Leprous – Aphelion – Album Review

Artist: Leprous

Album Title: Aphelion

Label: Inside Out Music

Date of Release: 27 August 2021

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Score of Much Metal: 95%

Dessiderium – Aria

Cynic – Ascension Codes

TDW – Fountains

Hypocrisy – Worship

W.E.B. – Colosseum

Navian – Cosmos

NorthTale – Eternal Flame

Obscura – A Valediction

Nightland – The Great Nothing

MØL – Diorama

Be’lakor – Coherence

Hollow – Tower

Doedsvangr – Serpents Ov Old

Athemon – Athemon

Eclipse – Wired

Swallow The Sun – Moonflowers

Dream Theater – A View From The Top Of The World

Nestor – Kids In A Ghost Town

Beast In Black – Dark Connection

Thulcandra – A Dying Wish

Omnium Gatherum – Origin

Insomnium – Argent Moon EP

Kryptan – Kryptan EP

Archspire – Bleed The Future

Awake By Design – Unfaded EP

Cradle Of Filth – Existence Is Futile

Seven Spires – Gods Of Debauchery

Sleep Token – This Place Will Become Your Tomb

Necrofier – Prophecies Of Eternal Darkness

Ex Deo – The Thirteen Years Of Nero

Carcass – Torn Arteries

Aeon Zen – Transversal

Enslaved – Caravans To The Outer Worlds

A Dying Planet – When The Skies Are Grey

Leprous – Aphelion

Night Crowned – Hädanfärd

Brainstorm – Wall Of Skulls

At The Gates – The Nightmare Of Being

Rivers Of Nihil – The Work

Fractal Universe – The Impassable Horizon

Darkthrone – Eternal Hails

Thy Catafalque – Vadak

Terra Odium – Ne Plus Ultra

Hiraes – Solitary

Eye Of Purgatory – The Lighthouse

Crowne – Kings In The North

Desaster – Churches Without Saints

Helloween – Helloween

Fear Factory – Aggression Continuum

Wooden Veins – In Finitude

Plaguestorm – Purifying Fire

Drift Into Black – Patterns Of Light

Alluvial – Sarcoma

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

Silver Lake by Esa Holopainen

Bloodbound – Creatures From The Dark Realm

Nahaya – Vital Alchemy

Frost* – Day And Age

Obsolete Theory – Downfall

Vola – Witness

Acolyte – Entropy

Dordeduh – Har

Subterranean Masquerade – Mountain Fever

Seth – La Morsure Du Christ

The Circle – Metamorphosis

Nordjevel – Fenriir

Vreid – Wild North West

Temtris – Ritual Warfare

Astrakhan – A Slow Ride Towards Death

Akiavel – Vae Victis

Gojira – Fortitude

Hideous Divinity – LV-426

Benthos – II

Evile – Hell Unleashed

Ninkharsag – The Dread March Of Solemn Gods

Bodom After Midnight – Paint The Sky With Blood

Morrigu – In Turbulence

Mother Of All – Age Of The Solipsist

Throne – Pestilent Dawn

Sweet Oblivion (Geoff Tate) – Relentless

Exanimis – Marionnettiste

Dvne – Etemen Ænka

Cannibal Corpse – Violence Unimagined

Arion – Vultures Die Alone

Maestitium – Tale Of The Endless

Wode – Burn In Many Mirrors

Everdawn – Cleopatra

Unflesh – Inhumation

Mourning Dawn – Dead End Euphoria

Wheel – Resident Human

Wythersake – Antiquity

Odd Dimension – The Blue Dawn

Metalite – A Virtual World

Cryptosis – Bionic Swarm

Ghosts Of Atlantis – 3.6.2.4

Memoriam – To The End

Aversed – Impermanent

Secret Sphere – Lifeblood

Enforced – Kill Grid

Liquid Tension Experiment – LTE3

Turbulence – Frontal

Iotunn – Access All Worlds

Warrior Path – The Mad King

Stortregn – Impermanence

Mariana’s Rest – Fata Morgana

Orden Ogan – Final Days

Witherfall – Curse Of Autumn

Plague Weaver – Ascendant Blasphemy

Ephemerald – Between The Glimpses Of Hope

Paranorm – Empyrean

Einherjer – North Star

Epica – Omega

Humanity’s Last Breath – Välde

Simulacrum – Genesis

Forhist – Forhist

Evergrey – Escape Of The Phoenix

Empyrium – Über den Sternen

Moonspell – Hermitage

Infernalizer – The Ugly Truth

Temperance – Melodies Of Green And Blue EP

Malice Divine – Malice Divine

Revulsion – Revulsion

Demon King – The Final Tyranny EP

Dragony – Viribus Unitis

Soen – Imperial

Angelus Apatrida – Angelus Apatrida

Oceana – The Pattern

Therion – Leviathan

Tribulation – Where The Gloom Becomes Sound

Asphyx – Necroceros

W.E.T. – Retransmission

Labyrinth – Welcome To The Absurd Circus

TDW – The Days The Clock Stopped

Need – Norchestrion: A Song For The End

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

2020 reviews

2019 reviews
2018 reviews
2017 reviews
2016 reviews
2015 reviews

The Top 10 Individual Songs of 2019

I thought as a final last hurrah to 2019, I’d bring you my thoughts on my favourite ten songs of the year. In no particular order, except for the number one spot, here goes…

In first place:

Evergrey
‘All I Have’

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This was the song that was the soundtrack to a very difficult time in my life and it remains the anthem that broke me, then helped to rebuild me over the past year. I’m now in a very different place a year on, but the song has become so personal, so powerful, so all-encompassing, that I couldn’t even contemplate picking a different song to be my number one of 2019. Here’s what I wrote in my album review:

“For me though, it is the peerless ‘All I have’ that screams out to me as the very best six minutes on the album, maybe even in the entire career of Evergrey. This song is, put simply, utter genius. It kicks off in doom metal fashion, with an ominous and impossibly heavy delivery. The riff is subtly progressive in that it doesn’t quite conform to a simple four-four beat (I think) but still manages to get the head moving. Then, as the chorus enters, so do Rikard’s tinkling ivories before the intensity builds into the bridge. And then, in comes the chorus.

