Metal Update – 12 February 2018

Welcome to the second such update for 2018, bringing you a round-up of some of the most interesting and exciting news from the world of rock and heavy metal.

As you know, I don’t like to use manofmuchmetal.com to cut and paste news stories – I prefer to offer something a little more personal. Naturally, it means more work for me, but if the posts are useful or well-received, I don’t mind.

If you missed my update of 6th February, click here to check it out.

But on with today’s all-important update…

Kingcrow – The Persistence
Release date: TBC

Nope, still nothing. But I will keep mentioning this album because it deserves it. And I don’t want anyone to miss out on it when it finally sees the light of day. Trust me, the hype is real.

Kino – Radio Voltaire
Release date: 23 March 2018

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I always thought that Kino would remain a one-off. Whilst exploring the neo-prog genre in earnest about ten years ago, I discovered ‘Picture’, the debut release from the band that featured John Mitchell (It Bites, Frost*, Arena) on guitar and lead vocals, Pete Trewavas (Marillion, Transatlantic) on bass, John Beck (It Bites) on synths and Chris Maitland on drums. It was a line-up to perk up any prog rock fan and the album delivered in the way you’d expect given the clientele.

And now, thirteen years on from the release of their debut, Kino have returned with their second album, ‘Radio Voltaire’. The line-up remains broadly the same, although drums are now handled by Craig Blundell

I’m really excited to hear this album, as I like just about everything that John Mitchell in particular turns his hand to. The guy is just a great musician and song writer. And joined by such a compelling group of musicians, this cannot go wrong. Check out the first song to be released from ‘Radio Voltaire’ below.

At The Gates – To Drink from the Night Itself
Release Date: 18 May 2018

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It is one of my most highly anticipated releases of 2018 and now we have the title and release date confirmed. At The Gates are considered to be one of the most influential and important bands in the ‘Gothenburg sound’ movement, or melodic death metal scene if you prefer. So every time they announce new material, excitement levels rise massively…or is that just me?!

I love the title of the album, but I don’t like the fact that we have to wait until mid-May to hear the record in its entirety. Patience has never been a strength of mine and it’ll be tested to the limit with this release. As soon as any music is released (probably less than 24 hours after this is posted), I’ll bring it to you.

TesseracT – Sonder
Release date: 20 April 2018

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I have been late to the TesseracT party but now that I am finally fully on board with the UK progressive metal band’s personal brand of music, it is with great delight that I can confirm that 2018 will see a brand new full-length album.

Just take a listen to the following track taken from their recently announced fourth album, ‘Sonder’ and watch your anticipation levels rise almost immediately.

Agent Fresco – TBC
Release date: TBC

On 7th February, the band took to social media to wish their guitarist/pianist Þórarinn ‘Toti’ Guðnason a happy birthday. However, within that post, they also stated that ‘Toti’ has been ‘insanely busy working on our next album’ – news that has seriously pleased me, and many others besides.

2015’s ‘Destrier’ ended up deservedly bagging a spot in my end of year list, having hugely impressed me. The Icelandic quartet deftly blended everything from math rock, to prog, to electronica, to ambient post-rock into an ear-catching record that still gives me goosebumps when I listen.

Forgive me for quoting my review, but I think it carries a strong sentiment that remains true today: “the biggest thing that strikes me with Agent Fresco and ‘Destrier’ is the way that the album flows from start to finish really beautifully, taking the listener on a journey throughout. That journey is comforting, scary, beautiful, sad, thought-provoking and often quite sombre. However, it is a journey that is never dull, always captivating and calls you inexorably back for more.”

A 2018 release isn’t confirmed, but if it were to happen, I’d be a very happy person indeed.

Universal Mind Project – TBC
Release date: TBC

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“Listening demos of the new stuff! Have a cool weekend everybody \m/ #universalmindproject”

In 2016, Universal Mind Project, featuring Darkwater’s Henrik Bath, Michael Alexander, Elaina Laivera and Alex Landenburg (Luca Turilli’s Rhapsody), came out of nowhere to knock my socks off. To quote my review of the debut album, ‘The Jaguar Priest’:

“Remarkably consistent, hugely engaging and expertly crafted, it has come out of nowhere to blow me away. As such, ‘The Jaguar Priest’ has ‘end of year top 10’ written all over it. Superb.”

As it turns out, the album did feature in my end-of-year list, albeit a little lower than I initially predicted, at number 22. Nevertheless, the melodic, symphonic and vaguely progressive metal of UMP was, and still is, very impressive. Dual male and female vocals, strong, memorable song writing and a plethora of mouth-watering guests (including Epica’s Mark Jansen, Symphony X’s Mike LePond and Pagan’s Mind’s Nils K. Rue) has meant that nearly two years on, I’m still listening to ‘The Jaguar Priest’ on a regular basis.

Just a week or so ago, a post was published by the band on social media to confirm that demo material for a follow-up album had been written. Then, just a couple of days ago came the news which confirms that work on the second UMP album remains ongoing. Whilst there is no news of a release date, this is good enough for me to ensure I’m just a little excited about the prospect of a new album in 2018.

White Moth Black Butterfly – Atone – Album Review

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Artist: White Moth Black Butterfly

Album Title: Atone

Label: Kscope

Date Of Release: 1 September 2017

Before reading this review, you might like to take a look outside. In so doing, you might notice a few flying pigs, a blue moon or even the beginning of the end of the Universe as we know it. For the Man Of Much Metal is reviewing an album that isn’t metal. ‘So what, he’s done that before’, I hear you cry. Yes, but the furthest I’ve previously ventured is into the realms of melodic rock, AOR or pastoral progressive rock. Never before have I reviewed an album that explores such experimental realms, encompassing ambient sounds, classical music, cinematic soundscapes and even…breathe…pop.

But here I am, faced with such a recording in the form of the sophomore release from White Moth Black Butterfly entitled ‘Atone’.

Truth be told, had I not been sent this unsolicited, I may never have ever heard of the name White Moth Black Butterfly. And, if I’m being even more honest, had the name Daniel Tompkins not featured, I probably wouldn’t have given this a second thought. For a fan of progressive music, the TesseracT vocalist is too much of a draw to ignore; if he’s involved, I have to check it out. That’s not to say that I don’t like certain ambient and film score music, because I’m a sucker for the works of Sigur Ros and Craig Armstrong respectively to name just a couple. However, metal is where my heart lies and when I’m already drowning under copious amounts of new music within this genre, I haven’t the time to go searching in other directions.

The simple truth though, is that a cursory late night listen to this gorgeously-presented album hit me right in the feels like I was never expecting. I was exhausted and about to call it a night but something made me keep the headphones on a little longer and give this a quick go. Forty minutes later, I picked my jaw up off the floor, waited for the goosebumps to subside and very nearly pressed play again despite the late hour. The only adjective I could think off as I drifted off to sleep that night was ‘exquisite’.

Knowing nothing of White Moth Black Butterfly previously, I cannot comment on the debut album ‘One Thousand Wings’. But to be honest, that might be a good thing because I just want to talk about ‘Atone’ and its many, many incredibly powerful charms.

White Moth Black Butterfly consists of Tompkins alongside his Skyharbor colleagues Jordan Turner (vocals) and guitarist/programmer Keshav Dhar as well as keyboardist/programmer Randy Slaugh and drummer Mac Christensen. Together, they have managed to move me, open my mind a little further and essentially stolen my heart.

