Welcome to the first post in a brand new series called ‘new sounds to wrap your ears around’
The idea of these posts is simple. Every week, I am inundated with requests and/or updates from bands that are either well-known, deep in the underground, or brand new. Often, these requests or updates seek to get me to feature a new song on my website. Up until now, I’ve had to say ‘thanks, but I only have time to feature albums and EPs’.
I hate saying ‘no’ to anyone in a musical context, so I have come up with something that I hope will please everyone: a regular round-up of some of the new sounds that are out there that you may have missed, or you simply weren’t even aware existed. More often than not, the music featured here will then translate into an album or EP review in due course, but it doesn’t have to. This is a new platform to shine the spotlight in any direction and on any subgenre. The only criteria is that I have to like it.
I’m happy to tweak the format dependng on suggestions or feedback, but let’s get started with this first instalment…
— MoMM —
Artist: Hyper Planet
Song Title: “To Live With Wisdom”
Album info: N/A
Hyper Planet are a progressive metal band from Tehran, Iran. I was contacted recently and asked if I would feature their new song on my website. In fact, this was the catalyst for this whole new feature, as I wanted to give the song a bit of a plug. Incorporating traditional instrumentation and lyrics that talk of the struggles of being an Iranian metal band, it immediately interested me. Plus, as you’ll hear, the song itself is a great slab of prog metal that successfully blends melody and complexity together. Check it out:
— MoMM —
Artist: Virtual Symmetry
Song Title: “Come Alive”
Album info: “Virtual Symmetry” – 16 September 2022
Label: Sensory Records
Swiss progressive metal band Virtual Symmetry may be a more widely-known band, but they are featured here for two important reasons. Firstly, they are one of the support acts for Evergrey’s European tour which kicks off on the same day as this self-titled album, their fourth, is released. And secondly, I really like the song. But then, as it’s a realy nice mix of prog metal and Euro power metal, with bucket loads of melody, it’s hardly surprising that I like it, is it?!
— MoMM —
Artist: Demon Hunter
Song: “Silence The World” (feat. Tom Englund)
Album info: “Exile” –9 September 2022
Label: Weapons FMG
Were it not for a loyal reader tipping me off about this song, I might have missed it altogether. So I had to spread the word just in case it had slipped past anyone else’s radar too. Featuring the peerless Tom Englund as a guest vocalist, it immediately piqued my interest and the ensuing moody and atmospheric composition has really grown on me over repeated listens. Unbelievably, the upcoming album, ‘Exile’, is Demon Hunter’s eleventh full-length release. And until a few days ago, I’d never heard of them. I will do all I can to bring you a review in due course. In the mantime, enjoy ‘Silence The World’:
— MoMM —
Album info: “Pagans Rising” – 30 September 2022
Label: ViciSolum Productions
This is a song that caught me by surprise, because I wasn’t expecting anything much when I checked it out recently. I’m not the biggest fan of symphonic metal at the best of times, but this is a little different because it rocks hard, it’s sufficiently heavy, and the melodies are strong. I also like the mix of clean female vocals and growls which normally are a little cliched, but given the attitude and grit within Tina Gunnarsson’s performance, it’s hard not to like the final product. This definitely has potential…
Am I the only one to get excited when a band returns from an extended hiatus? It is especially exciting when the hiatus began to feel like it might be more of a complete end, with hopes of a return fading with each and every passing year. Having been familiar with Finnish epic symphonic metal band Battlelore since the beginning of their career at the turn of the Millennium, I am delighted to see the band return with a new album some eleven years since their last outing, 2011’s ‘Doombound’. Admittedly the group reformed back in 2016 and have been beavering away since, but still, you never know whether something will materialise until the official announcement is made.
Entitled ‘The Return Of The Shadow’, Battlelore return us to the world of Tolkein in the only way that they know how. This record is actually named after the original title that Tolkein considered giving to the novel that eventually became ‘Fellowship Of The Ring’; this alone should underline the affection and attention to detail that the band demonstrate when it comes to one of the most celebrated fantasy stories of all time.
Somewhat remarkably, especially given that Battlelore is a septet, the same protagonists that featured on their last album are all present and correct this time around too. It means that vocalists Tomi Mykkänen and Kaisa Jouhki are joined by guitarists Jyri Vahvanen and Jussi Rautio, keyboardist/flautist Maria Honkanen, drummer Henri Vahvanen, and bassist Timo Honkanen.
With a line-up that is unchanged, it will cause very little surprise when I confirm that the musical output on ‘The Return of The Shadow’ will be familiar to anyone who has crossed paths, or swords, with Battlelore before. These guys have their modus operandi, and they are sticking to it. Previous albums have varied in terms of their quality and my overall enjoyment has also therefore varied. If I had to pick favourites, I’d suggest that 2003’s ‘Sword’s Song’ and 2008’s ‘The Last Alliance’ would feature. However, I am delighted to confirm that ‘The Return Of The Shadow’ can be added to this list.
What I personally like about Battlelore is, perhaps perversely, what others won’t enjoy quite as much. And that’s the way that the music is heavy and aggressive but also strangely smooth sounding and incredibly inviting. The music is full of growls, muscular riffs, and a strong rhythm section underpins everything, but the keys, ethereal female vocals, and generally mid-tempo pace of the songs creates a warmth and welcoming feel. I’m not sure if this is deliberate or not, but it is something that I find very endearing. I don’t mean to damn the music with faint praise either, because whilst I will often want to be smacked around the head by the music I listen to, I genuinely like the approach that Battlelore take. It’s bombastic and majestic but at the same time not overly cluttered or over-the-top. The fact that there are some wonderfully catchy and engaging melodies littered throughout the songs only adds to my enjoyment and raises this album above others within this genre that seek to over complicate matters without injecting enough memorability.
I didn’t realise that I had been missing Battlelore but, on this evidence, clearly I had.
I had hoped to mix things up a little bit by starting my deeper analysis of this album with a song buried somewhere within its heart. However, Battlelore have other ideas, because they produce a killer song right out of the blocks in the form of opener, ‘Minas Morgul’. The riffs at the start are really nice, and I love the chosen tone. The bass guitar is ever present, whilst the drums deliver fills and a little extravagance around the riffs. When the song opens up, we’re hit with some catchy synths, majestic orchestration, and a nice groove before clean male and female vocals duet over a quieter verse, giving them the space to take centre stage. The chorus is different however, complete with a faster tempo complimented by double pedal drumming and bolder orchestration. Growls appear later on to emphasise the heavier side of the band’s music, but there is no getting away from the fact that this is one catchy, anthemic track. Welcome back, Battlelore.
‘Chambers Of Fire’ is a chunkier beast and is likely to be a hit at summer festivals given its immediacy and no-nonsense, more aggressive attitude, underlined by a much more liberal use of deep growled vocals alongside Kaisa Jouhki’s soft approach. It has more of a folk-influenced melodic core, and I love the way that the second half is a much more delicate affair than the first until the final moments when the opening fist pumping chants return alongside the strong riffing.
