Tag Archives: prog

Ancient Ascendant – Raise The Torch – Album Review

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Artist: Ancient Ascendant

Album Title: Raise The Torch

Label: Spinefarm Records / Candlelight Records

Date Of Release: 21 April 2017

When the legendary Dan Swanö is quoted as saying that Ancient Ascendant are ‘one of the best brutal bands to come out of Britain, well, ever’, I don’t really have any choice but to investigate further. Who am I to ignore a ringing endorsement like this from such an important name within extreme metal circles?

To be perfectly honest, I’m not sure that I’ve have given this album a go if it hadn’t been for Swanö’s interjection, so I have yet another reason to be indebted musically to the legendary Swede.

‘Raise The Torch’ is the third album from the UK extreme metallers and the first to cross my path. And the first thing that strikes me is just how different this sounds. It is no exaggeration to describe the output of Ancient Ascendant as a blend of death metal, black metal, classic metal, hard rock, thrash metal and prog. There’s even a faint echo of a few other things in the melting pot too. The way I’m describing this, you must be thinking ‘oh, that sounds like it could be messy’.

And you’re right, the result could sound messy, disjointed and lacking cohesion. And yet it doesn’t. This is a rip-roaring album that works pretty much from start to finish, where the enjoyment levels are cranked up to the max, accentuated by a strong production courtesy of Ritual Sound and Swanö himself (Unisound).  I’ve become pretty hooked on this record if I’m honest.

The black and death metal genres, by their very nature are usually associated with the darker side of life but whilst these elements play a big part in the Ancient Ascendant sound, the music here frequently comes across as being quite upbeat and infectious. Yes, there are sections that are extreme and intense and in no way can ‘Raise The Torch’ be considered ‘happy’. However, the venom is tempered all the while by huge grooves, large slabs of melody, interesting song structures or simply an almost intangible vibrancy that permeates the album.

The juxtaposition of various, competing ideas in turn then creates something of a progressive vibe. Whether this was by accident or design, it matters not because to my mind, the end result is all that matters. Each of the nine compositions has a strong identity at its core but within that, Ancient Ascendant afford themselves the space to experiment. And this experimentation, although not overdone, makes the listening experience exciting and rather exhilarating. I’m struggling to think of another band currently on the scene who has anything significant in common with Ancient Ascendant, something that can only be positive.

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Credit: Haste Malaise Photography

On to the music itself in more detail and ‘Raising The Torch’ kicks things off with an atmospheric instrumental that is elegant and refined. It has a sinister edge that’s pure black metal intro fodder but it is also quite beautiful and cinematic in scope.

After one minute and 31 seconds, ‘Our Way’ enters the fray to kick things off properly. It starts with a frosty guitar line, very old school black/death in tone before exploding thanks to some frenetic drumming from Dave Moulding and faster-paced riffing from guitarists Alex Butler and Nariman Poushin. At this point, vocalist Alex Butler delivers a deep, guttural death growl which shakes the earth. The pace slackens slightly to be replaced by a groovy and melodic riff that has burrowed right under my skin. The fact that it is overlaid by a much higher-pitched, raspy and thoroughly caustic black metal scream, only enhances its overall impact. There’s a nice moment of respite where the bass of Alan Webb comes through nicely in the mix before the track gallops to a close via some expressive and exuberant lead guitar work. Dare I begin to call this ‘nasty, feel good music’?

‘Scaling The Gods’ comes out of the traps like a scolded rat, full of energy and intent. Again, whilst it has extreme metal tendencies, there’s a playful edge to much of it, particularly when the guitars go all classic hard rock on us in the mid-section, complete with hand-clapping if my ears aren’t deceiving me.

The doom metal references loom large within ‘Unearth’ as the pace is slowed slightly, fed by twisted, vaguely discordant riffs before being replaced by a truckload of groove interspersed with moments of black metal malevolence or extreme death metal brutality.

For me, ‘Foreign Skies’ is the absolute high point within this excellent record. It begins in very chilled fashion, delivering delicate atmospheric melodies with gorgeous clean guitars and some stunning bass work. The heaviness comes in out of nowhere like a slap in the face. The guitars chug with menace one minute and then inject black metal voracity the next whilst the vocals are venomous either in black or death mode. However, the music retains its melodic edge wonderfully, occasionally reverting to the quieter intro melody to create variety and keep the listener fully engaged. The groove-laden chug at the mid-point is marvellous as is the ensuing riff which is equally groovy but more expansive and brimming with cheekiness. This is the kind of music that’ll have you grinning like a loon, trust me.

‘Grasping The Torch’ is thoroughly infectious thanks to yet more solid and commanding riffing. Out of nowhere the heaviness departs to be replaced by an all-too-brief jazz-tinged progressive interlude that calls to mind the likes of Opeth. However, just as quickly, this is eclipsed by one of the most thunderous sections anywhere on the record as the song powers to a conclusion. Naturally, as is the Ancient Ascendant way, the conclusion is reached via a few ubiquitous twists and turns fuelled by a large helping of daring do in the process.