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Within seconds of opening track ‘I: Incarnate’ beginning, I felt the magic and realised that my mouth was hanging wide open. I simply wasn’t expecting to hear something so delicate and so intensely beautiful. It lasts less than two minutes but in that time, I get chills aplenty every time I hear it. The rich orchestration speaks to my soul and the simple, uncluttered construction speaks more eloquently than most compositions twice its length. Tompkin’s voice is tentative, fragile and emotional, a wonderful counterpoint to the sumptuous, yet melancholy soundscape that envelops him.

By contrast, ‘Rising Sun’ is a little more upbeat in tone and ever so slightly progressive in nature. Christensen’s drums enter the fray for the first time, delivering an understated yet important heartbeat, whilst the guitars shyly add their voice. Again, the lush keys bathe me in a warm glow, whilst Jordan Turner’s angelic soft vocals that duet with Tompkins offers both a contemporary edge and an irresistibly ethereal beauty to the highly melodic and memorable piece.

The striking simplicity of the piano that ushers in ‘Tempest’ carry echoes of Anathema but these thoughts are quickly forgotten as Tompkins treats us to a masterclass of intense emotional singing. In this form, I could happily listen to him all day and, to some extent, that’s been true over the last 72 hours. The multi-layered textures at work as well as the clever ebb and flow between minimalism and controlled exuberance mean that this is easily a personal favourite.

‘An Ocean Away’ maintains the incredibly high quality of ‘Atone’ almost effortlessly. The sombre strings that bring it to life are superseded by a simple but bold programmed beat, the kind of thing I’d normally shy well away from under normal circumstances. But rather, it acts as a hypnotic heartbeat around which further lush orchestration and strange modern sounds and samples draw me in like a moth to the proverbial flame. And as superb as Tompkins sounds at the outset, it is Turner that then steals the show with a sensual and breathy performance that washes away all my cares in the world.

I earlier mentioned the work of Craig Armstrong and ‘Symmetry’ could easily have been penned by the film score maestro. The dark and evocative cinematic drama is stunning, a theme that is carried into ‘II: Penitence’ which ends with the sounds of shouting, gunfire and aircraft, an intriguing juxtaposition to the delicate and soothing sounds of plucked strings that initially brought it to life.

The melodies that feature throughout ‘Atone’ are gorgeous but ‘The Sage’ offers some of the best. The vocals of Tompkins have to be heard to be believed, whilst the Oriental flavour at the midpoint is a masterstroke. If this song is playing, be it in the car or on headphones late at night, I stop what I am doing, close my eyes and revel in its indescribable beauty.

The title track offers another opportunity for Jordan Turner to unleash her devastating hushed tones, whilst Tompkins in contrast delivers some of his most powerful and commanding vocals, all atop more dramatic cinematic textures that are a genuine delight.

And then, once the ambient and occasionally unsettling tribal-sounding minimalism of ‘III: Deep Earth’ departs having left an indelible mark on the listener, ‘Atone’ closes with ‘Evelyn’. Complete with operatic vocals and plenty of inter-song diversity, it rounds out the album in suitably rich and striking fashion – a satisfyingly deep and diverse conclusion to a wonderfully diverse record.

And yet, in spite of the variation and contrasts at work within ‘Atone’, this record feels remarkably fluent and cohesive. It is the hallmark of great musicians if something like this can be achieved. It is the hallmark of near-genius when such experimentation sounds so utterly beautiful and soul-enriching as is the case here. Take a bow White Moth Black Butterfly because genres be damned, you have unquestionably delivered one of the very best albums of the year.

The Score Of Much Metal: 9.75

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

2015 reviews
2016 reviews

Jag Panzer – The Deviant Chord
Vulture Industries – Stranger Times
Anubis Gate – Covered In Black
Protean Collective – Collapse
Cradle Of Filth – Cryproriana – The Seductiveness of Decay
TDW & Dreamwalkers Inc. – The Antithetic Affiliation
Caligula’s Horse – In Contact
Nocturnal Rites – Phoenix
Arch Enemy – Will To Power
Threshold – Legends Of The Shires
H.E.A.T – Into The Great Unknown
Dyscarnate – With All Their Might
Subterranean Masquerade – Vagabond
Adagio – Life
Paradise Lost – Medusa
The Haunted – Strength In Numbers
Serious Black – Magic
Leprous – Malina
The Lurking Fear – Out of the Voiceless Grave
Prospekt – The Illuminated Sky
Wintersun – The Forest Seasons
Witherfall – Nocturnes And Requiems
Tuesday The Sky – Drift
Anthriel – Transcendence
Decapitated – Anticult
Cosmograf – The Hay-Man Dreams
Orden Ogan – Gunmen
Iced Earth – Incorruptible
Anathema – The Optimist
Solstafir – Berdreyminn
Dream Evil – Six
Avatarium – Hurricanes And Halos
Ayreon – The Source
Until Rain – Inure
MindMaze – Resolve
God Dethroned – The World Ablaze
Bjorn Riis – Forever Comes To An End
Voyager – Ghost Mile
Big Big Train – Grimspound
Lonely Robot – The Big Dream
Firespawn – The Reprobate
Ancient Ascendant
Pyramaze – Contingent
Shores Of Null – Black Drapes For Tomorrow
Asira – Efference
Hologram Earth – Black Cell Program
Damnations Day – A World Awakens
Memoriam – For The Fallen
Pallbearer – Heartless
Sleepmakeswaves – Made of Breath Only
Ghost Ship Octavius – Ghost Ship Octavius
Vangough – Warpaint
Telepathy – Tempest
Obituary – Obituary
Fen – Winter
Havok – Conformicide
Wolfheart – Tyhjyys
Svart Crown – Abreaction
Nova Collective – The Further Side
Immolation – Atonement
The Mute Gods – Tardigrades Will Inherit The Earth
Ex Deo – The Immortal Wars
Pyogenesis – A Kingdom To Disappear
My Soliloquy – Engines of Gravity
Nailed To Obscurity – King Delusion
Helion Prime – Helion Prime
Battle Beast – Bringer Of Pain
Persefone – Aathma
Soen – Lykaia
Exquirla – Para Quienes Aun Viven
Odd Logic – Effigy
Mors Principium Est – Embers Of A Dying World
Firewind – Immortals
Slyde – Back Again EP
Sepultura – Machine Messiah
Deserted Fear – Dead Shores Rising
Kreator – Gods Of Violence
Borealis – World of Silence MMXVII
Pain of Salvation – In The Passing Light of Day

Periphery – Periphery III: Select Difficulty – Album Review

 

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Artist: Periphery

Album Title: Periphery III: Select Difficulty

Label: century Media Records

Date Of Release: 22 July 2016

The wonderful curse of ‘too much music, too little time’ is the main reason for the delay in offering a review of this record. If I’m honest, there was also an element of ‘hmm, not sure if I’m that interested in this release’ too.

Generally, as a rule, I’m not the biggest fan of the modern djent genre. And neither am I a huge aficionado of heavy music that flirts with more overt pop sensibilities, the kind of stuff that many of the new mainstream rock/metal acts seem to indulge in to get themselves on the cover of Kerrang! and on the walls of teenagers’ bedrooms. And yet, despite both of these aspects appearing within the music of Periphery on this record, I don’t hate it.