I definitely feel that Battlelore are at their finest when they up the atmospheric and melodic quota within their compositions, and happily, there are several occasions on ‘The Return Of The Shadow’ when they duly oblige, starting with the delectable ‘Orcrist’ that features ethereal, synth-drenched passages led by Jouhki at her delicate best. The melodies are gorgeous, and even when we’re ‘treated’ to a spoken-word section that features the words ‘Goblin cleaver’ (I kid you not), I don’t turn my back in revulsion. It’s a bit cheesy and ham-fisted, but there remains a charm to it, mainly because the chorus is so damn irresistible.
Speaking of catchy, the slightly more up-tempo ‘Homecoming’ also fits the bill, with another strong, memorable chorus. The heavy, chugging riffing within ‘Elvenking’ is marvellous, but it’s accompanied by some simple yet fully effective bass lines from Timo Honkanen that rumble with real authority whilst Maria Honkanen’s flute adds delicate whimsy in clever counterpoint. ‘Mirrormere’ is another great song, featuring some prominent lead guitar lines early on before building a bittersweet feeling thanks to some sombre yet elegant melodies within the chorus. It also benefits from some of the boldest riffing and thunderous drumming by Henri Vahvanen in the mid-section.
For all that though, the star of the show for me sits at the very end of the album. ‘Shadow Of The East’ is simply stunning for a number of reasons. Firstly, I adore the guitars of Jyri Vahvanen and Jussi Rautio – the tone, assisted by the bass, is wonderful, especially when used as sparingly as it is within what is the slowest track of them all. Then there are the melodies that permeate from every pore, delightfully arresting throughout, culminating in a truly epic closing sequence, complete with orchestration, gently building metallic instrumentation, insidious growls, and muscular percussion. I could listen to this quasi ballad over and over again…and I have if truth be told.
You can be the fastest, the most overblown and pompous, the most dextrous, or the loudest. But what Battlelore more than ably demonstrate with this glorious return from the wilderness, is that none of that matters if the songs themselves aren’t engaging and memorable. At times, Battlelore can be loud, they can be fast, and they can be overblown and pompous. However, this is never at the expense of the songs themselves, which are almost entirely positive and thoroughly enjoyable. As I said earlier, some will criticise the band for not being edgy enough, or extreme enough. That’s their prerogative. Me though, I really like this album and I’m delighted to hear new material from Battlelore. Factor in the absolutely fabulous cover artwork and a bonus three-track EP entitled ‘Lost Lands’ as a bonus disc, and I’m making it ever more difficult for you to ignore this release. So don’t.
As you’re all fully aware, symphonic metal isn’t generally ago-to style of metal for me, but I’m always keen to be proven wrong, so I will always check out new albums within the genre to see if my general opinion can be changed. The latest band to try their hand at impressing me are Visions Of Atlantis, an entity with which I am familiar of course, but whose output has not yet found its way into my ever-increasing CD collection. Streaming? What’s that?
Anyway, I’m sure you already know all this, but the Austrian symphonic metal band have been through a number of changes over the past few years which has seen many musicians come and go, leaving only one original member standing, namely the drummer, Thomas Caser. Into the ranks has come female vocalist Clémentine Delauney, although she has been present for the better part of a decade now, featuring on the last three records. Caser and Delauney have been more recently joined by guitarist Christian Douscha, bassist Herbert Glos, and male vocalist Michele Guaitoli (Temperance).
I may not be as familiar as others who are reading this review, but it feels to me that ‘Pirates’ marks a bit of a change for the band. For a start, if Visions Of Atlantis had delivered an album of this quality previously, I’d have definitely remembered it; I’m actually very pleasantly surprised by the music that I hear on this new record. Then there’s the press release that had me raising an eyebrow when first I read it. Delauney is quoted as saying:
“We embrace who we are and we can state it in the eyes of everyone that we are Pirates now – we have always been, but now we are confident in our identity and we want to show it to the world”
Ok. Pirates? Really? The thing is, much as I feared for the material at the outset bearing this quote in mind, the end product is not a gimmick. It is not music that can only be enjoyed at a festival whilst hideously drunk with your mates and discarded at all other times – there are other bands for that, and we know who they are. Instead, the music on ‘Pirates’ might have a lyrical context that explores themes around the album’s title, but the music is deadly serious and is actually of a high standard overall.
Naturally, where symphonic metal with a female singer is concerned, there will be immediate comparisons drawn to Nightwish, arguably the most well-known and most revered of them all within the genre. And yes, there are some similarities to be heard; it’s a little inevitable in some respects. However, equally important are the echoes of bands like Kamelot, and Amaranthe, and even the likes of Serenity. The latter is hardly surprising given Delauney’s links to another Austrian powerhouse of the metal scene. What all this shows though, is that Visions Of Atlantis have not just decided to become a clone; instead, they have taken inspiration from a reasonably wide range of music within the metal sphere in order to create something that they feel is the right fit for them. The end result was never going to have me shouting about absolute originality, but the music is certainly entertaining and sufficiently interesting to pique my interest.
That wasn’t my first impression though, as an initial spin had me thinking that it was all rather bland. But, as I have invested more time with it, my opinion has slowly changed. At nearly an hour in length and featuring twelve individual tracks, there are a couple of occasions where things go a little off the boil, which isn’t overly surprising I suppose. For the most part though, the charm and quality of the music has begun to make inroads.
The opener, ‘Pirates Will Return’ begins with a dark, brooding intro that fittingly emerges from the depths, and begs the question of who is responsible for the synths and keys, because no-one is apparently credited for it in the promo material as far as I can see. This conundrum aside, the song soon settles into an up-tempo, hard-rocking affair, Delauney immediately making her mark with an assured performance that begins with a clean, attitude-laden ‘rock’ delivery, quickly switching into a more operatic style to change things up. When Michele Guaitoli, the track then takes on a greater power metal feel with strong, fast-paced drumming driving the song along. The chorus is a little whimsical, complete with choral vocals, but eventually it starts to get stuck in my head. However, it is the quieter, darker instrumental sections that work best for me as they provide some nice drama along the way.
By contrast, ‘Melancholy Angel’ is a much shorter, punchier track that features some very welcoming and catchy melodies, designed to have maximum impact right from the word ‘go’. Guest musician Ben Metzner makes his presence known at the outset of ‘Master The Hurricane’ with a flute-led introduction, before we’re led on a full-on symphonic metal tour-de-force, the likes of which both Nightwish and Epica would likely be proud of. The light and shade is compelling, from delicate, introspective moments, right through to outrageous bombast, creating one of the best cuts on the album and delivering one of the most arresting choruses for my personal tastes in the process. If you’re like me, you’ll be singing along with gusto by the third spin, maybe sooner.
And therein lies one of the strengths of ‘Pirates’, namely the variety. Too often, I find symphonic metal, for all its over-the-top grandiosity, can end up feeling one-dimensional due to a lack of variety. That’s not generally the case here at all, with a good mix of approaches to keep the attention of listeners throughout.
‘Clocks’ is the Amaranthe-inspired instant hit of saccharine modern melodic metal, but with the compelling duo of Delauney and Guaitoli at the helm instead, doing a fabulous job together. Then there’s ‘Wild Elysium’ that I adore as it does a fantastic job of resurrecting the very best Khan-era Kamelot material, albeit with both female and male vocals as wel as even more prominent orchestration.
