Sinisthra – The Broad And Beaten Way – Album Review

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Artist: Sinisthra

Album Title: The Broad And Beaten Way

Label: Rockshots Records

Date of Release: 15 May 2020

Cards on the table, if this album didn’t feature Tomi Joutsen of Amorphis on vocals, I’d probably never have looked at it twice. The name is not one with which I am familiar and the cover is simply awful, not something that would draw me in on a curious whim that’s for sure. But how could I possibly ignore an album featuring one of my favourite vocalists in metal, from one of those bands that I have followed for many years and have loved since the turn of the millennium? The answer is that I couldn’t and so here we are, with a review of ‘The Broad And Beaten Way’ by Sinisthra.

‘The Broad And Beaten Way’ is actually the sophomore release from Finland’s Sinisthra, and it comes an eye-wateringly long fifteen years after the debut, ‘Last of the Stories of Long Past Glories’. But I guess that’s what happens when your singer’s career takes off elsewhere. The band in 2020 is comprised of Joutsen alongside principal songwriter and guitarist Markku Mäkinen, guitarist Marko Välimäki, drummer Erkki Virta, keyboardist Timo Vainio, and bassist Janne Telen.

The accompanying press release suggests that the music on ‘The Broad And Beaten Way’ would find favour with fans of Katatonia, Anathema, and Green Carnation alongside the inevitable Amorphis comparisons. However, whilst there are some nods towards Amorphis due to the unique vocals of Joutsen, it is fair to say that Sinisthra have a strong whiff of the original about them. In fact, I might have brought this review to you much sooner had it not been for the fact that I spent ages trying to get to grips with the music on this album and fully understand it. Oh, and it’s rather good too, so I have thoroughly enjoyed prolonging the process just a little if I’m being honest.

Before I get on to the music itself, it’s worth mentioning the lyrical content, as ‘The Broad And Beaten Way’ is a concept album, taking ‘inspiration from the fall of man and from leading a chaotic and self-destructive modern day life and trying to find solid ground and perhaps even some peace of mind.’ Not exactly easy listening or upbeat but then, neither is the musical accompaniment to the words as I will now seek to explain…

Miika Storm Photography
Miika Storm Photography

What I find difficult to grasp is the way in which this album is both heavy and yet smooth at the very same time. Or, to put it another way, the music doesn’t feel like it is all that heavy. At various points, we are treated to some proper riffage, a pounding rhythm section and plenty of those ingredients you’d expect to hear from the more extreme ends of the metal spectrum. But thanks to the melodies, the clean and mellifluous voice of Joutsen, touches of 70s prog, and the songwriting prowess of Sinisthra, I feel engaged throughout and never battered or bruised.

The lead ‘single’ is the thirteen-minute behemoth entitled ‘Closely Guarded Distance’. And despite apparently being a bastardised mash-up of a number of previously unfinished songs written over the past few years, it is easily my favourite of the six compositions on ‘The Broad And Beaten Way’. According to the band, it is comprised of three sections, each telling a different part of the story. Djent-like riffs can be heard in the opening passage, making it one of the most aggressive sections on the album, despite extended periods where it is just a minimalist backdrop against which Joutsen croons. The mid-section slows things down a touch and introduces some bold synth sounds, almost 80s hammer-horror in tone, conjuring images of ‘spooky’ ghosts in the process. But importantly, it’s at this point where the melodies start to take effect. The proceedings are led by the voice of Joutsen on top of gentle piano notes, with a few select lead guitar notes and some well-placed synth sounds. You can sense that something is lurking just around the corner, and you’d be right, as the epic track erupts into a stunning crescendo. Keys, guitars, bass and drums combine to create a stirring aural backdrop, whilst Joutsen adds the icing to the cake with some stunning vocals; his long-held notes add emotion and a touch of drama whilst behind him, the melodies are simply sublime.

By contrast, ‘Halfway To Somewhere Else’ is utterly beautiful in its fragility across 90% of its life. The song is testament to the power of simplicity; when you combine a captivating voice with a simple melody and allow it to take flight, the results can be truly magical. The same could be said for the opening gambit, ‘Eterne’ which, whilst heavier and more upbeat in terms of tempo and aggression, it is one of those songs that is lofted high upon the wings of a killer chorus. The voice of Joutsen is allowed to soar and the results are brilliant, instantly reminding me of why I love his delivery and tone, especially when allowed to break loose and fly expansively across the musical landscape below. ‘Morningfrail’ delivers some great chunky, chugging riffs along the way and eventually opens up into something more expansive at the death, with elegant melodies drenched in keys.

A Finnish record wouldn’t be a Finnish record without a solid dollop of melancholia and ‘The Broad And Beaten Way’ is bathed in misery, although you have probably gathered as much already. But unlike other compatriots, there’s a definite warmth to the material that counterbalances the sadness. It means that you can sense genuine hope and positivity within the gloom, something I have grabbed hold of as I listen. Just take a moment to drink in the final track, ‘Ephemeral’, a song that is undeniably solemn, but is equally strangely uplifting and totally beautiful.

I just hope that ‘The Broad And Beaten Way’ doesn’t get missed or overlooked because that would be a tragedy. The music on this record from Sinisthra is truly excellent and deserves as wide an audience as possible. So please, do me a favour and hunt this down, because if you’re a fan of heavy music with intelligence and beauty, you’ll not regret it.

The Score of Much Metal: 90%

Check out my reviews from 2020 right here:

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

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

2019 reviews
2018 reviews
2017 reviews
2016 reviews
2015 reviews

Darkwater – Human – Album Review

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Artist: Darkwater

Album Title: Human

Label: Ulterium Records

Date of Release: 1 March 2019

The wait has, at times, felt interminable and I did begin to wonder if Darkwater would ever return to grace our ears with a new record to follow-up the majestic ‘Where Stories End’. However, the better part of nine years later, our patience has been rewarded with album number three, entitled ‘Human’. Mind you, it has taken me almost as long to publish this review, so I consider us even.

Seriously, ‘Human’ was another album that I listened to, really liked and wanted to review, but which fell victim to my personal circumstances and lack of writing inspiration. But here we are, better late than never.

Long term fans of the Swedish quintet will certainly not be left disappointed because ‘Human’ is chock full of all of those wonderful elements that typified the first two Darkwater records. As such, expect to hear a collection of tracks that deliver plenty of melody atop a framework that is heavy, crunchy, progressive and layered with lush synths and keys. Only on ‘Human’, there’s even more sophistication and maturity at play, meaning that after a few months of listening, I can confidently declare it to be the best release of the band’s career.

‘In Front of You’ carries a wonderful groove thanks to some of the strongest riffs on the entire record. It is impossible, I have found, to listen and not nod your head. And ‘Alive (Part II)’ is infectious as hell thanks to a superbly cheeky central melody. It also features Henrik Bath’s expressive and smooth vocals as well as a moody lead guitar solo that I adore. The melodic intent within the chorus to ‘Burdens’, coupled with a ferocious energy and solo flamboyance from keys and guitar makes this another stand-out moment for me worthy of singling out.

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What can easily be overlooked when listening to such a smooth-sounding album like this is just how talented the musicians are; each member of the band delivers a very strong performance which, when partnered with a really strong, clear mix, only adds to the professionalism that oozes out of ‘Human’.

If I have ever had a niggle with the output of Darkwater, it has been the sheer length of their records. I know it seems churlish to criticise a band for creating too much material but at 78 minutes, ‘Human’ is a mammoth undertaking even for a band with progressive intent.

That aside, there isn’t very much to fault with ‘Human’. It is everything and more that we hoped a talented and consistent band like Darkwater would produce. I listen to it frequently with my prized signed CD never far from the stereo. I have just two hopes: firstly, that ‘Human’ becomes a springboard for the band to garner more attention from the wider metal community. And secondly, that we don’t have to wait another nine years for another studio album, because this is too good and talented a band to live without.

