Tag Archives: Melodic Metal

Essential rock & metal releases still to come in 2017 – Part 3

Welcome to my third instalment of this series, where I dust off my crystal ball – or just trawl the internet obsessively – to bring you the pick of the releases that are still to come in the rock and metal world during the second half of 2017.

If you missed the previous two posts in this series, they can be accessed here:
Essential rock & metal releases still to come in 2017 – Part 1
Essential rock & metal releases still to come in 2017 – Part 2

And now on to the main event…

Subsignal
TBC (‘La Muerta’)
Release date: TBC

Their Facebook page promised that fans would be treated to a new album in 2017 and so far, Subsignal appear to be sticking to their promise. There is no confirmed information regarding a release date but, according to their official social media feeds, production is in progress. The guitars are currently being tracked and the drum recordings are all finished. No final announcement regarding an album title has been forthcoming either, although there is a strong suggestion that it might be called ‘La Muerta’.

Rising from the ashes of Sieges Even, Subsignal are the more immediate, slightly less progressive replacement. And what a replacement they are. Beautiful melodies, deep and thoughtful lyrics, and technically adept compositions all play an important part in the rich aural tapestry that these talented Germans deliver. With a consistency that is frightening, I’m expecting big things from this record as and when it is released.

18766020_10155371710959287_3595486704059865356_nNothing More
The Stories We Tell Ourselves
Release date: 15 September 2017

For some reason, it feels like a very long time that I have been patiently waiting for a new album from Nothing More. But finally, after featuring them in just about every round-up for the last couple of years in hope more than expectation, I can bring confirmed news. The American band are not normally my kind of thing but their blend of modern rock with djent and pop rock is almost impossible to ignore. The music on their previous, self-titled record, was infectious in the extreme, delivering chorus after chorus full of huge hooks and strong melodies. I was obsessed with this album for weeks.

The new album will be released on 15th September 2017. Entitled ‘The Stories We Tell Ourselves’, I know that this is going to be a big record based on the cuts that they have released so far. Will it beat their last one? Who knows, but I will certainly have fun finding out when the time comes. And you can bet your life that I’ll bring you my thoughts on it as soon as humanly possible.

19106036_10158716292755386_2949343652863781873_nSepticflesh
Codex Omega
Release date: 1 September 2017

I’m a relative newcomer to Greek extreme metal band Septicflesh, only cutting my teeth with them via their 2008 album, ‘Communion’. I’m amazed that the Athens-based death metal band managed to elude me for so long as well, given that their brand of dark, symphonic death metal with an ear for well-placed groove and melody is right up my street. And the fact that a new album is on the horizon nearly passed me by too, but thankfully I found out just in the nick of time.

With Septicflesh, you get the full-on extreme metal experience with ferocious riffing, brutal rhythms and all of the grandiose pomp and ceremony that you could ask for. Mind you, the brutal and uncompromising artwork that accompanies the new record should leave you in no doubt that this is not easy listening for the feint hearted. Just take a listen to the track below, entitled ‘3rd Testament’, to prove the point and to get a firm idea as to what to expect when ‘Codex Omega’ hits the shelves via Season of Mist on 1st September. One spin of this and my expectations just went through the roof.

20046566_1265671230229159_6290285644420623914_nAnubis Gate
Covered In Black
Release date: 1 September 2017

It feels like Anubis Gate have been around forever but in actual fact, the Danes have only been in existence since 2001. In that time, they have released six studio albums, all of which have been of a consistently high standard. It means that every time the quartet announces a new album, those who enjoy their music on the melodic and progressive end of the spectrum will take notice. I don’t think I’ve ever read anything massively negative about Anubis Gate either, which again speaks volumes of their ability to create high quality material.

Unsurprisingly, given the dark and moody cover artwork alongside the album title, ‘Covered In Black’ is billed as the darkest material of the bands’ career. This sounds intriguing and I can’t wait to find out if this will be the album that tops my personal favourite, ‘Andromeda Unchained’. Naturally, I will feed back as soon as possible.

nocturnalritesphoenixalbumNocturnal Rites
Phoenix
Release date: 29 September 2017

Despite the fear in some corners that Nocturnal Rites might be no more, the melodic metal band have finally officially announced that a new album is on the way. Back in 2013, founding member Fredrik Mannberg went on record with Bravewords.com to confirm that new material was being worked on. But another four years of near silence will have got the nerves jangling a little amongst the faithful. It is now an entire decade since they released ‘The 8th Sin’ but at last, their patient fan base has been rewarded in the way that they would have hoped.

Somewhat fittingly, Nocturnal Rites’ ninth release is entitled ‘Phoenix’ and will see the light of day on 29th September via AFM Records. Whilst I wouldn’t refer to myself as a dyed-in-the-wool diehard, I really like their output and so I am eager as anyone to hear what impact the intervening ten years has had on Nocturnal Rites. On the basis of this track, could the wait have been fully worth it?…

Half-way through 2017 – the best so far – Part 1

The Blog of Much Metal is nothing if not predictable. But, what it lacks in spontaneity, it makes up for with quality writing, brilliant wit, incisive articles and a bucket load of irony and modesty.

