Tag Archives: Norway

Leprous – Malina – Album Review

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Artist: Leprous

Album Title: Malina

Label: InsideOut Music

Date of Release: 25 August 2017

One of the very biggest compliments that I can bestow upon a band is to say that they sound unique. In a day-and-age where originality is harder to come by than a public sector pay rise, it is quite an accolade to be able to declare to the world ‘we sound like no-one else’. And that is exactly what Leprous can boast. Good on them too, I say.

Ever since their debut, ‘Tall Poppy Syndrome’ (2009), the Norwegian outfit has delivered superb music. In the early days, there was a touch more of the generic about them as they cut their teeth in the tough world of music whilst proudly wearing a few of their inspirations on their sleeves. The album was still brilliant, with a vibrancy and confidence thoroughly belying the incredibly young age of the individuals concerned. However, as they have become older, wiser, and ever-more proficient, the output has become more unique and, as a result, ever more intriguing.

I confess here and now my love for Leprous. However, that being said, my love is not the easy kind where I metaphorically fall into their arms, swooning at the immediate saccharine beauty of their music. Instead, it is a more reserved love, born out of respect, admiration and often astonishment at what I am hearing. That’s not to say that Leprous’ music is not beautiful, because it is, but they never seem to make it easy. And why should they? This is prog after all.

Whatever album you listen to within the back catalogue, you must make the effort, listen hard and work at it. If you do, ultimately the rewards will come. The same is true of ‘Malina’, the quintet’s fifth release to date.

At this point, I will admit to a certain amount of sympathy for Leprous, although the reason for the sympathy has been somewhat self-induced by the Norwegians. You see, their debut placed the bar very high. And remarkably, every release since then has nudged that bar higher and higher. Not one of their four previous albums has been less than brilliant. Always pushing themselves, always honing their output and tweaking their sound, they have consistently released brilliance without ever standing still. That’s all very well and good, but how can Leprous possibly continue to improve when each previous release is so strong?

Whatever the answer and whatever their strategy, something must be working though because, with ‘Malina’, they’ve done it again. You can hear the influences of previous albums, ‘The Congregation’ (2015) specifically. But importantly, the output and musical direction has been tweaked yet again; some might even baulk at the word ‘tweaked’. Nevertheless the Leprous of 2017 via ‘Malina’ sounds fresh, interesting, compelling whilst remaining totally, unequivocally unique.

True to form, my first spin through did not result in love at first listen, far from it. Instead it resulted in shrugged shoulders and apathy. My second brought consternation; would I ever like what I am hearing? The answer is ‘yes’, but not until at least the fifth pass through. Suddenly, chinks of light began to emerge, my mind opened and I now hear music full of variety, full of drama, full of melody, and full of emotion.

The rumours circulating on the internet are true, in that ‘Malina’ is definitely a less heavy beast, but to these ears, that’s only if you consider heavy guitars and pounding rhythms to be sonically heavy. ‘Malina’ has these elements and they use them wisely. But they are used less. And, as with each and every Leprous release before this, the music remains intricate, full of atmosphere and crushingly intense. It is also a multi-layered and multi-faceted affair too, with plenty going on in each composition, even if that’s not how it immediately appears.

Much of the intensity is down to the vocals of Einar Solberg, the guy that only got into music because he was coerced into it by his family. Solberg has a tone and delivery quite unlike all others. He can be melodious, he can be angry and he can be sombre, fragile, and deeply emotional. Like a chameleon, he can bring exactly what is needed to each and every composition. And he does it effortlessly. On ‘Malina’, Solberg has clearly worked a lot on his clean singing and in fact, has all but ditched the more abrasive delivery that featured so strongly on earlier albums.

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Credit: Bjørn Tore Moen

The aforementioned intensity is also created, in part, by the song writing and the absolute attention to detail. Each of the eleven tracks has been beautifully crafted and executed with a loving care. There is an ebb and flow to the material too, from atmospheric minimalism to the bang and crash that you’d expect from a band consistently labelled in some quarters as ‘progressive metal’, despite more of a rock sheen of late. Whether or not ‘Malina’ is a concept album, the music itself undeniably tells a story. Dip in and out of the record if you wish, for each track stands on its own. For maximum enjoyment however, ‘Malina’ should be listened to in its entirety.

‘Bonneville’ is the perfect introduction to the record and a firm insight into the overall stylistic direction of ‘Malina’. With its stark, minimal soundscapes at the outset, it gently builds as it develops, ultimately becoming heavier and more robust as it nears its conclusion. The melodies become more pronounced with repeated listens and those familiar guitar tones of Tor Oddmund Suhrke and newbie Robin Ognedal offer some reserved muscularity.

Unfortunately for ‘Bonneville’, it is then followed by ‘Stuck’ which is an absolute monster, arguably my favourite track on the album currently. I could spend hours dissecting it but suffice to say that there is a lot going on within the composition. Again, with perseverance, the melodic intent becomes more obvious and addictive, culminating in a very strong chorus, almost pop-like in many ways. However, I love the way the song frequently undulates and transitions from quiet introspection to something altogether more powerful. And then there’s the wonderful juxtaposition in the latter stages between the modern and the traditional, when the utterly gorgeous cello/strings of guest musician Raphael Weinroth-Browne join the electronic sounds created by Solberg’s synths. It makes for a truly epic finale.

Thereafter, we’re treated to a run of songs that are very nearly as excellent in their own way. ‘From The Flame’ offers one of the most openly catchy choruses as it ploughs a slightly more straight-forward construction, relative to the usual Leprous output of course. The properly progressive ‘Captive’ by contrast is all about the rhythms, with drummer Baard Kolstad and bassist Simen Børven working overtime to act as the foundation for this lurching number, enhanced by layers of vocals and more genuinely interesting synth sounds and effects. ‘Illuminate’ reintroduces strong melodies and manages to be the perfect contradiction by simultaneously being both upbeat and densely introspective, the latter achieved in part by the swathes of gentle keys that nestle just beneath the surface.