The Score of Much Metal: 90%

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

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

Krisiun – Scourge of the Enthroned – Album Review

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Artist: Krisiun

Album Title: Scourge of the Enthroned

Label: Century Media Records

Date of Release: 7 September 2018

There are few bands that can boast a line-up that has remained unchanged for their entire career. However, aside from a brief, ill-fated experiment as a quartet, Krisiun have always been a trio. What’s more, the three protagonists are all related – bassist/vocalist Alex Camargo, drummer Max Kolesne and guitarist Moyses Kolesne are brothers not only in extreme metal, but by birth as well. Brazilian outfit Krisiun are therefore the very epitome of ‘tight-knit’, a truly unified unit that has remained thus throughout their lengthy career that has seen them release no fewer than ten albums over three decades. ‘Scourge of the Enthroned’ is studio album number eleven.

If you thought that the ravages of time might have had a detrimental effect on the potency of Krisiun’s no-nonsense old school death metal, then allow ‘Scourge of the Enthroned’ to prove you very wrong indeed. For 38 minutes, Alex, Max and Moyses take great delight in bulldozing the unsuspecting listener with some brutal, savage and unrelenting extreme music, the stuff of nightmares if you happen to be anyone within a 3-mile radius as I blast this record from the speakers from inside the Mansion of Much Metal at significant volume.

The one constant that I find most beguiling about Krisiun, has to be the drumming of Max Kolesne. The guy is quite literally all over the show, delivering a cogent lesson in the art of pummelling. What I particularly like is that Max’s delivery is not one-dimensional, as he is happy mixing the ubiquitous death metal blastbeats with elaborate fills, slower beats and an approach that comes across at times as almost unhinged and out-of-control. It’s all an illusion of course as the drumming remains sharp and precise, but I really enjoy the more frenetic moments when things threaten to go horribly wrong and descend into madness, only to remain on-point throughout.

That said, I find it hard to criticise any of the performances on ‘Scourge of the Enthroned’, because this is easily one of their best releases within their lengthening back catalogue. From the opening, slow and measured beginning of the opening title track, I knew that I was going to enjoy this album more than others from the Krisiun past. The deliberate intro is soon replaced by an absolutely frenetic and uncompromising blast of dirty, gritty death metal. The riffs are not overly complicated but they hit the mark, ranging from fast and furious to grinding and groovy, always complimented by a rich, full-bodied tone. I also find favour in the way the track frequently differs in tempo, creating an undulating feel that seems to toy with us as listeners. One minute we’re suffering whiplash, the next we’re nodding our heads in slow, appreciative rhythm. As always, Alex Camargo’s gruff bark is resonant, almost surprisingly so, adding another layer of extremity on top of an already extreme listen.

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‘Demonic III’ begins with a glorious machine-gun riff that’s joined in total unison by the drums and bass of Alex. It is the prelude to a track that is a genuine showcase for the brothers’ individual technical abilities as well as a demonstration of how they are able to work together to create something tight, interesting and nasty as all hell.

It takes until the third track, ‘Devouring Faith’ for Moyses to unleash a proper lead guitar solo. It appears right at the outset and is a wailing, squealing and vaguely unhinged affair deliberately loose-sounding despite the apparent technique involved. And, if the meaty, ominous guitar tones that usher ‘Slay The Prophet’ into existence don’t stir up any primeval feelings within you, then perhaps old school death metal isn’t for you after all. As the track develops, it becomes increasingly chaotic but, as is their way, true chaos never arrives as the brothers keep things in check thanks to their combined abilities.

Other highlights include the thunderous bass work within the swirling and eddying tornado of a track that’s ‘A Thousand Graves’, the pronounced groove and exuberant lead solos of ‘Abysmal Misery (Foretold Destiny) and the final cut, ‘Whirlwind of Immortality’, which is easily as extreme as Krisiun have ever sounded, whilst being as dynamically interesting and varied as the opening title track, if not more so thanks to a few more nuanced moments within the carnage.

A final word has to go to the production courtesy of Andy Classen, who has worked with the Brazilians in the past as well as other luminaries such as Belphegor and Tankard. It has to be said that this is one of the most vibrant-sounding death metal albums I’ve heard of late. It is a great blend that captures the earthy, more organic nature of Krisiun’s material, whilst also keeping a clarity that means that the music doesn’t descend into a muddy, indecipherable mess.

After the ‘meh’ feelings that the last couple of albums induced, I wasn’t necessarily expecting too much with this new record. However, ‘Scourge of the Enthroned’ has pleasantly surprised me to the point that it has rekindled my respect and admiration for these veteran stalwarts of the death metal scene. Sometimes, I need some brutality in my life and when the mood takes me, Krisiun and ‘Scourge of the Enthroned’ fits the bill very nicely indeed.

The Score of Much Metal: 8.5

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

2017 reviews
2016 reviews
2015 reviews

Kingcrow – The Persistence
Cast The Stone – Empyrean Atrophy
Omnium Gatherum – The Burning Cold
Helion Prime – Terror of the Cybernetic Space Monster
Madder Mortem – Marrow
A Dying Planet – Facing The Incurable
Árstíðir – Nivalis
Mob Rules – Beast Reborn
The Spirit – Sounds From The Vortex
Aethereus – Absentia
Unanimated – Annihilation
Manticora – To Kill To Live To Kill
Rivers of Nihil – Where Owls Know My Name
Halcyon Way – Bloody But Unbowed
Michael Romeo – War Of The Worlds, Part 1
Redemption – Long Night’s Journey Into Day
Distorted Harmony – A Way Out
Tomorrow’s Eve – Mirror of Creation III – Project Ikaros
Atrocity – Okkult II
Lux Terminus – The Courage To Be
Kataklysm – Meditations
Marduk – Viktoria
Midas Fall – Evaporate
The Sea Within – The Sea Within
Haken – L-1VE
Follow The Cipher – Follow The Cipher
Spock’s Beard – Noise Floor
Ihsahn – Amr
The Fierce And The Dead – The Euphoric
Millennial Reign – The Great Divide
Subsignal – La Muerta
At The Gates – To Drink From The Night Itself
Dimmu Borgir – Eonian
Hekz – Invicta
Widow’s Peak – Graceless EP
Ivar Bjørnson and Einar Selvik – Hugsjá
Frequency Drift – Letters to Maro
Æpoch – Awakening Inception
Crematory – Oblivion
Wallachia – Monumental Heresy
Skeletal Remains – Devouring Mortality
MØL – Jord
Aesthesys – Achromata
Kamelot – The Shadow Theory
Barren Earth – A Complex of Cages
Memoriam – The Silent Vigil
Kino – Radio Voltaire
Borealis – The Offering
W.E.T. – Earthrage
Auri – Auri
Purest of Pain – Solipsis
Susperia – The Lyricist
Structural Disorder – …And The Cage Crumbles In the Final Scene
Necrophobic – Mark of the Necrogram
Divine Realm – Nordicity
Oceans of Slumber – The Banished Heart
Poem – Unique
Gleb Kolyadin – Gleb Kolyadin
Apathy Noir – Black Soil
Deathwhite – For A Black Tomorrow
Conjurer – Mire
Jukub Zytecki – Feather Bed/Ladder Head
Lione/Conti – Lione/Conti
Usurpress – Interregnum
Kælling – Lacuna
Vinide – Reveal
Armored Dawn – Barbarians In Black
Long Distance Calling – Boundless
In Vain – Currents
Harakiri For The Sky – Arson
Orphaned Land – Unsung Prophets And Dead Messiahs
Tribulation – Down Below
Machine Head – Catharsis
Bjorn Riis – Coming Home EP
Twilight’s Embrace – Penance EP
Bloodshot Dawn – Reanimation
Rise of Avernus – Eigengrau
Arch Echo – Arch Echo
Asenblut – Legenden
Bleeding Gods – Dodekathlon
Watain – Trident Wolf Eclipse

Daydream XI – The Circus of the Tattered and Torn – Album Review

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Artist: Daydream XI

Album Title: The Circus Of The Tattered And Torn

Label: Sensory Records

Date Of Release: 22 September 2017

There’s an age-old saying that ‘first impressions last’ and furthermore, that once made, that first impression can last a lifetime. Fortunately for the young Brazilian prog metal band Daydream XI, there’s another saying which suggests that first impressions can be deceiving.

