Shape Of Despair – Return To The Void – Album Review

Artist: Shape Of Despair

Album Title: Return To The Void

Label: Season Of Mist

Date of Release:  25 February 2022

With the release of three full-length albums in four years around the turn of the Millennium, Shape Of Despair began like a train. However, more in keeping with their funeral doom metal output, things have slowed down since, with just one further album seeing the light of day, ‘Monotony Fields’ in 2015.

Formed in Finland in 1998, the sextet can be forgiven for taking their time though, because many of them have interests elsewhere in the heavy metal world, being part of bands like Finntroll, Impaled Nazarene, and Throes Of Dawn to name just three. But now, in 2022, we are presented with album number five, ‘Return To The Void’, and by and large, it is well worth the seven-year wait. In fact, being reasonably unfamiliar with past offerings, it took about two minutes before I knew that I would like this record and had to review it. It’s just a shame that the promo came to me so late in the day, meaning that it was impossible to bring you my thoughts before its release.

‘Return To The Void’ kicks off in marvellous fashion, with the title track, the first of six epic songs on the album, all of which stretch to beyond eight minutes in length. You’d probably expect no different from a band that explores the funeral doom metal sound, and Shape Of Despair capture my interest with this first composition. From the get-go, the riffs from Jarno Salomaa and Tomi Ullgrén are heavy, lumbering beasts, whilst the drums of Samu Ruotsalainen and bass of Sami Uusitalo work in tandem to lay down a simple, yet powerful beat. Over the top, there’s a solemn melody that carries with it a real elegance and immediacy, enhanced by minimalist keys to maximise the sense of misery and melancholy. When vocalist Henri Koivula enters the fray, he only adds another intense layer to the glacially paced doom and gloom. I’ve heard some deep and threatening growls over the years, but Koivula might just be the lowest, sounding like rubble being dragged reluctantly across concrete, barely audible amongst the bass and guitars. Natalie Koskinen is the perfect foil though, with her dreamy, mellifluous approach, offering a counterpoint, and adding a touch more melodic intent to the song. It’s a beautiful song, it really is.

Unfortunately, there is a ‘but’ and it pains me to say it. But, as beautiful as the music honestly is, across the hour-long album, I just don’t feel like there is quite enough variety or, more accurately, not quite enough distinction between the songs. Shape Of Despair have a plan, and that’s to bludgeon the listener with heavy and relentless doom metal; to crush the soul and pull everyone into the exquisite darkness. And, certainly for the first three songs or so, it works an absolute treat. However, as the album plods on, I find that the music tends to start sounding very similar, leading me to check the tracklisting frequently to see which of the six songs I’m listening to. The compositions are always executed with style and professionalism, but after a while, they start to bleed into one homogenous mass of anguish and suffering.

But as I mentioned, the first half of the record cannot be ignored. ‘Dissolution’, the second track picks up where the opener left off, and it is hard not to be utterly beguiled by the fragile melodies that sit at the heart of the composition, whilst all around is brutal, stark, and about as forlorn as it’s ever going to get. Just when I thought I was pulling myself out of a period of hopeless depression, along comes Shape Of Despair to tempt me back to the enticing, intoxicating misery of human emotion. And it is enticing because in the world of these Finns, sorrow can sound so beautiful and poignant.

At just over eleven minutes, ‘Solitary Downfall’ uses every last minute to wear down every last barrier that the listener may have erected in order to stave off the claustrophobic darkness that Shape Of Despair bring forth. The band know no other pace than dead slow, as the song lumbers forth with implacable determination in the face of such woe. For me, the song comes more to life in the second half thanks to a slightly more pronounced melodic intent; in keeping with other songs, the melody is subtle, but the haunting vocals just elevate the composition to a point where it is impossible for it not to get under the skin, and break hearts in the process.

From then on, the remainder of the album, as good as it is, begins to feel a little like a war of attrition. The pace rarely varies, the overall atmosphere remains static, and a mild stagnation begins to set in. The quality of the musicianship never lowers, the melodies continue in the same subtle, understated manner, and it’s very much business as usual. I just feel like I need something a little more; something more pronounced to keep my attention fully trained on the music and to prevent my mind from wandering just a little. Again, I feel incredibly mean for suggesting such an opinion, but honesty is the best policy.

