Porcupine Tree – Closure / Continuation – Album Review

Artist: Porcupine Tree

Album Title: Closer / Continuation

Label: Music For Nations

Date of Release: 24 June 2022

I want to start this review by being completely transparent and honest. I have never been a particularly big fan of Porcupine Tree. I have a few of their albums in my collection, but I cannot remember the last time that I actually chose to play any of them. I bought them because, as a fan of progressive rock, I felt that I had to have them in my collection. A couple of them are limited edition boxsets that have never even been opened. I even went to one of their shows once, at Norwich UEA, but I had to check my concert tickets to confirm that I wasn’t dreaming it.

My apathy isn’t for the want of trying though; in the past I have listened long and hard to the likes of ‘Fear Of A Blank Planet’, ‘Deadwing’, and ‘The Incident’ in the hope or expectation that I’d finally experience that moment of clarity, that magical feeling when the mists clear and you finally click with the music. But it never came with Porcupine Tree, unfortunately. The same could be said for most of Steven Wilson’s solo material, but that’s not as relevant to this review.

Part of the problem, I believe, is that the chosen melodies, and their chosen areas of experimentation just didn’t resonate as strongly as I wanted them to. Regardless of whether Porcupine delivered heavier, softer, more, or less progressive music, I drew much the same conclusion, that I was left unmoved and cold by large swathes of the material. It was maddening to begin with. I couldn’t accept that here I was, a fan of so much progressive music, and yet one of the most highly lauded bands in the prog rock world left me numb and largely disinterested. It is even more bizarre given how many bands they have inspired, most notably for me, Katatonia in the last fifteen years or so. Now though, I just accept that this might be a band with which I will never have that affinity in the same way as I’m not a big fan of other much-loved bands like Opeth and Tool. Well, I’ve almost made peace with this.

And that’s why, after much deliberation, I have decided to review ‘Closure / Continuation’, the long-awaited, brand-new album from Porcupine Tree, their first for some thirteen years. I wanted to give it one last go. Either I’ll finally love an album by the band, or I can rest easy, knowing that I have given them every chance of having an impact on my life. I fully realise that my opinion will have absolutely zero sway on most of you. You’ve either already bought ‘Closure/Continuation’, or you’re not going to go anywhere near it. I get that, but I’m writing this review anyway, for me. Read on, or dismiss the review, the choice is yours.

Once again, the situation is a complex one. I have listened many, many times to ‘Closure / Continuation’ ahead of this review and my opinion hasn’t drastically changed in that time. Undeniably, there is some great material to be heard, but there are also some parts of the album that I am definitely less keen on. And yet, there is something pulling me back to it, forcing me to listen again and again, even those tracks about which I am less positive about. Am I trying too hard, am I doing it out of a sense of obligation, or is there something genuinely interesting going on that is creating this apparent magnetism?

To be consistent with other reviews, and my personal views, I have to say that ‘Closure / Continuation’ is too long. When you factor in the bonus tracks, it runs for over 65 minutes, with four of the ten tracks clocking in at between seven and nearly ten minutes. I’m all for longer compositions if they offer value for their whole duration, but I can point to a few times on this album where this is not the case for me.

The first example is with ‘Harridan’, the eight-minute opening track. I like the funky intro and the clever musicianship in the early stages from Wilson, Richard Barbieri (keys) and Gavin Harrison (drums) that immediately signals that the band are on top form. I also like the surprisingly meaty guitar tones that deliver some heavier than expected riffage. I have even grown to like the chorus, which is a catchy affair once it digs its claws into you. But I suffer the same problem with the song every time I listen, be it on headphones whilst out on my bike, late at night whilst the kids are asleep, or when cranked up as company whilst I work in my home office. And this problem is that I always seem to lose focus in the middle section, only jolted back to the present with the return on the chorus near the end. I don’t think that the music is at all bad, but it just doesn’t hold my attention enough.

‘Of The New Day’, on the other hand, is a much warmer and more inviting song all round. It sounds a little too close to the jangly world of Indie insofar as the guitar tones and riffs are concerned. But notwithstanding, and despite more overt experimentation and frequent shifts within the song, it has a much more melodic, and rich feel to it.

The same cannot be said of ‘Rats Return’, which is an all-out dystopian progressive rock song, bordering on avant-garde at times. It isn’t meant to be an immediate song by any means, but the weird electronics that feature heavily throughout give the song a dark and menacing undertone, not diminished by the sense of unease caused by moments of near dissonance and unexpected detours that the song takes. Oddly though, perhaps because it is one of the most striking compositions on the album, I find myself rather liking it. Morbid fascination it might be, but there’s something about it that I enjoy.

I wrestle internally with ‘Dignity’ every time it begins. On the one hand, it is one of the more melodic and catchy songs that seems to channel its inner Pink Floyd with some bright and breezy acoustic guitars alongside a gentle drumbeat. I also rather like the story that is told through the lyrics, of someone who doesn’t seem to fit in. Familiar, much? But something about it prevents me from diving headlong into it and loving it. Again, I think the song is too long, with an unnecessary foray into minimalist territory just after the halfway point, even if the subtle and precise lead guitar work is striking. Plus, I realise that I’m not a huge fan of the vocals themselves. Wilson can certainly sing and does a great job, but I’m just not that fussed by his delivery. Why do I get the feeling that pitchforks are being sharpened?

There are some cool parts to be heard within ‘Herd Calling’, especially when it explodes with unexpected heaviness after a quiet introductory passage. But I’m not certain that the song warrants the seven-minute run-time quite honestly. Meanwhile the odd minimalist electronic ‘Walk The Plank’ is easily my least favourite song on ‘Closure / Continuation’. I just feel totally unmoved by it in its entirety.

In fact, my interest generally wanes at this point, through ‘Chimera’s Wreck’ and ‘Population Three’, both of which are perfectly decent tracks but which both lack any kind of killer blow in my opinion. ‘I’m afraid to be happy, I couldn’t care less if I was to die’ is the stark line that catches my attention within the former, but the music itself largely fails to reciprocate in the same way.

It isn’t until the arrival of ‘Never Have’ that I am faced with another composition that actually fires a little enthusiasm within me. The piano intro is truly beautiful, as is the ensuing melody that becomes the song’s central chorus. Additionally, there’s a vibrancy and energy to the track that is sorely lacking in many of the preceding few compositions. If only more of the other songs had foregone a little of their experimentation in favour of a truly memorable hook or melody, then I could easily foresee my review being far more positive overall. But unfortunately, that’s not the case. And whilst I’ve read lots of positivity for the album closer, ‘Love In The Past Tense’, it isn’t a showstopper for me. I stress that the song is not bad; to suggest that of any of the music on this album would be foolish in the extreme quite frankly. It’s just that, for my personal tastes, the healthy majority of music within ‘Closer / Continuation’ simply doesn’t do it for me. I’m genuinely disappointed too, because I desperately wanted to like this new album more than I do. Maybe therefore, it is time to cut my losses, accept that Porcupine Tree and I are not meant to form a beautiful friendship, and leave it there. Damnit.

The Score of Much Metal: 70%

Check out my other 2022 reviews here:

Conjurer – Páthos

Ironflame – Where Madness Dwells

Horizon Ignited – Towards The Dying Lands

Municipal Waste – Electrified Brain

Paganizer – Behind The Macabre

Philosophobia – Philosophobia

Darkane – Inhuman Spirits

Exocrine – The Hybrid Suns

Fallen Sanctuary – Terranova

Deathwhite – Grey Everlasting

Charlie Griffiths – Tiktaalika

Seven Kingdoms – Zenith

Brutta – Brutta

White Ward – False Light

Winds Of Tragedy – As Time Drifts Away

Tim Bowness – Butterfly Mind

Denouncement Pyre – Forever Burning

Truent – Through The Vale Of Earthly Torment

Wind Rose – Warfront

Kardashev – Liminal Rite

Artificial Brain -Artificial Brain

Seventh Wonder – The Testament

Kreator – Hate Über Alles

All Things Fallen – Shadow Way

Def Leppard – Diamond Star Halos

Lord Belial – Rapture

Buried Realm – Buried Realm

Stiriah – …Of Light

Remains Of Destruction – New Dawn

Crematory – Inglorious Darkness

IATT – Magnum Opus

Iris Divine – Mercurial

Decapitated – Cancer Culture

Bekmørk – The Path Nocturnal

Septic Flesh – Modern Primitive

Blut Aus Nord – Disharmonium – Undreamable Abysses

Drift Into Black – Earthtorn

Spheric Universe Experience – Back Home

Outshine – The Awakening

Cosmic Putrefaction – Crepuscular Dirge For The Blessed Ones

Zero Hour – Agenda 21

Scitalis – Doomed Before Time

Morgue Supplier – Inevitability

Visions Of Atlantis – Pirates

Evergrey – A Heartless Portrait (The Orphean Testament)

OU – One

Haunter – Discarnate Ails

Aara – Triade II: Hemera

Pure Reason Revolution – Above Cirrus

Demonical – Mass Destroyer

I Am The Night – While The Gods Are Sleeping

Haunted By Silhouettes – No Man Isle

Delvoid – Swarmlife

LionSoul – A Pledge To Darkness

Watain – The Agony And Ecstasy Of Watain

Dischordia – Triptych

Dragonbreed – Necrohedron

Audrey Horne – Devil’s Bell

Vanum – Legend

Stone Broken – Revelation

Radiant – Written By Life

Skull Fist – Paid In Full

Hurakan – Via Aeturna

Incandescence – Le Coeur De L’Homme

Imminent Sonic Destruction – The Sun Will Always Set

Monuments – In Stasis

Soledad – XIII

Viande – L’abime dévore les âmes

Credic – Vermillion Oceans

Postcards From New Zealand – Burn, Witch, Burn

Darkher – The Buried Storm

Treat – The Endgame

Bjørn Riis – Everything To Everyone

Destruction – Diabolical

Et Moriemur – Tamashii No Yama

Angel Nation – Antares

Wolf – Shadowland

Denali – Denali EP

Centinex – The Pestilence EP

Meshuggah – Immutable

Chapter Of Hate – Bloodsoaked Decadence EP

Ancient Settlers – Our Last Eclipse

Tranzat – Ouh La La

Playgrounded – The Death Of Death

Father Befouled – Crowned In Veneficum

Abbath – Dread Reaver

PreHistoric Animals – The Magical Mystery Machine (Chapter 2)

Kvaen – The Great Below

Michael Romeo – War Of The Worlds, Part 2

Dark Funeral – We Are The Apocalypse

Carmeria – Advenae

Agathodaimon – The Seven

Moonlight Haze – Animus

Hellbore – Panopticon

Konvent – Call Down The Sun

Idol Of Fear – Trespasser

The Midgard Project – The Great Divide

Threads Of Fate – The Cold Embrace Of The Light

Arkaik – Labyrinth Of Hungry Ghosts

New Horizon – Gate Of The Gods

Cailleach Calling – Dreams Of Fragmentation

Tundra – A Darkening Sky

Sylvaine – Nova

Hath – All That Was Promised

Sabaton – The War To End All Wars

Kuolemanlaakso – Kuusumu

Oh Hiroshima – Myriad

Godless Truth – Godless Truth

Shape Of Despair – Return To The Void

Eight Bells – Legacy Of Ruin

Embryonic Devourment – Heresy Of The Highest Order

Serious Black – Vengeance Is Mine

Allegaeon – Damnum

HammerFall – Hammer Of Dawn

Immolation – Acts Of God

Veonity – Elements Of Power

Nightrage – Abyss Rising

Arjen Anthony Lucassen’s Star One – Revel In Time

Pure Wrath – Hymn To The Woeful Hearts

Dagoba – By Night

The Last Of Lucy – Moksha

Arð – Take Up My Bones

Embryonic Autopsy – Prophecies Of The Conjoined

The Devils Of Loudun – Escaping Eternity

Cult Of Luna – The Long Road North

WAIT – The End Of Noise

Abysmal Dawn – Nightmare Frontier

Amorphis – Halo

Nordic Giants – Sybiosis

Persefone – Metanoia

Vorga – Striving Toward Oblivion

Mystic Circle – Mystic Circle

Nasson – Scars

Burned In Effigy – Rex Mortem

Silent Skies – Nectar

Celeste – Assassine(s)

