Tag Archives: Nuclear Blast

Wintersun – The Forest Seasons – Album Review

Wintersun - The Forest Seasons - Artwork

Artist: Wintersun

Album Title: The Forest Seasons

Label: Nuclear Blast

Date of Release: 21 July 2017

If there’s one thing I can’t stand, it’s when the off-stage antics become bigger than the music. I understand that in an environment as volatile, unpredictable and fast-paced as the music industry, very little ever runs smoothly. Sometimes the issues are kept strictly behind closed doors whilst others are just too big to be kept hidden. However, when the issues completely overshadow the music, the thing that I’m most interested in, I lose interest. Particularly when it feels, at least to me anyway, that the dirty laundry is being deliberately aired in public.

It is also for these reasons, generally speaking, that I have never been a fan of Finland’s Wintersun. I am pretty sure that, had I given them more time and attention, I might have found a band with which I could click. After all, originally starting life as the side project of Jari Mäenpää from Ensiferum, the DNA was strong. The fact that Wintersun play melodic extreme metal with strong symphonic and folk overtones, with a flair for the dramatic only adds to the likelihood that they’d find favour, musically-speaking, with my ruined ears.

Unfortunately however, over the years, there have been so many dramas surrounding the Helsinki-based quartet that I have felt reticent to get too involved with the entire saga. From dramas with record labels, to huge delays with releases, to crowdfunding campaigns and a myriad of other ‘stuff’, the whole thing is draining and not conducive to building a positive relationship between the band and potential fans. As a result, aside from the occasional cursory dabble, I have kept Wintersun firmly at arm’s length.

It comes as a surprise therefore, that I find myself penning a review for ‘The Forest Seasons’, only the third album of the Finn’s 14-year career. I don’t really know why I have taken this step if I’m honest, but I was sent the promo by the good people at Nuclear Blast and here I am. It certainly wasn’t the hype, I can tell you. Ever since their inception, Wintersun have been the recipients of some of the most insane hype ever. Some of it is undeniably of their own doing, whilst some of it is, to be fair, not their fault. But either way, the hype has been enormous, almost making me shy away from this.

Right from the off, the fact that this isn’t ‘Time II’ will bother many longer-term fans. I’ve never really listened to it, so I’m not bothered in the slightest. But this review cannot ignore the fact that ‘The Forest Seasons’ is not the sequel to ‘Time I’, the record that many quote as being Wintersun’s finest moment to date. Maybe that’s the reason then – the fact that I can review this record unencumbered by the baggage of expectation and without the inevitable, palpable disappointment experienced by others. Or maybe it’s because I was drawn in by the impressive cover artwork which I rather admire.

wintersun-2017

Whatever the reason, what do I think of ‘The Forest Season’? Yeah, I’d better get round to that hadn’t I?

Well, to cut to the chase, I like parts of it, I am slightly bored by other parts and I have an overall feeling that can be best explained by a puff of the cheeks and a shrug of the shoulders. Let me explain.

‘The Forest Seasons’ has a running time of around 55 minutes but is split into just four distinct compositions. This means that each track requires the expenditure of quite some time, as the shortest clocks in at 12 minutes whilst the longest falls just shy of 15 minutes. Now, as many of you know, I love long, epic tracks – it’s in my blood as a fan of prog. However, this love is predicated on the fact that the composition has a reason for the extended life. If it doesn’t, I do get bored. And that’s part of the problem here with ‘The Forest Seasons’. Each track contains some excellent moments where either a riff, a melody or a symphonic arrangement will strike a chord with me. The problem is, these are not quite frequent enough to keep my attention unwavering throughout. I tried, I really did, but something fails to click enough for me to fully immerse myself in it and therefore it prevents me from recommending it unconditionally.

The opening track is entitled ‘Awaken The Dark Slumber’ and naturally for an album that is clearly meant to represent the seasons, it is Wintersun’s interpretation of Spring. What I wasn’t quite expecting was the overt black metal feel, complete with dramatic swathes of synths and raspy vocals. However, it takes until the fifth minute for my interest to be fully piqued, when the vocals break out into a bold, almost pleading clean croon. For a couple of minutes, I get swept up in the music but as the track ploughs on, I again switch off as it lacks sufficient variety to pull me along. The last two minutes then see out the longest composition of the four in a much more positive vein.