To begin with, there’s the opening ‘track’ to their sophomore album, ‘The Circus of the Tattered and Torn’. Entitled ‘Ticket 000011’, it is a spoken-word intro piece that sets a concept in motion. The story involves a circus master and a new apprentice, but the wider concept looks at the way we, as humans, are drawn to others more through their flaws than through their positive traits. It’s an interesting concept but is initially hampered by this intro which is, if I’m, honest, really awful. The voices are over-the-top, particularly that of the circus master, Phillip, and I still recoil in horror if I forget to skip it.

Then there was the overall first impression of the music that I had after the first full spin. It wasn’t positive at all. My mental notes essentially amounted to ‘too much’, ‘too ambitious’ and ‘the melodies are not strong enough’. I was decidedly underwhelmed. The situation wasn’t helped by the cover artwork either which I still think is decidedly ‘meh’.

However, after plenty of insistent badgering by a follower of my site, I decided to give the album another try. After all, if some people liked this record so much, I reasoned that there must be something about it that I had missed first time around. Would my first impressions be changed then? In a word, yes. I still don’t think that ‘The Circus Of The Tattered and Torn’ is the unequivocal masterpiece that others are declaring it to be, but it is certainly worthy of closer examination and, overall, is a much more enjoyable listen than I first thought. It’s ok, I can admit when I’m wrong.

Comprised of vocalist/guitarist Tiago Masseti, guitarist Marcelo Pereira and drummer Bruno Giordano, Daydream XI take their cue from the likes of Dream Theater, Symphony X and a plethora of other bands to bring their symphonic power-tinged progressive metal to life. For a band still so young, theirs is an ambitious blueprint and, for the most part, it works very well.

Fortunately, within a few seconds of ‘Open The Curtains’, the toe-curling spoken-word intro is forgotten as we’re bombarded by some incredibly technical and intricate musicianship from every corner. The rhythm section is particularly impressive and the production actually does both the bass (Benhur Lima) and drums justice, allowing them to provide a distinctly flamboyant backbone upon which to build. The initial lead guitar work is striking, as are the synths that add atmosphere and an oddly creepy circus vibe, entirely authentic to the concept story. The ebb and flow of what is essentially an instrumental piece is very welcome and it segues into ‘Trust Forged Knife’ with real aplomb.

It is here that the penny begins to drop after a few concentrated spins and I start to really warm to these obviously talented South Americans. The sheer force with which it opens is rather irresistible. Masseti finally gets to open his lungs and immediately draws comparisons with Russell Allen thanks to that gritty edge to his delivery. However, with a very capable range, he has ability to also sing more delicately and bring his uniqueness to bear. The melodies that creep through when the track quietens down in the mid-section grow on me with every listen to the point that I can’t wait to listen again.

There’s barely time to breathe because almost immediately a galloping and energetic bass line confronts us to usher in ‘Painted Smile’. The ensuing melodies are much more theatrical in nature with a vaguely waltz-like feel to them. The moody atmospheres are very prominent and there’s a similarity to the work of Beyond Twilight and their ‘For The Love of Art and the Making’ album in the overall vibe of the track.

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At well over an hour in length, you certainly get value for money with ‘The Circus of the Tattered and Torn’, although for some, this might seem a touch excessive. Indeed, I do think that the album could do with a bit of ruthless editing here and there to bring the running time down to a slightly more succinct length. But then, there are very few points within the album that I find my attention wandering. Even the piano and vocal interlude that’s ‘Windblown’ is worthy of its place on the album thanks to a build-up of intensity in the latter stages accompanied by a killer vocal melody from Masseti.

The riffs on this record courtesy of Masseti and Pereira are generally of an excellent standard, with ‘A Cup Of Agony’ acting as a superb example; full of crunch and brim full of vigour, they give the song a satisfyingly muscular appearance to counterbalance the intricacies and technicalities within the bombastic composition.

At over ten minutes in length, ‘Overhauling Wounds’ is not the longest song on this album but it is certainly one of my favourites. It has a slightly less intense and bombastic sheen to it thanks to the inclusion of acoustic guitars, an occasional foray into jazz territory and some relaxed but lush synths providing a lovely warmth to proceedings. It also allows Masseti a little more room in which to open his ample lungs and soar over the music with epic results.

The overt blues influence within ‘Collector Of Souls’ is yet another reminder of just how multi-faceted Daydream XI are. It isn’t a favourite, in spite of the crushing riffing, but I can admire the ambition that it represents. ‘Forgettable’ on the other hand displays a much more ‘classic’ progressive metal blueprint, not dissimilar to the likes of Dream Theater in the way that it manages to blend heaviness with subtle complexity and a certain amount of sophisticated serenity.

‘The Circus of the Tattered and Torn’ is then brought to a close via the truly epic 15-minute title track. What better way to complete such an ambitious and detailed record than with a composition that distills the preceding ten acts into one last full-on, over-the-top hurrah? It features plenty of drama thanks to the clever use of light and shade, strong atmospheric synths and is topped off by some musicianship out of the very top drawer.

After a very sticky start that led to me initially shelving it, ‘The Circus of the Tattered and the Torn’ has worked its way into my affections rather insidiously. But then, when I’m faced with an album of properly progressive music that’s genuinely heavy, is this really a surprise? I still wish that a few of the tracks made more of some of the melodies that are, in my opinion, a little underutilised. But that’s just personal taste and, to some extent, is me being a little churlish. If you like progressive metal to be bold, ambitious, riff-heavy and technically very adept, you will need to hear this album. It is most definitely the album to put Daydream XI into the well-deserved spotlight. I’m already looking forward to album number three…

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

CyHra – Letters To Myself
Devoid – Cup of Tears
Ne Obliviscaris – Urn
Sons Of Apollo – Psychotic Symphony
Enslaved – E
Samael – Hegemony
Vuur – In This Moment We Are Free – Cities
Power Quest – Sixth Dimension
Iris Divine – The Static And The Noise
Daniel Cavanagh – Monochrome
White Moth Black Butterfly – Atone
Jag Panzer – The Deviant Chord
Vulture Industries – Stranger Times
Anubis Gate – Covered In Black
Protean Collective – Collapse
Cradle Of Filth – Cryproriana – The Seductiveness of Decay
TDW & Dreamwalkers Inc. – The Antithetic Affiliation
Caligula’s Horse – In Contact
Nocturnal Rites – Phoenix
Arch Enemy – Will To Power
Threshold – Legends Of The Shires
H.E.A.T – Into The Great Unknown
Dyscarnate – With All Their Might
Subterranean Masquerade – Vagabond
Adagio – Life
Paradise Lost – Medusa
The Haunted – Strength In Numbers
Serious Black – Magic
Leprous – Malina
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

CyHra – Letters To Myself – Album Review

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Artist: CyHra

Album Title: Letters To Myself

Label: Spinefarm Records

Date of Release: 20 October 2017

I have been desperate to review this album ever since I knew of its existence, several months ago, maybe even longer. Unfortunately, until recently, I only had access via an Internet stream, so my opportunity to listen to it was limited to say the least. I hate reviewing music without having first given it a full, detailed listen, so I delayed until I had better access to it. And huzzah, with download access, I have now been able to absorb this record sufficiently to offer my considered thoughts about it.

The reason I was so excited about the prospect of this album is because of the clientele involved. I seem to have used the dreaded word ‘supergroup’ a few times recently, but that term is very much justified here. CyHra is the collective noun chosen for a quartet of musicians comprised of ex-Amaranthe vocalist Jake E, the ex-In Flames duo of guitarist Jesper Stromblad and bassist Peter Iwers, and Luca Turilli’s Rhapsody’s drummer Alex Landenburg. CyHra was initially the brainchild of Jake E and Jesper Stromblad when, after chatting, they realised that they shared a similar vision and decided to start a new band. Iwers and Landenburg were quickly added to the roster and ‘Letter To Myself’ is the resultant debut album.

