Anthriel – Transcendence – Album Review

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Artist: Anthriel

Album Title: Transcendence

Label: Lion Music

Date Of Release: 15 June 2017

I don’t think I have ever been bullied so relentlessly by a reader in the quest for me to publish a review. But I’m nothing if not willing to please my loyal followers, so here I am with some considered thoughts about ‘Transcendence’, the sophomore album from Anthriel.

Having not been aware of the debut album, ‘The Pathway’, I come at this follow-up without the baggage of expectation and without the need to compare the two. If you’re looking for a review that specifically does this, I’m afraid you’ll need to go elsewhere. From what I can glean from various sources that I tend to trust, this record might be in a heavier and darker vein to its predecessor. Indeed this is borne out by the band on the accompanying press release, as they admit exactly that.

Well, for the Man of Much Metal, darker and heavier is almost always a good thing and so it has proved here. The reason for the delay in penning this review is because, drowning under a host of new releases, I disregarded it to begin with. Then I heard a few comments about it and, resulting from the aforementioned bullying, I was browbeaten into finding a track online to listen to. Well blow me down with a feather, I rather liked it, so here I am now with my considered review.

It has been a lengthy wait for new material, some seven years. In the intervening time, the Finns have suffered problems with their rehearsal studio and then the almost inevitable line-up issues, losing both their drummer and bassist. It means now that Anthriel is comprised of Simo Silvan (lead vocals & backing vocals), Timo Niemistö (guitars & backing vocals), Antti Hakulinen (keyboards), Antti Horttana (bass & backing vocals) and Henrikki Markkula (drums).

It’s not all bad news though, because to me, this sounds like a very strong unit playing together to create a rather glorious racket. Naturally the band suggests that this is their strongest incarnation to date but that is definitely backed up by the end result. The inter-album turmoil has also led to the inspiration for the lyrical concept which follows on from the debut but is more about the time in a person’s life where there is almost no hope at all.

I’m not going to sit here and say that ‘Transcendence’ reinvents any wheels. However, what it does do, is provide a hugely enjoyable and immersive listen that gets better and better with each spin. This is bombastic and occasionally over-the-top progressive power metal but unlike other bands who proclaim to play a similar style of music, this is a really excellent blend of all of these elements.

Firstly, it is most definitely heavy enough to be accurately referred to as metal. It also has the symphonics and sprawling qualities of power metal and finally, it is definitely progressive thanks to an abundance of chops, tempo changes and intricate compositions. Two of the tracks extend beyond ten minutes, with the album closer falling just shy of the 20-minute mark. ‘Transcendence’ is also a lush and layered album where, on repeated listens, new intricacies and depth comes through.

Anthriel_band_web

In terms of reference points, there is more than a hint of mid-era Symphony X about some of the Anthriel output. But equally, I hear smatterings of Dream Theater, the pomp of Edguy or compatriots Sonata Arctica at their most epic and numerous other influences including a smattering of Shadow Gallery and Seventh Wonder. The opening cinematic and symphonic instrumental also has a touch of ‘Chariots of Fire’ about it thanks to the prominent keys.

I sometimes wish that bands dispensed of these instrumental intros, particularly where the entire album only consists of eight tracks. However, it is difficult to be too churlish about ‘The Calling’ as it fits the feel of ‘Transcendence’ nicely, even if it isn’t the most essential and memorable piece of music in and of itself. Get that out of the way and from there on, the remaining seven tracks that break the hour mark, rightfully rack up the positives.

‘Under Burning Skies’ is a high-octane opener that bounds along at a great pace. I love the riffs that feature as well as the pinched harmonics that dominate the opening few bars of the first major riff. The two newbies Horttana and Markkula immediately make their mark, creating a strong rhythmic spine at the centre of the track. The synths of Hakulinen bathe the song throughout and the quiet mid-section is a great touch, injecting loads of introspective atmosphere, entirely fitting with the dark tones and a great juxtaposition with the heaviness and in-your-face drama that sandwiches it. The icing on the cake is the vocal performance of Simo Silvan, who impresses me with his rich, commanding and melodious tones. This is where many bands of this ilk fall down, but not Anthriel.

