As many of you will know all too well, I tend to write long reviews that go into some detail about the release I’m faced with. However, given that this EP lasts for just 16 minutes, I shall try my best to match that brevity here. The EP is entitled ‘No Man Isle’, and it comes from a Norwegian entity by the name of Haunted By Silhouettes.
What surprised me when I carried out my research, was that Haunted By Silhouettes have been around for nearly a decade. I thought that this EP might be one of their first but, as it turns out, it is their third EP to go alongside two full-length albums released so far. I’ve obviously been asleep at the wheel when it comes to this band, especially as they offer a rather palatable brand of melodic death metal, if ‘No Man Isle’ is anything to go by.
Comprised of vocalist Mathias Jamtli Rye, guitarists Per Kristian Grimsland and Stian Hoel Fossen, bassist Ola Nilsen Kjøren, and drummer Håvard Bustad, the quintet caught my ear immediately when I took an early exploratory listen. ‘No Man Isle’ may only be comprised of four full tracks and an intro piece which are gone in the blink of an eye, but it’s a really satisfying blink that’s for sure.
What I really enjoy about the music on ‘No Man Isle’ is the way that the quintet have found a good blend of old and new. The core of the band’s sound is clearly inspired by the ‘Gothenburg sound’ of the 90s, but they ensure that the songs remain relevant two or three decades later by adding a more modern edge, created through the use of synths and electronic sounds. But it’s not overdone in my opinion, so that the resultant music avoids feeling soulless.
If I did have a slight criticism though, it would be a slightly strange one. As I listen, I can’t help but feel that the music is almost too smooth, too polished, and too ‘nice’. The melodies within this EP are memorable and catchy, whilst the production is powerful and meaty. But, to be critical, melodic or not, this is death metal and there is a lack of an edge at times, which can often add another dimension to this kind of music.
But it’s a minor niggle, and aside from that, there’s not much else to bemoan. The intro piece, ‘Departure’ is over in a flash of synths and electronics, to be replaced by a hard-hitting slab of melodic death metal courtesy of ‘Flock’, complete with memorable riffs, a satisfying growl, and powerful drumming. The chorus allows the synths to come to the fore, as the melodies make their mark. I do get mid-era In Flames echoes here, but it comes with enough of their own ingredients, that the similarities are not too overpowering.
‘Selkie’ dials back the heaviness slightly and has more of a quasi-ballad feel despite the deep growls, and features the huge talents of Bjorn ‘Speed’ Strid of Soilwork and The Night Flight Orchestra to lend his clean vocals to the chorus. If you’re a Speed fan, this song will be irresistible to you, as it is to me, although the chorus is not quite as electric as it’s predecessor if I’m being entirely honest.
The most aggressive song on ‘Ni Man Isle’ has to be ‘Icon’, which bursts out of the speakers with barely controlled intent, and features the dirtiest riffs on this EP. Again, though, the chorus is smooth, synth-bathed, and melodic, meaning that it isn’t difficult to really warm to. There’s even room for a quit synth-led cinematic section towards the end.
And finally, we’re faced with the title track, which has a demonstrable Nordic folk feel to it. The pace is slowed, the melodies are more elegant and flowing, and there’s even an appearance from what sounds like an accordion. I wasn’t expecting this, but oddly, it works, adding a different vibe to what is a more nuanced and intriguing track overall.
Based on the content of ‘No Man Isle’, I wish it was longer, much longer. That in itself should demonstrate to you how much I like the music from Haunted By Silhouettes here. It may be a short and snappy affair, but the Norwegians make the very most of it and, in so doing, have made me sit up and take notice of a band that I previously knew nothing about. My appetite has been well and truly whetted for their next release, one for which I will keep an eager eye open. I tried to be brief, I really did!
You may not have heard of the band at the heart of this review, but if you are familiar with the names Suidakra or Graveworm, then you may wish to stick with me for a while. And that’s because Dragonbreed are an amalgam of the two entities, created to offer a platform for music written during the most recent Suidakra writing sessions that didn’t fit that album, ‘Wolfbite’. Vocalist/guitarist Arkadius ‘Akki’ Antonik pulled together his Suidakra bandmates Sebastian Jensen and Ken Jentzen, former bassist Christoph ‘Zachi’ Zacharowski, and Graveworm vocalist Stefano Fiori to create Dragonbreed, almost certainly named after a Suidakra song from their 2000 release, ‘Arcanum’.
‘Necrohedron’, with its arresting cover artwork, is the result of their endeavours. It’s just shy of 38 minutes long and consists of eight individual tracks that harken back to the heyday of melodic death metal. And when I say that, I’m of course referring to the mid-late 90s when the scene was awash with superb bands creating even better music. That said, Dragonbreed don’t just spend their time worshiping at the altar of the Gothenburg greats; there is a lot of that style to be heard naturally, but there is enough variety spread across the album to ensure that the music remains relevant and interesting in the modern day. I was impressed from the first listen, but my enjoyment has increased further, the more I listen to it.
If I can get the negatives out of the way first, before extolling its virtues, I find that ‘Necrohedron’ runs out of steam a little towards the end. Or, to put it another way, the best material is very much front-loaded. The album packs a massive punch early on but struggles a little to maintain the high standards for the entire record. I also think that Dragonbreed do need to settle on an identity that is more their own; it remains to be seen whether this venture will be a one-off, but if they are to return, then they need to bring with them something a little more unique to help them stand out from the pack within what is, a very competitive scene.
Enough of the negatives though, because I want to explore all that is good about Dragonbreed and ‘Necrohedron’. And this is relatively easy because you could pick any one of the opening five or so tracks and be hit with something that’s worthy of the entrance fee.