“It’s All I have,
It’s all I have,
All I have,
All I own that I can give to you”

On paper, it doesn’t seem much but the way that Tom belts out the words with more feeling than I can describe, sends shivers down my spine, especially when coupled with a truly beautiful and simple melody. It is one of the best choruses I have ever heard and after nearly three months, none of the magic wanes.

The lead guitar solos take over at this point with a majesty all of their own and the pleading, mournful notes that soar over a reprise of the chorus melody send my head into a spin. More often than not, I get shivers coursing up and down my spine and the tears come unbidden to cascade down my cheeks. I realise, much like Tom, that regardless of perceptions to the contrary, I gave all I had to my relationship but ultimately, it wasn’t enough.”

If I need to say anything else about this song, it is this: perfection.

Odd Logic
‘Garden Of Thorns’

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Quite deservedly, Odd Logic found their way into my top 10 albums of 2019 and now, they can just as deservedly find one of their compositions in this equivalent top 10 for individual songs of 2019. As I wrote in the review:

“It stood out on a first listen to the record but with subsequent listens, it has become irresistible. The delicacy of the soft, almost whispered vocals from Thompson are beguiling, but when coupled with the incredibly sophisticated and nuanced melodies, and the guitar work, it becomes addictive in the extreme. I find myself singing the melodies long after the album has finished, and I get withdrawal symptoms when I haven’t listened to it for a while.”

The more I listen, the more I appreciate the clever, subtle nuances that help to underpin a song that captured my imagination right from the very beginning. And it is remarkable that this is the creation of just two musicians; the level of sophistication and the impeccable delivery are incredible. I was initially drawn to the softer, more melodious sections, but sitting here now, I appreciate and enjoy much more those sections where the foot is placed on the accelerator pedal and we’re treated to some uncompromising djent-like riffs and the odd growled vocal.

But the star of the show is undoubtedly the central melody because it’s a thing of real beauty, a beauty that simply refuses to dim over time.

Big Big Train
‘Voyager’

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As certain as death and taxes, you can guarantee that a Big Big Train record will contain several world-beating compositions and their latest opus, ‘Grand Tour’ is no different. I regret the fact that I have not reviewed this cracking disc during 2019 but it deserved the best and initially, I wasn’t in the position to do the review justice, not by a long way. And then, when I felt ready to tackle it, time ran out.

Nevertheless, I hope that this accolade will help to soften any disappointment from those who love this incredible prog rock band.

Without doubt, ‘Voyager’ has become one of my all-time favourite Big Big Train songs. It wasn’t always thus as it took a little time to dilute the fog in my mind. But when it did, it was like watching a shaft of brilliant sunlight stretch over the landscape below, bathing the visage in its warm and welcoming embrace. At 14 minutes in length, it isn’t a quick listen, but it is testament to the song that it never feels that long. It is elegance put to music with grandiose melodies, extended instrumental passages and, at the 9:35 mark, it unleashes its magic to full, devastating effect. Tense, epic, melodic and with great performances from every corner of the band and guest musicians, it comes together to create something truly special, with a crescendo to stand the hairs on the back of your neck on end. I can’t get enough of this marvelous track, I really can’t.

Meshiaak
‘Bury The Bodies’

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“And then, suddenly, I come face-to-face with ‘Bury The Bodies’ which is easily in the running for my personal favourite song of 2019. It opens with a stomping and lurching mid-tempo riff and to be honest, it’s an unremarkable start. But at the 90 second point, in comes the most incredible melody. The strings float in and around as a sadness and melancholy butts up against the glorious bittersweet melody. It is enhanced by some beautiful clean singing from Tomb, that conveys a sense of frustration and emotion when he lets go a little. Solemn lead guitar breaks and lead embellishments add more spinetingling moments, whilst the rhythm section provides a strong backbone upon which the incredible song is built. I could listen to this track all day long. As it is, I generally press repeat at least once before continuing with the record.”

My thoughts on this wonderful song have not changed since I wrote the review of ‘Mask Of All Misery’, of which the above quote was a part. There is just something so gratifying and thoroughly addictive about this track that’s hard to explain. It is true testament to the power of a song that is heavy, ballsy and incredibly anthemic – the word ‘anthem’ is often over-used when describing music but on this occasion, I strongly believe that the adjective is well-placed and justified. Great stuff.

Devin Townsend
‘Spirits Will Collide’

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I never got around to reviewing this album during 2019, principally because I found a lot of it pretty hard-going and not as compelling as I had hoped. Except for one track that is: “Spirits Will Collide”. This beautiful song was the one moment on the album that, for me, stood out by a country mile.

Not only does it contain a wonderful set of melodies, the kind that are euphoric and spinetingling, but the lyrics are so incredibly positive and life-affirming.

“So we rise!
Receive the pain, but this isn’t where this ends
Don’t forget that you are perfect
Don’t forget just who we are
We’re strong enough”

Some may deride the track for being cheesy or over-the-top but to me, it is an amazingly uplifting song with a positive message, something we could all do with more of these days. It has also become more important to me ever since hearing it performed live, in stripped-back fashion before Christmas after being dedicated to all those who are suffering or know others suffering with depression and other mental health issues. The sincerity from Devin as he sings the lyrics is unquestionable, adding yet more power to an already wonderful song.

Leprous
‘Alleviate’

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When I reviewed the new Leprous album, ‘Pitfalls’, I wrote of the song “Alleviate”:

“Another favourite of mine is ‘Alleviate’ and, to a greater or lesser extent is similar to ‘Below’ in that it starts off softly with the synths and vocals up front and centre. It lasts for less than four minutes but its impact is greater than its slight lifespan. It builds, with each instrument entering the fray very deliberately alongside more lush string arrangements. You can sense the dam wants to break and it certainly does, with another agonised outpouring of grief and anguish from Solberg, backed up by his bandmates beautifully.”