For large parts of ‘Return To The Void’, I’m captivated and held in thrall by some exquisite funeral doom that’s elegant and majestic, as well as crushingly heavy both musically and emotionally. With a smidgen more variety across the album, we’d easily be looking at a masterpiece of melodic funeral doom metal. As it is, with ‘Return To The Void’, Shape Of Depair have delivered a very good album that just falls short of legendary status. Nevertheless, if you enjoy having your word turned a darker shade of grey, this might be album that you’re searching for in order to provide succour to your blackened heart.

The Score of Much Metal: 82%

Check out my other 2022 reviews here:

Eight Bells – Legacy Of Ruin

Embryonic Devourment – Heresy Of The Highest Order

Serious Black – Vengeance Is Mine

Allegaeon – Damnum

HammerFall – Hammer Of Dawn

Immolation – Acts Of God

Veonity – Elements Of Power

Nightrage – Abyss Rising

Arjen Anthony Lucassen’s Star One – Revel In Time

Pure Wrath – Hymn To The Woeful Hearts

Dagoba – By Night

The Last Of Lucy – Moksha

Arð – Take Up My Bones

Embryonic Autopsy – Prophecies Of The Conjoined

The Devils Of Loudun – Escaping Eternity

Cult Of Luna – The Long Road North

WAIT – The End Of Noise

Abysmal Dawn – Nightmare Frontier

Amorphis – Halo

Nordic Giants – Sybiosis

Persefone – Metanoia

Vorga – Striving Toward Oblivion

Mystic Circle – Mystic Circle

Nasson – Scars

Burned In Effigy – Rex Mortem

Silent Skies – Nectar

Celeste – Assassine(s)

Abyssus – Death Revival

SOM – The Shape Of Everything

Ashes Of Ares – Emperors And Fools

Beriedir – AQVA

Lalu – Paint The Sky

Nocturna – Daughters Of The Night

Battle Beast – Circus Of Doom

Lee McKinney – In The Light Of Knowledge

Descent – Order Of Chaos

Aethereus – Leiden

Toundra – Hex

Ilium – Quantum Evolution Event EP

Power Paladin – With The Magic Of Windfyre Steel

Necrophagous – In Chaos Ascend

Infected Rain – Ecdysis

Wilderun – Epigone

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

2021 reviews

2020 reviews

2019 reviews
2018 reviews
2017 reviews
2016 reviews
2015 reviews

On Thorns I Lay – Threnos – Album Review

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Artist: On Thorns I Lay

Album Title: Threnos

Label: Lifeforce Records

Date of Release: 21 February 2020

Thunderous, churning riffs, haunting lead guitars, guttural growled vocals? Oh yes, now this is good stuff. Then the bass kicks in and the riffs continue to writhe with a slow-paced authority, the like of which you’d hear on an early Swallow The Sun or Daylight Dies record perhaps. Then a powerful double-pedal drum section joins the fray, along with a swift lead break and I’m getting heavily into this…

…and then, without warning, all the heaviness departs, leaving behind just a piano, which delivers an achingly beautiful melody. It is soon joined by a mournful lead guitar and the melody grows steadily, until the growls return alongside the crushing guitars. But this time, there’s a sense of fragility and vulnerability in the delivery, as if the melody has exposed a softer more brittle side of the band. Oh heavens, ‘The Song Of Sirens’ is a great song.

At this point I am so glad that I checked out ‘Threnos’, the latest album by Greek stalwarts, On Thorns I Lay, and I’m left wondering why I have never before got fully into this band before. Based on the evidence of the first track of their ninth album, and benefitting from a monster mix and master by Dan Swanö, I cannot understand how the sextet has eluded my finely-honed metal radar since their inception in the early 90s.

And then it hits me. Or at least, the rest of the album does. Just when I think I have discovered a new gem to get really excited about, I’m dealt the better part of a further forty minutes of death/doom metal that just doesn’t ever reach the standard of the first track. There are hints within songs like ‘Ouranio Deos’ or ‘Erynies’ of something special but unfortunately, they are just that – hints. The introduction of a mournful lone violin within a few of the seven songs is a nice touch, as is the introduction of some retro 70s keyboard sounds within the aforementioned ‘Erynies’ but even this cannot prevent me from largely just feeling a touch bored and disappointed overall.