As a result, I return with my usual mid-year round-up of the best music that has been released between January and June 2017. As with last year, I remain a one-man show and so I have not listened to everything that has been released in this period. I have a family and a career to fit in as well. However, I have listened to more albums than ever before (or at least that’s how it feels), so I am content that very little of any note has slipped the net. And if it has slipped the net, I still have six months to put things right. Of course, if I have missed anything out, I shall leave it to you, my dear, loyal reader, to tell me.

Everything in this round-up has consequently been reviewed on this blog already, so I don’t intend on going in to great depth with each pick here. Instead, I’ll provide a few up-to-date thoughts, a quote from the full review and then a link to that review should you wish to check it out. Wherever possible, I will also provide a link to a different track to the one posted with the review. Well, I have to try to give you some value for money, don’t I?

And so, in no particular order, I give you:

VOYAGER-GHOST_MILE-coverHIVoyager
Ghost Mile

If you were to tell me that there is a band out there creating a bigger buzz in the metal world right now, then I might consider calling you a liar. For a band that had been toiling away for a number of years, gathering a small but select band of cult followers, things have now taken off massively. But then it’s hardly surprising given the quality of the music that they are now creating. Unique, assured and intense, Voyager are the whole package and ‘Ghost Mile’ demonstrates this 100%, no question.

“Voyager today is an even more tightly honed entity. More focused and more self-assured than ever before. That rising stock I mentioned a moment ago? Expect it to go through the roof upon the release of this record, mark my words.”

“In my opinion, Voyager sound like no-one else. They have worked hard over the years to craft their sound and perfect their own vision, to the point where comparisons are impossible and, in any case, are utterly pointless. Their output blends progressive metal, prog and pop-like melodies with a quirky and often atmospheric sheen. Put simply, the music sounds like…Voyager.”

“The only problem with ‘Ghost Mile’ is that it is a stealer of time, a thief of moments. I listen to this record and immediately feel compelled to listen again. Before I know it, huge chunks of my life have disappeared. However, at this precise moment, I don’t care. All I know is that ‘Ghost Mile’ is a very special record from an equally special band and…damn it, I need to listen to it again.”

Read the full review here.

pain_of_salvation_-_2017_coverPain Of Salvation
In The Passing Light of Day

Do you know that feeling when a band you’ve almost given up on delivers a killer album? Well, that’s the feeling I got from Pain of Salvation with ‘In The Passing Light of Day’ way back at the beginning of the year. It seems like forever since I first heard it and given the amount of music around at the moment, it is testament to its quality that I still find myself gravitating towards it. More than that, it still has the ability to send chills down my spine and bring a tear to my eye at times.

“What also works well is the way in which the music sounds fresh and vital but also isn’t afraid to borrow from the band’s past either. As well as the ‘Road Salt’ echoes, there are passages where I also hear elements of the ‘One Hour By The Concrete Lake’, ‘Remedy Lane’ and ‘Be’…”

“2017 may have only just begun but Pain of Salvation have laid down the marker for all others to reach. After a few releases that didn’t move me, ‘In The Passing Light of Day’ has redressed the balance and then some. If this is what intelligent and emotional progressive metal sounds like in 2017, I don’t want the year to ever end.”

Read the full review here.

coverPersefone
Aathma

I’m still wondering just where this album came from – it is definitely the surprise of the year for me so far. I was never the biggest fan of Persefone but the Andorrans well and truly did a number on me with their latest effort, the incredible ‘Aathma’. It is progressive, technical death metal, the likes of which I have rarely heard, especially to this level. It is like the sextet took everything to a whole new level, from the collective songwriting to the individual performances. And it all sounds so rich and cohesive, with enough accessibility to keep me coming back for more.

“I absolutely love music when it offers a challenge and isn’t afraid to go in directions that it wants, rather than what convention dictates it should do. I don’t mind saying that Persefone have produced an absolute masterpiece with ‘Aathma’ – it is the work of six supremely talented musicians at the top of their game. Short of a miracle, I cannot see any other extreme progressive metal albums topping this during 2017 or beyond. Spectacular.”

Read the full review here.

KSCOPE351-COVER-20cm-1024x1024Anathema
The Optimist

If ever there was an album release that raised my expectation levels to completely new heights, it was this one. The last two, ‘Distant Satellites’ and ‘Weather Systems’ are musical perfection, so I hoped upon hope for a third killer record. After a difficult start, where disappointment initially reigned supreme, I have grown to love ‘The Optimist’. In keeping with previous Anathema albums, it is a deep and emotional rollercoaster of a ride through some dark landscapes that only reveal their beauty with time, effort and an open mind.