The 11-minute ‘Oath Of Darkness’ is even better in my opinion. This is ‘proper’ full-on, no holes barred classic-style progressive metal with a plethora of twists and turns, from dark and brooding atmospheres to triumphant euphoria led by lead guitar solos and rousing keys. Starting with a Mike Oldfield-esque melody, it then lurches forward, building in intensity whilst experimenting with many keyboard-soaked aural textures along its journey. The angry, quasi-gruff vocals add to the aggression but then in come some great melodies to transform the song into something quite excellent, deceptively catchy and thoroughly satisfying.

Tinkling piano, choppy riffs and strong melodies dominate the excellent, slightly more balladic ‘Siren’s Song’, alongside duelling keyboard and guitar solos for which I’ll admit to having a soft spot occasionally. ‘Painted Shadows’ and the angrier follow-up ‘Rhapsody Of Fire’ both revisit those Symphony X influences thanks to strong riffs, layers of key, flamboyant guitar work and plenty of neo-classical affectations, particularly within the former.

‘My Morning Star’ in contrast blasts forth with the kind of symphonic bombast that Nightwish would be proud of, before reining things in to create something altogether more slow-burning and poignant whilst retaining much of the heaviness and catchiness witnessed elsewhere on this record.

It falls to ‘Fallen Souls’ to complete the album. At 19 minutes long, it is the very definition of ‘epic’ but crucially for a track so long, the time most certainly does not drag. There’s simply too much going on for my mind to wander, beginning with an enormously dramatic and cinematic introduction. Extended instrumental passages, tempo changes, virtuosic instrumentalism and symphonic bombast come together in a surprisingly cohesive manner to make this final act a memorable one, with a tiny Haken hint in places. If I’m being picky, I’d have liked a few more memorable melodies within it, similar to those earlier on the album but otherwise it’s a very powerful closing piece of music.

I must admit that I have been left more impressed with ‘Transcendence’ than I thought I would be at the beginning. This is so good in fact, that it might muscle its way into my end-of-year top 30 at this rate. Vibrant, complex, nuanced…this is progressive power metal of a very high standard indeed.

The Score Of Much Metal: 9.0

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

2015 reviews
2016 reviews

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

Structural Disorder – Distance – Album Review

SD Web

Artist: Structural Disorder

Album Title: Distance

Label: Lion Music

Date Of Release: 25th February 2016

Structural Disorder are a name with which I was none too familiar prior to this review. At some point in the past I had reviewed their album ’The Edge Of Sanity’ but it can’t have made that big an impression on me because I cannot remember it at all. However, having delved back into my reviews archive, I soon discovered somewhat red-faced that the Swede’s debut album had been on the receiving end of an amiable review from me a while back. With this in mind and having heard a few positive whispers, I felt compelled to have a listen to latest album ’Distance’. After all, it is rare to be left disappointed by a Swedish progressive metal band. And, joking aside, so it has proved.

Structural Disorder hail from Stockholm and are comprised of Markus Tälth (guitar and vocals),
Erik Arkö (bass and vocals), Kalle Björk (drums) and Hjalmar Birgersson (keyboard, guitar and vocals). Oh, and Johannes West, who is a vocalist as well as playing the acoustic accordion and the electric accordion. Yes, you have read that correctly – this is the unique selling point of Structural Disorder – but let’s delve in and see if it’s a positive USP or not…

If I had to be brutally honest, the accordion is one of my most disliked instruments. It’s right up there with the child’s recorder, the trumpet and the mouth organ as far as loathed instruments go. And yet, much as I have learned to appreciate brass in my rock and metal over the years, I have to concede that the accordion on this record sounds surprisingly good; it is certainly an addition that is unique to Structural Disorder, they manage to pull it off and, in the process embrace the prog philosophy of trying something new in the pursuit of creating their own personal musical vision.

Credit: unknown
Credit: unknown

Aside from the accordion which pops up now and again throughout the record, there is plenty from which I derive pleasure. Theirs is a brand of progressive music that is bathed in keyboards and synths in order to soften the edges and to create a certain amount of atmosphere. Indeed, when the dynamics of a song dictate a depressing of the metal pedal, the ensuing moments of calmer contemplation often display an almost dream-like quality.