At this stage, let’s tackle headlong the elephant in this particular room: If, like me, you have fallen out of love a little with In Flames’ recent output, you’ll probably want to know immediately whether or not the inclusion of Stromblad and Iwers means that CyHra will directly scratch that early In Flames itch. The short answer is ‘no’, it won’t. The longer answer is ‘it might a little bit here and there, if you’re prepared to embrace other influences alongside’.

Essentially, ‘Letters To Myself’ can best be described as a heavy, modern melodic metal record. And, I have to say, it’s a damn fine one at that, too.

Of course, given the musicians involved, it’s no surprise to report there is more than a hint of melodeath to be heard, particularly in the now-familiar guitar playing of Stromblad. His chosen guitar tones definitely recall those heady days of the In Flames ‘Colony’/‘Clayman’ eraon occasion but that’s pretty much where the similarities end. Overall, there’s more of a mainstream, alternative vibe to the 12 tracks that adds an interesting dimension to proceedings and keeps things fresher than they otherwise could have been.

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With Jake E at the helm, the Amaranthe influence is hard to ignore too, certainly given how ridiculously catchy much of the material on ‘Letters To Myself’ is. I guarantee that there are several tracks that you’ll be singing long after the album has ended. The addition of very prominent modern-sounding keyboards and electronic samples adds further parallels to the Amaranthe-isms, but after a few spins, it becomes clear that CyHra do actually have their own identity.

In that respect, I have found that the best way to listen to ‘Letters To Myself’ is to forget the past, forget the pedigree of the musicians and instead focus on the material offered, judging it on its own merits. If you do this, the listening experience is far more enjoyable.

To begin with, the opening trio of songs are an absolute blast; immediately likeable and full of power and intensity. They hit with full force and are instantly irresistible as a result.

‘Karma’ kicks things off in real style. An electronic beat is quickly joined by Stromblad’s guitars in an exuberant opening, the most ‘In Flames’ section on the entire disc for my money. After a smouldering verse, the enormous chorus acts like a collective venting and release of steam. Jake E powers above the strong Landenburg/Iwers rhythms in style with his trademark delivery, whilst Stromblad cuts loose, eventually delivering a soulful, nuanced solo once the second chorus has departed. If you’re not grinning from ear to ear by the time this track ends, you’ll know that this record is not for you.

Up next is ‘Heartrage’, another up-beat, up-tempo track that features some intriguing drumming from Landenburg, not to mention some lush atmospheric keys. The chorus is another belter; a moody and intense affair with huge hooks that burrow deeper with every passing listen.

The final cut within this stellar opening trio is ‘Here To Save You’ and if the previous track boasted a moody, hook-laden chorus, this composition pushes things another notch further. It opens with a lovely acoustic guitar intro before the familiar electronics duet with Stromblad’s chunky riffs. But it is the sprawling, memorable chorus that takes the spotlight with Jake E given the space to soar effortlessly over a devastating and surprisingly sophisticated melody.

There are plenty of other great tracks that could be mentioned, such as the bombastic and catchy-as-hell ‘Muted Life’, the muscular mid-tempo stomp of the title track and ‘Dark Clarity’ with yet more potent melodic sensibilities and superb, striking lead guitar work. Then there’s the enormous feel-good anthem ‘Black Wings’ to contend with, another track that gets bigger and better the more you listen.

If I have a slight reservation about ‘Letters To Myself’, it’s the fact that the record feels a little like it fizzles out towards the end. Instead of bring things to a close with a real bang, the last few tracks don’t quite deliver in the same way as the opening songs do. This is not to say that the likes of ‘Inside A Lullaby’ and ‘Dead To Me’ are of significantly lesser quality, because they are not. I just wish that this album ended in a similar vein to the way in which it began, namely knock-your-socks-off fantastic.

Nevertheless, it would take someone churlish to declare ‘Letters To Myself’ as anything other than a success. You can feel that the musicians involved are having fun playing this material and that translates into the end product without doubt. It may be polished and unashamedly modern but with ‘Letters To Myself’, CyHra have produced a debut album of modern melodic metal that has planted a great big smile on my face. And isn’t that enough?

The Score of Much Metal: 8.75

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

2015 reviews
2016 reviews

Devoid – Cup of Tears
Ne Obliviscaris – Urn
Sons Of Apollo – Psychotic Symphony
Enslaved – E
Samael – Hegemony
Vuur – In This Moment We Are Free – Cities
Power Quest – Sixth Dimension
Iris Divine – The Static And The Noise
Daniel Cavanagh – Monochrome
White Moth Black Butterfly – Atone
Jag Panzer – The Deviant Chord
Vulture Industries – Stranger Times
Anubis Gate – Covered In Black
Protean Collective – Collapse
Cradle Of Filth – Cryproriana – The Seductiveness of Decay
TDW & Dreamwalkers Inc. – The Antithetic Affiliation
Caligula’s Horse – In Contact
Nocturnal Rites – Phoenix
Arch Enemy – Will To Power
Threshold – Legends Of The Shires
H.E.A.T – Into The Great Unknown
Dyscarnate – With All Their Might
Subterranean Masquerade – Vagabond
Adagio – Life
Paradise Lost – Medusa
The Haunted – Strength In Numbers
Serious Black – Magic
Leprous – Malina
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

Devoid – Cup Of Tears – Album Review

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Artist: Devoid

Album Title: Cup Of Tears

Label: Melodic Rock Records

Date Of Release: 13 October 2017

It can be very easy to lose sight of one’s core principles when faced with an ever-increasing list of albums to review. However, every now and then, an album will come along out of nowhere to remind me that I set up my site to feature bands that I like and that I deem worthy of some exposure, regardless of their relative fame or the label that they are signed with. The album in question is ‘Cup of Tears’, the debut record from French melodic metal band Devoid.

Devoid is the brainchild of guitarist Shad Mae and features vocalist Carsten ‘Lizard’ Schulz, keyboardist Jorris Guilbaud, bassist Ben Toquet and drummer Ben Wanders. But that only tells part of the story because Shad Mae has managed to enlist the services of some very highly respected guitarists to guest on the record. As such, the music on ‘Cup of Tears’ is littered with the talents of Mattias Ia Eklundh (Freak Kitchen), Daniel Palmqvist (Beyond The Katakomb), Magnus Karlsson (Primal Fear) and Henrik Danhage (Evergrey).

Put all these musicians together and they have created an album that should find favour with fans of melodic heavy metal, particularly those who enjoy plenty of guitar histrionics and layers of keys. It isn’t the most original of albums but what it lacks in uniqueness, it more than makes up for with strong compositions that become rather irresistible thanks to strong melodies, big, memorable hook-laden choruses and the vaguest hint of prog.

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I was approached by Shad Mae to review ‘Cup of Tears’ and during our brief exchanges, we realised we had a love of Evergrey in common. Therefore, in light of this and with the inclusion of Henrik Danhage as a guest, it will come as no surprise that the Swedish Gods (in my opinion) are one of the biggest influences on the sound of Devoid. We’re not talking ‘clone’ territory, but there are plenty of obvious reference points, such as the dark tones within ‘Religion’ for example, the overall vibe and riffs of the muscular ‘Colours Fade To Grey’ or the tinkling keys within ‘Agony’ which are a spit of Evergrey’s ‘Mark of the Triangle’. But in addition to Evergrey, I do hear other references including hints of In Flames or Soilwork in the opening riffs of ‘Collective Heart’ and even early Nightwish and Tristania when the symphonic arrangements become even more pronounced, such as within ‘Religion’

Fortunately for Devoid, the song writing in general is strong enough to withstand the criticism that might come their way for these obvious homages to put it kindly. Indeed, the more I listen to ‘Cup Of Tears’, the more I find myself enjoying it and more often than not, I get caught up in the exuberance of the material, not to mention the huge melodies that are worth the entrance fee alone. Just about every one of the 12 tracks has a hook that squarely hits the mark and ensures that I come back for more.

