Live Review: A Swedish Adventure with Evergrey and Sorcerer – 28 February 2020, Kulturbolaget, Malmö

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The wait had been interminable. As an early Christmas present from my incredible girlfriend, the Miss Of Much Metal, I was presented with tickets to the first Evergrey gig in some time, to be hosted in the southern Swedish town of Malmö. Finally however, the 28th February arrived and began with a trip to the airport. Aside from a plethora of people wearing face masks to make themselves feel safe against the apparent onslaught of Covid 19, this part of the journey was smooth and unremarkable.

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After touchdown in Denmark and walking what felt like five miles through Copenhagen Airport, we eventually emerged into the daylight and jumped into a taxi. With no knowledge whatsoever of the exchange rate, we were blissfully unaware that the short trip across the border was going to cost us more than around six times the expense of the train. But hey, we got to ride over the Copenhagen Bridge which was a pretty impressive experience. Just perhaps not worth £150. Ouch!

To add insult to injury, the taxi driver was new and the journey included a couple of unnecessary detours, including one that meant we returned to the airport soon after leaving. But, being in high spirits, we didn’t care about the rather random and haphazard arrival to our hotel and were soon checked in and freshened up, ready for the evening ahead.

Having kept in touch during the day, we headed down to the hotel lobby to meet my Norwegian friends, Lene and Kim, who had travelled from Stavanger in Norway for tonight’s show. After the warm greeting and introductions to Gemma, the Miss of Much Metal, we headed out into the brisk Malmö evening in search of food and high class entertainment.

The Italian restaurant had a nice atmosphere but average food, so we all hoped the rest of the evening might rise above ‘average’.

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Pic: Kim Haugland

And it did, but none of us were expecting it to reach the heights that it did. Starting with the venue, the Kulturbolaget was just lovely; two bars, friendly staff and a relaxed atmosphere meant that we were in the ideal setting for a night of great music. A quick trip to the merch stand where I bought just about everything on sale and, with drinks in hand, soon we were ready for the first band of the night. And it wasn’t just any old tin pot local band either.

When I found out that Sorcerer were going to be the support for Evergrey at this gig, I nearly fainted with joy. The Swede’s latest album, ‘Crowning Of The Fire King’ was easily one of my very favourite albums of 2018 so to have the chance to hear the music in a live setting was too good to be true. And they did not let me or the audience down one bit.

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Blessed with a really great sound from the very beginning, the quintet impressed me from start to finish. Kicking off with one of their most powerful tracks from their latest, incredible record, ‘Crowning Of The Fire King’, they grabbed my attention immediately. They also captured the imagination of the Miss Of Much Metal, who has since added the band to her running playlist as she trains for the upcoming London Marathon.

In the live setting, vocalist Anders Engberg is brilliant, even better for my money than he is on record. His presence is surprisingly imposing but more importantly, he nails every note and sings with a passion and enthusiasm that seems to drive the rest of the band onwards. Not that the other four musicians needed a second invitation, with each of them combining to bring the epic, melodic doom of Sorcerer to life. In particular, credit has to go to the guitarists Kristian Niemann and Peter Hallgren who traded crushing riffs and effervescent solos to great effect, albeit supported expertly by a muscular rhythm section, courtesy of drummer Richard Evansand and bassist Justin Biggs.

And, whilst I am only familiar with their latest record, the earlier material such as ‘The Dark Tower Of The Sorcerer’ and ‘Exorcise The Demon’ really impressed me, ensuring that I will most certainly be checking out the back catalogue when time in my hectic life allows. I said before the show that I had three songs that I wanted to hear during the night, one in particular from Sorcerer. And they didn’t fail, as the utterly glorious ‘Crowning Of The Fire King’ began to a great roar from me and several others. My drink was taken from me under instruction to enjoy myself and I did just that, throwing my head back and signing along with the infectious, anthemic chorus that rightfully became one of the songs of the year when it was released.

Sorcerer were even better than I had dared to hope and had it not been for the fact that Evergrey were up next, I’d have been extremely disappointed at the all-too-soon arrival of their departure.

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A couple of drinks later and the blinking torch from on-stage signalled what I fervently hoped would be another magical performance from my all-time favourite band. Evergrey have never delivered a sub-par show that I have witnessed, so I had incredibly high expectations for this show too. Admittedly I had a few nerves as this would be the first live performance from the Swedes in some time, but I always have faith where Evergrey are concerned.

The faith was well-placed and the nerves, as it turned out, were unnecessary as my boys came onto the stage like the legends that they are as the familiar sonar sounds emanated from the speakers. Naturally, first up was the gargantuan ‘A Silent Arc’, the opening track from their latest masterpiece ‘The Atlantic’. Earlier in the evening, I had been treated to a copy of the limited edition Mediabook version of the album and, having clutched hold of it for dear life from most of the evening, it was taken from me along with my drink under more stern instructions to ‘enjoy yourself’. I don’t argue with the Miss Of Much Metal, so enjoy myself, I duly did.

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If I’m honest, the sound initially was a little muddy and significantly louder than the support but it improved as the song progressed and by the time ‘Weightless’ and then ‘Distance’, the opener from ‘The Storm Within’ were unleashed, the clarity was much improved. It meant that the crushing riffs from Englund and Danhage, the monstrous bass from Niemann, the pounding drums of Ekdahl, the rich keys from Zander and Englund’s magnificent vocals could all be heard to absolutely devastating effect.

The energy from the stage was impressive too, as if Evergrey were comprised of five animals, tired of being caged and enjoying the freedom of the stage together again. Ekdahl was frequently up off his stool and the six-string duo were on the move whenever possible, allowing each other a place in the spotlight as they traded riffs and solos with utter relish.

For the most part, naturally, Tom addressed the eager, yet respectful and friendly crowd in his native tongue. But then, as the strains of ‘Leave It Behind Us’ disappeared, Englund reverted to English and the stuff of dreams happened. ‘All the way from England, this song is for Matt’, Tom declared, or words to that effect. To be honest, I was stunned and that exact moment remains a bit of a blur. The ensuing rendition of ‘Mark Of The Triangle’ was not though, as I sang, air guitared and generally lost my head throughout my favourite song ever written. This was the first time I’d ever had a song dedicated to me, and the whole experience just blew me away.