Abyssus – Death Revival

SOM – The Shape Of Everything

Ashes Of Ares – Emperors And Fools

Beriedir – AQVA

Lalu – Paint The Sky

Nocturna – Daughters Of The Night

Battle Beast – Circus Of Doom

Lee McKinney – In The Light Of Knowledge

Descent – Order Of Chaos

Aethereus – Leiden

Toundra – Hex

Ilium – Quantum Evolution Event EP

Power Paladin – With The Magic Of Windfyre Steel

Necrophagous – In Chaos Ascend

Infected Rain – Ecdysis

Wilderun – Epigone

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

2021 reviews

2020 reviews

2019 reviews
2018 reviews
2017 reviews
2016 reviews
2015 reviews

Tim Bowness – Butterfly Mind – Album Review

Artist: Tim Bowness

Album Title: Butterfly Mind

Label: InsideOut Music

Date of Release: 17 June 2022

Cards on the table, I know nothing of the band No-Man and up until I was presented with the opportunity to listen to this record in advance of its release, I’d never clapped ears on any of Tim Bowness’ previous solo material either. You could say then that I’m a true novice, something that will either work in my favour or against me. What you can guarantee though, is that I come to this review with literally no expectations or prior knowledge, as well as a viewpoint that’s unencumbered by any outside influences. Not for the first time, I’m a blank slate.

It’s probably an unnecessary exercise for many but for those who, like me, are less familiar with the work of Tim Bowness, it is worth mentioning that he is joined by a stellar cast of musicians on ‘Butterfly Mind’. Joining the vocalist and multi-instrumentalist throughout this record are Nick Beggs (bass, chapman stick), Brian Hulse (guitars, keyboards, programming), and drummer Richard Jupp. And then there is a whole host of guests that add their talents to a song or two. The list runs into double figures but most eye catching for me are Big Big Train’s Greg Spawton (bass pedals) and Jethro Tull’s Ian Anderson (flute).

My desire to listen to anything and everything this year in particular has paid off numerous times so far, but it can’t always be a successful approach – the law of averages alone will dictate that some of my exploration will result in a dead end, or with an artist failing to ignite the fires within me. Sadly, this is one of them. So why continue with my review? Because I have spent a lot of time listening to ‘Butterfly Mind’ and so I feel I can put together a cogent set of reasons why I don’t personally get hit square in the feels by Tim Bowness’ latest creation, rather than simply dismissing it. It may be that my reasons for failing to connect are the exact reasons why someone else will love it or give it a listen when maybe they otherwise wouldn’t.

After all, an album can be very good and still not be someone’s cup of tea. And ‘Butterfly Mind’ is absolutely a very good album that is full of great material. I’m not deaf to this, and I’d certainly not decry otherwise. But at the end of the day, after careful listening and consideration it’s just not for me. But why?

My normal musical preference is at the heavier end of the spectrum, of that there is no secret. However, I enjoy my fair share of music that’s quieter, more relaxed, or of a different genre entirely. The fact that I adore bands like Big Big Train, Toto, Fleetwood Mac, White Moth Black Butterfly, and any number of gentler prog rock acts go some way to demonstrate this. Therefore, there’s every chance that I’d like this offering from Tim Bowness.

The key factor in my enjoyment of this music is the melodic sensibilities contained within. And that’s the first issue I have personally with ‘Butterfly Mind’. It is a very melodic, warm, and inviting album that sounds a million dollars in terms of the production that envelops the listener like a faithful favourite blanket. But the melodies that feature within the album rarely get me excited or send a tingle down my spine. I nod appreciatively occasionally, but that’s about it.

As a result, I don’t have that emotional connection with the music that others will have. If the melodies don’t resonate strongly with me, I find the listening experience to be a perfunctory one, rather than a truly emotional one. That’s what I find here. It’s a sorrowful sounding album, but without the hooks and melodies to really tug at my heartstrings.

Songs like ‘It’s Easier To Love’ will be massive hits for many, but for me, this track is one that’s a bridge too far. The abundant saxophone is always going to be a problem for me given my prejudices towards the instrument, but regardless, the song is too whimsical, smooth, and bland for my tastes. If it had a killer hook within it, I might think differently, but it doesn’t, and I’m not too displeased when it ends.

The pulsing bass lines within follow up ‘We Feel’ as well as the increased energy injected by some nice guitar tones, embellishments, and sparingly used riffs rouses me a little from my near comatose state. It is one of the more immediate songs on the album, alongside ‘Always The Stranger’, which is a lively and vibrant affair albeit too short and sweet. It features some nice melodic touches that I latch on to, whilst I like the breathy, almost whispered vocals at points.

The vocals of Bowness himself are both a help and a hindrance to my enjoyment. At times, his delivery feels really unique and interesting, whilst at others, I’m less keen on his voice. It’s odd because I’ve rarely had this experience – I either like or dislike a voice outright.

‘Lost Player’ could be an even better track than it is, but it just fails to do anything particularly special or irresistible despite threatening to do so before fizzling out to nothing rather disappointingly. Then there’s ‘Only A Fool’ which is just plain odd, which could be a positive attribute were it not for some of the electronic sounds which I find a little overbearing and jarring. It’s a similar appraisal for ‘Glitter Fades’ which features an electronic beat to accompany the organic drums. It’s here that I find Bowness’ vocals most hard to enjoy, but I fully appreciate that this is me rather than his delivery which will no doubt hit the mark for his loyal fans and fans of this kind of music in particular. And it is a nice song, especially with the onset of some gentle orchestration in the latter stages; it’s just not a composition that I can warm to, as hard as I try.

I really do hope that I have been fair and transparent with this review, and I have given an insight into why I am not as enamoured as many others will be by this record. As I have said many times, almost ad nauseum, ‘Butterfly Mind’ is not a bad album, far from it. Indeed, I wish I liked it more than I do. But I don’t, and that’s a genuine shame because I came to this with genuine interest and an open mind ready to be impressed, to announce to me in glorious technicolour what I’ve been missing over the years. Ultimately, it wasn’t to be, but don’t be put off by my thoughts on this – if you think that this might be something you’ll enjoy, check it out. And if you do, I honestly hope you will have a more positive experience than I’ve had.

The Score of Much Metal: 70%

Check out my other 2022 reviews here:

Denouncement Pyre – Forever Burning

Truent – Through The Vale Of Earthly Torment

Wind Rose – Warfront

Kardashev – Liminal Rite

Artificial Brain -Artificial Brain

Seventh Wonder – The Testament

All Things Fallen – Shadow Way

Def Leppard – Diamond Star Halos

Lord Belial – Rapture

Buried Realm – Buried Realm

Stiriah – …Of Light

Remains Of Destruction – New Dawn

Crematory – Inglorious Darkness

IATT – Magnum Opus

Iris Divine – Mercurial

Decapitated – Cancer Culture

Bekmørk – The Path Nocturnal

Septic Flesh – Modern Primitive

Blut Aus Nord – Disharmonium – Undreamable Abysses

Drift Into Black – Earthtorn

Spheric Universe Experience – Back Home

Outshine – The Awakening

Cosmic Putrefaction – Crepuscular Dirge For The Blessed Ones

Zero Hour – Agenda 21

Scitalis – Doomed Before Time

Morgue Supplier – Inevitability

Visions Of Atlantis – Pirates

Evergrey – A Heartless Portrait (The Orphean Testament)

OU – One

Haunter – Discarnate Ails

Aara – Triade II: Hemera

Pure Reason Revolution – Above Cirrus

Demonical – Mass Destroyer

I Am The Night – While The Gods Are Sleeping

Haunted By Silhouettes – No Man Isle

Delvoid – Swarmlife

LionSoul – A Pledge To Darkness

Watain – The Agony And Ecstasy Of Watain

Dischordia – Triptych

Dragonbreed – Necrohedron

Audrey Horne – Devil’s Bell

Vanum – Legend

Stone Broken – Revelation

Radiant – Written By Life

Skull Fist – Paid In Full

Hurakan – Via Aeturna

Incandescence – Le Coeur De L’Homme

Imminent Sonic Destruction – The Sun Will Always Set

Monuments – In Stasis

Soledad – XIII

Viande – L’abime dévore les âmes

Credic – Vermillion Oceans

Postcards From New Zealand – Burn, Witch, Burn

Darkher – The Buried Storm

Treat – The Endgame

Bjørn Riis – Everything To Everyone

Destruction – Diabolical

Et Moriemur – Tamashii No Yama

Angel Nation – Antares

Wolf – Shadowland

Denali – Denali EP

Centinex – The Pestilence EP

Meshuggah – Immutable

Chapter Of Hate – Bloodsoaked Decadence EP

Ancient Settlers – Our Last Eclipse

Tranzat – Ouh La La

Playgrounded – The Death Of Death

Father Befouled – Crowned In Veneficum

Abbath – Dread Reaver

PreHistoric Animals – The Magical Mystery Machine (Chapter 2)

Kvaen – The Great Below

Michael Romeo – War Of The Worlds, Part 2

Dark Funeral – We Are The Apocalypse

Carmeria – Advenae

Agathodaimon – The Seven

Moonlight Haze – Animus

Hellbore – Panopticon

Konvent – Call Down The Sun

Idol Of Fear – Trespasser

The Midgard Project – The Great Divide

Threads Of Fate – The Cold Embrace Of The Light

Arkaik – Labyrinth Of Hungry Ghosts

New Horizon – Gate Of The Gods

Cailleach Calling – Dreams Of Fragmentation

Tundra – A Darkening Sky

Sylvaine – Nova

Hath – All That Was Promised

Sabaton – The War To End All Wars

Kuolemanlaakso – Kuusumu

Oh Hiroshima – Myriad

Godless Truth – Godless Truth

Shape Of Despair – Return To The Void

Eight Bells – Legacy Of Ruin

Embryonic Devourment – Heresy Of The Highest Order

Serious Black – Vengeance Is Mine

Allegaeon – Damnum

HammerFall – Hammer Of Dawn

Immolation – Acts Of God

Veonity – Elements Of Power

Nightrage – Abyss Rising

Arjen Anthony Lucassen’s Star One – Revel In Time

Pure Wrath – Hymn To The Woeful Hearts

Dagoba – By Night

The Last Of Lucy – Moksha

Arð – Take Up My Bones

Embryonic Autopsy – Prophecies Of The Conjoined

The Devils Of Loudun – Escaping Eternity

Cult Of Luna – The Long Road North

WAIT – The End Of Noise

Abysmal Dawn – Nightmare Frontier

Amorphis – Halo

Nordic Giants – Sybiosis

Persefone – Metanoia

Vorga – Striving Toward Oblivion

Mystic Circle – Mystic Circle

Nasson – Scars

Burned In Effigy – Rex Mortem

Silent Skies – Nectar

Celeste – Assassine(s)

Abyssus – Death Revival

SOM – The Shape Of Everything

Ashes Of Ares – Emperors And Fools

Beriedir – AQVA

Lalu – Paint The Sky

Nocturna – Daughters Of The Night

Battle Beast – Circus Of Doom

Lee McKinney – In The Light Of Knowledge

Descent – Order Of Chaos

Aethereus – Leiden

Toundra – Hex

Ilium – Quantum Evolution Event EP

Power Paladin – With The Magic Of Windfyre Steel

Necrophagous – In Chaos Ascend

Infected Rain – Ecdysis

Wilderun – Epigone

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

2021 reviews

2020 reviews

2019 reviews
2018 reviews
2017 reviews
2016 reviews
2015 reviews

All Things Fallen – Shadow Way – Album Review

Artist: All Things Fallen

Album Title: Shadow Way

Label: Blackoak Records

Date of Release: 3 June 2022

When I received the email alerting me to this album, the content of the press release had me salivating like a starving lion in the Serengeti. Featuring a fantastic line-up comprised of multi-instrumentalist Markus Sigfridsson (Darkwater, Harmony), drummer Leo Margarit (Pain Of Salvation), vocalist Erik Tordsson (End Of September), and bassist Raphael Dafras (Edu Falaschi, Almah), the email then went on to tell me that this was an album for fans of Evergrey, Soen, Pain Of Salvation, and Darkwater.