Summer follows in the form of ‘The Forest That Weeps’ and it’s here that Wintersun’s game is upped. With a much stronger folk element to it, this slightly shorter track bounds along at a great pace and with a little swagger too. The melodies, although a little repetitive in the latter stages, are a lot more memorable, to the point where I find myself humming the chorus when I least expect it. I really like the over-the-top choir vocals, as they add an epic gravitas to the composition and nicely juxtapose the extended foray into quieter, more laid-back folk territory which arrives around the mid-way point. This is a very nice song, possibly my favourite on the album.

After a dark foreboding intro, ‘Eternal Darkness’ explodes into something very Dimmu Borgir-esque. Furious double-pedal drumming, layer upon layer of grandiose synths and raw, spiteful growls combine to create a very striking passage of music. However, in my opinion, it goes on a little too long without sufficient variety and so it’s not until the six-minute mark that my attention is fully held. At this point, the song slows and opens up allowing a really nice passage that builds whilst all the while being dominated by some increasingly flamboyant lead guitar work. I will also accede to enjoying the bombastic closure of the track which is rather epic and atmospheric

The final season, winter, is represented by ‘Loneliness’, a track that begins quietly and then plods along at a markedly slower pace than their norm. The swathes of synths literally drench the music in atmosphere in keeping with the song’s title, whilst there is a greater variety in the vocal delivery for my money. In fact, I wish we’d heard more of Jari Mäenpää’s clean delivery elsewhere because when he lets go, he can really sing, as demonstrated in the sequence that leads up to the mid-way point as well as the truly excellent final crescendo. At points, this vies for top spot with ‘Summer’ but in between, my mind wanders yet again.

So, in summary, ‘The Forest Seasons’ is a frustrating record. There is a lot to like about it when you start to dissect the music. However, these moments or passages of excellence feel to me like they are too few and far between, padded out by some average music along the way. Put it like this – if ‘The Forest Seasons’ was a ten track record, there’d be about four killer tracks surrounded by six disappointing fillers. That, to me, is not the recipe for a great album. And that’s a shame because when Wintersun fire on all cylinders, it sounds immense.

The Score of Much Metal: 7

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

2015 reviews
2016 reviews

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

BlogOfMuchMetal – metal news – 22 July 2017

Hello and welcome to the latest post in this series after a bit of a hiatus, where I bring you the latest confirmed news within the world of rock and heavy metal. This series does not require the use of a crystal ball, which can sometimes malfunction with embarrassing results. No, this is a series that works on facts, on the news that I know to be true and which I bring you because I found it exciting and I’m therefore sure that you will find it exciting too.

Today’s post focuses on some of the new songs that have been revealed ahead of the full album release later in the year.

And if you’ve missed any of my previous posts in this series, links can be found at the bottom of this post.

legendsoftheshiresThreshold – Legends of the Shires
Release date: 8 September 2017
Label: Nuclear Blast

Well, if you’re going to release a new song and an accompanying video, it might as well be a ten-minute monster mightn’t it? Especially if you are prog as all hell eh? So that’s what Threshold have done. Not content to compose a double album for the very first time, the UK progressive metal band have also announced a change of singer, ditching Damian Wilson in favour of a return to Glynn Morgan. And now they have released the first track off ‘Legends of the Shires’, the monumental ‘Lost In Translation’. If, like me, you are a massive Threshold fan, it’s a great time to be alive.

I’ve only listened to this song about 17 times, so I’m in no way able to dissect it quite yet. For that, you’ll have to wait until my full review later in the year. However, for now, all I can say is ‘wow’. Morgan sounds really good on this track, giving the music a whole new dimension. The prog elements are really pronounced which I like, particularly in terms of the changes in tempo, tone and with the bold keyboard sounds in places. But that chorus. Those melodies. Boy, oh boy is this one hell of an anthem. Just take a listen and tell me that you disagree. On the strength of this track, I have such massively high hopes for the full album, it’s ridiculous.

19990364_1676025859077305_924654058634164650_nSubterranean Masquerade – Vagabond
Release date: 1 September 2017
Label: ViciSolum Productions

In typical Man of Much Metal style, about five minutes after I publish a blog post, one of the bands featured releases the first track off their new album. The culprits this time are Subterranean Masquerade, with ‘Nomad’, taken from their upcoming release, ‘Vagabond’.