Entitled ‘III: Select Difficulty’, this is actually Periphery’s fifth full length release if the double release ‘Juggernaut: Alpha/Omega’ is taken into account. Confusing isn’t it? Well not as confusing as my complex feelings towards this record if I’m honest.

I think that, on balance, the reason why I don’t hate this record is because it is largely very well written and executed. Indeed there is a lot of material on this new album that I absolutely love and come back to like an addict to get my fix time after time, principally because it has an air of quality about it, rather than being contrived and a cynical attempt at popularity. There’s also a certain honesty that shines through the material, which I really admire, not to mention a level of creativity that is akin to a breath of fresh air.

That said, the album opens up in a less than auspicious manner thanks to the opening one-two of ‘The Price Is Wrong’ and ‘Motormouth’ The former is the lead single from the album and it simply fails to grab me in the same way as other tracks. It is sharp, concise and very heavy but I don’t warm to the vocal delivery which strikes me as a little unremarkable if undeniably confrontational. The instrumentation is undeniably impressive with complex riffs aplenty and the rhythm section is insanely tight but the breakdown in the latter stages with almost spoken-word lyrics is not something that I can get on board with. Despite its prowess therefore, for me the whole song lacks a certain ‘je ne sais quoi’. In fact, it takes until the latter stages of ‘Motormouth’, a similarly blood and thunder composition, for my interest to be piqued thanks to a Textures-like hint of melody and something other than snarled vocals.

Picture credit: Josefa Torres
Picture credit: Josefa Torres

But then, as I’m contemplating moving on to the next album, in marches ‘Marigold’ and with it, the whole feel of ‘III: Select Difficulty’ changes. Ushered in by an urgent orchestrated melody, the track begins in slower, more measured fashion and introduces Spencer Sotelo’s clean vocal delivery for the first time. But, at the centre of the composition is a highly infectious, hook laden chorus of which I can’t get enough. The fact that the song then glides to a close on the crest of a post rock wave is the surprising but delightfully serene icing on the cake.

‘The Way The News Goes…’ follows up in excellent fashion dominated by a tremendous vocal performance as well as some really exquisite guitar and piano melodies, not to mention some truly frenetic drumming to starkly and cleverly juxtapose the otherwise more laid-back aspects of the song.

As much as I like the heavier, more extreme elements of the Periphery sound as experienced within the likes of the expertly crafted ‘Prayer Position’, it is when they blend this with the more subtle and introspective elements that I believe they really fly. The orchestration appears at moments throughout the rest of the album and personally, I’d like to hear a lot more of this on the next record. It creates an air of majesty and sophistication that I really welcome and needs to be explored more. The best exponent of this excellent new addition to the Periphery arsenal is ‘Absolomb’ which ends with an extended orchestral outro that calls to mind the cinematic vibe of compositions by Craig Armstrong before deconstructing to a simple piano melody to close.

It leads into arguably the most immediate and mainstream-sounding track on the record in ‘Catch Fire’. The chorus is such that once it gets its claws in you, it refuses to let go. There’s even a vaguely funky vibe to the verses accentuated by some prominent bass work that I find myself liking more than I thought I would.

Firm nods need to be made in the direction of the infectious ‘Flatline’ which blends the heavier aspects of the Periphery sound with another hook-laden chorus and ‘Habitual Line Stepper’, a track that begins in explosive fashion complete with blast beats and a progressive edge before settling down and ultimately delivering a more elegant piece of music than first thought, brought to a close with a sublime vocal-dominated melody.

The final killer moment though as far as I’m concerned is the album closer, the near eight minute long ‘Lune’. It starts off slowly channelling a vague Tool vibe but within moments, the melodies poke through and as the song builds, they come to the fore more. Sotelo’s vocals are epic-sounding and full of power, working in tandem with crushing guitars and magnificent orchestration to create a climactic crescendo of epic proportions, almost uplifting in tone and delivery. It certainly ends the album with a bang and a desire on my part to press play and listen all over again.

So there you have it. I started off being completely underwhelmed by ‘III: Select Difficulty’ but have grown to really like it and, in places, absolutely love it. It will be an album that will feature in many end-of-year lists and reaffirms Periphery’s place at the top table of technical and progressive djent metal.

The Score Of Much Metal: 8.5

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

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
Melechesh – Enki
Enslaved – In Times
Keep Of Kalessin – Epistemology
Lonely Robot – Please Come Home
The Neal Morse Band – The Grand Experiment
Zero Stroke – As The Colours Seep
AudioPlastik – In The Head Of A Maniac
Revolution Saints – Revolution Saints
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

Live gig review: Earthside, Toska, Brutai, Voices from the Fuselage – Camden Barfly 10/04/16

Credit: Ray Hearne / Haken
Credit: Ray Hearne / Haken

The following gig review comes with an apology for the quality of the photos – I’m no photographer and so, coupled with a poorly-equipped camera and a level of entertainment that meant I didn’t want to ruin my enjoyment by staring through a lens all night, they are not the best. In fact, if there was an award for ‘worst ever gig photography’, I’d surely be in the running! But hopefully, the words make up for it.

And with that, on to the review…

The chance to attend the debut UK show, an exclusive show no less on these fair shores from US metal band Earthside was just too good an opportunity to miss. I had to be there. And so it was that I set out from Suffolk and headed to ‘the big smoke’, to the Camden Barfly, on a Sunday afternoon to witness what I hoped would be a great evening’s entertainment.

This wish became ever more fervent as I found myself snarled up in heavy traffic as my Sat Nav sadistically took me within a few hundred yards of White Hart Lane, the home Tottenham Hotspur, on a day when they were due to play Manchester United in the Premier League. As a Spurs fan, I couldn’t moan too much but when added to the difficulty I had in parking my car, I arrived in Camden seriously regretting my decision not to get the Underground train from the outskirts of the city. Never mind, Spurs won and I finally located a free parking spot within walking distance of the venue.

Things only got better from there too. After meeting Lulu of Incendia Music for the first time and a quick drink in the bar, I headed upstairs to hear a little of the soundcheck but not before being greeted by with a warm hug from a beaming Frank Sacramone, keyboardist with Earthside.

My next task was to interview the lads from Brutai, so it was up to the dressing rooms next for me. I say ‘dressing rooms’ but to be honest, I have been in a lot more salubrious surroundings in my time. Bare floor boards, tatty walls, minimal furniture that had clearly seen better days and grimy windows made up the setting for my first journalistic task for the day.

Somewhat unbelievably given the number of gigs I’ve attended over the years in the capital, this was my first visit to this particular venue but I rather liked the experience. I missed the first song of openers Voices From the Fuselage but upon entering the small and intimate Barfly venue, I was immediately struck by the sounds coming from the stage.

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Voices From The Fuselage

In Ashe O’Hara, Voices From The Fuselage are blessed with a very talented singer, able to hit those high notes and add a demonstrable amount of emotion into his performance. Behind him, the music was powerful, muscular and well performed, not to mention subtle and melodic too when the need arose. The whole thing reminded me a little of the likes of TesseracT. Untried by me before this evening, these guys now need some further exploration as soon as possible.