‘Leashes’ is smothered in emotion, quiet and unobtrusive for large parts but then dominated by some of the best, most impassioned vocals from Solberg when things take a turn for the heavier and more intense. The ebb and flow continues courtesy of ‘Mirage’ which enters the fray with some seriously heavy-sounding instrumentation from what I assume emanates from the four and six-strings respectively. But the chorus, when it hits, is bright, breezy and distinctly pop-ish in tone albeit underpinned by a clever, complex beat that seems second nature to Leprous. The djent-esque outro is a clever touch too, with props going to Børven again for some flamboyant bass work.

The title track, with the reintroduction of those lush strings is a dark, sombre composition that occasionally bubbles up via some well-placed percussion from Kolstad, but generally remains an intense, claustrophobic experience due to its fragility and emotional minimalism. It’s not an easy listen, but the pay-off is well worth the effort.

‘Coma’ reintroduces a faster pace, interesting because of the impressive drumming and incessant nature, whilst ‘The Weight of Disaster’ is a lumbering, loping hector but in the best way possible. The hint of groove finds much favour with me, particularly with the way I which it is not overplayed. In fact, this is another track of huge contrasts, where extended passages of quiet contemplation are butted up against moments of forceful intent. And it works thanks to the adeptness and sophistication of the song writing.

It is left to ‘The Last Milestone’ to close out ‘Malina’ and it does so in fabulous style. It is a crushingly beautiful, poignant and sad hymn, led by the strings of Raphael Weinroth-Browne and the sorrowful, almost operatic delivery of Solberg. It is a very different approach for Leprous but not for a single second do I believe that it doesn’t belong on this record. It is a bold way to end, but just like the opening track, it is perfectly placed, providing maximum impact in the process.

To conclude, ‘Malina’ is ultimately a stunning record. In so many ways it remains faithful to the core Leprous sound but it is bound to raise the eyebrows of many existing fans at the same time. The more rhythmic, staccato guitar work remains, as does the flair for the deceptively complex compositional and instrumental work. That said, ‘Malina’ feels smoother, even more assured and, dare I say it, more mature. Put simply, it is the sound of progressive music par excellence. Just don’t dismiss it after the first listen because if you do, you’ll be making a big mistake.

The Score of Much Metal: 9.5

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

2015 reviews
2016 reviews

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

Bjørn Riis – Forever Comes To An End – Album Review

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Artist: Bjørn Riis

Album Title: Forever Comes To An End

Label: Karisma Records

Date of Release: 19 May 2017

I’ve made no secret of my ardour towards the music of Airbag on this very blog. The Norwegian progressive rock band is a powerful entity with a knack of penning emotional and deeply engaging music, which comes across as smooth, rich and effortless. Nowhere was this evidenced more strongly than with their most recent studio recording, ‘Disconnected’, released mid-2016. It was magnificent.

Naturally then, how could I resist checking out the latest solo effort from Airbag’s principal song writer, Bjørn Riis? I completely missed his debut solo album, ‘Lullabies In A Car Crash’ because I was unaware of its existence. However, I wasn’t prepared to make the same mistake again. And I haven’t. I have spent the last few days getting to know ‘Forever Comes To An End’ quite intimately and it was a very wise decision to say the least.

It is fair to say that there definite and demonstrable similarities between the music on this record and the general output of Airbag. That’s hardly surprising really, because melodious and serene progressive rock is clearly in the genetics of Riis. Additionally, the album features the talents of Airbag’s drummer Henrik Fossum and programmer Asle Tostrup, who, alongside pianist Simen Valldal Johannessen (Oak) and Norwegian singer, Sichelle Mcmeo Aksum, both bring their own familiar approach to the table.

But, to refer to ‘Forever Comes To An End’ as a complete Airbag clone would be unfair and a little inaccurate. For a start, I would venture to say that Riis’ solo work features heavier passages of music than Airbag, certainly for more prolonged periods of time. As such, there are more pronounced peaks and troughs within some of the compositions, thus creating a sense of increased drama.

Take the opening title track as the prime example. It begins in commanding fashion, jam packed with strong riffs and an abrasive, tumultuous feel, something that returns at intervals as the track develops. But in between are the more archetypal soothing passages where Riis is able to put his guitar at the forefront of the composition, allowing it to embellish the composition as only he knows how, via plenty of emotive and soaring leads. It becomes almost a second vocalist at times, such is the eloquence with which it ‘sings’ atop some simple but memorable melodies. It’s no wonder Riis has been compared to the likes of Dave Gilmour throughout his career.

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Photo: Anita Stostad

‘The Waves’ is a beautiful track that further showcases Riis’ ability to build compositions from quiet beginnings to rousing crescendos and back again, all built around resonant melodies that linger long in the memory. By contrast, ‘Getaway’ is pulled along brilliantly by a driving beat that’s entirely infectious, delivering something tangibly 80s in tone, although I can’t quite place why I get this feeling. No matter, it’s a cracking track, worthy of the entrance price alone.

Another key difference between airbag and Riis’ solo work is the increase of music on ‘Forever Comes To An End’ that is clearly inspired by film scores and the cinema.

This is an aspect of this album that I have embraced wholeheartedly and which makes it so powerful in my opinion. The seeds are sown on the bleak and moody ‘Absence’, a track that brings the striking cover artwork (Kjetil Karlsen) to life. As the composition builds, so does the drama, enhanced by the wonderful aural textures created by Johannessen’s piano and Tostrup’s all-encompassing electronics.