In keeping with their last record that I thoroughly enjoyed, it will take some time to get fully to grips with the music that this band creates. However, a couple of listens in and the signs are extremely positive. I hear echoes of Amorphis in parts of this track but despite this, the final result is definitely unique. Complex and ambitious yet catchy and unexpectedly immediate with a smooth and rich sheen, Subterranean Masquerade may just have hit upon a winning formula, one that may pull me deeper under their spell. I can’t wait to hear more and bring you my considered thoughts nearer to the release of ‘Vagabond’.

18892998_10154663048738806_2247176504358416942_nParadise Lost – Medusa
Release date: 1 September 2017
Label: Nuclear Blast

UK veterans Paradise Lost have to be one of my all-time favourite bands. Beginning my love affair nearly two decades ago with ‘Draconian Times’, I have never looked back…well, except for delving back into the Yorkshire gloomsters back catalogue of course. In so doing, I discovered the monumenatal ‘Shades of God’, a huge game-changer for me. I may not have liked the more ‘Goth’ or ‘pop-infused’ era, but of late, their albums have been tremendous, really harking back to their earlier halcyon days.

Cue ‘Medusa’, which is apparently inspired by another foray into the historic vaults. And, if this new track, ‘The Longest Winter’ is representative of the vibe and direction of the new record, we’re in for one heck of a heavy and doomy affair. Activate sarcasm mode: Oh no, how horrible.

19420708_1698781136823429_4102190633439104941_nArch Enemy – Will To Power
Release date: 8 September 2017
Label: Century Media Records

Long term followers of my blog will be sick of hearing my thoughts on Arch Emeny. Whilst their stock has risen over the past decade or so, my liking for the band has nose-dived and I make no bones about the fact that ‘xxx’ is their last chance as far as I’m concerned. I’m sure Michael Amott is quaking in his boots at the thought of losing a slightly overweight and balding Englishman from his ever-expanding fanbase but I’ll be genuinely disappointed if I have to call it a day with a band that was so important to me at the time they released the majestic ‘Stigmata’.

So now we have ‘The World Is Yours’, the first track to be aired from the new album ‘Will To Power’…and it feels like Arch Enemy might have returned from the brink. There are still things that I don’t like so much, but in general, this feels like a proper song, something more akin to the music that the band can write when they put their mind to it. It goes without saying that the drumming and the guitar work is utterly insane and of the very highest order – the inclusion of Jeff Loomis is a BIG deal as far as I’m concerned. But more importantly, there is more to this song than just instrumental noodling and histrionics just for the sake of it. On the strength of this song, I’m feeling more hopeful than I was fearing…

Previous updates:

28 March 2017
23 March 2017
11 March 2017
5th March 2017
26th February 2017
13th February 2017
3rd February 2017
30th January 2017
21st January 2017

Decapitated – Anticult – Album Review

Decapitated - Anticult - Artwork

Artist: Decapitated

Album Title: Anticult

Label: Nuclear Blast Records

Date of Release: 7 July 2017

My relationship with Polish death metal band Decapitated could be best described as casual. I was struck in the early days by two things: the band’s youth and their proficiency. The proficiency was mind blowing, savage and suddenly, to many, here was a band which helped to breathe new life into the death metal scene.

And yet, since their inception in 1996, I have only really dabbled in and out of their offerings. I admired the talent and I own a few of their albums but I’d not refer to myself as a hardcore fan. In many ways, I think that this had something to do with the overt technicality which threatened to make their albums sound just a little too polished and perfect. Nevertheless, their name carries enough of a cache to force me to take notice when a new album arrives.

‘Anticult’ is the seventh album from Decapitated, which may seem a relatively low number for a career that has now spanned more than two decades. Mind you, given the disaster that befell the band in 2007, we should be grateful that Decapitated still exist. Indeed, in the months and years following the vehicle accident that sadly claimed the life of drummer Witold ‘Vitek’ Kiełtyka, one of two founding members and the brother of guitarist Wacław ‘Vogg’ Kiełtyka, the band took a well-understood hiatus.

It can often sound trite, but positive shoots can grow out of adversity. And if there is any proof in the truth of this platitude, it is here. ‘Anticult’ can quite possibly claim the accolade of being the best album of their career. This is an album that does everything that is required of death metal and does it fantastically well. It sounds vital and fresh, it sounds full of anger, full of hunger and it is brutal as hell. And, most importantly for a band that has historically sat within the more technical end of the death metal spectrum, it is razor-sharp and incisive.