If ‘The Great Curve’ doesn’t get you banging your head from the outset then the conclusion must be that you’re deaf, whilst it is left to ‘To The Cold’ to see ‘Raise The Torch’ to its conclusion, which it does with the kind of panache and uniqueness that is a hallmark of this album. Frequent shifts in tempo and a demonstrable classic heavy metal vibe supplement the more extreme elements. And the outro delivers a wonderfully dramatic and epic-sounding conclusion, just as it should.

To conclude, ‘Raise The Torch’ is a fabulous record. The music is hugely engaging and memorable but what I like most about it is that these guys clearly enjoyed making this music, they are assured and accomplished in what they are doing and it shows. Nothing is off limits for Ancient Ascendant and ‘Raising The Torch’ is all the stronger for it. What a record!

The Score Of Much Metal: 9

In the absence of a new track to bring you, check out ‘Driven By The Dark’, from the EP ‘Into The Dark’:

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

2015 reviews
2016 reviews

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

Damnations Day – A World Awakens – Album Review

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Artist: Damnations Day

Album Title: A World Awakens

Label: Sensory Records

Release date: 24 March 2017

I have gone on record before about the strength of the heavy music scene in Australia; there is literally no let-up in the number of bands that are coming through. It’s like a torrent. But more than that, these bands almost all display an incredibly high standard, whatever their chosen subgenre. And now you can add the name Damnations Day to the list because, as ‘A World Awakens’ demonstrates, they more than threaten to muscle their way into the competitive antipodean melodic prog metal scene.

In fact, come to think of it, the title of this record is very apt. Prior to the arrival of this sophomore release, I had never even heard of Damnations Day. I suspect I am not alone. But now, the world must surely awaken to the merits of this talented band from Geelong, Victoria.

Damnations Day, who released their debut ‘Invisible, The Dead’ back in 2013, is comprised of vocalist and guitarist Mark Kennedy, his brother Dean Kennedy on drums and Jon King on guitar. Those already familiar with this kind of music will almost certainly recognise the name Teramaze and it might therefore be of interest to know that Dean Kennedy is also their tub-thumper. The Teramaze links don’t stop there either, as Dean Wells was drafted in as session bassist and knob-twiddler extraordinaire.

On that note, it has to be said that ‘A World Awakens’ sounds very good indeed. The production affords the music the power required for a metal band, providing plenty of grunt and muscularity. However, there is clarity too and so the melodic sensibilities, the technicality and the vocals are given the best opportunity to shine.

Speaking of vocals, there’s really no other place to start because boy, this guy can sing. Low range, upper range, soft, powerful, emotive; there’s no place he can’t seemingly go and nothing is off limits. And you can hear that he is giving it everything. There’s an enthusiasm and a vibrancy that comes through, even when Kennedy is leading the music down a darker or more aggressive path. What this means is that Damnations Day are able to compete in a genre that already boasts some amazing singers, when they might have otherwise struggled.

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It’s just as well because the music that sits alongside the vocals is genuinely out of the top drawer. When Damnations Day hit full pelt, the riffs are big and bold, the drumming is aggressive and the tone is brooding and intense. Opener ‘The Witness’ is the perfect example, coming out of the blocks with fists flying. The guitar tone that delivers the bruising riffs catches my ear immediately, as does the surprisingly sophisticated rhythm section. The bass rumbles but with understated finesse and the drums deliver both intricacy and an all-out double-pedal assault.

But within the same song, there are some great melodies to be heard, a catchy chorus and brief moments when the foot is taken off the pedal to allow something more subtle and nuanced to come through.

‘Dissecting The Soul’ reminds me of a cross between Circus Maximus and Tomorrow’s Eve. It is a moody composition that has a slightly greater progressive edge whilst the sophisticated chorus is sprawling, dreamy and utterly irresistible, topped off by some dextrous lead guitar work. And I love the dramatic and dark outro too.

The high quality continues as the album develops. For example, ‘Colours of Darkness’ plays around with light and shade to great effect, underlining the bands’ progressive leanings in the process. And then there’s ‘I Pray’ which is an ambitious composition that pulls together a number of different elements into a cohesive and compelling listening experience.

Then there’s my favourite track of them all, ‘A World Awakens’. It was the track that I heard first and immediately pulled me under its spell. It begins with a slow, atmospheric intro before opening up into a galloping verse aided by a commanding vocal performance. It takes a while to materialise but after a suspense-filled build-up, the chorus is absolutely enormous, begging to be sung along to with gusto. Everything about it is just about perfect, culminating in a hair-raising scream from Kennedy that segues into a quieter, more introspective passage before skipping towards its conclusion.

Like most good melodic-leaning metal bands, Damnations Day are not averse to a ballad either, giving us two on ‘A World Awakens’. The first, ‘Into Black’, is dominated by an acoustic guitar and sumptuous vocals initially but introduces well-placed orchestration to provide an elegant and grandiose conclusion. The second, ‘Diagnose’ is also the closing track, bringing the album to an end in style. Again, acoustic guitars figure in the opening stages alongside some deeper and more sombre vocals but are eventually placed by a wonderfully strong and emotive guitar riff that compliments and indeed enhances the melodic intent of the composition. However, the real strength of this last song is its relative simplicity, which allows the atmosphere and the tangible emotions to take centre stage.

