Bloodshot Dawn – Reanimation – Album Review

Bloodshot Dawn - Reanimation

Artist: Bloodshot Dawn

Album Title: Reanimation

Label: Hostile Media

Date Of Release: 12 January 2018

The latest ‘new’ discovery for me in 2018 is a UK-based melodic death metal band by the name of Bloodshot Dawn. ‘Reanimation’ is the third full length record under the Bloodshot Dawn moniker but, in truth, it marks something of a brand new start. Since the release of their second album, ‘Demons’ in 2014, almost the entire band left, leaving founding member Josh McMorran on his own to contemplate his next steps.

Rather than throw in the towel, guitarist and vocalist McMorran decided to continue the venture and in time, a new band assembled itself around him. In came Canadian guitarist Morgan Reid, drummer James Stewart (Vader, Divine Chaos) and bassist Giacomo Gastaldi and together, ‘Reanimation’ has been created. And ‘together’ is the correct word because according to McMorran, this is the first Bloodshot Dawn record to have been written and produced collaboratively, involving all four members.

And the results on the aptly-titled ‘Reanimation’, which boasts guest appearances from Jeff Loomis (Arch Enemy), Paul Wardingham, Ken Sorceron (Abigail Williams, The Faceless) and Mendel Bij De Leij (Aborted), are nothing short of excellent. It took me a while to fully warm to the material but after a few concerted spins and some close listening, the penny dropped and I found myself succumbing to the considerable talents of this extreme metal quartet.

The output on ‘Reanimation’ can be best described as properly heavy and uncompromising death metal with a strong melodic thread that runs through the heart of the ten tracks. Think Scar Symmetry, think Arch Enemy, think Fear Factory. Then blend them all up, turn up the technical death metal element to max and simmer. Then, liberally sprinkle the songs with virtuosic performances from guitarists MCMorran and Reid and lace it with synths that add a vaguely sci-fi atmosphere and you’re getting close to understanding what this record sounds like. The latter is clearly and unequivocally underlined by the sci-fi cover that adorns the album.

The Scar Symmetry similarities are perhaps least surprising given that the axeman extraordinaire for the Swedish melodeath juggernaut, Per Nilsson, is responsible for the finishing touches to the guitars as well as mixing and mastering the album. One of the reasons why it took me a while to warm to ‘Reanimation’ however, was because initially, I felt that some of the more extreme parts came across as being too clinical, too dry and lacking in warmth. I occasionally still harbour these faint misgivings but in the main, I have been won over.

Bloodshot Dawn Promo 2017

‘Reanimation’ kicks off in full attack mode, leaving literally nothing at the door. An impossibly fast drum roll from the hugely talented James Stewart lays the foundations upon which are laid some scything riffs and the kind of lead guitar gymnastics that rival the mighty Scar Symmetry for speed, complexity and musicality. The riffs continue unabated as the harsh vocals come into play for the first time. If I’m not mistaken, McMorran is not the only vocalist because I can hear two or three distinct deliveries – a higher-pitched caustic tone and a deep, guttural voice to name just two. I actually really like this approach as it is distinctly different from the currently more popular gruff/clean combination, lending the material a more intense and uncompromising sheen.

Nevertheless, throughout the opening song, there are some really nice melodic guitar licks, lightning fast solos and a gorgeous slower solo towards the end that shows that Bloodshot Dawn are not just all out shredders without soul. And all the while, drummer Stewart pummels the listener with warp-speed blastbeats and insane fills, whilst bassist Giacomo Gastaldi shows his prowess and dexterity whilst providing a rumbling pulse that’s audible for the most part but very occasionally gets lost a little in the tumult.

‘Graviton Nightmare’ continues the onslaught with barely time for a breath. The riffs dance and flit from idea to idea elaborately whilst I anything, the drums are even quicker. The melody is more pronounced too on this track, with the guitars delivering the same kind of playful exuberance as you’d find on ‘Burning Bridges’ era Arch Enemy.