Led by the very adept vocals of Carsten ‘Lizard’ Schulz, ‘Cup Of Tears’ is also an extremely consistent record, where the quality is maintained by and large from the beginning to the end; there are very few occasions where I feel that the flow is halted by a poor or substandard track. This is, of course, aided by a surprisingly strong and clear production that allows each of the instruments to shine.

Favourite songs would have to include ‘Otherworld’ with its powerful riffing and superb, synth-drenched sprawling chorus whilst ‘Mind Keeper’ catches the ear with the addition of an unexpected yet thoroughly welcome Scottish-sounding instrumentation. ‘The Clock Is Ticking’ meanwhile benefits from an elegant acoustic-guitar led intro before exploding in a blaze of lead guitar flamboyance atop a muscular rhythm section. Plus, it seems to go without saying that the bridge and chorus to this track is immediate ear candy.

In short, Devoid do not reinvent the melodic metal wheel. However, they do provide a massive amount of aural enjoyment thanks to a winning combination of quality song writing, strong individual performances and plenty of irresistible hooks. The result is a debut album that has surprised me and impressed me in equal parts. Do yourselves a favour and check Devoid out, because the chances are you’ll be impressed too.

The Score Of Much Metal: 8.5

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

2015 reviews
2016 reviews

Ne Obliviscaris – Urn
Sons Of Apollo – Psychotic Symphony
Enslaved – E
Samael – Hegemony
Vuur – In This Moment We Are Free – Cities
Power Quest – Sixth Dimension
Iris Divine – The Static And The Noise
Daniel Cavanagh – Monochrome
White Moth Black Butterfly – Atone
Jag Panzer – The Deviant Chord
Vulture Industries – Stranger Times
Anubis Gate – Covered In Black
Protean Collective – Collapse
Cradle Of Filth – Cryproriana – The Seductiveness of Decay
TDW & Dreamwalkers Inc. – The Antithetic Affiliation
Caligula’s Horse – In Contact
Nocturnal Rites – Phoenix
Arch Enemy – Will To Power
Threshold – Legends Of The Shires
H.E.A.T – Into The Great Unknown
Dyscarnate – With All Their Might
Subterranean Masquerade – Vagabond
Adagio – Life
Paradise Lost – Medusa
The Haunted – Strength In Numbers
Serious Black – Magic
Leprous – Malina
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

Ne Obliviscaris – Urn – Album Review

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Artist: Ne Obliviscaris

Album Title: Urn

Label: Season Of Mist

Date Of Release: 27 October 2017

Many column inches have been filled with commentary about Ne Obliviscaris over the past year or so after the Australians announced a ‘patron crowd funding campaign’ to essentially fund them to be full-time musicians. The initiative was designed to raise enough money to pay the technical progressive death metal band a wage to allow them the time to write a new record and continue touring. The idea polarized opinion but despite the naysayers, the Melbourne-based band has seemingly succeeded with the venture because here we are with the quintet’s third album, ‘Urn’.

Personally, I am completely ambivalent to things like crowdfunding campaigns or the commercial decisions of bands full stop. The most important thing for me is the music. So, if a band wants to raise money to live with penguins in an effort to find the inspiration to write new music, that’s fine by me. So long as the final result is not a letdown of course.

As such, I don’t come to this review with an agenda or any negativity towards Ne Obliviscaris. Far from it; I rather respect their transparency and their desire to succeed. Heck, if I could earn some kind of living from this website, I’d probably jump at the opportunity.

Anyway, enough chewing the cud, allow me to turn to that which is most important: the music.

It is fair to say that ‘Urn’ does not have it easy. Any album asked to follow the exceptional ‘Citadel’ would find it tough, especially when you also add a thick layer of feverish anticipation and expectation from the loyal fan base.

But rather than be rushed, these five Australians have taken three years to write, shape, and perfect their next offering. And I’ll cut to the chase: the result is phenomenal. Absolutely phenomenal.

And what’s unusual with this kind of multi-layered, technical and complex style of music, is that my love for this record was almost instantaneous. Love at first listen, you might say. The reason is that ‘Urn’ incorporates just about everything I like in my metal, let alone extreme metal. It has technicality so it demands your attention and concentration. It has variety by the truckload, so you’re never bored and you’re always kept on your toes. And it has some absolutely beautiful melodies and atmospheres weaved within it. ‘Urn’ simply gets better and better the more I listen too, as new things jump out at me seemingly with every spin.

But arguably, what I enjoy the most about Ne Obliviscaris and this record in particular, is the really sophisticated juxtaposition between the technical and the organic.

Take the violin of Tim Charles for the perfect example. A song may be merrily pummelling the listener to death with precise blast beats and complicated scything riffs but then, out of nowhere, in comes the violin and the dynamic of the track instantly alters. The focus is no longer on the precision and the clinical sheen although this still exists. Instead, you’re drawn to something much more organic-sounding and ‘from the heart’. The purity of the violin in the context of the surrounding maelstrom is striking and actually quite poignant. Occasionally however, the violin sounds a little dirty, strained or discordant, but there is no doubt that this is entirely deliberate, making the dichotomy even more pronounced in the process.

Then there’s the contrast between the gruff vocals of the enigmatically-named Xenoyr and the clean delivery of the disgustingly talented Tim Charles. The dual vocal attack is no longer a unique ingredient within the metal world but both share the microphone duties in a manner that helps to accentuate either the harder or softer sides of the music really well.

Speaking of the softer side to the Ne Obliviscaris material, I also marvel at the melodic sensibilities that this band displays. Technical progressive death metal can sometimes become an exercise in ability rather than listenability, but not so here. The technicality can be chaotic and extreme as you’d want and expect, but this is tempered expertly by some strong melodic interplay that stays with me long after the album has ended.

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Allow me to get a bit more specific: ‘Urn’ begins with ‘Libera’, which in turn is split into two parts, ‘Saturnine Spheres’ and ‘Ascent of Burning Moths’ respectively.

‘Part I’ begins quietly and gently before exploding with blast beats from drummer Daniel Presland and fast-picked staccato riffs courtesy of guitarists Benjamin Baret and Matt Klavins. However, it is the clean voice of Charles that is the first to be heard. For my money he is much more prominent than on previous outings but based on his performance here, that can only be a good thing. Mind you, when Xenoyr enters the fray with his savage and uncompromising delivery, I can’t help but smile a sinister smile for Xenoyr owns a deliciously malevolent growl that fits the music perfectly throughout.

The song and indeed the album as a whole, is aided by an extremely strong production which allows each instrument to be heard however frenetic or involve things get. As such, even the bass is not lost, cutting through very nicely.

The folk-tinged mid-section is dominated by the violin and bass but is supported by acoustic guitars and relaxed, restrained drumming. Despite the more chilled vibe at this point, you can feel that the song is building and that this might just be the calm before the storm. And so it comes to pass, in dramatic style as the metaphorical roof is blown off.

The band returns to the intense blast beat-driven environs from earlier in the piece but they are joined by some truly rousing choral vocals that make one hell of an impact. Alongside the punishing music, they have the same kind of spine-tingling effect on me as when I’m at White Hart Lane, surrounded by the sound of several thousand fans singing songs of devotion towards our beloved football team. It’s like a force of nature and the resultant crescendo is electric and genuinely sends shivers cascading down my spine.

‘Part II – Ascent of Buring Moths’ by contrast is a calm outro piece purely acoustic guitar and violin in construction. After the intensity of ‘Part I’, this is the perfect counterpoint and is all the more impactful and enjoyable as a result.

From then on, it is almost impossible to pick out the best bits because these best bits are, essentially, the remaining four songs in their entirety. ‘Intra Venus’ is the shortest single composition but it packs a huge punch, containing some of the most memorable melodies on the album thanks largely to Charles’ clean vocal delivery that soars above the brutal tumult with elegant ease. The duelling solos between the violin and Benjamin Baret’s lead guitar are brilliant, as is the apparently effortless variation of light and shade as the seven-minute track develops.

