Avatarium – Hurricanes And Halos – Album Review


Artist: Avatarium

Album Title: Hurricanes And Halos

Label: Nuclear Blast

Date Of Release: 26 May 2017

‘Hurricanes And Halos’ is the title given to the third studio release from Swedish doomsters Avatarium, a band that was formed in the minds of Leif Edling (Candlemass) and Marcus Jidell (ex-Evergrey, Soen) before becoming a reality in 2012. Their sophomore album, ‘The Girl With The Raven Mask’ was released in 2015 and, quite rightly, it garnered much critical acclaim. If the world was beginning to take notice of Avatarium, this record catapulted the quintet into the full glare of the heavy metal spotlight.

But much has changed in the world of Avatarium since the releae of ‘The Girl With The Raven Mask’. The band is now a sextet of sorts, but the back story is much more complicated than a simple addition to the ranks. Leif Edling has now stepped away from the bass but remains involved and can claim the song writing credits to six of the eight tracks on ‘Hurricanes And Halos’. Into the vacated bass slot therefore, comes Mats Rydström and he is joined by fellow newbie and organ player Rickard Nielsson who has replaced keyboardist Carl Westholm. The rest of the band remains the same however, with co-founder Marcus Jidell on guitars, Jennie-Anne Smith behind the microphone and Lars Sköld on the drums.

Given the comings and goings behind the scenes, it could have been easy for Avatarium to take their eye off the ball and deliver a new album that wasn’t up to the standard of their last. But to think in such a way would be a mistake and would be to do the members of Avatarium a huge disservice. When you have musicians of the calibre of Jidell, Smith and Edling, you’re almost certainly not going to get anything substandard. If anything, ‘Hurricanes And Halos’, which features a bigger song-writing contribution from the handsome couple of Jidell and Smith, is another confident step up for this band.

When I reviewed ‘The Girl With The Raven Mask’, I remarked that it generally takes a lot for me to get excited about an album that has one foot firmly planted in the realm of doom. Well, that statement remains true but Avatarium prove once again that they one of the few bands that can manage this feat. There’s something about this band that speaks to me.

This becomes even more unfathomable in many ways when I add in to the equation that Avatarium are also heavily steeped in 1970s nostalgia as well as seemingly professing an admiration for blues, classic rock and an occasional dalliance with psychedelia. If I take a look at my personal music collection, I have a hard job finding very much that fits within any of these genres. And yet, I love Avatarium. And I love ‘Hurricanes And Halos’. Go figure.


In trying to do just that and figure out why I have such a connection with this band, I have hit upon many possibilities.

Firstly, there is the raw honesty and genuine depth found within the compositions themselves. You get the distinct impression as you listen, that nothing has been left at the door with these guys – it is all or nothing. When Jennie-Anne sings, she sings with such passion and richness that you can’t help but listen, rapt as she delivers her gritty monologues with finesse and such resonance. This is most definitely Jennie-Anne Smith’s best performance so far and at times, she threatens to steal the show entirely, such as within the chorus of the opener, ‘Into The Fire – Into The Storm’ as one of many examples.

With lesser musicians behind her, that might have easily happened. But not in Avatarium. In Marcus Jidell for example, Avatarium are blessed with one of the very best guitarists that I know of. I must have said all this a hundred times over the years, so once more couldn’t hurt. His style is not to belt out lightning fast lead runs or to show off with fancy gimmicks. Instead, he has a grace and elegance that means that he can convey an emotion or a thought with one carefully crafted note or a series of well thought-out chords.

As demonstrated in the aforementioned heady opener, ‘Into The Fire – Into The Storm’, Marcus has not forgotten how to rock out either. The song begins with a strong 70s doomy riff that gets things off to a bold and striking start. The Hammond organ of the equally impressive Nielsson joins the party briefly before becoming an integral part of the grand chorus and later, offers an indulgent but entirely fitting lead solo.

‘The Starless Sleep’ is another superb track, one that underlines the doom credentials of Avatarium as well as underlining the strength of the oft-unsung rhythm section. Skold’s drumming is precise but has a loose, carefree feel to it, whilst bassist Mats Rydström delivers a really satisfying low-end rumble to inject gravitas to the music.

The stripped back and darkly textured ‘Road To Jerusalem’ is the perfect song to act as contrast to the higher-octane opening tracks. It also showcases the beautifully organic and honest production to ‘Hurricanes And Halos’. This is not an album to be smothered in clever, modern effects or polished to within an inch of its life. Instead, in keeping with the music itself, producer Marcus Jidell alongside David Castillo (mixing – Katatonia, Opeth) and Jens Bogren (mastering – Soilwork, Sepultura) have created a living, breathing, colourful beast that loses none of the music’s potency along the way.