My personal favourite however, has to be ‘Survival Evolved’. It opens with an impossibly catchy and immediate lead guitar lick that features at points throughout the song. In between, the intensity and brutality of the death metal is superb, offering something a little more organic and thrash-like in the process as well as a stomping groove in the mid portion of the song. The rhythm-section remains razor sharp and the guitar solos continue unabated. And then that lick reappears and I’m grinning again. This really is a stunning composition.

As the record develops, Bloodshot Dawn prove that they have the staying power and stamina because there’s no let-up in the intensity. Tracks like ‘Upon The Throne of Fear’ and ‘Soul Affliction’ for example, are all-out uncompromising technical death metal where the hooks and melodies are momentarily dialled down in favour of intense extremity.

But if its melody that you’re after, you’ll want to hear ‘Controlled Conscious’ because it contains a gorgeous chorus whilst the short interlude ‘DNA Reacquisition’ is pretty much the only time that the foot is taken off the accelerator to allow something slower to emerge, allowing the melody itself to take centre stage alongside more seven-string dexterity.

The title track then closes out this impressive record in a blaze of glory, at the same time reprising and building on the melodies heard within the aforementioned ‘Graviton Nightmare’. It’s nothing short of being the perfect majestic and anthemic ending that this album needs and fully deserves.

Melodic death metal often gets accused of being the softer, cuddlier sibling within the death metal family. However, Bloodshot Dawn have delivered an album that challenges that belief. There is no arguing that ‘Reanimation’ has plenty of melodic intent but in and around the more accessible moments are riffs galore, technical prowess, an unrelenting rhythm section and not a clean vocal in sight. In many ways, it is the perfect amalgamation, as the excellent end result testifies.

The Score Of Much Metal: 9

If you’ve enjoyed this review, you can check out my others from 2018 and from previous years right here:

2017 reviews
2016 reviews
2015 reviews

Rise of Avernus – Eigengrau
Arch Echo – Arch Echo
Asenblut – Legenden
Bleeding Gods – Dodekathlon
Watain – Trident Wolf Eclipse

Nocturnal Rites – Phoenix – Album Review

NR_P-C_1500x1500

Artist: Nocturnal Rites

Album Title: Phoenix

Label: AFM Records

Date Of Release: 29 September 2017

A good decade ago, Swedish melodic power metal band Nocturnal Rites released the eighth album of their career, ‘The 8th Sin’. It received generally very positive reviews and I certainly enjoyed the content. What I didn’t realise then was that this would be the last we heard from the quintet for ten long years. Then again, I’m not entirely sure that the band themselves thought this would be the case either. In 2008, long-time guitarist Nils Norberg left to be replaced by Christoffer Rörland who in turn later left to join Sabaton. But even then, we are led to believe that a follow-up album was to be recorded in 2011. Needless to say, that this didn’t happen and so fans have been left waiting and wondering for what feels like an eternity.

All that history is exactly that though: history. It’s in the past and it is time to focus on the here and now. On that score, things are looking very rosy indeed because not only have Nocturnal Rites returned, but they have delivered an album, the aptly-titled ‘Phoenix’, that’s better than I had ever dared to hope for.

It is like the band never went away. The core of vocalist Jonny Lindqvist, guitarist Fredrik Mannberg, bassist Nils Eriksson and drummer Owe Lingvall remain in place, recently joined by Scar Symmetry guitarist extraordinaire Per Nilsson to round things out. As a huge fan of Scar Symmetry and the impeccable guitar playing of Nilsson, I was even more excited about ‘Phoenix’ than I would have otherwise been. And they have put together a truly brilliant heavy metal album. If you’re looking for inspiration on how to create the perfect blend of melodic metal, power metal and classic heavy metal, then look no further than ‘Phoenix’.

Ok, so ‘Phoenix’ might not be perfect, but it is damn close. For example, I’m struggling to pick out any of the songs as being a weak link or a dip in the quality, such is the consistently high standard that runs like a golden thread through this record.