Imagine my levels of excitement at the very prospect of this all being true. Now imagine the levels of disappointment on discovering that ‘Shadow Way’ does not live up to the grandstand billing that it has received. I should have known, because press releases are more often than not full of nonsense, aimed at deliberately pulling us in to get us to review the latest release on the record label’s roster. But even so, I have to say that this record has been one of the biggest disappointments of the year so far.

I must be careful to be transparent at this point though. My disappointment is not because the music is of a poor quality, or because the performances or the production let it down. That’s not the case at all. My disappointment comes from the fact that I had such lofty expectations given the clientele involved, and because of the promise that this would appeal to fans of the aforementioned bands. As you’re all fully aware, I adore Evergrey, but on ‘Shadow Way’, I hear almost nothing that would warrant the reference. And the same goes for Pain Of Salvation and Darkwater; just because the band features members of these bands, it doesn’t necessarily follow that the output will sound similar. The closest reference point would be Soen I would suggest, although this is pushing things a little.

To my ears, vocalist Erik Tordsson gives the music more of a power metal sheen, as his delivery is generally within a higher register and he can wail with impressive power when the music demands it. All Things Fallen are definitely progressive, but the chosen synth sounds lend it much more of a classic, almost 70s vibe at times. Each of the musicians brings their undoubted skills to the party too, with the drumming of Leo Margarit and bassist Raphael Dafras together making the biggest impact upon me. If I’m honest, Tordsson is an acquired taste that I do warm to, whilst I feel more than a little disappointed by the chosen guitar tones and delivery. His solos are out of the top drawer and I am in no way criticising his technical ability, but I just wish that the riffs of Markus Sigfridsson were given more crunch, more power, and more menace. I also wish they were sometimes more front and centre, as they can get lost within the mix at times. On songs like ‘Desert Of The Real’, they make much more of an impact and if you were to listen to this track in isolation, you’d think my previous comments to be misguided or way off the mark. But it’s not always the case throughout ‘Shadow Way’ unfortunately.

The biggest failing of the music, however, is a real lack of a ‘wow’ factor. For all of the top-quality musicianship, I can’t help but feel that the songs themselves fail to stack up. Whether it’s the chosen melodies, or a number of other small things, such as the unnecessary bloated lengths of some of the tracks, I don’t warm to as much of the material as I want to, or think that I should. It’s frustrating and maddening in equal measure. I find myself listening again, certain that I must have missed something because ‘surely a line-up this talented won’t create something that I find disappointing?’ Unfortunately, I am still to have that epiphany – that’s the reason why this review comes after the release, as I wanted to give it as long as possible before writing anything about it. But the time has come.

One of the more engaging songs is first up in the form of ‘The Sentinel’. The bass immediately catches my ear, rumbling with real authority. I like the stomping groove that is carried throughout the song too, as well as a cracking lead guitar solo, and the key change that crops up in the second half of the song. But as with my comments above, I want the guitar riffs to be more prominent than they are, and I also find that the bold keys detract just a little from my overall enjoyment.  

By far and away, the best two songs on ‘Shadow Way’ are ‘Pandemonium’ and ‘Desert Of The Real’ and if more of the material was on a par with these tracks, then we’d be staring at a very different review right now. In the case of the former, it features some gorgeous violins courtesy of guest Maria Grigoryeva, but it is easily the strongest in terms of melody and memorable songwriting. The chorus is hook-filled, the swagger is infectious, and the guitars seem more integral to this song than others – when I listen to this track, I really smile, but I also silently bemoan a case of what could have been. I also like the funky guitar-led section somewhere at the heart of the song which injects a little variety into proceedings.

‘Desert Of The Real’ is the enigma is that it features prominent keys that I don’t always like elsewhere, and is the longest at over eight minutes. Nevertheless, the vague Middle Eastern flavour is a nice touch, whilst the song also features some stunning, yet subtle melodies that grow with every passing listen, to the point where I actually want to listen to the song on multiple occasions, sometimes even back-to-back.

I could try to dissect more of this album but, to be honest, I know when I’m beaten. I am absolutely certain that many of you will find much more enjoyment than I do with ‘Shadow Way’ because as I’ve said before, the music is far from being poor. If you’re one of those then I am genuinely pleased for you. For me though, aside from a couple of really good tracks, I will probably be shelving the record and not adding All Things Fallen to my ever-expanding CD collection I’m afraid.

The Score of Much Metal: 72%

Check out my other 2022 reviews here:

Def Leppard – Diamond Star Halos

Lord Belial – Rapture

Buried Realm – Buried Realm

Stiriah – …Of Light

Remains Of Destruction – New Dawn

Crematory – Inglorious Darkness

IATT – Magnum Opus

Iris Divine – Mercurial

Decapitated – Cancer Culture

Bekmørk – The Path Nocturnal

Septic Flesh – Modern Primitive

Blut Aus Nord – Disharmonium – Undreamable Abysses

Drift Into Black – Earthtorn

Spheric Universe Experience – Back Home

Outshine – The Awakening

Cosmic Putrefaction – Crepuscular Dirge For The Blessed Ones

Zero Hour – Agenda 21

Scitalis – Doomed Before Time

Morgue Supplier – Inevitability

Visions Of Atlantis – Pirates

Evergrey – A Heartless Portrait (The Orphean Testament)

OU – One

Haunter – Discarnate Ails

Aara – Triade II: Hemera

Pure Reason Revolution – Above Cirrus

Demonical – Mass Destroyer

I Am The Night – While The Gods Are Sleeping

Haunted By Silhouettes – No Man Isle

Delvoid – Swarmlife

LionSoul – A Pledge To Darkness

Watain – The Agony And Ecstasy Of Watain

Dischordia – Triptych

Dragonbreed – Necrohedron

Audrey Horne – Devil’s Bell

Vanum – Legend

Stone Broken – Revelation

Radiant – Written By Life

Skull Fist – Paid In Full

Hurakan – Via Aeturna

Incandescence – Le Coeur De L’Homme

Imminent Sonic Destruction – The Sun Will Always Set

Monuments – In Stasis

Soledad – XIII

Viande – L’abime dévore les âmes

Credic – Vermillion Oceans

Postcards From New Zealand – Burn, Witch, Burn

Darkher – The Buried Storm

Treat – The Endgame

Bjørn Riis – Everything To Everyone

Destruction – Diabolical

Et Moriemur – Tamashii No Yama

Angel Nation – Antares

Wolf – Shadowland

Denali – Denali EP

Centinex – The Pestilence EP

Meshuggah – Immutable

Chapter Of Hate – Bloodsoaked Decadence EP

Ancient Settlers – Our Last Eclipse

Tranzat – Ouh La La

Playgrounded – The Death Of Death

Father Befouled – Crowned In Veneficum

Abbath – Dread Reaver

PreHistoric Animals – The Magical Mystery Machine (Chapter 2)

Kvaen – The Great Below

Michael Romeo – War Of The Worlds, Part 2

Dark Funeral – We Are The Apocalypse

Carmeria – Advenae

Agathodaimon – The Seven

Moonlight Haze – Animus

Hellbore – Panopticon

Konvent – Call Down The Sun

Idol Of Fear – Trespasser

The Midgard Project – The Great Divide

Threads Of Fate – The Cold Embrace Of The Light

Arkaik – Labyrinth Of Hungry Ghosts

New Horizon – Gate Of The Gods

Cailleach Calling – Dreams Of Fragmentation

Tundra – A Darkening Sky

Sylvaine – Nova

Hath – All That Was Promised

Sabaton – The War To End All Wars

Kuolemanlaakso – Kuusumu

Oh Hiroshima – Myriad

Godless Truth – Godless Truth

Shape Of Despair – Return To The Void

Eight Bells – Legacy Of Ruin

Embryonic Devourment – Heresy Of The Highest Order

Serious Black – Vengeance Is Mine

Allegaeon – Damnum

HammerFall – Hammer Of Dawn

Immolation – Acts Of God

Veonity – Elements Of Power

Nightrage – Abyss Rising

Arjen Anthony Lucassen’s Star One – Revel In Time

Pure Wrath – Hymn To The Woeful Hearts

Dagoba – By Night

The Last Of Lucy – Moksha

Arð – Take Up My Bones

Embryonic Autopsy – Prophecies Of The Conjoined

The Devils Of Loudun – Escaping Eternity

Cult Of Luna – The Long Road North

WAIT – The End Of Noise

Abysmal Dawn – Nightmare Frontier

Amorphis – Halo

Nordic Giants – Sybiosis

Persefone – Metanoia

Vorga – Striving Toward Oblivion

Mystic Circle – Mystic Circle

Nasson – Scars

Burned In Effigy – Rex Mortem

Silent Skies – Nectar

Celeste – Assassine(s)

Abyssus – Death Revival

SOM – The Shape Of Everything

Ashes Of Ares – Emperors And Fools

Beriedir – AQVA

Lalu – Paint The Sky

Nocturna – Daughters Of The Night

Battle Beast – Circus Of Doom

Lee McKinney – In The Light Of Knowledge

Descent – Order Of Chaos

Aethereus – Leiden

Toundra – Hex

Ilium – Quantum Evolution Event EP

Power Paladin – With The Magic Of Windfyre Steel

Necrophagous – In Chaos Ascend

Infected Rain – Ecdysis

Wilderun – Epigone

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

2021 reviews

2020 reviews

2019 reviews
2018 reviews
2017 reviews
2016 reviews
2015 reviews

Bjørn Riis – Everything To Everyone – Album Review

Artist: Bjørn Riis

Album Title: Everything To Everyone

Label: Karisma Records

Date of Release: 8 April 2022

If you are looking for an album to get the heart really pounding, the blood pumping, and those neck muscles moving, then this is not going to be the album for you. But then, many of you already knew that, didn’t you? Bjørn Riis is best-known as the co-founder and guitarist with Norwegian progressive rock band Airbag, but ‘Everything To Everyone’ is already Riis’ fourth solo full-length album. And, if you’re familiar with the music of Airbag, or any of Riis’ solo material to date, then you’ll already have a fair idea of what to expect here.

