Welcome to the first post in a brand new series called ‘new sounds to wrap your ears around’
The idea of these posts is simple. Every week, I am inundated with requests and/or updates from bands that are either well-known, deep in the underground, or brand new. Often, these requests or updates seek to get me to feature a new song on my website. Up until now, I’ve had to say ‘thanks, but I only have time to feature albums and EPs’.
I hate saying ‘no’ to anyone in a musical context, so I have come up with something that I hope will please everyone: a regular round-up of some of the new sounds that are out there that you may have missed, or you simply weren’t even aware existed. More often than not, the music featured here will then translate into an album or EP review in due course, but it doesn’t have to. This is a new platform to shine the spotlight in any direction and on any subgenre. The only criteria is that I have to like it.
I’m happy to tweak the format dependng on suggestions or feedback, but let’s get started with this first instalment…
— MoMM —
Artist: Hyper Planet
Song Title: “To Live With Wisdom”
Album info: N/A
Hyper Planet are a progressive metal band from Tehran, Iran. I was contacted recently and asked if I would feature their new song on my website. In fact, this was the catalyst for this whole new feature, as I wanted to give the song a bit of a plug. Incorporating traditional instrumentation and lyrics that talk of the struggles of being an Iranian metal band, it immediately interested me. Plus, as you’ll hear, the song itself is a great slab of prog metal that successfully blends melody and complexity together. Check it out:
— MoMM —
Artist: Virtual Symmetry
Song Title: “Come Alive”
Album info: “Virtual Symmetry” – 16 September 2022
Label: Sensory Records
Swiss progressive metal band Virtual Symmetry may be a more widely-known band, but they are featured here for two important reasons. Firstly, they are one of the support acts for Evergrey’s European tour which kicks off on the same day as this self-titled album, their fourth, is released. And secondly, I really like the song. But then, as it’s a realy nice mix of prog metal and Euro power metal, with bucket loads of melody, it’s hardly surprising that I like it, is it?!
— MoMM —
Artist: Demon Hunter
Song: “Silence The World” (feat. Tom Englund)
Album info: “Exile” –9 September 2022
Label: Weapons FMG
Were it not for a loyal reader tipping me off about this song, I might have missed it altogether. So I had to spread the word just in case it had slipped past anyone else’s radar too. Featuring the peerless Tom Englund as a guest vocalist, it immediately piqued my interest and the ensuing moody and atmospheric composition has really grown on me over repeated listens. Unbelievably, the upcoming album, ‘Exile’, is Demon Hunter’s eleventh full-length release. And until a few days ago, I’d never heard of them. I will do all I can to bring you a review in due course. In the mantime, enjoy ‘Silence The World’:
— MoMM —
Album info: “Pagans Rising” – 30 September 2022
Label: ViciSolum Productions
This is a song that caught me by surprise, because I wasn’t expecting anything much when I checked it out recently. I’m not the biggest fan of symphonic metal at the best of times, but this is a little different because it rocks hard, it’s sufficiently heavy, and the melodies are strong. I also like the mix of clean female vocals and growls which normally are a little cliched, but given the attitude and grit within Tina Gunnarsson’s performance, it’s hard not to like the final product. This definitely has potential…
This review is a big deal for me. I fully understand the esteem and reverence with which Dream Theater are held by their enormous fanbase. As a progressive metal fan above almost all other genres and subgenres of heavy music, I wholeheartedly get the importance of the band credited by many as the one of, if not THE, creators of progressive metal. But I have seen forums and social media reactions following both positive and negative reviews of their albums. I’ve also gone on record to say that I have grown a little fatigued with the American quintet over the last few years. It has absolutely nothing to do with the saga of the drum kit, and the replacement of Mike Portnoy with Mike Mangini. If anything, it has more to do with my apathy towards the vocal performances of James LaBrie, alongside a personal feeling that the songwriting has not always lived up to the band’s lofty standards.
Regardless of all these contributing factors and concerns, I have finally decided to offer my thoughts of the fifteenth Dream Theater album, entitled ‘A View From The Top Of The World’. Here goes…I’m actually thoroughly impressed and have quite possibly rediscovered my admiration for a band that had, for me at least, fallen by the wayside over the last decade or so.
But why am I so impressed by ‘A View From The Top Of The World’? At first, I couldn’t quite articulate my reasons but, with repeated listens aplenty, I believe I’m in a better position to tackle this most important of questions. The fact is, this is the first album for a long time that feels like it contains some genuine magic. Dream Theater have always been able to impress listeners with their technical abilities, and at other times, they’ve been able to delight us with some strong melodies. They have also dabbled with heavier and softer material, not to mention the progressive metal staple that’s the concept album. But on ‘A View From The Top Of The World’, it genuinely feels like Dream Theater have, concept disc aside, managed to pull it all together into their most cohesive and engaging record for quite some time. It’s heavy, it’s melodic, it’s technical and it’s sophisticated. At least, that’s what I think when I listen to this record. And, despite the long run-time at around 70 minutes – which, to maintain my consistency is too long – I honestly don’t feel like I want to lie down in a darkened room afterwards. Instead, I actually find myself drawn towards another listen. And that hasn’t happened since 2011’s ‘A Dramatic Turn Of Events’. And even then, I was only drawn back to selected songs, not the entire disc.
Before delving into the music itself, I feel I have to mention the artwork and the production for this album. The cover artwork is stunning; it is classic prog imagery but Hugh Syme has created something beautiful, quirky, and compelling. In terms of the production, there’s little that can be said other than ‘wow’. It is a beautifully clear and authoritative sound, nicely balanced, with excellent separation between the instruments. It allows the heavy parts to punch hard, whilst giving space for the softer parts to work their charms without any loss of intensity of drama; credit therefore must go to Petrucci alongside engineer James “Jimmy T” Meslin as well as Andy Sneap who mixed and mastered the record, for making this album sound so good.
But as the saying goes, ‘you can’t polish a turd’, so it is really great to be able to report that the music is not a giant dollop of faeces. Instead, it is rather marvellous.
The flurry of urgent riffing, emphatic drumming, and bold synth work ushers in ‘The Alien’ in breathtaking fashion. No slow build-up or acclimatising intro here; it’s full-on progressive metal attack from the first second. Those that know me, will know that I’m not qualified to discuss the tempos, time signatures, or the techniques employed, instead preferring to focus on how the music sounds and makes me feel. On that score, it’s a heady beginning, demonstrating a palpable hunger and desire from each corner of the band. And yes, it is a technical affair that leaves the less musically educated standing open-mouthed in admiration. From there, the composition slows to allow a melodic lead guitar solo to provide the much-needed hook upon which Dream Theater guarantee repeat visits. When James LaBrie enters, he sounds as good as he has ever done, leading the band through the labyrinthine track with style and confidence. There’s just enough melody within the song to keep my attention, whilst there’s the ubiquitous extended instrumental sequences that allow guitarist John Petrucci, bassist John Myung, drummer Mike Mangini, and keyboardist Jordan Rudess to each have their moment in the spotlight. However, unlike previous records, I find the histrionics rather engaging, rather than distracting from my overall enjoyment.