That’s not to say that Structural Disorder are soft or metal-lite, because that would be inaccurate. Within the seven compositions that makes up ’Distance’, there are plenty of gratifying guitar chops and well thought-out riffs. The rhythm section is very strong, with the bass offering a lovely rumbling tone and the drums dishing out the occasional double-pedal assault. There’s even the occasional growled vocal, as found within the Middle-Eastern sounding opener ’Desert Rain’. Otherwise, the bulk of the vocals are delivered in a particularly soft and measured clean tone further enhancing that aforementioned dream-like feel to the music.

This all means that the music is imbued with some really nice dynamics and a sense of understated drama. Naturally with progressive metal, there are times when the songs explore extended instrumental passages but I never find them to be overly contrived or excessively self-indulgent.

From start to finish, the album is actually commendably consistent although there are a couple of stand-out moments that I feel compelled to mention. Strangely enough, they feature within the two longest tracks on the album in the form of ’Silence’ and ’Pyrene’. In the case of the former, it is the final third of the nine-minute song that works its magic on me. It features at its heart a relatively simple yet effective recurring melody that repeats until the song closes, all the while being built up to a point where it delivers an electrifying and euphoric crescendo of epic proportions.

In the case of the latter, it is the entire track. It is an ambitious track full of twists and turns but which is built around another deceptively simple melody. The combination of chunky guitar tones, expansive keboards and frequent shifts in intensity are a real winner for me. The vocals soar above the catchy music underneath and I soon find my skin alive with goosebumps.

If I had any small quibbles with ’Distance’, it would be these: firstly, the production could almost be a little more vibrant and strong. As it is, there are times when I feel the both the guitars and the drums lack a little bite and clarity which could ratchet the whole listening experience up a notch. Secondly, there are moments within different songs which sound a little familiar, as if I’ve heard them before somewhere else. But hey, these are very small and minor gripes within the context of a very strong album that has impressed me no end and which definitely won’t fade into the furthest recesses of my mind anytime soon. I therefore recommend that you check out Structural Disorder as soon as possible.

The Score Of Much Metal: 8.25

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

Votum – Ktonik
Fleshgod Apocalypse – King
Rikard Sjoblom – The Unbendable Sleep
Textures – Phenotype
Serenity – Codex Atlanticus
Borknagar – Winter Thrice
The Mute Gods – Do Nothing Till You Hear From Me
Brainstorm – Scary Creatures
Arcade Messiah – II
Phantasma – The Deviant Hearts
Rendezvous Point – Solar Storm
Vanden Plas – Chronicles Of The Immortals: Netherworld II
Antimatter – The Judas Table
Bauda – Sporelights
Waken Eyes – Exodus
Earthside – A Dream In Static
Caligula’s Horse – Bloom
Teramaze – Her Halo
Amorphis – Under The Red Cloud
Spock’s Beard – The Oblivion Particle
Agent Fresco – Destrier
Cattle Decapitation – The Anthropocene Extinction
Between The Buried And Me – Coma Ecliptic
Cradle Of Filth – Hammer Of The Witches
Disarmonia Mundi – Cold Inferno
District 97 – In Vaults
Progoctopus – Transcendence
Big Big Train – Wassail
NightMare World – In The Fullness Of Time
Helloween – My God-Given Right
Triaxis – Zero Hour
Isurus – Logocharya
Arcturus – Arcturian
Kamelot – Haven
Native Construct – Quiet World
Sigh – Graveward
Pantommind – Searching For Eternity
Subterranean Masquerade – The Great Bazaar
Klone – Here Comes The Sun
The Gentle Storm – The Diary
Melechesh – Enki
Enslaved – In Times
Keep Of Kalessin – Epistemology
Lonely Robot – Please Come Home
The Neal Morse Band – The Grand Experiment
Zero Stroke – As The Colours Seep
AudioPlastik – In The Head Of A Maniac
Revolution Saints – Revolution Saints
Mors Principium Est – Dawn of The 5th Era
Arcade Messiah – Arcade Messiah
Triosphere – The Heart Of The Matter
Neonfly – Strangers In Paradise
Knight Area – Hyperdrive
Haken – Restoration
James LaBrie – Impermanent Resonance
Mercenary – Through Our Darkest Days
A.C.T. – Circus Pandemonium
Xerath – III
Big Big Train – English Electric (Part 1)
Thought Chamber – Psykerion
Marcus Jidell – Pictures From A Time Traveller
H.E.A.T – Tearing Down The Walls
Vanden Plas – Chronicles Of The Immortals: Netherworld