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Pic: Lene Haugland

Mind you, with ‘The Masterplan’ immediately following, and then the anthemic ‘Black Undertow’, my demeanour didn’t calm down particularly quickly. Alongside ‘Mark Of The Triangle’, the other absolute ‘must hear’ of the evening was ‘All I Have’, a song that has been my anthem of the last twelve months or so. And it duly arrived, to my utter delight, but not to the delight of my already-wrecked vocal cords. That didn’t matter a jot at all though, as I sang my heart out regardless, feeling almost overcome with emotion of the most positive kind. Here I was, in Sweden, with my dear friends, my incredible girlfriend and my favourite band , playing the best song released in 2019. I was elated and in heaven, metaphorically-speaking of course.

The set was impressively lengthy, so we still had time for ‘The Grand Collapse’ as well as a four-song encore that included the magnificent ‘Recreation Day’ and the absolute behemoth that’s ‘King Of Errors’, which fittingly ended the show in imposing style. I will never tire of that beast of a final note.

20200228_194623Sweaty, breathless and overcome with happiness, I clapped and cheered the conquering heroes off the stage and slowly retreated to one of the two bars, happy to discover that it remained open. There was no immediate ushering out of the venue by surly, oppressive security and as such, we were able to grab another drink and wait to see if the band might make an appearance. The UK take note, this is how you do gigs.

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Pic: Kim Haugland

To round off a perfect evening, the guys did emerge from backstage – firstly Johan, then Rikard, Jonas and Henrik. Met with warm hugs and, in Rikard’s case ‘Come On You Spurs!’, the greetings were so very warm and genuine from them all. They all chatted, traded stories, asked how I was with genuine sincerity and signed my newly-acquired Mediabook before Tom eventually materialised. Another hug came my way along with some gentle and good-natured football banter, before a few photos were taken and we eventually and reluctantly decided that we ought to let the guys load up and get on the road to Stockholm for the following day’s show.

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Due to the unique nature of our host town, we and our Norwegian friends were unable to locate another venue in which to enjoy one last nightcap. So it was, in the freezing and deserted high street at around 1am that we warmly bid our friends goodnight and safe travels, until the next time we would meet for a musical adventure. With the following day dedicated to a relaxing and a smooth, uneventful return journey back to the UK, the last word has to go to Evergrey and Sorcerer, who together gave me an unforgettable night, full of outstanding musicianship and a fair bit of magic. And to the beautiful human being that made it all possible for me, the Miss Of Much Metal – thank you, Gemma, from the bottom of my heart for sharing my passion with me.

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Sorcerer setlist: Sirens, Lake Of The Lost Souls, The Dark Tower Of The Sorcerer, Ship Of Doom, Exorcise The Demon, The Crowning Of The Fire King, The Sorcerer

Evergrey setlist: A Silent Arc, Weightless, Distance, Passing Through, The Fire, Leave It Behind Us, Mark Of The Triangle, The Masterplan, Black Undertow, I’m Sorry, My Allied Ocean, All I Have, The Grand Collapse. Encore: When The Walls Go Down, Recreation Day, A Touch Of Blessing, King Of Errors

Dynazty – Firesign – Album Review

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Artist: Dynazty

Album Title: Firesign

Label: AFM Records

Date of Release: 28 September 2018

The latest band to find themselves under the Man of Much Metal microscope is Dynazty, a Swedish melodic hard rock/metal band that up until now, I’d heard of, but had never given much of a listen. If I’m honest, the reason I’m finally taking the plunge and delving into the world of Dynazty is Nils Molin, their vocalist who has garnered significantly more attention since he was recruited by Amaranthe last year as the replacement for Jake E. Had it not been for this fact, I may well have overlooked Dynazty once again. And, as I have discovered, that would have been a huge shame.

‘Firesign’ is the sixth release in Dynazty’s career that started around 2007and the band is currently comprised of vocalist Molin alongside the delightfully named Love Magnusson (guitars) and drummer George Egg as well as Mike Lavér (guitars) and Jonathan Olsson (bass).

It is hardly surprising to learn that Dynazty took part in the Swedish qualification stages of Eurovision because their output, based on the content of ‘Firesign’, it the kind of highly polished, modern melodic hard rock with a metal edge that’d find a certain favour from the Eurovision faithful. It’d be harsh in my opinion to suggest that the music is cheesy, but it is a criticism that could be levelled at the quintet. After all, this is not particularly original material and you just know where the songs are going to go within a few seconds of each kicking into life.

And yet, for all that, I’m finding myself enjoying the record rather a lot. I’ve never made a secret of my love for warm, welcoming and highly melodic rocking music – indeed, the new W.E.T. album is likely to feature highly in my end-of-year ‘best of’ list. So, I really can’t help the affection that I feel towards ‘Firesign’. It is, at its core, just a fun and enjoyable record that requires very little effort to reap the rewards.

The more I listen to ‘Firesign’, the more it occurs to me that perhaps Dynazty are the missing link between a band like Amaranthe and the melodic hard rock genre. Take the opening track, ‘Breathe With me’ as an example of what I’m trying to say. There’s a keen modern, keyboard and synth-driven edge to the track as well as some chunky and crunchy guitar riffs that draw the comparisons to more contemporary acts. And then this is coupled with a hideously catchy, AOR-like chorus with a touch of the 80s about it. It really is the best of both worlds – melodic enough to appeal to those with a love of softer music whilst ballsy enough to sate many a fan of melodic metal.

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‘The Grey’ continues the theme, although it errs more on the 80s melodic rock side. The intro is a trip into the past, synth-dominated and with a sassy cheekiness. The bass-heavy opening verse is more of a minimalist affair, whilst the chorus offers sing along opportunities once again, supported by a groovy swagger that’s hard to not get caught up with.

The Nightwish similarities loom large from the outset of ‘In The Arms of A Devil’, what with the eager riff, pounding rhythm section and the symphonic overtones that drench this up-tempo track that is more power metal than anything else. The lead guitar solo is very nice indeed as well, a flamboyant ingredient that finds its way onto most of the tracks on this record, something I warmly approve of.

Other favourites include ‘Ascension’ and album of contrasts. At one point, it is a dark, stomping and brooding number, whilst at others, there’s an upbeat folk feel, full-on opulent orchestration and a chorus that delivers yet more groove and cocky swagger. Then there’s the title-track which unleashes the modern synths and pushes the contemporary influences ever further to the fore. But whatever they do, Dynazty never forget to make their output sufficiently memorable. As such, this song in particular is radio-friendly in the extreme, a facet you’ll either appreciate or deride.