And what you get here on ‘Everything To Everyone’ is a collection of six songs that span around fifty minutes, and which provide nourishment for the soul rather than any kind of heavy attack on the senses. The music, as is Bjørn Riis’ way, will more likely put an arm around you, or feel like a warm blanket; it’s melodic, it’s progressive, and it’s also minimalist, allowing atmosphere and emotional depth into the material, making the listener think and feel things at the same time. Having surrounded myself with some uncompromising extreme metal of late, ‘Everything To Everyone’ is a welcome respite from the chaos, and I welcome its soothing tones eagerly.

Bjørn Riis himself undertakes a fair amount of the instrumentation, not to mention the entirety of the songwriting. But he’s joined by an impressive cast of guest musicians to help bring this album to fruition. Featured here are Henrik Bergan Fossum (Airbag), Kristian Hultgren (Wobbler), Simen Valldal Johannessen (Oak), Ole Michael Bjørndal (Caligonaut), Mimmi Tamba, Per Øydir, Vegard Kleftås Sleipnes and Anders Møller.

What I particularly like about ‘Everything To Everyone’ is its flow, meaning that it comes together very nicely as a whole, even though each song is very much distinct from the others. I also like the way in which Riis has provided a mix of shorter and longer songs here; sometimes an album of just longer tracks can become a little tedious or bloated. But on this record, we get the songs that extend well into double figures, but they rub shoulders with other songs that are only for or five minutes. Naturally an album like this is best enjoyed in one sitting, but there are other options for you if time is tight, or you need a quicker blast of music.

For all of the other positives within this record, there are two that stand out for me. The first is the melodic nature of the music, which aids with that feeling of familiarity and warmth, not to mention the richness of sound and the emotional aspect of the music. The second positive is Riis’ guitar playing, especially his lead solos. Often compared to David Gilmour, Riis is blessed with an ability to make the electric guitar literally sing. His notes are precise, his touch deft, and his solos have the power to hypnotise and break hearts at a hundred paces. Happily, ‘Everything To Everyone’ features both of these positives and therefore I am brought back time and again to immerse myself in the music.

Onto the tracks themselves, and there’s a lot to unpack within them, even if, on a first listen, everything feels quite smooth and simple. It’s a skill of Riis that he’s able to fool us like this, because once you get into the music, it’s surprisingly involved.

The album begins with the instrumental piece, ‘Run’, and I’m initially surprised by the energy that’s courses through it. The intro is dramatic, with a throbbing bass building up tension alongside an insistent, repetitive piano motif. From there, we’re plunged into 70s retro-rock territory which I wasn’t expecting if I’m honest. The song is actually book-ended by this vivacious 70s drive, with the middle portion much more recognisable as the work of Riis. The music falls away to almost nothing and we’re left hanging until slowly, the synths grow and an acoustic strumming enters. Gentle piano notes add another layer, as do some simple bass notes upon which a melodic acoustic guitar solo grabs me by the heart and fills me with warmth.

Up next is the eleven-minute ‘Lay Me Down’ which begins incredibly delicately. Riis sings with gentle emotion, later joined by the silky voice of Mimmi Tamba to inject something different and arresting to the composition. The soundscape is beautiful, only to give way to a heavier guitar riff to briefly punctuate the serenity effectively. Then in comes the first of many soulful, and emotional guitar leads from Riis, and I’m transported to another place – a place of stunning beauty from which I wish there was no escape. The increase in urgency leading up to the halfway mark also shows that Riis can rock out if he feels the need. The remainder of the song sees another slow burn build from minimalism to something more immersive, where Riis’ guitar is again the central focal point.

To be honest, the album doesn’t deviate too far away from this blueprint for the remaining four songs, but then you’d not really want it to, because why fix something if it isn’t broken? But far from broken, this album is dripping in understated class. I really like the swathes of synths that come out to play in the early stages of ‘Every Second Every Hour’, the longest composition on the album at over thirteen minutes in length. I like the way that it ebbs and flows with effortless grace, the acoustic guitars offering a lovely texture, alongside the layers of keys, the cleverly placed lead guitar embellishments, and Riis’ voice that is heavily effect-laden at times. Occasionally, we’re treated to a more muscular riff, but it’s the exception rather than the rule, but their inclusion adds to the drama throughout what is a gorgeous track.

A bold electronic beat is used to signal the arrival of ‘Descending’, an evocative and introspective instrumental piece that explodes with pent-up power in the second half. That leaves us with the title track to see us out, and it does so with some of the most poignant and immediate melodies on the record. The lyrics are moving, delivered by Riis and Mimmi Tamba again, giving them extra gravitas in the process. It’s a bittersweet closer in that it’s both sad and oddly uplifting at the same time, with a sense of hope lurking in the background.

All that I can say at this juncture is that ‘Everything To Everyone’ is another great body of work from Bjørn Riis, one of the most accomplished songwriters and talented guitarists currently plying their trade within the progressive rock sphere at the current time. The only criticism that could be levelled at Riis is that you already know pretty much what you’re going to hear when you press play. But when the music contains this much beauty, soul, and finesse, it’s hardly a criticism. Instead, I recommend you pour yourself a glass of wine, dim the lights and allow the magic of Bjørn Riis’ music to wash over you. You won’t regret it.

The Score of Much Metal: 90%

Check out my other 2022 reviews here:

Destruction – Diabolical

Et Moriemur – Tamashii No Yama

Angel Nation – Antares

Wolf – Shadowland

Denali – Denali EP

Centinex – The Pestilence EP

Meshuggah – Immutable

Chapter Of Hate – Bloodsoaked Decadence EP

Ancient Settlers – Our Last Eclipse

Tranzat – Ouh La La

Playgrounded – The Death Of Death

Father Befouled – Crowned In Veneficum

Abbath – Dread Reaver

PreHistoric Animals – The Magical Mystery Machine (Chapter 2)

Kvaen – The Great Below

Michael Romeo – War Of The Worlds, Part 2

Dark Funeral – We Are The Apocalypse

Carmeria – Advenae

Agathodaimon – The Seven

Moonlight Haze – Animus

Hellbore – Panopticon

Konvent – Call Down The Sun

Idol Of Fear – Trespasser

The Midgard Project – The Great Divide

Threads Of Fate – The Cold Embrace Of The Light

Arkaik – Labyrinth Of Hungry Ghosts

New Horizon – Gate Of The Gods

Cailleach Calling – Dreams Of Fragmentation

Tundra – A Darkening Sky

Sylvaine – Nova

Hath – All That Was Promised

Sabaton – The War To End All Wars

Kuolemanlaakso – Kuusumu

Oh Hiroshima – Myriad

Godless Truth – Godless Truth

Shape Of Despair – Return To The Void

Eight Bells – Legacy Of Ruin

Embryonic Devourment – Heresy Of The Highest Order

Serious Black – Vengeance Is Mine

Allegaeon – Damnum

HammerFall – Hammer Of Dawn

Immolation – Acts Of God

Veonity – Elements Of Power

Nightrage – Abyss Rising

Arjen Anthony Lucassen’s Star One – Revel In Time

Pure Wrath – Hymn To The Woeful Hearts

Dagoba – By Night

The Last Of Lucy – Moksha

Arð – Take Up My Bones

Embryonic Autopsy – Prophecies Of The Conjoined

The Devils Of Loudun – Escaping Eternity

Cult Of Luna – The Long Road North

WAIT – The End Of Noise

Abysmal Dawn – Nightmare Frontier

Amorphis – Halo

Nordic Giants – Sybiosis

Persefone – Metanoia

Vorga – Striving Toward Oblivion

Mystic Circle – Mystic Circle

Nasson – Scars

Burned In Effigy – Rex Mortem

Silent Skies – Nectar

Celeste – Assassine(s)

Abyssus – Death Revival

SOM – The Shape Of Everything

Ashes Of Ares – Emperors And Fools

Beriedir – AQVA

Lalu – Paint The Sky

Nocturna – Daughters Of The Night

Battle Beast – Circus Of Doom

Lee McKinney – In The Light Of Knowledge

Descent – Order Of Chaos

Aethereus – Leiden

Toundra – Hex

Ilium – Quantum Evolution Event EP

Power Paladin – With The Magic Of Windfyre Steel

Necrophagous – In Chaos Ascend

Infected Rain – Ecdysis

Wilderun – Epigone

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

2021 reviews

2020 reviews

2019 reviews
2018 reviews
2017 reviews
2016 reviews
2015 reviews

Arjen Anthony Lucassen’s Star One – Revel In Time – Album Review

Artist: Arjen Anthony Lucassen’s Star One

Album Title: Revel In Time

Label: InsideOut Music

Date of Release:  18 February 2022

I’ve had a few struggles this year already with a couple of reviews, with writer’s block and a lack of clarity causing me to procrastinate and not know what to think or what to write about a particular record. However, this has been by far and away the most difficult to get to grips with and get to a point where I feel like what I’m writing is fair, accurate, or honest. Let’s hope that what you are now reading at least comes across as a blend of all three.

Arjen Anthony Lucassen is nothing short of a workaholic, always seeming to be working on one project or another at any given time. From Guilt Machine to Stream Of Passion, and from Ayreon to The Gentle Storm, Lucassen is a big name and well-loved musician within progressive rock and metal circles. But it’s not just the albums that he writes and records, it’s the fact that almost all of them will feature an ambitious cast of musicians to assist bring Lucassen’s musical visions to life. The logistics, the ball-juggling, and the sheer breadth of what is attempted is always incredible, meaning that a new release from the self-titled ‘tall skinny hippie’ is almost always an event rather than just an interesting date on the calendar.

Personally speaking, it is with Ayreon and Star One that I find most of my enjoyment, with my well-worn Star One T-shirt one of my most prized assets in my extensive ‘black’ wardrobe that I have dedicated to my collection. However, with that said, I must also go on record as saying that I don’t always like what Arjen Lucassen creates; some of his music is incredible, whilst some doesn’t resonate with me much at all. This is hardly surprising when you consider just how diverse his music can be, albeit always recognisable as the work of one man and one man only. Nevertheless, I have been excited about the release of the third instalment in the Star One franchise, following on from ‘Space Metal’ (2002), and ‘Victims Of The Modern Age’, released over a decade ago in 2010.

I became more excited when I discovered more about the ‘cast’ of musicians to be involved on this third Star One record, ‘Revel In Time’. I’ll go into more detail as the review continues, but names like Ross Jennings, Jeff Scott Soto, Roy Khan, Michael Romeo, and Michael Mills all feature in creating a genuinely mouth-watering prospect. It’s also a departure from the previous Star One offerings, both of which featured ‘just’ four vocalists throughout, namely Floor Jansen, ‘Sir’ Russell Allen, Damian Wilson, and Dan Swanö. All of these artists appear on ‘Revel In Time’ but rather than constantly dip in and out of songs as their parts demanded, each is responsible for one song within the eleven. In part, a product of the worldwide pandemic, but also an opportunity to reboot the Star One sound and make it fresh and interesting.

I also became intrigued when I learned that each of the songs on ‘Revel In Time’ would be based around a film featuring some manipulation of time within the plot. However, not being the biggest movie buff, or fan of the sci-fi genre in particular, it’s here where I reveal that I have only seen three or four of the eleven films referenced. I feel it’s therefore best if I focus almost entirely on the music within this review.