Album Of The Year 2013 – Number 17

Welcome one and all to Day 4 of my ‘Album of The Year 2013’ countdown. I hope you’re enjoying and/or agreeing with my choices so far.

If you have missed the previous three instalments, they can be found here:
Day 1 – Number 20
Day 2 – Number 19
Day 3 – Number 18

jidell MARCUS JIDELL
‘Pictures From A Time Traveller’
Lion Music

I’m not normally a fan of instrumental albums. Generally, I find them either boring or over-indulgent. In the worst cases, they can be a disastrous combination of both. And yet, here we are, on day 4 of my ‘Album Of The Year 2013’ countdown and the subject of today’s post is an instrumental album. I didn’t see that coming I can tell you. But then, this album is rather good!

With this debut solo effort, the former Royal Hunt and Evergrey guitarist Marcus Jidell has proved that he is one smooth performer with his chosen musical weapon. On ‘Pictures From A Time Traveller’, the six-string is king but crucially, not at the expense of anything else. Sure there are solos, licks and riffs littering the record but they all have their place, never do they outstay their welcome and they are beautifully executed.

Courtesy of Blabbermouth.net
Courtesy of Blabbermouth.net

What I like so much about this album is the variety that Jidell demonstrates. One minute he is ripping out a powerful full-on metal riff, the next he’s coaxing out some beautifully soft notes or indulging in a bluesy groove. Jidell’s playing on this album is really very expressive and surprisingly emotional at times. It is this coupled with some strong song writing that makes this album the success that it unquestionably is.

Should you require further convincing, you can read my full in-depth review of the album here. But for now, I’ll leave you with another example track from this highly enjoyable record.

Don’t forget, if you missed it last year, you can also check out my Top 20 for 2012 here.

Marcus Jidell – Pictures From A Time Traveller – Album Review

jidellArtist: Marcus Jidell

Album Title: Pictures From A Time Traveller

Label: Lion Music

Year of Release: 2013

When was the last time you actually enjoyed an instrumental rock or metal album? For me, the answer is probably never or, at best, very rarely. In fact, as I type, I am struggling to think of a noteworthy example of the genre. Nope, I give up….or should I say ‘I had nearly given up’? Because here is probably the first instrumental metal album that hand-on-heart, I can say that I like and thoroughly enjoy listening to.

Having never been much of a fan of Royal Hunt, Marcus Jidell was not a musician with which I was overly familiar in my formative metal-loving years. However, in 2010, the six-string maestro joined the band that I still consider to be my all-time favourite, Evergrey. From that moment, the name of Marcus Jidell has necessarily become an important one.

And, despite featuring as a guest musician with a number of other bands throughout his career (most notably Candlemass), “Pictures From A Time Traveller” is Marcus’s first attempt at a solo album. This makes it even more impressive in my opinion and I only hope that Marcus gets the success and the plaudits that this album richly deserves.

Marcus cites a number of influences on his website, from B.B. King to Yngwie Malmsteen, from Miles Davis to Ritchie Blackmore. It is an eclectic mix of styles but one that has helped to shape him into the fascinating and original guitarist that this record clearly and unequivocally reveals him to be.

marcus jidell

“Pictures From A Time Traveller” consists of just seven tracks and a running time of a little over half an hour. Many may baulk at such a brief album but in many ways I think that this has helped to avoid those criticisms that are often levelled at such recordings, that they are boring, long-winded or overly self-indulgent. That’s not the case here, with the focus very much on creating music that makes an impact, creates moods for the listener and showcases the talents of the main man without ever outstaying its welcome. Three tracks clock in at over six minutes in length but never seem too drawn out or contrived. The songs are simply that long for a reason.