If I’m going to be completely honest, I do find that the album loses a little bit of steam towards the end, with the best of what Dynazty have to offer front-loaded. This is a little bit of a shame because the first half of the record sets a high benchmark, one that could have meant that we could have been in the presence of a truly excellent record.

Nevertheless, there is a great deal about ‘Firesign’ to compliment and find favour with, meaning that it is still a very good release. I’m not certain it’ll shake the foundations of the rock/metal world, but if you’re looking or a record that features solid musicianship, tightly-honed songwriting and a clear identity, you could do a lot worse than make your acquaintance with ‘Firesign’, a very commendable melodic rock album with strong metal credentials.

The Score of Much Metal: 8.25

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

Deicide – Overtures of Blasphemy
Brainstorm – Midnight Ghost
Krisiun – Scourge of the Enthroned
Kingcrow – The Persistence
Cast The Stone – Empyrean Atrophy
Omnium Gatherum – The Burning Cold
Helion Prime – Terror of the Cybernetic Space Monster
Madder Mortem – Marrow
A Dying Planet – Facing The Incurable
Árstíðir – Nivalis
Mob Rules – Beast Reborn
The Spirit – Sounds From The Vortex
Aethereus – Absentia
Unanimated – Annihilation
Manticora – To Kill To Live To Kill
Rivers of Nihil – Where Owls Know My Name
Halcyon Way – Bloody But Unbowed
Michael Romeo – War Of The Worlds, Part 1
Redemption – Long Night’s Journey Into Day
Distorted Harmony – A Way Out
Tomorrow’s Eve – Mirror of Creation III – Project Ikaros
Atrocity – Okkult II
Lux Terminus – The Courage To Be
Kataklysm – Meditations
Marduk – Viktoria
Midas Fall – Evaporate
The Sea Within – The Sea Within
Haken – L-1VE
Follow The Cipher – Follow The Cipher
Spock’s Beard – Noise Floor
Ihsahn – Amr
The Fierce And The Dead – The Euphoric
Millennial Reign – The Great Divide
Subsignal – La Muerta
At The Gates – To Drink From The Night Itself
Dimmu Borgir – Eonian
Hekz – Invicta
Widow’s Peak – Graceless EP
Ivar Bjørnson and Einar Selvik – Hugsjá
Frequency Drift – Letters to Maro
Æpoch – Awakening Inception
Crematory – Oblivion
Wallachia – Monumental Heresy
Skeletal Remains – Devouring Mortality
MØL – Jord
Aesthesys – Achromata
Kamelot – The Shadow Theory
Barren Earth – A Complex of Cages
Memoriam – The Silent Vigil
Kino – Radio Voltaire
Borealis – The Offering
W.E.T. – Earthrage
Auri – Auri
Purest of Pain – Solipsis
Susperia – The Lyricist
Structural Disorder – …And The Cage Crumbles In the Final Scene
Necrophobic – Mark of the Necrogram
Divine Realm – Nordicity
Oceans of Slumber – The Banished Heart
Poem – Unique
Gleb Kolyadin – Gleb Kolyadin
Apathy Noir – Black Soil
Deathwhite – For A Black Tomorrow
Conjurer – Mire
Jukub Zytecki – Feather Bed/Ladder Head
Lione/Conti – Lione/Conti
Usurpress – Interregnum
Kælling – Lacuna
Vinide – Reveal
Armored Dawn – Barbarians In Black
Long Distance Calling – Boundless
In Vain – Currents
Harakiri For The Sky – Arson
Orphaned Land – Unsung Prophets And Dead Messiahs
Tribulation – Down Below
Machine Head – Catharsis
Bjorn Riis – Coming Home EP
Twilight’s Embrace – Penance EP
Bloodshot Dawn – Reanimation
Rise of Avernus – Eigengrau
Arch Echo – Arch Echo
Asenblut – Legenden
Bleeding Gods – Dodekathlon
Watain – Trident Wolf Eclipse

Nocturnal Rites – Phoenix – Album Review

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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.

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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

Arch Enemy – Will To Power – Album Review

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Artist: Arch Enemy

Album Title: Will To Power

Label: Century Media Records

Date Of Release: 8 September 2017

Have I ever mentioned that I love early Arch Enemy? I’m talking ‘Burning Bridges’ and before. This, as far as I am concerned, was the pinnacle of their career, with ‘Stigmata’ remaining my personal favourite. I loved the dark brutality that married so effortlessly with blazing solos, soaring melodies, a touch of progressive intent and topped off by the characterful growls of Johan Liiva. This was proper, unadulterated melodic death metal that delighted and beguiled me on each and every spin.

Since the departure of Liiva and the recruitment of Angela Gossow, I have to be honest and say that the output from this undeniably talented quintet has been disappointing and frustrating. Sure each album remains littered with muscular riffing and lightning fast and expressive solos, because to a certain extent, with the likes of Michael Amott and now the newest recruit, Jeff Loomis in the fold, there has to be a certain amount of six-string exuberance. It is part of the Arch Enemy DNA. However, in almost every other department, Arch Enemy have taken a step backwards as far as I am concerned.

To be crystal clear though, I am not blaming Gossow for the reduction in my enjoyment. Sure, I preferred Liiva’s delivery but this is only part of the story. Overall, I have found the post-Millennium material too dull, too prescriptive and lacking in that magic ‘je ne sais quoi’. I appreciate that I am likely to be in a minority with this view but I have to be honest otherwise what else do I have?

But that being said, there are moments within the likes of ‘Wages Of Sin’, ‘Doomsday Machine’ and even ‘War Eternal’ that make my ears perk up. I’d be a fool to say otherwise given my undying fondness for heavy guitars and wailing solos, particularly when handled by such accomplished musicians.

And now, in 2017, Arch Enemy find themselves fronted by the utterly gorgeous Alissa White-Gluz for whom ‘Will To Power’ is her second studio album having replaced Gossow in 2013. She is joined by the founding duo of guitarist Michael Amott and drummer Daniel Erlandsson as well as long-time bassist Sharlee D’Angelo and now second axeman Jeff Loomis.