Decapitated 2017 is comprised of vocalist Rafał Piotrowski, guitarist Wacław ‘Vogg’ Kiełtyka, bassist Hubert Wiecek and drummer Michal Lysejko. And whilst ‘Anticult’ retains some of the overt technical prowess, the likes of which we have become accustomed to over the years I can’t help but think as I listen to this record that the technicality has been dialled down a little from the early days. It might be my brain playing tricks on me, but I found myself being surprised initially by the looser and freer delivery that I hear on ‘Anticult’. It is something that is bound to divide their fanbase. Those that love the precision might be concerned and even upset by ‘Anticult’. But those who are slightly more open-minded and embrace a touch of change, might just feel similarly to me about this record. It is a monster.

Decapitated band

The most positive thing that I can say about this album is the fact that I have found myself somewhat addicted to it. This happens with other genres of metal, but for me, it’s a rarity where death metal is concerned. With ‘Anticult’, I have listened to it with a frequency that initially surprised me but over the past week, I realised it’s because it is a damn fine record, with plenty to entertain and delight.

The songs themselves are utterly immense; they are certainly some of the most immediate and accessible of the band’s career. However, this does not mean that they have lost any of their aggression. There is groove upon groove to be heard, clever atmospheric interludes, uncomfortably dissonant soundscapes and a welcome injection of progressive ideas that has been built on from 2014’s ‘Blood Mantra’. And that’s not to mention the veritable cornucopia of little subtle embellishments that litter the eight tracks, many of which go under the radar for the first few spins.

Case in point – track one, ‘Impulse’. Opening with some unsettling quiet and brooding melodies, it soon explodes into a blitzkrieg of intensity overlaid by some mournful lead guitar melodies before settling into explosive riff after explosive riff. The rhythm section, it almost goes without saying, is tighter than a duck’s behind and so are the transitions within a song that lasts six minutes but which packs an album’s worth of ideas into it almost seemlessly. The grooves, the drama, the sense of violence, it all comes gushing forth in a well-measured torrent but in a way that makes perfect sense, thus creating one hell of an opening statement.

The rest of the album follows suit with a further seven expertly crafted tracks that have an unmistakeable vibrancy to them. They live and breathe in a manner that I don’t think I’ve ever heard from Decapitated before, whilst still sounding distinctive enough to know you’re listening to Decapitated…or at least to one of the best death metal units out there on the scene today. To pick out personal favourites feels a little unfair given the unbelievably high standard here throughout. Nevertheless, ‘Kill The Cult’ is probably has the biggest grooves and the cockiest swagger to it, whilst I love the drum solo intro to ‘Anger Line’ as well as the ensuing three-and-a-half-minutes of high tempo devastation. I also have to mention the stomping excellence of ‘Earth Scar’ with its extended guitar solos and where the vocals of Piotrowski call to mind Darkane, another firm favourite of mine.

But all-in-all, there is nothing less than brilliance to be heard throughout this highly impressive album. You tend to know when you are listening to something a little bit special and that is most definitely the case here with Decapitated and ‘Anticult’. If this doesn’t end up being the best pure death metal album of 2017, I will be thoroughly shocked.

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

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

Essential rock & metal releases still to come in 2017 – Part 1

It’s true what they say – the older you get, the faster time disappears. I mean, it doesn’t seem possible that we are already half-way through 2017 for a start. And yet here I am. With my round-up of the best releases so far in 2017 under my belt, it is time to turn my attention to the future and consider what else is due to cross our paths this year.

If the first half is anything to go by, we’re in for a treat, I can tell you. I don’t remember a year where I’ve given out so many high scores. Unlike last year though, I have yet to bestow a perfect 10 on anyone, although the new Voyager album, ‘Ghost Mile’, Persefone’s ‘Aathma’ and Big Big Train’s ‘Grimspound’ all came deservedly close.