For me to go into the minutiae of Marcus’ technique and style would be a disaster. I am not a guitarist. I have a guitar; in fact I have two. I even have a couple of amps, a distortion pedal and a few picks lying around. However, this does not make me a guitarist and I don’t really have the first clue about many of the intricacies at play here. What I do know though, is what I like and what impresses me.

On that score, there is much to talk about with “Pictures From A Time Traveller”. Firstly, Marcus comes across as such an intelligent and expressive guitarist, showing soft and deft touches one minute before unleashing something much more aggressive in the blink of an eye. It is this ability to create light and shade that helps to create rich visual tapestries in the mind’s eye and maintain my attention throughout. The solos are superb – fast, intricate and soaring. Opener “Arctica” builds slowly, the lead-work subtle yet captivating. It transforms into something not too dissimilar to mid-era Evergrey with fast leads and a strong rhythm before unleashing arguably the best solo on the entire record.

However, the most positive aspect is the way in which Marcus can get his guitar to sing. Without a vocalist, the music itself needs to provide that extra dimension and inject those emotive nuances in order to transform the piece of music into a song. It is here that Marcus excels. The very final track with its mix of acoustic and bluesy electric guitar is the very epitome of what I am trying to get at. It is a truly beautiful piece of music.

Away from the guitar-playing of Marcus himself, the other strengths of this record are numerous. The man himself also takes on the roles of bassist, keyboardist, cellist, pianist and percussionist. However the album also benefits from guest performances from some of Marcus’ friends, such as drummer Hannes Van Dahl (Evergrey), bassist Johan Niemann (Evergrey) and keyboardist Andre Andersen (Royal Hunt). Strong as they are, these guest performances never get in the way of the focal point of the songs and the album as a whole.

Then there’s also the song writing itself which is great throughout, blending a number of styles together seamlessly, from the more out-and-out metallic groove of “Space Dog” to the 70s hard rock undertones of “Huldra (Ruler Of The Forest)”, all brought together via the common thread of great melodies, infectious hooks and a tangible ‘joie-de-vivre’.

For the first time, I find myself in the position of being able to recommend an instrumental metal album to you. Congratulations Marcus Jidell, it has been a long time coming.

The Score of Much Metal:

9.0

Take a listen to a sampler of “Pictures From A Time Traveller” here.

My Top 20 of 2012 – Number 11

Despite it now being 2013, we have reached the halfway stage in my top 20 rock & metal albums of 2012. How exciting!

If you’ve missed any of my previous posts in this countdown, links can be found at the bottom of this post.

Dockers Guild 1Docker’s Guild
‘The Mystic Technocracy (Season 1: The Age Of Ignorance)’
Lion Music

There is no explaining some things; they just happen. Like this, an unknown act finding it’s way into my top 20 at position 11. The work of one man, Douglas R. Docker, ‘The Mystic Technocracy’ is an ambitious prog rock opera that features a wealth of guests from the world of rock/metal including Goran Edman (ex-Yngwie Malmsteen), Amanda Somerville, Guthrie Govan (Asia) and Tony Mills (TNT).

Dockers Guild 2

With a keyboard-heavy core, this album draws influences from the likes of Yes, early Genesis and, more currently, Arjen Lucassen, blending them with inspiration from West End musicals, 70s pop and AOR, pulling it all together into a 15 track delight. The concept is classic prog, exploring the effect of blind faith within three of the main human religions against the science-fiction-inspired backdrop of a silicon-based life form which created religion as a way of controlling, manipulating and ultimately destroying humanity.

It may sound bonkers and a little over-the-top and I certainly had my doubts before giving it a proper listen. And then, it all began to make sense and now, every time I listen, I smile, I chuckle and I sing. Very badly.

If you’ve missed any of my previous posts, they can be found here:

Day 9 (modern extreme metal)
Day 8 (UK thrash metal/NWOBHM)
Day 7 (Norwegian progressive black metal)
Day 6 (Prog Rock/Metal)
Day 5 (Melodic Hard Rock)
Day 4 (Symphonic Folk black metal)
Day 3 (Modern Death/Thrash Metal)
Day 2 (Melodic Prog Metal)
Day 1 (Dark/Doom Metal)

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