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This being the first studio record to feature Loomis as a fully-fledged member of the band, I had a tingle of excitement about a new Arch Enemy album for the first time in the better part of two decades. Being a huge fan of Nevermore and their more unique style of melodic prog/power metal, I was hoping Loomis’ songwriting abilities would have an effect on ‘Will To Power’. Imagine the huge lump of disappointment I experienced then, when I found out that Loomis has zero input into the songs on this record. Nevertheless, I find it difficult to let go of bands that have historically been so important to me. As a result, I wanted to give Arch Enemy one last chance before giving up on them once and for all.

Sadly, I can honestly say that my relationship with Arch Enemy is at an end. And I am genuinely sad to say this. I really wanted to like ‘Will To Power’. I really wanted to welcome the band back into my life with open arms. And, after hearing the infectious anthem that is ‘The World Is Yours’, I dared to believe that the spark might be reignited. It contains some devastating riffs, savage drumming from Erlandsson, bold bass work from D’Angelo and some excellent growls from White-Gluz. The chorus is hook laden and the lead guitar trade-offs between Amott and Loomis are full of energy and mind-bending dexterity. There’s even a riff at the two-minute mark that’s classic ‘Burning Bridges’ territory.

The unfortunate truth however, is that this is by far and away one of the best tracks on the record, leaving much of the rest in its dust. Hell, a few songs in and I find myself getting bored, wondering when I can listen to something else – ‘Stigmata’ for instance.

In the interests of fairness and as I have hinted elsewhere, I will gladly admit that the musicianship throughout this record is of the very highest order. There are plenty of bruising and satisfying riffs to be heard as well as some crazy lead work. But I have come to realise that these ingredients alone are not enough. I need more. I want to be blown away by the music that I listen to, or moved, or fascinated. ‘Will To Power’, does none of these things. Even the painfully inevitable dabble with clean vocals within the ballad-like ‘Reason To Believe’ does very little to stir my interest. White-Gluz has a tremendous voice, with a rich, smouldering tone. But when she executes something in between this and her all-out extreme delivery, it just sounds a bit cringe-worthy.

Speaking of cringe-worthy, I now find myself addressing the lyrics on ‘Will To Power’. I’m all for bands spouting positivity if that’s what they want, but the content here hits an entirely new level. ‘The World Is Yours’, ‘Reason To Believe’, ‘A Fight I Must Win’ and the album title itself; these all sound like chapters in some kind of self-help book rather than heavy metal song titles. Being this overt and in-you-face, I find the lyrics just a little too positive and a little too toe-curling. It’s all too saccharine and nauseating to be perfectly honest.

That said, tracks like ‘Murder Scene’ with its lovely dual guitar harmonies and very strong melodies are rays of sunshine in an otherwise murky and unfulfilling record. There’s also ‘Blood In The Water’ which has more of a ‘Burning Bridges’ bright and breezy feel to it. And the closer ‘A Fight I Must Win’ has a certain gravitas thanks to a lush orchestral intro and symphonic overtones throughout.

But at this point, there’s not much more to say really. I will state once again that I am almost certain to be in a small minority with my views and there will be legions of fans chomping at the bit to deride my review. Some might even use an occasional swear word in my direction. That’s fine, everyone’s entitled to their opinion and if you like a polished and conventional style of extreme metal, ‘Will To Power’ will be a triumph. But in all honesty, there are far too many excellent records out there that I’d rather listen to. I wish that it wasn’t the case but hey, you can’t win them all. And with that, Arch Enemy and I have officially parted ways.

The Score Of Much Metal: 5

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

2015 reviews
2016 reviews

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

H.E.A.T – Into The Great Unknown – Album Review

HEAT_IntoTheGreatUnknown_album_cover_hr

Artist: H.E.A.T

Album Title: Into The Great Unknown

Label: earMUSIC

Date of Release: 22 September 2017

When I reviewed ‘Tearing Down The Walls’, the fourth album from Swedish hard rock band H.E.A.T, I suggested that it was even better than their previous effort, ‘Address The Nation’. And that was a superb album, one of my all-time favourite hard rock albums no less. So, the bar has been set stratospherically high for album number five, entitled ‘Into The Great Unknown’. But let’s face it, if anyone can meet these expectations, it is going to be H.E.A.T.

With the core of the band remaining intact, the only alteration to the line-up for the new disc is the somewhat surprising departure of guitarist Eric Rivers towards the back end of 2016. Given that Rivers was a founding member of H.E.A.T and was an integral ingredient within the overall H.E.A.T sound, the shoes to fill are pretty large. However, arguably the perfect replacement has been found in the shape of Dave Dalone, who returns to the band that he left in 2013. He re-joins vocalist Eric Grönwall, keyboardist Jona Tee, bassist Jimmy Jay and drummer Crash and together, they headed to Thailand to record ‘Into The Great Unknown’ alongside producer Tobias Lindell.

Now, the cynics amongst us might raise an eyebrow at the choice of location for the recording of the new album. Were the band just looking for a warm, exotic place to party? Bangkok is famous for plenty of reasons, but I’m not entirely sure that musical creativity is one of them. However, after one spin of ‘Into The Great Unknown’, it is clear that for all the partying that may or may not have taken place, plenty of serious work was also undertaken by the Upplands Väsby-based quintet.

The big question I’m sure you want me to answer is ‘is this record as good as the last two?’ Well, in keeping with the cocky swagger that H.E.A.T possess in bucket loads, I’m not going to answer this question just yet.

Instead, allow me to offer a run-through of the album. Seeing as I penned a blow-by-blow account of ‘Tearing Down The Walls’, I may as well do the same again with ‘Into The Great Unknown’.

This hugely anticipated record opens up in exactly the way you’d hope a H.E.A.T album to. ‘Bastard of Society’ is the kind of hard rocking, hook-laden, up-tempo sing-along anthem for which they are known and loved. It’s an instant testosterone-fuelled classic within their back catalogue, the kind of song that would easily open up their lives shows from now on.

In keeping with their last album, the number two slot is then reserved for a little bit of a curveball, certainly a song that might raise a few eyebrows and divide opinion. On ‘Tearing Down The Walls’ it was ‘Shot At Redemption’ with its country twang. Here, it’s the quieter, arguably more mainstream-sounding ‘Redefined’. And surprisingly, given its prominent keys and more minimalist approach, it has turned out to be my current favourite track on the record. I hear smatterings of U2 and Bon Jovi within the track but it is again the chorus that leaves its indelible mark on my brain. That and the slower, more melodic and emotive lead guitar solo from Dalone, which is a delight.

