to smooth, introspective clean voices, the lyrics are delivered in a deliciously unique manner.
The musicianship is out of the very top drawer, as is the songwriting. Each and every composition on this record offers something almost magical or otherworldly that draws me well and truly under their spell. ‘Winter Thrice’ is the sound of a band at the height of their powers and  as a result, there is no filler and in fact, there’s nothing less than brilliance to be heard throughout the album.
For me though, the best thing about ‘Winter Thrice’ is the way in which elegant and captivating melodies are brought into the recipe to counteract the heavier bombast elsewhere. It’s sometimes difficult to imagine a true extreme metal band being elegant and sophisticated but that’s exactly what Borknagar achieve. As a result, each facet of their folk-tinged and progressive metal output comes across as being that little bit more powerful, pronounced and engrossing.
It is a special album that can make something so apparently impenetrable and daunting sound so welcoming and warm whilst at the same time kicking some serious butt. Whenever I listen, I never know whether to smile, grimace, head bang or tap my foot. So I generally engage in all four and plenty more besides.
Oh and the title track is just about the most perfect song that I have heard all year. It is truly astonishing and acts as an eloquent example of what Borknagar are all about. I adore it and nearly a year on, I still do not tire of it. If anything, the magic has grown and I’m more obsessed than ever about it. In fact, I think I’ll listen right now, for the 1,034th time…
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:

Oddland – Origin – Album Review

13528624_10153901689831919_2793681758367788035_o

Artist: Oddland

Album Title: Origin

Label: Sensory Records

Date Of Release: 9 September 2016

Don’t you just love it when you ‘discover’ a new band? I know I do. It is one of the most exciting things that I can think of, even after over two decades of listening to music. Today’s interesting discovery is a band called Oddland, via their second full-length release, ‘Origin’.

Oddland are a Finnish quartet comprised of vocalist/guitarist Sakari Ojanen, bassist Joni Palmroth, drummer Ville Viitanen and guitarist Jussi Poikonen and their chosen weapon is progressive metal. However, this is not progressive metal in the conventional sense which is nice, because surely the whole meaning of ‘progressive’ is to be different and to forge new ways of doing things? So on that level, Oddland already score highly with me.

Oddland are not completely and utterly unique either, although as I type I am struggling to think of anyone else that’s within the same rough ball park as this lot. Mind you, if you were to put early Pain Of Salvation, Katatonia, Tool and Leprous in a blender, you might end up with something on vaguely the right stylistic path. Hell, while we’re at it, let’s sprinkle in some Distorted Harmony and possibly a smidgen of Pantera too. Why not eh?

During my research, I have seen the word ‘djent’ mentioned on more than one occasion but this is, in my opinion, misleading, and inaccurate. The style of Oddland is most definitely dominated by the word ‘heavy’ with the riffs courtesy of Ojanen and Poikonen sounding hard-hitting, powerful, and uncompromising, but they are not in the djent style as far as I’m concerned. The riffs are also deceptively intricate too. That’s not to say that djent riffs aren’t, but this is a genuinely different beast altogether, typified by plenty of clever shifts in direction and tempo, not all of which become apparent on first listen.

Perhaps the djent tag has been applied as a by-product of the fact that ‘Origin’ was mixed by Daniel Bergstrand, renowned for his work in the past with the originators of the djent movement, Meshuggah. Even so, it is still wrong, even if there is a hint of the Swedish giants in the opening twenty seconds or so of opener ‘Esotericism’.

13267934_10153835350251919_6784563854359792705_n

What Oddland are very good at, on the evidence of ‘Origin’ at least, is creating music that is technical and subtly complex whilst not forgetting the important ingredients of groove and melody. Add to that a refreshing succinctness to their song writing, an oppressive, occasionally claustrophobic atmosphere and plenty of drama it is hard not to get wrapped up in this impressive album. I say that the song writing is succinct because with an overall length of around the 45-minute mark, nothing about ‘Origin’ is overworked or outstays its welcome.

All-too-often in prog circles, a poor voice can down let impressive and tight instrumental prowess such as that on offer here. However, I cannot find fault with Ojanen’s vocals. I like the fact that he can belt out some aggressive diatribes with a cool raspy tone when the music requires it. But in general, Ojanen provides the extra layer of melody within the compositions to help elevate the album ever higher in my estimations and to enhance those much needed earworms that do emerge the more you listen.

Just take ‘Unknown’ as a prime example where the vocals are concerned as Ojanen moves from soft and gentle to all-out angst in the blink of an eye so apparently effortlessly. Mind you, I could have picked just about any of the nine tracks if I’m honest.