“Put simply, Anathema are a band that speaks to me. They are a band that seem to know instinctively how to press my buttons and touch me whatever my mood. From euphoric and uplifting, to fragile and poignant, they cover the gamut of emotions, leaving me exhilarated one minute and sombre the next, frequently with tears as my constant and ubiquitous silent companion.”

“‘The Optimist’ is yet another shift in Anathema’s own personal evolution. Whilst the core ingredients of atmosphere, emotional depth and lyrical eloquence are present and correct here, the output framed loosely by alternative/prog rock, has a much darker feel to it in general. There is also a more pronounced use of loops, electronic sounds and percussion that were hinted at within the title track on ‘Distant Satellites’.”

“Once again, Anathema have delivered an album that is more to me than just a collection of beautifully and lovingly-crafted songs. It is an album that lives and breathes. It has a vibrancy, an intense raw honesty and a human depth that many strive to deliver but that very few succeed in achieving.”

Read the full review here.

15826722_1705409859485158_999859890853457012_nPallbearer
Heartless

It takes a lot for doom metal to feature in any top lists with me because in general, doom is not one of my natural, favourite genres. However, I had not reckoned on the new album from Pallbearer. This is doom metal but it is so much more besides. ‘Heartless’ is a near-perfect blend of styles and sounds, making it transcend genres to a certain extent. Instead, when I listen to ‘Heartless’, I find myself being thoroughly absorbed in some of the most exciting, engaging and mature music I have heard for some time.

“…having since had the opportunity to listen to this album at length, I am going to stick my neck out and say that right here, right now, ‘Heartless’ is the best doom metal record that I have ever heard. Yes it incorporates a number of different influences to create a rich tapestry of sounds, textures and moods. However, at its core, ‘Heartless’ is pure doom metal, born and bred.”

“The injection of more overt progressive tendencies alongside some sumptuous melodies and assured, ambitious song writing means that with ‘Heartless’, Pallbearer have created what I think might very well be my favourite doom metal album ever. Meaningless hyperbole this is not, because ‘Heartless’ delivers in every facet. This is a doom metal masterpiece and my life is richer for hearing it.”

Read the full review here.

Orden Ogan – Gunmen – Album Review

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Artist: Orden Ogan

Album Title: Gunmen

Label: AFM Records

Date of Release: 7 July 2017

This is getting embarrassing. Over the past couple of decades, I have built up what I would like to think is a fairly extensive and varied knowledge of vast swathes of the heavy metal world, even occasionally veering into rockier territories where appropriate. However, it wasn’t until I started writing music reviews for myself rather than a national publication that I have begun to realise how much more there is out there that has completely eluded me. It’s actually quite staggering and a little overwhelming if I’m honest.

And today, I bring you the latest band that has been a completely new revelation for me, namely Orden Ogan. I am familiar with the power metal and melodic metal genres, liking much within them. But German outfit Orden Ogan never crossed my path. Until now.

But hey, I thought, it’s not like they have been around for that long, is it? Oh, 20 years? Damn. Three demos and five previous studio albums? Damn and drat. Oh well, let’s not dwell on my failings, let me try to put things straight at the earliest opportunity, for Orden Ogan have made an impression on me that is extremely positive.

Based on the evidence of ‘Gunmen’, the Teutonic quartet comprised of guitarist/lead vocalist and last-remaining founding member Sebastian ‘Seeb’ Levermann, guitarist Tobias Kersting, bassist Niels Löffler and drummer Dirk Meyer-Berhorn are likely to quickly become a firm favourite of mine in the power metal world. Naturally, genre pigeon-holing can be precarious but Orden Ogan are easier than most; this is unashamed power metal with all the trimmings and a few fleeting elements of other influences, namely folk metal and symphonic metal.

What hits me right off the bat with the dark Wild West-themed ‘Gunmen’ more than anything else, is the way in which they create genuinely epic-sounding music. More specifically, it is the choruses on this album that make the biggest impact. And it’s an immediate impact. Some bands will pretend to create bombastic and epic music but Orden Ogan properly succeed. Layers of keyboards, synths and choirs combine with the more metallic aspects of their sound to produce a soundtrack that is rousing and one that cannot fail to stir even the coldest of hearts. The choruses throughout this record are huge, addictive beasts that I have listened to on repeat several times without them losing any of their ardour. In fact, in many cases, they just get better.

The opening one-two comprised of the title track and ‘Fields Of Sorrow’ is easily one of the most powerful and attention-grabbing beginnings to a record that I have heard from a power metal band in many a year. ‘Gunman’ is a highly-charged thrill-ride from the opening hefty guitar notes and orchestration, right through to the sound of a firing gun to signal its end. In between, we get a combination of stomping and galloping metal riffs, melodic lead guitar licks, a ferocious rhythmic backbone and one of the biggest and most glorious choruses you’ll hear for quite some time. I adore the groove that accompanies the chorus and even the ubiquitous lead guitar solos that crop up toward the end are a great blend of shred and melody. Atop it all are Levermann’s vocals, which I am drawn to thanks to his gritty and deep tones.