I’m less keen overall about the ballads that appear in the form of ‘Freedom’ and ‘Heal The Scars’ because they are a bit too gentle and twee for me, but the more energetic compositions in between redress the balance, such as the surprisingly muscular and heavy ‘Legion Of The Seas’, or the poignant and rousing ‘I Will Be Gone’ with bagpipes and flute embellishments from Metzner. Rather than sound gimmicky, the flutes and bagpipes instead add a sense of authenticity to the material that I never thought would be the case if I’m being totally honest – it just shows that when handled correctly, just about anything can work within a metallic framework…almost.
All-in-all, I can’t be anything other than positive towards ‘Pirates’, the eighth record of Vision Of Atlantis’ career. It’s not completely perfect, but it is a much more impressive affair than I anticipated when I decided to check it out for the first time. Kudos for this has to go to Clémentine Delauney and Michele Guaitoli who, alongside producer Felix Heldt were instrumental in the writing of this record. But all of the band deserve credit because ‘Pirates’ is an assured, powerful, and slick album that provides some genuinely entertaining and enjoyable symphonic metal. It’s not often I utter these words, that’s for sure, so Visions Of Atlantis should take a well-earned bow for forcing me to say such positive things.
I have mentioned it before, but I am always scouting around, looking for great melodic metal bands because this genre can, when done properly, offer a shot of saccharine goodness that’s hard to ignore. When I find myself listening to more and more extreme metal releases, it’s good to have a change every now and then; as they say, a change is as good as a rest. Plus, in any case, I’ve always had a soft spot for heavy music that’s big on melody. I don’t always see melody as a diluter of heaviness and aggression – in the right circumstances, it can enhance the power and impact of the music. I can think of many examples where this rings true, across the various genres of heavy metal. The latest melodic metal album to hit my radar, is this, ‘Antares’ by Angel Nation.
I decided to check this record out, mainly because it finds itself on the Inner Wound Recordings roster, a label that has released some cool albums in the past. That and the fact that it’s released soon and I’m in the zone where I want to check out as much new music as humanly possible at the moment. Oh, and the singer for Angel Nation is Elina Siirala who is also part of Leave’s Eyes. It all added up to a situation where curiosity got the better of me.
According to the old saying, ‘curiosity killed the cat’ and unfortunately my curiosity has led me close to a similar fate here. Ok, I’m being incredibly sensationalist, but it is fair to say that ‘Antares’, the third full-length album from Angel Nation, has left me feeling decidedly underwhelmed and disappointed.
The band’s line-up sees the classically trained Siirala joined by guitarist George ‘GT’ Stergiou, bassist Julia B Cadau, and drummer Lucas Williamson. Together, they deliver forty-one or so minutes of glossy melodic metal with a symphonic element spread across ten individual tracks. I’ve been bitten before by making a snap decision on a first spin, only to find that my first impression was way too harsh; in fact, it happens more often than not, meaning that I will never, ever review a release after just one or two spins. In the case of ‘Antares’, I am sad to report that subsequent listens have not appreciably altered my opinion of this record. For all the gloss and polish, I find the whole thing quite dull and unmemorable. I have heard a thousand bands of this ilk over the years, and there is literally nothing here that is either unique or edgy.
With so much music and so many bands ploughing the melodic metal furrow, I want something that is going to wow me. I want the musical equivalent of the car you drew when you were eight years old; the car that came complete with guns, wings, and luminous paintwork. What Angel Nation give us is more like a beige 1980’s Volvo I’m afraid. Or at least, that’s my opinion anyway, because given the popularity of bands like this, Angel Nation will probably draw a significant audience to make me look completely out of step with public opinion. Not for the first time, it must be said.
Credit where it’s due though, and it’s fair to say that the production of ‘Antares’ is strong and seeks to get the very best out of the material on offer. For example, the heavy, imposing guitar sound that appears within the opener ‘Seraph’ has me pricking my ears, hopeful that what’s to follow will be suitably entertaining. It isn’t a bad song all round, with an up-tempo drive, a bit of muscle, and Siirala’s smooth vocal tones. Unfortunately, the chorus is only ok, thus failing to propel the opener into the stratosphere, despite a spirited lead guitar solo by Stergiou.
‘We Are Fire’ kicks off at a fair lick, the Euro power metal overtones clear for all to hear. The verses are bathed in rich synths, whilst the chorus sees the rhythm section galloping nicely, alongside arguably one of the strongest choruses on the album it has to be said. The over-the-top power metal excess also makes an appearance elsewhere, most notably at the beginning of ‘Face To Face With The Merciless’. Frustratingly, the early promise recedes as the song instead heads off in a mid-tempo stomping direction that lacks a killer punch.
However, tracks like ‘Life Is A War’ are where I lose almost all of my interest. Admittedly, the guitars sound nicely aggressive, but the increased drama and theatrical nature only serves to turn the song into a muddled mess. The odd flute sounds and attempt at a more progressive approach just strikes me as clunky, almost discordant. Not even bursts of double pedal drumming can resurrect a song that I just cannot warm to whatsoever.
Albums like this will always have a softer ballad and, if done correctly, can add another welcome dimension. ‘Way Back Home’ is Angel Nation’s gratuitous ballad and it’s just as you’d expect. Siirala’s classical tones croon above a rich, cinematic soundscape that’s part Disney, part West End Musical. With a killer hook, irresistible melody, or something magical, it could have been so good. But as nice as it is, that’s it – it’s just ‘nice’.
I have given ‘Antares’ by Angel Nation a mote than fair crack of the whip, but I just don’t gel with it. It feels so generic, that it could be the work of just about anyone within this genre of music. As I stated earlier, I’m fully prepared to be in the minority. But I have to be honest and say that this record simply leaves me cold and rather bored. I can’t like everything, after all.
Not for the first time this week, I bring you a review of a symphonic metal album. This one is from a brand new Australian band, Carmeria, and entitled ‘Advenae’, this release represents their debut full-length release. It also demonstrates the breadth of music that can be encompassed within the ‘symphonic’ descriptor. Earlier in the week, the symphonic metal featured a female vocalist and more of a pop/power metal sheen. Carmeria by contrast, offer more of a Gothic feel, alongside a heavier, and more varied approach overall. There’s a greater use of growled vocals as well as a smidge of progressive intent too.
Carmeria is a quintet that’s currently comprised of vocalist Jordan Von Grae, guitarist Jerry Zahija, bassist Emma Louise Nagy, keyboardist Miska Bobrov, and drummer Lachlan Blackwood. Apparently, ‘Advenae’ is the fruit borne out of six years of hard work for the band, a band that cite the likes of Nightwish, HIM, and Hans Zimmer as influences on their music.
From the very first listen, I would also add Kamelot to the list of influences, because to my ears, Jordan Von Grae sounds remarkably similar to Roy Khan; he has those rich tones and smooth delivery, as well as a similar intonation, making the resemblance quite uncanny at times. Interestingly though, the similarities become less prominent as the album develops, almost as if the band and Von Grae start to grow into their own skin a lot more in the latter stages.