The icing on the cake with ‘Hurricanes And Halos’ is the surprising amount of variety on offer. Already I’ve described the full-on power and the more subtle sides of Avatarium, but there’s more to uncover along the way.

‘Medusa Child’ is a thoroughly engrossing piece of music that begins in commanding and heavy fashion. The hooky chorus then comes out of nowhere, at an almost complete right-angle to the more aggressive and potent music that surrounds it. And then, at the half-way mark, it morphs again. An eerie child’s voice sings the chorus lyrics whilst underneath, the band veers into almost ambient, post-rock territory as a quiet, subtle melody begins to build into a rousing finale, almost threatening to implode as it does so.

‘Hurricanes and Halos’ is as far as I can tell, as much an exercise in creating interesting and multi-faceted soundscapes as it is about crafting intelligent doom-infused rock music. This point is proven eloquently via the brooding ‘When Breath Turns To Air’ with its exquisite and melodic fragility. But it is then hammered home by the closing title track which is quite different in construction and tone, but is equally poignant and captivating.

For me, it is the perfect way to end the record, a record that has impressed and moved me in equal measure right from the off. I can think of no other band in the modern era who does this kind of thing better than Avatarium. That in itself should speak volumes about just how good it is. I doubt I’ll hear a more compelling doom-infused rock album all year.

The Score Of Much Metal: 9.25

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

2015 reviews
2016 reviews

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

Soen – Lykaia – Album Review


Artist: Soen

Album Title: Lykaia

Label: UDR Music

Release Date: 3 February 2017

I’m a relatively late convert to the Soen cause having only discovered the Swedish band via their previous, sophomore release, ‘Tellurian’, although it is an album for which I have a lot of time. However, I can safely say that ‘Lykaia’ is another step up in almost every regard and as such, this is an album that any self-respecting prog fan needs to hear. In fact, given many of the other ingredients within the Soen sound, you don’t even need to be a fervent fan of progressive music to fully appreciate this record. I could end the review there, but I won’t as there is a lot more to say.

The truly great thing about Soen, particularly on ‘Lykaia’ is that they don’t sound like anyone else. There are definite nods towards the likes of Opeth and Tool, but ultimately, Soen have cultivated their own sound. Given that I’m not a fan of either Tool or Opeth, that bodes well for me when listening to this.

I also hear inflections of Katatonia although this similarity is born out more from the overall tones on ‘Lykaia’ than the music itself if that makes sense. With Soen here and with Katatonia, I get that same sense of frustration, despair and darkness of the human psyche as well as an overall sense of a claustrophobic urban dystopia where negativity is rife and constantly threatens to stifle anything more positive and hopeful, albeit not always successfully.

The subject matter explored on ‘Lykaia’ is difficult to fully decode but I think that this is part of the charm of Soen’s music. There are definite religious connotations and themes about the journey of mankind but the lyrics force you to think and also to use your imagination, which I like. And they’re definitely not light-hearted or facile, something else I welcome with open arms.

What strikes me when I listen is the assured nature of the band and their output. It doesn’t sound forced or contrived; instead, I get the sense that what has been created has come about because of a clarity of purpose as well as a strong focus and belief, not to mention the accomplished performances from within the Soen collective. My conjecture is that something this creative and effortlessly stunning could not have materialised otherwise. Everything sounds just right, whether it is an intense or groovy rhythm, a carefully-crafted melody, a powerful riff or a majestic vocal. In fact, the word ‘majestic’ fits the entirety of ‘Lykaia’ perfectly.

All of this is even more impressive given the fact that the band boast two new members for this recording. Avatarium guitarist Marcus Jidell has joined the fold alongside keyboardist/guitarist Lars Åhlund. They both slot into Soen apparently seamlessly and effortlessly alongside existing members Martin Lopez (drums), Joel Ekelöf (vocals) and Stefan Stenberg (bass). The music output certainly has its differences to ‘Tellurian’ and to ‘Cognitive’ before it, but it feels like the result of an increasing maturity rather than a premeditated change of direction brought about by the line-up alterations. Confidence breeds quality and this is a perfect example.

Another really wonderful aspect of ‘Lykaia’ is the way in which it has been recorded. The accompanying press release talks of a deliberate shunning of more modern, synthetic and digital methods in favour of something more authentic. And be left in no doubt that this is evident. Whether it be heavier and more abrasive in tone or softer and more introspective, the music has a gorgeous organic feel to it. The instruments therefore sound more honest and vibrant, warts and all. That’s not to say that there are many warts to be heard, it just means that the performances have been captured as they were played without too much studio enhancement or tweaking. Credit for much of this must go to Marcus Jidell who handled the production of ‘Lykaia’ and who has done a most excellent job. I would venture to suggest that those who choose the vinyl option are in for a treat.