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By contrast, ‘Fields Of Sorrow’ is a much darker number and generally more mid-tempo than its predecessor. It kicks off with a seriously cool riff that reinforces my opinion that this record is blessed with some superb guitar tones and a production that more than adequately does it justice. Once again, the chorus is where the music goes from great to sensational. It is a sombre affair but remains highly addictive and huge in scope. The pummelling double-pedal drumming that underpins the chorus is a lovely touch, too, adding further gravitas to proceedings.

It would be difficult for most bands to follow up such an impressive opening and indeed, if I’m being completely honest, I’m still of the opinion that these two cuts, aside from the final song ‘Finis Coronat Opus’ are the strongest on ‘Gunman’. However, what follows is still very good indeed and almost all of the eight subsequent songs have something about them that warrants my admiration. I dismissed ‘Vampire In Ghost Town’ out of hand on a first listen because it came across as just a little too cheesy and the lyrics felt a little silly. But now, I can’t help but love it, principally because, despite the silliness, it remains a well-crafted heavy metal song with meaty riffs, catchy melodies and yet more powerhouse rhythmic flair, a strong recurring feature throughout the album.

The soothing, acoustic opening of ‘Come With Me To The Other Side’ is accented by the soft tones of ex- Leaves Eyes vocalist Liv Kristine, who appears at points elsewhere within a song that has a balladic feel to it, but does not dial down the bombast and metallic elements to compensate. Instead, it becomes a bona-fide symphonic anthem, with a vaguely progressive edge given its many varied components.

It is this variety overall that makes ‘Gunman’ such a rewarding listen and one that doesn’t quickly become one-dimensional and boring. The output remains firmly in the power metal camp, but within this framework, I get the impression that the quartet wanted to experiment a little bit. As such, in addition to the aforementioned tracks, we get s like ‘Down Here (Wanted: Dead Or Alive)’ with its dramatic cinematic overtones and the brooding, stomp of ‘One Last Chance’, where the heaviness is marked and wouldn’t be out of place in other more extreme metal genres. It goes without saying that the chorus is another delicious affair here too.

Closing track, ‘Finis Coronat Opus’ is the longest on ‘Gunman’, nearly nudging the nine-minute mark. Personally, I can’t think of a better way for Orden Ogan to end this epic record, than with their most epic composition. It plays around with light and shade and pacing to great effect, injecting just a touch of prog and then dials everything else up to 11. The chorus is gargantuan, the riffs are superb and the bombastic symphonic elements are a real joy. There’s a sombre tone to the song but a sense of hope and positivity comes through as it draws to a close.

There is no doubt in my mind that ‘Gunmen’ will end the year as one of my favourite power metal albums. It exudes quality from every pore and has been a genuine revelation for me. I will explore the back catalogue for sure but for now, I just need to prise ‘Gunmen’ out of my stereo…and that might prove harder than I first thought.

The Score of Much Metal: 8.75

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

2015 reviews
2016 reviews

Iced Earth – Incorruptible
Anathema – The Optimist
Solstafir – Berdreyminn
Dream Evil – Six
Avatarium – Hurricanes And Halos
Ayreon – The Source
Until Rain – Inure
MindMaze – Resolve
God Dethroned – The World Ablaze
Bjorn Riis – Forever Comes To An End
Voyager – Ghost Mile
Big Big Train – Grimspound
Lonely Robot – The Big Dream
Firespawn – The Reprobate
Ancient Ascendant
Pyramaze – Contingent
Shores Of Null – Black Drapes For Tomorrow
Asira – Efference
Hologram Earth – Black Cell Program
Damnations Day – A World Awakens
Memoriam – For The Fallen
Pallbearer – Heartless
Sleepmakeswaves – Made of Breath Only
Ghost Ship Octavius – Ghost Ship Octavius
Vangough – Warpaint
Telepathy – Tempest
Obituary – Obituary
Fen – Winter
Havok – Conformicide
Wolfheart – Tyhjyys
Svart Crown – Abreaction
Nova Collective – The Further Side
Immolation – Atonement
The Mute Gods – Tardigrades Will Inherit The Earth
Ex Deo – The Immortal Wars
Pyogenesis – A Kingdom To Disappear
My Soliloquy – Engines of Gravity
Nailed To Obscurity – King Delusion
Helion Prime – Helion Prime
Battle Beast – Bringer Of Pain
Persefone – Aathma
Soen – Lykaia
Exquirla – Para Quienes Aun Viven
Odd Logic – Effigy
Mors Principium Est – Embers Of A Dying World
Firewind – Immortals
Slyde – Back Again EP
Sepultura – Machine Messiah
Deserted Fear – Dead Shores Rising
Kreator – Gods Of Violence
Borealis – World of Silence MMXVII
Pain of Salvation – In The Passing Light of Day

Dream Evil – Six – Album Review

Cover_Artwork

Artist: Dream Evil

Album Title: Six

Label: Century Media

Date Of Release: 26 May 2017

Dream Evil have been knocking around the metal scene for many years, having been created before the millennium by the renowned Studio Fredman producer Fredrik Nordström. It was his burning desire to create his own power metal band and Dream Evil was the result. In the early days, the band featured the notable names of guitarist Gus G (Firewind, Ozzy Osborne) and drummer Snowy Shaw.