In order to review ‘Advenae’ accurately, I feel the need to paint a picture. Imagine, if you will, two tall hills in the countryside, between which nestles a deep valley. This record is the musical equivalent of the image you have in your mind. It starts off very positively at the top of one of these hills and ends strongly at the summit of the other. However, for me, the band lose their way a little somewhere in the middle, deep in that heavily shaded valley. Every time I have listened, I have got into the record, only to lose a bit of interest, and then rediscover my enthusiasm towards the end. Some of this has to do with the fact that ‘Advenae’ runs for over an hour and, in order to remain consistent, I firmly believe that this is a touch too long. Some further editing would have been prudent to create a more succinct affair that packs a greater punch.
Additionally, I would also suggest that the album contains too much by way of slower, ballad-like material. A couple of the songs are genuinely great, but others are not so strong as far as I’m concerned. And this tends to ruin the flow somewhat. And finally, whilst not poor by any stretch of the imagination, the production feels a tad weak in places and a bit harsh on my ageing ears.
But enough of the negativity, because there is a lot of positivity that requires exploring.
When I said the album begins well, I meant it. The opening intro is also the title track and this is where those Hans Zimmer references make perfect sense, such is the opulent and cinematic bombast that this scene-setter boasts. ‘Morningstar’ follows and it’s full-on symphonic metal meets Gothic rock before it quietens to allow Von Grae to take centre stage. Given the vocal approach, there’s definitely a Kamelot sheen, but this is extinguished with the introduction of a ridiculously catchy chorus. The song skips along at a fair pace, becoming rather infectious after a while, and it’s a positive start to the record.
The positivity continues courtesy of ‘Carpe Noctem’. Starting quietly, it soon bursts into life with barely caged orchestral bombast, bringing in some snarling growls and another immediate earworm within the chorus that you can’t help but like. The opening to ‘En Rapture’ is classic ‘Once’ era Nightwish, before taking a left turn into greater Gothic territory. It’s another strong song overall with a lovely Maiden-esque melodic section just after the half-way mark, but its conclusion signals the beginning of the descent into the heavily shaded valley.
‘Relinquished’ is the first of a handful of slower songs and, although it isn’t a bad song, it lacks a bit of the punch and effervescence of the previous material. Follow-up ‘To Lead The Blind’ feels a little more theatrical, but doesn’t increase the pace or intensity an awful lot, certainly in the first half of the song, whilst the melodies don’t resonate with me anywhere near as effectively as earlier tracks did. It’s more of the same with ‘Celestia’. It’s another slow, melancholy ballad that features some gentle acoustic guitar strumming and a vibrant bass. The second half explodes but again, it again misses the mark with me, featuring melodies that are far too whimsical and folky for my tastes.
Happily, however, the final three tracks see Carmeria ascending the second hill and with it, they recapture my attention. ‘Veil Of Sanctitude’ is an opulent composition that opens up into a huge anthemic chorus with a hint of pop to it; you could almost see the band sitting on stools in a line like a boyband as they deliver this one. But it’s catchy as hell and impossible not to like, as is the meandering, musical wailing solo that emerges.
The piano intro to ‘Halo’, is great, especially the way that the orchestration builds around it to create a bedrock upon which the band then build with their more metallic instrumentation. The song itself is another slower number, almost waltz-like, but the melodies are beautiful here, creating an elegant sounding song that provides maximum impact in the process.
At well over eleven minutes long, closer ‘Eternity’ is an ambitious way to end this debut release. However, it is a very interesting composition and, in the main, well worth its extended length. There is enough variation and depth to keep things interesting throughout, with the re-emergence of growls and heavier riffs alongside the layers of orchestration. I like the heavier sound and wish they’d made more of this element of their sound elsewhere. And I really like the melodies that are reintroduced at select points of the track, keeping the lengthy song cohesive, not to mention ear catching as well. It’s actually a very impressive ending to ‘Advenae’. There is much to like on this debut record from the Australians, but there are also some less impressive moments. Personally speaking, I hope that there will be a second album and, if it does materialise, I also hope that the music is heavier, with less ballads, and also pushes more in the direction of the closing epic. If they do this, they will, at least as far as I’m concerned, be on to a winner.
When it comes to symphonic heavy metal, I can be a picky chap. I’ve not been much of a fan of any of Nightwish’s last few records, even with the incredible Floor Jansen on vocals, and Epica’s most recent is the first in a while that I’ve thoroughly enjoyed. And I’ve never really been a fan of Within Temptation at any point. Cutting to the chase, this kind of heavy music has to be right out of the top drawer, and right in my wheelhouse for me to give it the time of day. Take ‘Gods Of Debauchery’ by Seven Spires as an example. But I never cease my search for the next band to capture my imagination, as this review will attest.
Moonlight Haze hail from Northern Italy and were founded in 2018 by vocalist Chiara Tricarico and drummer Giulio Capone. Not ones to let the grass grow under their feet, they recruited three further musicians, and have released two albums already, 2019’s ‘Da Rerum Naturna’ and ‘Lunaris’ a year later. ‘Animus’ is the title of their latest full-length as they continue their quest for greater exposure and recognition in the symphonic metal world. And, if I am qualified to make such a call, I’d say that ‘Animus’ offers the quintet a decent chance at boosting their fanbase.
What Moonlight Haze offer is a very listenable and upbeat style of melodic symphonic metal, with a demonstrable power metal edge. It is a nicely crafted affair, with plenty of compositions that have immediacy, and deliver a potent shot of saccharine ear candy in the process. And, in Chiara Tricarico, Moonlight Haze are blessed with a frontwoman that has a powerful voice that commands some attention right from the very beginning. Versatility is her friend and whilst her occasional growls are not the best, I like the fact that she isn’t afraid to deliver them alongside both lower and higher-pitched, more melodic singing.
Unfortunately, what lets Moonlight Haze down, in my opinion, is the production and the lack of originality. With two guitarists, I definitely wanted the songs to sound heavier, certainly to have more metallic bite. Unfortunately, the symphonic arrangements tend to dominate the songs, leaving Marco Falanga and Alberto Melinato’s riffs rather diluted in the mix. It is an age-old problem within this genre, and it frustrates me because I really do want some aggression in the music, even if it still takes a back seat to other elements. The rhythm section of bassist Alessandro Jacobi and drummer Giulio Capone do their best to drive the material along and create a firm spine to the music, but the guitars do suffer and that disappoints me most of all. There’s a lack of a cutting edge, or music to grab hold of my attention.
In terms of the originality, I don’t think I’m being unkind to question Moonlight Haze’s identity here. I’ve said many times that originality is not everything, especially when the end product is very enjoyable. But in this case, the band sound a little derivative and don’t stand out from the crowd very much. What it means is that a lot of the material on ‘Animus’ is reasonably forgettable. Not necessarily while the album is playing, but certainly afterwards, I forget large swathes of what I’ve just listened to. For all the melody at play within the eleven tracks, the Italians rarely hit me with an instant earworm, or a chorus to beg me to return to. It’s all very ‘nice’, but nothing overly exciting.