Cut…

The preceding paragraph was a fair reflection of exactly how I felt after the first few spins and, at the time, it was accurate. But this review just serves to highlight the importance of not reviewing albums immediately, because my thoughts on ‘Threnos’ have significantly changed since I penned the preceding words, possibly in haste. I’m not one to hide when I am wrong, so I have left that paragraph in, to underline the importance of what I am saying: take your time and never review an album without giving it a fair chance.

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I do, however, stand by my thoughts above about the opening track, ‘The Song Of Sirens’ – it is simply beautiful; crushingly heavy, miserable and mournful, but so tremendously beautiful.

It is with the remaining six songs that my feelings have largely changed, starting with ‘Ouranio Deos’. It is significantly different in construction to the opener but, with the benefit of time, it is equally as stunning. The track is slightly brisker in pace, but not appreciably. There’s a really lovely mid-section where the crushing heaviness is replaced by a female spoken-word section in the musical Greek language, underpinned by gorgeous keys, mournful guitars and an air of minimalism, at least initially before the song rebuilds towards the conclusion. But it is the all-too-brief returning synth-heavy melody that pops up from time to time that I have eventually fallen in love with. That and the lament of the lone violin in the latter stages, which calls to mind ‘Like Gods Of The Sun’ era My Dying Bride, sat atop a slow, lumbering riff.

By contrast, ‘Cosmic Silence’ sounds almost light and upbeat as it starts off in a melodic manner and has the feel of a song that is shorter and more to-the-point, which indeed it is. Again, the pace is brisker still than its predecessors and the simple yet effective lead melody starts to really dig its claws in.

‘Erynies’ is another high point on the album and reminds me a little again of Swallow The Sun in the way in which it delivers sublime melody after sublime melody whilst remaining crushingly heavy at the same time. The word I would use to describe this song is ‘elegant’, possibly even ‘majestic’; both fit the composition perfectly as it delights throughout, even experimenting with a few retro synth sounds buried just below the surface.

The title track features some of the most potent riffs on the record and, whilst it isn’t as overtly melodic as others, I am a sucker for a good riff. Plus, the blastbeats and lead guitar lines around the midway point, as well as a more pronounced black metal vibe, are all very nice touches.

At nearly ten minutes, ‘Threnos’ ends with the epic and aptly-titled ‘Odysseia’, which immediately lets loose with a whimsical and sombre melody that I dismissed when listening earlier in the month. But now, I wonder how that was possible as it is charming and rather sumptuous. It means that the harsh, crushing and downright brutal riff that takes over is given greater potency against the more sensitive preceding melody. The same can be said for the quiet acoustic segment later in the piece – this track is masterful in its use of light and shade, aggression and beauty. I ask again, how could I have not heard this first time around? I can be such an idiot at times!

The only conclusion I can give, is to say that I was wrong. Very wrong. Where I once thought a very average album existed, there is instead a beautifully crafted and highly enjoyable record. On Thorns I Lay have delivered ‘Threnos’, a body of work that should rightfully stand at the pinnacle of melodic doom/death metal, alongside the very best that the genre has to offer. I love it. Not just for the music itself, but for the lesson it has reinforced for me. I always try to take my time when writing these reviews and On Thorns I Lay have given me the perfect reminder of why this is. If you’re a fan of this kind of music, you need to hear this album because ‘Threnos’ has set the bar for all others to follow at the beginning of the decade.

The Score of Much Metal: 90%

Check out my reviews from 2020 right here:

God Dethroned – Illuminati
Fragment Soul – A Soul Inhabiting Two Bodies
Mariana Semkina – Sleepwalking
Mini Album Reviews: Moloken, The Driftwood Sign & Midnight
Serenity – The Last Knight
Ihsahn – Telemark EP
Temperance – Viridian
Blasphemer – The Sixth Hour
Deathwhite – Grave Image
Marko Hietala – Pyre Of The Black Heart
SWMM – Trail Of The Fallen
Into Pandemonium – Darkest Rise EP
Bonded – Rest In Violence
Serious Black – Suite 226
Darktribe – Voici L’Homme
Brothers Of Metal – Emblas Saga
A Life Divided – Echoes
Thoughts Factory – Elements

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

2019 reviews
2018 reviews
2017 reviews
2016 reviews
2015 reviews

Most Anticipated Album Releases of 2015 – Part 4

I know, I know, it’s getting a little silly now isn’t it? I’m beginning to lose count but here are another ten or so bands that either are or may be likely to release new material during 2015. It was all sparked by the first band in my list who I only just realised were in the process of writing new material. Knowing this, I couldn’t afford to miss them off my list as they are such a great band.