Or at least, I thought it would be best to focus on the music. But it’s on that score that I have had the most difficulty. It has taken an awful lot of time and listens to get to this point, where I feel able to coalesce my thoughts into a review. In short, being 100% honest, at the outset, I wanted to like ‘Revel In Time’ more than I found that I did. I didn’t want to face a reality, which sucks enough as it is, where a Star One album wouldn’t bring a smile to my face and light up my wizened prog-loving heart. So I listened…and listened…and listened some more. Having been fortunate enough to have had access to the album for several weeks, I am sitting here on the eve of it’s release, ill, but content that I have reached my verdict. There are still one or two songs that I like a little less than others, but now that the dust has settled, I can confirm that Arjen Lucassen has once again done himself proud and the vast majority of long-term fans will be very pleased with the results.

There’s no getting away from the fact that I am going to have give a blow-by-blow description of the songs, as each brings a different flavour thanks to the subject matter and the chosen vocalist. I’ll be as succinct as I can, but here goes…

Up first is ‘Fate Of Man’, based on ‘The Terminator’ and Lucassen has chosen Unleash The Archers’ vocalist Brittney Slayes to lead from the front. The sci-fi trappings are evident from the beginning thanks to a cinematic synth-led intro that segues into a full-on progressive metal song, big on neo-classical effervescence, and driven along by the drumming of Ed Warby at an energetic pace, matched at every turn by the powerful lungs of Slayes. Michael Romeo delivers a typically impressive lead solo, but for me, it’s the heaviness of the material that leaves the lasting impression and delights me following recent, less metallic outings, such as Ayreon’s ‘Transitus’.

If you think that the first track is heavy, wait until you hear the ‘Donnie Darko’-inspired ’28 Days (Till The End Of Time)’; the opening guitar riff is down-tuned and monstrous, sludgy and menacing. The pace is slower, but it allows the keys to add layers of atmosphere, upon which ‘Sir’ Russell Allen delivers a spellbinding masterclass of the highest order. Timo Somers provides a soulful and wailing lead solo before a groovy riff enters for good measure. The heaviness gradually recedes until the final sequence that sees the return of those Earth-shaking guitar tones.

On an album that is generally about stellar individual performances rather than complex progressive compositions, ‘Prescient’ bucks the trend somewhat. Michael Mills and Haken’s Ross Jennings provide a compelling, multi-layered vocal performance over what is arguably the most overtly proggy track on the album, complete with acoustic guitars and some potent keyboards throughout. Inspiration comes from the film ‘Primer’ and it was a slow-burner for long periods, but it has eventually worked its magic on me; how could it not with two singers of this calibre coming together some impressively?

‘Back To The Future’ had to feature in some form or another, and it is up to Jeff Scott Soto alongside able assistance from Ron Bumblefoot Thal, to bring Lucassen’s composition to life. Given the clientele, it goes without saying that ‘Back From The Past’ would be more of a straightforward, hard-rocking number, full of swagger and more of a ‘classic’ hard rock sheen, albeit with some proper grunt from the guitars in the mid-section in particular. The title track on the other hand, based around one of my favourites, ‘Bill & Ted’s Excellent Adventure’, brings the groove and the heaviness all in one. Fronted by Brandon Yeagley, and with some superb guitar solos courtesy of Adrian Vandenberg, it benefits from one of my favourite choruses on the album; so catchy and full of character, it cannot fail to raise a smile.

Joe Lynn Turner is the box office draw for ‘The Year of ‘41’, a track that builds upon a more straightforward hard rock framework, complete with acoustic guitars to counteract the chunky riffs that sit at the heart of the song. Will Shaw, Joel Hoekstra, and Jens Johansson contribute strongly to the composition too, even though I must be honest and say that it isn’t a personal favourite despite the brighter, breezier attitude that comes through as well as a fantastic performance from Turner.

Death, taxes, and Damian Wilson on an Arjen Lucassen album – the holy trinity of life’s certainties. It takes until track seven for Wilson to appear, but appear he does on ‘Bridge Of Life’, based on a hitherto unheard of 2000 film called ‘Frequency’ (insert ‘shrug’ emoji here!). I love the stark juxtaposition between thunderously heavy riffs, and quiet minimalist sections, over which Wilson can sing in his inimitable style. As I sit here now, listening to the stupidly catchy chorus, I cannot fathom why it took me so long to take this composition to my heart, but it was definitely a dark horse until very recently.

Like Pavlov’s dog, for some of us, just the very mention of the name Dan Swanö can do strange things to us. It’s great to hear his voice breathe life into ‘Today Is Yesterday’ (‘Grundhog Day’), even if it took all my strength to take to it. I love the thunderous riffs and Swanö’s distinctive tones, but the almost cartoonish feel in places to what is undoubtedly deliberately a more relaxed, fun song, threatened to derail my enjoyment. However, given some of the exceptional instrumentalism from Lisa Bella Donna (Moog synths), Lucassen himself, and the backing singers Marcela Bovio and Irene Jansen, it has finally converted me.

A definite favourite has to be ‘A Hand On The Clock’ for two reasons: firstly, as is always the case seemingly, Floor Jansen is pure fire. And secondly, the sprawling, majestic chorus is absolutely brilliant, kicking my butt from the first listen, something that was rare across ‘Revel In Time’. Inspired by the Source Code movie, this has to be one of the finest compositions on the album. I really enjoy the darkness to the song, not to mention a top drawer Hammond solo from Joost van den Broek transporting us back to the 70s effortlessly.

The penultimate song, ‘Beyond The Edge Of It All’ sees the return of a familiar face and voice to those who have witnessed an Ayreon live show, in the form of John Jaycee Cuijpers. The guy has a fantastically powerful voice and he, along with a rare Lucasson lead guitar solo, really steals the show within a solid song overall.

The final composition, ‘Lost Children Of The Universe’, happens to be the longest on ‘Revel In Time’, clocking in at just under ten minutes. The cinematic inspiration is 2014’s ‘Interstellar’ but for me and many others I suspect, the biggest draw is the fact that Roy Khan lends his wonderfully smooth, characterful, and mellifluous voice to the song. And what a closing song it is, complete with an appearance of the Hellscore Choir for added bombast and gravitas, not to mention an otherworldly guitar solo from Mr Steve Vai himself. The ebb and flow is superb, balancing some heavy riffing with more introspective moments where Khan can cast his spell on us. The tempo alters, the soundscape morphs, the emotion shifts, and the drama permeates at every turn. What a fantastic way to end the album, eh?

Based on the fact that I have rambled on for hours, I’m going to wrap up this review swiftly. What started out as an album that I wasn’t sure about has, via many a dark cul-de-sac of uncertainty, ended up being something of a triumph. When you add in the fact that some of the versions of the album come with a second CD where the same songs are voiced by different singers, this is really a ‘must have’ release. For anyone who’s a fan of Arjen Lucasson’s work, or for prog fans in general, there is some brilliant material on ‘Revel In Time’ that only further enhances the reputation of one of the hardest working and genuinely lovely people within progressive music world. But you already knew that, and have it on pre-order, don’t you?!

The Score of Much Metal: 92%

Check out my other 2022 reviews here:

Pure Wrath – Hymn To The Woeful Hearts

Dagoba – By Night

The Last Of Lucy – Moksha

Arð – Take Up My Bones

Embryonic Autopsy – Prophecies Of The Conjoined

The Devils Of Loudun – Escaping Eternity

Cult Of Luna – The Long Road North

WAIT – The End Of Noise

Abysmal Dawn – Nightmare Frontier

Amorphis – Halo

Nordic Giants – Sybiosis

Persefone – Metanoia

Vorga – Striving Toward Oblivion

Mystic Circle – Mystic Circle

Nasson – Scars

Burned In Effigy – Rex Mortem

Silent Skies – Nectar

Celeste – Assassine(s)

Abyssus – Death Revival

SOM – The Shape Of Everything

Ashes Of Ares – Emperors And Fools

Beriedir – AQVA

Lalu – Paint The Sky

Nocturna – Daughters Of The Night

Battle Beast – Circus Of Doom

Lee McKinney – In The Light Of Knowledge

Descent – Order Of Chaos

Aethereus – Leiden

Toundra – Hex

Ilium – Quantum Evolution Event EP

Power Paladin – With The Magic Of Windfyre Steel

Necrophagous – In Chaos Ascend

Infected Rain – Ecdysis

Wilderun – Epigone

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

2021 reviews

2020 reviews

2019 reviews
2018 reviews
2017 reviews
2016 reviews
2015 reviews

Lalu – Paint The Sky – Album Review

Artist: Lalu

Album Title: Paint The Sky

Label: Frontiers Music

Date of Release: 21 January 2022

This record has to be one of my most anticipated releases of 2022 and it’s a delight to be able to finally bring you my considered thoughts about it.

I’ve been a fan of Vivien Lalu for quite some time but I’m certainly not the only one. A quick look at the discography for the keyboardist, composer, and producer, and you’ll see how integral the Frenchman is to the progressive music world, both rock and metal. From contributing keyboard solos and producing records to composing both for his own endeavours and with others, the list is impressive. Shadrane, Shadow Gallery, Tomorrow’s Eve, Minds Eye…the list goes on. It’s hardly surprising  either, given the fact that Vivien Lalu was literally born into the world of prog, the son of Noelle and Michel Lalu, musicians from a 1970s French progressive act by the name of Polène.

Under his own Lalu moniker however, ‘Paint The Sky’ represents just his third release. In 2005, Vivien released ‘Oniric Metal’, followed up a mere eight years later by ‘Atomic Ark’. And now, the better part of nine years on, we finally have ‘Paint The Sky’. Boasting a new line-up, the composer, keyboardist and producer is joined by none other than Damian Wilson on vocals, drummer Jelly Cardarelli, and Joop Wolters handling both guitar and bass duties. But that’s not all, because there’s a whole host of guests who have been invited to take part on the record. Dream Theater’s Jordan Rudess is one, as Steve Walsh (Kansas) and Simon Phillips (Toto, Judas Priest), not to forget Simone Mularoni (DGM), Jens Johansson (Stratovarius), Alessandro Del Vecchio (Jørn Lande, Hardline, Revolution Saints) and Tony Franklin (Roy Harper, Whitesnake, David Gilmour, Jimmy Page). And, as if it wasn’t already impressive enough, there’s even a guest vocal slot by Gary Wehrkamp of Shadow Gallery and an appearance from Vikram Shankar (Redemption, Silent Skies).

Are you salivating yet? I think you’ll agree that this is an impressive line-up of guests from across the spectrum of progressive music. But what is equally impressive is the music that they have helped to shape. Without doubt, Vivien Lalu has come of age and whilst previous solo efforts were absolutely worthy of praise, then ‘Paint The Sky’ takes things to a whole new level.

Lalu himself contacted me last year to alert me to this new album, and when trying to tentatively, almost shyly, describe the direction and sound of the music, suggested that he had wanted to explore a “modern, Yes/metal” sound. I’ll be the first to admit that I’ve never been the biggest Yes fan if but for a couple of reasons. Firstly there are the vocals of Jon Anderson who, despite being a great vocalist, was one that I never fully warmed to. Secondly, as a lover of heavier music, I found some of the music way too light and a little overindulgent. Sacrilegious views in some quarters I fully admit.