But enough about the past, here’s to the future…

19106010_10154760456619077_388154856530751419_nCradle of Filth
Cryptoriana – The Seductiveness of Decay
Release date: 22 September 2017

I was going off the boil regarding Suffolk’s most famous extreme metal export. I was a member of the fan club many years ago in my late teens having worshiped the likes of ‘Dusk…And Her Embrace’ and ‘Cruelty And The Beast’. But after a string of less-than-stellar releases throughout the noughties, I began to re-evaluate. That was until a couple of years ago and the release of ‘Hammer Of The Witches’. Their best since their heyday, it brought me kicking and screaming back into the fold. I now cannot wait for the next chapter in the saga of Dani Filth and co.

This next chapter is entitled ‘Cryptoriana – The Seductiveness of Decay’ and is due for release on 22nd September via Nuclear Blast. Watch out for the first single release very soon too.

19146029_10154398261857105_6108765129743949462_nCaligula’s Horse
In Contact
Release date: 15 September 2017

There are a huge number of excellent bands coming from Australia these days but alongside Vanishing Point and Voyager, Caligula’s Horse are one of the very best. Their previous album, ‘Bloom’ was superb, one of the best releases of 2015. In fact, the more I listen to this record, the better it gets – I should have placed it even higher in my end of year list, but hindsight is a wonderful thing. It is undeniably prog but it is intelligent, modern and full of the kind of swagger and assuredness that only the very best bands display.

The new album is quoted as being “an immense conceptual work”. Enigmatically-entitled ‘In Contact’, it is due for release on 15th September via InsideOut Music, one of the best and most consistent labels out there today. Just listen to the teaser trailer below and tell me this doesn’t sound exciting…

18556032_10155643571650101_6880641999645372966_nLeprous
Malina
Release date: 25 August 2017

It is an undeniable fact that Norwegian band Leprous are now regarded as one of the very best bands in the prog metal genre. They have yet to release anything less than extraordinary in their 16 year-career to date. And they are still young and still learning. But crucially, they appear to remain extremely hungry and out to prove that they deserve to build upon the accolades that they have rightly received so far in their career.

They have released a new track, ‘From The Flame’, from their upcoming new album, entitled ‘Malina’ which is released on August 25th. It remains very recognisable as Leprous but also a little different at the same time. In interview, the band describes the record as a ‘natural-sounding organic album’, but still modern with great songs. If that’s the case, and based upon the first single, count me in.

19420708_1698781136823429_4102190633439104941_nArch Enemy
Will To Power
Release date: 8 September 2017

I’m no longer the biggest Arch Enemy fan, it has to be said. I loved ‘Stigmata’ and the follow-up ‘Burning Bridges’. But that was several years ago and since then, the Swedish extreme metal band with a penchant for over-the-top guitar histrionics have ditched original singer Johan Liiva, replacing him with first Angela Gossow and now Alissa White-Gluz. In fact, there will be a dwindling number of fans even aware that Liiva was ever involved now that the band have re-recorded those aforementioned albums. A bad move in my opinion, but what do I know?

Nevertheless, when a highly-respected fellow journo of long standing makes positive noises about the new material due to see the light of day in the near future, who am I to not take notice? Particularly when the positive noises refer to some brilliantly flamboyant guitar work, for which I am a sucker at the best of times. The door for Arch Enemy has not been slammed shut yet, but this is probably their last chance as far as I’m concerned.

‘Will To Power’ is due to be released on 8th September 2017 on Century Media Records.

Threshold
Legends Of The Shires
Release date: TBC

The Threshold camp has gone a little quiet since the rather shock news surfaced that the UK progressive metal band had parted ways for a second time with Damian Wilson. Aside from news that the band are looking for fans to take part in the shooting of a new video, we’ve not heard anything new about the new material. Until that point, we were fully expecting the new album, ‘Legends of the Shires’ to surface in the latter stages of 2017. I still think we will have the double record, it’s just a matter of exactly when.

It is also a matter of who will be the vocalist on the record, as I understand that the album had been recorded with Wilson behind the mic. I suspect it’ll be Morgan, but nothing as far as I’m aware has been confirmed. You wait, as soon as I publish this post, an announcement will be made. An announcement is also still to be made regarding the guitar position made vacant by the recently departed Pete Morten. Interesting times ahead for one of my favourite prog bands.

Avatarium – Hurricanes And Halos – Album Review

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Artist: Avatarium

Album Title: Hurricanes And Halos

Label: Nuclear Blast

Date Of Release: 26 May 2017

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

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

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

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

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

avatariumband2017_638

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Score Of Much Metal: 9.25

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

2015 reviews
2016 reviews

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