If for any reason you’ve missed parts 1-3, you can access them here:

Part 1
Part 2
Part 3

But now, here’s the next (and probably last) instalment in this series…probably…I hope.

Wolverine

As stated, Wolverine are one of the main catalysts for this fourth instalment ever since I realised a new album was on the horizon for 2015. The Swedish progressive metallers are a special and unique band and have been around for a relatively long time. Their debut was released in 2001 but they’ve only managed three further albums since. Social media updates tend to suggest however, that new material should see the light of day this year and news like this makes me very happy indeed. There are few acts out there that manage to offer progressive rock/metal that is so complex, rich, grandiose and full of gritty melancholy. Their last album, ‘Communication Lost’ is a marvellous album that is dark, sombre and very poignant, to the point that it can sometimes be a difficult listen depending on your mood. However, the music itself is fantastic, managing to be heavy and complicated yet subtle and very beautiful. A new Wolverine album is bound to be of the highest calibre possible and I cannot wait to hear it.

Katatonia

With one of my favourite bands of all time releasing one of the best albums of their career last year, the pressure is on for another of my most important bands, Katatonia. The Swedish dark metallers are in a rich vein of form at the moment, a moment that has seemingly lasted their entire career. These guys do not release mediocrity, it’s not in their vocabulary. Top class song writing, professionally executed and positively dripping with beautiful fragility underpinned by a heavy, gritty exterior – what’s not to like? With the release of a live DVD to celebrate the ‘Dethroned and Uncrowned’ acoustic tour that took place last year, it is probably expecting too much for a follow-up to the exemplary ‘Dead End Kings’. Nevertheless, I live in hope – 2015 would be magical if Jonas Renkse, Anders ‘Blakkheim’ Nystrom and Co. could deliver us new material. Fingers crossed.

Dimmu Borgir

One of these posts wouldn’t be the same without a mention for one of my favourite extreme metal bands of all time. To contextualize this statement, their 1997 release, ‘Enthrone, Darkness, Triumphant’ is one of my top 5 albums of all time. Beginning life as a black metal band, more recent output is probably better referred to as ‘extreme metal’. There are plenty of black metal elements to the Norwegian’s sound but such is the rich tapestry of influences that play a part within the modern Dimmu sound, curt pigeonholing into the black metal genre would be disingenuous. Each release from Shagrath et al is a slick, professional affair where the final product shines through a powerful and crystal-clear production. The symphonic elements and grandiose bombast provide a majestic and theatric sheen to what is, at heart, pretty bruising and uncompromising heavy metal. There’s no official confirmation of a new album in 2015, but this is an educated guess on my part.

Swallow the Sun

As with Dimmu Borgir above, there has been no official confirmation of a new album in 2015 from Swallow the Sun. However, the Finnish purveyors of ‘gloom, beauty and despair’ have not graced fans with new material since the magnificent ‘Emerald Forest And The Blackbird’ back in 2012. I’m pretty confident of a return in 2015 and I certainly hope I’m not mistaken because Swallow the Sun are my personal favourite melodic doom metal band. The blend of crushing brutality, timeless elegiac melodies and impressive vocals that flit between a guttural growl and a fragile clean delivery all come together to create something rather epic and grandiose. No-one does this kind of music better.

Distorted Harmony

Israeli progressive metallers Distorted Harmony were one of the big surprises of 2014 for me. Their sophomore release, ‘Chain Reaction’ made an appearance high up my ‘best of’ list and rightly so. The debut was practically a Dream Theater clone but with ‘Chain Reaction’, it was as if the band threw away the rulebook from the days of the debut and promptly reinvented themselves. The results were rather stunning and so I am really excited to learn that there will be even more new material in 2015, albeit in the shape of an EP rather than a full-length album. It’s a shame but I look upon it as a bonus rather than anything else, given the impressively quick-fire turnaround.