However, what Vivien Lalu has done here is to take that 70s prog essence, beef it up, and make the music more succinct overall, with not one of the tracks extending beyond eight minutes. This is a collection of songs; detailed, technical, and progressive in nature, but songs first and foremost. At over 63 minutes, it’s on the cusp of still being too long, but on this occasion, I can let it go. Why? Because when you take these aspects and then bring in vocalist Damian Wilson, a voice far more to my tastes, inject some killer melodies, and wrap it all up in a rich, vibrant production, you have musical nectar. The whole experience is aural bliss. And the great thing is that this music will almost certainly appeal to fans right across the prog spectrum, uniting many of us with stunning music that we want to listen to again and again.

Make no mistake that there is barely a minute wasted anywhere on ‘Paint The Sky’, so each and every song deserves a mention. However, to do so would lead to the longest review in history. Instead, I shall highlight a few of my favourites, thereby leaving some mystery intact, allowing you to uncover some of the gems yourselves when you get hold of this album. And believe me, you will be buying this, even if Frontiers are apparently not making any effort to maximise the gorgeous Travis Smith artwork, releasing the CD in their usual bog-standard jewel case. I really wish Frontiers would consider a different approach – a hardbook version, or even a decent digipack would look so much better as far as I’m concerned.

That said, it’s all about the music and on that score, I have to commence proceedings with the opening track, ‘Reset To Preset’ because it sets the tone for the entire album perfectly.  Vivien Lalu somewhat self-deprecatingly refers to the music as a ‘dumbed down’ interpretation of Yes, but you can hear the influence of one of his greatest inspirations writ large across the song. In my eyes, it isn’t dumbing down, it’s cleverly incorporating influences to achieve something much more aligned with Vivien’s own musical vision. Damian Wilson puts in a commanding performance, whilst Lalu himself liberally laces the material with his sounds and textures without overpowering or dominating the music. There’s a terrific ebb and flow to the material, whilst the more metallic elements are demonstrably present, particularly in the chunky guitar riffs and notes, complimenting the more subtle passages perfectly. The lead guitar solo towards the end is fabulous, but then so is just about everything about the song. Catchy, varied, technical, but eminently enjoyable from the first note to the last.

If you’re looking for something more ‘progressive’ in the classic 70s sense, then look no further than either of the two versions of the title track. The first boasts the vocals of Steve Walsh, whilst the second, which closes out the album with full-on instrumental flamboyance, features the expert drumming of Simon Phillips. I love the way that they sound both similar yet also so different, a compliment to both the composer and the musicianship from each and every artist that features. If I had a preference, it’d be the first version, just because I find the two vocalists’ performances within it so engaging. To be honest though, it’s like asking me to pick a favourite child.

‘Witness To The World’ is the first of what I would argue is a devastating one-two of tracks that are more immediately accessible thanks to gorgeous melodies. The bass in particular plays an important role in the song that spends a lot of the time in slow-burn territory. Wilson’s captivating voice, the rumbling simplistic bass, and the sensitive, almost minimalist feel of the song all come together to create scintillating melodies that finally release into heavier territory topped off by a sumptuous lead guitar solo.

‘Lost In Conversation’ follows and if anything is even more stunning. It has more of a pop-like quality to it thanks to the chosen hooks within the AOR-tinged chorus, but it just feels so mature and effortless, as if everything that the band touched turned to gold on this song. I love the whimsical prog minimalism into which the track descends for a time, before rebuilding and then launching back into the warm embrace of the chorus melody. This is easily one of the songs of the year so far and I fully expect this to remain the case until December.  

‘Standing At The Gates Of Hell’ is book-ended by some of the heaviest and most abrasive material on ‘Paint The Sky’ whilst at the same time delving into genuinely minimalist experimentation, lacing it with jazz-infused prog, led initially by the guitars of Joop Wolters before Lalu takes up the baton and runs with it in what becomes one of the longest instrumental breakdowns on the album.

And finally for this review, I have to mention ‘The Chosen Ones’. In my notes, I wrote just one word: ‘wow’. I stand by this sentiment, one that gets stronger with every passing listen, eventually pushing ‘Lost In Conversation’ every inch of the way. Drummer Jelly Cardarelli is fantastic, offering arguably his best, most flamboyant performance, whilst Jordan Rudess adds extra colour with a keyboard solo. But for me, it’s the strength of the melodies that smack me around the face, sending shivers down my spine every time I hear them, especially when used so sparingly and then heavily contrasted with quieter interludes for maximum effect.

I could so easily go on and pull out so many other nuggets of brilliance, but I’ll let you discover these for yourself. I cannot stress just how wonderfully satisfying, entertaining, and enjoyable ‘Paint The Sky’ is. Whatever your preference when it comes to progressive music, I absolutely guarantee that there will be plenty for you to enjoy within ‘Paint The Sky’. It has technicality and flamboyance aplenty, but crucially, it is never present at the expense of the songs themselves. With performances out of the top drawer from the band and guests alike, there is literally nothing that I can fault with this album whatsoever. I adore it, and I suspect that you will too. Prepare to hear the first genuine candidate for the best album of 2022, I kid you not.

The Score of Much Metal: 97%

Check out my other 2022 reviews here:

Nocturna – Daughters Of The Night

Battle Beast – Circus Of Doom

Lee McKinney – In The Light Of Knowledge

Descent – Order Of Chaos

Aethereus – Leiden

Toundra – Hex

Ilium – Quantum Evolution Event EP

Power Paladin – With The Magic Of Windfyre Steel

Necrophagous – In Chaos Ascend

Infected Rain – Ecdysis

Wilderun – Epigone

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

2021 reviews

2020 reviews

2019 reviews
2018 reviews
2017 reviews
2016 reviews
2015 reviews

The Best Songs of 2021

As in years before, I wanted to round off 2021 with a quick look at some of the best individual songs that I heard during 2021.

As with my recent Top 30 series, this is a list of my personal favourite songs. They might not be the most technical, clever, or complicated songs of the year, or they might be. But it doesn’t matter. These are the ten songs that I could happily listen to time and time again, and which stood out to me the most. It may be a beautiful melody, an irresistible groove, or something unique and compelling. Whatever it is, these tracks gave me goosebumps for all the right reasons.

If you have arrived at this post without reading my Album of the Year 2020 Top 30 Countdown, feel free to check it out right here.

But now, on with the main event. In no particular order whatsoever, here goes:

Omnium Gatherum

“Reckoning”

Whilst it’s true that there’s no order to these songs, I have to jump off the fence and declare that ‘Reckoning’ might just be THE song of 2021 for me. For so many personal reasons, and because I just love the blend of beautiful melodies with the spiky aggression…take a bow, Gentlemen, this is just wonderful.

What I wrote in my review:

“The synth and electronics-heavy intro to ‘Reckoning’ has me grinning from the very first few notes. I make no secret of my love of proper 80s music, be it metal, rock, or occasionally pop. And this song encapsulates that feeling brilliantly. It has been, and continues to be, one of my very favourite Omnium Gatherum tracks, not just on this album, but overall. Strong words, but well earned, because the way in which double-pedal drumming and Pelkonen’s harsh vocals blends seamlessly with the most beautiful lead guitar melodies and rich 80s-inspired synths is exhilarating. It may not be as heavy as past endeavours but I love it, I absolutely love it.”

–MoMM–

Ghosts Of Atlantis

“Curse Of Man”

There were a couple of other contenders, but on an album that came out of nowhere to knock me sideways, this is my personal favourite. The power and aggression is one thing, but the cinematic grandiosity and the central melodies are another altogether. This remains a shining highlight of 2021 for me.

What I wrote in my review:

“There’s no other word for it, ‘The Curse Of Man’ is anthemic. The most melodic of all eight tracks, it is also my favourite currently without doubt. Bursts of frenetic pace mean that Ghosts Of Atlantis don’t abandon their more extreme tendencies but the chorus is a thing of real dark beauty. Lush melodies, driven by a duo of vocals and elegant lead guitar notes are enhanced by clever symphonics and short bursts of drum blasts, a combination that I find irresistible. The juxtaposition between the savage and the beauty is not dissimilar to Cradle at their very best and it’s an intoxicating recipe from which I simply cannot escape. It’s a stunning track, one of the best that the year has delivered to date.”

–MoMM–

Evergrey

“Stories”

A list like this wouldn’t be complete without featuring an Evergrey song. But when their songs are this good, how could I possibly ignore them? Not possible. ‘Stories’ is the emotional rollercoaster of a song that still stands out to me on this stunning record, putting me through the emotional ringer each and every time I hear it.

What I wrote in my review:

“If you thought that was good, track three [‘Stories’] is even better – aural perfection if I may be so bold. It’s more of a slower-paced ballad, but it contains everything I love about this incredible band. For a start, Tom sounds better than ever, crooning with pure emotion across the song. The guitar solos that soar atop a delicate piano melody are equally emotional, whilst the incoming bass that replaces its six-string (or seven) cousin is stunning. Simple, effective, authoritative, it commands attention. The poignancy oozes from every pore of this track as it weaves it’s way through melancholy soundscapes rich in heart-breaking melody, accented by well-placed heavy riffs to inject the necessary metallic edge.”

–MoMM–

Nestor

“On The Run”

For a while, I was utterly obsessed with ‘On The Run’, listening to it several times a day, every day. And even now, I listen to it every time I need a pick-me-up, simply because it is a classic 80s-inspired anthem backed up by one of the most infectious choruses I’ve heard in some time.

What I wrote in my review:

“‘On The Run’ is the epitome of everything that I love about 80s hard rock, and from the first time I heard it several months ago, I’ve been unable to shake my absolute adoration for it. The verses are dominated by the incredibly powerful yet silky voice of Tobias Gustavsson, on top of some classic sounding riffs, rumbling bass, and strong drumbeats. Despite the galloping pace and hedonistic air, there’s a slightly melancholic, nostalgic vibe too that I latch on to, making the song more than just a simple 80s homage in my opinion. And then the chorus kicks in and the love is instantaneous. It’s a short-lived affair but it packs a punch, with a hook to die for, a strong AOR vibe, and infectious lyrics; I’ve been thoroughly smitten since my first listen, and I’m no less impressed several months down the line.”

–MoMM–

MØL

“Serf”

The epitome of a perfect blackgaze track, in my opinion, ‘Serf’ is an amazing blend of beautiful, emotional melody, catchiness, and naked black metal spite and aggression. There are other close contenders on ‘Diorama’, but ‘Serf’ wins it, as it’s the one that puts the biggest smile on my face every time I hear it.

What I wrote in my review:

“Without a shadow of doubt however, ‘Serf’ is my favourite track on the entire album. The simple, quiet intro literally breaks my heart, but when the main body of the song kicks in, my heart is mended and filled with wonder thanks to one of the most addictive and glorious melodies I’ve heard for a long time. Flitting between harsh passages, complete with potent blast beats and fast-picked riffing, and lighter, more delicate shoegaze moments, I cannot convey is words just how wonderfully uplifting I find this song.”

–MoMM–

Gojira

“Hold On”

I’ve never been a fan of Gojira, but ‘Fortitude’ altered that, with ‘Hold On’ being one of the primary reasons. From the irresistible intro, to the heavy technicality later in the track, this is how intelligent music can really make an impact on me. Add to that the raw and honest subject matter and it’s an all-round belter of a song, one I listen to very regularly.

What I wrote in my review:

“‘Hold On’ is a beautiful composition from start to finish, with pronounced melodies throughout. The multi-layered a capella vocals that welcome the song into existence offer a sense of the dramatic whilst a relatively simple rhythmic beat emerges, allowing a gorgeous melody to unravel thanks to the interplay between guitars and vocals. When the heaviness hits, the song changes to something much more technical, with polyrhythms doing serious damage to my neck muscles. The fact that lyrically, the song looks to speak directly to anyone suffering with stress, depression, or any myriad of personal struggles, reaching out to provide a message of strength, just makes the whole song so much stronger. It touches a nerve with me, and I thank the band for it.”