However, in the months since, my love of this track has grown exponentially to the point where it is most definitely my favourite composition on an album chock full of stellar performances and killer songs. The sheer emotion and power that emanates from Solberg and the entire band is devastating but it is made all the stronger by the fact that the majority of the track is quiet, brooding and minimalist in many ways. The impact and contrast between this and the explosion towards the end of the composition is a thing of beauty and borders on genius, frankly.

Borknagar
‘Voices’

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“And what can you say about the spinetingling closer, ‘Voices’? It is a stunning folk-laced track of epic proportions, that demonstrates the art of a suspenseful build-up and crushing, moving crescendos. If you’re not moved by the power and melodic intent of this track, I don’t think you’re human.” – my review.

Not a ‘classic’ Borknagar track, but one that provided the biggest impact for me on the entire album. I had thought that songs like ‘Thunderous’ or ‘The Fire That Burns’ would be natural contenders for this accolade but, as it turns out, it’s the final song on the record that has grown on me to the point where I want to listen to it first before delving into the rest of the album. It has that brooding, contemplative quality to it that, despite the slower and quieter nature of it, gives it that edge; it’s a dark and ominous piece that also benefits from an irresistible melody as well as a bass that shakes the foundations and a glorious guitar tone that gets me every time I hear it as the song explodes into the choruses.

Voyager
‘Colours’

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It is testament to a band when you could pick any number of songs to mention in this list. ‘Colours In The Sun’ is just that kind of album, with several tracks that could easily be referred to in this post. However, having lived with this record for some time and having heard a couple of tracks in the live environment, it just had to be the opening cut of the new record.

Why? Because it is just so damn infectious, fun, upbeat and, importantly, with its overt electro pop influences, it has forced me to reevaluate my own musical prejudices along the way. It never fails to make me smile and move, improving my mood every single time I hear it.

Here’s what I wrote in my review:

“’Colours In the Sun’ kicks off with ‘Colours’ which features a synth intro that would be as much at home in a Magaluf or Ibiza nightclub as on a metal record. However, the undeniably upbeat, euphoric intro soon gives way to a powerful riff that continues to build on the energy created in the opening section. Daniel Estrin’s unique vocals soar across the sonic palette with serenity and panache, whilst the quieter verses provide a counterpoint to the anthemic chorus. The churning, djent-y riffs make an entrance, offering quality headbang fodder but the track never sits still long enough to pin down. It’s the musical equivalent to a child on Christmas Eve, a bouncing, vibrant song that contains enough energy to light a small town for a week.”

Our Destiny
‘Presence’

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Quite honestly, as with Voyager above, I could have picked several songs off this album to feature in this list. However, after much contemplation, I have plumped for the quite incredible ‘Presence’ for the honour.

To kick off, it is a song that contains enormous drama. I love the juxtaposition that exists within the song; the quiet introspection of the verses, dominated by Lauren Nolan’s vocals and pronounced electronic sounds, is in marked contrast to the more muscular and dominant chorus that brings the song to life via profound lyrics and a gorgeous central melody. It is the kind of song in which you can’t help getting immersed and moved in equal measure. As always, Vikram Shankar’s piano-playing is stunning, only further enhancing what is already a beautiful piece of music. Although it was a very close race, ‘Presence’ is the song that lives longest in my mind once the album has finished and the one that I find burrowed in my mind, creating a frequent and very welcome earworm.

My review

Soilwork
‘The Ageless Whisper’

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In the same vein as a few other tracks above, this choice comes from an album that I didn’t end up reviewing during 2019. But unlike ‘Empath’, for example, I really liked ‘Verkligheten’ by Sweden’s melodeath exports Soilwork. Unfortunately, it was released at a point where I really wasn’t in a good place and had completely lost my writing mojo. I tried so many times to review this disc but could never muster the words.

So it is a nice thing to be able to include “The Ageless Whisper” in my list of top songs from 2019. It is deserving of a place on my list too as it is a cracking song, full of bravado and swagger, not to mention an irresistible groove and a killer chorus that grows in stature with repeated listens. It is the ideal song to demonstrate the strengths of Soilwork when they are firing on all cylinders, reminding me why I do love this band and have done so for many years.

Album of the Year 2019 – The Top 10

For the first time in several years, 2019 will not see your inboxes and social media timelines spammed by my epic and rather foolhardy top 20 or top 30 countdown series. I’ve simply not listened to, or reviewed, anywhere near enough music this year to make this a viable possibility.

Long-term readers of manofmuchmetal.com will know that 2019 has been notable for my absence. I’ve written openly and candidly elsewhere about the reasons for this, so I won’t do that again here. But suffice to say that there’s a big yawning gap between the end of January and the beginning of October, where there was nothing. No album reviews, no live reviews, no commentary. Nothing.

During this period, I did still listen to music and I bought a few albums along the way. But the promos that bombarded my inbox largely remained untouched; I couldn’t in all good conscience download them and listen for free, knowing full well that I’d not publish a review. I have ethics and morals after all.

So, whilst I have spent the last couple of months doing my best to catch up on the cream of the crop, reviewing as much as I have been able, a Top 30 of 2019 is way out of reach. Instead, I bring you this: a single post containing a brief overview of my favourite ten albums of the year.

I hope you enjoy it!

Number 10 =

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Insomnium – ‘Heart Like A Grave’

I tried to keep my top 10 to ten choices, I really did. However, in the past couple of days, whilst penning most recent review for manofmuchmetal.com, something clicked. And it was the realisation of just how much I now like ‘Heart Like A Grave’, the new opus from Finland’s Insimnium.

Despite purchasing the expensive mediabook version (it is a thing of beauty after all), it has been something of a slow burner for me. I immediately liked the music on the record, because who doesn’t enjoy a bit of epic Finnish melodeath? Especially at wintertime when the nights are long and cold. But it took until the last week or so to ascend that cliff and stand proudly at the summit. Eventually, the energy, the sense of the epic and the melodies become too damn good to ignore and the music really gets under your skin. A worthy addition to the list, even if their inclusion did lead to a bending of the rules!