‘Lykaia’ is one of those albums that is best enjoyed as a whole, as the smooth transitions from song to song mean that the record has the feel of one distinct body of work. And, at around 50 minutes in length spread across eight tracks, the complete work sits at a nicely digestible length, a length that flies by at times. However, it wouldn’t be a review on the Blog of Much Metal without going into further detail about some of the aural pleasures to be found.


The records gets off to a seriously powerful start via ‘Sectarian’. It demonstrates quite a Tool-esque prominent bass line which works alongside the bold tom-heavy, almost tribal-sounding drumming in providing a strong and striking backbone to the track. The rhythm-heavy beginning eventually gives way to a strong, beguiling chorus that makes an immediate impact but which only gets better with repeated listens. Vocalist Ekelöf has a rich timbre and a hypnotising delivery that adds gravitas to the composition, not to mention a certain amount of palpable melancholy – a trend that continues throughout ‘Lykaia’.

‘Orision’ begins with a seriously cool and understated riff and then opens up into a sumptuous chorus that contains a delectable melody. Later, the track then falls away into minimalist territory, dominated by pervasive atmospheres, led in part by Åhlund’s keys. It is a real grower, almost surreptitiously becoming a favourite.

The exquisite and tenderly performed composition, ‘Lucidity’ follows and my heart is won over. The heavier guitars are stripped away in favour of a more subtle and soulful approach from Jidell, who never ceases to amaze me with his touch and feel with the guitar. The guy is able to say more with one or two notes than others can with a full-on shred or lightning fast solo. There are hints of Opeth to be heard but equally, I can hear echoes of Wolverine thanks to the sense of bleakness and emotional fragility brought to life via Ekelöf’s vulnerable-sounding performance. The result is a truly profound listening experience.

‘Opal’ closes in simple yet eloquent fashion after spending the majority of its length indulging in something altogether heavy and dramatic. ‘Jinn’ introduces some of the most beautiful melodies on an album full of melodic highlights. Here, they have a real bittersweet feel to them; euphoric and intensely sad at the same time. It is a personal favourite, one of the most immediate tracks on the entire album, if also one of the most poignant and emotionally draining. Oh and there’s the middle eastern flavour to the closing bars which sounds as if it should be incongruous but actually fits perfectly.

Lopez’s drumming and Stenberg’s expressive, rumbling bass dominate the early stages of ‘Sister’. The song builds and becomes very intense, one of the heaviest compositions on the record. However, it shows measured restraint by always remaining one step away from exploding into full-blown anarchy. ‘Stray’ delivers yet more stunning, heart breaking melodies atop a driving rhythm whilst ‘Paragon’ closes a fabulous album in a suitably classy manner. Beginning quietly, the song gently builds to a mid-song crescendo with agonised wailing guitars that sound like the breaching of an immense dam of human emotion, where all the frustration, anger and bitterness floods out, only to revert to calmer climes in the blink of an eye.

I had come to ‘Lykaia’ hoping for an album from Soen that I could like and from which I could take some genuine enjoyment. What I hadn’t bargained on was an album that would very quickly make a profound and indelible impression on me, to the extent where I have found myself listening to nothing else for the past few days since I first heard it. ‘Lykaia’ isn’t far away from being the perfect record and I implore you to listen and to revel in its many treasures. Nicely done, Soen, nicely done.

The Score of Much Metal: 9.5

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

2015 reviews
2016 reviews

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

Rikard Zander – I Can Do Without Love – Album Review


Artist: Rikard Zander

Album Title: I Can Do Without Love

Label: ZR / Border Music

Date Of Release: 11 March 2016

I never find it comfortable reviewing music by artists that I know and would refer to as friends. However, the Blog Of Much Metal is all about trying to support artists that deserve the assistance. So when I heard that Rikard Zander, keyboardist with Evergrey, had recorded his debut solo album, I had to offer my assistance.

I had heard snippets of the material via social media and knew that I was not in for Evergrey Mark II. But, with Rikard’s nervous-sounding comment of ‘it is very different to Evergrey’ ringing in my ears, I must admit I was aprehensive to press play on ‘I Can Do Without Love’. In order to retain credibility as a writer, I have to be honest. But, at the same time, I didn’t want to have to write negative things about an artist that I respect and someone who has become a friend to me. ‘Please let me like this’, I therefore whispered in mantra-fashion as I pressed play.

Fast forward more than a week and here I am writing the review. I have listened to ‘I Can Do Without Love’ a silly number of times and it is with relief and genuine pleasure that I can report that the listening experience is a largely positive one.