To underline their metal credentials, ‘Answering The Call’ begins with a heavy guitar chord that’s allowed to resonate whilst surrounded by a cool drum beat and futuristic synth effects. The ensuing riff is heavy and groovy, with a proper metal crunch to it, which I really like. It isn’t long before the melody seeps in, but those downtuned, meaty riffs are never far from the surface. I really like the orchestration created by Rudess that adds a depth to the song that counterpoints the heaviness expertly, whilst there are some strong melodic strains that run throughout the song, only getting stronger with repeated listens. I’m a sucker for a good tom roll and Mangini obliges several times much to my delight, as does Petrucci with his well-crafted lead solos, a good blend of technical endeavour and proper melody.
Next up is ‘Invisible Monster’ which does begin in quiet fashion, offering a momentary respite from the frenetic opening duo of tracks. As the song develops, it becomes clear that it is one of the more instant tracks, one that features the usual Dream Theater flamboyance, but cleverly blended with a strong, melodious chorus, one that just gets more and more powerful the more you listen. At six-and-a-half-minutes, it is the shortest composition so far, but it is no less striking because of it, especially given the pronounced use of light and shade, from quiet sections, to much more ostentatious as the song demands.
By contrast, ‘Sleeping Giant’ is an all-out prog metal behemoth, that provides an eloquent summary of why Dream Theater are so well-loved within the prog metal community. The quintet uses the ten-minute plus runtime to offer listeners a little bit of everything, from insane levels of technicality to strong melodies, to frequent tempo changes and differing dynamics. There is even a moment when Rudess goes all Vaudeville on us, but it’s short-lived with a swift return to the incredibly catchy chorus before we’re seen out courtesy of a thunderous Mangini drum solo.
Depending on your viewpoint and taste, ‘Transcending Time’ will either be a highlight or a song to be forgotten. For me, it’s very much the former, and one of the most enjoyable tracks on the album. Written and performed in the major scale, it shouldn’t work, but this is Dream Theater and, on this form, of course it will work. It’s like a happy, up-beat breath of fresh air but crucially, it benefits from strong performances all round, as well as memorable melodies, accentuated by a revitalised James LaBrie behind the microphone who sounds as animated and on-form as ever. And, as a harsh critic of his in the past, I’m delighted to be able to say that, I can tell you.
‘Awaken The Master’ follows and in an effort to distance itself from the happiness of the song before, it kicks off with a seriously chunky, downtuned riff that chugs away with authority, whilst Mangini and Myung lay down an incessant rhythm upon which Rudess unleashes his full-on ‘odd’ side. And then, when you’re least expecting it, out come the rich piano notes that usher in a deceptively strong melodic section, complete with singing lead solo from Petrucci. The song literally dances from one idea to another, many apparently disparate and markedly different from each other. And yet, they all work, pulled together by a dark but epic chorus of sorts, full of drama, but arguably my favourite melody of them all on this album, especially after several concerted spins. It even seems to fit when Dream Theater explore their doom metal side one minute, then their dramatic film-score side the next; it’s just a cracking track when all is said and done.
In keeping with their modus operandi of albums of the past, Dream Theater then unleash the epic title track as the closing composition on ‘A View From The Top Of The World’. I don’t use the word ‘epic’ lightly either; this piece of music is well over twenty minutes long and it deserves just about every minute of its runtime. Again, I don’t want to get into a detailed blow-by-blow account of all of the techniques used by the musicians because you’d rumble the fact that I’m talking out of my backside within seconds. I am not qualified on that score. But what I feel I am qualified to comment on is the way in which this song takes us on that most cliched of things – a journey. The journey is up-beat, dramatic, atmospheric, epic, and everything in between. There’s a section, where the bass of Myung comes to the fore but is surrounded by some wacky ideas that verge on discordant or jarring at times, whilst there is even a blast of death/black metal drumming from Mangini that lasts for a few fleeting seconds. Then there’s the rich cello sounds that emerge from the darkness, I assume created at the hands of Rudess; they are really beautiful. That said, I’d have loved a little more by way of melody throughout if I’m being completely honest. But this small gripe is set aside in the final third of the song. First, John Petrucci unleashes a couple of solemn but stunning guitar solos, then as the end gets ever closer, the track builds towards the necessary crescendo. And when it hits in the last few minutes, it is every bit as intense and resounding as I’d hoped it might be; dark and oppressive but beautiful, hopeful, and suitably rousing. My only complaint? It doesn’t last long enough, instead descending into an almost doom-laden deconstruction of what went before.
Just when I thought that Dream Theater had ceased to become relevant for me as a true progressive metal fan, they unleash ‘A View From The Top Of The World’, the album that pulls them back from the brink, at least as far as I’m concerned. Not only does the record contain all of the technicality and instrumental dexterity that you want from this supremely talented band, but it has an energy and enthusiasm about it that has arguably been lacking in recent years. I know that every Dream Theater fan has their favourite album and I could never hope to please them all. But when I say that ‘A View From The Top Of The World’ puts forward a very cogent argument to become my new favourite, I honestly mean it. I will let the dust settle of course, and likely reassess at that point. But in the here and now, I am delighted to be able to genuinely and deservedly sing the praises of an album by one of the most important and influential bands that there has ever been within progressive music. ‘A View From The Top Of The World’ is as stunning musically as it is visually, thus creating the full package.
The stream of high-quality music coming from Australia shows no sign of abating, with the latest export being to pique my interest manifesting itself in the form of Acolyte, a quintet from Melbourne. Formed a number of years ago, the band released their debut album, ‘Shades Of Black’ in 2016 and then went on a live spree, becoming an important figure within the Australian live music scene. 2021 sees them now releasing their sophomore full-length, ‘Entropy’. If it hadn’t been for their recent hook-up with Incendia Music, I may not have come across this new record truth be told, so it’s another feather in the cap to Lulu and her team, spreading the Acolyte message far and wide, in this case, to the sleepy and rural environs of East Anglia in the UK.
There’s an awful lot to take in on ‘Entropy’ too, as ‘progressive’ just doesn’t really cut it without a lot more exploration and subsequent description. Put it this way, I’m glad that I have had the benefit of listening since March, because otherwise I’d have struggled to put something cogent together.
Firstly, ‘Entropy’ is a full-on concept album which, in vocalist Morgan-Leigh Brown’s own words:
“Entropy is a fully realised conceptual record exploring the early stages of ‘loss’. Presented like diary entries, the record ebbs and flows through an array of actions, feelings & emotions that are commonly experienced when trying to ground ones self all while carrying the early weight of trauma.”