Predictably, I’m going to start with the opening composition, ‘The Undying’ because, for my money, it’s quite possibly the best of the bunch, beginning the record with a real bang and a statement of genuine intent. There’s barely any kind of intro to speak of before we’re pinned to the wall by a ferocious blast of heaviness, complete with deep growls, frenetic drums, and sharp riffs. The melody comes in after a while, but it doesn’t dilute the brutality or the intensity of the track, it enhances it. Early In Flames and Dark Tranquillity are immediate reference points, made all the more prominent by a lovely acoustic guitar interlude. This was a staple of a lot of early 90s melodic death metal, and I’m a real sucker for it if I’m honest. I love the way that the heaviness gradually increases around it, I also quite like the spoken-word element too.
With my interest fully captured, ‘Summoning The Arcane’ goes all-out to keep it. It’s a muscular, no-nonsense affair, with chunky riffs, meaty rhythms, and melodies that are catchy, but not overly saccharine either. In seeking to remain relevant in the modern world, there’s a very slight nod to the ‘core’ lovers out there thanks to a beefy closing riff, but it’s done tastefully and with style.
I love the dark, dramatic opening to ‘The World Beyond’, which gives way to a pleasing mid-tempo stomp, but delivered with understated flair. It’s a song that gets the neck muscles moving, and again, there are some nice melodies to be heard, giving it an immediacy. What I wasn’t expecting was the part that’s just bass accompanied by a slightly cleaner, snarled vocal. The bass is dirty and has a thrash edge to it which is cool, and it demonstrates a willingness to explore different ideas, something that’s perhaps easier for a new band than an established act with a clear modus operandi.
The final couple of minutes of ‘Sinister Omen’ are marvellous too. The main body of the song is very solid, but the melody is suddenly increased in the latter stages, only to be replaced by another gorgeous acoustic section with more spoken-word embellishment that ends up seeing the song to its conclusion. Those of us of a certain vintage have got to like the very subtle hint to At The Gates with the feedback/amp sounds that usher in ‘Offerings From Yonder’. Whether or not this was intentional, it’s a nice touch for sure.
Aside from the fact that the final couple of tracks don’t quite hit the mark with me as strongly as the earlier material, there’s really not very much that I can find fault with here. Dragonbreed is a band that, on the strength of ‘Necrohedron’, I fervently hope is not neglected in the years to come. Naturally the protagonists’ ‘main’ bands of Suidakra and Graveworm will come first, but it would be a crying shame if we never get to hear some new old-school melodic death metal done the Dragonbreed way, especially if it builds upon these solid foundations, of which I’m sure they are entirely capable.
I’ve never seen a single minute of the TV show ‘Stranger Things’, so when this album is described as “a cross between Gothenburg metal and the score to ‘Stranger Things’”, half of the reference is lost on me. It goes on to suggest that “‘Vermillion Oceans’ sounds like a massive, zeitgeisty metal album taking a stroll through Hawkins, Indiana.” My assumption that Hawkins is the setting for the TV show proved correct on closer inspection, but it still means nothing to me. Hell, I’m neck deep in music reviews for this website, so the chance to indulge in TV binge watching isn’t even an option. I’ve made my bed, so I must now lie in it.
Fortunately, I know my melodic death metal, so the Gothenburg reference pricked up my ears, even if the cover artwork and imagery left me thinking that perhaps the PR company had mixed up the promo blurb with another album, perhaps an 80s tinged Gothic rock record. But no, ‘Vermillion Oceans’ is very much a melodeath album and it comes from the minds of a five-piece from Stuttgart in Germany called Credic. ‘Vermillion Oceans’, as it transpires, is actually their second release and, on balance, it’s not bad at all.
I thought I’d reference the elephant in the room from the outset, and state that this album does sound like it was heavily inspired by the ‘Haven’ era of Dark Tranquillity. So, depending upon your level of appreciation for that kind of output, you’ll either love or loathe ‘Vermillion Oceans’ accordingly. Interestingly, the press release references ‘Haven’ specifically, so this isn’t a case of my ears misbehaving, thankfully. That said, I need to make a further two points before I move on. Firstly, the music is not a complete replica of Dark Tranquillity’s Millennium baby and secondly, neither does this effort quite reach the same standards.
All that being said, ‘Vermillion Oceans’ is still a thoroughly decent slab of melodic death metal, and it does have a few of its own nuances to explore. For a start, some of the material within the music has been given the ‘modern’ treatment, meaning that the songs contain some up-to-date electronic and synths sounds. Take the title track as the example of what I’m getting at. Within the song, there are some bold effects and sounds that are more akin to the ‘modern metal’ sphere, bands like Amaranthe springing to mind immediately. The chorus is catchy and is a fittingly heavy, whilst vocalist Stefan Scheu does a reasonable job at not sounding a million miles away from Michael Stanne, growling deeply and confidently atop the metallic tumult, that veers into vaguely metalcore territory with chugging stop-start riffs from guitarists Andreas Steinle.
Whereas ‘Haven’ typically beat us with track after banging track of short, sharp, melodic intensity, Credic dabble in slightly longer compositions. It’s all relative though, as I’m only talking four-to-five minutes duration, with only three tracks here coming in at the sub-four-minute mark. One of these songs, ‘Darkened Fields’ is an utter delight though, coming in with a catchy lead guitar lick before an immediate melody assaults the ears. The chorus, bathed in bold synths, is driven forcefully by the drum/bass combo of Waldemar Janzen and Martin Stump respectively. Interestingly, it is Janzen who handles the electronics, and, on this song, he excels, creating a rich atmosphere to accompany the melodies.
‘Chosen Ordeal’ on the other hand, is a much more thrash-infused and uncompromising affair with expressive bas lines and guitar riffs that are sharp and which occasionally verge on the discordant to increase the more aggressive side of the band. But at the half-way mark, in marches a brief melodic section to give the song a completely different feel, even if the more extreme instrumentation returns until the end.
To their credit, the quintet are also willing to experiment a bit and on ‘Tethys Mix’, they allow Janzen to stand front and centre, creating a quiet, but brooding and cinematic composition that then brings in really bold electronics later in the piece to add to the introduction of the metallic instruments. I’m not sure it’s my favourite piece, but it shows the intent within the band to not just offer ten identical tracks. Some might shout ‘filler’, but instead I find it an interesting change of pace. Equally worthy of note is the more atmospheric and slightly more progressive sounding ‘Long Street’, which closes the album with some style, despite lacking that standout melody I was hoping for.