Whilst on the subject of individual tracks, I love the big bang that the aforementioned ‘Esotericism’ offers thanks to huge syncopated riffs, a muscular rhythm section, inventive vocal delivery, slick lead guitar work and more than a few catchy melodies.

‘Thanatos’ offers more of a sprawling feel with the bass catching my ear, whilst ‘Penumbra’ features arguably my favourite chorus of sorts on the entire record. It is huge and when blended with the various time changes and technicality, it works brilliantly.

‘Untrue’ has a really nice early Pain Of Salvation vibe to it thanks to the expressive guitar work and ‘Faraway’ is worthy of mention. It begins quite beautifully and, as the heavy headbang-worthy riffing enters the fray, I like the Cynthesis-esque lead guitar runs that sit just below the surface, not to mention the shifts in intensity throughout including a wonderful closing Pantera-style groovy riff.

Mind you, there isn’t really a weak track per se on ‘Origin’. Oddland have produced something rather tasty here and have gone from being off my radar entirely to placing themselves front and centre of my attention. Now I just need you all to have a listen, agree with me and spread the word. The word is Oddland and it needs to be spread far and wide.

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:

Sonata Arctica – The Ninth Hour
Edensong – Years In The Garden of Years
Meshuggah – The Violent Sleep Of Reason
Alcest – Kodama
Opeth – Sorceress
Negura Bunget – ZI
Epica – The Holographic Principle
Amaranthe – Maximalism
Eye Of Solitude – Cenotaph
Seven Impale – Contrapasso
DGM – The Passage
Pressure Points – False Lights
In The Woods – Pure
Devin Townsend – Transcendence
The Pineapple Thief – Your Wilderness
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

Borknagar – Winter Thrice – Album Review

Press_Cover_01

Artist: Borknagar

Album Title: Winter Thrice

Label: Century Media Records

Year Of Release: 2016

It’s only mid-January and already I’m confronted with an album that has well and truly put the cat amongst the proverbial pigeons. The enigmatic and evergreen Borknagar have released what I consider to be their magnum opus. ‘Winter Thrice’ is nothing short of magnificent, a triumphant album full of almost flawless music. You think I’m kidding? You think I’ve begun this review with unnecessary and frivolous hyperbole? Just wait until you hear this beast an then tell me I’m overstating things.

Borknagar are one of those bands that have been blessed by a strong and dedicated, cult-like fan base. The pay-off is that the loyal followers seem to scrutinise every move that the band makes, dissecting every detail along the way. As such, and rightly so, there are some strong opinions out there, with some fans praying for a return to the black metal-heavy early days, whilst others long for ‘Empyricism’ part two. That 2001 release is hailed by many as being the Norwegian’s greatest album and so the hope for a return to this exact style is not unexpected.

One day, this may happen but whilst Borknagar continue to evolve and grow as a band and as musicians, it is unlikely. That said the output throughout Borknagar’s career hasn’t ever been wildly different, certainly not to these ears anyway. Yes there has been a gradual increase in the progressive aspect and the folk elements have tended to play an ever-increasing role but at its heart, the music remains extreme, black-tinged metal of the very highest order. Can you name any album within the Borknager back catalogue that is anything other than excellent? No, me neither. And that’s probably why the fan base is so strong.

But back to the main event, ‘Winter Thrice’, and the first place to start with this record has to be with the vocals. Most bands would kill for a world-class singer but in Borknager circa 2016, there are four. Vintersorg handles the majority of the harsh parts whilst keyboardist Lars A. Nedland (Solefald) and bassist ICS Vortex (Arcturus, ex-Dimmu Borgir) contribute their own beautifully unique clean deliveries. And then, to top it all off and to coincide with the 20th anniversary of Borknagar’s debut self-titled album, Kristoffer ‘Garm’ Rygg, he of Ulver fame, is welcomed back into the fold having departed in the late 90s following the release of ‘The Olden Domain’. Suffice to say that these four artists blow me away time and again throughout ‘Winter Thrice’, enhancing the music at every possible opportunity.

Completing Borknagar is the founder, brainchild and guitarist Øystein G. Brun, lead guitarist Jens F. Ryland and drummer Baard Kolstad (Leprous, Rendezvous Point). And kudos has to go to each and every member for playing a full and vital part in helping to shape this spectacular record.

Press_Photo_01

‘Winter Thrice’ opens with ‘The Rhymes Of The Mountain’, an absolute behemoth of a song in every respect. After an understated choir-led intro, the listener is confronted by a frenetic but pinpoint accurate blast beat accompanied by a vital and razor sharp riff. The track then soon opens up to allow a little room for some quieter atmospherics and a delightful melody enhanced by some superb clean vocals. I love the ebb and flow, the textures and the pulsating nature of this song, made all the more striking by a brilliantly clear and powerful mix courtesy of Jens Bogren (Fascination Street Studios). It leaves me breathless and wanting more.