Everything a died-in-the-wool heavy metal fan could possibly want is right here. There’s no wasted time, no wasted notes; the whole album feels well-honed and well oiled, like a machine. But don’t let that fool you into thinking that the music on ‘Phoenix’ is devoid of humanity or lacking in heart. Quite the opposite in fact. And if your blood doesn’t start pumping a little faster as you listen, you may as well give up on listening to heavy metal entirely.

What you get on ‘Phoenix’ is wall-to-wall riffs, gigantic rhythms, huge melodic choruses that frequently veer into anthemic territory, blazing solos and powerful vocals that are dripping with heart and passion.

That word ‘passion’ is important because, although I talk about this being a honed, well-oiled album, the passion with which the material is delivered is apparent in every department. ‘Phoenix’, as the name suggests, has the feel and atmosphere of a band that has been reborn and as a result, are loving every minute. I can imagine the guys grinning ear to ear in the rehearsal room and studio as the music came to life. And quite justifiably too.

NOC_P_P05

At this juncture, I feel compelled to return to an aspect of ‘Phoenix’ that I find so wonderful, and that’s the lead guitar solos. I’m a sucker for a good lead break but over the years they have generally become less fashionable. But fashion be damned, Nocturnal Rites demonstrate without question, just how irresistible a good six-string shred can sound and why heavy metal should never abandon this most glorious of excesses. This is hardly surprising though if I’m honest. This was always a significant weapon in the Nocturnal Rites armoury but now, with Nilsson delivering many of the leads, they are a thing of utter joy and exuberance, both melodically charged and technically adept.

It is a challenge reviewing albums like this because it is always tricky choosing which songs to highlight for special praise. Each of the eleven tracks has something about it which is deserving of mention but that would make for a lengthy review.

Nevertheless I feel compelled to begin with the opening cut, ‘Heart As Black As Coal’. The opening riff grabs you by the scruff of the neck with its no-nonsense attitude and it’s not long before the first gigantic chorus of the record hits with style and panache. The production is great, offering clarity to all instruments whilst providing the guitars with an exceptional strength. The tone of the track is dark and menacing, accentuated by the aggressive and forceful delivery of Lindqvist but it’s ultimately an enormous heavy metal anthem that fills my heart with unbridled joy.

‘Before We Waste Away’ ensures that ‘Phoenix’ maintains the best possible start. The mid-tempo stomp underpinned by Lingvall and Eriksson is irresistible, especially when it leads into such an edifying chorus; hook-laden and sublime. It also features a mind-boggling lead guitar solo that veers nicely into Scar Symmetry territory before being dragged back into the monstrous chorus.

By way of contrast, ‘The Poisonous Seed’ is a harder, faster and darker beast all round. Double-pedal drumming dovetails with yet more crunchy, uncompromising riffing whilst there’s a more pronounced use of dramatic keys just behind the metallic tumult.

One of my favourites, a little surprisingly, has to be the slightly more ballad-like ‘Repent My Sins’. I love the slower, writhing riff and the way that it works excellently in tandem with one of my favourite choruses on ‘Phoenix’. Again the tone of the composition and the lyrics is relatively dark, with Lindqvist offering a mesmeric performance, but I can’t help but smiling as I listen because everything is just so on-point and insanely enjoyable.

Another stand-out track is ‘The Ghost Inside Me’ which is as dramatic and symphonic as I’ve heard from Nocturnal Rites. At its heart, it is still a monstrous metal song but thanks to the inclusion of choir vocals and a marked increase in orchestration, it stands out in grandiose style, full of pomp and theatrics. Then there’s the instantly more modern-sounding ‘Nothing Can Break Me’ with its bold electronic effects and even more impactful chorus.

With any band that returns after such a long hiatus, the anticipation is always going to be huge. But crucially, Nocturnal Rites have not just lived up to my expectations, they have smashed them out of the park. It is a dangerous thig to say with over three months of 2017 left, but I am struggling to believe that anyone else will release a better melodic power metal album this year. ‘Phoenix’ is huge and it deserves your attention immediately.

