Tag Archives: Sweden

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

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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.

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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

Live gig review: Delain, Evergrey, Kobra And The Lotus – Norwich Waterfront 15/11/16

No words are required!

No words are required!

It might have been a cold and wet autumn evening, but it isn’t every day that my favourite band tours within an hour’s drive of my house, not when I live in what feels like the middle of nowhere. It felt like a lifetime of watching clips and seeing photographs from the preceding five weeks of the European tour but finally, Evergrey had arrived in Norwich alongside their touring partners, openers Kobra And The Lotus and the headliners Delain. I’m not going to make my usual comment about Evergrey and the fact that they should have been the headliners…oh, damn, I just have. Oops.

I left work early, gave my children a quick hug and then scampered off up the main road that links Ipswich to Norwich. Huge metropolitan cities these are not, so it was an after-dark journey dominated by single carriageway roads, punctuated by pockets of heavy rain and occasional slow-moving farm vehicles. Welcome to East Anglia!

But it was all worth it because on arrival, I get a message from Evergrey founder Tom Englund to say that the band are heading to a local restaurant not far from the venue. Apparently, I’m invited, even though it means that everyone has to move tables to accommodate some imposter to the group. Warm greetings are exchanged with every member before we get down to the important stuff: eating, chatting about music and trashing each other’s football teams of choice.

After the meal, Tom, Rikard and Johan all wander back to the venue whilst Jonas and Henrik head off in a different direction, in search of ice cream or some such. I’m invited onto the tour bus to have a more in-depth chat about the world of Evergrey before I join a gently increasing queue outside the venue. I make it in to the Waterfront just in time to witness Canadian metal band Kobra And The Lotus take to the stage.

Having never really investigated the sounds of Kobra And The Lotus before, I was pleasantly surprised with what I witnessed. Altogether heavier than I was expecting, they had some solid beats, riffs and solos as well as a definite stage presence that kept me interested throughout, albeit through the fog and mud of a less-than-stellar sound. Nevertheless, it is always exciting to hear a new band on stage and the hard rock/heavy metal sounds of Kobra And The Lotus were good enough that I have since delved into the band’s back catalogue to discover more.

Frontwoman Kobra Paige was a striking focal point, dressed in figure-hugging gold attire and covered in tattoos. The visuals were complimented by a delivery that was full of attitude and explosive energy, and not just from Paige. All members of the band contributed to the enjoyable opening salvo, including the Lemmy look-alike bassist Brad Kennedy and golden-haired guitarist Jasio Kulakowski, who together breathed life and an honest grit into some well-crafted heavy metal songs.

At a mere 30 minutes, the set was short and sweet but in that time, it appeared that the growing crowd liked what they heard.

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And with that, it was time for the main event, at least as far as I was concerned. The lights went down and five shadowy figures took to the stage before launching into a blistering rendition of ‘Passing Through’, one of two excellent new songs from the Swedish dark melodic progressive metaller’s latest opus ‘The Storm Within’.

I may have been in the photo pit, but I couldn’t concentrate on taking pictures. Besides, I’m rubbish at photography and had an entirely inadequate lens on my camera. So, I just made use of having the best seat in the house to witness guitarist/vocalist Tom Englund, guitarist Henrik Danhage, keyboardist Rikard Zander, bassist Johan Niemann and drummer Jonas Ekdahl blast the crowd away with a blend of hugely powerful and emotional music performed with a level of skill and professionalism that spoke volumes.

Before I went into the pit, I happened to mention in passing to the friendly security chap how important Evergrey are to me. Quite unexpectedly then, after the three opening songs were up and I was ushered from the pit, I was invited with a smile to watch the rest of the show at the side of the stage. Talk about VIP treatment.

I have seen Evergrey countless times over the past 12 years, but I have yet to see the band deliver anything other than a quality, breathless performance. And this gig was no different. I would have dearly loved a longer set than 45 minutes which equated to just eight songs but what Evergrey lacked in length of set, they made up for in quality.

As is common place, Tom’s inter-song self-deprecating humour and dry wit was a joy to hear, getting the crowd on-side almost immediately by making them laugh openly on a frequent basis. However, it was the music itself that made the greatest impression on people if the rapt faces in the crowd, the parting applause and the queues to meet the band after the show were anything to go by.