Mind you, if you’re looking for melodies, there are lots of places to look here, such as the opener ‘Tides Disharmonized’ which begins so abruptly that you’re left momentarily reeling. But as it settles, in come the synth-soaked riffs and melodic chorus, complete with fast-picked, cold riffing, and an overall presence that is hard not to enjoy, even the unexpected dalliance with Gothic trappings somewhere in the middle. The early groove within ‘The Path’ is delightful too, it must be said, as is the synth-heavy ‘Haven’-esque chorus that cuts through the muscular groove nicely.
Most surprising however, is ‘Autumns Spring’ which manages to blend whimsical and gentle cinematic filmscore-like synths with heavy riffing, and melodic death metal burliness. In fact, if Credic were to follow this path more on their next outing, I’d be all over it like a rash – I really like this song and it’s probably the stand-out track on the album.
Overall, I must conclude that ‘Vermillion Oceans’ is a very decent, enjoyable album. Despite it not being particularly original and lacking that knock-out punch, I have no doubt that it will find favour with fans of the more modern, melodic end of the melodic death metal genre. It is well-crafted, well-performed, and delivers in terms of heaviness and memorability, although I’d have liked even more in terms of anthemic material seeing as the guys are clearly capable of such things. As such, Credic’s sophomore release, ‘Vermillion Oceans’ comes with a recommendation from me – ignore the incongruous cover artwork and take a listen to the music within, safe in the knowledge that it’s pretty darn good.
My attention was first drawn to Nightrage back in 2003 when they released their debut album, ‘Sweet Vengeance’. Always on the look-out for a great slab of melodic death metal, I was drawn by the fact that the band was co-formed by Gus G of Firewind fame at the time. As if that wasn’t enough, the drumming was handled by The Haunted’s Per Möller Jensen, with Tomas Lindberg of At The Gates behind the microphone. I was further persuaded to give them a try thanks to a guest appearance from Tom Englund of Evergrey. Long-term readers will be shocked by that revelation, I can tell. It remains a great album, one that I still listen to when the mood takes me and time allows.
However, the debut remains the only one of their records that has found its way into my collection. Over the ensuing 19 years, Nightrage have undergone significant line-up changes with Gus G and Tomas Lindberg departing due mainly to competing priorities. In fact, only the co-founder Marios Iliopolous remains in place to this day. Joining him in 2022 are vocalist Ronnie Nyman, guitarist Magnus Söderman, bassist Francisco Escalona, and drummer Dino George Stamoglou.
Partly because of the line-up alterations and the fact that the next couple of albums failed to really ignite my enthusiasm, Nightrage is a band that I lost contact with. And it’s not just me, it seems. The melodic death metal genre can be a busy and competitive place, and Nightrage seem to have been the victims of this reality, always remaining just off the radar of the masses. Nevertheless, they have carried on in the underground, releasing a further seven albums after their excellent debut.
‘Abyss Rising’ is the ninth full-length studio recording and once again, it nearly evaded my attention, due to being released on one of the busiest weeks of the year so far. These guys need a bit of luck it seems. Hopefully this review will help because now that I have listened to it on and off for a few days now, I have to say that it’s really rather splendid.
The music might not be the most original, but as I’ve said many times before, it doesn’t have to be in order to be good. And Nightrage waste no time in grabbing my attention with a fabulous opening one-two that have be grinning from ear to ear. A brief drum solo ushers in the title track, before a sharp and catchy riff gets in on the action. Nyman’s rasping vocals, in the Lindberg vein suit the music well, before a killer chorus takes centre stage, led by a lovely lead guitar line. I’m reminded of Arch Enemy in their earlier days when they were still good.
The second of the two opening songs is entitled ‘Swallow Me’, and it’s a groovy little sucker. It features clever clean guitar effects that are vaguely reminiscent of mid-era In Flames to accent the heavier, more aggressive riffs. The song makes great use of dynamics too, with plenty to grab and then hold your attention, not least a pronounced use of light and heavy sections, a cool lead guitar solo, and catchy melodies aplenty.
There is a school of thought that say that Nightrage blow their best two songs at the beginning of the album, with everything that follows struggling to match their quality. It’s a hypothesis that stands up to scrutiny at the beginning, but which then becomes less and less accurate the more time you spend with ‘Abyss Rising’. The opening two tracks might well deliver some of the catchiest of Nightrage’s music, but there is a lot of quality to be heard at other times too. In fact, the only real misstep that the band make, is to insert no fewer than three short instrumental pieces into the album – one ‘interlude’, one ‘instrumental’ and one outro. I can make peace with the ‘The Divergent, Instrumental’, as it is at least a charming palette-cleanser that features some excellent, melodic lead guitar work. But ‘Portal Of Dismay, Interlude’ is almost entirely pointless, offering nothing except a few vaguely dystopian sounds for just under a minute.
But back to the positives, and there’s lots of material to choose. ‘Nauseating Oblivion’ carries with it some nice, aggressive riffs, an insidiously catchy chorus and some unexpected clean vocals later in the track that are a welcome addition because they’re not sickly-sweet or overdone. ‘Falsifying Life’ has a nice pace to it, as well as some strong melodies that will hit home for fans of ‘Whoracle’-era In Flames. If I’m honest, throughout ‘Abyss Rising’, the In Flames references are the biggest and most dominating, not that this is necessarily a bad thing, it just backs up my previous comments about originality and it is worth mentioning as it might be a make or break for some of you reading this review.
‘9th Circle Of Hell’ however, mixes things up well, with a dark vibe initially, before hitting hard with a cracking slab of melodeath that I must’ve not listened to properly to begin with, whilst ‘Cursed By The Gift Of Sight’ comes blasting out of the blocks at high speed, dialling up the aggression somewhat in the process, complete with strong lead guitar solos and a sense of real urgency.
