Tag Archives: Solstafir

Half-way through 2017 – the best so far – Part 3

Welcome to the third and final part of my round-up, looking at the best albums to have been released during the first half of 2017. It is an eclectic list overall, where there’s room for extreme metal and progressive rock alike. But for someone who has wide-ranging tastes with a rock and metal framework, this is exactly what I expected and it is great to see that 2017 has, so far, delivered the goods across a decent breadth of genres.

If you have missed the previous two installments of this series, click the following links:

Half-way through 2017 – the best so far – Part 1
Half-way through 2017 – the best so far – Part 2

deserted_fear_-_dead_shores_rising_cover_2016Deserted Fear
Dead Shores Rising

Just thinking about this album puts a smile on my face. It is pure, unadulterated and undiluted old-school death metal and it seriously kicks ass. But, whilst the compositions themselves reek of days gone by, the production is bang up-to-date. This might put off some purists but for me, it just makes the entire listening experience all the more impactful and powerful. If you listen to this but fail to bang your head or grin like a loon, the chances are that you are either not a metal fan, or you’re dead.

“I remember the days when I heard Entombed for the first time or Obituary, Dismember or even At The Gates. To a greater or lesser extent, these are all good reference points for the output of Deserted Fear and I get the same kind of overall feelings listening to ‘Dead Shores Rising’ as I did when I first listened to the aforementioned. The power, the brutality, the malevolence, the clandestine melodies, and the more overt hooks – it is all there and it is thoroughly absorbing. This is the kind of no-frills, headbanging, groove-laden death metal with a hint or two of melodeath that I really enjoy listening to.”

“I have absolutely fallen for the immense charms of Deserted Fear and this, their third full-length studio album. ‘Dead Shores Rising’ is a totally compelling album that has completely renewed and reinvigorated my love for death metal. It is bold, it is savage and it kicks some serious butt. What more could you possibly want?”

Read the full review here.


Having been blown away by their previous album, ‘Otta’, I was desperate for Sólstafir to repeat the trick with their latest record, ‘Berdreyminn’. It was always going to be tough given the strong connection that I have with ‘Otta’, but I have to say that Sólstafir have not disappointed. I can say that with even more conviction now that I have had a chance to hear the material in the live setting where it came alive more strongly and made even more sense. Packed with atmosphere and emotion, it beautifully conveys the bleaker recesses of human feeling, whilst painting glorious vistas in the mind of their striking homeland, Iceland.

“And what Sólstafir have succeeded in doing so eloquently with ‘Otta’ and now this new record, ‘Berdreyminn’, is give voice to the natural splendour of their native land, as depicted in the evocative cover art work courtesy of Adam Burke. Fragile and brittle melodies alongside quiet and calm soundscapes give rise to introspective thought and an appreciation of the beauty of their homeland. But juxtaposed with this are sections of grittier, heavier and more powerful swells and eddies of sound that serve as a timely reminder that the beauty can be deceptive, ready to ensnare those unprepared for the harsher, more unforgiving realities of the oft bleak and barren land.”

“…how can one fault music that has such heart, such life and such majesty? More importantly for me though, ‘Berdreyminn’ serves to merely strengthen my deep love and affinity with Sólstafir’s homeland. And for that I am forever thankful.”

Read the full review here.

Final ArtworkAsira

Over the years, I have become a big fan of the movement known as ‘blackgaze’, the genre that seeks to blend the extremity of black metal with the melodic intensity and beauty of shoegaze. When I thought of blackgaze in the past, I’d immediately call to mind the likes of Alcest or Amesoeurs. But now, in 2017, I can confidently add the name Asira to the list. For a debut outing, ‘Efference’ is a stunning body of work that delights at every glorious twist and turn.

“…the skill of Asira has meant that the final product sounds so effortless and so simple. The warm ambient and atmospheric sections sooth and embrace you, whilst the melodies catch your ear almost immediately. And then, even when these passages are replaced by the naked aggression of cold and icy black metal, sometime abruptly, the juxtaposition doesn’t feel forced or clunky in any way. The compositions are ambitious and grand in scope, but they also feel homogenous and eloquent.”

“On the basis of ‘Efference’, I can only predict big things for Asira. If their debut album can be so ambitious, cohesive and assured, what on earth will their second, third and fourth albums sound like. We can only wait and see. However, for now, content yourself with the fact that there’s a new band in existence that has so much potential and simply immerse yourself in ‘Efference’. As blackgaze goes, this is one of the best I’ve heard in a long, long time.”

Read the full review here.

16729381_10155037235405439_4788700761726639376_nLonely Robot
The Big Dream

In my eyes, John Mitchell can do no wrong. Whatever band he is involved with, be it Arena, It Bites of Frost*, the results are always fantastic. And then, when he stretches his musical wings and goes it alone, the results are equally as compelling. ‘The Big Dream’ is John Mitchell’s sophomore outing under the moniker of Lonely Robot, where he is responsible for everything aside from the drums. In keeping with the debut, it is an album of lush and hugely cinematically-tinged progressive rock full of depth and musical eloquence.