To be honest, I can find very little to criticise about Damnations Day and their sophomore album ‘A World Awakens’. It has certainly caught my attention for all the right reasons and deserves to be heard by anyone who enjoys properly powerful melodic metal with a progressive edge.

Powerpoints: 8.75

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

2015 reviews
2016 reviews

Memoriam – For The Fallen
Pallbearer – Heartless
Sleepmakeswaves – Made of Breath Only
Ghost Ship Octavius – Ghost Ship Octavius
Vangough – Warpaint
Telepathy – Tempest
Obituary – Obituary
Fen – Winter
Havok – Conformicide
Wolfheart – Tyhjyys
Svart Crown – Abreaction
Nova Collective – The Further Side
Immolation – Atonement
The Mute Gods – Tardigrades Will Inherit The Earth
Ex Deo – The Immortal Wars
Pyogenesis – A Kingdom To Disappear
My Soliloquy – Engines of Gravity
Nailed To Obscurity – King Delusion
Helion Prime – Helion Prime
Battle Beast – Bringer Of Pain
Persefone – Aathma
Soen – Lykaia
Exquirla – Para Quienes Aun Viven
Odd Logic – Effigy
Mors Principium Est – Embers Of A Dying World
Firewind – Immortals
Slyde – Back Again EP
Sepultura – Machine Messiah
Deserted Fear – Dead Shores Rising
Kreator – Gods Of Violence
Borealis – World of Silence MMXVII
Pain of Salvation – In The Passing Light of Day

Havok – Conformicide – Album Review

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Artist: Havok

Album Title: Conformicide

Label: Century Media Records

Date Of Release: 10 March 2017

For someone who is continually going on record to say that he doesn’t, as a rule, prefer thrash metal, I seem to have been enjoying quite a lot of albums in this genre recently. First there was the new Testament disc that found itself in my top 30 for 2016. Then, more recently, there has been the new Kreator album that has made quite an impression on me. And now, here I am, about to wax lyrical about another thrash metal album. Maybe I like thrash metal more than I thought? Maybe I ought to re-evaluate my musical tastes?

The album at the centre of my current affections is ‘Conformicide’ from Havok, the fourth album from the Denver-based thrashers. I’ve never listened to Havok before, so what, I hear you ask, made me check out a band from a genre I’m not overly keen on that I’d never investigated before?

Well, it wasn’t the hyperbole-fuelled press release that brazenly refers to ‘Conformicide’ as Havok’s own ‘Master of Puppets’ or ‘Rust In Peace’ that’s for sure. I take these comments with a pinch of salt, quite frankly. No, it was the fact that this was a band that was consistently mentioned by friends, acquaintances and valued review sites when discussing their most anticipated albums of 2017. With such a swell of interest, I figured I must have missed out on something and so took the decision to check it out when it found its way into my inbox.

I was right. With ‘Conformicide’, Havok have delivered a really superb, muscular-sounding slab of properly caustic, savage and aggressive heavy metal that is delivered alongside a cutting and sobering commentary on the state of the world today. The riffs from David Sanchez and Reece Scruggs are multi-layered, razor-sharp and often complex as are the whirlwind lead breaks and solos. The rhythm section comprised of drummer Pete Webber and bassist Nick Schendzielos are powerful in the extreme, almost telepathic at times but more than that, they are truly inventive and don’t just make up the numbers. Then there are the vocals of Sanchez, which are some of the most vitriolic, snarling and venomous I’ve heard on a thrash album. They might not be to everyone’s taste, but they fit this music perfectly.

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What I particularly like though, is when a band makes me raise an eyebrow or offer something different to what I was expecting. We get this immediately on ‘Conformicide’ thanks to the opening track ‘F.P.C’ which begins with a melodic acoustic guitar intro before a heavy, moody riff enters. It is short-lived though as the track becomes dominated by some funky, groovy slap-bass that hints at a progressive slant to the song writing that I simply wasn’t ready for. It is nevertheless rather great. I also really enjoy the drumming thanks to some really inventive fills and the mix of tempos gives the track an added dimension as it moves effortlessly from slow groove to all-out speed, topped by wailing and gnashing lead guitar breaks.

The slap bass returns to introduce what has to be one of the best tracks on the record, in the shape of ‘Hang ‘Em High’. The frantic riffs and urgent rhythm section are then topped off by some of the most confrontational and angry lyrics anywhere on ‘Conformicide’. ‘The enemy is not coming from overseas…the United Snakes of America’ gives you a truncated but illuminating example of the lyrical content that is positively spat out and later screamed venomously by vocalist Sanchez. And yet, for all this, the occasional flash of groove or subtle melody keeps the song interesting and accessible.

‘Dogmaniacal’ contains strong echoes of ‘Countdown To Extinction’-era Megadeth but ultimately marches to its own savage tune. Taking more than just a casual swipe at religion, it fizzes by in a blaze of violent aggression whilst somewhat contradictorily it displays some of the strongest melodic intent along the way. The fact that the content mirrors much of my own dislike of religion in general means that this is a song that makes its mark on me powerfully on all levels.