As I said before though, my thoughts are unlikely to meet with universal approval and I may end up being in the vast minority. There is a definite market for music like this and those who have a weakness for it, will no doubt embrace it with open arms. And, if I’m being totally fair, there are a few songs here that are stronger than the others and deserve a little mention within this review.
For a start, there’s the up-tempo ‘Midnight Haze’ that sits mid-album and benefits from one of the strongest rhythms on the album, as well as a catchy chorus that has more of an impact upon me as most others. ‘It’s Insane’ is an undeniably spritely affair, with lashings of symphonics to counteract the unashamedly pop-metal veneer. And arguably, ‘Kintsugi’ feels like the most it has the most gravitas, being a free-flowing composition with a very catchy chorus alongside a touch more variety and bombast, not to mention a more-than-decent lead guitar solo. And finally, there’s the title track that is a little rougher around the edges by virtue of Tricarico’s raspy growls, but also sufficiently bombastic thanks, in particular, to the inclusion of layers of choral vocals.
I really don’t want to come across as being too negative when ‘Animus’ is such a slick, polished, and upbeat affair. It’s just that I wanted it to stand out from the crowd more, to offer some kind of edge, or try to introduce something new, however small it might be. Sadly, it doesn’t really do any of these things. As such, it is perfectly ‘nice’, but it is also far too safe and ‘beige’ for my tastes. If this sounds like your kind of music, all power to you, and I hope you check out Moonlight Haze accordingly because you’re bound to find an album very much to your liking.
Back in 2018, I reviewed the debut EP from an outfit called Threads Of Fate. Of that EP, I wrote the following:
“This is, for my tastes, the perfect blend of nostalgia, modern originality, pompous bombast, depth, emotion and gorgeous, sublime melody. I simply cannot wait to hear what comes next because it threatens to be very special indeed.”
Fast forward four years and this quote is being used on the press release for Threads Of Fate’s debut full-length. I feel honoured. But more importantly, I’m eager to find out whether my words have rung true, or whether the EP was just a flash in the pan. Clearly, I’m praying for the former, but you just never know, do you?
Except, in this case, I was fairly certain if I’m honest, and so it has transpired. The EP, ‘A Funeral For The Virtuous’ was too good and with an unchanged core line-up for the eventual follow-up, ‘The Cold Embrace Of The Light’ was very unlikely to be a dud. Especially when the three main protagonists consist of Jon Pyres (vocals, lyrics, additional keys), Jack Kosto (guitars, recording, production), and Vikram Shankar (keyboards, orchestrations, bass). Kosto will be familiar to fans of the band Seven Spires who released an immense album last year entitled ‘Gods Of Debauchery’, whilst Pyres is linked with Among The Giants and Spawn Of Thirteen. And then there’s Vikram Shankar, the multi-instrumentalist who is a member of Redemption and Lux Terminus as well as being one half of the glorious Silent Skies. If you’re wanting a stamp of quality, you’ve got it.
Musically, Threads Of Fate pick up where they left off four years ago on ‘A Funeral For The Virtuous’. And that’s because ‘The Cold Embrace Of The Light’ is another sublime collection of symphonic heavy metal that’s wonderfully melodic, bombastic, multi-layered, and carries with it a genuine emotional depth. But unless my ears deceive me, the trio, ably assisted by session drummer Chris Dovas, have pushed their sound a little further in certain directions. For example, I get the distinct impression that there is a slightly more pronounced progressive element to some of the music, meaning that I hear more variety on the album than I was perhaps expecting. And at around 50 minutes, it is the ideal length to give listeners value without outstaying their welcome.
The first track of this new record is one of the most stunning pieces of music I’ve heard in 2022 so far. It begins with the unmistakeably delicate piano playing from Shankar, who brings me near to tears with a sumptuous melody that’s gradually built upon with drums and rich orchestration before the song explodes with power and emotion, a tortured gruff scream from Pyres piercing a magnificently bittersweet outpouring of metallic beauty. Lead guitars wail and the orchestration increases in intensity to bring the all-too-quick intro piece to a close.
But never fear, because there is more where that came from, as immediate successor ‘Moonrise’ eloquently proves. From the opening drum roll to the tinkling keys, urgent riffing, pounding beat of the drums and bombastic orchestration, Threads Of Fate will delight anyone who enjoys the likes of Nightwish, Epica, and even Seven Spires among many others. In fact, there are one or two unavoidable echoes to the latter given Kosto’s involvement. But if anything, Threads Of Fate are even more melodic, and arguably more emotional, led in part by the expressive clean signing of Pyres who really does put his heart and soul into his performance. Then again, when the band seek to explore the themes of death and decay through their compositions, it’s hardly surprising that the music is an emotional beast. However, I also love the smoothness of this song; it is bold, cinematic, and bombastic, but it’s also really elegant too. Multi-layered and deep it may be, but nothing is out of place, demonstrating the meticulous attention to detail that Threads Of Fate possess.
Much the same could be said for ‘A Ghostly Portrait’ within which there’s a piano melody that may just have broken my heart into tiny pieces, such is its simple, delicate beauty. The gruff vocals of Pyres are well-placed but when he switches to his clean delivery, this song is possibly the most moving of them all; an imploring tone emerges that’s then replaced by a similar feeling within the ensuing lead guitar solo. I also love the pronounced use of light and shade that features, creating an irresistible ebb and flow of emotion from beginning to end.
‘The Horrors Within’ is a prime example of the more progressive nature of the band that I spoke about earlier. It starts out serenely enough before the orchestration takes a dark, menacing turn. The intensity ratchets up and out come the growls from Pyres to underline this heavier, more aggressive approach. From there, the band take great delight in pulling us in all kinds of directions across the length of the nine-minute composition. Extreme metal aggression, Gothic opulence, majestic melody, an abundance of light and shade; it all features to great effect, creating a truly captivating listening experience. There’s even room for a dose of 70s inspired prog thanks to a bold synth effect, and an almost tribal section led by the rhythmic pounding of drums, just to mix things up a little, keeping us on our toes.
Threads Of Fate then offer ‘Against The Shores Of Le Monde’, a veritable anthem thanks to the impossibly grandiose and melodic chorus nestled within. But this doesn’t mean that a few savage growls can’t feature, or that the music can’t take on relatively quiet, minimalistic path when the mood dictates. If anything, the gentler sections only enhance the impact of the chorus and its glorious melodies.
The title track features the intriguing blend of the most savage growls on ‘The Cold Embrace Of The Light’ accompanied by some of the slowest, most delicate sounds to appear. Almost dreamlike in feel, the song wraps you in a warm embrace, but one that you feel could crush the life out of you at any moment. ‘Love Held Hands With Hatred’ by contrast, picks up the pace significantly to create a vibrant and cinematic experience that contains plenty of extreme metal aggression, yet superbly tempered by an ultimately positive vibe, that projects a sense of hope through the stunning closing crescendo that is dominated by yet more thunderous drumming, guitars that sing to the sky, and orchestration that
In what feels like the blink of an eye, I am faced with the tender, heartfelt, and soothing sounds of the closing composition, ‘Ashes’. The guitars and drums have already been packed away, allowing Pyres and Shankar to bring things to an end in a very poignant manner, the perfect way to complete the album. In a house dominated by my two daughters and a female dog, I am almost never right, so I shall take comfort in the fact that when it came to Threads Of Fate, I was bang on the money. I sensed that their debut album would be something special, and I was 100% correct. If all symphonic metal sounded like ‘The Cold Embrace Of The Light’, then there’s every chance that it would be my favourite genre of heavy music. Intelligent, emotional, properly heavy, and with melodic sensibilities to die for, it is impossible not to fall for the considerable charms of Threads Of Fate. I have. And within a couple of spins through, so will you.