Happily, my wish is granted and next up, the title track is, if anything, even better. In fact, it is a track with which I am completely obsessed. Again, the blend of extreme metal and folk with more progressive elements is something very special indeed. Nedland begins the vocal content before ICS Vortex takes over briefly. And then, in between bursts of controlled savagery and atop a groovy, mid-tempo and intensely melodic chorus of sorts, Garm takes over to deliver an utterly beguiling vocal performance. It is full of passion, surprising subtlety and not a little sorrow too. As is the Borknagar way and in keeping with the themes of the entire record, it is a song about the natural elements. As the name suggests here though, the focus of ‘Winter Thrice’ is the harsh and unforgiving face of winter. I have listened to this track on repeat more times than I care to mention and my conclusion is that it is about as perfect a composition as it is possible to achieve. Could this be the song of the year? It’s perhaps too early to say but everyone else will have to produce a slice of magic to beat it.

The fervent hope of course is that after such a powerful beginning, the album doesn’t then start to fall away. Fortunately, there’s no chance of that – this is Borknagar after all. ‘Cold Runs The River’ features an almost cheeky riff before the blast beats return. Vocally, Nedland takes the lead over what is a surprisingly buoyant and groovy number that features a great guitar solo and a myriad of different and subtle ideas. This track just underlines, if such a thing was necessary, how technically gifted and on-point this sextet are as a group.

‘Panorama’ is another real head-turner, a more experimental number that pushes the folk and progressive elements to another level. Swathes of keyboards dominate the song but in a way that evokes the prog rock of the 70s and creates some really warm and inviting textures. I love the rumbling bass and captivating drum beats in the mid-section before the song goes on to soar with yet another sumptuous up-beat melody. The folk-inspired embellishments are nicely quirky but in an understated way and everything combines wonderfully to create a cohesive and thoroughly engaging piece of music.

‘When Chaos Calls’ begins with a vibrant piano flourish before launching into more frenetic blast beats reminiscent more of Borknagar’s early days. Nedland once again shines behind the mic crooning above yet another soaring melody and I absolutely adore that Borknagar trademark dampened guitar ‘chug-chug’ that creeps into this song. It is always used sparingly but for some reason, it brings a smile to my face every time I hear it.

Borknagar show their early black metal roots most obviously on ‘Erodent’ before the song plunges into a quiet and atmospheric abyss at the half-way point. As the track begins its ascent, things turn much more progressive in nature, albeit underpinned by the ubiquitous pummelling drums. The melodies on this track are a little more subtle, thereby turning the track into a real grower that gets stronger upon each listen.

The shortest track on ‘Winter Thrice’ is ‘Noctilucent’. A word used to describe certain cloud-like phenomena, it is perhaps fitting that this track has a lighter, floatier feel to it, complete with a clean guitar solo and yet more layers of synths to create a lovely dreamy façade.

And then, seemingly in the blink of an eye, ‘Winter Thrice’ is brought to a close by ‘Terminus’. It opens in almost cacophonic fashion, bristling with almost uncontrolled fury. However this brutality is then juxtaposed with some of the most immediate melodies on the album again joined wonderfully with Garm’s smooth and heartfelt vocals. Together, they combine to ensure that the album ends on a positive and thoroughly edifying crescendo full of aural beauty and majesty.

I’m not sure what’s left to say about ‘Winter Thrice’. It is a sensational slab of intelligent, powerful and sophisticated extreme metal that is as beautiful as it is brutal. I have been captivated since the first listen and I cannot see how the spell that Borknagar has cast upon me can be broken. Mind you, I don’t want it to be broken. This is a near perfect aural experience and I am all the richer for having it in my life.

The Score Of Much Metal: 9.8

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

The Mute Gods – Do Nothing Till You Hear From Me
Brainstorm – Scary Creatures
Arcade Messiah – II
Phantasma – The Deviant Hearts
Rendezvous Point – Solar StormVanden 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

Album Of The Year 2015 – Number 8

On New Years Eve, I present you with my choice at Number 8 in my annual ‘Album of the Year’ countdown. Unbelievably, this is post number 23 in this series, a series that has departed from previous years in that it has been extended to a top 30 rather than a top 20. One reason for this is that I’m a masochist. The other is that 2015 has been too damn excellent to limit the output to just 20. Too many great and worthy releases would have missed out.

If you’re new to this series, please be sure to check out my picks from 30 down to 9 via the links at the bottom of this post.