–MoMM–

Orden Ogan

“It Is Over”

Good heavens, this song still gives me goosebumps all over. From those heavy opening guitar chords, via a memorable chorus, to the final, emotional sequence, I adore everything about this song. To some it may sound a little cheesy, but I disagree and simply give over to the power and emotion contained within.

What I wrote in my review:

“I feel compelled, for many reasons, to start with the final song, entitled ‘It Is Over’. To begin with, the guitar tone used for the riffs is incredible; the heaviness and the authority with which they emanate from the speakers is irresistible. Then there’s the subject matter; the more cynical of us might declare that a song which features a final broadcast to the remaining population on Earth, seconds before a meteor impact might be a little cheesy and contrived. Normally, I might agree. But every time I listen to it, I get goosebumps. The final words ‘over and out’ are met with a momentary silence and then in comes the compelling chorus to usher the song to its climactic finale. What makes the song so powerful when it could have been awful, is that epic chorus which sounds grandiose and beautifully melodic at the same time. For me, it is the strongest chorus on an album of strong choruses, meaning that I have yet another early contender for my ‘song of the year’ top ten.”

–MoMM–

Seven Spires

“In Sickness, In Health”

There were several potential picks from this album, an album that wasn’t even on my radar initially. I could have gone for longer, or more technical tracks, but I eventually went for ‘In Sickness, In Health’ because it’s just the most addictive, beautiful song overall, with strong melodies, emotion, and bucket loads of power.

What I wrote in my review:

“Speaking of wonderful melodies, I have to mention ‘In Sickness In Health’, more of a moody ballad with some subtle electronics lurking in the shadows and a chorus to end them all. It has a killer hook or six, a thoroughly emotional and spellbinding vocal performance from Cowan, as well as another graceful lead guitar solo.”

–MoMM–

Soen

“Fortune”

As with Evergrey earlier, it was almost inevitable that this list would feature a Soen track, such is the strength of the album. My personal favourite is this, the album’s immensely strong swansong, ‘Fortune’. I love the way the song builds throughout, and the fact that it offers one of the finest choruses on the record is the icing on the cake.

What I wrote in my review:

“Somewhat unbelievably, Soen may just leave the best to last in the form of the delectable ‘Fortune’. It begins with the air and grace of doom, as it lumbers forth, slow and purposeful, with a simple drum beat, resonating riffs and passionate vocals. But as it develops, it grows and blossoms. In come some of the most glorious melodies, accented by rich orchestration, topped off by an utterly irresistible chorus. The pace never really picks up, but it never needs to. The slower delivery allows more time for the melodies to hit home, acting as the perfect backdrop for Ford to wax lyrical with his six-string. Piano notes are introduced as Ekelöf hums the melody, before a devastating reprise of the chorus emerges, building in majesty and elegance all the while as the orchestration returns, bolder and richer than ever before.”

–MoMM–

A Dying Planet

“When The Skies Are Grey”

I’ve said it many times before that Jasun Tipton is one of my favourite guitarists. But this song demonstrates a group of musicians at the top of their game, killing a song that’s full of technical prowess as well as melody. And it’s bursting with melancholy emotion too, making it a truly compelling listen and worthy addition to this list.

What I wrote in my review:

“Out of the shadows emerges a simple, yet elegant and poignant melody led by clean guitar tones from Tipton, joined by the assured bass of Brian Hart. It’s gone in a heartbeat, as chunky, djent-like notes are overlaid by a striking lead guitar line, all underpinned by a sharp beat from drummer Marco Bica alongside a more muscular bass. The heaviness departs as quickly as it arrives to be replaced by a delicate, introspective, yet gorgeously rich atmospheric verse. Since the debut, Paul Adrian Villarreal has become the full-time vocalist and it’s wonderful to hear the ex-Sun Caged singer back in action and in such fine fettle. Resonant, emotional, and blessed with a great range, he is the perfect fit for the soundscapes that surround him. And those soundscapes, as evidenced within this stunning opening track ebb and flow wonderfully cohesively from rich, driving progressive metal, to bruising tech-djent, to atmospheric post rock.

“I wish I had someone to hold…sometimes I don’t care to see tomorrow…I’m broken…Society looks the other way, and doesn’t care to know your name…” With audible lyrics from Villarreal of this nature, that melancholy, dark vibe is unquestionable and unavoidable.”

Album Of The Year 2021 – Number 11

Welcome to Day 20 of my Album Of The Year 2021 Top 30 Countdown series. That means that this annual labour of love is now two-thirds complete already. I can’t quite believe it, but that’s the situation. I’m still really enjoying putting this together and I hope so of you are enjoying the daily updates as I get closer to the top ten albums of 2021.

If you’re new to the series, please feel free to check out all the links at the bottom of this post – you’ll be able to check out all of this year’s picks so far as well as those from previous years should you be so inclined.

But, with that out of the way, here’s the next album in my list…

Number 11

Frost*

“Day And Age”

InsideOut Music

Release Date: 14 May 2021

Score Of Much Metal: 95%

Hands down, this record has been one the biggest surprises of 2021 for me. Not in the sense that they were an unknown entity about which I knew nothing. No, ‘Day And Age’ surprised me because I wasn’t expecting to like it that much. I really didn’t warm to their previous release, the 2020 EP entitled ‘The Others’. And I was never the biggest fan of their previous material either, certainly not to the extent that the music might feature in my top 30.

However, right off the bat, my feelings towards ‘Day And Age’, the latest and greatest album from Frost* were markedly different. And what’s more, these feelings have not dimmed throughout the year either.

This is an incredibly mature, intelligent record, full of great songs that only get better; warmer, more immersive, catchier, ‘Day And Age’ sees this group of talented musicians at the very top of their game. As a fan of the heavier end of the musical spectrum, I also like the fact that some of the music on this album has real teeth. Chunky guitar sounds, strong drumming from the guest musicians that they invited along for the ride, and moments where the music veers nicely towards metal territory – these sections then seamlessly and effortlessly flow into other ideas and soundscapes, more progressive, pop-like or downright strange. And yet even these ‘strange’ elements sound compelling.

Every time I listen to ‘Day And Age’, I like it a little more. And that’s why it thoroughly deserves its lofty position in my 2021 list. Marvellous.

What I wrote at the time:

“Frost* are renowned and loved for their ability to blend progressive rock music with unashamed pop sensibilities and a bright, modern edge. So to say that the music is dark may seem to be a far fetched notion for many. However, whilst there is an audible edge to some of the music itself, it is mainly within the lyrical content that ‘Day And Age’ is at its darkest.

…each song is blessed with quality across the board; excellent songwriting craft, superb instrumentalism, and obvious hunger and passion.

...I’m almost shocked by the strength of the melodies that liberally litter ‘Day And Age’. Many will cite ‘Milliontown’ or maybe ‘Experiments In Mass Appeal’ as their favourite by Frost*, but as far as I’m concerned, ‘Day And Age’ pushes them close. Actually I’m fairly certain, despite this being early days, that this might be their very best yet…

I cannot find a single song that I dislike, even the more jagged and confrontational ‘Terrestrial’ that dials back slightly from the melodies in favour of bolder, weirder, and more challenging sounds.

What a revelation. Frost* have always been an admired entity as far as I was concerned, but never fully embraced and loved. I would strongly suggest that this has changed with the creation of ‘Day And Age’, because I do love this record. And it’s a love that has emerged in spite of the fact that, on paper, this shouldn’t be the kind of music to make me giddy and excited to such an extent. But, as I’ve said elsewhere in this review, everything is of the very highest order here: the musicianship, the song writing, the clarity of purpose, and a bucketload of memorable hooks, catchy choruses, and stunning melodies. This is pop-infused, synth-laden progressive rock of the very highest order and I’m thoroughly blown away.”

Read the full review here.

The list this year so far…

Number 12

Number 13

Number 14

Number 15

Number 16

Number 17

Number 18

Number 19

Number 20

Number 21

Number 22

Number 23

Number 24

Number 25

Number 26

Number 27

Number 28

Number 29

Number 30

‘Honourable Mentions’

Also, if you’ve missed my lists from previous years, you can check them out here:

2020

2018

2017

2016

2015

2014

2013

2012

Album Of The Year 2021 – Number 16

Welcome to Day 15 of my Album Of The Year 2021 Top 30 Countdown series. That means that I am now halfway through this year’s list. Thank you to you all for following, reading, commenting, and liking my posts in this series; were it not for the interaction that I receive, I may be tempted to give up.

Nah, I’m only joking because I’d never give up doing this. It’s too much fun to be honest, allowing me a good opportunity to listen to great music, and provide one last spotlight opportunity to bands and artists that deserve the exposure. I hope you’ll stick with me for the second half too.

If you are familiar with this series, then please forgive the usual reminder to those who are new, to check out the links at the bottom of the post to find out who made the cut, from 30 down to 17, as well as my lists from previous years too.

And now, on with the show…

Number 16

Navian

“Cosmos”

Indie Recordings

Release Date: 19 November 2021

The Score Of Much Metal: 94%

Every year, I am given a headache at the eleventh hour. I think that I have my Top 30 list all sorted and gift-wrapped, only for something to come along to change everything. This year, my headache was delivered by the instrumental trio by the name of Navian. It has meant that I have had to make a really difficult choice and so there is going to be one notable absentee from my list this year. But these guys deserve it and need the exposure more, that’s for sure.

Very few albums this year have made me really smile. But ‘Cosmos’ definitely has. The music on this record is incredibly complex, but at no point do I switch off or feel like it is a cynical attempt to show off; each composition is a song in its own right and they are so effervescent, catchy, and downright fun too.

Littered with earworms, I cannot just dip in and out of ‘Cosmos’. Once I start listening, I have to keep going until the end. Not through any reason other than it instantly hooks me in, and instantly improves my mood, however I’m feeling. It is always nice when a band deliver the album that you hoped they might. But it’s even nicer when your expectations are obliterated by something so wonderful that it makes your heart sing. No doubt, with even more time, this record may have ended up even higher on my list.

What I wrote at the time:

“I had high hopes for this album based on the EP, but I can safely say that those expectations have been greatly exceeded by ‘Cosmos’.

My quote used in the press release states that their EP demonstrates a “freshness and a bounce that is entirely infectious.” I stand by that quote, and would absolutely apply it to ‘Cosmos’ as well. In fact, the quote is probably not forceful enough to be used for this album, because it is the kind of music that radiates utter joy, happiness, and so much fun.

Technically adept and tight as anything, the three musicians make everything sound so effortless, smooth, and beautifully dynamic. Bursts of heavy riffs assault the ears one second, before a delicate atmospheric passage takes over. Then a scatty, bouncy section will lead into a gloriously uplifting melody, something to carry me away from the humdrum world around me.

Progressive, nuanced, occasionally eccentric, but always playful, inviting, and richly melodic, I have been blown away by ‘Cosmos’. Navian have effortlessly shattered any preconceptions that I or others may have had that instrumental music delivers an inferior listening experience…Navian are a breath of fresh air, air that I would happily breathe whenever the opportunity arose.”

Read the full review here.