These guys have moved on, with Dream Evil now comprised of Nordstrom alongside lead vocalist Niklas Isfeldt, lead guitarist Mark U Black, bassist Peter Stålfors and drummer Patrik Jerksten. Nevertheless Dream Evil have remained steadfast throughout and ‘Six’ being, you guessed it, their sixth studio album to date, albeit following a hefty seven-year hiatus since ‘In The Night’ was released in 2010. However, on the basis of the music on ‘Six’, it might have been kinder for all concerned if Nordström and his merry men had moved on to pastures new as well.

Long term readers of the Blog of Much Metal will know that I am not the kind of person who takes any satisfaction from writing more negative reviews. So when I can only conclude that ‘Six’ is a distinctly average album with more filler than stand-out material, you know that I am not saying this lightly or for effect.

So why have I reviewed this then? I was actually interested in hearing the new album because I have a couple of early Dream Evil albums nestled in my collection and there is some decent material to be heard on them. And additionally, I have invested too much time trying to like this album to abandon it without committing my thoughts to paper. However, from the first spin, with no agenda or axe to grind, I simply found myself feeling thoroughly disappointed and entirely underwhelmed for the most part.

But let me begin with the positives, as no album is completely devoid of such things. For a start, I do enjoy the hefty guitar tones that deliver some decent riffs. They pack a fair punch, offer plenty of grunt and help to dispel the thoughts that power metal is a softer form of metal. The rhythm section is equally commanding and muscular, as demonstrated on the self-monikered opening track, ‘Dream Evil’. It is one of the few tracks on this record that’s a genuine grower, becoming a bit of a pulsating, headbanging anthem that I am sure will come alive on stage during the upcoming festival season.

The production must be mentioned as it is this that helps to lend the guitars, bass and drums such a rich sound. Naturally, this comes as no surprise given the clientele and it is where Nordstrom comes into his own, being the quality knob-fiddler that he is.

In terms of other songs on the album that are worth mentioning, there’s the brooding, slower-paced ‘Creature of the Night’ which features some of the strongest melodies on the album. ‘The Murdered Mind’ is a fun, breezier number with a pleasant chorus whilst ‘Six Hundred And 66’ offers some great grooves and arguably the catchiest chorus on the record.

Sandwiched in between though, are too many compositions that do very little for me. The musicianship is perfectly acceptable, very good in places. And that makes things even more frustrating because they clearly have the talent to produce a higher-quality or at least a more consistent product.

Then there are the lyrics. Now I’m far from a lyric snob and very often I couldn’t care less what’s being sung about if the music is of a high quality. But even I struggle to ignore the words that accompany some of the songs on this album. Take ‘Sin City’ as the perfect example. ‘…they met my older brother, who was rich, he was poor.’ C’mon, seriously? Then there’s the line in the same song: ‘the devil proved to be a really nice guy and they partied all night long. And those who always believed in God, admitted they were wrong.’ How are your toes? Have they uncurled yet?

I also have to be honest and venture the opinion that I’m not the greatest fan of Niklas Isfeldt’s vocal delivery. He has a powerful set of lungs with a decent range but I quickly tire of his higher-pitched tones which veer perilously close to annoying territory for my tastes.

And that’s about it. I could go on, but I’ll leave it there. Dream Evil have a lot going for them and when they get it right, they get it very right. Regrettably, their conversion rate isn’t that high on ‘Six’ and so for every decent track, there are two or three that fall flat. It’s a shame and I genuinely hate being negative, but I have to be honest. Sorry guys, I won’t be returning to this record any time soon.