The news reader introduction to ‘Intention To Deceive’ is absolutely brilliant. ‘…and in the news today’, he says in that polished American manner, ‘we cover trivial stories to distract you from what’s really going on in the world. It’s five o’clock and here’s what we want you to think’. It is comedic on a superficial level but has the ring of dark truth about it. What then ensues is a strong and incisive groove-laden thrash workout preoccupied by the media’s stance on misinformation, lies and false news.

Elsewhere, the progressive nods return within ‘Ingsoc’, as it builds on a strange but compelling introduction and features some of the most frenetic drumming on the album, alongside some of the more ponderously-paced material in an oddly juxtaposing but utterly addictive manner. As a fan of prog, I can lap this sort of thing up all day long.

‘Peace Is In Pieces’ is another quirky track that has a shouty, hardcore/punk feel on top of a cheeky opening that catches the attention whilst ‘Claiming Certainty’ is a more standard breakneck and short-lived all-out thrash attack.

And then there’s another favourite in the form of ‘Wake Up’. It is once again a fast-paced and frenetic affair with really cool lead guitar embellishments but what I like most is the more overtly melodic intent of the song. It feels warm and rich as a result and grabs my attention from the very beginning, only getting stronger and more forceful with repeated listens.

Whether or not ‘Conformicide’ becomes an album muttered in the same breath as the likes of ‘Master of Puppets’ or ‘Rust In Peace’ remains to be seen and it will take many years before such a judgement can be made with any genuine justification. However, it is fair to say that from my point of view, this is one of the best ‘true’ thrash metal albums that I have heard in a very long time, certainly from a band within what is referred to as the ‘new wave of thrash’ movement. In true thrash style, it is angry, it is spiteful and it sticks two metaphorical fingers up at the establishment. But more than that, the rhetoric is backed up by some killer heavy music. It makes me bang my head and, more importantly, has forced me to re-evaluate my opinion of thrash metal in general. And I wasn’t expecting that when I first pressed play, I can tell you.

The Score Of Much Metal: 9.25

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

2015 reviews
2016 reviews

Wolfheart – Tyhjyys
Svart Crown – Abreaction
Nova Collective – The Further Side
Immolation – Atonement
The Mute Gods – Tardigrades Will Inherit The Earth
Ex Deo – The Immortal Wars
Pyogenesis – A Kingdom To Disappear
My Soliloquy – Engines of Gravity
Nailed To Obscurity – King Delusion
Helion Prime – Helion Prime
Battle Beast – Bringer Of Pain
Persefone – Aathma
Soen – Lykaia
Exquirla – Para Quienes Aun Viven
Odd Logic – Effigy
Mors Principium Est – Embers Of A Dying World
Firewind – Immortals
Slyde – Back Again EP
Sepultura – Machine Messiah
Deserted Fear – Dead Shores Rising
Kreator – Gods Of Violence
Borealis – World of Silence MMXVII
Pain of Salvation – In The Passing Light of Day

Nova Collective – The Further Side – Album Review

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Artist: Nova Collective

Album Title: The Further Side

Label: Metal Blade Records

Date Of Release: 10 March 2017

The progressive rock and metal genres are awash with projects that operate outside the boundaries and the constraints of the musicians’ day jobs. And it’s a double-edged sword to be honest. If you’re a glass half full kind of person, you’d be saying that we can hardly moan about new music from what is more often than not a group of highly talented and creative artists. However, if you’re a glass half empty person, your argument will inevitably be that, as a project, we are less likely to see follow-up albums and even less likely to see the music in the live arena. Of course that’s not always the case, but these concerns remain valid.

Me though, I’m a glass half full person. And so any new music that features musicians that I greatly respect is a reason to get excited and celebrate. In this instance, it is difficult to think of a more mouth-watering collaboration than that which goes by the name of Nova Collective. Allow me to explain.

For some time now, there has been a mutual respect and appreciation between UK progressive rising stars Haken and the US prog juggernaut that is Between The Buried And Me. In 2015, the two bands shared a stage for a trek across Europe but the links apparently go even deeper.

The embryonic beginnings of Nova Collective can be traced back to email conversations in 2014 between Haken guitarist Richard Henshall and Between The Buried And Me bassist Dan Briggs. The internet chats soon turned into the sharing of musical ideas and before long, something approaching full songs were being created. At this point, a couple more musicians were recruited including original Haken keyboardist Pete Jones and drummer Matt Lynch who Dan had worked with in Trioscapes.

Now, I love my progressive music but I’ve made no secret in the past about my general apathy towards instrumental prog/fusion. Too much of it strikes me as being an exercise in showing off, of demonstrating technical prowess at the expense of anything approaching a listenable and enjoyable composition. I’m also not the biggest fan of jazz, another element weaved into the Nova Collective tapestry. So despite the clientele involved, I remained unsure whether I’d actually like the music that was offered.

I’m actually laughing at myself as I write this because how could I have ever doubted these particular musicians? ‘The Further Side’ is unequivocally the exception to my self-imposed rule.