As you can imagine, listening to ‘Entropy’ is no laugh-a-minute’ experience. It’s not a light-hearted romp that provides an instant hit of saccharine enjoyment. But it is a thoroughly engaging and immersive album that puts human emotion, atmosphere, and depth of sound at the heart of the music. It isn’t just the concept and the associated lyrics that ebb and flow, the music does too. At times, we’re treated to something very quiet and minimalist. At others, we’re knocked off our feet by an explosion of sound, be it through muscular riffs from guitarist Brandon Valentine, an Earth-rumbling bassline from Jason Grondman, a commanding drumbeat by Chris Cameron, or indeed a combination of all three. Then there’s the synths and keys of David Van Pelt that are almost ever-present in some guise or another, either as a subtle embellishment, or a bolder injection of sound and texture.
In fact, texture is an important ingredient of Acolyte full stop, as well as a very clever and masterful blend of old and new, taking modern heavy music ingredients and blending them with more ‘classic’ sounds. Press releases and commentary in the press leading up to this release recommend ‘Entropy’ to the likes of Porcupine Tree, Opeth, Rush, Voyager, and whole host of others besides. But the one band I rarely hear mentioned is Riverside, who I think occasionally loom quite large within the Acolyte sound. However, I’ll leave you all to make up your minds, as you listen. The key thing though, is that you do listen, because it’s a crime to not check this band out to some degree or another.
One of the biggest strengths to the Acolyte bow has to be the aforementioned Morgan-Leigh Brown behind the microphone. Her path to the band wasn’t what you’d call conventional, but her involvement with the National Girls Choir from the age of seven, and then her involvement with musical theatre and the theatre scene in general has paid massive dividends. Brown possesses a larger-than-life character perfect for the frontperson role in a rock band but, more importantly, has the voice to match. Happy in both a more subtle role, or belting out the lyrics with attitude and emotion, you cannot fail to be impressed by her technique, ability, and presence across ‘Entropy’.
In terms of the tracks themselves on ‘Entropy’, there are nine in total and, without wishing to sound ‘too Genesis’, they can be split into the long songs and the short songs. Four of the nine weigh in at over nine minutes, with the remaining five songs occupying the one-to-five-minute territory. I like this balance, because it allows the quintet to explore, without boring the listener to tears with 90 minutes of drawn-out material. As it is, ‘Entropy’ sits at just under an hour, but it uses all of the time to their advantage, with rarely a moment wasted.
Given the subject matter, I’d be hard-pressed to recommend anything other than listening to the album as a complete package, from start to finish. When done so, the whole thing feels ‘right’; it has a pleasing flow to it, and to coin the cliché, it does take us on a journey that makes much more sense when followed chronologically and in full. Nevertheless, I do have my stand-out moments that are worthy of comment.
After a minute long intro piece, the title track assaults the ears with style, panache, and quality oozing from every pore. As the lead single, it’s likely you’ll have heard it already, so I won’t go into great detail here. However, what I like about it are the initial synth-drenched driving riffs that give way to a pulsing, rhythm-heavy affair enhanced by subtle melodies and a mesmerising performance from Brown, full of passion whilst executing an impressive vocal range. The smattering of 70s synth sounds are very cleverly injected. But for me, it’s when the song opens up to deliver the sprawling chorus that the song goes from very good to excellent in a heartbeat. Nice leads, dextrous musicianship, extended instrumental passages and a wonderfully smooth flow only add to my overall enjoyment which gets greater with each passing listen.
‘Resentment’ is one of the shorter compositions and it’s very different to the title track. As its title suggests, there’s palpable anger and frustration layered into the song, which is underlined by a greater sense of urgency, prevalent from the opening moments when heavy guitar notes and forthright riffs are blended very deliberately with some very bold 70s-inspired synths. Another killer chorus emerges, although admittedly, it does take longer to seep under the skin than others on the album.
The bass playing really comes to the fore within clarity, as it sets a pulsing, hypnotic heartbeat for the song, another possessed by really irresistible rhythms. The song also features male and female vocals that work well together. Both are clean and softly-delivered, Brown showcasing her more ethereal, delicate style. I love the way that this song builds, not dissimilarly to the likes of Tool, only for it to actually open up at the halfway mark into a heavy, melodic wave of sound that’s entirely satisfying. Tool, take note. The fact that it then spends the remainder of its time gently deconstructing itself, only makes the whole thing more intriguing. This is a really great song.
Equally beguiling is ‘Idiosyncrasy’, the longest song on the album, weighing in at over eleven minutes. The cinematic feel of the song is hard to ignore, as they are genuinely very well done. I also really enjoy the clear Middle Eastern influence that is woven into the song, complete with authentic-sounding percussion and other instrumentation, alongside a sympathetic vocal performance from Morgan-Leigh Brown. The guitar and bass playing within this song is nothing short of brilliant either, as both provide moments of magic, be it via some excellent lead embellishments, or via yet another pulsating, insistent rumble that creates a great foundation upon which those cinematic soundscapes develop. Double-pedal drumming is a nice touch when it arrives, albeit briefly, but I cannot help but again return to the melodic, hook-laden chorus as my overall favourite part of the song. I’m a complete sucker for big melodic riffs drenched in powerful synths, so I’m bound to enjoy these bursts of beauty when confronted by them. Mind you, the progressive riff upon which the track begins to depart is worthy of mention too.
It may not seem like it but given how much there is to discover within this album, I feel like I have been about as succinct as it is possible to be. And yet there is so much more that I haven’t mentioned for fear of boring everyone to tears. Great performances litter this album, from start to finish. Great songs lurk around every corner. Strong melodic sensibilities are never far away. Passion, authenticity, and belief courses through the material, telling me that Acolyte are a band that are completely and utterly invested in the music that they have created here. I have grown more and more fond of ‘Entropy’ with each rewarding and entertaining spin, to the point where I have a hard job removing it from my stereo. Anyone who has even the most cursory interest in intelligent and progressive music needs to hear this record. ‘Entropy’ will not disappoint, I can guarantee you that. Trust me, I know my onions…I think.
Sometimes, internal conflicts within bands can be a positive thing. We normally view these events as negative, but it isn’t always the case. This is one such. Dordeduh, taken from three Romanian words meaning ‘longing for spirit’ was formed in 2009 when internal tensions within atmospheric black metal band Negură Bunget became too much. Out went Edmond “Huppogrammos” Karban and Cristian “Sol Faur” Popescu to form Dordeduh, whilst drummer Gabriel Mafa continued with Negură Bunget. Whilst Negură Bunget have now folded, the metal world still has Dordeduh to enjoy.
Despite being in existence for well over a decade, ‘Har’ represents only the second full-length release from Dordedah, the debut ‘Dar de Duh’ released nine long years ago. I missed the debut release for one reason or another, probably as I’d just become a father for the first time, so I come to ‘Har’ with minimal knowledge. However, having been a fan of Negură Bunget in the past, I came to ‘Har’ with high expectations.