To quote my review:

“There can be no argument…that the material on this album is of a very high standard, with professionalism oozing from every corner of the band. 

The longer you listen, the better ‘Heart Like A Grave’ gets, to the point where it is impossible not to get swept up in its grandiosity and brutal, bitter beauty. Insomnium have, right here, produced the best album of their career as far as I’m concerned. If you’re a fan of melodic death metal done the right way, ensure that you find a space in your collection for ‘Heart Like A Grave’. You’ll not regret it.”

Check out the full review here.

Number 10 =

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Avatarium – ‘The Fire I Long For’

This was one of the biggest surprises for me this year, in a year full of big surprises. I wasn’t shocked at the quality of the music on offer from Avatarium because, being familiar with their past output, I knew that these guys could write and perform quality music. However, I wasn’t expecting to like ‘The Fire I Long For’ quite as much as I did, because of all the talk about a lessening of the heaviness, less in the way of thunderous riffs, and a greater 70s rock influence. For my tastes, this was all bad news.

But I was wrong. I put off listening to it for as long as I could but when I eventually caved, I realised my reticence was a big mistake. It has been a constant companion over the past couple of weeks, with new things coming to the fore with each listen. It was at this point where I realised I had to find a place in this list for such a strong and engaging record.

To quote my review:

“Greatness and class will always shine through. And if ever there was an example of this, it’s Avatarium.

… the songwriting is incredibly strong. Whatever guise the compositions take, be it heavier or softer and more subtly nuanced, they just work.

…if quality music is what you crave, then make Avatarium’s ‘The Fire I long For’ the next addition to your collection. Immediately.”

Check out the full review here.

Number 9

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Mother Of Millions – ‘Artifacts’

An unknown entity prior to arriving at this record, I wasn’t sure what to expect. And, had it not been for the announcement that this Greek band would be gracing the ProgPower Europe stage in 2020, I’d probably still be blissfully unaware of their existence. But ‘blissfully’ is the wrong word because where Mother Of Millions are concerned, ignorance is definitely not bliss. On the evidence of ‘Artifacts’, this band deserves much more exposure and success than they currently enjoy.

Unusually for a progressive band, I was impressed from the very first listen. It was one of those experiences where I knew that I’d like it and like it more as time went by. The subtlety I knew, would eventually reveal itself and open up before me and by heavens was I right. And now, after further listens, it is unequivocally one of the best and most mature releases of 2019.

Note: since writing the review, I have found out that keyboardist Makis Tsamkosoglou  has tragically passed away. A fitting tribute then, that his final recorded performance should be on such a fantastic album. He will live on through his music for decades to come. RIP.

To quote my review:

“It is quite tricky to liken Mother Of Millions to their contemporaries, but certainly the likes of Leprous and Karnivool are useful reference points, but I do also hear whispers of other influences throughout. What I’d rather tell you is that this record is big on atmosphere, emotion, melody and it has a huge cinematic feel to it.

There is also a wonderful flow to the record, meaning that it feels smooth and enjoyable to listen to despite the darkness, sorrow, depth and subtle complexities that lie within the forty-odd minute run-time. 

If you are looking for an album that provides intelligence, subtlety, emotion and power, ‘Artifacts’ from Mother Of Millions is the record that you need. Right now.”

Check out the full review here.

Number 8

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Big Big Train – ‘Grand Tour’

This is the only album that features in my Top 10 that I have not reviewed this year. I was fortunate enough to receive a review copy and I really wanted this to be the album that released me from my writing block. So I listened to it time and again, enjoying it more and more with each spin. However, every time I came to write my thoughts down on paper, I drew a blank. I hope to review it in the fullness of time, but the fact that it features in my Top 10 should persuade you that this is an album out of the top drawer. Not that this is any real surprise because Big Big Train are incapable of creating anything less than excellent.

Their pastoral progressive rock blueprint remains largely untouched but the talented group of musicians seem able to create something new and exciting each and every time. I adore the upbeat positivity of ‘Alive’, a message that I needed this year and duly took on board. It’s a vibrant and gorgeous track that sets the tone for another superb record.

However, it is the two epics towards the end of the album that remain my favourites to this day and are the songs that elevate ‘Grand Tour’ into my top 10 for 2019. The sea shanty intro to ‘Ariel’ is ominous and captivating, whilst the final few minutes is pure theatre, as it drives with inexorable force to a stunning crescendo. ‘Voyager’ on the other hand contains the kind of central ‘chorus’ melody that rivals the best of the Big Big Train discography – this is a stunning track from start to finish and it gets more and more moving and powerful as time goes on.

Without doubt, this truly inspired record deserved a place in the top 10 and I just hope I get the time to give it the proper review it so richly deserves before too long. Big Big Train are easily my favourite progressive rock band around at the current time, they are truly that good.

Number 7

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Our Destiny – ‘Awakening’

What happens when you combine one of the best pianists I’ve ever heard with a beautiful voice? You get Our Destiny, a duo comprised of Vikram Shankar (Redemption, Silent Skies) and his significant other, Lauren Nolen. This isn’t metal, it isn’t even rock and so its appearance in my Top 10 should not have happened. And yet, it has and I’m delighted that it has because it demonstrates that I can appreciate music that doesn’t just bludgeon the listener to death.

There is a beauty in the simplicity of the material, allowing real depth of emotion and sincerity to shine through, as well as an all-too-obvious vulnerability and fragility. It is this latter quality that captivates me so much if I’m honest. There’s an incredible bravery from both Shankar and Nolan that puts most of us to shame as they lay themselves open for the world to hear. And yet, I adore the way in which there’s a sense of positivity and hope to the music that ultimately leaves me feeling uplifted and energised. If you’ve not already, take a listen and prepare to be as impressed as I am.

To quote my review:

“What it is, is a beautiful collection of songs that are part acoustic, part pop, part ambient, but completely seductive.