I like this album. I really like this album. Naturally as you might expect from a quartet who fuse prog with jazz, classical and other world music, the complexity is very high across the board as is the technical prowess and the individual dexterity of each member, demonstrating beyond doubt that they are in complete control of every note.

However, as long term readers will know, I’m not one to go into detail about the technicalities on offer because I can’t. I simply don’t know enough about what is going on to be able to adequately comment upon it. Instead, what I try to do is focus on what I can communicate more clearly and that’s what the album sounds like, what I like about it and the effect that the music has on me.

On that score, let me begin with one of the biggest factors at play here and that’s the warmth and the richness of the material. I don’t feel, as is so often the case with this kind of music, like I am being preached at or on the end of some superior, condescending musical speech. I feel included and I connect with the music on many levels.

For something so intricate, each of the compositions feels like a cohesive and well-rounded piece of music that is welcoming and inviting. The tones and effects that the band use are myriad but are clear, precise and the overall production has done wonders to draw out the very best of each of the four musicians and their respective performances. It is clear and vibrant but with an organic feel to it, meaning that Nova Collective don’t fall into the trap of sounding sterile or over-produced.

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Photo credit: Scottie Bottenus

Then there are the occasionally subtle or more overt references to the music of the musicians’ day jobs. Overall, Nova Collective sound commendably unique and bristle with originality. However, here and there, the keen-eared amongst you will be able to pick out references to either Between The Buried And Me through Dan’s bass work or flashes of Haken via Richard’s guitar playing. I rather like this if I’m honest. I like the challenge that the music presents but I also welcome a touch of the familiar, especially when those familiar sounds and techniques are so good in the first place.

As if to immediately stomp their authority, Nova Collective begin ‘The Further Side’ with one of the most complex and riotous tracks of the six that comprise the debut. It starts off with a cheeky and intriguing melody created by a keyboard and guitar duet. Before long, the drums enter the fray alongside the bass and we’re off. What ensues is a near ten-minute voyage into largely unknown and unexplored territory that incorporates all of the aforementioned influences and ingredients to the full.

The drumming from Matt Lynch is incredible, flitting from subtle deftness to driving power as the composition dictates, embellishing everything with intelligent and dextrous fills that are beyond my comprehension. Pete Jones’ keyboards are all over this track too, utilising what comes across to me as a plethora of different tones and effects, either creating gentle atmosphere-inducing soundscapes or up front and centre in a more lead capacity. Riffs that border on more modern djent territory are suddenly usurped by more urgent lead licks or simply disappear cleverly to phoenix into something entirely different. Tempos change, the mood changes, the intensity shifts and I’m left dazed, confused but thoroughly entertained thanks to the deft song writing abilities and the use of enough melody to retain my eager interest.

The remaining five tracks do, to a greater or lesser extent, share many of these wonderful facets and as you’d expect by now, the quartet deploy them with skill and intelligence.

I personally think that the beautifully deep, resonate and pulsating bass work of Briggs is one of the stand-out features of ‘Cascades’. I even like the use of keyboard effects that I might normally dismiss callously as ‘hideous jazzy lounge musak’, but in the context of the song, it actually works rather delightfully.

Featuring a sumptuous and breezy melody that in entirely in keeping with the title of the track, ‘Air’ has become my current favourite on ‘The Further Side’. The melody is made so wonderful because it involves every member of the band. It enters after a quiet opening and then later in the piece. And on both occasions, it sets my hairs on end and it makes me smile. In between, I also enjoy the oriental-sounding melodies that are introduced, the sense of drama that builds and with it, the forceful drumming from Lynch and more commanding bass work from Briggs.

To these ears, ‘State of Flux’ introduces a few nods to the neo-prog movement thanks to more huge swathes of keyboards and more pronounced and indulgent guitar solos from Richard. Things get a little science-fiction and weird in the middle but again it is handled sensibly and adds to the song rather than undermine it. I have to say it is another of my personal favourites as it all comes together so well and it flies by despite pushing the ten minute barrier once again.

‘Ripped Apart and Reassembled’ is the shortest composition on the record but at a shade under six minutes, it still has plenty of time to weave some magic. It contains some of the most dramatic and heavy segments on the record with Briggs’ bass sounding extremely aggressive at times. But the more subtle and experimental ingredients are never far away, weaving themselves into the tapestry with apparent ease.

It is then left for the title track to conclude proceedings. It kicks off in a very familiar way if you’re either a Haken or Between The Buried And Me fan but before long, the song meanders off those more well-travelled paths to explore other climes. There’s an air of mystery created as the composition matures and I love the way that it falls off the metaphorical cliff to be saved by a really excellent jazz piano interlude from Pete Jones, to then whisk this impressive finale in another direction entirely. A sense of the theatrical is soon built on and overlaid with a heavier, more menacing veneer before returning full circle to reintroduce more of the jazz-influenced piano. Jones then turns all classical on us, providing the foundation upon which the four can see out the album with one last grandiose flourish.