Joining Huppogrammos (vocals, keyboards, guitars, mandola, tulnic) and Sol Faur (guitars, keyboards, hammered dulcimer) is Andrei Jumugă (drums, percussion, toaca), and bassist Flavius Misarăs. And it is fair to say that the fruit of their combined efforts is really very impressive indeed. ‘Har’ stretches out to just over an hour and during that time, the eight individual compositions explore a myriad of different genres, ideas, and sounds, all wrapped up in a wonderfully powerful yet clear production courtesy of Huppogrammos himself, with Jens Bogren enlisted to add his mixing and mastering prowess.
I’ve wrestled for many days on the question of how to succinctly describe the musical landscape of ‘Har’. So far, an eloquent, pithy summation eludes me. Instead, I’ll just say that ‘Har’ takes a core of black metal, but then adds Romanian-inspired folk, cinematic soundtrack music, Gothic, electronic, and progressive rock to create something even greater than the sum of its numerous parts. So much so, that the core of black metal is often well hidden or completely absent, as the quartet explore other soundscapes. ‘Har’, as you might very well expect therefore, is not an easy or straightforward listening experience. However, it is a rewarding one if it is given the time and attention that it deserves.
In many ways, it is apt that the lyrics, delivered in the Romanian tongue talk of matters spiritual and Esotericism, because ‘Har’ is an incredibly deep and immersive experience. I may not know what the exact words are, but the compositions are able to speak to the soul at points, making this an extremely profound and enriching body of music. The way I which the mood can shift from soothing and delicate, to brutal and extreme is one the many strengths of ‘Har’, as is the clever utilisation of authentic instrumentation, rather than relying solely on computer generated sounds.
There is not one composition that does not touch me in some way, be it a melody, a crushing guitar riff, a piece of orchestration, or something else entirely. And, with most compositions in excess of six minutes, some considerably longer, Dordeduh are afforded the time and space to experiment within the songs themselves. As such, each one is a multi-faceted affair that covers plenty of ground, often disparate in approach, feeling, or intensity. I shall therefore do my best to pull out the best bits and give you a little more idea of what you can expect with ‘Har’.
The album begins with the longest single composition, ‘Timpul Intilor’ and immediately, we’re offered an insight into the spiritual leanings of Dordeduh thanks to the tinging of a bell alongside deep hummed chanting sounds. It’s like being on the side of a Tibetan mountain, or what I envisage it might be like. However, in comes a throbbing bass, the sound of which is rich, resonating and pulsates beautifully. The remainder of the instruments gently build in something of a post-rock manner, before the death metal heavy guitars are unleashed and we’re transported into extreme metal territory, complete with double pedal drumming and bruising riffs. The black metal elements come forth strongly, with blastbeats and sharp, fast-picked guitar work, but the whole thing is much more than black metal. The atmospheres created by the synths are very bold, whilst the vocals deviate between low, guttural growls, to soaring clean singing, a little ethereal in their delivery. Moments of calm litter the track, allowing for quiet introspection, as well as an injection of more pronounced melody, wrapping the listener in a wonderfully warm embrace.
Next up is ‘În Vielisţea Uitării’ and it’s one of my favourites mainly due to a few shatteringly heavy guitar notes that shake the foundations of my house. Alongside the unashamedly cosmic-sounding synths, there’s a death metal-meets-electronic vibe that I adore, enhanced by the slow, ponderous melodies that sit at the heart of the song. It’s an uncompromising opening, but as it develops, the track then takes a turn for the more serene, similar to ‘Tuonela’-era Amorphis thanks to the chosen atmospheres, melodies and vocal delivery. The song is then brought to a close via an extreme metal battering, just to remind us that Dordehuh have a brutal core.
I disliked ‘Descant’ initially, as it delivers what I felt was a really annoying and ridiculously catchy melody. However, the more I listen, the more I have grown to really like it. Authentic instrumentation litters the composition, as the bass once again pulses like the beat of the Earth. The song moves between ideas, from quiet and subtle, to bursts of aggression, but continually returns to the hypnotic, catchy melody until the end when it’s drawn to a close via an elegant melody and spoken-word lyrics.
‘Calea Magilor’ is an intriguing tribal, percussion-led interlude, that reprises the sounds of the opening introduction to ‘Timpul Intilor’, whilst ‘Vraci De Nord’ is just scintillating. The opening moments are dark and full of intrigue, blending lead guitar notes and folk instrumentation with a throbbing electronic backdrop. It feels a little sinister and claustrophobic, but slowly, hints of melody emerge to lighten proceedings a touch. It turns into a brutal doom-infused death metal beast, only for some beautifully haunting lead lines to arrive, sending shivers up my spine as they do. The clean, breathy vocals are equally as compelling, but nothing prepares you for the full-on cinematic score that emerges from an already stunning composition. For over three minutes, we’re plunged into an incredibly tense, and grandiose soundtrack from an unknown film, although it wouldn’t sound out of place in a sci-fi blockbuster, especially when laced with bold electronics towards the end.
‘Desferecat’ also explores a cinematic film-score soundscape, but not before we’ve heard some of the most sinister-sounding material on the record, where a repetitive rhythm is overlaid by some depraved-sounding growls and chugging guitars. The beauty in the cinematic music that develops from the heaviness is that it sounds both foreboding and beautiful in equal measure. It comes as no surprise then, when the track ends on an extreme bludgeoning of blastbeats and sharp riffing.
The hammered dulcimer is a favourite instrument of mine and its clever use at the beginning of ‘De Neam Vergur’ just illustrates why. It sounds melodious and haunting in equal measure but here it is greatly enhanced by the ever-swelling symphonics and electronics that create another deep soundscape. The song builds inexorably through an insistent beat, and when it finally opens up, along come the goosebumps yet again. The guitars pierce through the song with angelic beauty, strong yet brittle. From all out bombast to death/black metal extremity, to subtle melancholy, this is yet another prog-infused tour-de-force of a song, covering more ground than it should have any right to do. And yet, it remains cohesive, smooth, and entirely in keeping with what’s gone before, albeit with an identity all of its own. As with all of the longer compositions on this record, the ten minutes flies by in what feels like a heartbeat, as I’m totally invested in the music. And the melodies…did I mention the melodies? That guitar lead that returns towards the death is heart breaking.
‘Har’ is brought to a close by ‘Vasnesit’, which is an Earthy and spiritual-sounding instrumental piece with strong symphonics and wonderful hummed voices, ending the record on a soothing note.
Given the nature of the music and the complexities within, I felt it only right and proper to delve into each one in turn. Without this detail, I’m not sure I could have done this album justice. I’m still not entirely sure that I have managed it to be perfectly honest. What started out as a review into an album that I thought was intriguing and original, has turned into a review of an album that I have fallen in love with. I love the variety, the crushing heaviness, the quiet introspection, the way that it makes me feel as I listen, and the gorgeous melodic aspects that are incredibly strong but not overdone. ‘Har’ is a genuinely original body of work that is an absolute delight to listen to. But more than just listen to it, you feel it too. Everyone should hear this record and everyone should know the name ‘Dordeduh’.