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Brutai

Next up, a return to the dressing rooms to interview Earthside and before I knew it, the floor started to shake to signal to us all that Brutai were just starting their set. I’d heard a little of Brutai prior to the gig and I was very interested to see how the band would come across on stage. The answer was ‘very well indeed’.

I would have preferred a better defined mix in order to allow more clarity for the guitar solos and the keyboards but aside from this, Brutai put on a great show that only served to heighten my excitement for the forthcoming debut full-length. I have likened their output to a blend of Soilwork, Voyager, metalcore and pop and I think, on balance, as a brief reference point, I’d stick with this description. On stage though, coupled with a high energy, professional delivery, they certainly offer a lot more in the live arena and justifiably won over the decent-sized crowd, many of whom had not heard of them before this evening.

Brutai
Bruta

Normally, I get very bored during the set changeovers but on this particular evening, it was a lot of fun. Chatting with friends in the audience and then enjoying a long conversation with Mr Ray Hearne, drummer with Haken, it seemed like no time at all had passed before Earthside took to the stage.

Oh. My. Word. It is not often these days that I go to a live show and am absolutely blown away but tonight was one of these rare occasions. Knowing how technical, multi-layered and ambitious the music on Earthside’s debut album, ‘A Dream In Static’ is, I was intrigued to find out how the quartet would be able to pull it off. But pull it off they did and then some.

Tight as a drum, the music was performed almost flawlessly from start to finish, with the kind of intensity that I’ve rarely witnessed. But more than that, alongside the steely determination, there was a genuine sense of enjoyment from the band. Guitarist Jamie van Dyck constantly had a smile on his face and you simply had to see keyboardist Frank Sacramone in action to believe it. Air drumming, expansive arm gestures, singing along, alternating between keytar, standard synths and a guitar; he was a bundle of energy and a real joy to watch. At one point, he even stopped the music to admit that the experience had brought him to tears, something that you could clearly see was true even half-way back in the crowd.

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Earthside

In terms of the voices, Earthside employed the interesting and unusual tactic of projecting the vocals of the guest singers on a giant screen at the back of the stage. As such, you got to hear Bjorn ‘Speed’ Strid (Soilwork) in all his glory on the emotionally-charged ‘Crater’, my personal favourite track. Then there was an ‘appearance’ by vocalist Daniel Tompkins (TesseracT) on ‘A Dream In Static’ as well as Lajon Witherspoon on the epic and visually stunning ‘Mob Mentality’. It isn’t an approach to suit everyone. Yes the interludes between songs was a little protracted and minimised spontaneity and yes, in years to come it would be amazing to have these guests on stage with Earthside. But for now, for this particular performance, it did the job very well indeed.

And what’s more, the crowd lapped it up. A quick glance at those around me witnessed many that were full-on headbanging, several mouths were wide open and the remainder either were appreciatively nodding along or wrapt and ensconced in what they were witnessing. At the end of each song, the response was effusive and by the close of the set, the crowd roared their approval to almost disbelieving looks from the band. It was a crackling atmosphere and Earthside were worth every ounce of it.

toska
Toska

Brighton’s Toska followed albeit with a significantly truncated set and a slightly thinner crowd, mainly due to the inadequacies of public transport at weekends in this country. Nevertheless, those that remained were treated to some instrumental technical metal of a very high quality. Led by the imposing Rabea Massaad on guitar, the trio introduced a faint air of psychedelia and a little sludge to their repertoire meaning that Toska rounded off the impressive bill very handsomely indeed.

If I’m honest though, for all the strengths of the other bands, this night belonged to Earthside. They were incredible and the electricity between the audience and the band was something special to be a part of. After the show, Frank admitted to me that in terms of atmosphere and the feeling he got, it was a 10/10 show for him. He did qualify the statement to say that technically he could improve but overall, from such a perfectionist, this was quite the statement. I just hope that other parts of the UK and indeed the world get to witness this band. They are this good after only their 25th show? Wow. They are, quite simply, a force to be reckoned with.

Album Of The Year 2015 – Number 1

So, here we are. I’ve made it. One month and over 30,000 words later, my ‘Album Of The Year 2015’ Top 30 countdown comes to an end. It has been challenging, tiring and occasionally frustrating but well worth the effort. I have enjoyed the banter, the more serious conversations, the arguments and the positive comments that this series has created. But best of all are the comments from people who say that they have discovered or re-discovered a particular band thanks to one of my posts. This is exactly why I do this.

People ask me why I don’t just write a simple list and put it out there on the Internet. It would be simpler I admit but then, those that know me know that this isn’t the Man Of Much Metal’s way. And it certainly isn’t the Blog Of Much Metal way either. Each and every band that features in this list has spent months creating great music for us all to enjoy. Therefore, the least I can do is spend a decent amount of time giving credit where it’s due and explaining why I feel so passionately about these albums. Giving something back to the music that has given me so much is what I and this blog is all about.

If you’ve stuck with me throughout this series, I offer one last heartfelt thanks to each and every one of you. If you’re new and like what you read here, be sure to spread the word and check out the other 29 albums in my list via the links at the end of this post.

But enough of all that. Let’s get down to business. Ladies, gentlemen and children of all ages and of discerning taste, I give you my gold medal choice for 2015, the best album of a strong year for the music I love…

Number 1

earthside coverEarthside
‘A Dream In Static
Independent Release

I thought long and hard before awarding this album the title of ‘best album of 2015’. I mean, could I really award the title to a debut album from an unsigned band? But then I came to my senses, severely chastised myself and here we are.

Earthside, from New Haven, Connecticut, are comprised of drummer Ben Shanbrom, keyboardist Frank Sacramone, guitarist Jamie van Dyck and bassist Ryan Griffin. And together, they have put together a stunning album that is an utter delight and one that arguably breathes new life into the genre of heavy metal. Not content to plough one narrow musical furrow, instead the quartet have made it their mission to explore numerous different styles across the rock/metal spectrum and beyond all the while managing to keep the end product cohesive and, above all, enjoyable. You could call Earthside’s music progressive metal, djent, cinematic and symphonic or experimental…personally, I just call it damn good music.

Earthside have proved with this release that you can be ambitious, challenging to yourself, challenging to the listener and yet manage to emerge from the other side triumphant. There isn’t a moment on ‘A Dream In Static’ that is messy or clunky or even ill-advised. It all fits perfectly in spite of the myriad of influences at play and what’s more, the end product is absorbing, memorable and extremely addictive.

Photo Credit: Ian Christmann http://ianchristmann.com/
Photo Credit: Ian Christmann http://ianchristmann.com/

One of the elements of Earthside’s success is undoubtedly the unwillingness to rush the end product and to compromise in any real way. As I discovered when I interviewed Ben Shanbrom prior to the album’s release, Earthside have been around for a number of years, working away in the background to hone their craft and perfect their music away from prying ears and the lure of the limelight. In this day and age, it is all too easy to produce music, put it out on the internet and wait for the world to love you or loathe you. Very little thought often goes into the detail; the detail of learning to play your chosen instrument properly for example. And, even for those who are wizards at playing, the detail of honing song writing skills and having a clear vision for the band can be overlooked. This isn’t the case with Earthside – they’ve seemingly thought of everything. The result is ‘A Dream In Static’.