I’ve said until I’m blue in the face but the abilities of these artists involved are completely staggering. And not just in terms of their performances; in terms of the song writing as well. For the first time in ages, possibly forever, I am listening to an instrumental progressive jazz fusion album and I am not bored to the very core of my soul. Instead, I want to press play and listen to it all over again. Maybe I am maturing and with that, so are my musical tastes? Quite possibly. However, I think it has more to do with the fact that Nova Collective have actually written music that is intelligent and challenging but that is also vibrant, melodic and engaging. Bravo, Nova Collective, bravo.

The Score Of Much Metal: 9.25

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

2015 reviews
2016 reviews

Immolation – Atonement
The Mute Gods – Tardigrades Will Inherit The Earth
Ex Deo – The Immortal Wars
Pyogenesis – A Kingdom To Disappear
My Soliloquy – Engines of Gravity
Nailed To Obscurity – King Delusion
Helion Prime – Helion Prime
Battle Beast – Bringer Of Pain
Persefone – Aathma
Soen – Lykaia
Exquirla – Para Quienes Aun Viven
Odd Logic – Effigy
Mors Principium Est – Embers Of A Dying World
Firewind – Immortals
Slyde – Back Again EP
Sepultura – Machine Messiah
Deserted Fear – Dead Shores Rising
Kreator – Gods Of Violence
Borealis – World of Silence MMXVII
Pain of Salvation – In The Passing Light of Day

Soen – Lykaia – Album Review

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Artist: Soen

Album Title: Lykaia

Label: UDR Music

Release Date: 3 February 2017

I’m a relatively late convert to the Soen cause having only discovered the Swedish band via their previous, sophomore release, ‘Tellurian’, although it is an album for which I have a lot of time. However, I can safely say that ‘Lykaia’ is another step up in almost every regard and as such, this is an album that any self-respecting prog fan needs to hear. In fact, given many of the other ingredients within the Soen sound, you don’t even need to be a fervent fan of progressive music to fully appreciate this record. I could end the review there, but I won’t as there is a lot more to say.

The truly great thing about Soen, particularly on ‘Lykaia’ is that they don’t sound like anyone else. There are definite nods towards the likes of Opeth and Tool, but ultimately, Soen have cultivated their own sound. Given that I’m not a fan of either Tool or Opeth, that bodes well for me when listening to this.

I also hear inflections of Katatonia although this similarity is born out more from the overall tones on ‘Lykaia’ than the music itself if that makes sense. With Soen here and with Katatonia, I get that same sense of frustration, despair and darkness of the human psyche as well as an overall sense of a claustrophobic urban dystopia where negativity is rife and constantly threatens to stifle anything more positive and hopeful, albeit not always successfully.

The subject matter explored on ‘Lykaia’ is difficult to fully decode but I think that this is part of the charm of Soen’s music. There are definite religious connotations and themes about the journey of mankind but the lyrics force you to think and also to use your imagination, which I like. And they’re definitely not light-hearted or facile, something else I welcome with open arms.

What strikes me when I listen is the assured nature of the band and their output. It doesn’t sound forced or contrived; instead, I get the sense that what has been created has come about because of a clarity of purpose as well as a strong focus and belief, not to mention the accomplished performances from within the Soen collective. My conjecture is that something this creative and effortlessly stunning could not have materialised otherwise. Everything sounds just right, whether it is an intense or groovy rhythm, a carefully-crafted melody, a powerful riff or a majestic vocal. In fact, the word ‘majestic’ fits the entirety of ‘Lykaia’ perfectly.

All of this is even more impressive given the fact that the band boast two new members for this recording. Avatarium guitarist Marcus Jidell has joined the fold alongside keyboardist/guitarist Lars Åhlund. They both slot into Soen apparently seamlessly and effortlessly alongside existing members Martin Lopez (drums), Joel Ekelöf (vocals) and Stefan Stenberg (bass). The music output certainly has its differences to ‘Tellurian’ and to ‘Cognitive’ before it, but it feels like the result of an increasing maturity rather than a premeditated change of direction brought about by the line-up alterations. Confidence breeds quality and this is a perfect example.

Another really wonderful aspect of ‘Lykaia’ is the way in which it has been recorded. The accompanying press release talks of a deliberate shunning of more modern, synthetic and digital methods in favour of something more authentic. And be left in no doubt that this is evident. Whether it be heavier and more abrasive in tone or softer and more introspective, the music has a gorgeous organic feel to it. The instruments therefore sound more honest and vibrant, warts and all. That’s not to say that there are many warts to be heard, it just means that the performances have been captured as they were played without too much studio enhancement or tweaking. Credit for much of this must go to Marcus Jidell who handled the production of ‘Lykaia’ and who has done a most excellent job. I would venture to suggest that those who choose the vinyl option are in for a treat.

‘Lykaia’ is one of those albums that is best enjoyed as a whole, as the smooth transitions from song to song mean that the record has the feel of one distinct body of work. And, at around 50 minutes in length spread across eight tracks, the complete work sits at a nicely digestible length, a length that flies by at times. However, it wouldn’t be a review on the Blog of Much Metal without going into further detail about some of the aural pleasures to be found.