Today’s review is one of those ‘discoveries’ that I made when undertaking one of my famed late-night trawls through my promo accounts. Of all the genres of heavy music that I like, I’d place Gothic, symphonic metal lower down the list. I hate the term ‘female fronted’ because it sets the wrong tone, so I would prefer to refer to Nocturna as a symphonic power metal band with strong Gothic tendencies. It just so happens though, that the unique selling point for Nocturna is the fact that they have two vocalists, Grace Darkling and Rehn Stillnight, one operatic (Stillnight), one more traditionally ‘metal’ in delivery (Darkling).
Apparently, the band was created by Federico Mondelli (Frozen Crown, Volturian, Be The Wolf) but unless he goes by the pseudonym ‘Hedon’, his only involvement with Nocturna is the cover artwork. Joining guitarist Hedon, is bassist Antares and drummer Deimos. In videos that have been released, the three musicians behind the vocalists wear masks to cover their true identities, so it could literally be anyone under there.
Whoever they are, they make a decent racket, it must be said. After the ubiquitous instrumental intro, ‘Spectral Ruins’ I was ready to move on swiftly. The dark, Gothic, cinematic affair didn’t grab me and my mind started to wander elsewhere. And then ‘New Evil’ took over and to my shock and dismay, I didn’t immediately recoil from what I heard. An urgent lead guitar riff kicks things off before the symphonic arrangements join with an upbeat, galloping tempo. The music carries with it a decent heaviness, with the bass rumbling authoritatively, whilst the drumming is sharp and rather interesting. The vocal interplay between Darkling and Stillnight is also more engaging than I initially feared it might be too. I like the fact that you have the mix of styles that actually complement each other; the attitude and grit, counterbalanced by the smooth, soaring operatic delivery. Had it just been one or the other, I’d have more than likely got bored very quickly. Add to this a genuinely catchy and engaging chorus and my attention is well and truly caught.
If anything, the follow-up, ‘Daughters Of The Night’ is even heavier. Being the Man Of Much Metal, I welcome this revelation. The drumming in particular impresses me on this song, as does the lightning fast and chunky riffing that then gives way to an equally ripping solo whilst the pace of the song barely drops below ‘very brisk’. The melodies are pleasing to the ear too, making it two very solid tracks straight off the bat.
A word at this point to the production, which I also like. For once, I’m treated to a symphonic metal album that accentuates the metal portion of the material, rather than diluting it within the orchestral arrangements. You can also hear each of the instruments clearly, Antares’ bass never lost within the mix, further underlining the ‘heavy’ credentials of Nocturna.
The quality of music continues with ‘The Sorrow Path’ which, for the first time, sees the intensity lowered in favour of a slower ballad number. However, the vocals are really great from both singers, whilst the soundscape is rather majestic and full of pleasing melody. Yes, it’s a bit sugary, but it works and I really enjoy it.
The note of caution at this point in my review would be that Nocturna aren’t apparently interested in creating something massively original. You could liken moments within ‘Daughters Of The Night’ to most of the usual suspects that crop up when faced with music of this kind. And the fact that the press release suggests that Nocturna should appeal to fans of Nightwish, Within Temptation, and Epica amongst others, it suggests that the record label tend to agree. However, as I’ve stated in reviews previously, there is nothing wrong with not being original if the music that’s created is of a high standard. And in my opinion, Nocturna have created some great music here. In fact, ‘Daughters Of The Night’ is arguably more enjoyable to my tastes than both recent Nightwish and Within Temptation. For me, it’s the overt crunch and heaviness of the guitars, the powerful rhythms, and the vocal variety that works best, not to mention a really nice melodic aspect, with several choruses hitting pretty hard when they emerge.
‘Blood Of Heaven’ is a quickfire number that’s got real fire in its belly, as proven by the speed and aggression on offer; the drumming is incessant, the guitars really go for the jugular, almost thrash metal in style at points, especially at the immediate outset. And yet, the orchestral elements are bombastic, whilst the chorus is one of those aforementioned catchy beasts.
Towards the end of the album, there are a couple of less vital tracks. ‘Nocturnal Whispers’ is an unnecessary instrumental interlude, and despite the urgency, the final track, ‘The Trickster’ isn’t my favourite as it’s one of the more unremarkable compositions here.
That aside, there is much to like about Nocturna and I’ve taken to it much more forcefully than I ever expected. ‘Daughters Of The Night’ is one of those albums that reminds me how good this genre of music can be when all of the elements come together properly; it’s bombastic, it’s melodic, it is full of Gothic atmosphere, and most importantly, it is easily heavy enough to deserve the ‘metal’ tag. It might not be the most original of albums, but as I said before, it doesn’t need to be because the material speaks for itself and, as a result, the album is highly enjoyable. Do yourselves a favour therefore, and hunt out Nocturna and ‘Daughters Of The Night’ because you might be as pleasantly surprised as I am. In fact, I don’t think it is unnecessary and unwarranted hyperbole on my part to suggest that it’s quite possibly the best of its kind that I’ve heard in the last year or so.
Back in 2017, I reviewed ‘Bringer Of Pain’, the fourth studio album of Battle Beast’s career. I didn’t however, review the 2019 follow-up ‘No More Hollywood Endings’. Put simply, I wasn’t a big fan of ‘Bringer Of Pain’ and so didn’t feel sufficiently compelled to explore further. Plus, the release also coincided with a break that I took in 2019 to recharge my reviewing batteries.
It’s now 2022 and, with renewed energy and dedication to my website, I felt that it was the right time to delve back into the world of the Finnish heavy metal sextet to see if I would be more impressed by their sixth offering, especially since the band continue to score number one album spots in their native Finland – you don’t do that sort of thing consistently if your output is lacking, surely?
It transpires that the band line-up remains unchanged for the third album in a row, meaning a certain level of consistency remains following the departure of their principle songwriter at the time, Anton Kabanan. As such, Battle Beast version 2022 remains comprised of vocalist Noora Louhimo, accompanied by guitarists Joona Björkroth and Juuso Soinio, bassist Eero Sipilä, drummer Pyry Vikki, and keyboardist Janne Björkroth.
As we all know, press releases are full of hyperbole, but here, I think we might have an early contender for the boldest, brashest statement of 2022:
“…if you are looking for your daily dose of symphonic heavy metal, that is also catchy, cheerful, theatrical, adventurous, groovy and enchanting, you can stop searching here and now.”