It is true, anyone looking for some extra Evergrey material between albums will be left very disappointed and possibly slightly confused. Despite featuring Evergrey’s bassist Johan Niemann and drummer Jonas Ekdahl as well as Avatarium and ex-Evergrey guitarist Marcus Jidell, this album is an entirely different beast to the day job. This is not a heavy metal album; in fact, at times, it’s not even a rock album, not in the classic sense. ‘I Can Do Without Love’ has as much in common with pop, country and blues music as anything else. It is the vehicle via which Rikard has been able to showcase his singing and keyboard-playing skills, not to mention his song writing abilities and on that score I have been left surprised. This surprise is partly because of the overall direction taken on the album but also because of the strength of the material.

‘I Can Do Without Love’ is an intensely personal and honest collection of songs, displaying a sensitivity and undeniable charm that snares you in and captivates, whether or not this kind of music is generally your ‘thing’. And it’s safe to say that this isn’t normally ‘my thing’.

Photo by Patric Ullaeus
Photo by Patric Ullaeus

The first thing that hits me is Rikard’s voice. It is so smooth and melodious but with a fragility to it that creates real emotion when the music requires it. I knew that Rikard occasionally engaged in some backing vocals for Evergrey but I never knew he could sing this competently.

If you’re looking for an example of Rikard’s great vocals, look no further than the opening duo of the title track and ‘Another Lonely Night’. The title track is relatively simple in its construction but aside from Zander’s voice, it benefits from a really addictive central melody and beautiful, emotional and soulful lead guitar work from Marcus Jidell, firmly in keeping with the sorrowful feel of the song.

‘Another Lonely Night’ is without doubt my favourite song on the album. The acoustic guitar and keyboard melodies, coupled with more brilliant lead guitar embellishments are beautiful and Zander’s voice oozes emotion, sounding like his voice might crack at any point. A distorted guitar enters the fray late on to add a nod towards Zander’s metal background but it remains strangely subtle and understated, merely enhancing the atmosphere of the song.

‘The World Makes Sure You’ll Die’ continues with the dark and sombre themes that loom large over this record but this time is comprised of just piano and vocals. Those familiar with Evergrey will no doubt recognise Rikard’s playing style and this is a song that, minus the vocals, could easily sit on an Evergrey album as an interlude-type piece or incorporated within a heavier track as a lead melody.

Whilst ‘I Can Do Without Love’ deals heavily with sorrow and regret, the music on the album isn’t always low-key and tracks like ‘Work Things Out’ and ‘Believe In Yourself’ are great examples of the brighter and breezier side of Zander’s song writing. The former has more of an up-beat bluesy country rock-inspired flavour, whilst ‘Believe In Yourself’ features some positive lyrics atop the kind of soft-rock song that could easily find its way onto mainstream commercial radio. Then there’s ‘Why Don’t You Leave Me’ which, in spite the lyrical content features a nice driving rhythm.

And if that wasn’t enough, there’s also room for a really excellent stripped-down cover version of ‘Disarm’, pretty much the only Smashing Pumpkins song that I like.

If I had one main criticism, it would be that the album is simply too short. In the time it takes to make a coffee, let it cool and drink it, ‘I Can Do Without Love’ is over and done. The songs themselves are quite short, generally around the three-minute mark and occasionally I find myself wishing that a few of the songs were a touch longer. But maybe that’s just the prog-head in me talking and anyway, this criticism could easily be turned into a positive: if I hated the music, I’d want it to end, not complain that it is too short. And isn’t there a saying about leaving the crowd wanting more?

Overall, I’ve been left mightily impressed with Rikard Zander’s debut solo outing, a conclusion that’s a relief but more so, is a delight to report.

The Score Of Much Metal: 8.0

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

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

Album Of The Year 2015 – Number 28

Can you believe that it’s already day three of my 2015 ‘Album of the Year’ countdown? I hope you’re enjoying my series and although it is early days, perhaps you’ve discovered something new or I’ve managed to change your mind about an album. Who knows, but what I do know is that, as intense and hard work as this series is every year, I’m really enjoying myself. I just love talking about music and I love giving plaudits to music that deserves it. Nothing gives me greater pleasure than giving space on my blog to artists that have, in some way, made a positive impression on me.

A reminder that 30-16 are only loosely and rather arbitrarily numbered. They are all extremely good and worthy of attention, hence the increase from a top 20 to a top 30 – it was too strong a year to only pick 20!

If you’ve missed the previous two instalments, you can read them here:

Album Of The Year 2015 – Number 30
Album Of The Year 2015 – Number 29

Number 28

avatarium coverAvatarium
‘The Girl In The Raven Mask’
Nuclear Blast Records

Those that know me and my music tastes will know that I’m not the biggest fan of doom per se. I love the symphonic melodic death/doom but when it comes to classic, down and dirty classic doom rock/metal, I’m not always so keen. Today’s pick is, therefore, another early surprise in this year’s list.