I somehow nearly overlooked this album when compiling my list of potential reviews for March, and that would have definitely been a mistake. With a month already bursting at the seams with new music, a relatively uninspiring front cover, and buried within the ever-increasing Frontiers roster, I needed a reminder from a reader of my blog to check this out. And by ‘this’, I mean ‘Frontal’, the second full-length release from progressive metal band Turbulence. Hailing from an unlikely part of the world, I’m pretty sure this is the first prog metal record I’ve ever heard from Lebanon. I may be wrong, but I don’t think so.
If it is the first, I have to say that they have set the bar pretty high for any compatriots to follow in the future. Turbulence have a history of performing Dream Theater tribute gigs apparently, so it will come as no surprise when I inform you that the US progressive metal institution is the biggest influence at play on ‘Frontal’, a concept album based around a true story of a construction worker, Phineas Gage, who survived having a metal rod accidently impaled through his head, albeit with a partially-destroyed frontal lobe.
However, Dream Theater is not the only influence at play because there is definitely a touch of Haken at times, which particularly comes through in the more modern flourishes, or when Turbulence go off on a bit of an odd tangent. But actually, what draws me in to Turbulence’s music most is the really nice blend of technical elements including polyrhythms, complex instrumentation, rhythms and tempos, alongside quieter, more chilled, smoother sections. Whilst I’d not go so far as to say that ‘Frontal’ is an emotional rollercoaster, I do detect an emotional depth to the music that can sometimes be lacking in this kind of progressive metal. For me, that’s a real positive.
Another positive is the nice production job. It can be tough to make an accurate comment when faced with an internet stream of a record but I have to say that the impression that’s made on me is a good one. There’s nice separation between the instruments and an overall clarity and smoothness doesn’t rob the metallic elements of power when power and crunch is required. In short, I find it a fatigue-free easy listen.
What isn’t quite so positive is the overall length of ‘Frontal’. At over 66 minutes in length, it might put a few people off. There is definitely a need for a little editing because five of the eight compositions extend well beyond eight minutes in length, with two of those running into double figures. Whilst the song writing is of a high standard and lengthy material is often a staple ingredient of prog music, I am not convinced that all of these tracks required their extended presence.
Notwithstanding the length of the album, there is much to enjoy about ‘Frontal’ as a whole and, it has to be said, within just about every individual track. Somewhat bravely, Turbulence begin the album with the longest song. ‘Inside The Gage’ spans eleven minutes but it’s an ideal opener, as it has great energy about it. The riffs are powerful and interesting, whilst the rhythms are complex and very tight. There’s plenty of light and shade too, with layers of keys adding warm atmosphere to both the heavier and lighter passages. Vocalist Omar El Hage impresses with an authoritative display and a delivery which offers a good range and lots of emotion. Melody is an important ingredient and, after a few spins, they become stronger and more memorable, particularly in the latter stages when we’re treated to a wonderfully soulful and musical lead guitar solo to compliment the mellifluous soundscape it accompanies.
‘Dreamless’ is the shortest track but it is one of the most beautiful. It has an ambient feel with gentle electronic beats and more warm melody, not to mention another impressive vocal display. By contrast, the well-named ‘Ignite’ is a more abrasive, confrontational beast with even the occasional agonised scream for good measure. But then, as is there apparent way, lovely melodies emerge to envelop the listener, the perfect counterpoint to some frenetic and technically adept progressive metal at other points.
When I referenced Haken earlier, I was primarily thinking of ‘The Place I Go To Hide’, as Turbulence decide to go a little crazy, throwing all sorts of ideas into the melting pot. There are some nice early melodies at the outset that actually remind me a little of Distorted Harmony, but as the composition develops, out comes the more extravagant side of the band, with bold synth sounds, interesting vocals layers and effects, more pronounced djent-like riffs and jazz-inspired instrumental workouts. To top it all off, the track then ends with an unexpected carnival music conclusion. I quite like it, more so the more I listen actually.
I really like ‘Faceless Man’ too, as it is really rather beautiful. Slower, more emotional and ballad-like, I love the smooth, relaxed nature of it. However, ‘Perpetuity’ has to be my current favourite track as well as being a strong statement with which to end the album. The riffs throughout are really cool, a real sense of the epic is captured, and the variety is impressive. And it’s my favourite because of its quirkiness, technical strength, and because it is blessed with arguably some of the strongest melodies on the record.
If you’re on the hunt for a progressive metal album that has one foot in the past, and the other very much in the here and now, Turbulence might just be exactly what you’re looking for. I have certainly become very fond of ‘Frontal’ and it isn’t difficult to see why. This is quality music, quality musicianship, and heart all in one very enjoyable progressive metal package.
Riding high on the crest of a wave of enthusiasm and inspiration, I am delighted to bring you this review for a new discovery. The band are called Simulacrum, meaning ‘an image or representation of someone or something’, and they are a progressive metal band hailing from Finland. I say that they are a new discovery, but there’s something niggling in the back of my mind to suggest that I may have come across them before. But whilst it remains an irritating niggle, I’ll treat this as a new discovery.
For those in the same boat as I, some background might be helpful. Simulacrum are a septet, with some unusual instruments getting exposure within their music, as the following roll call will attest. Simulacrum are comprised of Christian “Chrism” Pulkkinen (keyboards & orchestrations), Nicholas “Solomon” Pulkkinen (guitars, Bowed Harp and Bark Horn), Niklas Broman (vocals), Erik Kraemer (vocals), Tatu Turunen (drums and percussion), Petri Mäkilä (guitars), and Olli Hakala – bass, chapman stick & electric upright)
It may come as no surprise to learn that the music of Simulacrum, at least at the outset, is just as busy and overwhelming as the size of the band. This is intense music that never stops for a second, is full of different styles, and is multi-layered to the point where it’s almost impossible to decide exactly what to focus on. At least, that’s the initial feeling I got when listening to ‘Genesis’, and I’d like to think I’m a hardened listener of progressive music.
Over time, as familiarity seeps in, so does a greater understanding of exactly what’s going on with the Simulacrum sound. At it’s heart, there’s a strong thread of progressive power metal, meaning that we get some upbeat tempos, melody, and musicianship. But it isn’t as simple as leaving it there with Simulacrum though, because they also inject elements of thrash metal, djent, and modern metal into their music. And have I mentioned musicianship? Because these guys can seriously play, with plenty of flashy solos and embellishments all over the place, from just about every corner of the band. Some may well disagree with me but, for the most part, the showmanship doesn’t overshadow the compositions or come across as frivolous fluff. I’ve always enjoyed the more ostentatious side of progressive music, so long as it doesn’t veer into overly self-indulgent territory. And by-and-large, despite getting dangerously close at times, Simulacrum just about avoid this pitfall in my opinion.