The cinematic seeds then grow via the stunning instrumental ‘Calm’ only to thrive and ultimately bloom within ‘Winter’. It is the longest track on the album, thus allowing a culmination of all of the various elements of the record to come together, from controlled bombast, to post-rock minimalism, to progressive and cinematic and everything in between. The ethereal vocals of Sichelle Mcmeo Aksum are a striking addition here too.

Given that the album’s lyrics have been inspired by ‘broken relationships and loss and the emotional duality between resentment and forgiving’, it will come as no surprise that ‘Forever Comes To An End’ has dark and poignant overtones. If you’re looking for music to party to, this isn’t for you, put it that way. For me though, the lyrics fit the aural soundscapes perfectly, offering a strong and demonstrable human angle. Closer ‘Where Are You Now’ underlines just what fragile things human emotions can be, in the process ending the album in impressive, near tear-jerking fashion.

Whether or not ‘Forever Comes To An End’ will eventually eclipse Riis’ work with Airbag remains to be seen. If I had a criticism, it would be that I wish it was longer. At just seven tracks, it feels just a touch on the short side. Regardless of this minor quibble, this is a hugely impressive body of work in its own right and deserves to be enjoyed as such. ‘Forever Comes To An End’ is a no-brainer for anyone who enjoys expertly written and professionally executed progressive rock where textures and emotions are as important as the complexity of the music.

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

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

Seven Impale – Contrapasso – Album Review

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Artist: Seven Impale

Album Title: Contrapasso

Label: Karisma Records

Date Of Release: 16 September 2016

I’ve been writing reviews about rock and metal of all types for over ten years now and over that time, I’ve learned a lot. One of the more powerful lessons I’ve learned is that often, you can admire an album objectively but not love it. Of course, you can experience both at the same time but as it turns out, there’s a big difference between the two. Loving an album would infer some kind of emotional connection with the music, whereas this is not essential to allow admiration. And that’s very much the case here.

‘Contrapasso’ is the second album from Seven Impale, a Norwegian sextet that have previously escaped my attention. Comprised of bassist/cellist Tormod Fosso, guitarist Erlend Vottvik Olsen, saxophonist/midiflute player Benjamin Mekki Widerøe, vocalist/guitarist Stian Økland, keyboardist Håkon Vinje and drummer Fredrik Mekki Widerøe, this is a band for whom I have developed a great deal of admiration but I fall short of really liking this record, or indeed loving it.

Now, I love progressive music. I love the challenge it often creates, the provocation of thought and the unquestionable instrumental proficiency that it usually displays. And the latter is definitely in evidence here. However, there are times when I have to hold up my hands and say ‘this just isn’t entirely for me’. By and large, I’m afraid that’s the case with Seven Impale and ‘Contrapasso’.

‘Utterly bonkers’, ‘quirky’ and ‘downright odd’ are just some of the adjectives that I could throw at this record. In fact, on occasions, I’ve even uttered something along the lines of ‘what the actual **** is this?’

There’s no denying the fact that Seven Impale are a band that have lofty ambitions and are not afraid to try anything and everything as a result. Prog rock, progressive metal, doom, jazz, ska, avant-garde and a whole host of other musical genres and sub-genres are thrown into a blender and ‘Contrapasso’ is what has come out the other end. However, whilst a first impression might consider ‘Contrapasso’ as a completely disjointed mess, a little more time and effort leads to the conclusion that there is a perverse logic to the album and that there is a definite method behind the madness. This in turn leads to a certain amount of well-earned respect, even if it is occasionally grudging.

Why grudging? Aside from a very few select exceptions to the rule, I’m not a fan of brass in my music, nor do I enjoy much jazz and these are the aspect that sets me on edge the most during this record. Unfortunately, Seven Impale do nothing to alleviate the brass prejudice, particularly given the fact that the saxophone either screeches with properly odd jazz-like abandon or engages in a ska-like approach that I simply can’t get on board with.

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For all that though, there are parts of ‘Contrapasso’ that I genuinely do enjoy and, interestingly, are even more enjoyable when juxtaposed with the bizarre and jarring sounds that surround them. They are best described as moments of clarity within a near-impenetrable fog of otherwise incomprehensible compositions.

Take the opener, ‘Lemma’ as a prime example. The track is littered with a plethora of strange sound effects, bizarre spoken-word segments, and a saxophone that sounds like a duck getting murdered. It’s the only way I can come close to describing this jarring noise. And yet I like the opening churning riff, the bruising doom vibe in the middle of the track and the epic, unexpectedly melodic and epic closing segment is really rather sublime and majestic. That guitar tone juxtaposed with such a light, carefree melody is rather inspired.

There’s something about the oddly commercial and accessible ska-pop of ‘Heresy’ that I find intriguing also, despite it being, on paper, my worst aural nightmare, particularly given the deliberately uncomfortable and discordant mid-song breakdown. I’m actually reminded a little of another band with whom I also have a strange relationship – Knifeworld, before it closes with an eerie, minimalist soundscape out of kilter with the remainder of the track.

‘Inertia’ on the other hand, is possibly my ‘favourite’ track on ‘Contrapasso’. The fuzzy and vaguely psychedelic extended guitar solo is equal parts excellent and clunky and despite the claustrophobic nature of the first half of the song, there are hints of something yet to come. And when it hits, it’s like the clouds part and the beauty of the sun and sky is revealed. More accurately, the sounds of a beautifully-distorted heavy guitar and epic ambient atmospheres break through to reveal a brief melodic respite that is nectar to my ears. I’d love this part to have been longer, but the fact that it appeared at all is enough in the context of this record.

I quite like the more laid back vibe of ‘Languor’, although I really dislike the brass embellishments – by this point in proceedings, they are beginning to seriously grate. And I’m definitely unconvinced by the new aural textures created by yet more bizarre electronic sounds and samples.