Alongside another new song, ‘In Orbit’, we got to hear, amongst others, the up-tempo anthem that’s ‘Broken Wings’, the darkly progressive magnificence of ‘A Touch Of Blessing’, the utterly sensational and highly melodic ‘Black Undertow’ and the blistering intensity and grandiosity of ‘King Of Errors’, one of my favourite songs of 2014.

The sound wasn’t perfect, but that had more to do with the unique acoustics of the venue than anything else. And yet, the majesty and strength of the material shone through as well as the subtlety created by Zander’s atmospheric keys. The superb rhythm section of Ekdahl and Niemann never missed a beat, Englund’s vocals were on point and my spine tingled when Danhage took centre stage to deliver a soulful and heartfelt lead guitar solo at the midway point.

‘Wow, they were superb’, said a friend to me when it was all over. I’d banged on to them for years about how good Evergrey were, but it was this live show that convinced them. All I could do was smile knowingly, maybe even smugly and utter ‘that’s why they are the best band in the world’.

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If truth be told, I was considering making an exit after Evergrey as Delain are not normally my particular cup of tea. I like some of it but in general, I have grown tired over the years of the female-fronted symphonic melodic metal genre. However, after having a chat with a couple of friends I’d not seen for months, and because I wanted to say cheerio to the Evergrey chaps, I was in the venue as the Dutch band took to the stage.

And, as it turns out, I am glad I stayed. Within seconds, I found myself smiling as the sextet bounded onto the stage with an abundance of energy and enthusiasm. There were perhaps as few as 400 people in this small venue in Norfolk, but Delain did not care, as they set about entertaining the hardcore that were there and were ready to have a party.

Bedecked in a sparkly mini dress and flowing black and red hair, Charlotte Wessels looked every inch the rockstar to lead the band but it was her warm smile that caught my attention most of all. In fact, everywhere I looked on stage, all I could see were smiles.

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Celebrating their 10 year anniversary, Delain were like an undeniable force of nature, able to sweep the crowd up and carry them along for the ride without any apparent effort whatsoever. In a live setting, many of their better-known tracks made more sense and sounded that little more powerful and I will admit to being one of those that was ultimately swept away.

It’s fair to say that Delain are not the most technical or complex of bands. What they do is create memorable music full of big choruses and melodies. And they do it very well. Neither are Delain, Wessels apart, the most striking of bands visually. In fact, from the back-to-front baseball cap wearing drummer Ruben Israel, to the minute new rhythm guitarist Merel Bechtold, they are a somewhat incongruous sight. That said, watching the interaction between the band members and their rapport with the crowd was an utter joy.

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The polished and thoroughly entertaining set included the vast majority of latest release ‘Moonbathers’ as well as older numbers like ‘Stay Forever’ and ‘The Gathering’. And I must admit that earworm tracks like ‘Hands Of Gold’ and ‘The Glory And The Scum’ sat lodged in my head well into the following day, a sign of the impact that they had on me throughout the night.

And then it was all over. I said a quick goodbye to the guys in Evergrey before heading off in search of my car and a misty, cold drive home. The smile plastered on my face almost exclusively over the following day or so was testament to a genuinely fun and highly entertaining evening, both on and off the stage.

In Flames – Battles – Album Review

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Artist: In Flames

Album Title: Battles

Label: Nuclear Blast

Date Of Release: 11 November 2016

In Flames. Where do I begin with my review of ‘Battles’, the Swedish juggernaut’s thirteenth album of their career? How about at the beginning, with a little personal context?

In Flames were the very first band that I was exposed to within the melodic death metal scene. The year was 1998 and I was given a tatty cassette copy of ‘The Jester Race’ whilst at University. It was magnificent. My head had been turned and thus began a feverish exploration of a magical new genre that combined the heaviness of death metal with the melody of power or classic metal. As we all know, the genre became known as the ‘new wave of Swedish death metal’ also coined the ‘Gothenburg Sound’, so named after the likes of In Flames, Dark Tranquillity et al who frequented the south Swedish city and helped to create the scene in the beginning.