Pathosray

Here’s a band that require and deserve a lot more love and attention than they get currently. As such, they’re a perfect fit for this post. Italian prog metallers Pathosray are a slightly different proposition to many of their peers in that they are certainly prog but not in the classic, conventional sense. Their compositions are full of the requisite complexity but they’re also full of snarl and bite and more chops than you’d find at a butcher shop. Their melodies are also interesting in that they’re not always what you’d expect. This makes their releases a challenge at times but ultimately very rewarding. Pre-release bravado and puff is always full of hyperbole but the comments coming out of the Pathosray camp ahead of their third album and first for some six years have seriously piqued my interest.

Borknagar

Norwegian metallers Borknagar have been favourites of mine for quite some time. Rather simplistically, they could be seen as the middle ground between straight forward pagan black metal and the more avant-garde stylings of compatriots Arcturus et al. What I love about this band is that they are both heavy and extreme yet manage to find room for a few progressive ideas and plenty of classic folk melodies. Unique vocals sit atop blast beats one minute and then growls appear intermingled with a more subtle and laidback section the next.

Hecate Enthroned

When I was discovering the delights of black metal in my late teens, Hecate Enthroned were one of my favourites. They were heavily inspired by Cradle of Filth in that their compositions were full of Gothic theatrics, symphonics and more melody than you’d think on a first listen. The band turned all death metal on us in the late 90’s and since then, the output from the UK band has not been prolific. However, they are a band that always piques my interest when I hear their name mentioned and I am more than hopeful for a new album sometime in 2015.

Bal Sagoth

Ah Bal Sagoth. That most intriguing and entertaining of extreme metal bands. I discovered this UK-based band very early on in my exploration of music that pushed the boundaries and they’ve been an important part of my collection ever since. Led by the enigmatic Byron, they fuse the fury and aggression of black metal with fantasy lyrics and more synth-led bombastic symphonics than you’d think possible in music of this kind. One glance at album titles such as ‘Starfire Burning Upon The Ice-Veiled Throne Of Ultima thule’ and you get the idea. This is overblown, pompous extreme metal but it works brilliantly. The band have gone very quiet since signing for Nuclear Blast and releasing ‘The Cthonic Chronicles’ banck in 2006. However, I remain ever hopeful that after a wait of the best part of a decade, we get another record. Please Byron, sir, please?

Soilwork

Despite not originating from the city, Soilwork are one of the very best that the Gothenburg movement has produced. Throughout their career that has spanned 20 years and 9 albums, it is hard to point to any of their output that falls below a high standard. Their sound has changed over the years, some releases are better than others and the band has suffered from line up changes that could have been crippling for lesser acts. However, the Helsingborg-based Swedish melodic death metal band has kept plugging away with plenty of relative success and remain high in my affections. If melodic death metal with a demonstrable thrash metal edge sounds like your thing, then it is time to get excited about the prospect of album number 10 during 2015.

My Route to Becoming A Metalhead

One of the most fascinating conversations I have with fellow music lovers and metalheads in particular is about the route they took when discovering this magnificent genre of music. Everybody has a different journey, one that inevitably leads to a different ending. Sure, we may all like roughly the same bands, but it is rare to find two metal fans who have the same favourite band or set of bands.

And, whilst I have covered much of this topic in some of my very earliest blogs (‘the early years’, ‘the University years’ and ‘the post University years’) I thought it might be fun to plot my journey to date a little more briefly via the bands that helped me to get from this…

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…to this…

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…via this…

goth matt

Starting at the very beginning, I was brought up on a diet of Queen, ELO and Dire Straits. My Dad would play albums by these three bands in particular in the car on a very frequent basis and, as I got older, began somewhat inevitably to appreciate these bands and, on a wider scale, guitar-based music in general. Of the three, Queen remain my favourite, with ‘Innuendo’ my album of choice. That said, songs like ‘Roll Over Beethoven’ and ‘Brothers in Arms’ hold a special place in my heart.

I didn’t really get more interested in music until my early teens when I bought my first CD player. At that time, I was heavily influenced by my best friend who, at a year older than me, was already a fair way along his own personal journey. He introduced me to both Guns ‘N’ Roses and Def Leppard, both of which remain important to me.

However, I’ve got to be honest and say that Bon Jovi were also a pivotal figure in my early listening, albeit no longer. I never really got into the whole ‘hair metal’ scene, despite an initial and lasting love of ‘Slave To The Grind’ by Skid Row – a classic album in my opinion.