The Score Of Much Metal: 6

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

2015 reviews
2016 reviews

Avatarium – Hurricanes And Halos
Ayreon – The Source
Until Rain – Inure
MindMaze – Resolve
God Dethroned – The World Ablaze
Bjorn Riis – Forever Comes To An End
Voyager – Ghost Mile
Big Big Train – Grimspound
Lonely Robot – The Big Dream
Firespawn – The Reprobate
Ancient Ascendant
Pyramaze – Contingent
Shores Of Null – Black Drapes For Tomorrow
Asira – Efference
Hologram Earth – Black Cell Program
Damnations Day – A World Awakens
Memoriam – For The Fallen
Pallbearer – Heartless
Sleepmakeswaves – Made of Breath Only
Ghost Ship Octavius – Ghost Ship Octavius
Vangough – Warpaint
Telepathy – Tempest
Obituary – Obituary
Fen – Winter
Havok – Conformicide
Wolfheart – Tyhjyys
Svart Crown – Abreaction
Nova Collective – The Further Side
Immolation – Atonement
The Mute Gods – Tardigrades Will Inherit The Earth
Ex Deo – The Immortal Wars
Pyogenesis – A Kingdom To Disappear
My Soliloquy – Engines of Gravity
Nailed To Obscurity – King Delusion
Helion Prime – Helion Prime
Battle Beast – Bringer Of Pain
Persefone – Aathma
Soen – Lykaia
Exquirla – Para Quienes Aun Viven
Odd Logic – Effigy
Mors Principium Est – Embers Of A Dying World
Firewind – Immortals
Slyde – Back Again EP
Sepultura – Machine Messiah
Deserted Fear – Dead Shores Rising
Kreator – Gods Of Violence
Borealis – World of Silence MMXVII
Pain of Salvation – In The Passing Light of Day

MindMaze – Resolve – Album Review

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Artist: MindMaze

Album Title: Resolve

Label: Inner Wound Recordings

Date of Release: 28 April 2017

The progressive power metal subgenre is large and highly saturated these days, which may go some way to explain why MindMaze have flown under my radar to date. Weeding out the wheat from the chaff in such a burgeoning scene can be difficult for fans and journalists alike. But it can be equally tough for bands themselves to find a way to thrust themselves out of the masses and be noticed.

With their third full-length release entitled ‘Resolve’, MindMaze may have done just this however. And interestingly, whilst this latest effort is the American quartet’s first ever concept album, it does not rely on gimmicks alone to achieve this higher level of attention. Instead, in my view, the fact this is a conceptual record plays a secondary role to the music itself. The same can be said when considering the fact that MindMaze are a female-fronted band. I hate that phrase at the best of times, but MindMaze have managed to create music that is strong enough to ensure that the voice of Sarah Teets isn’t the most important thing. Sarah has a great voice, full of power and she attacks the material throughout with full-on commitment and style. But she remains only a single piece in the overall jigsaw that is MindMaze 2017.

What I particularly like about ‘Resolve’ is the way that the compositions grow with time and the clever way in which the song writing has allowed plenty of different ideas and influences to flavour this particular melodic progressive metal dish. As the press release rightly states, ‘Resolve’ is made all the richer and more varied thanks to the inclusion of elements of melodic rock, power metal, symphonic metal. It all comes together cohesively but there is no denying the fact that the overall product is more dynamic, textured and multi-layered as a result.

Referring back to the conceptual nature of ‘Resolve’ for a second, it is gratifying to report that MindMaze have foregone the opportunity to go off on a fantasy or science-fiction tangent in this regard. Don’t get me wrong, I’m all for swords, magic, spaceships and dragons in my heavy metal, but not at all times. ‘Resolve’ instead hones in on personal struggles and human emotions. It gives the material more of a gritty edge which I think plays to its strengths.

The album opens in a blaze of glory via the instrumental ‘Reverie’. It begins with a subtle acoustic guitar that delivers a very pleasant and welcoming melody before exploding with wailing lead guitars, nice and chunky heavy riffs, a tinkling piano and rich synths, all courtesy of Sarah’s brother, the highly talented Jeff Teets. The drumming from Mark Bennett and bass work from Rich Pasqualone provides a driving beat and backbone, thus completing the composition of MindMaze.

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The speed, power and sheer force of MindMaze continues without a pause for breath courtesy of ‘Fight The Future’ where the speed of power metal meets the attitude of thrash and the exuberance and dexterity of progressive metal. It creates a heady, often frenetic cocktail, but one that is thoroughly enjoyable, capped by a commanding vocal performance from Sarah Teets.

After a quick interlude, ‘Drown Me’ takes over with some seriously meaty and muscular guitar riffs. Reminiscent in tone to ‘Monday Morning Apocalypse’-era Evergrey, they carry some serious potency. The synths are quirky, slightly futuristic-sounding but entirely in keeping with the ambitious composition that experiments with light and shade to great effect thanks to a quieter, more introspective mid-section as well as a re-introduction of acoustic guitars nestled within the fierce and groovy chugging riffs that cannot fail to get the head bobbing enthusiastically.

With almost any album that contains as many as thirteen tracks and an overall running time of 68 minutes, I have to report that there are a couple of moments where the word ‘filler’ enters my mind. It’s hardly surprising really and, to be honest, it doesn’t significantly derail my overall enjoyment of the album. I understand the slightly theatrical aspect of the instrumental pieces for example that are nestled within the record, but I’m not sure they add an awful lot to the album. Future releases might benefit therefore from a little more ruthless editing.

But to return to the highlights and there are several to pick from. I really like the urgency and the full-throttle assault of ‘Abandon’ which once again flirts around the edges of thrash metal, whilst delivering some great riffs and a strong chorus. Almost subconsciously, the name Triaxis flutters in my mind during this dominant and forthright track but then so does Iron Maiden thanks to a striking melody that briefly lurks in the latter stages of the song.