If you’re a regular, thanks for sticking with me. I hope you’re enjoying the series and hopefully, you might have discovered something new or been persuaded to return to a previously overlooked record. Either way, keep the comments coming as I love the interaction and debate that such a list can generate.

Anyway, on to the main event…

Number 8

leprous con coverLeprous
‘The Congregation’
InsideOut Music

In just seven short years, Leprous have gone from an unknown band to genre leaders. It seems unlikely but that, to my mind at least, is exactly what Leprous have managed. In 2008, very few people knew the name Leprous; in 2015, their name is spoken with a certain amount of awe and reverence. No-one else sounds quite like Leprous and as such, the word ‘unique’ is rightly used when referring to the Norwegian progressive metal band. Sickeningly, the core of the band remain relatively young, boding well for a lengthy career and even worse, having interviewed the band a couple of times, they are really nice people, with their feet firmly on the ground.

Fotograf Henrik Fjørtoft

Fotograf Henrik Fjørtoft

It is fair to say that every album differs ever so slightly from the last and so each of the preceding three full-length records offers a marginally different approach. This trend continues with album number four, ‘The Congregation’ which again treads a subtly different musical path. Nevertheless, once heard, you’ll never mistake them for anyone else. Some may raise an eyebrow or two on a first listen as this record stands out due to its increased accessibility. Leprous have always been a band that explores the darker and bleaker aspects of life and ‘The Congregation’ is no different. However, the material on this record is definitely more immediate, almost catchy with plenty of strong melodies throughout. Initially there’s a feeling that the compositions may not be quite as quirky and challenging as previous material. Rest assured that this feeling is only fleeting and is banished swiftly once the album has been repeated a few times; Leprous do not do ‘normal’ or ‘ordinary’ where the music is concerned. ‘The Congregation’ is definitely technical, complex and quirky but in a much more subtle and refined way.

Frankly, ‘The Congregation’ is an album that only a band at the very height of their powers and brim-full of confidence could possibly have recorded. And, in spite of a couple of frustrating line-up changes, the results are stunning.

Opener ‘The Price’ offers a near-perfect blend of quiet, introspective calm and explosive all-out metallic bombast, held together by some strong melodic moments. Vocalist Einar Solberg is one of the reasons why Leprous sound like no-one else; his is a delivery that is beguiling and powerful, verging on the surreal and almost unhinged at times. And ‘Third Law’ benefits from one of his strongest performances yet as well as a chorus which is a real delight thanks to a genuinely anthemic chorus.

It’s impossible to mention every track individually. Suffice to say that there’s not a weak moment anywhere on the record. Stand-out moments however include ‘Rewind’ which is part prog metal and part modern post black metal workout whilst ‘The Flood’ features one of the band’s strongest choruses that helps to transform an otherwise intense and claustrophobic song into a sing-along anthem that’s truly addictive. If that wasn’t enough, there’s also the synth-heavy, ponderously-paced and darkly hypnotic ‘Slave’ which is breath-taking. It has a wild and unkempt beauty to it, but there’s a feeling that there’s more to come and it inexorably builds to a savage conclusion.

Oh and then there’s the simply-titled ‘Down’. It is another sensational composition that drips with genuine emotion, joining a chorus that will have you hooked and coming back for more time and time again.

What else is there left to say? I love Leprous and have done since their debut, ‘Tall Poppy Syndrome’. If my life depended on it, I’d have to say that ‘The Congregation’ is both my favourite disc yet and the band’s strongest release to date. However, that’s like being asked to choose between the sublime and the exquisite. It’d no wonder that Leprous is one of the first names that springs to mind when I’m asked to recommend high quality progressive metal. Leprous are truly special and ‘The Congregation’ fully deserves its place in this year’s Top 10.

Album Of The Year 2015 – Number 9
Album Of The Year 2015 – Number 10
Album Of The Year 2015 – Number 11
Album Of The Year 2015 – Number 12
Album Of The Year 2015 – Number 13
Album Of The Year 2015 – Number 14
Album Of The Year 2015 – Number 15
Album Of The Year 2015 – Number 16
Album Of The Year 2015 – Number 17
Album Of The Year 2015 – Number 18
Album Of The Year 2015 – Number 19
Album Of The Year 2015 – Number 20
Album Of The Year 2015 – Number 21
Album Of The Year 2015 – Number 22
Album Of The Year 2015 – Number 23
Album Of The Year 2015 – Number 24
Album Of The Year 2015 – Number 25
Album Of The Year 2015 – Number 26
Album Of The Year 2015 – Number 27
Album of the Year 2015 – Number 28
Album of the Year 2015 – Number 29
Album of the Year 2015 – Number 30