I came into this review with almost no expectations based on my last exposure to Battle Beast, but I must admit that ‘Circus Of Doom’ has turned out to be a pretty decent record with much to enjoy. It’s definitely better than ‘Bringer Of Pain’. But worthy of such an opening statement? Hmm…I’m not yet totally convinced, although I think much more highly of the album now than when I first listened to it, that’s for sure. A first listen left me feeling bored and unsure of whether I’d return and even complete this review. However, as is often the case, with repeated listens came greater understanding and a growing appreciation.
One of the initial hurdles on ‘Circus Of Doom’ is the opening title track. I can understand why they put it up front and central, but given its structure and overall sound, it isn’t the most obvious opening number. As the song’s title suggests, ‘Circus Of Doom’ has a hugely overt sense of theatre about it, as if it was stolen straight from a West End or Broadway rock opera. Or perhaps from their compatriots Nightwish at their most frivolous. The gentle music box intro gives way to a strong riff and powerful rhythms but from there, the orchestration and keys are all over the song. Choral arrangements, tinkling keys, and lush layers of synths bathe the song in a sense of bombast, but it threatens to dilute the heavy metal elements ever so slightly. Admittedly Noora Louhimo puts in an authoritative performance behind the mic and, with repeated spins, the heaviness of the guitars does come through. And crucially, there’s an infectious quality about the song that makes it impossible to maintain any dislike for it. I’m slowly converted and I’m now of the opinion that it’s a charming composition.
‘Wings Of Light’ is arguably the opening salvo that the record could have more sensibly led with. Mind you, it’s clear that Battle Beast want to showcase their increased variety, so leading with this cut might have been counterproductive on that score. It’s a full-on classic heavy metal song, with a slight power metal edge. The production shows its quality here too, as the drums that drive the song along at a brisk pace sound really powerful. I adore the lead guitar solo that emerges later in the track to compliment a hook-heavy chorus, making it quite the statement of intent.
You may already be familiar with ‘Master Of Illusion’ as it was one of the early forerunners released to the expectant fanbase ahead of release. And, I have to say that it remains one of my favourites. The nods to the 80s with the electronic drum sounds are a nice touch. However, it is the melodic strength of the song that carries it so well. The ear worms are vibrant and well executed, whilst there’s no let up in terms of the heaviness. Once again, the keys are bold, vibrant, and well placed, ensuring that there’s a richness to the song that can’t be ignored. Ten songs along this path and I’d not have complained.
If longer-term fans are worried that the overt power metal vibes have been completely ditched, then ‘Where Angels Fear To Fly’ should put those fears to rest. There’s a definite mainstream pop edge to the track, as well as more 80s influences, but the feel of the track is much more Euro power metal and less classic metal.
It’s not all positive however, as ‘Russian Roulette’ still leaves me cold. Of all the content on ‘Circus Of Doom’, this is where the cheese is at its most potent. It’s unashamedly 80s-influenced hard rock with a strong vein of pop running through it. Nope, this is just not for me, although lovers of the Eurovision Song Contest might disagree of course.
Thankfully, despite a couple of other tracks not quite hitting the heights of others (such as ‘The Road To Avalon’ which just feels a little unremarkable and a touch forgettable), the quality never again dips that low. ‘Freedom’ is a little suspect when it comes to the lyrical content, but there’s no denying the strength of the galloping rhythms in the verses, as well as the melodic interplay between the guitars and symphonic arrangements in the chorus; I say forget the toe-curling lyrics and instead immerse yourself in the driving pace and catchiness of the song.
The album ends on a high note though as far as I’m concerned. ‘Place That We Call Home’ is a full-on cinematic power metal anthem that many contemporary acts would have been delighted to write. I’m a sucker for double-pedal led choruses that are rousing, and here Battle Beast do their best to rival the likes of Rhapsody of old where this is concerned. It helps that, despite being less than four minutes long, it comes across as being far more epic than that, a fittingly rousing, grandiose closer to the album.
I’m always prepared to admit when I’m wrong and this is one of those occasions. My first draft, albeit written just in my mind, was much more different than what I’ve written here and I’m very pleased that this is the situation. With ‘Circus Of Doom’, I finally understand what the fuss has all been about with Battle Beast in many quarters of the metal world. I didn’t get it, but I do now. And while I’d not suggest that ‘Circus Of Doom’ is the perfect heavy/power/symphonic metal album, it is a highly professional affair. There is a whole lot to enjoy about it, and it is a great deal of fun too.
As in years before, I wanted to round off 2021 with a quick look at some of the best individual songs that I heard during 2021.
As with my recent Top 30 series, this is a list of my personal favourite songs. They might not be the most technical, clever, or complicated songs of the year, or they might be. But it doesn’t matter. These are the ten songs that I could happily listen to time and time again, and which stood out to me the most. It may be a beautiful melody, an irresistible groove, or something unique and compelling. Whatever it is, these tracks gave me goosebumps for all the right reasons.
If you have arrived at this post without reading my Album of the Year 2020 Top 30 Countdown, feel free to check it out right here.
But now, on with the main event. In no particular order whatsoever, here goes:
Whilst it’s true that there’s no order to these songs, I have to jump off the fence and declare that ‘Reckoning’ might just be THE song of 2021 for me. For so many personal reasons, and because I just love the blend of beautiful melodies with the spiky aggression…take a bow, Gentlemen, this is just wonderful.
“The synth and electronics-heavy intro to ‘Reckoning’ has me grinning from the very first few notes. I make no secret of my love of proper 80s music, be it metal, rock, or occasionally pop. And this song encapsulates that feeling brilliantly. It has been, and continues to be, one of my very favourite Omnium Gatherum tracks, not just on this album, but overall. Strong words, but well earned, because the way in which double-pedal drumming and Pelkonen’s harsh vocals blends seamlessly with the most beautiful lead guitar melodies and rich 80s-inspired synths is exhilarating. It may not be as heavy as past endeavours but I love it, I absolutely love it.”
Ghosts Of Atlantis
“Curse Of Man”
There were a couple of other contenders, but on an album that came out of nowhere to knock me sideways, this is my personal favourite. The power and aggression is one thing, but the cinematic grandiosity and the central melodies are another altogether. This remains a shining highlight of 2021 for me.
“There’s no other word for it, ‘The Curse Of Man’ is anthemic. The most melodic of all eight tracks, it is also my favourite currently without doubt. Bursts of frenetic pace mean that Ghosts Of Atlantis don’t abandon their more extreme tendencies but the chorus is a thing of real dark beauty. Lush melodies, driven by a duo of vocals and elegant lead guitar notes are enhanced by clever symphonics and short bursts of drum blasts, a combination that I find irresistible. The juxtaposition between the savage and the beauty is not dissimilar to Cradle at their very best and it’s an intoxicating recipe from which I simply cannot escape. It’s a stunning track, one of the best that the year has delivered to date.”
A list like this wouldn’t be complete without featuring an Evergrey song. But when their songs are this good, how could I possibly ignore them? Not possible. ‘Stories’ is the emotional rollercoaster of a song that still stands out to me on this stunning record, putting me through the emotional ringer each and every time I hear it.