I dabbled with these bands for a long while but, as I became more adventurous, two new names became massively important: Iron Maiden and Metallica. The former I became a fan of via their album ‘The Number Of The Beast’ and the track ‘Hallowed Be thy Name’ in particular. The latter, I admit, came to my attention via the ‘Black Album’, although I was quick to delve into their back catalogue once the seeds had been sown. To be honest, I rarely listen to their 1991 classic album anymore, although I am not silly enough to decry its obvious importance to me.

So far, so very ordinary I guess. But then, as I was about to get into thrash metal in a big way, thanks to the likes of Megadeth et al, I found myself suddenly veering down a more modern path, discovering new kids on the block Pantera, Machine Head and Fear Factory. What’s strange though, is that aside from these three bands, my attention was not held for long. I still listen a lot to these three, but as far as many of their contemporaries are concerned, I was only vaguely interested at best. The result of this, I must admit that I have never got into thrash metal as much as perhaps I should have done. There are certain bands that I listen to a lot, such as Exodus and Testament but in general, the scene has, to date, passed me by a little.

I never ventured into grunge territory and nu-metal turned me off immediately. I wanted ‘proper’ metal, not what I perceived at the time to be ‘rap-rock rubbish’. To a certain extent, I maintain this view although my description may be a little more measured and less dismissive these days.

And so, whilst many of my peers were discovering a whole new sub-genre, I found myself going completely the other way. Beginning with the dark Gothic overtones of Type O Negative, early Anathema ,Sentenced and Moonspell, I eventually found myself embroiled in the black metal scene. Cradle Of Filth sat front and centre of this new-found love, although thanks to the fortunate discovery of ‘Enthrone, Darkness, Triumphant’, Dimmu Borgir were never far behind. Neither were Emperor to be honest. I loved the mix of fast aggression and melodic interludes that many black metal bands of the mid 90s provided and I devoured this scene. I still love the early albums by Cradle Of Filth and with a small dose of home-town loyalty, they’ll always be a special band for me.

Not long after heading to University, my head was turned yet again. This time, the sub-genre was ‘the Gothenburg scene’ or ‘New Wave Of Swedish Death Metal’. Dissection blew me away, acting as the bridge between the black and death metal thanks to their opus ‘Storm Of The Lights Bane’.

However, soon after, it was In Flames that captured my heart. The album was ‘The Jester Race’ and the song that cemented the love was the instrumental ‘The Jester’s Dance’. Sublime.

Dark Tranquillity, Soilwork and early Arch Enemy quickly followed into my collection. And, whilst I still adore the former two, I must admit that my enjoyment of Arch Enemy has waned somewhat over the years. It would be unfair to attribute all of that to the change in vocalist, but the dismissal of Johan Liiva was a mistake in my opinion.

And then, in something of a curveball, I found myself enjoying the less intense and more light-hearted (some might say ‘cheesy’) genre of power metal. It all began with a chance hearing of ‘Valley Of The Kings’ by Gamma Ray and for a few years on and off, the likes of Rhapsody, Dragonforce and Edguy gave me a lot of instant sonic gratification.

And as we near the present day, it will come as no surprise to learn that progressive metal is my newest and currently, my biggest love. I was hankering after a genre to really test me, to give me something to think about. Prog was the answer. After discovering Evergrey, the floodgates opened. I devoured much of the InsideOut Music label, discovering Pain Of Salvation, Vanden Plas and Haken in the process.

InsideOut remains one of the most important sources of music for me, but I am always on the look-out for other bands, whether or not they are well-known. That said, I am likely to forever be in the never-ending process of discovering everything that the genre and its spin-offs have to offer. I came too late to truly ‘get’ Rush but I am loving the neo-prog movement in latter years. And, as I get older, the lighter end of the prog spectrum is becoming ever-more enticing, with Big Big Train being the catalyst for this.

And, although prog metal is still my favourite subgenre, I still listen to everything that I have mentioned in this blog and so much more besides. The whole melodic doom metal genre to include bands like Swallow The Sun, Insomnium and Daylight Dies remains important to me.

And in addition, a new door that has opened in recent years is that of melodic rock and AOR. Sometimes a bit of musical fluff is exatly what I need to dilute all that aggression.

As I have written this blog, I have had my collection on shuffle, enjoying the likes of Amorphis, Slayer, Transatlantic, Katatonia and Audrey Horne in the process.