I knew from the moment that I heard ‘The Closest I’ve Come’ that something special was brewing. I had to wait what seemed an inordinately long time before I was finally able to hear the album in it’s entirety but believe me, it was worth the wait. In fact, for those of you familiar with my presence on social media, this choice won’t be the biggest surprise of your lives. I have waxed lyrical about the record over the past few months and I don’t see any reason for that stance to change any time soon.

If you’re after a really detailed look into the individual songs on ‘A Dream In Static’, please check out the review that I wrote for it around the time of it’s release. In addition, for more background about the band, check out my 2-part interview. Links to all three are as follows:

‘A Dream In Static’ Album review
Earthside Interview – Part 1
Earthside Interview – Part 2

For now, for this post, I’ll try to keep things brief. Note the word ‘try’ in that last sentence.

The album kicks off in stunning fashion with ‘The Closest I’ve Come’. In keeping with much of the album, it is an instrumental track but it oozes class and keeps things interesting by frequently altering the tempo, toying with differing levels of complexity and adding an urgent sense of drama via an inspired use of light and shade. One minute it’s heavy, the next it’s quiet and gentle. And, at the 1:30 mark, it explodes with the most gloriously epic melody you’re likely to hear for a while. Spine-tingling stuff indeed.

The title track follows and, featuring TesseracT’s Daniel Tomkins on vocals, it is equally as good as the opener. It is a groovy, djent-heavy beast that features more sumptuous melodies that are impossible to resist. ‘Mob Mentality’ which features Sevendust’s Lajon Witherspoon behind the microphone also boasts the talents of the Moscow Studio Symphony Orchestra and if you’re looking for a complex and moody film score-like feel to it, this is the song you’ve been dreaming of. Gargantuan and bruising, yet precise and subtle, it is a composition that has to be heard to be believed.

‘Entering The Light’ is the shortest track on the album but is also one of the most striking given its demonstrable urgency and the inspired inclusion of a hammered dulcimer courtesy of Max ZT to provide the song’s central melody. Then there are other compositions like ‘Crater’ featuring Soilwork’s Bjorn ‘Speed’ Strid, one of my all-time favourite metal vocalists, ‘The Undergrounding’ with its Meshuggah-like chugging riffs and ‘Contemplation Of The Beautiful’ which is an epic track full of highs and lows that ends with the mother of all crescendos, enhanced by an emotional and committed performance from the final guest vocalist, Eric Zirlinger (Face The King, ex-Seer). Hell, who am I trying to kid, every single track on ‘A Dream In Static’ is a killer and deserving of all the praise that is bestowed upon them.

Going back to my opening paragraph, it belatedly occurs to me that one of the reasons why this record is so exciting is absolutely because this is Earthside’s debut album. Prior to this album, the name ‘Earthside’ was known only to a select few but, given the staggering quality of ‘A Dream In Static’, it is a name that is being talked about more and more with each passing day. Enlisting the services of a full orchestra, convincing the likes of Daniel Tomkins and Bjorn ‘Speed’ Strid to participate and then to be able to have the whole thing mixed by David Castillo (Katatonia, Opeth) means that Earthside must be doing something right.

The mind boggles at what on Earth the band will deliver next time out. However, that’s for another day. For now, let us revel in the sounds, the textures, the emotions and the atmospheres of ‘A Dream In Static’.

In closing, I’d like to quote my original review, as the sentiment remains as true now as it did then: ‘‘A Dream In Static’ is not perfect but it is very close. It is one of the most intense, challenging and ambitious recordings I have heard in a very long time. I’m not a gifted musician, so I prefer to reflect on how albums make me feel; Earthside’s music elates me, excites me and delivers something new on each and every listen. On that basis alone, mark my words, Earthside are going to be huge. A band of this talent, dedication and focus that has produced something as jaw-dropping as ‘A Dream In Static’ as a mere introduction to the metal world cannot possibly be anything else. And you know what? They thoroughly and unequivocally deserve everything coming their way. Bravo gents, bravo.

Album Of The Year 2015 – Number 2
Album Of The Year 2015 – Number 3
Album Of The Year 2015 – Number 4
Album Of The Year 2015 – Number 5
Album Of The Year 2015 – Number 6
Album Of The Year 2015 – Number 7
Album Of The Year 2015 – Number 8
Album Of The Year 2015 – Number 9
Album Of The Year 2015 – Number 10
Album Of The Year 2015 – Number 11
Album Of The Year 2015 – Number 12
Album Of The Year 2015 – Number 13
Album Of The Year 2015 – Number 14
Album Of The Year 2015 – Number 15
Album Of The Year 2015 – Number 16
Album Of The Year 2015 – Number 17
Album Of The Year 2015 – Number 18
Album Of The Year 2015 – Number 19
Album Of The Year 2015 – Number 20
Album Of The Year 2015 – Number 21
Album Of The Year 2015 – Number 22
Album Of The Year 2015 – Number 23
Album Of The Year 2015 – Number 24
Album Of The Year 2015 – Number 25
Album Of The Year 2015 – Number 26
Album Of The Year 2015 – Number 27
Album of the Year 2015 – Number 28
Album of the Year 2015 – Number 29
Album of the Year 2015 – Number 30

And from previous years:

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

Earthside – A Dream In Static – Album Review

earthside cover

Artist: Earthside

Album Title: A Dream In Static

Label: Independent Release

Year Of Release: 2015

The buzz of being an early discoverer of a new band is one of the best on Earth, at least for me anyway. I first became aware of a band called Earthside when I was given the heads-up by their UK publicist about a track that had just been released on Youtube. I listened almost immediately and, perhaps as much as 5 seconds later, I was picking my jaw up off the floor. Throughout the following eight minutes as the song, entitled ‘The Closest I’ve Come’ developed, I had to frequently repeat the process as well as battle goosebumps, shivers and a goofy grin that seemed to affix itself to my face for the entirety of the composition.

From that moment on, I knew that I had to keep my focus on this new band and chart their progress carefully. The next, exciting step was to interview drummer Ben Shanbrom at the behest of the aforementioned publicist, despite only hearing two tracks at that point. It turned into an epic interview that required two blog posts to publish it in its entirety. During the conversation, I became instantly aware of just how focused, driven and disciplined Earthside are, something that shines through in their music without a shadow of doubt.

I have since been privileged to have access to the entire debut album, entitled ‘A Dream In Static’ and it is everything that I had hoped for and more. Earthside, from New Haven, Connecticut, are comprised of drummer Ben Shanbrom, keyboardist Frank Sacramone, guitarist Jamie van Dyck and bassist Ryan Griffin. And each member needs to take a bow because together, they have brought the metal world something truly brilliant.

Credit: Ian Christmann Photography ( http://catalystphotography.com/ )
Credit: Ian Christmann Photography ( http://catalystphotography.com/ )

The album kicks off with the track that I alluded to above, ‘The Closest I’ve Come’. In keeping with a good proportion of the album, it is an instrumental track. Now, I’m not always the biggest fan of instrumental-only music but this is an entirely different beast. The composition weaves its way through a plethora of clever and engaging ideas at once both instantly melodic and complicated. It begins quietly with a captivating melody and is soon joined by some striking drumming before it explodes with real intent via a modern djent-esque guitar tone and powerful rhythm section. I actually get a little emotional listening to it now as it has had such a profound impact upon me over the last few months.