‘Helix’ begins with a bold and unusual 8-bit-esque computer jingle from the days of the dawn of the computer. It creates the foundation of the song and in so doing, injects yet another different texture to the music. Again, after an initial ‘what the…?’ moment, I can kind of appreciate the song a little more now. The slow pace is accentuated by a heavy riff that builds in intensity beneath that odd melody before a controlled explosion sees that intensity increased massively along with a heightened sense of urgency. But then the track just falls off a cliff into a minimalist environment which offers a welcome chilled respite.

Maybe over time I might learn to like ‘Contrapasso’ more, maybe even love it. But right now, I’m just not sure. I truly admire what Seven Impale are trying to do and I highly commend their sense of experimentation not to mention the way that they are seemingly unafraid to take their music in whatever direction their hearts desire. The biggest compliment I can bestow on Seven Impale is that, as much as I struggle with their personal musical vision, I won’t give up. In fact, I somehow can’t give up – I’m drawn back for repeated listens via a strange compulsion akin to a morbid fascination. As such, I just know that I will keep going back to ‘Contrapasso’. And in so doing, I live in hope that one day I can fully connect with the music. If you give this record a go, bring an open mind with you – it’s essential.

The Score Of Much Metal: 7.0

If you’ve enjoyed this review, check out my others via my reviews pages or by clicking the links right here:

DGM – The Passage
Pressure Points – False Lights
In The Woods – Pure
Devin Townsend – Transcendence
The Pineapple Thief – Your Wilderness
Evergrey – The Storm Within
Dream The Electric Sleep – Beneath The Dark Wide Sky
Periphery – ‘Periphery III: Select Difficulty’
Karmakanic – Dot
Novena – Secondary Genesis
Witherscape – The Northern Sanctuary
Eric Gillette – The Great Unknown
Tilt – Hinterland
Cosmograf – The Unreasonable Silence
Fates Warning – Theories Of Flight
Wolverine – Machina Viva
Be’lakor – Vessels
Lacuna Coil – Delirium
Big Big Train – Folklore
Airbag – Disconnected
Katatonia – The Fall Of Hearts
Frost* – Falling Satellites
Glorior Belli – Sundown (The Flock That Welcomes)
Habu – Infinite
Grand Magus ‘Sword Songs’
Messenger – Threnodies
Svoid – Storming Voices Of Inner Devotion
Fallujah – Dreamless
In Mourning – Afterglow
Haken – Affinity
Long Distance Calling – Trips
October Tide – Winged Waltz
Odd Logic – Penny For Your Thoughts
Iron Mountain – Unum
Knifeworld – Bottled Out Of Eden
Novembre – Ursa
Beholder – Reflections
Neverworld – Dreamsnatcher
Universal Mind Project – The Jaguar Priest
Thunderstone – Apocalypse Again
InnerWish – Innerwish
Mob Rules – Tales From Beyond
Ghost Bath – Moonlover
Spiritual Beggars – Sunrise To Sundown
Oceans Of Slumber – Winter
Rikard Zander – I Can Do Without Love
Redemption – The Art Of Loss
Headspace – All That You Fear Is Gone
Chris Quirarte – Mending Broken Bridges
Sunburst – Fragments Of Creation
Inglorious – Inglorious
Omnium Gatherum – Grey Heavens
Structural Disorder – Distance
Votum – Ktonik
Fleshgod Apocalypse – King
Rikard Sjoblom – The Unbendable Sleep
Textures – Phenotype
Serenity – Codex Atlanticus
Borknagar – Winter Thrice
The Mute Gods – Do Nothing Till You Hear From Me
Brainstorm – Scary Creatures
Arcade Messiah – II
Phantasma – The Deviant Hearts
Rendezvous Point – Solar Storm
Vanden Plas – Chronicles Of The Immortals: Netherworld II
Antimatter – The Judas Table
Bauda – Sporelights
Waken Eyes – Exodus
Earthside – A Dream In Static
Caligula’s Horse – Bloom
Teramaze – Her Halo
Amorphis – Under The Red Cloud
Spock’s Beard – The Oblivion Particle
Agent Fresco – Destrier
Cattle Decapitation – The Anthropocene Extinction
Between The Buried And Me – Coma Ecliptic
Cradle Of Filth – Hammer Of The Witches
Disarmonia Mundi – Cold Inferno
District 97 – In Vaults
Progoctopus – Transcendence
Big Big Train – Wassail
NightMare World – In The Fullness Of Time
Helloween – My God-Given Right
Triaxis – Zero Hour
Isurus – Logocharya
Arcturus – Arcturian
Kamelot – Haven
Native Construct – Quiet World
Sigh – Graveward
Pantommind – Searching For Eternity
Subterranean Masquerade – The Great Bazaar
Klone – Here Comes The Sun
The Gentle Storm – The Diary
Melechesh – Enki
Enslaved – In Times
Keep Of Kalessin – Epistemology
Lonely Robot – Please Come Home
The Neal Morse Band – The Grand Experiment
Zero Stroke – As The Colours Seep
AudioPlastik – In The Head Of A Maniac
Revolution Saints – Revolution Saints
Mors Principium Est – Dawn of The 5th Era
Arcade Messiah – Arcade Messiah
Triosphere – The Heart Of The Matter
Neonfly – Strangers In Paradise
Knight Area – Hyperdrive
Haken – Restoration
James LaBrie – Impermanent Resonance
Mercenary – Through Our Darkest Days
A.C.T. – Circus Pandemonium
Xerath – III
Big Big Train – English Electric (Part 1)
Thought Chamber – Psykerion
Marcus Jidell – Pictures From A Time Traveller
H.E.A.T – Tearing Down The Walls
Vanden Plas – Chronicles Of The Immortals: Netherworld

Album Of The Year 2015 – Number 8

On New Years Eve, I present you with my choice at Number 8 in my annual ‘Album of the Year’ countdown. Unbelievably, this is post number 23 in this series, a series that has departed from previous years in that it has been extended to a top 30 rather than a top 20. One reason for this is that I’m a masochist. The other is that 2015 has been too damn excellent to limit the output to just 20. Too many great and worthy releases would have missed out.