What I love about ‘Awakening’ is the purity of it. Every note is carefully thought-out yet organic-sounding at the same time. The rich melodies both wash over you and burrow deep within your soul to never let go. The atmosphere is bitter-sweet in that the music feels uplifting and warm, yet strangely poignant, almost melancholy in places.

When all around me is frenetic, full-throttle and largely fake, ‘Awakening’ is the soundtrack to keep me calm, grounded and focused on those things that matter most: human contact, relationships and pure, unadulterated love.”

Check out the full review here.

Number 6

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Odd Logic – ‘Last Watch Of The Nightingale’

The release of new Odd Logic material is always a cause for excitement in the Mansion of Much Metal. How on earth they can be so criminally overlooked remains a mystery, because over the course of the past three albums at least, the American outfit, spearheaded by Sean Thompson, has delivered some of the best and most refreshing progressive metal I’ve heard.

The brand of progressive metal that Odd Logic serve up is both familiar and original, with many unique embellishments and influences blending with a kind of ‘classic’ prog metal core. It is also properly heavy, with some chunky riffs, nice lead guitar work and some thunderous drumming at times. A worthy addition to my top 10 and all the sweeter because they deserve greater success.

To quote my review:

“It’s likely that Odd Logic will never take over the world, but regardless, they continue to make the music that they want. It’s a labour of love and I love this philosophy.

In simple terms, based on the quality of music on offer here, Odd Logic remain criminally unknown and underrated. Despite all of the considerable challenges they have had to hurdle, Thompson and Hanson have produced an album every bit as good as ‘Effigy’ or ‘Penny For Your Thoughts’. As previously stated, if I had to put my neck on the block, I’d say that this is their best release yet. And the even better news is that ‘Last Watch of the Nightingale’ is available on CD. I shall therefore be ordering mine…if you’re a progressive metal fan with any kind of taste at all, you’ll be doing the same. This is quite brilliant stuff!”

Check out the full review here.

Number 5

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Klone – ‘Le Grand Voyage’ 

The emotion and the authenticity of this release saw it sail into my top 10 for 2019. I’d liked previous efforts by the French outfit, but the sheer power and strength of ‘Le Grand Voyage’ very nearly floored me. The more I listen to it, and believe me, I’ve listened to it a lot, the more I fall for its abundant charms.

The choruses are, by and large, things of enormous beauty. The vocals are magical; packed with emotion, melody and sincerity, Yann Ligner’s gravelly grunge tone strikes a surprising chord with me. I simply can’t get enough of the intensity and darkness of the record, both of which clash brilliantly with the brief moments of hope and the waves of melody that hit at just the right time to briefly expunge the despondency.

I’m also a fan of the organic-sounding production that breathes life into the songs. When I reviewed ‘Le Grand Voyage’, I knew it would be high in my end-of-year list and now that I am writing it, I have been proved correct.

To quote my review:

“Do you know the feeling you get when an album just clicks? You know, that feeling that is accompanied by goosebumps, where your hairs stand on end, where you try to take the album out of the stereo or off the record player, only to fail miserably and press play again? Well that’s how I’m currently feeling about ‘Le Grand Voyage’ by Klone.

It never ceases to excite me when a band comes out of the shadows to blow me away; it is the magic of music and the thrill of a new discovery combining to dizzying effect. And, with ‘Le Grand Voyage’, Klone have created the album of their career to date and have made a very persuasive case for featuring in many an end-of-year ‘best of’ list.”

Check out the full review here.

Number 4

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Leprous – ‘Pitfalls’ 

Leprous are one of those bands that will find their way into an enormous amount of end-of-year ‘best of’ lists. But that’s because of one important thing: they are an exceptional band. Exceptionally talented musicians, exceptionally gifted songwriters and exceptionally brave when it comes to following their own convictions, and not giving a damn about what the outside world thinks. The proof? ‘Pitfalls’.

I’ve yet to hear a non-committal opinion of this record, as fans, critics and casual bystanders appear to be completely divided over this release. Some think it is sensational, others think it is awful. Or at least, not what they wanted to hear from a new Leprous album. I fall into the former category because I have no hesitation as I sit here now, to declare ‘Pitfalls’ easily the best record of the Norwegian prog band’s career.

I have always preferred it when Leprous allow some melody into their writing and with ‘Pitfalls’, you get plenty of melody to enjoy. Much of the album may not veer anywhere near traditional metal territory but, with vocalist/keyboardist Einer Solberg opening his heart and soul to reveal his inner mental demons, it is still an intensely heavy and dark collection of songs. I love the sincerity, the honesty and the willingness to try something new. To me, this is Leprous firing on all cylinders and I love it more with each passing day.

To quote my review:

“Challenging, heartbreaking, honest, deliberate, unique, individual, pure, anguish, mesmeric, enveloping, odd, unexpected, wonderful.

I shall declare that ‘Pitfalls’ is not a metal album. There are metal traits, accents, and there are a couple of songs that remain within the broad ‘metal’ framework. But ‘Pitfalls’ is, to my mind…different…

I’m drawn like a moth to a flame to this music; to Einar’s brutally honest subject…to the way the rest of the band are talented enough to know when to be restrained and when to unleash more flamboyance or raw power, so that the songs just work. I am certain that I will look back on ‘Pitfalls’ at a time of greater clarity and judge it to be a classic, a masterpiece.”

Check out the full review here.

Number 3

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Voyager – ‘Colours In The Sun’ 

Ah, Voyager. There’s no-one out there quite like them is there? By now, I’d hope that every reader of manofmuchmetal.com would be very familiar with Voyager, seeing as how I bang on about them with scary frequency. But I have reason to. It’s because this Aussie band are fair dinkum musicians and songwriters. Ever since I heard ‘The Meaning Of I’ a few years ago, I have followed their career with interest and can safely say that they have yet to release anything short of excellent.

‘Colours In The Sun’ is no different and, although it was a little more of a slow burner for me than past albums, it is now one of my very favourites. The blend of progressive metal with 80s synth pop works incredibly well, ably assisted by some professional and astute songwriting and an all-important sense of humour. When you refer you yourselves as “epic electro progressive power pop metal”, you can’t really take life too seriously can you?