Avatarium could be referred to as a ‘supergroup’ of sorts given that the band is comprised of bassist Leif Edling (Candlemass), guitarist Marcus Jidell (ex-Royal Hunt/ex-Evergrey) and drummer Lars Sköld (Tiamat) as well as vocalist Jennie-Ann Smith and keyboardist Carl Westholm. It’s a mouth-watering line-up for sure and they have well and truly delivered the goods with their sophomore release, ‘The Girl In The Raven Mask’.

The core of the Avatarium sound is very much doom rock/metal with a rich and organic 70s vibe, where the synths and keyboards pay homage to a bygone era of music. But not content to leave things there, the quintet have added their own stamp to the eight compositions on the record. The result is something that feels both familiar and unique. Progressive flourishes blend in with dash of psychedelia and a harsher edge at times to create drama, whilst a soulful edge is injected via both Smith’s charismatic vocals and Marcus Jidell’s guitar playing.

The title track is a heady opening to the album, featuring some great riffs and a tempo that’s utterly infectious. It’s Avatarium in full flow and the result is truly glorious. Other favourites include the more ominously ponderous and sprawling ‘The Master Thief’ which features some beautifully subtle lead guitar work, full of expression. Then there’s ‘January Sea’ with its melodic chorus and great vocals, whilst ‘Run Killer Run’ is a groovy beast that lodges itself instantly into my brain and won’t let go.

As classic-inspired doom goes, there’s nothing to match Avatarium in 2015. ‘The Girl In The Raven Mask’ is, as far as I’m concerned, the absolute pinnacle of this style of music and has to be heard by as wide an audience as possible.

Album Of The Year 2015 – Number 30
Album Of The Year 2015 – Number 29

And from previous years:

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

Arcade Messiah – Arcade Messiah – Album Review

arcade messiah

Artist: Arcade Messiah

Album Title: Arcade Messiah

Label: Stereohead Records

Year of Release: 2014

Instrumental metal is not generally a subgenre of music that I particularly enjoy. I find that, more often than not, the music tends to be lacking a vital ingredient, one which renders the output rather one-dimensional and, well, boring. Of course there are exceptions to every rule and last year, Marcus Jidell (ex-Evergrey) showed us just how it could be done. Fast forward to the present and here we have the latest instrumental album to try to convince me that the exception could actually become the rule.

And, whilst I’m not for one minute suggesting that the worm has turned entirely or that I’m a converted fan of instrumental rock/metal, it is a bit like London buses – you wait years for a decent instrumental album to be released and then two come along in successive years.

Arcade Messiah is the name given to the latest project masterminded by the prolific John Bassett. Best known for his work under the KingBathmat moniker, 2014 has instead been the preserve of other musical creations. Earlier in the year we were treated to a solo John Bassett album (‘Unearth’) where the focus was on acoustic guitars and emotive vocals. With Arcade Messiah, the approach is markedly different.

The focus for Bassett with this project is on something entirely darker, heavier and, in many ways, more challenging. And I must say that, for my tastes, this is a very good thing indeed. In fact, if your personal penchant is for big riffs, lots of big riffs, this self-titled album will be right up your street too.

Comprised of seven tracks, ‘Arcade Messiah’ doesn’t try to overdo the content at all, leaving the listener sated but not exhausted, meaning that repeated listens are encouraged. That said, aside from the shorter, quieter and rather haunting ‘Aftermath’, this album is a dense, multi-layered and subtly progressive heavy metal album with plenty to keep you fully entertained.

John bassett

The album kicks off with the title track which can be best described as an up-tempo slap in the face of a metal track. The central riff is instantly memorable, supported by some powerful drumming and great rhythm section in general. There’s a hint of doom/stoner to the tone of the six-string instrument but it is definitely not a doom metal track. The melodic refrains and introspective passages help to create atmosphere and an intensity that pulls in influences from classic metal, prog and post rock.

It’s a great start to the record but crucially, the quality doesn’t diminish during the remainder of the album. Heck, the opener isn’t even my favourite track on the album. This accolade is reserved for the fantastic ‘Your Best Line of Defence is Obscurity’ (link below), which builds from quiet and humble beginnings into a wonderfully uplifting, almost euphoric piece of music. The post-metal influences are right at the forefront of the composition but it’s again the strong riff and the guitar harmonies that strike a chord with me, if you’ll be good enough to pardon the pun.

John Bassett Promo 4

Elsewhere, ‘Traumascope’ follows a similar pattern in that it builds stubbornly throughout its length, culminating in a big conclusion that hints at the likes Mastodon at various points. ‘Everybody Eating Everyone Else’ is altogether more antagonistic and confrontational but given time weaves its progressive magic amidst an apparent tumult of sound. ‘The Most Popular Form of Escape’ reintroduces the aforementioned stoner and doom references to nice effect whilst ‘Roman Resolution’ offers a fittingly epic and majestic conclusion to the album, once again dominated by an instantly memorable lead melody that sticks in the mind long after the track has ended. Not for the first time during the album I’m gently reminded of artists like Devin Townsend and a slightly calmer Isis both of which are strong positives for yours truly.