If you’re new to this series, please be sure to check out my picks from 30 down to 9 via the links at the bottom of this post.

If you’re a regular, thanks for sticking with me. I hope you’re enjoying the series and hopefully, you might have discovered something new or been persuaded to return to a previously overlooked record. Either way, keep the comments coming as I love the interaction and debate that such a list can generate.

Anyway, on to the main event…

Number 8

leprous con coverLeprous
‘The Congregation’
InsideOut Music

In just seven short years, Leprous have gone from an unknown band to genre leaders. It seems unlikely but that, to my mind at least, is exactly what Leprous have managed. In 2008, very few people knew the name Leprous; in 2015, their name is spoken with a certain amount of awe and reverence. No-one else sounds quite like Leprous and as such, the word ‘unique’ is rightly used when referring to the Norwegian progressive metal band. Sickeningly, the core of the band remain relatively young, boding well for a lengthy career and even worse, having interviewed the band a couple of times, they are really nice people, with their feet firmly on the ground.

Fotograf Henrik Fjørtoft

Fotograf Henrik Fjørtoft

It is fair to say that every album differs ever so slightly from the last and so each of the preceding three full-length records offers a marginally different approach. This trend continues with album number four, ‘The Congregation’ which again treads a subtly different musical path. Nevertheless, once heard, you’ll never mistake them for anyone else. Some may raise an eyebrow or two on a first listen as this record stands out due to its increased accessibility. Leprous have always been a band that explores the darker and bleaker aspects of life and ‘The Congregation’ is no different. However, the material on this record is definitely more immediate, almost catchy with plenty of strong melodies throughout. Initially there’s a feeling that the compositions may not be quite as quirky and challenging as previous material. Rest assured that this feeling is only fleeting and is banished swiftly once the album has been repeated a few times; Leprous do not do ‘normal’ or ‘ordinary’ where the music is concerned. ‘The Congregation’ is definitely technical, complex and quirky but in a much more subtle and refined way.

Frankly, ‘The Congregation’ is an album that only a band at the very height of their powers and brim-full of confidence could possibly have recorded. And, in spite of a couple of frustrating line-up changes, the results are stunning.

Opener ‘The Price’ offers a near-perfect blend of quiet, introspective calm and explosive all-out metallic bombast, held together by some strong melodic moments. Vocalist Einar Solberg is one of the reasons why Leprous sound like no-one else; his is a delivery that is beguiling and powerful, verging on the surreal and almost unhinged at times. And ‘Third Law’ benefits from one of his strongest performances yet as well as a chorus which is a real delight thanks to a genuinely anthemic chorus.

It’s impossible to mention every track individually. Suffice to say that there’s not a weak moment anywhere on the record. Stand-out moments however include ‘Rewind’ which is part prog metal and part modern post black metal workout whilst ‘The Flood’ features one of the band’s strongest choruses that helps to transform an otherwise intense and claustrophobic song into a sing-along anthem that’s truly addictive. If that wasn’t enough, there’s also the synth-heavy, ponderously-paced and darkly hypnotic ‘Slave’ which is breath-taking. It has a wild and unkempt beauty to it, but there’s a feeling that there’s more to come and it inexorably builds to a savage conclusion.

Oh and then there’s the simply-titled ‘Down’. It is another sensational composition that drips with genuine emotion, joining a chorus that will have you hooked and coming back for more time and time again.

What else is there left to say? I love Leprous and have done since their debut, ‘Tall Poppy Syndrome’. If my life depended on it, I’d have to say that ‘The Congregation’ is both my favourite disc yet and the band’s strongest release to date. However, that’s like being asked to choose between the sublime and the exquisite. It’d no wonder that Leprous is one of the first names that springs to mind when I’m asked to recommend high quality progressive metal. Leprous are truly special and ‘The Congregation’ fully deserves its place in this year’s Top 10.

Album Of The Year 2015 – Number 9
Album Of The Year 2015 – Number 10
Album Of The Year 2015 – Number 11
Album Of The Year 2015 – Number 12
Album Of The Year 2015 – Number 13
Album Of The Year 2015 – Number 14
Album Of The Year 2015 – Number 15
Album Of The Year 2015 – Number 16
Album Of The Year 2015 – Number 17
Album Of The Year 2015 – Number 18
Album Of The Year 2015 – Number 19
Album Of The Year 2015 – Number 20
Album Of The Year 2015 – Number 21
Album Of The Year 2015 – Number 22
Album Of The Year 2015 – Number 23
Album Of The Year 2015 – Number 24
Album Of The Year 2015 – Number 25
Album Of The Year 2015 – Number 26
Album Of The Year 2015 – Number 27
Album of the Year 2015 – Number 28
Album of the Year 2015 – Number 29
Album of the Year 2015 – Number 30

And from previous years:

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

Album Of The Year 2015 – Number 20

Welcome to Day 11 of my ‘Album of the Year 2015’ top 30 countdown. We’ve reached the top 20 already – thanks to those of you who have followed this series since the beginning and welcome to those who are new to my blog.

If you have missed any of my choices from 30-21, the links to these posts can be found at the bottom of this article.