I may come across as sounding straight-laced or old-fashioned, but I’ve never been a fan of song titles that contain swear words. Let the music do the talking, not a vaguely controversial song title – that’s my view anyway. In spite of this minor grumble, ‘Shit City’ dials things back up into more natural H.E.A.T territory. Grönwall is all over this track, hitting some impressively high notes along the way as his band mates deliver a glorious racket behind him, most notably a powerful rhythmic backbone from drummer Crash and bassist Jimmy Jay.

Lead single, ‘Time On Our Side’ is up next and it’s the track with which readers will be most familiar. It may even have single-handedly influenced your decision about whether or not to explore this album further. It was a close-run thing for me, I must admit, but I’m glad I took the plunge. After initially feeling thoroughly underwhelmed by it, I have grown to love it. There is an undeniable pop sheen to the song with the pronounced keys of Jona Tee and an electronic beat. I will admit that I still enjoy the verses more than the higher-pitched chorus which, whilst becoming quite infectious, doesn’t grab me like others on the record. But regardless, it’s a song that cannot be ignored.

‘Best Of The Broken’ is a cock-sure, swagger-laden anthem of defiance that features another huge chorus. In between, the verses deliver a simple but driving rhythm and there’s even space for a strange 80s digitised segment that would sound out-of-place if it had been delivered by anyone other than H.E.A.T. But given that they turn most things up to 11 anyway, it works.

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Picture credit: Klara Fowler

Just over the half-way mark, H.E.A.T pander to their softer side with the monster ballad ‘Eye Of The Storm’. If you’re going to indulge in a ballad, this is the way to do it. Quiet introspection? Check. Enormous heartfelt chorus? Check. Passionate lead guitar solo? Check. Irresistible crescendo? Check. It’s all there and it is delivered with aplomb. No half-measures, no regrets, just full-on big-hair-and-wind-machine music.

Unless I’m hearing things, the guitar riffs in ‘Blind Leads The Blind’ are some of the chunkiest and heaviest I’ve ever heard with H.E.A.T. It leads to a driving, no-nonsense hard rock track full of more of that swagger and cockiness that is such a huge part of this band’s DNA. There’s even time for a lead keyboard solo from Tee and a few snarled lines from Grönwall which I rather like having initially baulked at them.

If you can’t hear the Queen influences on ‘We Rule’, you need to need to consult an audiologist because they are writ large across this track. Overall, this is a much more theatrical track that always reminds me of both ‘Who Wants To Live Forever’ and ‘We Are The Champions’ thanks to some of the chosen melodies, guitar sounds and quieter moments. The way that it builds from subtle beginnings to a huge anthemic chorus is a thing of beauty, a huge statement of where H.E.A.T are currently in terms of their song writing ability.

If I’m honest, I can take or leave ‘Do You Want It?’. IT is the one track on the album that still hasn’t entirely clicked with me yet. The vocal gymnastics from an ever-improving Grönwall are impressive, especially his falsetto in the bridge, but for my personal tastes, this is by far and away my least favourite track on the record.

It is left then to the title track to conclude ‘Into The Great Unknown’ in strong fashion. At over seven minutes, this could have been a misstep but such is the power of this song, it ends up being one of the biggest triumphs on the entire album. The pace at the outset is slow and measured. The guitars are up front and centre, just where I like them and there’s a nice groove to the track as it builds towards the chorus. And what a chorus it is. Epic, sprawling and hook-laden, it is very much a case of leaving the very best until last. And given the epic feel to the track over all, it fits the bill perfectly.

And there you have it.

So, to go back to that question you’re burning to ask me – ‘is this record as good as the last two?’ The short answer is ‘yes, it is’. In terms of the performances all-round, the attitude of the band and the consistent quality on offer, it is definitely as good as its predecessors.

However, the bigger question for me is ‘do I like it as much as the last two albums?’ The answer there is more nuanced and more reserved. I really, really like ‘Into The Great Unknown’ but, as I sit here now and type, I’m not entirely sure that it’s my favourite H.E.A.T album. My opinion may change in time of course, but I can’t help shake the feeling that the choruses in particular were more to my taste on the last couple of albums.

Putting all of that to one side, if you’ve dismissed H.E.A.T on the basis of ‘Time On Our Side’, I urge you to give the album a proper listen. ‘Into The Great Unknown’ is without doubt a superb melodic hard rock album. It might be a little more mainstream and honed in places, but it still rocks like a bad’un and is guaranteed to put a smile on your face.

‘Into The Great Unknown’ is out on earMUSIC on 22 September 2017.

The Score of Much Metal: 8.75

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

2015 reviews
2016 reviews

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

The Lurking Fear – Out of the Voiceless Grave – Album Review

The_Lurking_Fear_2017_Cover

Artist: The Lurking Fear

Album Title: Out of the Voiceless Grave

Label: Century Media Records

Date Of Release: 11 August 2017

I could be wrong but I’m pretty certain that Tomas Lindberg has never been involved in any band, project or record that has been anything less than solid. In fact, the vast majority of the material in which he has played some part, has been a lot better than ‘solid’, with much of it falling into ‘excellent’ or even ‘classic’ territory. It’s one heck of a list too, but most will be familiar with the Swede and his caustic gruff vocals as a result of his work with the peerless melodic death metal behemoth At The Gates. Personally-speaking, I also want to tip my cap to the criminally underrated Nightrage whilst I’m at it.

And now, not content with everything he has achieved to date, Lindberg pops up as the vocalist for The Lurking Fear, a brand new band that will naturally attract the dreaded ‘supergroup’ tag. Joining Lindberg is none other than his At The Gates sticksman Adrian Erlandsson, guitarists Jonas Stålhammar (Crippled Black Phoenix, God Macabre) and Fredrik Wallenberg (Skitsystem), as well as bassist Andreas Axelson (Disfear).

The band moniker is inspired by a short story written by H.P Lovecraft but apparently, that’s not where the inspiration finished, for it was musical inspiration that pulled this impressive quintet together in spite of their demanding day jobs. To illustrate this point, according to the press release, the guys came together and incredibly composed 18 songs in just two months.

‘Out Of The Voiceless Grave’ has since been trimmed down and thus features twelve tracks with a brisk running time of a little over 42 minutes. But what a 42 minutes it is, especially if you have a weakness for old-school death metal. This is a record that has clearly come from the modern era but which is imbued with many of the traits that made death metal so essential some twenty or thirty years ago.