The Score Of Much Metal: 9.25

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

2015 reviews
2016 reviews

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

Anticipated music in 2017 – an update – 13 Feb

Another day, another truckload of new releases are confirmed for 2017. The way things are going, this year is shaping up very nicely indeed. Today’s round-up features some real favourites as well as a couple of genuine surprises that I simply wasn’t expecting.

If you’re interested in my other updates in this series, links can be found at the bottom of this page.

Kingcrow – The Persistence (working title)
Release date: TBC

Oh yes, this is one release that I am hugely excited for. Over the years, the Blog of Much Metal has tried to champion the cause of bands that I firmly believe deserve the attention and more success. One of those bands is the Italian progressive metal band Kingcrow.

I have been a big fan of the quintet, led by the talented Diego Cafolla, ever since I heard their fourth release ‘Phlegethon’ in 2010. Since then, they have become a firm favourite here at the mansion of much metal. Confirmed news then of album number seven in 2017 has been met with joy from me, particularly when the band have begun an exclusive pre-order to fund an even more professional production. Coupled with their normal stellar songwriting, the new album threatens to be immense.

Speaking with Diego, he has exclusively revealed that the new album ‘can be described as dark and atmospheric spanning from ambient music to heavy riffs.’ Words that, to me, are like music to my ears. Watch out for further updates throughout the year, as I keep a close eye on this criminally underrated band.

Big Big Train – Grimspound
Release date: 28 April 2017

16602059_1307911812607819_1444498908137076244_oHave I been on another planet these last few weeks? I must have because I have been spending lots of time looking for the best releases that are due to arrive in 2017 and I missed out one of my current favourite bands. Big Big Train are due to return in 2017 with a brand new album, ‘Grimspound’.

I think my excuse is that I was not expecting a new release from England’s finest progressive rock band because they only released their last album, the exquisite ‘Folklore’ last year. Big Big Train have a tough act to follow given how brilliant ‘Folklore’ was, but if any band at the current time can deliver the goods, it has to be this octet.

Take a listen to this small snippet to get a brief flavour of what we can expect from this excellent band.

Solstafir – TBC
Release date: TBC

16664891_10155137593776122_5392120723600822788_oWhen this image pops up in my social media timeline alongside the words ‘new album TBA’, you can’t blame my heart for skipping a beat. After all, the Icelandic geniuses were responsible for one of my very favourite albums of 2014 – the delectable ‘Otta’.

Finishing 3rd in my ‘album of the year 2014’ countdown, I described that album as being ‘so brilliant and engaging that anyone who likes powerful guitar-based music should derive an awful lot of satisfaction from listening to it. It is an honest, vibrant and poignant album that I have taken it to my heart.’

In which case, it is hardly a shock to know that I am all over this album and so, when more information is made available, I’ll share it with you.

Scar Symmetry – TBC
Release date: TBC

I mentioned Scar Symmetry in my ‘most anticipated of 2017’ series but it was as much in hope as expectation. Well, now we have confirmation that indeed 2017 will see a new Scar Symmetry album. From the band’s own Facebook page on 7th February came the following statement:

‘This year will see us release our 7th album, the first with our current lineup…’

It was a nugget of gold within a larger post that celebrated the band’s 12th birthday, a lifetime that I have been part of since the very beginning and with good reason – Scar Symmetry are a deadly melodic progressive extreme metal band who are capable of slaying the best on their day. I can’t wait for the seventh instalment.

God Dethroned – The World Ablaze
Release date: 5 May 2017

There are few bands that are as consistent as Dutch death metal band God Dethroned. Their blend of crushing extreme metal and instant, show-stopping melody is hard to beat and they manage to reproduce it with every album it seems.

And now, they have just announced that they are to release their tenth album, ‘The World Ablaze’ on 5th May 2017. It is billed as the third and final part of their World War I trilogy, following on from ‘Under The Sign of the Iron Cross’. Mixed by Dan Swano, it promises to be another entertaining chapter for the band and I’ll look forward to writing about it on the Blog of Much Metal in due course.

Previous updates:

3rd February 2017
30th January 2017
21st January 2017

My most anticipated releases of 2017 – Part 3

Welcome to Part 3 of my series that takes a look at some of the best music that will/might/might not see the light of day in 2017.