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The records gets off to a seriously powerful start via ‘Sectarian’. It demonstrates quite a Tool-esque prominent bass line which works alongside the bold tom-heavy, almost tribal-sounding drumming in providing a strong and striking backbone to the track. The rhythm-heavy beginning eventually gives way to a strong, beguiling chorus that makes an immediate impact but which only gets better with repeated listens. Vocalist Ekelöf has a rich timbre and a hypnotising delivery that adds gravitas to the composition, not to mention a certain amount of palpable melancholy – a trend that continues throughout ‘Lykaia’.

‘Orision’ begins with a seriously cool and understated riff and then opens up into a sumptuous chorus that contains a delectable melody. Later, the track then falls away into minimalist territory, dominated by pervasive atmospheres, led in part by Åhlund’s keys. It is a real grower, almost surreptitiously becoming a favourite.

The exquisite and tenderly performed composition, ‘Lucidity’ follows and my heart is won over. The heavier guitars are stripped away in favour of a more subtle and soulful approach from Jidell, who never ceases to amaze me with his touch and feel with the guitar. The guy is able to say more with one or two notes than others can with a full-on shred or lightning fast solo. There are hints of Opeth to be heard but equally, I can hear echoes of Wolverine thanks to the sense of bleakness and emotional fragility brought to life via Ekelöf’s vulnerable-sounding performance. The result is a truly profound listening experience.

‘Opal’ closes in simple yet eloquent fashion after spending the majority of its length indulging in something altogether heavy and dramatic. ‘Jinn’ introduces some of the most beautiful melodies on an album full of melodic highlights. Here, they have a real bittersweet feel to them; euphoric and intensely sad at the same time. It is a personal favourite, one of the most immediate tracks on the entire album, if also one of the most poignant and emotionally draining. Oh and there’s the middle eastern flavour to the closing bars which sounds as if it should be incongruous but actually fits perfectly.

Lopez’s drumming and Stenberg’s expressive, rumbling bass dominate the early stages of ‘Sister’. The song builds and becomes very intense, one of the heaviest compositions on the record. However, it shows measured restraint by always remaining one step away from exploding into full-blown anarchy. ‘Stray’ delivers yet more stunning, heart breaking melodies atop a driving rhythm whilst ‘Paragon’ closes a fabulous album in a suitably classy manner. Beginning quietly, the song gently builds to a mid-song crescendo with agonised wailing guitars that sound like the breaching of an immense dam of human emotion, where all the frustration, anger and bitterness floods out, only to revert to calmer climes in the blink of an eye.

I had come to ‘Lykaia’ hoping for an album from Soen that I could like and from which I could take some genuine enjoyment. What I hadn’t bargained on was an album that would very quickly make a profound and indelible impression on me, to the extent where I have found myself listening to nothing else for the past few days since I first heard it. ‘Lykaia’ isn’t far away from being the perfect record and I implore you to listen and to revel in its many treasures. Nicely done, Soen, nicely done.

The Score of Much Metal: 9.5

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

2015 reviews
2016 reviews

Exquirla – Para Quienes Aun Viven
Odd Logic – Effigy
Mors Principium Est – Embers Of A Dying World
Firewind – Immortals
Slyde – Back Again EP
Sepultura – Machine Messiah
Deserted Fear – Dead Shores Rising
Kreator – Gods Of Violence
Borealis – World of Silence MMXVII
Pain of Salvation – In The Passing Light of Day

Odd Logic – Effigy – Album Review

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Artist: Odd Logic

Album Title: Effigy

Label: Independent Release

Date Of Release: 17 January 2017 (digital)

Regular readers of the Blog of Much Metal will be aware that the US progressive metal band Odd Logic were a very pleasant new discovery for me last year, via their sixth full-length release ‘Penny For Your Thoughts’. That independently-released album found its way into my top 30 albums of 2016 and rightly so, as it was an excellent release. If you’ll forgive the direct quote from that review, I summed it up as follows:

“’Penny For Your Thoughts’ has been something of a revelation to me. I adore this record because it delivers exactly what I like in my music. It is heavy, melodic, complex, intelligent, surprisingly emotional and thoroughly entertaining from beginning to end. If this album is indicative of the remainder of Odd Logic’s back catalogue, I am at a complete loss to understand why this band are not in the highest echelons of the prog metal elite.”

And, less than a year later, the Tacoma, Washington-based quartet of vocalist/guitarist/keyboardist Sean Thompson, guitarist Steven Pierce, bassist Mike Lee and drummer Pete Hanson have returned for another stab at world domination. I’m obviously delighted by the quick turnaround but initially, it was delight tinged with concern. Concern that the band’s eagerness to release new material had outweighed quality and what we’d be left with was a half-baked and mediocre album. Not for the first time of late, I soon realised that my misgivings were unnecessary and entirely misplaced.

If anything, ‘Effigy’ is even better than ‘Penny For Your Thoughts’. Part of the reason for this might be that this is credited as the first full band release under the Odd Logic moniker, meaning that for the first time, each member contributed to the creation of ‘Effigy’, rather than the output being more of a solo effort with guests assisting. If that’s indeed the case, long may this collaboration continue.

Mind you, it has taken a fair while for me to reach this conclusion because ‘Effigy’ is a genuine slow burner, an album that takes a fair while to reveal its charms. In that sense, it is deceptive, almost misleading at the outset. The music is undoubtedly of a very high quality, both in terms of the song writing and the musicianship. However, the melodies and earworms are extremely subtle to begin with, buried deep within the compositions only to come to the fore after several repeated listens.