And from previous years:

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

Rendezvous Point – Solar Storm – Album Review

RP cover

Artist: Rendezvous Point

Album Title: Solar Storm

Label: Karisma Records

Year Of Release: 2015

The album that I’ve reviewing today has been released for a little while, so I’m late to the party. However, I’m late to the party for good reason. I had heard great things from those I’m friendly with in progressive music circles, suggesting that ‘Solar Storm’ by Rendezvous Point was a ‘must-hear’ record. Knee-deep in other reviews, I was unable to drop everything and listen immediately. And then, when I did find the time to investigate, I wasn’t immediately bowled over, I must admit. Nevertheless, here we are and, having given this debut record plenty of time, what follows is a considered review of the album.

Formed in 2010 in Kristiansand, southern Norway and comprised of vocalist Geirmund Hansen, keyboardist Nicolay Tangen Svennæs, guitarist Petter Hallaråker, bassist Gunn-Hilde Erstad and drummer Baard Kolstad (Leprous), Rendezvous Point refer to themselves as a melodic progressive metal band. Given that loose genre pigeon-holing, I was personally expecting the music to be slightly more melodic, more in a Threshold or Dream Theater vein perhaps. In actuality, what the band produces is an intense slab of heavy progressive music that’s all about riffs, rhythms and textures.

What is particularly impressive for a debut album is that ‘Solar Storm’ very much has its own identity. The quintet has clearly taken inspiration from the likes of Leprous, Tool and Opeth to a lesser extent and echoes of these bands can be heard within the seven compositions that comprise the album. However, these influences never threaten to overshadow what Rendezvous Point are clearly trying to do, and that’s to create music that is different and unique to them.

The album opens in strong, commanding fashion in the shape of ‘Through The Solar Storm’. The title of the track is well-named because the central riff is a powerful, swirling maelstrom of sound that bombards the ears from the outset but is then tempered by some subtle melodic interplay between the keys and Hansen’s vocals which display a wonderful resonance and feeling. The timing signature certainly sounds, to a layman’s ears, like it is complex but I love the fact that it is hypnotic and also thoroughly headbang-worthy, something that is occasionally overlooked within the prog genre.

‘Wasteland’ follows and is a genuinely anthemic track that benefits from a stark juxtaposition between quieter passages and the expansiveness of the central chorus. ‘Para’ by contrast is a much more brooding and menacing beast where the drums really catch my ear. The composition threatens an explosion and it is duly delivered towards the end in the form of a massively heavy, stomping riff that somehow shows restraint, tempered to some extent by light and airy keyboard notes that float above the tumult below.

Credit: Unknown

Credit: Unknown

Arguably the most ‘progressive’ track on ‘Solar Storm’ is ‘The Hunger’, which manages to cram a plethora of different ideas into the one composition. To kick off, the vocals flit from whispered to all-out spiky and aggressive thrash-like attack whilst keyboardist Nicolay Tangen Svennæs goes on the offensive, exploring a multitude of different synth sounds to interesting effect. Sampled voiceovers, frequent tempo changes, blistering guitar solos and shifts in rhythms combine to create a piece of music that’s equally challenging as it is enjoyable.

However, for all its technical dexterity and brazen experimentation, it is trumped in my opinion by ‘Mirrors’, a ten minute composition that’s a joy from beginning to end. The bass, synth and drum opening is sublime, particularly when joined by a moody and poignant lead guitar solo that stops me in my tracks upon each listen. I love the contrast between a verse that has a demonstrably modern alternative rock sheen and the chorus which is so melodic that it’d not be out of place on an AOR ballad. But with Rendezvous Point, a challenging rhythm or riff is never far away and ‘Mirrors’ is no different, albeit a little more restrained and subtle this time around.

The album as a whole does not outstay its welcome and so is closed out before you know it by the double act of ‘The Conclusion Part 1’ and ‘The Conclusion Part 2’. The former begins with an intricate classical-esque piano melody before being dominated by a seriously cool syncopated beat matched by more chunky headbanging fodder. The vocals, in keeping with the entire record, are excellently delivered, full of passion and energy. The latter then sees things out with the introduction of a lone violin atop the classical piano to introduce yet more invention and another intriguing texture to the already multi-layered soundscapes before it.

In short, whilst it was not love at first listen, Rendezvous Point have created a real grower of an album in ‘Solar Storm’ that should, without doubt, find favour amongst fans of progressive music. If you love powerful riffs, off-kilter rhythms and dense atmospheres, allow Norway’s latest impressive export to into your life; you’ll not be disappointed.

The Score Of Much Metal: 8.0

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

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