If you missed parts 1 and 2, they can be viewed here:

My most anticipated releases of 2017 – Part 1
My most anticipated releases of 2017 – Part 2

But now let’s focus on Part 3…

Scar Symmetry – The Singularity – Phase II
Release date: TBC

I have loved Scar Symmetry ever since they burst onto the scene in the early Noughties with ‘Symmetric In Design’, an album that simply blew me away. Their blend of brutality, razor-sharp precision, groove, hook-laden choruses and the clean/gruff dual vocal approach instantly hit the mark and, for me, they quickly became one of the most exciting melodic death metal bands to come out of Sweden in many years.

In 2014, Scar Symmetry released ‘The Singularity, Phase I: Neohumanity, the first part of an exciting and bold trilogy. Well 2017 should see the return of this concept with ‘Phase II’ and if it’s half as good as ‘Phase I’, we’re in for a treat. Buckle up people, we’re in for an exciting ride.

Threshold – Legends of the Shires
Release date: TBC

Within the past 24 hours, news has emerged from the Nuclear Blast camp that UK progressive metal stalwarts, and personal favourites, Threshold are to release a new album in 2017. Indeed, they have even released the name of it, ‘Legends of the Shires’ and the band have commented that it may be their longest release yet as they have lots of strong material written. The fact that it is apparently a concept album just adds fuel to the fire of my enthusiasm because I’m a sucker for a good concept piece.

No firm release date has been set but with tour dates announced beginning at the end of November, I’m going to gamble on a September/October release. These guys never release anything other than top quality material, so I’m really excited for this one to see the light of day.

Enslaved – TBC
Release date: TBC

Everyone’s favourite progressive black metal Vikings have released a statement recently to suggest that a new album will be forthcoming in 2017. This is great news. I don’t really think that Enslaved have released a bad album in their 25 year history. Sure their music has matured and shifted over the years from all-out black metal to a much more progressive, nuanced, atmospheric and multi-layered sound. However, I don’t believe that the band have ever sounded better – their songwriting is at a peak, as is the professionalism of a band that can seemingly do no wrong. If this release comes to fruition, 2017 will be shaping up very nicely indeed.

Bal Sagoth – TBC
Release date: TBC

It seems like I mention this band every year. And every year I am proved wrong. The more that time passes, the more I’m beginning to think we might have seen the last of Bal Sagoth in terms of new studio material. I pray that I am wrong but it’s a thought that keeps nagging at me, especially since the last record to emerge came out over a decade ago in 2006. But hey, I shall keep the faith and maybe, if I mention this band enough times in these posts, Byron will hear me and give us fans something to get excited about.

Dimmu Borgir – TBC
Release date: TBC

One of these posts wouldn’t be the same without a mention for one of my favourite extreme metal bands of all time. To contextualize this statement, their 1997 release, ‘Enthrone, Darkness, Triumphant’ is one of my top 5 albums of all time. Beginning life as a black metal band, more recent output is probably better referred to as ‘extreme metal’. There are plenty of black metal elements to the Norwegian’s sound but such is the rich tapestry of influences that play a part within the modern Dimmu sound, curt pigeonholing into the black metal genre would be disingenuous. Each release from Shagrath et al is a slick, professional affair where the final product shines through a powerful and crystal-clear production. The symphonic elements and grandiose bombast provide a majestic and theatrical sheen to what is, at heart, pretty bruising and uncompromising heavy metal. There’s no official confirmation of a new album in 2017 as far as I’m aware, but I think it’s a relatively safe bet…mind you, I said that last year too!

Album Of The Year 2015 – Number 26

Welcome to Day 5 of my ‘Album Of The Year 2015’ top 30 countdown. I hope you’ve enjoyed my picks so far. If you’re new to this list, numbers 27-30 can be accessed via links at the bottom of this post.