Overall, I have thoroughly enjoyed the ride upon which Nightrage have taken me. ‘Abyss Rising’ may lack a fully fleshed-out identity of its own, but what it does, it does really very well indeed. Everything you could want from a melodic death metal album is present and correct – as such, you get strong incisive riffing, aggression, power, and plenty of melody and groove to keep you hooked and ensure you come back for another listen. And if you give ‘Abyss Rising’ a listen, I guarantee you’ll come back for more. You never know, this might be the album to raise the Nightrage profile too…I certainly hope so.
When it comes to melodic death metal, everyone knows that I’m a big fan. I like a wide range of bands and styles that come under the increasingly vast umbrella of ‘melodeath’. However, I’ve always been a bigger fan of the Omnium Gatherum or Dark Tranquillity approaches, with less of a love for the Black Dahlia Murder, more US style, that has more of a slight ‘core’ edge to it. This is relevant because, when it comes to this debut album from Chicago-based Burned In Effigy, there’s a distinct sense that this quintet have been influenced more by their compatriots than their Scandinavian counterparts. And yet, I will concede that there is an awful lot to enjoy with ‘Rex Mortem’, certainly a lot more than I was initially expecting.
The strongest single element on ‘Rex Mortem’ is, without doubt, the guitar playing. New guitarists Mike Hisson and Steve Bacakos certainly leave a large imprint upon ‘Rex Mortem’, an album chock full of sharp, incisive riffs, neoclassical runs, and dextrous solos aplenty, meaning that lovers of the six-string will be in aural heaven after a couple of spins. That’s not to say that the rest of the band are slouches, because that’s definitely not the case. Indeed, the third new member of the Burned In Effigy family, vocalist Mark ‘Smedy’ Smedbron, transforms what was originally an instrumental quartet into an aggressive, snarling quintet. Equally adept at low, floor-shaking growls and higher-pitched screams nearer the black metal spectrum, Smedbron rounds out what bassist Matt Watkins and drummer Eddie Dec gave birth to in the beginning under the Burned In Effigy moniker.
I shall begin my deeper dive into the music with my favourite track, ‘Atlas’ that finds itself buried at number six in the running order of an album that is comprised of eight songs with a succinct 33-minute lifespan. I just love the opening melody, so bright and breezy, as well as catchy as hell. It’s a slightly more sedate song in many ways, with less overt guitar histrionics and a slower, more mid-tempo pace. This allows for a big chorus to make a powerful impression. But it is also the quiet, melodic sections that catch the ear, especially when juxtaposed by the heavier parts of the track; this is just a wonderfully mature and impressive song, not to mention immediate and irresistible too.
If you’re looking for an example of what Burned In Effigy are more consistently about, then you can do worse than head back to the opening track, ‘Doomsayer’. The pace from the outset is rather impressive, galloping along as if the lives of the quintet depended upon it. That said, you can tell that all-out attack is not within Burned In Effigy’s modus operandi because there are moments of calm within the otherwise heady composition that wears those neoclassical tags like a badge of honour. This maturity, when further enhanced by the technical prowess of all concerned, is incredibly exciting for an outfit so young. It hints at a bright future indeed.
Back to the hear and now and ‘Artorius’ is another cracking track that offers something again, just a little different. The bass of Matt Watkins is, to these ears, more prominent, as the band explore more progressive ideas, allowing more extended instrumental passages, more ebb and flow, and certainly more by way of subtle experimentation. Mind you, when called upon, Smedy does his level best to remind us all just how savage and aggressive Burned In Effigy remain with some truly gnarly vocals.
One of the fastest and most overtly neoclassical has to be the rather delightful ‘Nightfall’, which sees flamboyant leads, solos, and clean melodies all over the place. Just about every direction you turn, you’re assaulted by some measure of impressive musicianship, be it drums, bass, or guitar. And yet the Americans manage to ensure that it remains a cohesive composition that still feels like a song. I’m beginning to become very impressed here.
Just when you think that Burned In Effigy must have runout of oomph or ideas, they drop ‘The Empyricist’ in your lap. It stands alongside the aforementioned ‘Atlas’ as one of the most immediate songs on ‘Rex Mortem’ thanks to another deliciously upbeat and ‘friendly’ chorus featuring a super melody that cannot avoid lifting one’s mood thanks to its effervescent, playful quality.
For those looking for some more modern touches, ‘Hades’ would be a good bet, thanks to the pronounced ‘core’ aspects, and the chugging riffs that allow neck muscles to be exercised nicely. But even here, there is enough melody, enough panache, and enough moderated flamboyance to give the song its own identity, keeping out of the ‘heard that a million times before’ trap.
To be brutally honest, there’s not an awful lot to pick holes in with this record, especially when you consider that this is a debut full-length featuring not one but three new members. Things could have gone horribly wrong here, but they didn’t. Instead, what we’re faced with is a melodic death metal release from across the pond that has impressed me more than the vast majority of others from the USA in recent times. It is technically proficient, exuberant, flashy but not overly so, and features plenty of proper songs that are memorable and well thought out. ‘Rex Mortem’ isn’t the finished article by any means, but the signs are all there that Burned In Effigy might be a big name within the melodic death metal genre in years to come. I’m certainly looking forward to finding out – come join me!
Welcome to Day 10 in my ‘Album of the Year 2021 Top 30 Countdown’. Exactly a third of the way through. How on Earth did that happen so quickly? And how come I have barely heard a flicker of dissention to any of my choices thus far? You’re all far too polite it seems!
If you’re new to this series, I’d like to remind you that this list represents my favourite 30 albums of the year, regardless of genre, technicality, or notoriety. If it made me smile or bang my head enough, it’ll be right here among the thirty. And between 16 and 30, there’s no real order to my picks – they all deserve to be in the list, so solid placings don’t appear until the half-way point.
And also, if you’re new to my series, you can check out the other picks so far in this year’s series at the end of this post alongside the entire lists from previous years.