Delving into the music itself, and the opening track, ‘Traumatized’ is a great way for the Finns to introduce their third full-length album. The modern aspect of their sound looms large from the outset, as a bass bomb signals the introduction of a brisk riff, laced with lashings of modern-sounding synths, before the riffs beef up further alongside some semi-gruff bruising vocals. And then, just as I’m beginning to feel incredibly confused, in storms the prog-power melody, accented by a higher-pitched vocal delivery, which then segues into a soaring, melodic chorus that’s hook laden and catchy. The ‘Amaranthe’ synth sounds continue as the band indulge in key, guitar, and bass solos, the latter being the most impressive in my opinion. We’re then pulled back willingly to the bold chorus. It’s a great song once you get to grips with it, with echoes of Symphony X, Lost In Thought, Pagan’s Mind, as well as any number of more modern djent-influenced prog acts.
In contrast, the keys at the beginning of ‘Nothing Remains’ are more 70s and 80s flavoured, whilst the brisk pace and intense delivery of the song has a lot more in common with power metal, despite a hint of thrash within the riffs if I’m not mistaken. Again, there are plenty of melodies to uncover, as the musicians do their level best to throw as much at us as possible. Solos from everywhere, embellishments and flourishes that dazzle – it’s like listening to the musical equivalent of a five-year-old at Christmas. On the one hand, it’s exhausting, but on the other, it has a definite charm.
The melodic, djent-infused intro to ‘Arrhythmic Distortions’ is a big highlight for me, especially as the song continues in an equally impressive vein, with some impossibly high vocals, a bright and breezy feel, complexity, and lots of catchy melodies that get stronger with every passing listen.
If I had anything to criticise at this point, it’d be the production, which I think just adds a little to the sense of busyness and intensity that is a hallmark of the Simulacrum approach. I’m not a tech-minded person, so it might be down to a number of things, but I do feel tired after I’ve listened to the album that’s for sure. That’s not to say that it’s a bad production though, because the music is powerful enough and clear enough to do the music justice.
Back to the compositions again, and the undeniable flagship of ‘Genesis’, has to be the epic four-part title track that clocks in at over 30 minutes. Although divided, it is clearly intended to be a single piece, as each part seamlessly segues into the next. As technical and intelligent as the previous tracks undoubtedly are, it is here that Simulacrum indulge in their theatrical, dramatic and full-on progressive side. Interesting time signatures, instrumental passages, and experimentation with other styles of music all plat their part. Take Part 1, ‘The Celestial Architect’ as an example. It offers a delicious guitar solo atop more whimsical percussion and synths, but in the lead-up, I hear death/black metal aggression, particularly in the drumming, albeit short-lived.
There’s a playfulness that’s hard to ignore and even more difficult to not fall for throughout this ambitious body of work. In many ways, the sense of exploration and quirkiness in places calls to mind early Dream Theater and more latterly, early Haken, circa ‘Aquarius’. ‘Evolution of Man’, the second part, is all-out instrumental dexterity that is handled nicely to largely avoid the ‘self-indulgent’ tag, principally because the music remains interesting and engaging, especially towards the end thanks to the more relaxed piano and bass-led section which continues into ‘The Human Equation’ to be replaced by a solo, dramatic piano throughout, as well as theatrical-sounding layered vocals. ‘End Of Entropy’ is the title of the final part, and as a composition, it feels like it’s a culmination of everything that’s gone before. Progressive, powerful, technical, interesting; it has it all including brief acoustic moments and occasional spoken-words. I would have loved another killer, final melody, or a reprise of an earlier chorus, but this is a minor comment that doesn’t ultimately detract from the strength of the overall composition.
All things being equal, I have nothing but respect for what Simulacrum have created here with ‘Genesis’. I may have a couple of minor criticisms, but that’s all they are and in spite of them, I return to listen to ‘Genesis’ frequently and gladly. When I am faced with progressive metal of this calibre, it reminds me just why I love the genre, and why I’d consider it my favourite form of metal music. Nicely done, chaps.
The discussion topic for today is this: can you really call yourself a progressive metal fan if you don’t like, or have never really listened to Fates Warning?
Clearly and obviously, the answer has to be ‘yes’, because we can’t all like the same music all of the time. However, I ask the question simply because Fates Warning are undoubtedly an institution within the world of progressive metal. For over three decades, they have helped to shape the genre that so many of us love and have loved for many years. Naturally then, it is always an exciting day when a new album is forthcoming from the US heavyweights, even if I can be brutally honest and admit to Fates Warning not being at the top of my prog metal list.
‘Long Day Good Night’ is the name given to the thirteenth album from the quintet since their inception back in 1982. Fans will naturally have their favourite albums; it would be almost impossible for this not to be the case. Nevertheless, I think we can all agree that their appeal and longevity is down to the fact that they are an incredibly talented band with a generally high quality threshold. Personally, I hold ‘Disconnected’ and ‘A Pleasant Shade Of Gray’ in high regard but equally, I felt that ‘Theories Of Flight’ (2016) was a highly impressive release too, demonstrating that they are far from dining out on past glories.
So what of ‘Long Day Good Night’ then?
As with many of their records over the years, this new opus, that is stretched over 13 tracks and an impressive 72 minutes, is a definite grower. If you’re anything like me and you need several spins before making a proper judgement, you’ll probably hear flashes of brilliance initially, but you’ll hold fire on any declaration. Indeed, if I had penned this review after a couple of spins, the score would easily have been a third lower than it is today. Like all good, sophisticated progressive music, it needs time and attention.
Stylistically, it sits across a number of their previous releases, from the atmospherics of ‘Disconnected’ (on balance, probably my favourite FW album), to the heaviness and crunch of their more recent releases. Intriguingly, it incorporates a few new ideas and styles too, just to keep things as fresh as possible. In essence, it is a culmination of everything that the band is good at and is known for, plus a little bit more besides.
It goes without saying that all of the performances here are tight, precise, and out of the top drawer. However, special mention has to go to Ray Alder. It was a sad day when he parted ways with Redemption, but hearing him in this kind of form on a Fates Warning record, it was (he says through gritted teeth and grudgingly) maybe the best decision. Alder has rarely sounded so good to my ears. The passion, the range, the power, and the emotion; they’re all here and they take the music, largely co-written with original guitarist Jim Matheos, to another level entirely.
The opening track, ‘The Destination Onward’ is a monster of a song, a kind of classic Fates track that has incredibly humble beginnings, made of sounds that appear to tentatively peek from under the cracks. The distorted guitar notes are fantastic, as are the opening vocals from Ray Alder. The song builds slowly and surely, with more and more instruments gradually entering the fray. The bass rumble is incredible, the drums full of punch and snap, all made crystal clear by a super production. Once the song gets going, it gets right under the skin, ebbing and flowing smoothly, introducing great riffs and insidious melodies that you don’t really hear until it’s too late and they’ve done their damage. The flamboyance is also there for all to hear, from eloquent lead guitar solos, to dextrous percussion and everything in between. All-in-all, it’s a great start to the record.