As with ‘Penny For Your Thoughts’, ‘Effigy’ is almost certainly a concept album, although information about the content is sparse. I’ll therefore leave it up to you all to explore this element in as much or as little detail as you wish. Suffice to say that the album has a genuine concept feel to it, primarily because is littered with moody, dark, foreboding and even theatrical sections that pop up within songs or more usually, to segue between compositions.

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On the subject of the music itself, once again ‘Effigy’ is impressive in terms of its overall smoothness or illusion of smoothness. This record is the aural equivalent of liquid gold; it is rich, lush and incredibly atmospheric. This is all the more remarkable given the overt heaviness that is displayed throughout the record at certain points, not to mention the technicality and complexity as well. Much of this has to do with a commendably clear yet meaty production but it is equally a result of top-drawer song writing.

‘Effigy’ is comprised of eight compositions, three of which extend beyond the ten-minute mark but it is best enjoyed in its entirety. I occasionally dip in to listen to specific songs but I prefer the impact that is made when listening to the whole album from start to finish.

As I listen, I get the distinct impression that atmosphere and experimentation with varied tones and textures sits at the heart of what Odd Logic were trying to achieve within the framework of the concept. The keys from Thompson are crucial to this and they bathe the material in glorious fashion, acting as both a lead instrument when the music demands but principally as an accompaniment to the bold metallic backbone of ‘Effigy’. And in so doing, it creates a delightful depth and richness.

Having stated that ‘Effigy’ is best enjoyed as a whole, just about every composition requires a moment or two in the spotlight. To begin with there’s the hugely ambitious and terrific opening title track. At over 17 minutes, it is a brave introduction to the album but it immediately allows the listener to become fully immersed in the music of Odd Logic. It is best described as a sprawling epic that takes you on a journey of peaks and troughs, of darkness and light, culminating in the briefest of euphoric conclusions. The track twists and turns via several extended instrumental passages that are certainly technical and complex but contrary to what you might expect, they largely avoid descending into self-indulgence. The melodies eventually surface and when they do, they are some of the best on the record. Take the half-way mark as an example. The vocals from Thompson, which incidentally are wonderful throughout, are simply delicious at this point, overlaying a beautiful and understated melody. And then later in the track, after a brief foray into relaxed keyboard-led jazz fusion territory, there’s a super juxtaposition between ambient melodies and heavy, almost chaotic riffs. It just works, particularly when joined by more wonderfully emotional-sounding vocals.

‘Master of the Moor’ by contrast is much shorter and indulges in something altogether more groovy driven by the powerhouse rhythm section of drummer Pete Hanson and bassist Mike Lee. The blend of old-school keyboard sounds with more modern-sounding, surprisingly aggressive riffs works very well and the whole thing skips along with tons of infectious energy.

And then there’s ‘Mercenary’ which starts off like a savage death metal track complete with gloriously guttural gruff vocals courtesy of drummer Hanson, as well as a killer riff that gets my head banging immediately. It doesn’t remain extreme throughout but even so, it is really nice to hear a progressive metal band embracing the heavier side of things as it makes for an excellent contrast and gets the blood pumping. It is here that you begin to realise just how crunchy and powerful the guitar work of Thompson is, a revelation that gladdens the heart.

‘The Yearning’ is an acoustic guitar-led oasis of calm, whilst ‘Witch Runner’ offers more scintillating atmospheric synths and arguably the most instant melodic chorus on the album. ‘Iron Skyline’ then delivers a glorious opening, full of emotion, melody and a stunning piece of lead guitar work that sends shivers down my spine.

The opening to ‘Memories Of Light’ is ear catching with its Latin flavour, underlined by the classical guitar and what I presume to be Spanish lyrics, followed by a flamboyant lone drum beat. Another strong acoustic-accented chorus supplements the moody, sprawling track that’s perhaps one of the most varied and ‘progressive’-sounding compositions on the album, again complete with Thompson’s effortless vocal delivery and muscular guitar work.

‘Effigy’ is then concluded by ‘Maiden Child’ which spends its 11-minute length flitting between crunchy riffs and more expansive moments of melodic contemplation. It is a great, ambitious track that features a little of just about everything that features within the preceding seven compositions, thereby neatly concluding the record whilst ending it on a real high.

I will keep my conclusion simple and to the point: ‘Effigy’ is yet another step up for Odd Logic, a progressive metal band that has so far eluded many a radar. Quite how is beyond me, as ‘Effigy’ is a superb slice of prog metal that sits alongside some of the genre’s best and deserves to be heard by the widest of audiences.

The Score Of Much Metal: 9.25

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

2015 reviews
2016 reviews

Mors Principium Est – Embers Of A Dying World
Firewind – Immortals
Slyde – Back Again EP
Sepultura – Machine Messiah
Deserted Fear – Dead Shores Rising
Kreator – Gods Of Violence
Borealis – World of Silence MMXVII
Pain of Salvation – In The Passing Light of Day