What I hear is a record with a raw, nasty intensity to it as well as a bleak, suffocating atmosphere. The music is well-honed and tightly-performed but there’s enough fluidity to allow it to avoid sounding overly-precise or sterile. Instead, coupled with a production that blends the best of old and new, there’s an organic aspect to it, making it feel like the music lives and breathes.

Press_Photos_07
Credit: Martin Ahx

The Lovecraft-inspiration doesn’t cease at the band moniker either, as a sense of darkness and foreboding, in keeping with the literature of the Victorian/Edwardian author, looms large over ‘Out Of The Voiceless Grave’ right from the off. The opening instrumental title track provides an unsettling and clandestine soundtrack, murky and depraved. It may be a wasted track for many, but importantly, it sets the tone of the album, a tone that’s consistent as the record develops.

Those left in any doubt about the rhetoric surrounding The Lurking Fear and their love of old-school death metal need only listen to the opening few bars of ‘Vortex Spawn’ to be convinced. It might not be the best track on the record but it is an opening statement of real intent, switching between all-out speed and swirling lead guitar solos to more of a plodding, doomy pace, allowing the guitars to introduce some memorable riffing in that ever-so-familiar tone.

Next is ‘The Starving Gods Of Old’ and as it kicks in, I can hear more than a touch of thrash within it. It is also a much stronger track overall, with a break-neck pace for the most part, juxtaposed with a smattering of groove and topped off by a wild lead solo that threatens to spiral out of control almost as soon as it begins.

‘The Infernal Dread’ reintroduces the sounds of the opening instrumental before delivering something a little more melodic and immediate. The sound of tolling bells is a nice touch, injecting a little more atmosphere into the music but regardless, this is a very strong track.

After a few spins however, the realisation dawns on me that ‘Out of the Voiceless Grave’ is markedly stronger in the latter stages. I like the ominous mid-section stomp of ‘With Death Engraved In Their Bones’ amongst others, but by track seven, the magic happens on a more frequent basis as far as I’m concerned.

‘Teeth Of The Dark Plains’ begins in standard bruising fashion but just after the mid-way mark, the guitars have some real fun, delivering something more NWOBHM within the confines of their extreme metal cocoon. It’s a masterstroke, proving that there is more to The Lurking Fear than just out-and-out savagery and I like this album all the more for it.

Some spoken-word samples are injected into a slower section of ‘The Cold Jaws of Death’, giving the track a vague Gothic feel, which I hadn’t anticipated, whilst closing track, ‘Beneath Menacing Sands’ slows the pace more consistently, and brings the record to an end in a much more ponderous and overtly melodic manner, albeit without losing any of that atmospheric darkness that fits the Lovecraftian themes so well. In between, both ‘Winged Death’ and ‘Tentacles of Blackened Horror’ deliver yet more powerful and deliciously caustic content.

I think it says something about my personal tastes as well as the strength of the death metal releases in 2017 that an album this good is unlikely to be at the top of my list this year. Nevertheless, if you’re after a lovingly and expertly crafted death metal album that embraces a bygone era of the genre with authenticity, then this filthy, raw album is the one for you, without doubt.

The Score Of Much Metal: 8.75

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

2015 reviews
2016 reviews

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

Essential rock & metal releases still to come in 2017 – Part 1

It’s true what they say – the older you get, the faster time disappears. I mean, it doesn’t seem possible that we are already half-way through 2017 for a start. And yet here I am. With my round-up of the best releases so far in 2017 under my belt, it is time to turn my attention to the future and consider what else is due to cross our paths this year.

If the first half is anything to go by, we’re in for a treat, I can tell you. I don’t remember a year where I’ve given out so many high scores. Unlike last year though, I have yet to bestow a perfect 10 on anyone, although the new Voyager album, ‘Ghost Mile’, Persefone’s ‘Aathma’ and Big Big Train’s ‘Grimspound’ all came deservedly close.

But enough about the past, here’s to the future…

19106010_10154760456619077_388154856530751419_nCradle of Filth
Cryptoriana – The Seductiveness of Decay
Release date: 22 September 2017

I was going off the boil regarding Suffolk’s most famous extreme metal export. I was a member of the fan club many years ago in my late teens having worshiped the likes of ‘Dusk…And Her Embrace’ and ‘Cruelty And The Beast’. But after a string of less-than-stellar releases throughout the noughties, I began to re-evaluate. That was until a couple of years ago and the release of ‘Hammer Of The Witches’. Their best since their heyday, it brought me kicking and screaming back into the fold. I now cannot wait for the next chapter in the saga of Dani Filth and co.

This next chapter is entitled ‘Cryptoriana – The Seductiveness of Decay’ and is due for release on 22nd September via Nuclear Blast. Watch out for the first single release very soon too.

19146029_10154398261857105_6108765129743949462_nCaligula’s Horse
In Contact
Release date: 15 September 2017

There are a huge number of excellent bands coming from Australia these days but alongside Vanishing Point and Voyager, Caligula’s Horse are one of the very best. Their previous album, ‘Bloom’ was superb, one of the best releases of 2015. In fact, the more I listen to this record, the better it gets – I should have placed it even higher in my end of year list, but hindsight is a wonderful thing. It is undeniably prog but it is intelligent, modern and full of the kind of swagger and assuredness that only the very best bands display.

The new album is quoted as being “an immense conceptual work”. Enigmatically-entitled ‘In Contact’, it is due for release on 15th September via InsideOut Music, one of the best and most consistent labels out there today. Just listen to the teaser trailer below and tell me this doesn’t sound exciting…

18556032_10155643571650101_6880641999645372966_nLeprous
Malina
Release date: 25 August 2017

It is an undeniable fact that Norwegian band Leprous are now regarded as one of the very best bands in the prog metal genre. They have yet to release anything less than extraordinary in their 16 year-career to date. And they are still young and still learning. But crucially, they appear to remain extremely hungry and out to prove that they deserve to build upon the accolades that they have rightly received so far in their career.

They have released a new track, ‘From The Flame’, from their upcoming new album, entitled ‘Malina’ which is released on August 25th. It remains very recognisable as Leprous but also a little different at the same time. In interview, the band describes the record as a ‘natural-sounding organic album’, but still modern with great songs. If that’s the case, and based upon the first single, count me in.