“…ultimately, I am blown away by this album, regardless of the meaningful threads that clearly run through it.”

“I am a big fan of the Lonely Robot debut, ‘Please Come Home’. But if anything, I think ‘The Big Dream’ is even better…I just feel that the music itself is just that little bit stronger. It is definitely more consistent, simply because there isn’t a wasted moment, a weaker track or a let-up in the quality on offer. It takes its time to work its magic though, so if you feel uneasy or underwhelmed after a first spin, listen again. And then again, several times more. The payoff is well worth it.”

Read the full review here.

nova-collective-the-further-sideNova Collective
The Further Side

Normally, I vehemently dislike instrumental music, particularly when the music is technical fusion. However, like all rules, there is an exception and the exception to this self-imposed rule goes by the name of Nova Collective. Featuring an all-star cast, spearheaded by Haken’s Richard Henshall and Dan Briggs from Between The Buried And Me, there was no way that the output would be poor. But what I wasn’t expecting was to actually become engaged with the music and absorbed by it. Unlike many other records in this loose genre, the music is more than background noise; instead the compositions are well crafted and intelligent whilst also remaining memorable.

“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.”

“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.”

Read the full review here.

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 Top 10 Tracks of 2014

What started as a throw-away remark on Twitter has suddenly turned into the content of another blog post on the Blog Of Much Metal. Having explored in great detail my favourite 20 albums of 2014, I happened to wonder aloud about my favourite ten individual songs from last year. The response to my musings was incredible – at least two people replied feigning interest. That’s enough for me; in spite of the rather late timing, it had to be turned into a full blog post immediately!

So, here, in no particular order, are my favourite 10 compositions of 2014…

Evergrey – Archaic Rage

A powerful call to arms that bravely confronts and lays bare one of society’s most stigmatized, feared and misunderstood issues from a very personal perspective. And all this, wrapped up in a sonic tour-de-force; an anthem of epic proportion, capable of sending shivers down my spine every time. A perfect example of why I love heavy metal.

From the album: ‘Hymns For The Broken’

Anathema – The Lost Song, Part 2

Candidates from this album were plenty in number but ultimately, this track had to win. Leigh Douglas sounds angelic atop some subtly gorgeous melodies and the lyrics speak to me directly, allowing me to feel closer to a lost loved through the poignant content. I cry every time I listen. Thank you Anathema.

From the album: ‘Distant Satellites’

Threshold – Autumn Red

It was a toss-up between this, the epic ‘The Box’ and the majestic ballad, ‘Lost In Your Memory’ when it came to Threshold’s entry in this list. However, thanks to some chunky riffing, a greater progressive sheen, strong hooks and some killer vocals from Damian Wilson, this has rightly come out on top.

From The Album: ‘For The Journey’

Distorted Harmony – Every Time she Smiles

The first time I heard this song, my jaw hit the floor. Distorted Harmony had moved from being a Dream Theater clone into a unique force in their own right. The remainder of the album slays but this track had the biggest impact. Blazing fury one second, sophisticated quiet melody the next; challenging complexity but with an intermittent groove capable of moving statues.

From The Album: ‘Chain Reaction’

Haken – Crystallised

With music like this, it’s not hard to see how a 3-track EP made it into my Top 20 albums of 2014 list. ‘Crystallised’ contains everything that I want from Haken and progressive music in general – Nearly 20 minutes of epic, melodic, challenging and occasionally bonkers magnificence. Perfect.

From The EP: ‘Restoration’

Lunatic Soul – Gutter

One of only a couple of tracks in this list that don’t feature somewhere in my top 20 albums list. This particular track is a moody and rather intense atmospheric composition that grabbed my attention thanks to some inspired vocal melodies in the chorus. Riverside’s Mariusz Duda has never sounded so compelling. Try as I might, I can’t stop listening to this song, it’s fantastic.

From The Album: ‘Walking On A Flashlight Beam’

Sólstafir – Lágnætti

I don’t think there is a better band than Sólstafir when it comes to conveying the rugged and isolated beauty of Iceland. This is the opening track of the album and it sets the scene wonderfully. Beginning quietly and serenely, it eventually explodes into a powerful driving rock crescendo that’s breath taking.

From The Album: Otta

Voyager – The Morning Light

If you’re looking for a piece of music to get the blood flowing and to cheer you up, this could be the song for you. Melodic progressive metal has never sounded so good thanks to a blend of giant hooks, big riffs, powerful vocals and an unashamed pop sheen. This is the Voyager blueprint and ‘The Morning Light’ is their finest hour.

From The Album: ‘V’

Flying Colors – A Place In Your World

I have chosen this track as it is rather symbolic of my increasing love for progressive rock, particularly the kind that has a classic 70s feel and slight pop element to it. ‘A Place In Your World’ stands out thanks to a combination of undeniable technical prowess, suble complexity and hooks both vocal and instrumental that make a single listen impossible.