But ultimately, it is the combination of fun, melody and positive atmosphere, coupled with an undeniably high level of professionalism and passion that makes ‘Colours In The Sun’ so superb. I cannot listen to this album without jumping up with a big smile on my face and dancing around the house. Voyager make me feel happy and you can’t put a price on that.

To quote my review:

“They have proved over the course of the past six albums that they are incapable of writing substandard material and the same can be said of this, their seventh studio release…

Every time ‘Colours In The Sun’ ends, I find myself thinking ‘what? Already?’ 

Every time I listen, time seems to speed up and before I know it, the better part of 45 minutes has passed. But more importantly, it has passed in a blur of utter enjoyment, of gratification and in the company of some of the best music I have heard this year.”

Check out the full review here.

Number 2

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Soen – ‘Lotus’ 

Had it not been for the release of a stupendous album from my all-time favourite band, ‘Lotus’ would have taken the album of the year title. And justifiably so, because it is a wonderfully entertaining and thoroughly professional record that delights and intrigues at almost every turn.

I have had the record in my collection for over six months and without a shadow of doubt, it is better now than it has ever been. It has taken a while but everything now just clicks into place and sounds incredible. It is the kind of album that you can play over and over again without getting bored – trust me, I know!

The melodies are so unbelievably strong and resonant; the pacing and flow of the record is just about perfect; the blend of intricacy and prog metal exactness, with the more organic elements is inspired and the whole album feels stronger for these pronounced differences that are merged so smoothly into a cohesive whole. ‘Lotus’ is a cracking album and thoroughly deserves it lofty position in my end-of-year list. Very nicely done indeed.

To quote my review:

“…alongside the very intricate progressive aspects, we’re treated to a greater dose of melody throughout, as well as an even more pronounced amount of ebb and flow, light and shade, and plenty of interesting textures, many of which take many listens to either hear or fully appreciate. Put simply, ‘Lotus’ is a sophisticated beast that benefits from the influences of old but manages to blend them into a final product that demonstrates an overall increase in their own identity.

And you’d think that by now, with so many repeated listens under my belt, I’d be getting bored of the nine compositions that comprise ‘Lotus’. Well you’d be wrong; if anything, I’m more beguiled and impressed than ever. I’m not sure that this record will ever lose its magic and that, right there, is a sign that I am listening to a very special album.

Poignant, melodic, technical, sublime. There’s no other way in which to sum up such an incredible album. Listening to ‘Lotus’ is like being in the presence of musical greatness.”

Check out the full review here.

Number 1

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Evergrey – ‘The Atlantic’

This has to be the worst-kept secret on the Internet as well as the most widely expected result of any competition or election this year. However, I make no apologies for this decision. There is a reason why Evergrey are my favourite band in the entire universe: they just write the kind of music that I love and I want to hear. And, when Tom Englund and Co. are on fire, they are really on fire.

With ‘The Atlantic’, they have delivered an album that is heavy, incredibly emotional, cathartic, memorable and utterly jaw-dropping. It seems like forever since it was released but I never tire of listening to it. At the time, it was the soundtrack to an intensely difficult period in my personal life and, because the subject matter echoed much of what I was going through, it really resonated with me, giving me strength when I felt like giving up.

To quote my review:

“For someone who considers ‘In Search of Truth’ the greatest album of all time, it says something when I happily declare that the opening trio of songs on this disc are three of the bands’ best ever. Truly world class, they simply leave me speechless and in awe.

You can always tell when Evergrey are firing on all cylinders, with one such indicator being the opening track to an album. In the past, we’ve had ‘The Masterplan’, ‘A Touch Of Blessing’ and ‘King Of Errors’ – all killer opening salvos. And with ‘The Atlantic’, we have the stupendous ‘The Silent Arc’.

For me though, it is the peerless ‘All I have’ that screams out to me as the very best six minutes on the album, maybe even in the entire career of Evergrey. This song is, put simply, utter genius.

…it isn’t just another Evergrey album. This is ‘The Atlantic’, arguably the very best of their career…I say this now without any fear of being proved wrong: ‘The Atlantic’ will not be beaten in 2019. It is utter, unequivocal and peerless genius.”

And, for once, I wasn’t wrong. There really was no other result possible. Ladies and Gentlemen – listen to ‘The Atlantic’, and bask in the aural delights of the best album of 2019, possibly of the decade…

Check out the full review here.

Leprous – Pitfalls – Album Review

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Artist: Leprous

Album Title: Pitfalls

Label: InsideOut Music

Date of Release: 25 October 2019

Where on Earth does one start with a review of an album like this? The album in question is ‘Pitfalls’ by Norway’s Leprous, arguably one of the most original bands to emerge from the metal scene in the last decade or so. There are so many things that I want to say and which need to be said that I have struggled to know where to begin. To reflect my indecision, I have decided to throw out a random bunch of words that spring to mind as I listen to this record:

Challenging, heartbreaking, honest, deliberate, unique, individual, pure, anguish, mesmeric, enveloping, odd, unexpected, wonderful.

In many ways, I could leave the review there and move on. This collection of words could be argued to sum up my thoughts on this intriguing band’s sixth release. They might also help some to determine whether they are interested in reading further. However, I can’t leave it there; I feel compelled to offer further explanation and (I hope) insight into this most interesting of records.

I’m not one to hide my reality from readers; I have battled mental health issues for over a decade, ever since the tragic passing of my brother in 2008. Over that time, I have noticed a gradual change in attitude towards mental health. There are still far too many who view it as a sign of weakness and something to either deride or fear. For the most part though, there has been an opening of minds and a gradual movement towards understanding and acceptance. And ‘Pitfalls’ is the latest, very powerful example, somewhat fittingly released exactly eleven years, to the day, that my brother left us.