At The Gates
“The Nightmare Of Being”
Century Media Records
Release date:2 July 2021
Score Of Much Metal: 94%
I remember that ‘The Nightmare Of Being’ was the last new album I listened to before I stepped away from the website for three months for personal reasons. I liked it, but it got shelved along with all music while I sorted myself out emotionally and physically.
When I returned at the beginning of October, it was one of the first albums I gravitated towards, as I was absolutely determined to publish my thoughts on it. The great thing about this was that the music had time and distance to mull around in the back of my mind. And when I did return to it, my thoughts remained the same.
As you’ll see below, in my review, I made the bold statement that ‘The Nightmare Of Being’ is the best At The Gates record since ‘Slaughter Of The Soul’. I still cannot find any evidence to change my mind on that score, even if the Swedes do dabble with a saxophone in one song, much to my utter disgust. They’ve matured and learned a few new tricks, but with At The Gates, the future of melodic death metal is in good hands.
What I wrote at the time:
“I’m going to dispense with any smoke and mirrors or ambiguity right from the outset and declare that, without any doubt, ‘The Nightmare Of Being’ is easily the best album that At The Gates have released since the seminal ‘Slaughter Of The Soul’ back in 1995. There, I’ve said it, and I mean it.
What comes next, however, is a word of warning, because ‘The Nightmare Of Being’ is a significantly different beast to the aforementioned ‘classic’ and indeed, it’s different from everything that has been released prior or since.
All of the trademark sounds you expect to hear from At The Gates are present and correct…However, ‘The Nightmare Of Being’ is a much more nuanced, varied, and mature affair all-round. Not exactly ‘experimental’, it does however play around with some different ideas throughout…
Returning to it after a few months of listening to almost no music at all, I can confirm that it still packs the same punch, raises the eyebrow in the same way, and ultimately delights me as strongly as it did at the outset.”
Once in a while, an album will come along about which you had no idea, and will knock you sideways. It’s a special feeling and is one of those fundamental experiences that keeps me coming back day after day, to listen to new music, review it, and hopefully discover something a little bit special in the process. Reviewing the more established, well-known acts creates its own buzz, but finding a new gem is something else entirely. You can probably tell that the focus of today’s review is once such album. Is it perfect? No. But is it exciting? Yes. Does it suggest that there’s a new name that needs to be shouted about? Yes. Does the album give me ‘the feels’? Hell yes.
The album in question is entitled ‘The Great Nothing’, and it is the third album by a band called Nightland. You may already be familiar with the name, but I certainly wasn’t. For those in the same boat as I, Nightland hail from Italy. They are a quartet comprised of guitarist/vocalist Ludovico Cioffi, guitarist Brendan Paolini, bassist Filippo Scrima, and drummer Filippo Cicoria. Cioffi also handles the orchestral arrangements that, as will become clear, play an important role in the music of Nightland. For Nightland have chosen to plunder the world of symphonic death metal, with a vague hint of tech/prog for good measure. On the strength of ‘The Great Nothing’, Nightland is definitely a name that should, from now on, be uttered in the same breath as the likes of Fleshgod Apocalypse, Septic Flesh, and Persefone to name just a few.
Many of you know that I have a genuine weakness for well-executed symphonic death metal, and Nightland definitely scratch that itch. The music isn’t as over-the-top in the orchestral sense as the likes of Fleshgod Apocalypse tend to be, but the music is no less grandiose, dynamic, and imposing as a result. Vocalist Cioffi has a deep gruff growl that’s not dissimilar at times to Dimmu Borgir’s Shagrath, especially when treated to a few effects. But the songs are laced with well-placed clean vocals too, as well as choral voices, adding depth to the material. However, the key strength to the Nightland sound is their ability to create gorgeous melodies that interweave the compositions, thus leaving an indelible mark on the listener. And these melodies don’t just grace a couple of the tracks, they are evident within them all to a greater or lesser extent.
And, at 48 minutes, ‘The Great Nothing’ is an ideal length for this kind of intense music. Spread over six or eight songs, depending on how you view the three-part closing epic, the only feeling I get when the album comes to a close is one of surprise that it’s all over, alongside an urge to press play again to delve into the Nightland soundscape once more.
When I mentioned the similarities to Shagrath, just take a listen to the shorter, punchier, and rather anthemic ‘Further’ for the evidence to support this statement. The verses feature a pulsating bass alongside the heavily effected vocals, but the juxtaposition between this and the rousing chorus is stark. Here you get layers of anthemic synths, choral clean vocals, and a really rich, powerful lead guitar solo on top.
Compare this to the opener, ‘The Conjunction Of Benetnash’ or the ten-minute long ‘Shade Of A Lowering Star’ and there is a really great feeling of variety to be heard within the music. The opener begins in imposing fashion, with bold orchestration embellishing heavy chugging riffs, expressive lead lines, and a muscular rhythm section. Blast beats feature, but not incessantly, whilst it is refreshing to be able to hear the bass of Filippo Scrima so clearly. When clean vocals duet with the growls, they add melody to an otherwise bruising, but enjoyable encounter, whilst there’s a palpable energy as eventually the intensity gives way to a singing lead solo, albeit briefly. ‘Shade Of A Lowering Star’ is the very definition of ‘epic’, beginning tentatively with a lone piano before a measured riff takes over, itself bolstered by grand orchestration. The changes of pace, the ebb and flow of the music, as well as the injections of stunning melody are an utter joy to behold. I’m not entirely sure that the track requires the rather long atmospheric outro, but aside from that, it’s a class act.
In a complete change of pace, ‘101 Megaparsecs’ sees Cioffi experiment and in so doing, he creates a beautifully rich film score piece that could easily feature as a sci-fi soundtrack. It might divide opinion amongst listeners, but personally, I really like it and it is worthy of its place on the album; to suggest otherwise is just wrong as far as I’m concerned.