Overall, I’m very impressed with this release. Given my normal misgivings with instrumental ventures, the highest praise I can give Mr Bassett and Arcade Messiah is to say that the strength of the music means that I don’t find myself bemoaning the lack of vocals at any stage. Without doubt, ‘Arcade Messiah’ is the strongest instrumental metal record of the year.

The Score of Much Metal: 8.0

Check out my other album reviews here:

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

Two Years of the Blog Of Much Metal


It has now been two years since I began this heavy metal blog following intense pressure from some circles. What started as an exercise in quieting the mob has blossomed into a labour of love and something I am very passionate about. Over the two years, I have been able to write material based on music that is very personal to me and it has also allowed me to support subjects, bands and events that I believe are worth shouting about.

Writing for Powerplay magazine is great, but I’m constricted to writing what the Editor requires of me. With this blog, there are no such constraints. No word limits, no subject is off-limits and no deadlines loom over my head. However, it also means that with a small family and a full-time job to pay the bills, I’m not as prolific as I would like to be. Sure, I could regurgitate news from the Internet here or I could post links to other sites. But I think it is more important for me to write posts that are 100% unique and exclusive to this site. As such, if you want to read my rambling posts, you have to come to the Blog Of Much Metal. Simple as that.

I must be doing something right, too. The viewing figures are not going to worry the more established on-line presences but I’m proud of the fact that I have had over 62,000 hits from readers across 125 countries. It means that my 128 posts to date average over 480 views each. It’s not bad, but I want to do better and that’s part of my motivation to continue – to engage with more and more people and to therefore better support the bands in the world of rock and heavy metal that need that support.

In due course, I hope to redesign the blog and make it ever-more inviting. However, for the time being and until time allows, I thought I would offer a round-up of my posts over the past couple of years. An easy, one-stop-shop where the majority of my articles can be accessed should you be new to my blog or an existing visitor that may have missed an article or two here and there.

The Man Of Much Metal

I began the blog with a few articles to give readers an insight into me, personally. How I got into the world of heavy metal in the beginning and the journey that I took to get to where I am today. Following on from a brief intro piece, I split my music listening life into three, exploring my early years, the University years and the post-university years. AS far as live music goes, I offer a post about my gig-going experiences, linked to which is an article about my obsession with heavy metal t-shirts, particularly those with tour-dates on the back.

In something of a brave move, I admit to a few skeletons that lurk in my musical cupboard. Plus, I also commit myself to my Top 5 Albums of all-time as well as my favourite gig of all time. I also discuss my obsession with collecting CDs, the excitement I still feel leading up to an anticipated new release and I admit to a few bands that I should like, but don’t really ‘get’. We all have them, and these are mine.

The most personal of all of my posts deals with my late brother. He was the reason I got into writing about music in the first place and six years after his tragic passing at the age of 26, he still remains a big inspiration to me. Click here if you’d be interested in reading more.

On the subject of writing, I have also written a couple of posts on this topic, outlining how I got into amateur journalism in the first place via Powerplay, a ‘behind the scenes’ look at life as a writer, a look at some of the ‘heroes’ that I have met and interviewed over the years and also a discussion over the pro’s and con’s of this hobby.

Social commentary or ranting?

I have also indulged in a few ‘social commentary’-type articles, or perhaps they can be more accurately referred to as ranting posts. Within this section, you may wish to check out my thoughts on the decline of the independent record store, the increase of heavy metal attire within modern fashion trends, dealing with living in the middle of nowhere in terms of live music and my take on that most heavy metal of things, the album intros, outros and instrumental interludes.

If you’re feeling a little feisty, you may wish to check out my thoughts on album reissues, where the same disc is re-hashed time and time again. Or, how about a full-on rant at a rare few within the music industry?

On a lighter note, I have also written about those bands that support the headline act but which have impressed me to the point that I am now a fan of their music. It is quite rare these days, but it still happens. And, to finish this section off, I also comment on the fans of this wonderful genre of music, the ‘heavy metal family’.

Exposing the important stuff that needs exposure

One of the most rewarding parts of my blog has been with regard to giving exposure to bands that I personally love but that, for one reason or another, have not had the success that they deserve. Of course, success can be measured in a number of ways and I’m not suggesting that album sales are the only marker of a band’s popularity. But there are bands that toil away, release great albums full of wonderful music and yet fail to get the same level of recognition as others. If I can, via a blog post, increase the awareness of these artists just a little bit, then the effort is worthwhile.