The bass playing and drumming that features with ‘True Reflection’ is worthy of a mention, as is the unusual but clever fading in and out of the acoustic guitar at times. Again, the melodies are strong as is the structure of the track.

Sarah Teets’ voice shines within ‘Release’, a ballad of sorts that builds from a quiet acoustic base to end rather appropriately with a wailing lead guitar. And then there’s the 11-plus-minute closer ‘The Path To Perseverance’ which wraps things up in a suitably bombastic manner. For my money, this song delivers some of the strongest melodies anywhere on this album as well as creating a rich and vibrant listening experience, full of twists and turns and bursting with energy, led once again, by the effervescent lead guitar histrionics of Jeff Teets. The return to the album’s opening acoustic melody at the death is a really nice touch too, bringing a neat sense of closure to the record.

Overall, ‘Resolve’ has impressed me far more than I ever expected and it should no doubt propel MindMaze to the next level within the echelons of melodic progressive metal. However, as good as ‘Resolve’ is, I confidently predict even bigger and better things for MindMaze in the years to come.

The Score of Much Metal: 8.5

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

2015 reviews
2016 reviews

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

Voyager – Ghost Mile – Album Review

VOYAGER-GHOST_MILE-coverHI

Artist: Voyager

Album Title: Ghost Mile

Label: IAV Records

Date Of Release: 12 May 2017

In the three years since the release of Voyager’s last album, ‘V’, much has changed in my life. I am no longer writing for Powerplay magazine, I’ve moved house and I now have a second daughter on which to dote. Not to mention double my stress levels and further eat into my spare time. Not that I’d have it any other way of course.

But in the world of Voyager, things have been surprisingly stable and quiet. For a band that has experienced more than their fair share of line-up changes over the years since their inception around 1999, the clientele has happily remained the same from ‘V’ to the current day.

As a result, Voyager 2017 consists of vocalist Daniel Estrin, guitarists Simone Dow and Scott Kay, bassist Alex Canion and drummer Ashley Doodkorte. A more talented and hungry group of musicians you’ll struggle to find and it shows too. This is a tight unit, a formidable machine.

The stock of the quintet who hails from the most remote city in the world has risen unbelievably over the last few years. They have gone from a band very much in the underground to one of the current darlings of the metal world. Some of this has to do with their live shows. I have yet to witness one but I have it on good authority that they are incredible, drawing the highest of praise and comments like ‘the best live performance I’ve ever seen’.

However, the other enormous factor in the rapid rise of the affable five from Perth, Western Australia is the music itself. Quite simply, Voyager is a band that keeps getting better and better. I joined the cause around the release of their fourth album, ‘The Meaning Of I’ in 2011, becoming smitten with their brand of quirky melodic progressive metal. I delved into their back catalogue and then salivated all over ‘V’, such was its brilliance.

To quote my review for Powerplay Magazine, “Immediate, catchy and satisfyingly heavy, ‘V’ is a brilliantly-written album, deserving of your undivided attention.”

And now finally and joyously, album number six is upon us. Entitled ‘Ghost Mile’, you very quickly realise that this is yet another impressive body of work from the good ship Voyager. Instead of the 13-track affair that ‘V’ was, ‘Ghost Mile’ consists of a mere ten tracks and a running time of 45 minutes. But worry not, because listeners have not been short-changed by this, not one iota.

What this represents in fact is that Voyager today is an even more tightly honed entity. More focussed and more self-assured than ever before. That rising stock I mentioned a moment ago? Expect it to go through the roof upon the release of this record, mark my words.

Firstly, in a very similar vein to ‘V’, ‘Ghost Mile’ is impeccably produced. Mastered by Matthew Templeman and mixed by Simon Struthers, it sounds slick, polished and smooth. The music is provided a great depth and clarity which is vital given the subtle nuances at play within Voyager’s sound. But being a metal band, Voyager like to crack out the heavy occasionally and when they do, there’s plenty of muscle to back up the aggression, losing nothing in the mix.

There are definitely ingredients of many different bands within the Voyager sound, many influences. But the final result is just so unique that these reference points are rendered redundant. In my opinion, Voyager sound like no-one else. They have worked hard over the years to craft their sound and perfect their own vision, to the point where comparisons are impossible and, in any case, are utterly pointless. Their output blends progressive metal, prog and pop-like melodies with a quirky and often atmospheric sheen. Put simply, the music sounds like…Voyager.