To hear Einar Solberg, lead vocalist, keyboardist and central creative force within Leprous remove the veil on his own struggles with depression and anxiety and lace the songs on this album with some deeply honest and heartbreaking lyrical content is, frankly, indescribable. It also makes for a difficult listen as some of the words and sentiment hit a nerve with me and I find it hard to keep things together as I listen. That’s not to say that ‘Pitfalls’ alienates everyone else; in fact, speaking to others who have heard the album, they tell me that they too found it an equally emotionally draining but scintillating listen.

I don’t wish to dwell on any specific lines or words on ‘Pitfalls’ because every single one of the nine tracks reveals something worthy of comment and serious reflection, with painful soundbites aplenty. But context is everything on a record like this, so instead of placing the spotlight on specific lines, I’ll leave it to each listener to investigate the exact wording and decipher their own meanings.

So, I must turn to the music that accompanies the lyrics. And it is here that things become even more fascinating if that’s even possible. Based on the comments heard whilst attending ProgPower Europe recently, I know the following to be true: ‘Pitfalls’ is going to split fans right down the middle.

But, you see, Leprous are a progressive band and this is progressive music. Stagnation and repetition are not an issue. Ever since their inception and release of debut album, ‘Tall Poppy Syndrome’ in 2009, it has been clear that Leprous do not follow the crowd. They are innovators or, at the very least, they seek to follow their own path, allowing their creativity and abilities to take them wherever they feel is right. As such, every single album has been different from the last, testing ideas, trying out new things. So why, with the release of their sixth album, should they cease to do this and write more of the same? It doesn’t make sense. And for that reason alone, whilst there is inevitably an initial raising of an eyebrow when ‘Pitfalls’ is played for the first time, the material here and the direction that Leprous have taken should surprise no-one. That inherent ability to surprise, challenge and delight us is half the reason why we listen to Leprous in the first place. Isn’t it?

With that firmly in mind, I shall declare that ‘Pitfalls’ is not a metal album. There are metal traits, accents, and there are a couple of songs that remain within the broad ‘metal’ framework. But ‘Pitfalls’ is, to my mind…different, especially if you were to compare this to their debut in isolation for example. There is a greater use of electronic beats and of interesting synth sounds which will inevitably lead people to think ‘mainstream’. There are definitely moments, such as within ‘I Lose Hope’ or the opening to ‘At The Bottom’ where I could imagine the material being heard on a commercial radio station. However, in spite of this, and because of the brutality of the lyrics, that reality is unlikely. In addition, there’s a quieter, more nuanced and introspective feel to the music that is surprisingly claustrophobic and occasionally uncomfortable, as if you are impinging on Solberg’s private inner turmoil. So it’s not ‘heavy’ in the traditional sense, but it’s a heavy listen, nonetheless.

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And crucially, ‘Pitfalls’ does not come across as an exercise in cynically trying to appeal to a wider or different audience demographic. This is an album written by a band, with the outcome being exactly what they wanted to produce, for themselves. No-one else. It’s that integrity that stands out above almost everything here.

Having listened to ‘Pitfalls’ religiously for a while now, I definitely think that the album works best when digested as a whole. For my tastes, some of the songs are stronger and more enjoyable than others, but they all start to make more sense within the context of the overall journey that this record represents. And actually, in true ‘slow burn’ style, some of those tracks that I didn’t immediately gel with, have found greater favour with me. It might be several weeks or months of further concerted listening to fully get to grips with everything on ‘Pitfalls’ but everything is moving slowly and deliberately in the right direction, to suggest to me that what I’m listening to is something rather special.

I’ve always enjoyed the more melodic side of Leprous and so I can immediately appreciate and lap up the likes of opener, ‘Below’. This was the lead single released and it got my attention straight away. Lyrically bleak and raw, it is a song that builds from subtle beginnings to erupt with anguish and a torrent of human emotion in the chorus, supplemented by more abrasive ‘metallic’ instrumentation. Alongside a hugely effective simple melody, a rich string arrangement and Solberg’s absorbing, heartfelt singing, it is devastatingly powerful. At this juncture, I’d be comfortable to use the adjective ‘anthemic’ to describe this amazing opener.

Another favourite of mine is ‘Alleviate’ and, to a greater or lesser extent is similar to ‘Below’ in that it starts off softly with the synths and vocals up front and centre. It lasts for less than four minutes but its impact is greater than its slight lifespan. It builds, with each instrument entering the fray very deliberately alongside more lush string arrangements. You can sense the dam wants to break and it certainly does, with another agonised outpouring of grief and anguish from Solberg, backed up by his bandmates beautifully.

The stylistic shift between these and the second track, ‘I Lose Hope’ is stark and pronounced. The slightly funky electronic beat and melodies that emerge lend themselves very much to the mainstream but in a way that still sounds thoroughly Leprous and, the more you listen, the more infectious and strangely addictive it becomes. If anything, it provides the vaguest semblance of upbeat material on the entire record, at least musically. The lyrics again are anything but.

To underline my previous comments about ‘Pitfalls’ being a grower, other songs that are initially dismissed or cast aside become beguiling, oddly addictive at times and you find yourself listening intently, rapt and immersed. ‘Distant Bells’ is the classic example, as it has turned into a favourite of late too; in a familiar pattern to this record, the song starts off quietly with just a haunting tinkling of keys. But over its seven-minute length, it gradually builds and ultimately delivers in spades, with a wonderfully forceful and captivating crescendo complete with some catchy vocals, layers of rich instrumentation and a gorgeous underlying melody.

Elsewhere, ‘Observe The Train’ is a minimalist composition with a lullaby feel, where the focus is on the vocals, conveying with it a sense of desolation. ‘By My Throne’ features a throbbing bass and some unique and arresting vocals from Solberg which catch the ear and find greater favour with repeated listens. It’s another song where the electronics loom large and there’s a gradual build from quiet beginnings to a more pronounced finale, albeit more restrained than elsewhere.

I could go on for hours more about this record and individually mention every song. But I think I have covered pretty much all the things I wanted to say about it. As I sit here in the dark with headphones on, on the day of release, after an emotional day myself, I can only reiterate the impact ‘Pitfalls’ has on me. I can’t admit to liking every single thing about it, not yet at least. There are parts that I prefer over others and it is no easy listen as I said before.