Thus began a long-standing love affair with the pioneering melodeath quintet, leading me to buy up all the early albums and await new releases with the fervour of a true fan boy. Today, the ‘The Jester Race’, alongside ‘Colony’, ‘Clayman’ and ‘Reroute to Remain’ remain firm favourites within an ever-increasing metal collection, receiving regular plays.

Unfortunately, things started to go wrong for me with 2004’s ‘Soundtrack To Your Escape’. As hinted on ‘Reroute…’, In Flames started to veer away from their earlier sound and it wasn’t a change in direction that I personally found favour with.

At this point, I want to put on record that I am not moaning about In Flames deciding to move away from their core sound and I am not one of those shouting ‘sell-out’ from the side lines. What I am is a long-term fan that respects the band for choosing their own path but who doesn’t enjoy their latter material as much as their early stuff. This is me being completely honest, not sugar-coating the truth.

The band has every right to do exactly what they want and explore whatever avenues they want. Sometimes, the changes that a band makes are, to my personal taste, better. At other times, they’re not. But that’s life; I’m not going to moan about it. The fact remains that I came to In Flames relatively early and, having fallen in love with their sound of the mid-late 90s, it is difficult to not descend into the trap of comparing new material with the early output that sits at the centre of my affections.

That said it would also be completely remiss of me to create the impression that modern day In Flames is a completely different beast to original In Flames. Yes there is a marked difference in the output, with newer material flirting with more mainstream rock and metal as well as introducing more modern effects and embellishments. However, the music remains very distinctive and cannot be confused in any way with any other band. Anders Fridén’s vocals might be generally less harsh in their delivery, favouring a cleaner approach and the overall feel of the songs might come across as being less ‘raw’ and untamed in sound and construction, but In Flames 2016 is still instantly recognisable as In Flames.

So, to ‘Battles’ I must turn.

Initially, I found the title of the album very apt indeed because based on recent experiences, I had to battle with myself to listen to the album in the first place. And then, after an initial spin, I had to battle even harder to press repeat. My initial thoughts about this album were not favourable and I even used the words ‘safe’ and ‘lacking fire’ within initial notes.

But I can admit when I am wrong. It doesn’t happen often but I can recognise it when it does! A week on from my intense apathy and initial disappointment, I now find myself in a position where I’m firmly thinking that ‘Battles’ could well be the best album that In Flames have delivered since ‘Reroute To Remain’ in 2002. Allow me to explain.

The quintet of vocalist Anders Fridén, guitarists Björn Gelotte and Niclas Engelin, bassist Peter Iwers and newbie drummer Joe Rickard will not appease those who yearn for a return to the days of ‘The Jester Race’ or ‘Whoracle’ with ‘Battles’. However, if you’re someone who can appreciate quality metal music, you’re sure to lap this record up. As always for In Flames, the production is massive although this time it was handled by a new collaborator in the form of Howard Benson. His is a name that is sure to immediately raise the expectations of some and raise the heckles of others given his work with the likes of My Chemical Romance in the past. I’ll admit I was sceptical but in fact, I think the result justifies the choice.

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The aspect of ‘Battles’ that becomes clear after a couple of runs through is how damn catchy it becomes. Nearly every single one of the twelve songs on offer features a strong melody, hook-laden chorus, memorable vocal or infectious groove. To my mind, this is part of what has been lacking over the previous couple of records and which led to my general malaise where In Flames were concerned; if In Flames were going to plough a new musical furrow, I at least wanted it to be interesting and engaging. Sadly, ‘Siren Charms’ did not deliver as far as I was concerned and ‘Sounds Of A Playground Fading’ was hit and miss at best.

Not so here. Opener ‘Drained’ begins quietly with plenty of dark atmosphere and an ominous spoken-word delivery from Fridén. The track grows in intensity before literally exploding into the first monster chorus of the album. Strange looks from neighbours be damned, I’m singing this track as loud as I can whilst taking the dog for a walk. To think I wasn’t keen on a first listen. Matt you plank.

‘The End’ quickly follows and instantly, the groove carries me away. The guitar tones, leads and riffs do hint heavily to the earlier days of the band, there’s no denying it. It’s glorious and sends a little shiver down my spine. The lead guitar solo is also a genuine flashback, albeit surrounded by a much more slick, modern and accessible framework.