Top of the pile here are two in-depth, detailed appraisals of two very special bands, namely Evergrey and Haken. If you want to know more about either, hear some of their music and wonder why they are favourites of mine, check them out!

In this section under the banner of my ‘Unknown & Underrated’ series, you can read in-depth overviews of some important bands to me including Omnium Gatherum, Shadow Gallery, Redemption, Wolverine, Darkwater, Subsignal and Agalloch.

In addition, there are some smaller articles looking at other bands, which can be accessed here, but may be expanded upon in the future. Featured bands include: Bal Sagoth, Darkane, Everon and Hecate Enthroned among many others.

Away from the band specific posts, I have also offered my thoughts on the best festivals that the UK has to offer as well as throwing the spotlight on my favourite festival of all, Progpower Europe.

Then there are the posts that I have recently embarked upon, which look at some of the countries that are worthy of much kudos for the quality of music that they manage to produce. Consequently, there’s a focus on Australia as well as a whole series around the Scandinavian countries. This is currently a work in progress, although the overall introduction is complete, as is my in-depth look at the magnificent country of Iceland.

Album reviews

More recently, I have begun to write a few reviews for albums that I am not asked to cover at Powerplay. Again, word limits are not an issue and so I find that I’m able to offer more detailed analyses on the music. A list of published reviews is as follows:

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

Plus, there’s also a live review of a brilliant Haken gig to enjoy too!


Interviews are a relatively recent addition to the blog and, given the current size of this site, have occasionally been hard to come by. Nevertheless, not one to be deterred, I have hunted a few interviews out and have had the pleasure to chat with UK prog rockers Maschine and Jonas Renkse and Bruce Soord about their project, Wisdom Of Crowds.

Most recently however, I have also interviewed Evergrey in what has turned out to be one of the best pieces that I have ever put my name to. I’m very proud of this piece and if there’s only one link you click via this article, I suggest humbly that it’s this one!

The ‘best of’ lists

Over the past two years, I have been very fond of putting together lists. It appeals to my inner geek and also helps to recommend bands, albums and genres of music to people that may be unfamiliar to them.

The biggest and most comprehensive of these lists are my ‘end of year best of’ round-ups. So far, there’s my ‘Top 20 of 2012’ and my ‘Album Of The Year 2013’ top 20, both of which feature one band per post and count down from 20, offering an album review, artwork and sample tracks. Therefore, if you want to know which albums I considered to be the best over the past two years, check them out!

2013 also saw me commenting on a few of the best live albums released during the year.

And, finally, there are those series of posts that round up the best albums that failed to make my Top 20 lists, both from 2012 and 2013.

Putting this post together makes me realise just how much I’ve managed to cram in over the past couple of years. I hope that there’s something within all this that is of interest to you. Please feel free to comment or criticise too and, if you have a topic you’d like covered, shout. I can only say no! Thanks to you all for supporting this venture of mine & here’s to the next two years. Cheers!

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

‘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.

For The Love of Evergrey

evergrey 1

I realise that I have talked a lot about Evergrey throughout my blogs and on other social media platforms. I gave their third album ‘In Search Of Truth’ the accolade of being my favourite album of all time, a sentiment I still wholeheartedly stick to.

evergrey logoIn the last couple of days, the last remaining founding member, Tom England announced that a new album was in the pipeline for 2014. To celebrate this exciting announcement, I thought it was the perfect time to dig a bit deeper and explain what it is that makes Evergrey one of my very favourite bands, if not the favourite.

My love-affair with Evergrey began around the turn of the millennium, just as I was completing my university degree. At this time, the Internet was still finding its feet. Broadband was merely a concept and so at University and at home, I had to rely on the inconsistency and snail-speed of dial-up. Nevertheless, the Internet was a great new tool to enable me to discover as much new music as I could. In the past, I had relied solely on magazines and on the catalogues produced by the record labels that interested me.

The only problem with the Internet at this time was that the websites were relatively basic and legal streams of tracks were rare. Tired of buying blind and trusting my instincts, all I wanted to do was hear the odd track by a band to see if it was going to be something I liked. In the end, I succumbed to a torrent site and began to download the odd song here and there. I used it primarily as a research tool; if I liked what I heard, I bought the album, simple as that. I was never interested in downloading entire albums because I always wanted the full package as the band intended.

Anyway, on one occasion, I decided to check out a melodic death metal band I’d heard a little about, Everfall. However, unbeknown to me at the time, I had clicked on the wrong track and instead ended up downloading ‘Different Worlds’ by Evergrey. The rest, as they say, is history.

From the moment I pressed play, I knew that I had hit upon something special. The atmosphere, the emotion, the sense of darkness and despair, the beautiful melodies and that crushing crescendo at the end. It was a recipe that led to love at first listen.