The list this year so far…

Number 17

Number 18

Number 19

Number 20

Number 21

Number 22

Number 23

Number 24

Number 25

Number 26

Number 27

Number 28

Number 29

Number 30

‘Honourable Mentions’

Also, if you’ve missed my lists from previous years, you can check them out here:

2020

2018

2017

2016

2015

2014

2013

2012

TDW – Fountains – Album Review

Artist: TDW

Album Title: Fountains

Label: Layered Reality Productions

Date of Release:  26 November 2021

Tom De Wit is a machine, a progressive music machine. It was only January of this year when I was presented with ‘The Days The Clock Stopped’, the first album recorded by Tom under the simplified ‘TDW’ moniker. A more personal affair than ever before, ‘The Days The Clock Stopped’ was a raw, emotional affair that I really enjoyed, and still do when I can fit in a quick listen between the hundreds of promos that deluge my inbox on a weekly basis. Woe is me, hey?

A mere ten or eleven months later and here I am penning my thoughts on the follow-up, the sophomore studio album under the TDW banner, simply titled ‘Fountains’. And do you know what? He’s only gone and bettered his previous effort. You might think that with such a short period of time between releases, the quality may have suffered. In reality, the very opposite has happened. Whereas ‘The Days The Clock Stopped’ was something of a grower, ‘Fountains’ made a positive impact on me from the first spin. And it’s a positive impact that continues to exist some time later after an umpteenth blast.

One of the criticisms I levelled at ‘The Days…’ was the fact that it tried to pack in so much music within its borders that it flirted with being a little lacking in focus and identity. Plus, at over 70 minutes, it was arguably a little too long. ‘Fountains’, by contrast, is shorter, clocking in at under the hour mark. And, whilst there are a ton of different influences and genres still at play within the ten songs, it feels like ‘Fountains’ feels a little more succinct. It carries more of an identity and is more immediate and understandable as a result.

This is rather unexpected though, as ‘Fountains’ is more of a collection of individual songs, six of which were written based on the suggestions of fans, with the remainder written by Tom to tie everything together loosely. It’s a great idea, very refreshing, and it has definitely worked as far as I’m concerned.

Then there’s the production of ‘Fountains’ which is another improvement on what has gone before. With every passing release, Tom De Wit appears to become more accomplished and experienced at twiddling knobs and pulling levers, leading to this being his best-sounding release to date. In particular, I like the balance and separation between each of the component instruments, allowing each to shine at points. I also have to say that the guitars and drums both sound punchier and chunkier than before – at least, that’s the impression that I get in any case.

As before, Tom has been joined by bassist Rich Gray (Aeon Zen, Annihilator), drummer Fabio Alessandrini (Annihilator) to form the core trio. And, as before, the key protagonists are then joined by guests aplenty who offer their unique skills to make ‘Fountains’ the rich experience that is truly is. From Erik Hazebroek (Vetrar Draugurinn – guitar solo), to Vikram Shankar (Redemption, Silent Skies – synth solo), and from Michael Mills (Toehider – guitar solo) to Cathinca Porsius who provides her flute skills on ‘Hunters Eyes’, the impressive list goes on. Added to which there’s once again a choir comprised of nine or so vocalists, demonstrating just how high the esteem in which Tom is held by his fellow musicians.

Delving into the songs themselves, you couldn’t wish for a better opening track in the shape of the title track. It immediately punches you in the chops with a bruising, yet melodic opening burst of energy, full-on melodic prog grandiosity. From there, the song ebbs and flows wonderfully, encompassing everything from gentle prog rock, to extreme symphonic metal, complete with growls, blast beats and bold orchestration. But at its heart, it’s arguably one of Tom’s greatest individual compositions, almost anthemic at points.

Mind you, the rest of the record is littered with insidious earworms, furious intent, and lashings of experimentation, meaning that this is easily my favourite of all Tom De Wit’s releases. Far and away his best.

‘Inner Enemy’ experiments with some quirky electronics, but delivers a gorgeous melody at the midway, as well as rousing choral sections, and a killer extended lead guitar solo towards the end. ‘Hope Song I’ is a different animal altogether, a three-minute exercise in restraint, atmosphere, and vocal melodies that has a magnetic pull.

The energetic, intense ‘Gratitude Song’ follows, upping the pace and drama nicely. It is laced with a Middle Eastern flavour, with some of the lyrics sung in a different language. I’m English, so all other languages sound the same to me, but I’m guessing it’s either Dutch or Arabic. But it’s probably Japanese. Either way, it’s a welcome ingredient, and draws a fleeting resemblance to Orphaned Land at times.

The great songs keep on coming, with ‘Hunters Eyes’ another strong composition, featuring rich piano notes and the flute of guest Cathinca Porsius. I particularly love the piano and guitar solo section, that leads to a frenetic, but powerful and addictive crescendo of wailing guitars, flute, piano, and the howling of wolves. The extended intro to ‘Anthracite’ is utterly compelling too; the drums create the heartbeat upon which the atmosphere is built expertly, leading to one of the strongest earworms on the album. “And it’s all the same, all the same, as before” – hear it once and you’ll be singing it to yourself too. The remainder of the song features some of the heaviest riffing on the album, full of power and groove, with a return of the growls for good measure.

Ok, so I’m not the biggest fan of ‘Graveyard Boogie’, but that’s because I’m a humourless soul, but live, I’d expect it to be a big hit and lots of fun. I much prefer what follows, namely ‘Traveller’, a song that’s again bursting with ideas and energy. Electronics, chunky stop-start riffs, and a melodies to stop you in your tracks, that grow stronger with every listen, to the point where the central melody becomes incredibly addictive.

It’s left to ‘Hope Song II’ to close out ‘Fountains’ and it does so in marvellous fashion. At nearly nine minutes, it is the longest song on the album, but it doesn’t feel that way. It is grandiose, majestic, varied, with even a glorious descent into Gothic doom territory complete with plainsong that sends shivers down my spine. And the fact that it reprises the melodies from ‘Hope Song I’ is a touch of real class, that ties everything together perfectly.

I’m kicking myself because if I’d listened to ‘Fountains’ earlier, it may have sneaked into my final top 30 for the year. At the very least, it would have received a slot in the ‘honourable mentions’ post that preceded my countdown. Yes, it’s genuinely that good. No sugar-coating, no rose-tinted opinions due to my friendship with Tom – ‘Fountains’ is his very best work and, if there’s any of that much-needed justice in the world, it should catapult Tom De Wit, a.k.a. TDW into the higher echelons of the progressive metal genre. Hell, I’ve now finished my review, but I’m still listening to ‘Fountains’ because I want to. I highly recommend that you all do the same.

The Score of Much Metal: 92%

Dessiderium – Aria

Cynic – Ascension Codes

TDW – Fountains

Hypocrisy – Worship

W.E.B. – Colosseum

Navian – Cosmos

NorthTale – Eternal Flame

Obscura – A Valediction

Nightland – The Great Nothing

MØL – Diorama

Be’lakor – Coherence

Hollow – Tower

Doedsvangr – Serpents Ov Old

Athemon – Athemon

Eclipse – Wired

Swallow The Sun – Moonflowers

Dream Theater – A View From The Top Of The World

Nestor – Kids In A Ghost Town

Beast In Black – Dark Connection

Thulcandra – A Dying Wish

Omnium Gatherum – Origin

Insomnium – Argent Moon EP

Kryptan – Kryptan EP

Archspire – Bleed The Future

Awake By Design – Unfaded EP

Cradle Of Filth – Existence Is Futile

Seven Spires – Gods Of Debauchery

Sleep Token – This Place Will Become Your Tomb

Necrofier – Prophecies Of Eternal Darkness

Ex Deo – The Thirteen Years Of Nero

Carcass – Torn Arteries

Aeon Zen – Transversal

Enslaved – Caravans To The Outer Worlds

A Dying Planet – When The Skies Are Grey

Leprous – Aphelion

Night Crowned – Hädanfärd

Brainstorm – Wall Of Skulls

At The Gates – The Nightmare Of Being

Rivers Of Nihil – The Work

Fractal Universe – The Impassable Horizon

Darkthrone – Eternal Hails

Thy Catafalque – Vadak

Terra Odium – Ne Plus Ultra

Hiraes – Solitary

Eye Of Purgatory – The Lighthouse

Crowne – Kings In The North

Desaster – Churches Without Saints

Helloween – Helloween

Fear Factory – Aggression Continuum

Wooden Veins – In Finitude

Plaguestorm – Purifying Fire

Drift Into Black – Patterns Of Light

Alluvial – Sarcoma

White Moth Black Butterfly – The Cost Of Dreaming – Album Review

Silver Lake by Esa Holopainen

Bloodbound – Creatures From The Dark Realm

Nahaya – Vital Alchemy

Frost* – Day And Age

Obsolete Theory – Downfall

Vola – Witness

Acolyte – Entropy

Dordeduh – Har

Subterranean Masquerade – Mountain Fever

Seth – La Morsure Du Christ

The Circle – Metamorphosis

Nordjevel – Fenriir

Vreid – Wild North West

Temtris – Ritual Warfare

Astrakhan – A Slow Ride Towards Death

Akiavel – Vae Victis

Gojira – Fortitude

Hideous Divinity – LV-426

Benthos – II

Evile – Hell Unleashed

Ninkharsag – The Dread March Of Solemn Gods

Bodom After Midnight – Paint The Sky With Blood

Morrigu – In Turbulence

Mother Of All – Age Of The Solipsist

Throne – Pestilent Dawn

Sweet Oblivion (Geoff Tate) – Relentless

Exanimis – Marionnettiste

Dvne – Etemen Ænka

Cannibal Corpse – Violence Unimagined

Arion – Vultures Die Alone

Maestitium – Tale Of The Endless

Wode – Burn In Many Mirrors

Everdawn – Cleopatra

Unflesh – Inhumation

Mourning Dawn – Dead End Euphoria

Wheel – Resident Human

Wythersake – Antiquity

Odd Dimension – The Blue Dawn

Metalite – A Virtual World

Cryptosis – Bionic Swarm

Ghosts Of Atlantis – 3.6.2.4

Memoriam – To The End

Aversed – Impermanent

Secret Sphere – Lifeblood

Enforced – Kill Grid

Liquid Tension Experiment – LTE3

Turbulence – Frontal

Iotunn – Access All Worlds

Warrior Path – The Mad King

Stortregn – Impermanence

Mariana’s Rest – Fata Morgana

Orden Ogan – Final Days

Witherfall – Curse Of Autumn

Plague Weaver – Ascendant Blasphemy

Ephemerald – Between The Glimpses Of Hope

Paranorm – Empyrean

Einherjer – North Star

Epica – Omega

Humanity’s Last Breath – Välde

Simulacrum – Genesis

Forhist – Forhist

Evergrey – Escape Of The Phoenix

Empyrium – Über den Sternen

Moonspell – Hermitage

Infernalizer – The Ugly Truth

Temperance – Melodies Of Green And Blue EP

Malice Divine – Malice Divine

Revulsion – Revulsion

Demon King – The Final Tyranny EP

Dragony – Viribus Unitis

Soen – Imperial

Angelus Apatrida – Angelus Apatrida

Oceana – The Pattern

Therion – Leviathan

Tribulation – Where The Gloom Becomes Sound

Asphyx – Necroceros

W.E.T. – Retransmission

Labyrinth – Welcome To The Absurd Circus

TDW – The Days The Clock Stopped

Need – Norchestrion: A Song For The End

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

2020 reviews

2019 reviews
2018 reviews
2017 reviews
2016 reviews
2015 reviews

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