However, the best is reserved for around the 1:30 mark when an epic-sounding melody to end all melodies kicks in with spine-tingling results. The song soon markedly shifts direction with the entire central segment exploring a more classically progressive instrumental blueprint full of wickedly precise and complex ideas, off-kilter timings and subtle keyboard embellishments. Despite its intricate nature, the music never strays into pointless overindulgence; every note has been thought out and keeps one eye on the melodies, texture and atmosphere which for several reasons calls to mind a sci-fi soundtrack. The song then closes via that opening melody which comes back bigger and bolder than ever, leaving an indelible mark on my brain. What a way to open your debut album.

Up next is the track entitled ‘Mob Mentality’ and is the ‘other’ track that Earthside have already unleashed on the metal community to almost entirely positive and effusive praise. It’s not hard to see why because it’s an absolute behemoth of a song. Front and centre of the composition sits Lajon Witherspoon, vocalist with Sevendust and who is the first of a small handful of guest vocalists to grace the record. The choice is typically brave and adventurous from Earthside, but Witherspoon puts in a huge performance, flitting masterfully and with consummate ease between soft and soothing and all-out aggression and power.

Not content to leave it there, Earthside have also enlisted the help of the Moscow Studio Symphony Orchestra to add yet another dimension to the near ten-minute bruising prog metal composition. If Earthside were after a song with the vibe of a movie score, it has been achieved here, with stylish aplomb. The changes in tempo, the movement shifts as well as the frequent alternation between light and shade and from subtle restraint to all-out aggression means that ‘Mob Mentality’ is imbued with a thoroughly believable and intense sense of drama and theatre throughout. All at once, the song sounds rich, ambitious, muscular, fragile and above all, completely and utterly compelling. In short, it is progressive metal genius.

Track three is the title track and features another guest vocalist in the shape of TesseracT’s Daniel Tompkins. It’s impossible to say that this is one of my favourite tracks on the album because as you might have guessed by now, they’re all nothing short of exquisite. That said, I love the more overt groove and unsurprising djent leanings on ‘A Dream In Static’ that are beautifully and seamlessly blended with some sumptuous melodies that are wonderfully accentuated by Tompkins’ stunning vocal performance. When he belts out the big notes, you can’t help but listen and get drawn into the music that little bit more, to the point that I find myself living the track rather than simply listening to it. The fact that I’m not generally-speaking the biggest djent fan in the world just serves to underline how sickeningly good the song writing must be to draw me in in the way that it does.

As a brief aside, there are certain points when the ‘djent’ tag is justified but make no mistake, ‘A Dream In Static’ is not a djent album. The influences are far too varied, the tones, the textures, the atmospheres, the styles and the overall execution call to mind a myriad of different genres and sub-genres, everything from soul and jazz through to classic prog and even melodic death metal. But crucially, Earthside take all these elements and blend it into something that is quite unique and very much their own.

Back to the tracks themselves and ‘Entering the Light’ returns Earthside to their instrumental surroundings whilst also being the shortest track on the record at a mere 5:27 in length. It is nevertheless another dramatic track that again has more than a passing resemblance to a piece of movie soundtrack music, albeit very different to what has gone before. I adore the central melody courtesy of a hammered dulcimer played by guest Max ZT as it offers a stunning counterpoint to the returning Moscow Studio Symphony Orchesta and the more traditional rock/metal instrumentation around it, both of which inject urgency and drama, wrapped up in a gorgeous piece of song-writing. It may be a Graeco-Roman instrument but to these ears, the dulcimer lends a slightly oriental feel to the delightful composition. The booming and shuddering bass that erupts somewhere in the centre of the track is great too, but to pick out any one performance does all the others a real disservice.

‘Skyline’ is, as far as it’s possible for Earthside, more of a straightforward instrumental metal track. That said, it’s still insanely complex, challenging and full of clever ideas with the bass guitar catching my ear most of all. However, it has more of an all-out jam feel to it, as if each member of the band is given the freedom to cut loose. That is until the half-way mark where everything falls away to be replaced by a tentative piano melody whilst the song rebuilds itself, like a phoenix rising from the ashes in a blaze of glory. The lead guitar line is spine tingling and around it is the sense that the composition is building towards something. That ‘something’ turns out to be a massive crescendo in the best post rock/metal tradition, full of elegant atmosphere and a deceptive, brooding heaviness.

Hot on the heels is ‘Crater’, which features one of my all-time favourite metal vocalists, Soilwork’s Bjorn ‘Speed’ Strid. The guy is a monster and he fully demonstrates that here. To begin with, he’s offered the opportunity to really explore his softer, more melodic side before he launches into the chorus of sorts with some of his best work to date in any band or project. It helps that the track behind him is satisfyingly powerful of course. It’s suitably urgent, with equal parts quiet restraint and all-out metal aggression and epic melody, the perfect foil to the many facets of Strid’s voice. Frankly, the result is beyond stunning. The composition is flawless and Strid is God-like; note perfect and his voice drips with emotion and bucket-loads of sincerity, particularly when he cuts loose and calls to the heavens with his rough and gravelly timbre.

Credit: Travis Smith - Seempieces ( http://www.seempieces.com/ )
Credit: Travis Smith – Seempieces ( http://www.seempieces.com/ )

‘The Undergrounding’ is the final instrumental piece on ‘A Dream In Static’. It features some inspired synth sounds that create the track’s U.S.P. and help offer something different to what has gone before. Those Meshuggah-inspired riffs return but all the while accented with plenty of other ideas meaning that all-too-soon, the relatively short track is at an end, albeit via a riff that’d be right at home on a classic doom metal record thanks to its pace and earth-shuddering heaviness.

And that leaves the final track, ‘Contemplation Of The Beautiful’ to close out the record. It begins with some sampled sounds that lend it a theatrical bent. The chosen vocalist for what is the longest track on the album is the less well-known Eric Zirlinger (Face The King, ex-Seer). What’s most ear catching about this piece of music is the pronounced light and shade. At times, the track is beautifully quiet and introspective with softly-sung passages. At others, out of nowhere, the music explodes with the power of an unstoppable force with Zirlinger screaming his lungs out in savage, uncontrolled fury. Around half-way, the track descends into more adventurous and quirky post-rock territory before beginning the gradual ascent towards another indescribably monumental peak of musical majesty; the agonised screams return alongside the most grandiose of melodic crescendos imaginable, leading to one of the most epic compositions I’ve heard in a very long time.

As the album draws to a close, I’m left stunned. How can this be a debut album? Where the hell have Earthside come from? Where can they possibly go from here? ‘A Dream In Static’ is not perfect but it is very close. It is one of the most intense, challenging and ambitious recordings I have heard in a very long time. It is also flawlessly executed and produced with the help of David Castillo in a way that allows every instrument and every subtle nuance to shine through.

I’m not a gifted musician, so I prefer to reflect on how albums make me feel; Earthside’s music elates me, excites me and delivers something new on each and every listen. On that basis alone, mark my words, Earthside are going to be huge. A band of this talent, dedication and focus that has produced something as jaw-dropping as ‘A Dream In Static’ as a mere introduction to the metal world cannot possibly be anything else. And you know what? They thoroughly and unequivocally deserve everything coming their way. Bravo gents, bravo.

‘A Dream In Static’ is out on 23rd October 2015.