By contrast, ‘Shuttered World’ is a harder and faster composition, that carries an infectious groove and catchy as hell chorus, which was easily one of the few highlights that emerged from the very first listen. ‘Alone We Walk’ is Fates Warning at their heavy, stomping best boasting a more and more catchy chorus with each passing listen, not to mention more irresistible groove.
What I particularly like about this album, as I hinted at earlier in the review, is the variety that the band are able to offer on ‘Long Day Good Night’. It is in no way a one-dimensional affair, but then when has a Fates album ever been that? ‘The Way Home’ features a beautifully fragile intro, arguably the most emotional part of the entire album. Alder is pure gold here, but the music’s subtlety is what enhances the performance, just as it should be with a band of this experience and talent.
Then there’s ‘When Snow Falls’, a much more minimalist piece with a more modern tone, emphasised by a greater use of electronics, including an electronic beat in places. It also boasts a guest appearance by drummer Gavin Harrison (Porcupine Tree/The Pineapple Thief). To mix things up further, ‘Under The Sun’ opens with a rich, lush orchestral string intro, only to develop into a melodic acoustic guitar-led song, full of emotion and a certain amount of drama. The addition of the real string section, however, is the icing on the cake.
‘Begin Again’, one of my lesser favourites it must be said, injects a blues-like swagger, whilst ‘Glass Houses’ is a shorter, punchier composition, with a relatively instant, catchy chorus, much more up my street.
‘The Longest Shadow of the Day’ is, unsurprisingly, the longest track on the record at over eleven minutes, but it’s over in a flash. The intro is jazzy and playful, with bass and guitar solos jamming over the top of a pulsing beat with abandon and true freedom of expression. However, on a song of contrasts, brutal drumming and muscular riffing vies for the listener’s attention with sections where the instrumentation drops away almost completely to leave just a delicate acoustic guitar or heartfelt vocals from Alder. I adore the chunky and resonant distorted chords that all-too-briefly emerge from the more introspective passages, although the vibrant bass line that replaces it is infectious. And the final exuberant lead solo from Matheos is insane.
If I was to criticise anything on ‘Long Day Good Night’, it’d be that it’s just a little on the long side. And yet, for my money, it is the longer tracks that are the best on this album. I’d probably ditch ‘Liar’ and possibly ‘Begin Again’ to be honest; just a little pruning here and there might have been a blessing in disguise. Other than that, I can’t really fault Fates Warning here. They have taken every skill in their armoury and have blended them into a captivating album, one that underlines their importance within progressive metal circles and demonstrates that they still have the magic in abundance that made them the force to be reckoned with in the very beginning. More mature, more nuanced, but still full of hunger, desire and an abundance of skill. Let’s hope ‘The Final Song’ isn’t a prophetic statement…
Now here’s a nice little find for those of us who have a penchant for progressive metal. That find comes in the form of Perduratum, a Mexican quintet who came to life last year and who bring us their debut studio release. Entitled ‘Exile’s Anthology’, this is a four track EP that offers us an insight into the musical vision of Perduratum.
The first thing to say is that this isn’t an EP that will blow you away if you’re looking for originality. The biography is awash with information about the musicians’ influences, and there are no prizes for guessing that members of Dream Theater, Haken, Pagan’s Mind, and Distorted Harmony feature most prevalently. You see, the four tracks here are a blend of the more ‘classic’ style of progressive metal, alongside a solid dose of the more modern ‘djent’-infused prog. As such, it doesn’t contain much in terms of surprises or forays into leftfield. But, what the four songs do demonstrate is a band with some talent and, if they are able to grow and discover their own true identity, they could be a big name in the scene in years to come.
Out of the blocks first comes ‘Anachrony’ and I have to say that, for an intro it is utterly beautiful. The piano melody and building synth atmospherics around it are stunning. In a way, I actually wish the intro could have been longer and perhaps developed into a proper track. But instead, it is replaced with ‘Asumption’ that flies out of the blocks with real energy and enthusiasm. Big, chunky riffs battle with layers of synths from Edgar Butanda to create a big sound, whilst there is clear evidence of significant technical ability thanks to some of the flourishes that appear. The melodies are pleasant, and it is really nice to hear the bass rumble of Ahijado with some clarity.
As with much prog music, the vocalist is likely to make or break the music for you. Diego Cholula has a higher-pitched voice that can be a little much at the very top end. However, his ability and delivery is generally good, not letting the heavy material down.
‘Abyss’ Anatomy’ is where the real djent influences come to the fore, evidenced from the very beginning within what is a very busy affair. I think it has much to do with the production, but there’s a lot going on within the composition, so it needs a few spins to see the wood for the trees, so to speak. Occasionally, Cholula gets a little lost within the instrumentalism but nevertheless, there is some really nice melody to be heard, and the song does work, benefitting from a pronounced break from the heaviness at the mid-way mark. Some of the lead guitar work from James Ponce is incredible on this track, too, but I could have done without the break-down in the latter part of the track.
And finally, on what is a brief 20-minute affair, we’re left with ‘A Misunderstanding’. The afore-mentioned influences liberally litter the track, right from the start, and I find myself picking out moments that remind me of this band, or that. However, it would take a brave person to suggest that the track isn’t enjoyable in spite of this. It features some of the best melodies on the EP, arguably the best all-round performances, including from drummer Aruh.
Ok, so ‘Exile’s Anthology’ isn’t going to change the world, but it is early days for a band that clearly has the talent and desire to succeed at a high level within prog circles. If the band continues to work hard on their craft and can carve out a niche for themselves through a touch more originality, there’s no reason Perduratum can’t have the success that they seek. Worth checking out.
Progressive music fans, if you’re wanting to sink your teeth into a new band, then I have a recommendation for you. The band are called Quantum and they hail from that music backwater otherwise known as Sweden. I mean, can you name any decent acts from the Scandinavian country? Ok, aside from Evergrey, Katatonia, Sorcerer, Dark Tranquillity, Pain Of Salvation and a thousand other great bands that is? No, I didn’t think so.
Of course I am joking, but what isn’t a laughing matter, is ‘The Next Breath Of Air’, the debut EP from Quantum, a quartet hailing from Stockholm. Over the course of four tracks, this young band demonstrate just how talented they are and what a bright future they have in store for themselves if they continue to work hard at their craft. I need to declare that, at this point, ‘The Next Breath Of Air’ is only available digitally. I enquired of the band whether those old-school music lovers like me, who like to hold a physical copy, will get that opportunity. The answer was ‘it is under discussion’ and ‘it is something we’d like to do’, so watch this space. Nevertheless, I feel sufficiently enthused by the music to write a review regardless of this slight disappointment.