If my life depended on it, I’d have to declare ‘Eyrie’ as my favourite track on ‘Urn’, but only just. It comes to life in glorious fashion thanks to an atmospheric ambient opening, where the violin is faint and haunting and the relatively simple melody is heart breaking in its purity. The layers build over the ensuing few minutes but it is not until the 4:30 mark that the song finally erupts. And even then, despite the technicality from all corners, the melodic sensibilities of the introduction remain. Again, Charles is devastating in his ability to sound impassioned whilst helping to deliver the memorable melodies.

The attention to detail is breath-taking too. Take for example the alternating ‘high’ and ‘low’ drum rolls courtesy of Daniel Presland. He is such a machine that every beat is precise and powerful regardless of how fast or intricately he is playing. The expressive lead guitar lines are a joy as is the soaring violin as the track nears its huge and strangely emotional bombastic crescendo. It’s not often I refer to technical progressive death metal as soul-enriching and moving, but with ‘Eyrie’ in particular, Ne Obliviscaris have managed this feat. This truly is a stunning composition, one of the stand-out songs of the entire year as far as I’m concerned

‘Urn’ is then brought to a close by the title track which, once again, is split into two parts, namely ‘And Within The Void We Are Breathless’ and ‘As Embers Dance In Our Eyes’. ‘Part I’ descends into near chaos at times but is kept in check by the immense skill of each of the musicians, pulling the track back from the brink of anarchy frequently. ‘Part II’ continues to deliver a certain amount of contained discord, primarily on the part of a shrieking violin, before bearing a fair amount of riff-heavy groove. The lead work of Klavins is superb but it is once again Tim Charles’ clean vocals that make the biggest impact, proffering more gorgeous and passionate melodies.

There is only one thing that prevents ‘Urn’ from achieving a perfect score: one more song. Whilst this album lasts for over 45 minutes, I really want one more track. This might sound greedy but when we’ve waited this long and the music is this good, I crave more.

Nevertheless, as it is, Ne Obliviscaris have put together a near-flawless masterpiece with ‘Urn’. It is the sound of the progressive death metal genre being ripped apart and reassembled in the most spectacular fashion. The bar has been set, the gauntlet has been thrown down, and only time will tell whether another will surpass this incredible record. ‘Urn’ is intelligent, ambitious and above all, magical. I love it and if you love heavy, technical music, you’ll love it too. Of that there is no doubt.

The Score Of Much Metal: 9.9

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

2015 reviews
2016 reviews

Sons Of Apollo – Psychotic Symphony
Enslaved – E
Samael – Hegemony
Vuur – In This Moment We Are Free – Cities
Power Quest – Sixth Dimension
Iris Divine – The Static And The Noise
Daniel Cavanagh – Monochrome
White Moth Black Butterfly – Atone
Jag Panzer – The Deviant Chord
Vulture Industries – Stranger Times
Anubis Gate – Covered In Black
Protean Collective – Collapse
Cradle Of Filth – Cryproriana – The Seductiveness of Decay
TDW & Dreamwalkers Inc. – The Antithetic Affiliation
Caligula’s Horse – In Contact
Nocturnal Rites – Phoenix
Arch Enemy – Will To Power
Threshold – Legends Of The Shires
H.E.A.T – Into The Great Unknown
Dyscarnate – With All Their Might
Subterranean Masquerade – Vagabond
Adagio – Life
Paradise Lost – Medusa
The Haunted – Strength In Numbers
Serious Black – Magic
Leprous – Malina
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

Sons Of Apollo – Psychotic Symphony – Album Review

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Artist: Sons Of Apollo

Album title: Psychotic Symphony

Label: InsideOut Music

Date of Release: 20 October 2017

It’s a new day. Therefore, it is almost inevitable that we have a new project from renowned drummer Mike Portnoy. Of course, I’m being a little ridiculous and prone to exaggeration but given how prolific and obviously inspired Mike Portnoy is, that’s how it can feel at times. But it certainly isn’t a crfiticism. In recent years, we have had Flying Colors, Shattered Fortress and Winery Dogs to name a few, all ‘starring’ Mr Portnoy on the drum throne. Today, we are now being introduced to his latest endeavour, Sons Of Apollo.

Mike Portnoy is no stranger to working in groups where the clientele is as famous, or more so, than he is. As such, the term ‘supergroup’ has often followed the band’s moniker with many of these projects. It is the same with Sons Of Apollo too, with a vast array of talent within the band.

Joining Mike in Sons Of Apollo are guitarist Ron ‘Bumblefoot’ Thal, bassist Billy Sheehan, vocalist Jeff Scott Soto and keyboardist Derek Sherinian. On paper, it sounds rather mouth-watering and possibly quite a special group of musicians. The prospect certainly piqued my interest, also leaving me a little surprised in the process.

You see the names Mike Portnoy and his old Dream Theater colleague Derek Sherinian in the same band and immediately, you think ‘prog’. This is obviously going to be a progressive rock/metal album and as such, you wonder ‘will the superb voice of Jeff Scott Soto fit into this?’

But, whilst there are some undeniably progressive element incorporated within ‘Psychotic Symphony’, Sons Of Apollo are equally as much of a hard rock band, paying a certain homage to many of the great and the good of the genre since it began several decades ago.

In true classic prog style, we are greeted with longer compositions and flamboyant sections where the instrumentalism goes berserk. However, what we get more of throughout this nine-track record are big riffs, even bigger grooves, plenty of cocksure swagger and hook-laden choruses. Naturally, we also hear plenty of virtuosity in the drum work as well as an abundance of keys. Try keeping both Portnoy and Sherinian out of the spotlight, I dare you.

The result, once the misplaced expectations have been buried, is an album that delivers so much energy, so much power and so much passion that it is very hard to ignore. Not that I want to ignore ‘Psychotic Symphony’, because, on top of the feelings that this record evokes, the music itself is of an extremely high calibre both in terms of the song writing and the execution. This could have gone so horribly wrong. But, when you have seasoned, professional musicians that can boast Dream Theater, Journey, Guns n’ Roses and The Winery Dogs in their collective CV’s, you’re more than likely in safe hands.

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The quintet has clearly come together for the right reasons too. I’ve mentioned the energy that permeates this disc already, but there’s also that intangible aspect, the indescribable feeling you get that you’re listening to a record that the musicians believe in and had a lot of fun making together. This intangible feeling smothers ‘Psychotic Symphony’.

I don’t profess to know all of the bands or artists that are referenced in the music of Sons Of Apollo, but I can certainly hear nods towards the likes of Deep Purple, Led Zeppelin and Rush to name a few. And yet, despite all of the huge retro influences, ‘Psychotic Symphony’ somehow manages to sound fresh and above all, relevant in today’s world. Yes it contains a lot of the gratuitous frivolities that many of the younger breed tend to be a bit sniffy about these days, but I like a good lead guitar or keyboard solo and yes, I also like extended instrumental interludes I they have something to say. And on this record, all of these elements are delivered with a certain amount of panache, except perhaps the one-minute piece of fluff that’s ‘Figaro’s Whore’. That could have been left out to be honest.

Otherwise, the record is a complete triumph. You’ve probably already heard the lead single, ‘Coming Home’, but having been initially underwhelmed by it, it has dug its not-inconsiderable hooks into me and pummelled me with its huge grooves. Soto sounds mean, the huge rumbling bass of Sheehan is even more so, the riffs are voluptuous and the overall swagger is infectious.

Take a step back though, and the opening track ‘God Of The Sun’ is a behemoth of a song. It begins in real cinematic fashion, with the sound of thunder underneath eastern melodies and instrumentation. After the extended intro that builds the tension, the song burst into life with more dirty, groovy riffing from Bumblefoot, lush orchestration and some incredible drumming from Portnoy, who pulls the song along at a fair pace with plenty of rolls, fills and general exuberant flamboyance. There is a lull at the midpoint, where Sherinian gets a chance to shine out front and centre atop a moody mid-tempo melody, before the riffs come bounding in again with real force and intent. Their return signals the arrival of an instrumental interlude where each musician gets a chance to flex their musical muscles. But such is the conviction and delivery that you can’t help but buy into it and get taken along for the heady ride.