Number 20

desen tushArcturus
‘Arcturian’
Prophecy Productions

For someone who holds ‘La Masquerade Infernale’ in such high regard as one of the best avant-garde metal albums ever recorded, the intervening years have not been as kind on Norwegian eccentrics Arcturus. A couple of albums that failed to hit the same heights and then a protracted hiatus meant that much of the momentum was lost and the band were in danger of consigning themselves to the pages of extreme metal folklore.

But then, I wasn’t banking on ‘Arcturian’. If ever there was an album to signal a comeback from the wilderness, it is this one. Arcturus version 2015 is comprised of Steinar Sverd Johnsen (keys), Hellhammer (drums), Knut Magne Valle (guitar), Hugh ‘Skoll’ Mingay (bass) and ICS Vortex (vocals). Together, they have created an album very much worthy of their lofty status and one that I would argue just about manages to match the quality of ‘La Masquerade Infernale’.

Arcturus_2015_D_

If you’re interested in reading my full in-depth review of this record, it can be accessed by clicking here. However, to quote a small passage from it:

“…they (the songs) are all dense, multi-layered affairs that contain an abundance of richness. There are no songs that tend to extend over six minute mark and yet, such is the ambition of Arcturus that it feels like a million different ideas are injected into each composition, testing the listener and toying with them at every turn. I strongly suspect that this has been done with a certain playful, yet mischievous intent. Those strong Vaudervillian overtones of the band’s past make a welcome return, as do a number of various influences that pull Arcturus away from being simply discarded as a black metal band. As they demonstrate on ‘Arcturian’, there are elements of black metal to their underlying sound but they deliver so much more that to pigeonhole them in such a way would be inaccurate and disingenuous.”

I was expecting highly accomplished song-writing and a slick execution, both of which are present and correct throughout ‘Arcturian’. What I perhaps was less ready for was the sheer amount of accessibility and melody that has been injected into each of the ten songs. Based on the comments within the preceding paragraph, I’m not for one minute suggesting that Arcturus circa 2015 is easy listening or that they have lost their eccentricity. How could they with such an enigmatic and unique vocalist at the helm in the form of ICS Votex?

However, there is something to be heard in just about every track that sticks in the mind. It might be a vocal line or a subtle melody, but it’s enough to draw you in for repeated listens. And once you return, you are taken on another quirky voyage of discovery where something new is discovered each and every time.

Given the space I have here, it’s almost impossible sum up ‘Arcturian’ in a concise manner and do it the justice it deserves. That said, if you’re a fan of Arcturus at their most original, challenging, audacious and quirky, prepare to take ‘Arcturian’ straight to your heart.

Album Of The Year 2015 – Number 21Album Of The Year 2015 – Number 22
Album Of The Year 2015 – Number 23
Album Of The Year 2015 – Number 24
Album Of The Year 2015 – Number 25
Album Of The Year 2015 – Number 26
Album Of The Year 2015 – Number 27
Album of the Year 2015 – Number 28
Album of the Year 2015 – Number 29
Album of the Year 2015 – Number 30

And from previous years:

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

Rendezvous Point – Solar Storm – Album Review

RP cover

Artist: Rendezvous Point

Album Title: Solar Storm

Label: Karisma Records

Year Of Release: 2015

The album that I’ve reviewing today has been released for a little while, so I’m late to the party. However, I’m late to the party for good reason. I had heard great things from those I’m friendly with in progressive music circles, suggesting that ‘Solar Storm’ by Rendezvous Point was a ‘must-hear’ record. Knee-deep in other reviews, I was unable to drop everything and listen immediately. And then, when I did find the time to investigate, I wasn’t immediately bowled over, I must admit. Nevertheless, here we are and, having given this debut record plenty of time, what follows is a considered review of the album.

Formed in 2010 in Kristiansand, southern Norway and comprised of vocalist Geirmund Hansen, keyboardist Nicolay Tangen Svennæs, guitarist Petter Hallaråker, bassist Gunn-Hilde Erstad and drummer Baard Kolstad (Leprous), Rendezvous Point refer to themselves as a melodic progressive metal band. Given that loose genre pigeon-holing, I was personally expecting the music to be slightly more melodic, more in a Threshold or Dream Theater vein perhaps. In actuality, what the band produces is an intense slab of heavy progressive music that’s all about riffs, rhythms and textures.

What is particularly impressive for a debut album is that ‘Solar Storm’ very much has its own identity. The quintet has clearly taken inspiration from the likes of Leprous, Tool and Opeth to a lesser extent and echoes of these bands can be heard within the seven compositions that comprise the album. However, these influences never threaten to overshadow what Rendezvous Point are clearly trying to do, and that’s to create music that is different and unique to them.

The album opens in strong, commanding fashion in the shape of ‘Through The Solar Storm’. The title of the track is well-named because the central riff is a powerful, swirling maelstrom of sound that bombards the ears from the outset but is then tempered by some subtle melodic interplay between the keys and Hansen’s vocals which display a wonderful resonance and feeling. The timing signature certainly sounds, to a layman’s ears, like it is complex but I love the fact that it is hypnotic and also thoroughly headbang-worthy, something that is occasionally overlooked within the prog genre.

‘Wasteland’ follows and is a genuinely anthemic track that benefits from a stark juxtaposition between quieter passages and the expansiveness of the central chorus. ‘Para’ by contrast is a much more brooding and menacing beast where the drums really catch my ear. The composition threatens an explosion and it is duly delivered towards the end in the form of a massively heavy, stomping riff that somehow shows restraint, tempered to some extent by light and airy keyboard notes that float above the tumult below.

Credit: Unknown

Credit: Unknown

Arguably the most ‘progressive’ track on ‘Solar Storm’ is ‘The Hunger’, which manages to cram a plethora of different ideas into the one composition. To kick off, the vocals flit from whispered to all-out spiky and aggressive thrash-like attack whilst keyboardist Nicolay Tangen Svennæs goes on the offensive, exploring a multitude of different synth sounds to interesting effect. Sampled voiceovers, frequent tempo changes, blistering guitar solos and shifts in rhythms combine to create a piece of music that’s equally challenging as it is enjoyable.