Without question however, the crowning glory of this brilliant record arrives in the shape of the final composition, the 16-minute, three-part title track. Use any adjectives you like: ‘rousing’, ‘epic’, ‘moving’, ‘grandiose’, ‘sumptuous’; they are all justified, as well as many more besides. ‘Part 1: Of Seeking And Straying’ takes a while to get going, but when it does, it’s an outpouring of thoroughly warm and inviting extreme metal. The central melody that’s reprised throughout the three parts makes an instant impact but so does the perfect blend of extremity and orchestration. ‘Part 2: The Reliever’ is a chance to unleash the acoustic guitars as well as a flexing of aggressive muscles from all concerned, be it a blast beat, effervescent lead solo, or strident symphonics. The final part, ‘Pursuers Of Absolution’ offers more film score-worthy material before delivering the most satisfying of crescendos, ensuring that ‘The Great Nothing’ ends in the best way possible.
There’s an argument that might be put forward by some that ‘The Great Nothing’ is almost too melodic, thus robbing the heavier elements of some of their punch. I can see that criticism, I honestly can. But for my tastes, Nightland have created an amazing album, full of aggression, depth, and with a massive melodic intent. I’m delighted to be able to shine the spotlight on this talented Italian symphonic death metal band, and I genuinely can’t wait to see what’s next for them.
It’s fitting, in many ways the latest album from Finland’s Omnium Gatherum, ‘Origin’ should be released on 5th November, because you should expect fireworks. I wrote a review for the new Insomnium EP very recently and remarked that the two best melodic death metal bands hailed, not from Sweden where the genre originated, but from Finland. If Insomnium are one of the two, the other is Omnium Gatherum. In fact, if I had to order them, Omnium Gatherum would sit at the very top of the pile. And I’d not have to think very long or hard either.
Some of you will be well aware of my three-month hiatus over the summer this year. I won’t go into detail, but suffice to say I was in a dark place and went through a very rare period where I couldn’t face listening to music of any kind, especially new music. As I got my act together slowly, there was one band that I must thank for helping me get my mojo back and find the joy in listening to music again. And that band is Omnium Gatherum. It was to the Finns that I turned when I felt a mild interest in returning to music, a mild interest that blossomed into something more potent thanks to two albums in particular. I must have listened to ‘Beyond’ (2013) and ‘The Burning Cold’ (2018) upwards of a dozen times as I gradually emerged from my self-imposed exile. The combination of extreme metal and elegant AOR-like melodies, both uplifting and poignant at the same time stirred something within me, and with it, my bond with Omnium Gatherum became even stronger than ever before.
I am therefore delighted that the first album for several months that I am reviewing before it’s release, is ‘Origin’, the ninth album of Omnium Gatherum’s lengthening and ever-more impressive career.
It’s fair to say at this juncture, that the last couple of years have not been easy for Omnium Gatherum either. Not only have they had to navigate a safe path through the pandemic, but they have also had to negotiate some changes in the line-up. Continuing as a quintet, following the departure of guitarist and clean vocalist Joonas ‘Jope’ Koto in 2019, the band also had to replace their long-time bassist Erkki Silvennoinen around the same time. The current line-up therefore sees new bassist/clean vocalist Mikko Kivistö join up with vocalist Jukka Pelkonen, guitarist/clean vocalist Markus Vanhala, keyboardist Aapo Koivisto, and the relatively new himself drummer Atte Pesonen.
When you consider the upheaval that Omnium Gatherum have been through, you can forgive my slight air of apprehension going into this review. ‘Origin’ might be very different from previous records, it might be very similar. It might be incredible, it might be terrible. A new album shouldn’t make you feel so nervous and worried, but when it’s a band with whom I have some very special emotional ties, these feelings are entirely natural. The nerves are heightened slightly more when the band themselves proclaim that they want ‘Origin’ to be considered as the death metal version of Def Leppard’s ‘Hysteria’. I love Def Leppard, but what exactly does this mean?
In essence, having digested ‘Origin’ as much as humanly possible over the past week or so, it means that Omnium Gatherum have decided to dial down the death metal a smidge, whilst dialling up the melody. And the increase in melody appears in many ways, from the lead guitar lines, from the keys that have always been an important element of the band’s sound, and also from what I perceive to be an increase in clean vocals. This upturn in melody is accompanied by a more measured pace overall, with fewer bursts of intense, pacey aggression, leading to a feeling that ‘Origin’ is a more gentle and serene animal than anything before it within their discography to date.
At first, I felt a little unnerved and wasn’t sure if this was an album that maintained the stature of Omnium Gatherum in my eyes. As I type here and now, I’m still of the opinion that other OG albums contain a little more of their unquantifiable magic. However, there remains something about this band, even when they’re maybe not firing on all cylinders, that entrances me and pulls me back into their warm, comforting, melancholic embrace. And that something is the melody; this band can speak directly to my heart as if it’s on speed dial.
Let’s start with the couple of most familiar tracks to most of us, the opening two ‘singles’ released ahead of time, ‘Paragon’ and ‘Reckoning’.
Of all the songs on ‘Origin’, it is ‘Paragon’ that’s most in keeping with what your mind might conjure when thinking of a typical Omnium Gatherum track; bruising death metal riffs laced with synths courtesy of Aapo Koivisto alongside catchy lead guitar lines, a pulsating rhythmic backbone and the deliciously gritty gruff vocals of Jukka Pelkonen that ensures that the death metal tag is well-placed, even if blast beats are few and far between. And then, in comes the lighter chorus section, complete with clean vocals, that is like a breath of AOR fresh air, especially when built upon by exquisite lead guitar notes. It shouldn’t work, but by heavens it does, believe me.
The synth and electronics-heavy intro to ‘Reckoning’ has me grinning from the very first few notes. I make no secret of my love of proper 80s music, be it metal, rock, or occasionally pop. And this song encapsulates that feeling brilliantly. It has been, and continues to be, one of my very favourite Omnium Gatherum tracks, not just on this album, but overall. Strong words, but well earned, because the way in which double-pedal drumming and Pelkonen’s harsh vocals blends seamlessly with the most beautiful lead guitar melodies and rich 80s-inspired synths is exhilarating. It may not be as heavy as past endeavours but I love it, I absolutely love it.