Otherwise, with no other wordy fanfare, I give you my pick at number 26:

Number 26

teramaze coverTeramaze
‘Her Halo’
Mascot Label Group

If this album had been released earlier in the year, it would probably have been a lot higher on my list. I say this with confidence because since I wrote a full review of it a couple of months ago, my admiration of this record has already grown stronger. The fact that my three-year-old enjoys listening to it with Daddy in the car has to add extra kudos but what really grants it a place in this list is the sheer quality of the music on offer.

‘Her Halo’ is the fifth album from Australian quartet, Teramaze and, coming from a position of knowing very little about them, I have found myself blown sideways by this record. And that’s always nice as far as I’m concerned.

Pic: Radio Halo Photography, Concepts Karina Wells
Pic: Radio Halo Photography, Concepts Karina Wells

My full review can be read here, but to quote one small passage: “Theirs is a melodic metal framework around which they then experiment with symphonic, progressive and even thrash metal themes and ideas. Where Teramaze really excel though is in terms of the compositional nous, the innate sense of melody and an acute comprehension of what makes a powerful piece of music that will have the listener returning for frequent repeat spins. The keys add to the richness and depth of the songs and, whilst they never get in the way or sound cheesy, they’re there throughout the album to add another dimension and a sense of the dramatic.”

Some of the tracks on the album have significant lengths and, having initially questioned whether the compositions demanded such treatment, I have now seen the error of my ways. They don’t feel bloated or lacking in direction at all; instead, the compositions bound along with energy and purpose injecting a sense of the dramatic along the way. The forays into progressive or symphonic territories simply add another level of enjoyment to the album.

To underline this point, the album opener ‘An Ordinary Dream (Enla Momento)’, is an epic monster. It clocks in at over 12 minutes but once it gets under your skin, it flies by in a blaze of glory. From fast-paced riffs to dramatic theatrics, from hook-laden melodies to more progressive themes, this track has it all. The spoken word segment that then leads into a poignant lead guitar solo is magical and raises the hairs on the back of my neck.

Crucially, the quality does not end there and the remaining seven tracks are all great in their own right. Personal favourites include the utterly stunning ballad ‘Broken’, ‘For The Innocent’ which features some cracking melodies and the wonderfully dramatic closer ‘Delusions Of Grandeur’.

On that note, there are no delusions of grandeur with ‘Her Halo’; if you are a fan of melodic metal with symphonic and progressive overtones, this is a no-brainer, worthy of your full attention.

Album Of The Year 2015 – Number 27
Album of the Year 2015 – Number 28
Album of the Year 2015 – Number 29
Album of the Year 2015 – Number 30

And from previous years:

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

Essential Metal Releases Still To Come In 2014 – Part 3

As with many of my blog posts, I hadn’t intended on adding a third part to my series of posts looking at those albums still to come in the latter half of 2014 that I’m really looking forward to. However, with a few announcements and confirmations in the past couple of weeks, I again felt compelled to add a few more albums to the already-impressive list.

If you missed parts 1 & 2, they can be read here:

Essential Metal Releases Still To Come in 2014 – Part 1
Essential Metal Releases Still To Come in 2014 – Part 2

This third installment contains a wide variety of music within the rock and metal genres, so hopefully there’s something of interest again here. In no particular order, here goes:

Knight Area – Hyperdrive

Knight_Area_-_Hyperdrive_450x450Dutch rockers Knight Area are simply one of the best bands within the modern neo-progressive rock scene. Every album that they release is of the highest quality and offers everything you could want in a band of this genre. The music is certainly grandiose in the manner of many of their predecessors, the keyboards dominate as they should and the guitar work is satisfying, containing plenty of interesting riffs and glorious melodic solos. And yet, Knight Area are also keen to avoid sounding overly pretentious, instead favouring strong compositions full of powerful melodic intent over self-indulgence. The result on the band’s last album, ‘Nine Paths’ was fantastic and I’m expecting nothing less from the forthcoming ‘Hyperdrive’

Scar Symmetry – The Singularity (Phase I – Neohumanity)

ssI have loved Scar Symmetry ever since they burst onto the scene in the early Noughties with ‘Symmetric In Design’, an album that simply blew me away. Their blend of brutality, razor-sharp precision, groove, hook-laden choruses and the clean/gruff dual vocal approach instantly hit the mark and, for me, they quickly became one of the most exciting melodic death metal bands to come out of Sweden in many years. Well over a decade later and, albeit with a few line-up changes since then, we’re about to be offered album number six. As the name suggests, it is the first album within a trilogy, an intriguing concept and one that just makes me even more curious and excited to hear it.