19420708_1698781136823429_4102190633439104941_nArch Enemy
Will To Power
Release date: 8 September 2017

I’m no longer the biggest Arch Enemy fan, it has to be said. I loved ‘Stigmata’ and the follow-up ‘Burning Bridges’. But that was several years ago and since then, the Swedish extreme metal band with a penchant for over-the-top guitar histrionics have ditched original singer Johan Liiva, replacing him with first Angela Gossow and now Alissa White-Gluz. In fact, there will be a dwindling number of fans even aware that Liiva was ever involved now that the band have re-recorded those aforementioned albums. A bad move in my opinion, but what do I know?

Nevertheless, when a highly-respected fellow journo of long standing makes positive noises about the new material due to see the light of day in the near future, who am I to not take notice? Particularly when the positive noises refer to some brilliantly flamboyant guitar work, for which I am a sucker at the best of times. The door for Arch Enemy has not been slammed shut yet, but this is probably their last chance as far as I’m concerned.

‘Will To Power’ is due to be released on 8th September 2017 on Century Media Records.

Threshold
Legends Of The Shires
Release date: TBC

The Threshold camp has gone a little quiet since the rather shock news surfaced that the UK progressive metal band had parted ways for a second time with Damian Wilson. Aside from news that the band are looking for fans to take part in the shooting of a new video, we’ve not heard anything new about the new material. Until that point, we were fully expecting the new album, ‘Legends of the Shires’ to surface in the latter stages of 2017. I still think we will have the double record, it’s just a matter of exactly when.

It is also a matter of who will be the vocalist on the record, as I understand that the album had been recorded with Wilson behind the mic. I suspect it’ll be Morgan, but nothing as far as I’m aware has been confirmed. You wait, as soon as I publish this post, an announcement will be made. An announcement is also still to be made regarding the guitar position made vacant by the recently departed Pete Morten. Interesting times ahead for one of my favourite prog bands.

Album of the Year 2016 – Number 6

Welcome to day 25 of my ‘Album of the Year 2016’ top 30 countdown.

As if the last 24 posts in this series hadn’t already spelled it out, this year has been one of the most insane ever. I’m sure you’ll agree that the quality has been unbelievable so far. If you’re unfamiliar with my choices, just scroll to the bottom of this post where you’ll find links to each of the wonderful albums I’ve chosen thus far.

And now, as we reach the last six albums in my list, it gets even better. These last six albums are some of the best I have heard for a good while and it has been almost impossible to separate them to put them into some kind of order.

Nevertheless, I have persevered and am now able to shine the spotlight on them. Somewhat conventionally, let me start with number 6…

Number 6

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Wolverine
Machina Viva
The Laser’s Edge

“The album, Wolverine’s fifth, goes by the name of ‘Machina Viva’ and, if you’d be so kind, I’d like to here and now go on record and say something directly to Messrs Henriksson (keyboards), Jansson (bass), Losbjer (drums), Jonsson (guitars) and Zell (vocals): thank you. From the bottom of my heart, thank you…You see, for me and many others I’m sure, a world without such beautiful, fragile, challenging and emotional music is unimaginable.

Forget for just a moment all of the intricacies & progressive nuances that litter Wolverine’s music, there are few artists out there that have the unnerving ability to break hearts with just one note. And Wolverine do it with such style that it’s impossible not to get swept up entirely in the emotion of it all…Add to this a level of lyricism that delves deep into the shadows of the human psyche to lay bare all the sorrows, regrets and bleak misery to which we, as humans, are susceptible and all of a sudden, you’re confronted with a body of work that is as draining and intense as it is bleak and stunningly beautiful.

There’s not a lot more I can say to be honest, so I won’t. I’ll just press play again and revel in some properly intelligent and intoxicating music that despite its heart-breaking overtones is a sheer magical delight from start to finish.

listening to Wolverine is more than just listening to music; it is an all-encompassing experience, at its most fulfilling if you give yourself entirely over to it. And yet, somehow, the music also offers a cathartic and highly rewarding journey too.”

Read the full review here

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The sheer emotion of this record is the magic, intangible ingredient that makes ‘Machina Viva’ one of the very best albums of 2016. And yet, it was because of this depth that it took me a while to get fully immersed in the record.The lyrical density and the overt sadness that it projects is a daunting prospect initially and I had to be in the right mood to listen.

Now though, I embrace it. It comforts me in a strange way, to know that the raw emotions and human feelings brought to life so eloquently on this record, are not just mine to suffer alone. And I can’t be the only one for sure.

Backing this up is a tour-de-force of progressive rock and metal, where the listener is taken on a journey that climbs up high and plummets low in perfect harmony with the words. It’s a rich aural soundscape that uses minimalist ideas alongside more intricate and complex sections. It challenges the listener but, at the same time, contains some melodic refrains both vocally and instrumentally to tug at the heartstrings and lure you in for repeated listens.

And the crowning glory? It’s the honesty that permeates the entire album. You know for sure that the members of Wolverine are not just making such fragile and emotional music for the sake of it, they are living every word, using their own experiences as the fertile seeds for their artistic output.

I adore ‘Machina Viva’ more with every passing listen. It has become an important part of my 2016 musical tapestry and I have taken it to my heart.

In case you’ve missed any of the other posts in the 2016 series, here they are for you to explore and enjoy:

Album of the Year 2016 – number 7
Album of the Year 2016 – number 8
Album of the Year 2016 – number 9
Album of the Year 2016 – Number 10
Album of the Year 2016 – Number 11
Album of the Year 2016 – Number 12
Album of the Year 2016 – number 13
Album of the Year 2016 – number 14
Album of the Year 2016 – number 15
Album of the Year 2016 – Number 16
Album of the Year 2016 – number 17
Album of the Year 2016 – number 18
Album of the Year 2016 – Number 19
Album of the Year 2016 – number 20
Album of the Year 2016 – number 21
Album of the Year 2016 – number 22
Album of the Year 2016 – number 23
Album of the Year 2016 – number 24
Album of the Year 2016 – number 25
Album of the Year 2016 – number 26
Album of the Year 2016 – number 27
Album of the Year 2016 – number 28
Album of the Year 2016 – Number 29
Album of the Year 2016 – Number 30

And from previous years:

Album of the Year 2015
Album of the Year 2014
Album of the Year 2013
Album of the Year 2012

Album of the Year 2016 – Number 11

Welcome to day 20 of my ‘Album of the Year 2016’ top 30 countdown. I’m exactly two-thirds the way through this mammoth annual undertaking and the quality music just keeps on coming and keeps on getting better and better.