From The Album: ‘Second Nature’

Nothing More – I’ll Be Ok

One of the big surprises of 2014. On an album of brilliant modern melodic rock/metal, ‘I’ll Be Ok’ is my standout moment. It is a genuine slab of properly emotional music that doesn’t come across as vacuous like many of Nothing More’s peers. Oh and it has a hook-laden chorus to die for.

From The Album: ‘Nothing More’

Album of the Year 2014 – Number 3

It’s getting serious now as I enter the final three albums in my 2014 top 20 countdown, the bronze, silver and gold positions. Needless to say that all three bands coming up have released fabulous albums, worthy of any accolade coming their way.

Remember, every post in this series can be accessed at the bottom of this post along with the full series’ from 2012 and 2013.

But enough of that, here’s Number 3 for 2014…

Season Of Mist

Iceland. In my opinion, one of the most magical countries on Earth and, given the size of the population, a musical powerhouse. When my brother passed away in 2008, my family and I started a search for a perfect resting place for some of his ashes. His love of rugged landscapes, mountains and the wilderness led us inexorably towards Iceland. None of us had visited before and when we arrived in 2009, we were not prepared for the impact it would have on us. Breathtakingly beautiful, it felt right and there was no hesitation in leaving part of him behind in a tranquil spot near the Gulfoss waterfall in the shadow of mountains and glaciers.

My parents and I returned to Iceland earlier this year to revisit my brother and once again, the island worked its magic. We were only there for three full days but by the end, I simply did not want to leave. I would move there tomorrow given half a chance.

You may be wondering why I’m saying all this on a post about my third favourite album of the year. The answer is that it provides some much needed context so that when I say that ‘Otta’ feels to me like the sound of Iceland, the importance of this statement can be fully understood.

Very few bands manage to convey a sense of their surroundings so eloquently but by heavens, with ‘Otta’, Icelanders Sólstafir are one such band. The quartet have come a long way from their more extreme days and the post-rock inspired ‘Otta’ has to be considered to be their masterpiece to date.

Picture by: Guðný Lára Thorarensen

Picture by: Guðný Lára Thorarensen

We already knew it but music does not have to be technically complex in order to be engaging, enjoyable and full of depth. Compositionally, this is not the most overtly complicated music from a technical standpoint but regardless of this, to write music as good as this is not easy. On this record, Sólstafir concentrate on creating intense atmospheres and painting epic vistas in the minds of the listener, many of which bring me close to tears. As I allow this very organic and natural-sounding album wash over me and seep into my psyche, I ache to return to the homeland of Sólstafir, to once again experience the landscape which has been reimagined so beautifully in musical form. The striking artwork will give you a clue and more of an understanding of what to expect.

Unlike Sólstafir’s previous album, ‘Svartir Sandar’, ‘Otta’ is contained on just the one disc. As such, it’s a more honed affair. Admittedly the eight tracks still last for nearly an hour collectively with a good half of the compositions reaching well beyond the seven-minute mark. Importantly though, the perception as you listen is of a much shorter album, so effectively does it pull you in and delight you at every majestic turn.

The album opens in impressive fashion with ‘Lagnaetti’ and maintains the quality until the last note dies away. The opener begins in quiet, relatively sombre fashion but builds throughout its length into something more urgent and powerful. However, all the while it is held together by a really engaging melody line.

What transports this album into the higher echelons is the melodic sensibility at play here. The title track begins with an ambient feel but once again builds around a central melody which is stunningly beautiful but also rather unique given that it is brought to life by a banjo.

In the centre of the album sit the more truncated and, arguably, more immediately accessible trio of ‘Rismal’, ‘Dagmal’ and ‘Middegi’, each of which could teach a thing or two to sections of the post-rock fraternity about how to write material that is both catchy and full of integrity whilst still managing to once again convey an impressive soundscape in the process.

‘Non’, ‘Midaftann’ and ‘Nattmal’ complete the album in equally spectacular fashion. ‘Nattmal’ is the longest and most challenging composition on ‘Otta’ whilst ‘Midaftann’ is simply gorgeous, dominated as it is by a lone piano, thereby lending the track a more introspective feel.

I think the opening couple of paragraphs will help you understand just how much I love ‘Otta’ and, more importantly, why. However, this album from Sólstafir is just 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. And I bet I’m not the only one. Sensational.

Check out the other posts in this series:

Album of the Year 2014 – Number 4
Album of the Year 2014 – Number 5
Album of the Year 2014 – Number 6
Album of the Year 2014 – Number 7
Album of the Year 2014 – Number 8
Album of the Year 2014 – Number 9
Album of the Year 2014 – Number 10
Album of the Year 2014 – Number 11
Album of the Year 2014 – Number 12
Album of the Year 2014 – Number 13
Album of the Year 2014 – Number 14
Album of the Year 2014 – Number 15
Album of the Year 2014 – Number 16
Album of the Year 2014 – Number 17
Album of the Year 2014 – Number 18
Album of the Year 2014 – Number 19
Album of the Year 2014 – Number 20

And if you’re interested, my similar countdowns from previous years can be accessed here:

Top 20 of 2012
Album of the Year 2013