Freak Kitchen – Cooking With Pagans

fkHow do you sum up Freak Kitchen in a few short words? It’s a challenge, but I’d say ‘quirky, progressive, fun and very catchy’. The Swedish trio of Mattias IA Eklundh, Bjorn Fryklund and Christer Ortefors are not your usual band but it’s exactly for this reason that they remain a well-loved cult band. The music is referred to as prog rock, art-rock and experimental rock but with Freak Kitchen, genres don’t mean much as they are truly unique. The core of the band’s music is technical and challenging but they manage to almost disguise the complexity by keeping the songs on the shorter side and lacing them with a surprisingly heavy and groovy guitar tone, huge melodies and humorous lyrics that often have me laughing or singing loudly as if I’m listening to a stadium rock band. A very impressive feat, one that very few could pull off with such stunning results. It’s been five years since the last album so I’m ready for this.

Flying Colors – Second Nature

flyingcolorssecondnaturecd-500x500In spite of the fact that their name is spelt incorrectly (, I am still greatly looking forward to a new release from the ‘supergroup’ that goes by the name of Flying Colors. Comprised of Neal Morse, Mike Portnoy, Steve Morse, Casey McPherson and Dave LaRue, the quintet offer the listening public a blend of progressive rock and pop music. Naturally, when musicians of this calibre are involved, you tend to expect music of the highest calibre and that’s exactly what you get. The self-titled debut album is a delight of beautifully-crafted organic-sounding progressive rock with huge hooks, giant choruses and a care-free, breezy attitude. As such, I cannot be the only one looking forward to the follow-up?

Unknown & Underrated – Part 6

In part 6 of my ‘unknown & underrated’ series, looking at bands & albums that I feel need a lot more exposure. In this post, I look at a melodic death metal band, a black metal/avant-garde metal band and a neo-prog rock band. I hope there’s something here that you find to enjoy!

You can also ckeck out Part 1 here, Part 2 here, Part 3 here, Part 4 here and Part 5 here.

Arcturus – La Masquerade Infernale

Released in 1996, ‘La Masquerade Infernale’ was a relatively early discovery in my journey into black metal. I was drawn to the album via an advert in an edition of Metal Hammer. Within the advert was a quote that described this record as ‘idiosyncratically beautiful’. I felt compelled to check it out and that Christmas, I received it as a gift from my Aunt and Uncle.

At first, I did not know what to make of ‘La Masquerade Infernale’ as although it took much from the black metal genre, it was a lot different from everything I had heard before. As well as the ubiquitous blast beats, dark imagery and aggressive guitar work, there was so much more.
The album features a number of guest appearances from a myriad of musicians, from ex-Dimmu Borgir vocalist Simen ‘ICS Vortex’ Haestnes (now a full member) to flautist Erik Olivier Lancelot, with a string quartet employed for good measure. As a result, the whole album, has a massive symphonic and theatrical bent with lashings of what I can only describe as circus horror overtones, lending it a massively overt avant-garde feel.

‘Ad Astra’ is a stunning classical track that builds to a heavy metal crescendo, whilst ‘The Chaos Path’ benefits from Vortex’s unique vocals throughout. Coupled with some swirling and mesmerising heavy guitars and slightly chaotic drumming, it has a harsh yet eclectic feel. And yet, as eclectic and downright weird as some of the music can get, it all makes perfect sense and maintains a certain level of accessibility if you give it the time and attention that it needs. The undeniable stand-out moment, aside from the aforementioned ‘Ad Astra’ has to be the massive, epic-sounding ‘Alone’ which crams everything that’s fantastic about Arcturus into a breathless four-and-a-half minutes.