Elsewhere, ‘Sign of The Time’ comes out of the gate with a killer modern-sounding riff that’s hypnotic and heavy as you like, opening up into a keyboard-drenched monster of a chorus that is pure melodic hard rock territory. Portnoy is at his powerhouse best and the slow, deliberate descent into jazz fusion territory in the latter stages is an unexpected, yet welcome, twist. It also gives Bumblefoot the opportunity to demonstrate his impressively silky lead solo skills to great effect.

I’m also more than a little partial to ‘Alive’ which is a close to a ballad as Sons Of Apollo get. The verses feature some of the most passionate singing from Soto anywhere on the record and again the chorus is one of those that’s in the ‘once heard, never forgotten’ category. The guitar and bass combo that dominates the mid-song lull is fabulous and there’s even an energetic crescendo to round things out.

I even like the overt synth-led Deep Purple homage that’s ‘Divine Addiction’ and the thoroughly over-the-top closer ‘Opus Maximus’ with its ‘Six Degrees…’-era Dream Theater overtones during the substantial intro.

Whilst I was intrigued to hear this album, I wasn’t in all honesty expecting to like it that much. However, Sons Of Apollo have won me over massively thanks to the combination of stellar musicianship, strong song writing that manages to smoothly and cohesively blend the old with the new, and that intangible sense of fun and enjoyment that oozes from every pore of these five musicians. As such, I commend ‘Psychotic Symphony’ and urge you to take a listen for yourselves.

Score of Much Metal: 8.75

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

2015 reviews
2016 reviews

Enslaved – E
Samael – Hegemony
Vuur – In This Moment We Are Free – Cities
Power Quest – Sixth Dimension
Iris Divine – The Static And The Noise
Daniel Cavanagh – Monochrome
White Moth Black Butterfly – Atone
Jag Panzer – The Deviant Chord
Vulture Industries – Stranger Times
Anubis Gate – Covered In Black
Protean Collective – Collapse
Cradle Of Filth – Cryproriana – The Seductiveness of Decay
TDW & Dreamwalkers Inc. – The Antithetic Affiliation
Caligula’s Horse – In Contact
Nocturnal Rites – Phoenix
Arch Enemy – Will To Power
Threshold – Legends Of The Shires
H.E.A.T – Into The Great Unknown
Dyscarnate – With All Their Might
Subterranean Masquerade – Vagabond
Adagio – Life
Paradise Lost – Medusa
The Haunted – Strength In Numbers
Serious Black – Magic
Leprous – Malina
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

Enslaved – E – Album Review

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Artist: Enslaved

Album Title: E

Label: Nuclear Blast

Date of Release: 13 October 2017

Someone very close to me was once fascinated by ancient Norse runes, so much so that he studied the alphabet and delved into the history and the myths with real passion. I often think that he was born in the wrong country, at the wrong age. And, when he passed, possibly into the halls of Valhalla, I seriously contemplated having the word ‘brother’ tattooed across my shoulders in runic. And, despite my general cowardice towards pain of any kind, I still toy with the idea nearly a decade on.

My brother would have therefore approved wholeheartedly with the choice of album title for Enslaved’s 14th full-length release, the simple and enigmatically-titled ‘E’.

‘E’ means a lot more than it first appears. Written in a manner that more closely resembles the modern letter ‘M’, it is apparently referring to the rune ‘Ehwaz’. I really enjoy the fact that the runes are drawn to look like what they mean, because ‘Ehwaz’ literally means ‘horse’. Or, more esoterically, it can also mean ‘trust’ or ‘co-operation’. Already, I can see why so many find the runes so interesting and it’s the perfect title for this incredible album.

The opening moments of ‘Storm Son’, set the record off in the perfect manner. Beginning delicately and quietly with the sound of nature, something darker in tone enters and the relative silence is shattered by the confrontational yet strangely warm sound of a Viking Horn alongside the neighing of horses. You think that the song will launch into something heavy and oppressive at this point but, in actual fact, the tentative guitar melody is a thing of understated beauty, with a strangely bright and positive feel to it. The soundscape builds, only to finally betray Enslaved’s extreme metal roots as it nears the three-minute mark.

And even then, the guitars are restrained, as is the strong rhythmic beat, as the clean vocals of new member Håkon Vinje takes centre stage. On that note, there was a lot of concern amongst the faithful when Herbrand Larsen left. However, there is nothing to worry about on that score. Håkon Vinje is a more than worthy replacement, not dissimilar in tone or delivery but individual enough to make his presence felt within the collective. He initially ‘duets’ with hushed choral vocals, into which gruff vocalist Grutle Kjellson dips in and out.

As Kjellson’s raspy notes fade, the song changes tack to deliver a relatively simple yet stunning riff that is accented by some excellent driving bass work and drenched in rich, atmospheric keys to enhance the strong melodic tendencies and epic atmospheres. At this point, I am beginning to posit that ‘Storm Son’ might just be one of Enslaved’s masterpieces.

The song changes direction and pace more than once, finally delivering something heavier, more extreme and uncompromising well into the second act. Even then, it isn’t all-out blast-beats, more a frantic gallop, whilst those rapid staccato riffs from Ivar Bjørnson and Arve Isdal offer a window into the quintet’s dim and distant black metal beginnings. As the track closes with a reprise of the earlier melodic riff, I am firm in my belief that this is a sensational song, definitely one of their very best.

Enslaved

At a little over five minutes in length, ‘The River’s Mouth’ is half the size of its predecessor. However, what it lacks in stature, it makes up for in intensity. Right from the off, the pace is quick, with Kjellson’s unmistakeable gruff snarls present almost immediately. However, I must return to the vocals of Vinje, who soars above the controlled maelstrom of glorious sound beneath him, making the powerful song completely irresistible once it gets under the skin.

It almost goes without saying but it’s worth mentioning that ‘E’ is unlikely to make an instant impact with listeners. Some parts will quickly grab your attention, but the vast majority of the material will require concentration and a certain amount of familiarisation in order to extract everything of value out of it. Over the course of the last two or three albums, maybe even longer, Enslaved have been headed inexorably towards a more progressive incarnation, as they continue to bravely experiment with their personal musical vision. As a result, the grandiose nature of ‘E’ means that the Norwegians have taken another bold journey into the unknown, whilst managing to keep one hand on the tiller of familiarity. As challenging as it is, there’s a sense that you know exactly who this is as it is playing. That, in itself, is an extremely neat trick to pull off, further demonstrating the craftsmanship and skill of Enslaved.

There’s little time for further reflection because ‘Sacred Horse’ storms into life following a deceptively quiet opening. It is blessed with a pulsating pace, with the drums of Cato Bekkevold charging rapidly through the song, even during somewhat quieter moments. The variety on offer is exciting, including a bold 70s-inspired keyboard solo from Vinje and a gloriously ominous and foreboding section where the drums and bass come together to deliver an epic and rousing extended outro that’s subtly built upon and then topped off by the briefest of returns to frantic climes.

I’d pick out my favourite songs if I could, but they are all superb. And as there are only six, I shall continue guilt-free. ‘Axis Of The Worlds’ lightens the mood somewhat despite the abundance of heaviness and gruff vocals. It is hard to explain, but there’s a light, vaguely playful feel to this track, led by the Vinje’s clean voice and folky melodies that come and go, ultimately reasserting themselves after the composition threatens to unravel amid a torrent of competing sounds and noises.

‘Feathers Of Eolh’ is one of the most difficult tracks to work with, thanks to the myriad of mind-boggling time signatures that are employed. And yet, once it clicks, it becomes one of the most rewarding listens on ‘E’. The harsher sections are magnificent, full of lush multi-layered grandiosity. But it is when the foot is taken off the gas and the band descend into more ambient, introspective territory where I get the chills. Here, the bass of Kjellson really comes into its own and the delicate melodies are allowed time and space to breathe. Ultimately though, it is the juxtaposition between the light and the dark that enables this track to make the huge impact that it does.