However, there is something very special about it. I find it somewhat hypnotic and magnetic; I want to keep listening to it, even the parts that I’m less keen on. I’m drawn like a moth to a flame to this music; to Einar’s brutally honest subject matter and the way he conveys it in his unique manner; to the way the rest of the band are talented enough to know when to be restrained and when to unleash more flamboyance or raw power, so that the songs just work. I am certain that I will look back on ‘Pitfalls’ at a time of greater clarity and judge it to be a classic, a masterpiece.

At the moment, all I can say is that it is hugely impressive, moving and very special indeed.

The Score of Much Metal: 95%

If you’ve enjoyed this review, check out my others from 2019:

Myrath – Shehili
Prehistoric Animals – Consider It A Work Of Art
Voyager – Colours In The Sun
Odd Logic – Last Watch Of The Nightingale
Avandra – Descender
Darkwater – Human
ZW Band / Zonder Wehrkamp – If It’s Real
Teramaze – Are We Soldiers
Rendezvous Point – Universal Chaos
Our Destiny – Awakening
Evergrey – The Atlantic

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

2018 reviews
2017 reviews
2016 reviews
2015 reviews

Album of the Year 2017 – Number 9

Welcome to day 22 of my ‘Album of the Year 2017 top 30 countdown’.

I sincerely hope that you are all still enjoying my annual countdown of what I personally think are the very best albums released during 2017? I’m certainly enjoying putting it together and it pleases me to read all the nice comments and see people discovering new bands as a result of what I am writing – it makes the whole process even more enjoyable and rewarding.

Today’s choice won’t be a surprise for those that know me. However, they may be a surprise for you, so check this one out carefully if you are unfamiliar with this band – and be prepared to discover a real gem of a band.

But before I go any further, there’s just time to remind you that links can be found below for all of my previous posts in this year’s series, along with a couple of ‘honourable mentions’ posts and the entire series from 2012-2016.

Number 9

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Leprous
Malina
InsideOut Music

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

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

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

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

Read the full review here.

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Credit: Bjørn Tore Moen

I will echo the point made in the first quote of my review above and state that there really is no other band quite like Leprous. They are the very definition of unique; they don’t sit still and release the same album ad infinitum, they experiment, they push boundaries and they constantly seek to improve as musicians.

Their grounding as the backing band for the legendary Ihsahn will have helped, but it’s more than that. Leprous have a confidence that is enormous and a self-belief that means that they aren’t afraid of trying anything and everything in the pursuit of musical excellence.

I’ve been a fan of Leprous since their debut, ‘Tall Poppy Syndrome’, an album that belied their collective young years and delivered some excellent music. It therefore comes as no surprise at all to fast forward eight years and find out that Leprous are now one of the most highly regarded and critically-acclaimed bands in the world of progressive music.

The more I have lived with ‘Malina’, the Norwegian’s fifth album, the more it has got under my skin. It might not be as heavy in the traditional sense as previous records but it is equally dark, melancholy and claustrophobic in tone. But ‘Malina’ is also exceptionally sophisticated and elegant, from start to finish, not to mention highly intelligent and cleverly nuanced.

The music on ‘Malina’ is undeniably complex both in terms of the song writing and the individual performances, meaning that the output does not have the kind of immediacy as other releases from 2017. But that actually becomes another important strength for Leprous because it means that you are forced to listen carefully, forced to pay attention. As a result, over time, the music becomes more impactful and it grows into something more potent, deeply rewarding and satisfying. There is no sense of boredom or over-familiarity with repeated spins, completely the opposite in fact. As I write this now, I am firmly of the opinion that tracks like ‘Stuck’ and ‘The Weight of Disaster’ are some of the best and strongest of Leprous’ career. The depth within these tracks and many others is incredible, as is the pin-sharp manner in which they have been played and recorded.

If you are searching for a band that is genuinely unlike no other and you’ve yet to investigate Leprous, you must remedy this situation immediately. There is literally no excuse. Once heard, I guarantee you’ll be intrigued enough to listen to more of their material. And once that happens, I am confident that you’ll be hooked for life. ‘Malina’ is probably the finest album within an already impressive career, so my mind boggles at the thought of what is still to come.

 

If you missed either of my 2017 ‘honourable mentions’ posts, here they are should you be interested:

Album of the Year 2017 – honourable mentions Part 1
Album of the Year 2017 – honourable mentions Part 2

Previous posts in my 2017 Top 30 countdown:

Album of the Year 2017 – Number 10
Album of the Year 2017 – Number 11
Album of the Year 2017 – Number 12
Album of the Year 2017 – Number 13
Album of the Year 2017 – Number 14
Album of the Year 2017 – Number 15
Album of the Year 2017 – Number 16
Album of the Year 2017 – Number 17
Album of the Year 2017 – Number 18
Album of the Year 2017 – Number 19
Album of the Year 2017 – Number 20
Album of the Year 2017 – Number 21
Album of the Year 2017 – Number 22
Album of the Year 2017 – Number 23
Album of the Year 2017 – Number 24
Album of the Year 2017 – Number 25
Album of the Year 2017 – Number 26
Album of the Year 2017 – Number 27
Album of the Year 2017 – Number 28
Album of the Year 2017 – Number 29
Album of the Year 2017 – Number 30

And from previous years:

Album of the Year 2016
Album of the Year 2015
Album of the Year 2014
Album of the Year 2013
Album of the Year 2012

Leprous – Malina – Album Review

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Artist: Leprous

Album Title: Malina

Label: InsideOut Music

Date of Release: 25 August 2017

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Credit: Bjørn Tore Moen

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Score of Much Metal: 9.5

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

2015 reviews
2016 reviews

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

18556032_10155643571650101_6880641999645372966_nLeprous
Malina
Release date: 25 August 2017

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

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

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

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

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

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

Threshold
Legends Of The Shires
Release date: TBC

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

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

Vangough – Warpaint – Album Review

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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.

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‘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
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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.”

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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:
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