Elsewhere, ‘Tempest’ is well-named as the closing section of the song in particular is the fastest, most urgent passage on the record, with the drums of Atte Pesonen setting a genuinely brisk pace upon which Vanhala unleashed a cracking lead guitar solo. And yet, despite the greater abrasiveness, the song remains smooth sounding, inviting and melodic to the core. I’m also a fan of ‘Prime’ which, after a slightly long, so-so intro (‘Emergence’) really gets the melancholy party started. It is a mid-tempo stomper that’s laced with everything for which Omnium Gatherum have become known, capped off by some of the best lead solo action anywhere on ‘Origin’.
Also worthy of extra note is the utterly morose and miserable ‘Fortitude’, which is so slow at points that it is in danger of veering into funeral doom territory were it not for the guitar accents that are solemn, but strangely inviting. It is Vanhala’s poignant lead work that helps to inject some achingly beautiful melodies into such a dark song. That and a sparing use of clean vocals make it a properly bittersweet experience.
The final composition, ‘Solemn’ is another track that lives up to its title, as it takes the listener on a melancholy ride over the course of nearly nine minutes, via various twists and turns along the way. Heavy moments where the riffs bite hard, are replaced by periods of relative calm where the bass of Mikko Kivistö plays an important role, and strong melodies elbow their way to the front to accentuate the dark, providing that much needed kiss of warmth, however bittersweet it may in fact be. And, as usual, the song is graced by a lead solo from Vanhala that sends shivers down my spine.
After a slightly sticky start, I have once again fallen for the not inconsiderable charms of Omnium Gatherum. ‘Origin’ may be even more melodic and less aggressive than ever before, but if you’re prepared to let the music get under your skin, it can definitely have the same effect on you as their previous efforts. I’m not sure at this point whether ‘Origin’ bests ‘Beyond’ or ‘The Burning Cold’, but considering the backdrop of the last couple of years, it’s remarkable that the Finns have returned at all, let alone with an album of this high quality. If the quintet can stay together and build on the foundations of ‘Origin’, I see nothing but good things for their future. Worry less about the heaviness of the music and instead give yourself over to the melody; if you do that, ‘Origin’ will not disappoint.
Oh and thanks again guys for helping pull me out of a very dark place and in the process rediscover my love of music. I couldn’t have done it without you.
I find it quite amusing that neither of my favourite two melodic death metal bands at the current time hail from Sweden. After all, it was the Swedes that invented the genre. But no. Both Omnium Gatherum and Insomnium are Finnish. And, for my money, they are the best two proponents of melodic death metal in the here and now. Others push them close – I’m thinking Dark Tranquillity and At The Gates – but there’s something about the two Finnish bands that draws me in more than any others.
In 2019, Insomnium released the exquisite ‘Heart Like A Grave’, the follow-up to the highly acclaimed ‘Winter’s Gate’. Suddenly, the world at large woke up to the quintet’s charms and looked forward to hearing the band in the live arena in support of such a powerful record. But then the pandemic came along to scupper everyone’s plans. Not wishing to waste their time, Insomnium, like many other bands out there in the same predicament, instead turned their attention to creating some new music. The result is a four-track EP entitled ‘Argent Moon’, containing 23 minutes of brand-new material to help soften the blow of cancelled tours the world over.
And guess what? It has worked. I was a little underwhelmed at first, but I can put that down to fatigue, or simply not listening properly because when you let yourself really listen, you get swept up in the beautifully heavy soundtrack on offer.
The EP begins with ‘The Conjurer’ and with it, the soft, soothing sounds of acoustic guitar melodies bathe the ears in a warm, comforting glow. Subtle piano notes accompany the guitars, whilst a firm drum beat pushes it’s way into the mix. You can sense the song wanting to blossom and so it does. The acoustic guitars still strum pleasantly whilst an electric guitar sings mournfully and so beautifully, soaring into the sky with elegance. I love the gruff vocals; so powerful, so full of menace, yet perfectly in keeping with more punchy, resonant riffing. The song extends to over seven minutes, but it feels like two, as it is such a captivating experience. The track ebbs and flows effortlessly, from brutal passages to serene interludes where the acoustic guitars once again take centre stage.
Next up is ‘The Reticent’, a much shorter composition than its predecessor, but no less impactful for it. Again, it’s a quiet opening, allowing the track to build slowly but purposefully. The drums act like a heartbeat alongside the rumbling bass. And then in comes a clean vocal to offer something a little different. The buzz word for this review is ‘elegant’, because that’s exactly what Insomnium have delivered here – elegance. The flow from soft to heavy adds a palpable sense of drama to the overwhelming sense of sorrow that oozes from every melodic pore so beautifully.
The remaining two tracks, by and large, follow the same kind of blueprint – mind you, when the blueprint is this good, why change it eh? If anything, ‘The Antagonist’ lives up to its name very cleverly by being a more relaxed track for much of the time, only to explode at points to really hammer home the heaviness that Insomnium are capable of creating. The juxtaposition just serves to accentuate each side of the band more clearly, and of all the songs, this was the one that had to grow on me the most.
The final composition, ‘The Wanderer’ is a very poignant affair, once again beginning with some vibrant acoustic guitars atop a pulsing bass and bold drum beat. More clean vocals emerge, whilst there are a few spoken-word sections too. As the song progresses, the band make much more use of orchestration to add even more sophistication to proceedings, if such a thing was even possible. As well as adding sophistication, the sound of gentle strings in the mix help to ratchet up the emotional side of the song, leaving the listener with a bittersweet experience that just makes me want to press play and listen again, so I can discover it all over again.
You wanted evidence to back up my statement that Insomnium are one of the two best melodic death metal bands currently in operation? Well, ladies and gentlemen, doubters the lot of you, I present to you Markus Hirvonen (drums), Ville Friman (guitars), Niilo Sevänen (vocals, bass), Markus Vanhala (guitars) and Jani Liimatainen (guitars, vocals), collectively Insomnium, alongside their latest creation, ‘Argent Moon’. It’s the third recording in a row to deliver a truly scintillating performance from a band at the very top of their game. And on this evidence, it’s hard to imagine what wonders will come next.