And, as for those that I have never ‘got’? Well thanks to this path I have taken over the years, I have to admit that aside from nu-metal and huge swathes of thrash metal, Motorhead, Aerosmith, Slipknot, Nirvana and Tool are just a few of the high-profile names that I’ve never really warmed to. That’s not to say I dislike them, just that they’ve never really hit the mark with me personally. The great thing about music however, is that I still have plenty of time to change that, should I so wish. Over to you…

My Top 20 of 2012 – Number 4

We’ve reached number 4 in my Top 20 rock/metal albums of 2012 countdown. If you have missed any of my previous posts, links to these can be found at the bottom of this post – please have a read and feel free to tell me if you agree or disagree with my choices!

So, down to business. At number 4, I give you

STS1:Swallow The Sun
‘Emerald Forest And The Blackbird’
Spinefarm Records

In my humble opinion, Swallow The Sun are their country’s finest musical export. And when that country is Finland, where every other band seems to be a highly accomplished metal band of some description, this is the highest accolade I could think to bestow on the band.

Led by the highly talented guitarist and song writer, Juha Raivio, Swallow The Sun have released album after album of a consistently high standard, with nothing in their back catalogue failing to impress. And here we are with their fifth album, ‘Emerald Forest And The Blackbird’ and they have delivered arguably their best material to date.

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The self-monikered purveyors of ‘gloom, beauty and despair’ have always followed a crushingly heavy melodic doom metal route but, with each release, have offered listeners something different. With ‘Plague Of Butterflies’ for example, it was a gargantuan and theatrical 35-minute central piece and with ‘New Moon’, there was the introduction of clean vocals to any degree from vocalist Mikko Kotamaki.

On ‘Emerald Forest And The Blackbird’, Swallow The Sun remain faithful to their ‘gloom,beauty and despair’ tagline but for the first time offer acoustic guitars and occasional dalliances with black metal and progressive influences. There’s even a greater diversity within the vocal delivery, with Mikko offering everything from hushed spoken word passages to high-pitched screams via his trade mark deep growls. Add to all this their trademark crushingly heavy riffs, sublime, heartbreaking melodies and a guest appearance on ‘Cathedral Walls’ by ex-Nightwish singer Anette Olzon and this album is nothing short of remarkable.

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

Day 16 (progressive metal)
Day 15 (prog rock)
Day 14 (post black metal)
Day 13 (prog rock)
Day 12 (power metal)
Day 11 (progressive metal)
Day 10 (progressive rock)
Day 9 (modern extreme metal)
Day 8 (UK thrash metal/NWOBHM)
Day 7 (Norwegian progressive black metal)
Day 6 (Prog Rock/Metal)
Day 5 (Melodic Hard Rock)
Day 4 (Symphonic Folk black metal)
Day 3 (Modern Death/Thrash Metal)
Day 2 (Melodic Prog Metal)
Day 1 (Dark/Doom Metal)

My Top 20 of 2012 – Number 20

Yes, it is that time of year again when the Internet seems inundated with ‘top albums of the year’ lists. Well, glory be, here’s another one, courtesy of yours truly, The Man Of Much Metal.

I have decided to create a daily countdown of my personal top 20 albums of 2012. I realise that this will mean that the top few will not be unveiled until 2013 but I felt this would be the best option for many reasons:

Firstly, there were too many candidates to whittle it down to a top 10 or top 15. Secondly, I thought that if I highlighted one a day, it would give people the time to properly check out each of the bands without any of them getting lost in a long list. Furthermore, each post can be fairly succinct and will allow me to offer links, artwork and a small précis about each album without (hopefully) losing reader interest. It may hopefully encourage some discussion about each choice individually – at least, I hope so. Positive or negative, you can hit me with it!

So, without any further ado, here goes…

Number 20:

daylightDaylight Dies
“A Frail Becoming”
Candlelight Records

I am a sucker for melodic dark/doom metal and there are few better examples than “A Frail Becoming”, the fourth album from the American quintet Daylight Dies.

There is more than a hint of early Katatonia in the band’s sound, but that cannot be a bad thing can it? The compositions on this album are epic for all the right reasons – they are often crushingly heavy but yet convey a delicate and fragile beauty thanks to some glorious melodies contained within evocative lead guitar lines. This was by and large the album that I have always hope to hear from this band, as I knew that they had it in them.

daylight band

Anyone else with a soft spot for melodic doom metal should find room in their collection for this album. If you don’t believe me, check these tracks out…

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