However, for all its technical dexterity and brazen experimentation, it is trumped in my opinion by ‘Mirrors’, a ten minute composition that’s a joy from beginning to end. The bass, synth and drum opening is sublime, particularly when joined by a moody and poignant lead guitar solo that stops me in my tracks upon each listen. I love the contrast between a verse that has a demonstrably modern alternative rock sheen and the chorus which is so melodic that it’d not be out of place on an AOR ballad. But with Rendezvous Point, a challenging rhythm or riff is never far away and ‘Mirrors’ is no different, albeit a little more restrained and subtle this time around.

The album as a whole does not outstay its welcome and so is closed out before you know it by the double act of ‘The Conclusion Part 1’ and ‘The Conclusion Part 2’. The former begins with an intricate classical-esque piano melody before being dominated by a seriously cool syncopated beat matched by more chunky headbanging fodder. The vocals, in keeping with the entire record, are excellently delivered, full of passion and energy. The latter then sees things out with the introduction of a lone violin atop the classical piano to introduce yet more invention and another intriguing texture to the already multi-layered soundscapes before it.

In short, whilst it was not love at first listen, Rendezvous Point have created a real grower of an album in ‘Solar Storm’ that should, without doubt, find favour amongst fans of progressive music. If you love powerful riffs, off-kilter rhythms and dense atmospheres, allow Norway’s latest impressive export to into your life; you’ll not be disappointed.

The Score Of Much Metal: 8.0

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

Vanden Plas – Chronicles Of The Immortals: Netherworld II
Antimatter – The Judas Table
Bauda – Sporelights
Waken Eyes – Exodus
Earthside – A Dream In Static
Caligula’s Horse – Bloom
Teramaze – Her Halo
Amorphis – Under The Red Cloud
Spock’s Beard – The Oblivion Particle
Agent Fresco – Destrier
Cattle Decapitation – The Anthropocene Extinction
Between The Buried And Me – Coma Ecliptic
Cradle Of Filth – Hammer Of The Witches
Disarmonia Mundi – Cold Inferno
District 97 – In Vaults
Progoctopus – Transcendence
Big Big Train – Wassail
NightMare World – In The Fullness Of Time
Helloween – My God-Given Right
Triaxis – Zero Hour
Isurus – Logocharya
Arcturus – Arcturian
Kamelot – Haven
Native Construct – Quiet World
Sigh – Graveward
Pantommind – Searching For Eternity
Subterranean Masquerade – The Great Bazaar
Klone – Here Comes The Sun
The Gentle Storm – The Diary
Melechesh – Enki
Enslaved – In Times
Keep Of Kalessin – Epistemology
Lonely Robot – Please Come Home
The Neal Morse Band – The Grand Experiment
Zero Stroke – As The Colours Seep
AudioPlastik – In The Head Of A Maniac
Revolution Saints – Revolution Saints
Mors Principium Est – Dawn of The 5th Era
Arcade Messiah – Arcade Messiah
Triosphere – The Heart Of The Matter
Neonfly – Strangers In Paradise
Knight Area – Hyperdrive
Haken – Restoration
James LaBrie – Impermanent Resonance
Mercenary – Through Our Darkest Days
A.C.T. – Circus Pandemonium
Xerath – III
Big Big Train – English Electric (Part 1)
Thought Chamber – Psykerion
Marcus Jidell – Pictures From A Time Traveller
H.E.A.T – Tearing Down The Walls
Vanden Plas – Chronicles Of The Immortals: Netherworld

Arcturus – Arcturian – Album Review

desen tush

Artist: Arcturus

Album Title: Arcturian

Label: Prophecy Productions

Year Of Release: 2015

‘Idiosynchratically beautiful’. These are two words that have stuck with me for nearly 20 years and which I recall almost every time I hear or read the name Arcturus. These words were quoted on an advert for the Norwegian band’s 1997 release, ‘La Masquerade Infernale’ within an issue of either Terrorizer or Metal Hammer magazine; I can’t remember which. What I do remember was that I was deeply into a stage of black metal discovery at the time and this quote resonated with me for some reason. I took the punt and received the album as a Christmas present. It wasn’t love at first listen; instead it was a slow and steady slog that has ended in a lasting and deep love affair. It was the track ‘Ad Astra’ that was the catalyst for repeat listens. Full of drama, avant-garde vaudevillian oddness and a compelling crescendo, it impressed me and forced me to listen to the remainder of the album more than perhaps I might otherwise have done.

It is arguable that in the intervening years, Arcturus have never managed to hit the heights of ‘La Masquerade Infernale’. Neither 2002’s ‘The Sham Mirrors’ nor ‘Sideshow Symphonies’ spoke to me in the same way and despite containing some outstanding moments, I came away both times with feelings of slight disappointment. And that, as they say was that. In terms of original studio albums, nothing has been released since; indeed after the release of ‘Shipwrecked in Oslo’ in 2006, the band called it quits with the individual members going on to do different things. And so it has remained until now.

Rumours were rife from around 2011 when various members made comments that alluded to a resurrection of the band and later that year the rumours were confirmed. However, for one reason or another it has taken until 2015 for a new original recording to see the light of day, a development that has been greeted with great euphoria amongst the loyal Arcturus following.