“If you thought that was good, track three [‘Stories’] is even better – aural perfection if I may be so bold. It’s more of a slower-paced ballad, but it contains everything I love about this incredible band. For a start, Tom sounds better than ever, crooning with pure emotion across the song. The guitar solos that soar atop a delicate piano melody are equally emotional, whilst the incoming bass that replaces its six-string (or seven) cousin is stunning. Simple, effective, authoritative, it commands attention. The poignancy oozes from every pore of this track as it weaves it’s way through melancholy soundscapes rich in heart-breaking melody, accented by well-placed heavy riffs to inject the necessary metallic edge.”
“On The Run”
For a while, I was utterly obsessed with ‘On The Run’, listening to it several times a day, every day. And even now, I listen to it every time I need a pick-me-up, simply because it is a classic 80s-inspired anthem backed up by one of the most infectious choruses I’ve heard in some time.
“‘On The Run’ is the epitome of everything that I love about 80s hard rock, and from the first time I heard it several months ago, I’ve been unable to shake my absolute adoration for it. The verses are dominated by the incredibly powerful yet silky voice of Tobias Gustavsson, on top of some classic sounding riffs, rumbling bass, and strong drumbeats. Despite the galloping pace and hedonistic air, there’s a slightly melancholic, nostalgic vibe too that I latch on to, making the song more than just a simple 80s homage in my opinion. And then the chorus kicks in and the love is instantaneous. It’s a short-lived affair but it packs a punch, with a hook to die for, a strong AOR vibe, and infectious lyrics; I’ve been thoroughly smitten since my first listen, and I’m no less impressed several months down the line.”
The epitome of a perfect blackgaze track, in my opinion, ‘Serf’ is an amazing blend of beautiful, emotional melody, catchiness, and naked black metal spite and aggression. There are other close contenders on ‘Diorama’, but ‘Serf’ wins it, as it’s the one that puts the biggest smile on my face every time I hear it.
“Without a shadow of doubt however, ‘Serf’ is my favourite track on the entire album. The simple, quiet intro literally breaks my heart, but when the main body of the song kicks in, my heart is mended and filled with wonder thanks to one of the most addictive and glorious melodies I’ve heard for a long time. Flitting between harsh passages, complete with potent blast beats and fast-picked riffing, and lighter, more delicate shoegaze moments, I cannot convey is words just how wonderfully uplifting I find this song.”
I’ve never been a fan of Gojira, but ‘Fortitude’ altered that, with ‘Hold On’ being one of the primary reasons. From the irresistible intro, to the heavy technicality later in the track, this is how intelligent music can really make an impact on me. Add to that the raw and honest subject matter and it’s an all-round belter of a song, one I listen to very regularly.
“‘Hold On’ is a beautiful composition from start to finish, with pronounced melodies throughout. The multi-layered a capella vocals that welcome the song into existence offer a sense of the dramatic whilst a relatively simple rhythmic beat emerges, allowing a gorgeous melody to unravel thanks to the interplay between guitars and vocals. When the heaviness hits, the song changes to something much more technical, with polyrhythms doing serious damage to my neck muscles. The fact that lyrically, the song looks to speak directly to anyone suffering with stress, depression, or any myriad of personal struggles, reaching out to provide a message of strength, just makes the whole song so much stronger. It touches a nerve with me, and I thank the band for it.”
“It Is Over”
Good heavens, this song still gives me goosebumps all over. From those heavy opening guitar chords, via a memorable chorus, to the final, emotional sequence, I adore everything about this song. To some it may sound a little cheesy, but I disagree and simply give over to the power and emotion contained within.
“I feel compelled, for many reasons, to start with the final song, entitled ‘It Is Over’. To begin with, the guitar tone used for the riffs is incredible; the heaviness and the authority with which they emanate from the speakers is irresistible. Then there’s the subject matter; the more cynical of us might declare that a song which features a final broadcast to the remaining population on Earth, seconds before a meteor impact might be a little cheesy and contrived. Normally, I might agree. But every time I listen to it, I get goosebumps. The final words ‘over and out’ are met with a momentary silence and then in comes the compelling chorus to usher the song to its climactic finale. What makes the song so powerful when it could have been awful, is that epic chorus which sounds grandiose and beautifully melodic at the same time. For me, it is the strongest chorus on an album of strong choruses, meaning that I have yet another early contender for my ‘song of the year’ top ten.”
“In Sickness, In Health”
There were several potential picks from this album, an album that wasn’t even on my radar initially. I could have gone for longer, or more technical tracks, but I eventually went for ‘In Sickness, In Health’ because it’s just the most addictive, beautiful song overall, with strong melodies, emotion, and bucket loads of power.
“Speaking of wonderful melodies, I have to mention ‘In Sickness In Health’, more of a moody ballad with some subtle electronics lurking in the shadows and a chorus to end them all. It has a killer hook or six, a thoroughly emotional and spellbinding vocal performance from Cowan, as well as another graceful lead guitar solo.”
As with Evergrey earlier, it was almost inevitable that this list would feature a Soen track, such is the strength of the album. My personal favourite is this, the album’s immensely strong swansong, ‘Fortune’. I love the way the song builds throughout, and the fact that it offers one of the finest choruses on the record is the icing on the cake.
“Somewhat unbelievably, Soen may just leave the best to last in the form of the delectable ‘Fortune’. It begins with the air and grace of doom, as it lumbers forth, slow and purposeful, with a simple drum beat, resonating riffs and passionate vocals. But as it develops, it grows and blossoms. In come some of the most glorious melodies, accented by rich orchestration, topped off by an utterly irresistible chorus. The pace never really picks up, but it never needs to. The slower delivery allows more time for the melodies to hit home, acting as the perfect backdrop for Ford to wax lyrical with his six-string. Piano notes are introduced as Ekelöf hums the melody, before a devastating reprise of the chorus emerges, building in majesty and elegance all the while as the orchestration returns, bolder and richer than ever before.”
A Dying Planet
“When The Skies Are Grey”
I’ve said it many times before that Jasun Tipton is one of my favourite guitarists. But this song demonstrates a group of musicians at the top of their game, killing a song that’s full of technical prowess as well as melody. And it’s bursting with melancholy emotion too, making it a truly compelling listen and worthy addition to this list.
“Out of the shadows emerges a simple, yet elegant and poignant melody led by clean guitar tones from Tipton, joined by the assured bass of Brian Hart. It’s gone in a heartbeat, as chunky, djent-like notes are overlaid by a striking lead guitar line, all underpinned by a sharp beat from drummer Marco Bica alongside a more muscular bass. The heaviness departs as quickly as it arrives to be replaced by a delicate, introspective, yet gorgeously rich atmospheric verse. Since the debut, Paul Adrian Villarreal has become the full-time vocalist and it’s wonderful to hear the ex-Sun Caged singer back in action and in such fine fettle. Resonant, emotional, and blessed with a great range, he is the perfect fit for the soundscapes that surround him. And those soundscapes, as evidenced within this stunning opening track ebb and flow wonderfully cohesively from rich, driving progressive metal, to bruising tech-djent, to atmospheric post rock.
“I wish I had someone to hold…sometimes I don’t care to see tomorrow…I’m broken…Society looks the other way, and doesn’t care to know your name…” With audible lyrics from Villarreal of this nature, that melancholy, dark vibe is unquestionable and unavoidable.”