Each musician within the band brings something interesting and vital to the overall sound. Guitarists Simone Dow and Scott Kay are exemplary riff machines with an almost telepathic understanding. I love the tones of the guitars as well as the inventiveness of the riffs and chord structures. They work perfectly in tandem with a behemoth of a rhythm section comprised of the expressive and flamboyant bassist Alex Cannion alongside drummer Ashley Doodkorte who is metronomic in his accuracy, laying down a thunderous yet varied and cleverly nuanced heartbeat. And then there’s Daniel Estrin. I cannot get enough of this guy’s vocals – they are quirky and off-beat at times which adds to the uniqueness of Voyager’s output. But more than that, he is such a powerful, melodious and emotive vocalist. He also brings his skills with the ivories by creating the synth and key textures that layer the album, bringing with it that aforementioned atmosphere, a sense of drama and yet more originality.

voyager band

On to the songs themselves and ‘Ghost Mile’ opens up with ‘Ascension’. It is a track you’re likely to have already heard given that it was the first track released to an expectant fan base. When I first heard it, I had my reservations as it didn’t immediately seem to deliver a killer melodic hook or a chorus to grab my attention. However, I was wrong. It encapsulates just about everything that is so brilliant about Voyager.

Beginning with a gorgeously serene guitar and synth intro that subsequently welcomes in a simple, pounding drum beat, it builds a sense of tension which is released once the intriguing progressive-sounding riff kicks in. When the heavy guitars fall away, in come Estrin’s vocals which create the melodies as well as some really wonderful bass playing. Accompanied by layers of synths, there is genuine warmth to the music and it feels like it is seeping into my bones and my soul. And then, all of a sudden, some brief growls usher in something altogether heavier. An almost post-metal wall of groovy sound greets us, before things revert back, only for the song to close on a lurching, progressive/tech metal riff. I can’t help but grin already.

The grin then gets even bigger as the monstrous one-two of ‘Misery Is Only Company’ and ‘Lifeline’ take over. The former starts off in quirky, progressive fashion before delivering one of the strongest hook-laden choruses of Voyager’s career. Juxtaposed with some punchy, fast-paced music in the verses, this is a great blend of melodic and progressive metal par excellence.

‘Lifeline’ then reintroduces what becomes a bit of a trend on ‘Ghost Mile’, namely an ambient, atmospheric, almost electronic-sounding opening. The overtly progressive, twisting and turning track then builds expertly with stop/start riffing entering before being gradually joined by striking drumming and then Estrin’s trade mark melodic vocals. But the best is saved until the chorus. I adore what Dow and Kay do here but I’m at a loss to explain it more eloquently; the guitar notes send shivers down my spine, as if speaking directly to something primitive inside of me.

‘The Fragile Serene’ caresses the soul initially before stomping all over it with a more ponderously-paced riff. The track eventually quickens but, by taking the foot off the pedal, it cleverly introduces another strong and dynamic facet to the album. The synths are integral to this more wistful and dreamy-sounding composition, as are the more subtle melodies that permeate the consciousness with repeated listening.
It might only be a little over two minutes in length but ‘To The Riverside’ makes a huge impact. It is a composition that paints huge, stunning vistas in the mind’s eye. It is at once both soothing and surprisingly emotional. The tinkling keys, layers of synths and the pensive voice of Estrin all combine to stunning effect, only enhanced latterly by some simple additions from the rest of the band.

By contrast, the title track changes things up once again by offering a dramatic and intense listening experience right from the off. It is one of the most progressive tracks on the record by virtue of the fact that it never sits still. The melody remains but the tone is darker, more dystopian, accented by some bold sounds and samples and ultimately communicated via a deviation into extreme metal territory. Ferocious blast beats, fast-picked riffing and suffocating intensity all feature prominently in the latter stages as Voyager channel their inner anger with superb and eyebrow-raising results.

Not content with just one cut of extremity, ‘Disconnected’ also packs a real punch, along with more dark, foreboding atmosphere whilst the short, sharp and unashamedly modern pop-inspired ‘What A Wonderful Day’ also features a brief smattering of growled vocals for good measure.

‘This Gentle Earth’ is a beautiful track, predominantly a piano and vocal composition. It has bittersweet overtones as the melodies feel quite up-beat whereas the lyrics talk about having ‘never felt so alien’. The poignancy really makes me think, something that I heartily approve of.

All too swiftly, ‘Ghost Mile’ comes to a close with ‘As The City Takes The Night’. However, it says its goodbyes in the best possible fashion. Funky bass lines, more cracking riffs, layers of synths and another vocal masterclass all ensure that this melodic progressive composition is a more than fitting finale for such an amazing album. The chorus is once again a thing of understated and subtle beauty, wonderfully topped off by the more ethereal vocals that almost blend into the music. And when the album closes, it stays in my mind for quite some time.

The only problem with ‘Ghost Mile’ is that it is a stealer of time, a thief of moments. I listen to this record and immediately feel compelled to listen again. Before I know it, huge chunks of my life have disappeared. However, at this precise moment, I don’t care. All I know is that ‘Ghost Mile’ is a very special record from an equally special band and…damn it, I need to listen to it again.

The Score Of Much Metal: 9.9

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

2015 reviews
2016 reviews

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