As I alluded to earlier, one of the big bones of contention amongst fans relates to Fridén’s vocals. There can be no argument that over the years, he has experimented with different styles, mainly opting for a cleaner delivery. On ‘Battles’ however, he gets the balance just about right, I think. The clean croon is present and correct, but so are the gruff screams that typified earlier releases. Indeed, on ‘The End’, he sounds as caustic and venomous as ever.

Elsewhere, ‘Like Sand’ features an archetype In Flames bouncy groove topped off by a cheeky chorus whereas ‘The Truth’ begins like an electronic dance track and introduces what sounds like a child’s choir to enhance the truly anthemic chorus, accented by more old-school In Flames lead guitar work.

‘In My Room’ features a delicious bass, impassioned vocals and yet another ear-worm of a chorus, whilst in stark contrast, ‘Through My Eyes’ is one of the heaviest and most technically adept compositions that In Flames have penned, strangely reminiscent of compatriots Soilwork in some ways. It goes without saying that the song opens up into a huge chorus but surrounding it is a frenetic and urgent track full of top drawer musicianship including a cracking lead guitar solo from Gelotte and powerful drumming.

A special word needs to go to the title track which, at under three minutes is the briefest composition on ‘Battles’ but which also happens to deliver arguably the biggest and most memorable anthemic chorus on the album. I might have pressed repeat a few times.

For me, personally speaking, there is still the odd moment where I raise an eyebrow. ‘Here Until Forever’ for example flirts very closely with the emo scene. It remains a hugely powerful and memorable track, one that I can’t help but like. However, it’ll be sure to divide opinion ever further within the grass roots of the band’s following. The haters will hate it, but the rest might just love it.

Then there’s ‘Wallflower’ which offers something just a little bit different to say the least. Dominated in the early stages by Iwers’ commanding bass guitar, it is a mean and moody slow-burner that is deserving of its seven-minute-plus length. It builds ominously, toying with doom influences and minimalist atmospheres as it does so. And then, at the 2:30 mark, in comes something altogether more Gothic-sounding and electronic darkwave in tone. The chorus is a sprawling affair that ups the tempo and increases the melody quota slightly but it is a brief interlude as the minimalism returns complete with claustrophobic atmospherics.

‘Battles’ then comes to a close via excellent ‘Save Me’, which teases us with its ideal blend of old and new. The highly digitised vocals at the beginning are then replaced by a classic-sounding lead guitar line that has a nostalgic warmth to it, like the return of an old friend, making me smile in the process. The chorus is more in keeping with more modern mainstream metal but yet again, it’s absolutely enormous and the whole thing comes together in a powerful and majestic manner, the perfect way to close the album.

I made my peace a long time ago with the fact that I would never hear In Flames treading old ground. And good for them I say as it takes guts and self-belief to continually strive for new horizons. If I want to listen to an album like ‘The Jester Race’, I can listen to ‘The Jester Race’, it’s as simple as that. But for the time being, I’m just a little bit hooked on ‘Battles’. The more I listen, the more I like it. And the more I listen, the more I am firmly of the opinion that the material on ‘Battles’ is some of the most vital, hungry and passionate music that In Flames have recorded for well over a decade. And you have no idea how genuinely delighted I am to be able to say that.

The Score Of Much Metal: 9.0

If you’ve enjoyed this review, check out my others via my reviews pages or by clicking the links right here:

The Neal Morse Band – The Similitude Of A Dream
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Enbound – The Blackened Heart
Blind Ego – Liquid
Dark Tranquillity – Atoma
Hammerfall – Built To Last
Testament – Brotherhood Of The Snake
Crippled Black Phoenix – Bronze
Riverside – Eye Of The Soundscape
Hanging Garden – Hereafter
Theocracy – Ghost Ship
Arkona – Lunaris
Oddland – Origin
Sonata Arctica – The Ninth Hour
Edensong – Years In The Garden of Years
Meshuggah – The Violent Sleep Of Reason
Alcest – Kodama
Opeth – Sorceress
Negura Bunget – ZI
Epica – The Holographic Principle
Amaranthe – Maximalism
Eye Of Solitude – Cenotaph
Seven Impale – Contrapasso
DGM – The Passage
Pressure Points – False Lights
In The Woods – Pure
Devin Townsend – Transcendence
The Pineapple Thief – Your Wilderness
Evergrey – The Storm Within
Dream The Electric Sleep – Beneath The Dark Wide Sky
Periphery – ‘Periphery III: Select Difficulty’
Karmakanic – Dot
Novena – Secondary Genesis
Witherscape – The Northern Sanctuary
Eric Gillette – The Great Unknown
Tilt – Hinterland
Cosmograf – The Unreasonable Silence
Fates Warning – Theories Of Flight
Wolverine – Machina Viva
Be’lakor – Vessels
Lacuna Coil – Delirium
Big Big Train – Folklore
Airbag – Disconnected
Katatonia – The Fall Of Hearts
Frost* – Falling Satellites
Glorior Belli – Sundown (The Flock That Welcomes)
Habu – Infinite
Grand Magus ‘Sword Songs’
Messenger – Threnodies
Svoid – Storming Voices Of Inner Devotion
Fallujah – Dreamless
In Mourning – Afterglow
Haken – Affinity
Long Distance Calling – Trips
October Tide – Winged Waltz
Odd Logic – Penny For Your Thoughts
Iron Mountain – Unum
Knifeworld – Bottled Out Of Eden
Novembre – Ursa
Beholder – Reflections
Neverworld – Dreamsnatcher
Universal Mind Project – The Jaguar Priest
Thunderstone – Apocalypse Again
InnerWish – Innerwish
Mob Rules – Tales From Beyond
Ghost Bath – Moonlover
Spiritual Beggars – Sunrise To Sundown
Oceans Of Slumber – Winter
Rikard Zander – I Can Do Without Love
Redemption – The Art Of Loss
Headspace – All That You Fear Is Gone
Chris Quirarte – Mending Broken Bridges
Sunburst – Fragments Of Creation
Inglorious – Inglorious
Omnium Gatherum – Grey Heavens
Structural Disorder – Distance
Votum – Ktonik
Fleshgod Apocalypse – King
Rikard Sjoblom – The Unbendable Sleep
Textures – Phenotype
Serenity – Codex Atlanticus
Borknagar – Winter Thrice
The Mute Gods – Do Nothing Till You Hear From Me
Brainstorm – Scary Creatures
Arcade Messiah – II
Phantasma – The Deviant Hearts
Rendezvous Point – Solar Storm
Vanden Plas – Chronicles Of The Immortals: Netherworld II
Antimatter – The Judas Table
Bauda – Sporelights
Waken Eyes – Exodus
Earthside – A Dream In Static
Caligula’s Horse – Bloom
Teramaze – Her Halo
Amorphis – Under The Red Cloud
Spock’s Beard – The Oblivion Particle
Agent Fresco – Destrier
Cattle Decapitation – The Anthropocene Extinction
Between The Buried And Me – Coma Ecliptic
Cradle Of Filth – Hammer Of The Witches
Disarmonia Mundi – Cold Inferno
District 97 – In Vaults
Progoctopus – Transcendence
Big Big Train – Wassail
NightMare World – In The Fullness Of Time
Helloween – My God-Given Right
Triaxis – Zero Hour
Isurus – Logocharya
Arcturus – Arcturian
Kamelot – Haven
Native Construct – Quiet World
Sigh – Graveward
Pantommind – Searching For Eternity
Subterranean Masquerade – The Great Bazaar
Klone – Here Comes The Sun
The Gentle Storm – The Diary
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Enslaved – In Times
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Lonely Robot – Please Come Home
The Neal Morse Band – The Grand Experiment
Zero Stroke – As The Colours Seep
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Mors Principium Est – Dawn of The 5th Era
Arcade Messiah – Arcade Messiah
Triosphere – The Heart Of The Matter
Neonfly – Strangers In Paradise
Knight Area – Hyperdrive
Haken – Restoration
James LaBrie – Impermanent Resonance
Mercenary – Through Our Darkest Days
A.C.T. – Circus Pandemonium
Xerath – III
Big Big Train – English Electric (Part 1)
Thought Chamber – Psykerion
Marcus Jidell – Pictures From A Time Traveller
H.E.A.T – Tearing Down The Walls
Vanden Plas – Chronicles Of The Immortals: Netherworld