To those of you who have been with me since the beginning, I thank you. To those of you who are new to this, where have you been? Only kidding, it’s great to have you on board – I hope you stick with me for the remainder of the countdown. Links to the previous 19 posts can be found at the bottom of this page, along with links to previous years as well.

But with that, here’s my choice at number 11 in 2016…

Number 11

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Enbound
The Blackened Heart
Inner Wound Recordings

 

“2016 has been a strong year for melodic metal as far as I’m concerned but this record is arguably the very best. Yes it is genuinely that good. Addictive, rich-sounding, slick, entertaining, anthemic – it literally has it all.

To put it bluntly, there isn’t a weak second on ‘The Blackened Heart’, let alone a weak song. Each of the ten tracks offers something of real quality and enjoyment, be it a catchy chorus, bombastic riff, killer vocal or a moment of real ostentatiousness in the form of a guitar or bass solo for example. The result, as I alluded to earlier, has to be that with ‘The Blackened Heart’, Enbound have delivered the best melodic metal album of the year.”

Read the full review here

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This is an album that came from nowhere to seriously floor me. As I’ve said before, 2016 has been a good year for melodic metal but ‘The Blackened Heart’ is the best of the bunch and is a firm favourite of mine. Everything about it is right on point, I can’t really find a weakness with it. I was aware of this Swedish band’s debut, so I knew that they had the raw talent. What I hadn’t expected was something this good if I’m honest.

The biggest compliment I can give ‘The Blackened Heart’ only dawned on me a week or two back. It gives me the same thrill-ride as the early days of the Khan/Kamelot partnership. I can remember being so excited on hearing tracks like ‘Center of the Universe’ or ‘Karma’, both of which remain form favourites. Well, the up-tempo, melodic and bombastic nature of Enbound’s music has exactly the same impact upon me. Enbound are not a Kamelot clone band, far from it in fact as they have their own distinct identity. However, there are a few similarities, albeit mainly around the keys and the more cinematic nature of some of the pieces. What Enbound have done though, is eclipse Kamelot in my eyes. Honestly.

Put this on, turn up the volume and be prepared for what is ultimately a breathless ride that is utterly addictive, intoxicating and criminally addictive. You want music to make you feel good, make you feel alive and happy? Well, I suggest you start right here and start with ‘Feel My Flame’, the best melodic metal song of the year by miles.

In case you’ve missed any of the other posts in the 2016 series, here they are for you to explore and enjoy:

Album of the Year 2016 – Number 12
Album of the Year 2016 – number 13
Album of the Year 2016 – number 14
Album of the Year 2016 – number 15
Album of the Year 2016 – Number 16
Album of the Year 2016 – number 17
Album of the Year 2016 – number 18
Album of the Year 2016 – Number 19
Album of the Year 2016 – number 20
Album of the Year 2016 – number 21
Album of the Year 2016 – number 22
Album of the Year 2016 – number 23
Album of the Year 2016 – number 24
Album of the Year 2016 – number 25
Album of the Year 2016 – number 26
Album of the Year 2016 – number 27
Album of the Year 2016 – number 28
Album of the Year 2016 – Number 29
Album of the Year 2016 – Number 30

And from previous years:

Album of the Year 2015
Album of the Year 2014
Album of the Year 2013
Album of the Year 2012

Album of the Year 2016 – Number 30

Hello and welcome to my annual musical extravaganza that’s my countdown of the year’s best album releases from across the rock and metal spectrum. As usual, you’ll find just about everything in this list, from black to death metal, from prog rock to extreme prog metal and plenty in between. I am a fan of heavy music in most of its guises and that, I hope, will be reflected in this list.

In keeping with last year, I have decided to keep the ‘top 30’ format, just bescause I quite enjoy writing these posts and because 2016 was an insanely great year for rock and metal music. The quality has been unbelievable at times and hopefully this is something that can be underlined by the albums that made it on my list as well as those that have just missed out.

However, this year, I will do things slightly differently. This is the first year where I have reviewed albums exclusively on my blog. As such, everything in this list will have been reviewed by me at some point in the year on the Blog of Much Metal. Therefore, I shall keep these posts quite short, adding a brief commentary about my thoughts on the album some days, weeks or months on from their release. In addition, I will quote a passage from the review, with links to the full article and, where possible, will include different sample tracks, possibly different photos too – we’ll see how I get on with that.

As always, I love the banter that this series initiates – please keep it coming. I know that there will be some releases that don’t feature that you think should and vice versa. Let me know what you think as we go along & hopefully get some debate going in the process.

There are also links to the previous series from 2012-2015 at the bottom of this post, so if you’re new to these and you’re intrigued by my choices from other years, feel free to check them out.

Ok, on that note, let’s get down to it. From this point on, there’s no going back…

Number 30

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Amaranthe
Maximalism
Spinefarm Records

 

“…above all, when all is said and done, who doesn’t like a good dose of feel-good, memorable music that perhaps doesn’t require a huge amount of effort to enjoy? Sometimes, we’ve all got to rock out, yes? Sometimes, we all need to hear something that you can sing in the shower, yes? Well, in that case, there’s no one better than Amaranthe.

Once again, the sextet has delivered an excellent album that will almost certainly hit all the right notes in the live arena. ‘Maximalism’ demonstrates yet again that Amaranthe are consummate professionals at writing and performing music that is succinct, powerful and infectious as hell. Amaranthe are no longer a guilty pleasure; they’re simply a pleasure.”

Read the full review here

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After a few initial misgivings, I really grew to like this polished and pristine slab of modern melodic metal from Amaranthe. As the quotes above indicate, ‘Maximalism’ is big on excess, be it in the form of huge choruses, over-the-top vocals or the massive mainstream pop influences.

I accept that Amaranthe is a love or hate band but I’m a lover – the whole thing is so damn catchy that it is almost impossible not to get swept up in it. So why is it not higher in my top 30? Good question.

The answer, quite simply and honestly, is that it is a victim of an impossibly strong year where I have been inundated with superb music left, right and centre. Another year, ‘Maximalism’ may have found itself within my top 20 or higher. But as it is, as excellent as it is, it only just sneaks into the list. But don’t let that put you off – ‘Maximalism’ is a great record, deserving of your attention.

And from previous years:

Album of the Year 2015
Album of the Year 2014
Album of the Year 2013
Album of the Year 2012

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