Last year, the Noble Demon record label blasted into my life rather wonderfully, thanks to the release of Night Crowned’s ‘Impius Viam’ album, a record that featured in my end-of-year ‘best-of’ list at an impressive eighth spot. It remains a regularly played record, one of my current favourites within the blackened death arena. Naturally then, radar has been tweaked to set off an alarm any time Noble Demon offer us new releases, just in case I’m blown away in a similar fashion. Thank goodness, because it has happened again. Not blackened death this time, but an incredible slab of melodic death metal goodness.
The band in question goes by the name of Plaguestorm, although it’s more accurately a solo project at the hands of Sebastián Pastor. The Argentinian, who has toiled under the Plaguestorm moniker since 2014 is, right now, as popular as his compatriot Mauricio Pochettino (fingers crossed fellow Spurs fans!) in the Mansion of Much Metal. Pastor is responsible for all of the songwriting, composing, lyrics, mixing and mastering, as well as playing all the acoustic guitars, electric guitars, bass, keys, and programming the drums. Yes, that’s right, I’m waxing lyrical about an album with fake drums. It’s pretty much a first and while I might definitely prefer the real thing, they are not synthetic enough to ruin my enjoyment of the music on ‘Purifying Fire’, Plaguestorm’s second full-length release.
Alongside Pastor, Mikael Sehlin has been drafted in to sing on the record, whilst the lead guitar solos are delivered at the hands of Diego Martínez and Pablo Román between them. I like this approach because Pastor handles what he is best at, inviting others to come in and do their thing to the overall enhancement of the music, rather than have a go himself and reducing the quality. And it has to be said that Sehlin has a great voice; his gruff bark has a properly nasty, vehement edge to it, but when he switches to a clean delivery he adds passion, a hint of melancholy, and melody without ever sounding trite or sickly sweet.
Speaking of melancholy, I don’t know whether it’s a symptom of the way I’m feeling currently, battling a few demons, but I have found much of ‘Purifying Fire’ to be rather moving in a way I wasn’t expecting. A lot of this has to do with the title track that features twice on the album – as a regular metal track and as an orchestrated version, created at the hands of the final guest musician, Sebastián Nuñez Szymanski. I expect to cry real man tears when I listen to Anathema, Katatonia, or Evergrey occasionally. But a melodic death metal album? I wasn’t expecting that. But there is material on ‘Purifying Fire’ that does this to me. Starting with that aforementioned title track.
The ‘original version’ begins with a solemn orchestrated intro, not dissimilar in tone and melody choice to the likes of Barbers Adagio For Strings. Then, in blasts a fast riff, backed by frenetic drumming and a delivery from Sehlin that is clean but with a gravelly undertone. He sings his heart out, morphing to growls as the solemn, melodic guitar riffs continue unabated. When the ‘chorus’ section kicks in, it’s huge, as the melodies keep coming. Sehlin returns to his clean delivery and something in me breaks, especially when he sings more introspectively; quietly, as if lost, forlorn, unsure. I love the groovy breakdown that ensues too, irresistible and catchy as hell, not to mention a poignant extended lead solo from Diego Martínez that is equal part shred and musical.
The orchestral version, as you might expect, just ups the orchestral arrangements, drops the vocals entirely, and sounds equally as poignant, albeit in a different way. There’s something about it and, as I type this, I’m staring across the house, into my daughter’s bedroom, watching her and her sister sleep together. I’m in floods of tears, but in a good way. I think.
But it isn’t just the title track that moves me, as ‘Never Learn’ puts forth a chorus that brings a lump to my throat thanks to a killer melody that sounds bittersweet, topped off by a passionate vocal performance and followed swiftly by another singing lead, this time courtesy of Pablo Román. I really like the fact that Pastor isn’t afraid of lacing his unarguably heavy, extreme metal with beautiful melody, balancing it nicely thus allowing us to indulge in both sides of the music without either taking precedence.
Another fantastic composition is ‘Burning Paradise’, the nine-and-a-half-minute closer. The acoustic intro is beautiful, calling to mind early Dark Tranquillity and In Flames, whilst the remainder of the composition steadfastly refuses to remain in one place for too long. Initially, the tempo is slower, more laboured, kicking up a notch as it progresses. The groove to the song is great, whilst another show-stopping solo materialises, as the accelerator is further depressed. At the half-way point, the acoustics return alongside some gentle orchestration, delivering a subdued, poignant melody, laced with bluesy, Dire Straits-like lead guitar playing. The ensuing staccato-riff is pure blackened death territory and there’s a delightful epic feel to the final moments, as the clean singing is subtle but well-placed atop a catchy riff, only to be cut off unceremoniously, to be replaced by sombre orchestration and a dying melancholy melody.
Elsewhere, the waltz-like tempo hinted at within ‘Back To Zero’, and ‘Close To Nowhere’ carry strong echoes to ‘The Jester Race’ era In Flames without veering into copycat territory. ‘You Against The World’, meanwhile, injects some bold synths into the melodeath stomp at the outset to provide a vaguely cosmic feel, full of atmosphere alongside the catchy riffing and heaviness.
Quite simply, what Plaguestorm and ‘Purifying Fire’ demonstrates is that, in the right hands, melodic death metal can still ignite that fire within me and provide endless hours of enjoyment. It isn’t the perfect album simply because I’m not 100% sold on the production, which could have been a tad fuller overall. The album art doesn’t necessarily do the music content enough justice in my humble opinion, and yes, a real drummer would have nudged things even higher. But regardless of these minor issues, there’s no denying the fact that Sebastián Pastor is one talented musician and, in ‘Purifying Fire’, he has delivered something incredibly entertaining and of a properly high quality. I shall look forward to future releases eagerly, whilst regularly listening to this fantastic record.