The final track of ‘E’, an album with a healthy and digestible running time of around 50 minutes, is ‘Hiindsiight’. The opening wistful melody is a joy but after about a minute, all light is expunged and we’re plunged into the suffocating darkness of crushing funeral doom. It only lasts for a short time, but it makes a malevolent and, if it’s possible, a heavier return later in the piece. In between and afterwards, the composition returns to the opening melody but is joined by guest musicians: saxophonist Kjetil Møster and Einar Kvitrafn Selvik (Wardruna) who plays the Talharpa.

I’m not 100% sold on the saxophone inclusion if I’m honest and consistent with my tastes. But regardless, this is a cracking track, full of emotion, layers of rich sound and captivating performances all round. After a few moments in an abyss of noise, the song closes in stunning fashion thanks to yet more fantastic clean vocals and a heart-warming, quietly-delivered choral section which is underpinned by those elegant melodies as it drifts off serenely into calm mist-shrouded waters.

Enslaved are one of those bands that can literally do no wrong. However they decide to evolve their sound, their music always remains of the very highest order. They may have lost a few fans along the way but I’m sure they have gathered many more over the years. And deservedly so, because ‘E’ further cements Enslaved’s credentials as one of the most accomplished, exciting and brave extreme metal bands in the world today.

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

Samael – Hegemony
Vuur – In This Moment We Are Free – Cities
Power Quest – Sixth Dimension
Iris Divine – The Static And The Noise
Daniel Cavanagh – Monochrome
White Moth Black Butterfly – Atone
Jag Panzer – The Deviant Chord
Vulture Industries – Stranger Times
Anubis Gate – Covered In Black
Protean Collective – Collapse
Cradle Of Filth – Cryproriana – The Seductiveness of Decay
TDW & Dreamwalkers Inc. – The Antithetic Affiliation
Caligula’s Horse – In Contact
Nocturnal Rites – Phoenix
Arch Enemy – Will To Power
Threshold – Legends Of The Shires
H.E.A.T – Into The Great Unknown
Dyscarnate – With All Their Might
Subterranean Masquerade – Vagabond
Adagio – Life
Paradise Lost – Medusa
The Haunted – Strength In Numbers
Serious Black – Magic
Leprous – Malina
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

Samael – Hegemony – Album Review

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Artist: Samael

Album Title: Hegemony

Label: Napalm Records

Date of Release: 13 October 2017

Those that are familiar with my ramblings will already be aware of some of my odd music-related foibles. For example, my irrational dislike of brass in rock/metal, especially when it gets in the way of more conventional genre instruments, has been well-documented. I mean, why have a saxophone solo when it could be a guitar? Many won’t agree, but that’s how I feel.

But here’s another one to add to the list, about which I have remained relatively silent up until now: I really don’t like synthetic drums. More descriptively, I dislike any substitute for a human being playing a conventional drum kit. Samples, electronic sounds and drum machines are a definite no-no for me. There are exceptions to this self-imposed rule of course, with Native construct being the most immediate example. But then again, much of this has to do with the fact that the band went to great lengths to make the drum sounds as realistic and organic-sounding as possible. In this day and age, with equipment becoming ever-more sophisticated, there may be a time when the electronic effects will be almost imperceptibly different from an organic delivery. But this conversation must be parked for another day.

Right here, right now, I’m not a fan. So by rights, I should have discarded this band and album from my review pile for this very reason. The band in question are Samael, the Swiss industrial symphonic black metal band who have been delivering their brand of extreme metal for nearly three decades.

Samael, comprised of guitarist/vocalist Vorph, keyboardist/programmer Xy, guitarist Makro and bassist Drop, have always employed programmed drums. And, in spite of this, I find myself liking much of the band’s output over the years. ‘Eternal’ is a good example, an album which I have nestled within my collection and to which I listen from time to time with genuine enjoyment. Unlike bands like Native Construct however, Samael don’t attempt to disguise the ‘fake’ drums. Quite the opposite in fact, as they use this ingredient as an important facet of their sound. The juxtaposition between the heavy guitars, extreme vocals, big melodies and the electronic beat just seems to work with Samael. It plays well to their ‘industrial’ tag, and over the years has seen them gain a true cult following and a reasonable amount of success.

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Photo Credit: Aline Fournier

‘Hegemony’ is Samael’s tenth full-length studio release and it is quite uncanny how the band has managed to tweak their sound over time and yet appear so immediately recognisable. When they started out, bold symphonic black metal was their weapon of choice, but have since moved into a realm, beginning with ‘Ceremony of Opposites’ (1994) where their black metal has become blended with striking industrial overtones.

What you get with this latest album is something quite familiar; vibrant and upbeat extreme metal with venom but also strong melodic intent and a catchiness that can become quite infectious. But more than that, it demonstrates that there is still plenty of fire in the belly of this group of musicians – you simply can’t pen songs like these if you’re getting tired or lack enthusiasm.

The opening title track proves my point immediately. Catchy, bombastic, filthy, heavy as you like, it ticks all the boxes, coming out of the speakers like a hungry, possessed beast. My head is nodding along vigorously from the outset, as the enormous groove gets to me instantly. Vorph has always sounded pretty menacing but here he sounds savage, albeit delivering a positive message. And yet this dichotomy works.

Speaking of positive lyrics, this is certainly a theme that rather surprisingly runs through ‘Hegemony’. Within the overt darkness and the bleak landscape that Samael so effortlessly portray is a thread of positivity which, in many ways, is as infectious and uplifting as the music that surrounds it.

Returning to the music and there’s an unwritten rule that says that you only name your very best material after yourselves and this must indeed be the case with ‘Samael’. It is an energetic track that maintains the strong start to this record. The chorus that then bursts out from the melee is just marvellous, bristling with melodic intensity and anthemic grandiosity. By this point, I have completely forgotten about the synthetic drums and instead, I’m headbanging away and grinning like a loon.

‘Angel of Wrath’ showcases the industrial, vaguely Gothic side of Samael very nicely indeed. It moves inexorably at a bruising mid-tempo, crushing all in its path. Bathed in a hugely symphonic, theatrical sheen, it is both grandiose and bludgeoning at the same time.

Elsewhere, the quality music keeps coming. ‘Black Supremacy’ explodes into life at a speed and with an attitude that is pure black metal, before opening up into another gloriously melodic chorus. The ‘drums’ are programmed at warp speed whilst the remainder of the band busts a collective gut to keep up, but it works really well, making it a personal favourite, even when the tumult threatens to get out of control near the close.

Then there’s ‘This World’, which juxtaposes a memorable chorus with an unsettling dystopian-esque and disquieting soundscape to satisfying effect. Meanwhile, ‘Land Of The Living’ is pure cinematic territory with yet more powerful melodies whilst ‘Dictate of Transparency’ is the kind of song for which the phrase ‘choooon’ was coined. The energy is fantastic, but the enormous chorus is even better.

The bottom line is that ‘Hegemony’ is definitely one of the surprises of 2017 for me. I can’t remember the last time I heard Samael sounding this enjoyable and irresistible. And when they are in this kind of form, Samael are extremely hard to ignore. So do yourselves a favour and don’t ignore ‘Hegemony’. It is most definitely your loss if you do.

Score of Much Metal: 8.75

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

2015 reviews
2016 reviews

Vuur – In This Moment We Are Free – Cities
Power Quest – Sixth Dimension
Iris Divine – The Static And The Noise
Daniel Cavanagh – Monochrome
White Moth Black Butterfly – Atone
Jag Panzer – The Deviant Chord
Vulture Industries – Stranger Times
Anubis Gate – Covered In Black
Protean Collective – Collapse
Cradle Of Filth – Cryproriana – The Seductiveness of Decay
TDW & Dreamwalkers Inc. – The Antithetic Affiliation
Caligula’s Horse – In Contact
Nocturnal Rites – Phoenix
Arch Enemy – Will To Power
Threshold – Legends Of The Shires
H.E.A.T – Into The Great Unknown
Dyscarnate – With All Their Might
Subterranean Masquerade – Vagabond
Adagio – Life
Paradise Lost – Medusa
The Haunted – Strength In Numbers
Serious Black – Magic
Leprous – Malina
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

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