The Score Of Much Metal: 9.8

If you’ve enjoyed this review, check out my others right here:

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
Melechesh – Enki
Enslaved – In Times
Keep Of Kalessin – Epistemology
Lonely Robot – Please Come Home
The Neal Morse Band – The Grand Experiment
Zero Stroke – As The Colours Seep
AudioPlastik – In The Head Of A Maniac
Revolution Saints – Revolution Saints
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

Essential Metal Releases Still To Come in 2015 – Part 3

Isn’t it always the way? You think you’ve finished a series or a project, only to be proved wrong almost immediately! In my case, I’d gone through all of the albums that I was still looking forward to during 2015 and thought I’d exhausted every avenue. It turns out that I missed a few. Therefore, here’s Part 3 in my ‘Essential Metal Releases Still To Come in 2015’ series.

If you missed Parts 1 and 2, they can be accessed via the following links:
Essential Metal Releases Still To Come in 2015 – Part 1
Essential Metal Releases Still To Come in 2015 – Part 2

So, who do I have to apologise to for missing out in the previous two blog posts? Read on to find out…

Redemption – TBC

In my defence, news only came of a new Redemption album a couple of days ago. With guitarist Bernie Versailles recovering from serious illness, I hadn’t even considered a new Redemption album this year but, fresh from inking a new record deal with Metal Blade Records, the US progressive metal band have informed the world that a new album is currently being mixed. This is great news because the quality of this band’s music is sensational, full of complexity, emotion and melody. If you’re unfamiliar with Redemption, check out this more detailed article I wrote about them a couple of years ago: Unknown & Underrated – Redemption.

Borknagar – TBC

Norwegian folk-tinged progressive black metal band Borknagar have always been a favourite of mine due to the fact that they always manage to write and record quality music that genuinely sounds like no-one else. With a unique vocal delivery, a penchant for intriguing melodies that shun the norm and with a flair for the epic, Borknagar delight with each and every release. It seems an age since the magnificent ‘Urd’ was released and with the band announcing that the master recordings are with Century Media Records, it’s entirely likely that the new album will be upon us before the year is out.

TesseracT – Polaris

tesseract coverTessaracT are one of those bands that were always on the periphery of my consciousness despite being one of the biggest names to emerge within the increasingly popular djent scene. However, the UK based metallers well and truly grabbed my attention with their last album, the sensational sophomore release ‘Altered State’. It blended the aggression of djent with more subtle progressive and ambient influences. The result was an album of huge proportions that challenged and delighted in equal measure. Scheduled for a September release, ‘Polaris’ is one of the most hotly-anticipated releases of 2015. I’m certainly looking forward to hearing it.

Draconian – Sovran

draconian coverIf melodic and Gothic doom is something you’re interested in, you’re bound to be aware of the name Draconian. The Swedish gloomsters cite everyone from Anathema to My Dying Bride and from Porcupine Tree to Katatonia as influences and these bands do indeed crop up from time to time within the compositions of Draconian. Theirs is a heavy yet relatively accessible style of music that’s as lush and lavish as it is extreme and confrontational. Huge atmospheres are created as well, which makes the music all the more engrossing. Listening to Draconian can be a melancholy affair but it can also be hugely rewarding at the same time.

The Dear Hunter – Act IV – Rebirth In Reprise

dear hunter coverA few weeks ago, I had no idea that this band even existed. Thanks to the members of Haken waxing lyrical about the band on their social media pages, I felt it only right and proper to investigate further. What I have subsequently discovered is that US prog rock band The Dear Hunter is an incredibly talented band that manage to bring together a vast array of different and apparently opposing musical styles and influences only to segue them together into a cohesive whole. I’m not sure how they do it, but they certainly succeed. Folk, prog, jazz, indie…you name it, it’s in there. Just have a listen to this track and tell me you’re not impressed.

Swallow The Sun – TBC

I’m not entirely convinced that we’ll see a new Swallow The Sun release in 2015. However, their social media pages would suggest that the band have been recording new material and, having announced that they have signed to Century Media Records, there have been a few cryptic comments about something being on the horizon, something different. The masters of ‘gloom, beauty and despair’ are a firm favourite with me and many others as they create some of most crushingly heavy yet stunningly beautiful and fragile atmospheric doom metal I’ve ever heard. If a new album is forthcoming before the end of 2015, trust me, it’ll be a reason to rejoice.

Into Eternity – Sirens

Into Eternity have been a band I’ve always enjoyed. Admittedly, I’ve lost touch with the Canadian metallers since they parted ways with vocalist Stu Block, who has since joined US thrash titans Iced Earth. However, their 2004 album ‘Buried In Oblivion’ remains a firm favourite thanks to a winning combination of heavy, aggressive death metal, great song writing and some of the most addictive melodies heard from an extreme metal band. With a new vocalist at the helm in the form of Amanda Kiernan, a newly-inked deal with Kolony Records and a renewed fire in their collective bellies, it has been announced that we should see a new album in the autumn. I’ll be very interested to hear how it sounds and whether it matches up to their past output.

Hecate Enthroned – TBC

When I was discovering the delights of black metal in my late teens, Hecate Enthroned were one of my favourites. They were heavily inspired by Cradle of Filth in that their compositions were full of Gothic theatrics, symphonics and more melody than you’d think on a first listen. The band turned all death metal on us in the late 90’s and since then, the output from the UK band has not been prolific. However, they are a band that always piques my interest when I hear their name mentioned and I remain hopeful for a new album sometime in 2015.

Pathosray – TBC

Italian prog metallers Pathosray are a slightly different proposition to many of their peers in that they are certainly prog but not in the classic, conventional sense. Their compositions are full of the requisite complexity but they’re also full of snarl and bite and more chops than you’d find at a butcher shop. Their melodies are also interesting in that they’re not always what you’d expect. This makes their releases a challenge at times but ultimately very rewarding. It has gone quiet in recent months but the comments coming out of the Pathosray camp ahead of their third album and first for some six years have seriously captured my imagination.

Madder Mortem – Red In Tooth And Claw

Alternative metal? Progressive metal? Avant-garde? Extreme metal? Whatever label you wish to place on Madder Mortem, they will still remain one of the most unique-sounding bands within the metal world. The band do not conform to the norm and this is to be celebrated. Their output can be challenging, quirky and occasionally downright odd. However, give the Norwegians time and your full attention and everything begins to make sense in a glorious way. Fronted by the irrepressible vocalist Agnete M. Kirkevaag, the first new album in around seven years, ‘Red In Tooth And Claw’, threatens to be a very interesting and exciting proposition.

And the big ones…

Yup, there are also new albums due from Iron Maiden, Def Leppard, Slayer and a number of other rather huge bands. I’m certainly excited about these too, but you can read about them in numerous places elsewhere. Instead, I wanted to focus on the bands that perhaps are in need of a bit more exposure than the big boys.

2013 – The Best Of The Rest (Part 1)

Now that my 2013 ‘Album of the Year’ countdown is complete and I have given you the 20 albums that have had the biggest impact upon me, I thought that I would write a couple of posts about the other albums that didn’t quite make it into my Top 20.

You can read my full ‘Album of the Year 2013’ list right here if you’re interested.

Whilst the vast majority of comments about my Top 20 have been complimentary (thank you all for those), I have naturally been questioned, shouted at, abused and laughed at (all good naturedly, I might add) for some of my omissions. With these posts, I hope to set the record straight a little bit.