The following day, I contacted my favourite mail order company by telephone and ordered the entire Evergrey back catalogue to that point. A few days later, a package was delivered containing ‘The Dark Discovery’, ‘Solitude, Dominance, Tragedy’ and ‘In Search Of Truth’. That was a good day, I can tell you.

evergrey picWhilst I loved the rawness and relative naivety of the first couple of albums, it was ‘In Search Of Truth’ that made the biggest immediate impact upon me. It was everything that I had hoped for and more besides. This is not an album review (I might consider doing one for this album one day), so I’m not going to delve into great detail. However, what I loved most was the fact that the music offered me technicality but that it was married together with some wonderful hooks, melodies and big, sing-along choruses, not to mention a dark, emotional and often suffocating atmosphere. ‘Different Worlds’ will always hold a special place in my heart but the likes of ‘The Masterplan’ and ‘Mark Of The Triangle’ still give me goosebumps and enthral me nearly 13 years later. They remain two of my all-time favourite songs.

Looking back now, I realise that one of the reasons why Evergrey remain so special to me is because they were my first stepping stone into the glorious world of progressive metal. The Swedes are not and never have been the most technical band on the planet, but they have managed to incorporate clever time signatures, complex riffs and interesting song structures into more of a melodic metal framework. The result is an immediately enjoyable listen but one that maintains longevity and keeps giving year after year. Some bands I get bored with after a while; not so with Evergrey.

I realise that, at this point, I have yet to mention one of the most important ingredients in the Evergrey sound. Let me remedy this now. I am of course referring to the vocals. It seems utterly unbelievable to think that Tom Englund was never supposed to be the voice of Evergrey because it is his voice that, for me, helps to give the band that ‘X’ factor.

Tom’s delivery is one of those unique and instantly recognisable voices that forces people to listen immediately whether they wanted to or not. The delivery is powerful and relatively aggressive and yet remains soulful and very emotional. It never strays into ‘growly’ territory but there is a demonstrable gruffness around the edges which adds a level of sincerity and honesty to his performances. Put simply, if Tom sings, I listen.

In total, Evergrey have released eight studio albums and there’s not a bad one to be found. Admittedly, I am less of a fan of the stripped-down, more straight-forward approach of ‘Monday Morning Apocalypse’ but even here, the music remains powerful, punchy and chock-full of memorable melodies and choruses.

Aside from the magnificent ‘In Search of Truth’, I particularly adore 2003’s ‘Recreation Day’ and ‘The Inner Circle’ released the following year. The former offers that great blend of melody and technicality but with a stronger production than previous efforts, whilst the latter ups the heaviness to match the equally heavy concept story which centres on the murky world of religious cults.

Coming to the band when I did, Evergrey to me, began as the quintet of Englund, Rikard Zander (keyboards), Patrik Carlsson (drums), Henrik Danhage (guitars) and Michael Hakansson (bass). However, over Evergrey’s 18-year history, there have been no less than 16 musicians involved in the core of the band.

The other reason why Evergrey inhabit a special place in my heart is because they are inextricably linked to some of my favourite music-related experiences.

Heading off to Gothenburg to be in the crowd for the DVD-recorded ‘A Night To Remember’ is a particular highlight. Draped in the Union Jack and St George’s Cross flags, a friend of mine and I found ourselves at the very front of the stage for this fabulous live show. The fact that my giant sideburns and random hand-shaking is immortalised on the DVD is the icing on the cake to a fantastic weekend.

Yes, that’s me at 1:37 and the ‘handshake’ is at 2:39!

Meeting the band for the first time at Bloodstock 2004 was also a special moment. The photos from this meeting are proudly displayed in my kitchen, a lasting memory and one that my little daughter apparently finds highly amusing. She can’t talk yet, but I’m assuming she’s thinking ‘look at Daddy with the men with funny hair’.

Evergrey - Tom Englund & Rikard Zander

And then, over the past year or two, I have had the pleasure and the privilege of getting to know the band on a more personal level. A couple of years ago, I was lucky enough to join the band on tour in the UK for a couple of days, sharing their tour bus, dressing room and restaurant meal-tables.

Evergrey - Full band

Based on my own personal experiences, I have to say that the current line-up of Englund, Rikard Zander, Marcus Jidell (guitars), Johan Niemann (bass) and Hannes Van Dahl (drums) is not only one of the nicest groups of people I’ve met, but they are also technically brilliant musicians as any of their blistering live shows will confirm.

So, in short, when you combine great music, interesting lyrics and a bunch of genuinely great guys, you can’t go far wrong really, can you? Personally, I cannot wait for album number nine and, whatever it brings, I’m sure it will only help to further cement my love and admiration for this very special, yet criminally underrated band.

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:


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

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