‘La Masquerade Infernale’ is a truly unique album and one that sounds as fresh and interesting today as it did sixteen years ago on its release. It will appeal to fans of both extreme metal and those who prefer something a little more quirky.

Pendragon – The Masquerade Overture

It was around the time of my brother’s passing that I began to discover a new genre to get my teeth stuck into. That genre is commonly referred to as ‘Neo-Prog’. I wasn’t in a very good place and I wasn’t sure that I could cope with the intensity and aggression associated with much of my metal collection. I wanted and needed something a little more relaxed, more chilled out but still within the world of rock. In the past I had dabbled with the likes of Marillion and so I began to delve a little deeper into the genre of neo-prog.

One of the very best finds within this genre came in the form of Pendragon and, in particular, their album, ‘The Masquerade Overture’. This is a fabulous album from start to finish.

The influences of this UK neo-prog band, led by the highly talented Nick Barrett are clear and include the aforementioned Marillion as well as Genesis, IQ and a whole host of others. The result is a very keyboard-heavy symphonic rock sound, with layers and layers of synths at the heart of the music, courtesy of the irrepressible Clive Nolan. Another important aspect of the Pendragon approach is that they manage to create some utterly beguiling melodies with catchy memorable choruses that I enjoy returning to again and again. ‘Paintbox’, for example, is a wonderful track, as is ‘As Good As Gold’.

However, the very best thing about this album is the guitar work. Every musician within the band is very adept and talented at what they do but it is the guitar that draws my attention and stands as my undoubted focal point. Principally, it’s the solos that are most mesmerising and beautiful. The final three or four minutes of the superlative ‘Master Of Illusion’ display some of the most evocative and poignant lead guitar playing that this genre and rock music in general has ever produced, it is that good.
Blessed with a crystal-clear production, ‘The Masquerade Overture’ is undoubtedly one of the greatest albums that the neo-prog genre, it’s a sensational masterpiece.

Scar Symmetry – Symmetric In Design

The story of how I first got into this band has been briefly mentioned in a previous blog post on the subject of the glory of independent record shops.

Suffice to say though, that from the opening guitar lick that I heard over that muffled and tinny phone line courtesy of my tame record store owner, I knew that this was an album that I had to have in my collection. It was a decision that I have never regretted and ‘Symmetric In Design’ has subsequently become a firm favourite with me.

Me with the awesome Scar Symmetry guys at Bloodstock Open Air in 2007

The style, or genre if we’re looking to try to pigeonhole the Swedes to some extent, would initially and most accurately be melodic death metal. The guitar tone is extremely heavy and the rhythm section very powerful. I would also be lying if I said that there wasn’t a passing resemblance to the output of their compatriots, Soilwork.

The main reason for this is the vocal approach of Christian Älvestam. In a similar vein to Bjorn ‘Speed’ Strid, Christian is equally adept at switching between gruff grunts and growls and a more melodic clean voice. Naturally, this allows the choruses to become even more accessible and juxtapose nicely with the more aggressive verses. Personally, I think that the growls are more extreme that those of Speed, although when push comes to shove, this doesn’t really matter as they’re both very adept at what they do. Älvestam has since parted ways with Scar Symmetry but fear not, because in his place is the equally superb dual vocal attack of Roberth Karlsson and Lars Palmqvist

Scar Symmetry use an abundance of keyboards in their songs too and, whilst the vast bulk of the compositions have a strong hook or melody to lend it the immediacy, the keyboards float in and out of the aggressive or groovy riffs to add a layer of atmosphere and to smooth out some of the extremity. The synths also help to give the impression that Scar Symmetry are slightly more proggy than their closest melodic death metal peers. To a certain extent, I think that this is achieved and whilst we’re not talking Dream Theater or anything, some of the riffs do have a progressive feel to them. Just check out the track ‘2012 – The Demise of the 5th Sun’ for a decent example of what I’m talking about.

The bottom line with Scar Symmetry is that they produce some absolutely belting melodic death metal which is both aggressive and catchy as hell.

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