Arcturus version 2015 is comprised of Steinar Sverd Johnsen (keys), Hellhammer (drums), Knut Magne Valle (guitar), Hugh ‘Skoll’ Mingay (bass) and ICS Vortex (vocals). Together, they have created an album very much worthy of their lofty status and one that I would argue just about manages to match the quality of ‘La Masquerade Infernale’. The only reason I hedge my bets and say ‘just about’ is because I’ve only had about three days with ‘Arcturian’ as opposed to the 18 years I’ve had to enjoy ‘La Masquerade Infernale’. That said, I’ve listened to ‘Arcturian’ more times than I care to mention in recent days and it gives me chills on each and every listen. It is complex, quirky, brilliantly composed and professionally executed. I have no doubt that with even more time and attention, it’ll delight and captivate me even more than it does already.

Arcturus_2015_D_

The one thing that perhaps I wasn’t expecting was the sheer amount of melody and accessibility that ‘Arcturian’ displays. It’s no exaggeration to say that for all of the complexity and raw heaviness, almost every track on the album contains a melody, lead vocal or some kind of hook that makes me sit up and take real notice. When I listen to new music, I have a tendency to make an ‘oooh’ noise and smile broadly if something excites me. I suspect that there will be some of you out there who do something similar. On ‘Arcturian’, I admit to ‘ooh’-ing all over the place.

One of main reasons why this album feels so melodic and accessible is, I believe down to vocalist ICS Vortex. Yes he is an acquired taste but so unique is his delivery and so impressive is his range that seemingly very little is off-limits. He complements the music beautifully, managing sound both majestic but also a little unstable, as if he could spiral out of control at any moment. I mean, at times, he sounds like he’s yodelling for heaven’s sake; it’s superb.

Onto the compositions themselves, they are all dense, multi-layered affairs that contain an abundance of richness. There are no songs that tend to extend over six minute mark and yet, such is the ambition of Arcturus that it feels like a million different ideas are injected into each composition, testing the listener and toying with them at every turn. I strongly suspect that this has been done with a certain playful, yet mischievous intent. Those strong Vaudervillian overtones of the band’s past make a welcome return, as do a number of various influences that pull Arcturus away from being simply discarded as a black metal band. As they demonstrate on ‘Arcturian’, there are elements of black metal to their underlying sound but they deliver so much more that to pigeonhole them in such a way would be inaccurate and disingenuous.

Opening track, ‘The Arcturian Sign’, starts off somewhat disconcertingly with weird electronic noises and sounds. It’s a typically eccentric beginning which soon gives way to those unmistakable vocals of ICS Vortex and, at its core, a black metal meets prog composition. Dominated by powerful synths and relentless double pedal drumming, those odd sounds like laser guns nevertheless re-surface throughout. But within the tumult and idiosyncrasies is a really catchy, hook-laden chorus.

‘Crashland’ has a light and breezy feel to it, taking in influences from space rock, folk music and more extreme climes. The sweeping synths are immediately reminiscent of the ‘La Masquerade Infernale’ era, as they are during my personal standout track, ‘Game Over’ with its addictive melodies and the way it builds and morphs so elegantly from one guise to another almost imperceptibly, ending in a crescendo of sorts that elicits another ‘ooh’ from my lips.

‘Angst’ is a powerful and more extreme slab of metal, dominated by a blistering tempo, tortured screams atop another strong synth melody and the threat of a descent into chaos on more than one occasion. ‘Warp’ on the other hand introduces more electronic influences but has such an imposing and catchy melody that it’s impossible to ignore. ‘Demon’ has demonstrable Gothic synth pop overtones whereas ‘Pale’ delights with a marvellous driving central riff, a great chorus of sorts and some of the most varied and brilliant vocals on the entire record. The album ends with ‘Bane’, a track that further backs up the gorgeous ‘The Journey’ by providing amongst other things, some truly beautiful and subtle acoustic guitar playing which is a real joy.

For all that, I have to say that ‘Arcturian’ is an album that’s best enjoyed in its entirety rather than picking and choosing individual songs. The album has a distinct flow and overall feel that helps to make it as special as it is, something that could be lost if listened to in a piecemeal manner.

For the sake of balance, my only small gripe relates to the production which I think is a little on the weak side and robs some of the aforementioned richness from the music. Occasionally, the layers of music come together is a slightly messy muddle of impenetrable white noise which is a bit disappointing. But then again, there’s a certain ‘old-school’ charm to the mix too, reminding me of their heyday more than once. Maybe therefore, the production is entirely deliberate, those naughty scamps.

It’s almost impossible sum up ‘Arcturian’ in a concise manner and do it the justice it deserves, except to say that if you’re a fan of Arcturus at their most original, challenging, audacious and quirky, prepare to take ‘Arcturian’ straight to your heart.

The Score Of Much Metal: 9.0

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

Kamelot – Haven
Native Construct – Quiet World
Sigh – Graveward
Pantommind – Searching For Eternity
Subterranean Masquerade – The Great Bazaar
Klone – Here Comes The Sun
The Gentle Storm – The Diary
Melechesh – Enki
Enslaved – In Times
Keep Of Kalessin – Epistemology
Lonely Robot – Please Come Home
The Neal Morse Band – The Grand Experiment
Zero Stroke – As The Colours Seep
AudioPlastik – In The Head Of A Maniac
Revolution Saints – Revolution Saints
Mors Principium Est – Dawn of The 5th Era
Arcade Messiah – Arcade Messiah
Triosphere – The Heart Of The Matter
Neonfly – Strangers In Paradise
Knight Area – Hyperdrive
Haken – Restoration
James LaBrie – Impermanent Resonance
Mercenary – Through Our Darkest Days
A.C.T. – Circus Pandemonium
Xerath – III
Big Big Train – English Electric (Part 1)
Thought Chamber – Psykerion
Marcus Jidell – Pictures From A Time Traveller
H.E.A.T – Tearing Down The Walls
Vanden Plas – Chronicles Of The Immortals: Netherworld