Quantum are comprised of bassist/vocalist Anton Ericsson, guitarists Oscar Lundin and Samuel Walfridsson, and drummer Marcus Lundberg, although this somewhat oversimplifies things as will become clear later.
What I really like about this release is that it strongly suggests we have an artist in our midst that is prepared to offer something just a little bit different, something original. I’ll be the first to admit that there are echoes of many bands, and various reference points littering the music. But ultimately, and crucially, the final product feels different. Throughout, there are many varied influences at play, many different approaches. One minute we’re listening to something whimsical, introspective or quiet. The next, we get bold sounds, be they a strong metallic riff or a powerful drum beat. But underpinning everything is a satisfying level of intricacy and complexity delivered with deft smoothness and a firm understanding of melody, impressive given the young age of the musicians involved.
The EP begins with ‘Slipped’ and there’s possibly no better example of the strengths of Quantum. It opens with some flamboyant bass work from Ericsson before being joined by drums and guitars, only to open up into a complex jazzy rhythm complete with heavy guitars and clever drumming. The guitars make a greater impact to my mind, because they come and go throughout the song, whilst synths become more prominent as things develop, adding yet more richness and texture to the song. Despite being technically adept, there’s a warmth to the music, aided by some disarming melodies, definite groove, and a great vocal performance from Ericsson. Even when things get decidedly chaotic towards the end with wailing guitars, there remains an accessibility that pulls me back for repeated listens.
Next up is the song that hooked me in the first place, the title track. The reasons why it resonated with me are many but it’s a combination of the blend of styles, the melodies, deep lyrics, and the sheer variety on offer within the near eight minutes. Thanks to backing vocals from Marcus Lundberg, I get an almost psychedelic 60s/70s prog vibe, despite occasions where the riffing is undeniably from the metal realm, and the ‘chorus’ is catchy as hell. But the mid-way point marks a change that’s incredibly intriguing. The pace slows and the soundscape is much more dreamlike and gentle, with the addition of a cello courtesy of Erik Elvkull, poignant slide guitar and acoustic guitars; it’s just so beautiful and in stark contrast to the heavy riffing and crashing drums that bookmark the foray into quieter territory, albeit only very briefly at the death.
‘Dissonance’ is a bruising track, complete with suitably aggressive vocals and, as the name suggests, the occasional meander or two into more dissonant territory which doesn’t sound forced or contrived. The track features guest appearances from two further guitarists, namely Tim Forslund who adds a solo, and Fredrik Reinholdsen who plays the seven-string guitar. However, again, it isn’t all blood and thunder thanks to the insertion of more synths and strings, as well as a deceptively smooth transition between aggression and introspection.
The final track is entitled ‘Blank’ and this is where the echoes of yesteryear loom large. It is a song dominated by acoustic guitars, both gently and more urgently delivered as the pace increases nicely in the mid-section. But the acoustic heart doesn’t mean that there isn’t room for some striking lead guitar work and strong bass lines, which are both present and correct throughout. If I’m honest, it’s my least favourite song on the EP but that’s only because the other tracks simply resonate with me more.
So there you have it. If you’re after some intelligent and original-sounding progressive rock that also nods to the past, I suggest you give Quantum a try. Bearing in mind the age of the musicians, the mind boggles at what they might give us when a debut full-length is unleashed. I can’t wait, but for now, I’m keen to enjoy ‘The Next Breath Of Air’ because even now, I suspect there are tons of things I have yet to discover within it.
What’s that? You’d like to be recommended something good within the progressive death metal subgenre? Well, it just so happens that I might have something for you. How serendipitous is that?
The artist in question is Sutrah and they are a Canadian outfit, hailing from Montreal. ‘Aletheia’ is a four track EP that follows on from a full-length, ‘Dunes’ released back in 2017. However, being a near-30 minute release, the band are at pains to state that it is no way to be viewed as a stop-gap release between full-length albums. Regardless of whether it is or not, ‘Alethia’ has definitely caught my attention and should catch the attention of many others too, who enjoy this kind of music.
For those unfamiliar, Sutrah have been in existence for a few years, and is a quartet comprised of guitarist/backing vocalist Claude Leduc (Chthe’ilist), bassist Alex Bao (RGRSS), vocalist Laurent Bellemare, and drummer Kévin Paradis (Benighted, Mithridatic, ex-Svart Crown). Clearly, there is a fair amount of experience within the ranks and that is very evident based on the output of this EP.
What I like about this release in particular, is that each of the four songs offers something different, with the final track being a 15-minute monster that incorporates just about a little bit of everything that seems to be good with Sutrah.
The opening song, ‘Variation I.i – Umwelt’ is absolutely incredible and I didn’t even get to the end of the track on my first exploratory listen before I was eagerly downloading the promo to devour with relish over the coming days. It is elegant, atmospheric, commanding and highly melodic, demonstrating that melody does not render progressive/technical death metal weak or fluffy. Used correctly, as is the case here, it simply makes the music more enjoyable and makes the harsh moments even more powerful and striking. The chunky riffs are irresistible and the way the song builds and then releases so majestically is stunning. There’s room for blastbeats and raw power but it is all within the confines of the captivating core melodies.
Next up is ‘Variation I.ii – Lethe’, a much more aggressive and confrontational composition that comes out of the blocks kicking and punching with abandon. The spiky, fast-paced riffs dance and flit with a certain grace, meaning that even at their most brutal and uncompromising, Sutrah create music that is memorable and enjoyable. The vocals are wonderfully extreme, reminding me a little of the deep growls dispensed by the likes of Akercocke at their most extreme. Within such a short composition, there’s also a great amount of variety to be heard, from all out attack, to brief moments of calm tranquillity.
Speaking of tranquillity, ‘Variation II.i – Dwell’ is quite the contrast to its unruly predecessor. Ambient soundscapes led by clean but effect-laden guitar notes provide an oasis of calm that’s rather unexpected but entirely welcome. Yet more melody caresses the ears, as we near the final act.
‘Variation II.i – Dwell’ segues smoothly into ‘Variation II.ii – Genèse’ and the song rises carefully and deliberately, like an awakening monster from a period of slumber. And when it awakes, it is a hungry, savage beast. The bass rumbles and dances with impressive dexterity, the drumming is both powerful and deft, the guitars deliver riff after complex riff, and the vocals are as brutal as ever. And yet, for all this, there is a lovely sense of drama and atmosphere to the lengthy track, including moments when pronounced melodies surface through the intensity to prove that maybe the beast has a softer side after all. It never ceases to amaze me how fast this song flies by either; I can listen to it back to back and not get bored. It’s an impressive feat, but not one that is entirely unexpected, given the numerous qualities that Sutrah clearly possess.
It may only be four songs long, but the impact that ‘Aletheia’ makes is enormous. It pummels and it slays but at the same time, it resonates and soothes thanks to some inspired melodic intent. I will be checking out the debut release for sure and cannot wait for the next full-length album from these guys. If they’re not huge by then, the world is officially broken.