However, the bottom line is that 2013 was a very strong year. Many very good albums were released and as hard as I tried, I couldn’t fit about 40 albums into a Top 20. And believe me, I tried.

So, here goes. Part 1 of those albums that just missed out but are very worthy of your attention nonetheless.

sw ravenSteven Wilson
‘The Raven That Refused To Sing (And Other Stories)’
kscope

If I’m completely honest, there are two important reasons why this album was not in my Top 20 for 2013. Firstly, I was never a massive Porcupine Tree fan and so I wasn’t immediately compelled to listen to this solo effort. Secondly, because I was slow in listening, I came to it too late in the year to be able to confidently put it into my list.

The fact is however, that I was stupid. I should have listened to this album the moment it was released because having now spent a bit more time with it, I must admit that it is rather special. This is very classy and professional modern progressive rock with an abundance of emotion and understated finesse. The album ebbs and flows effortlessly with plenty of light and shade to keep the listener entertained and enthralled from start to finish. It may not have made it into my Top 20 for 2013 but that’s my fault, not the album’s. Have a listen and you’ll see what I mean.

ldcLong Distance Calling
‘The Flood Inside’
Superball Music

With the departure of founding member Reimut von Bonn, Long Distance Calling have taken a different approach with their sound on “The Flood Inside”. The German prog metal band began life as an instrumental outfit and on album number four, the atmosphere, the melodic flourishes, the density and the wall of sound riffs remain. However, into the fray for the very first time comes a vocalist in the form of Martin ‘Marsen’ Fischer. It is a great addition because it adds another dimension to the band’s already impressive musical output.

Instrumental virtuosity is not what Long Distance Calling are about. Instead they’re all about working as an impressive unit to create feelings, moods and emotions, taking the listener on an interesting, epic and occasionally slightly quirky, journey. With “The Flood Inside”, they have really delivered, albeit with a twist on their normal approach.

tesseractTesseract
‘Altered State’
Century Media Records

In general, I would not consider myself a fan of the djent movement. Of course there are exceptions to the rule and there are no better examples of that than ‘Altered State’ the second studio album from Milton Keynes’ finest metal quintet.

The album is arguably still djent at it’s heart, but the whole thing has been toned down to create a much more atmospheric and emotional end product. There are still moments of all out djent chug that litter the album but, for the most part, this is beautifully crafted and glorious progressive rock with metal leanings. And yet, in spite of the toning down, this is still an extremely powerful album. “Altered State” is a record that I feel more than I hear if that makes sense, as the music doesn’t just assault the ears, it goes deeper than that.

killswitchKillswitch Engage
‘Disarm The Descent’
Roadrunner Records

I have never been a fan of either Killswitch Engage or their specific subgenre of metal. I have always found the whole thing rather cringe worthy and just a little bit fake. The aggressive verses juxtaposed with clean-sung melodic choruses have always felt a bit clunky and fake, trying to be all things to all metal fans. Until now that is.

I don’t know what made me listen to “Disarm The Descent” for the first time. However, I did listen and it has blown me away. The riffs are huge, the songs are powerful and the choruses are so damn catchy and often border on the anthemic. Plus this album sees the return of original vocalist Jesse Leach, who puts in a very fine performance indeed.

This was a big surprise for me in 2013 and the only reason that it failed to make my top 20 is because 2013 was just so damn strong and I just question the longevity of the record. Will I still like it as much in a few month’s time? Only time will tell.

Once again, the full list of who did make it into my Top 20 for 2013 can be read here.

Half-Way Through 2013 – The Best So Far – Part 4

Today, I bring you part 4 in my mini-series, taking a look at some of the very best releases of 2013 to date.

The previous parts of this series can be found here:

Half-Way Through 2013 – The Best So Far – Part 1
Half-Way Through 2013 – The Best So Far – Part 2
Half-Way Through 2013 – The Best So Far – Part 3

Darkane – “The Sinister Supremacy”

darkaneIn the early 2000’s, Darkane were one of those bands that were very important to me when I was devouring as much of the melodic death metal subgenre as I could. In fact, 2002’s “Expanding Senses” is still one of my go-to albums when the need arises. Whilst I have been slightly less enamoured with more recent releases, “The Sinister Supremacy” demonstrates a real return to form and it may just challenge their very best material.

Darkane have always differed from the vast majority of other bands within the genre in so far as their aggressive outpourings have always threatened to spiral into chaos, only to be pulled back from the brink via intelligent song writing and glorious melody. The same is true here, although for my money, this has been taken down a notch, slightly softened. The whole thing is still heavy and aggressive as hell, but in a more mature, grown-up way.

The song writing remains out of the top drawer and there are some really strong choruses to get lodged in you brain. Moreover, “The Sinister Supremacy” is sharp, incisive, reassuringly brutal and, with more than just a hint of ‘core’ about it, it should appeal to more than just the average melodeath fan.

Long Distance Calling – “The Flood Inside”

ldcI was never much of a fan of the instrumental prog band Long Distance Calling until I caught their show at Progpower Europe a couple of years ago. However, their atmospheric and powerful show won me over to a greater or lesser extent. Album number X though, the magnificent “The Flood Inside” has turned me into a real fan.

With the departure of founding member Reimut von Bonn, Long Distance Calling have taken a different approach with their sound on “The Flood Inside”. The atmosphere, the melodic flourishes, the density and the wall of sound riffs remain but into the fray for the very first time comes a vocalist in the form of Martin ‘Marsen’ Fischer. It is a great addition because it adds another dimension to the band’s already impressive musical output.

Instrumental virtuosity is not what Long Distance Calling are about. Instead they’re all about working as an impressive unit to create moods and take the listener on an interesting, occasionally slightly quirky, journey. With “The Flood Inside”, they have really delivered.

TesseracT – “Altered State”

tesseractHere’s another surprising inclusion into this series. Well, it is a surprise to me anyway. If you’d have said to me that the new TesseracT album would feature in the top 10 or so albums from the first half of 2013, I’d have laughed at you. Undeniably a great band at what they do, it is nevertheless on the very fringes of what I tend to like. However, with “Altered State”, the approach has been tweaked and the results are sensational.

The album is arguably still djent at it’s heart, but the whole thing has been toned down to create a much more atmospheric and emotional end product. There are still moments of all out djent chug that litter the album but, for the most part, this is beautifully crafted and glorious progressive rock with metal leanings. And yet, in spite of this, I doubt that you’ll hear many more powerful albums this year.

“Altered State” is a record that I feel more than I hear if that makes sense, as the music doesn’t just assault the ears, it goes deeper than that. A massive shock for me, but a very welcome one indeed.

Omnium Gatherum – “Beyond”

OG BeyondI have already blogged about my love for this band, so I won’t go on too much about them here. Suffice to say that album number six, the simply-titled “Beyond” is an absolute belter.

“Beyond” takes the melodic death metal blueprint that has been around for a couple of decades now but does something different with it. Instead of exploring a modern edge or overly technical ideas, the Finns have instead blended the crushing death metal with some of the most melodic choruses they can muster. The results are simply stunning and have led to the band themselves referring to their music as ‘adult oriented death metal’. I’d not disagree either because “Beyond” really does sound like a blend of death metal and AOR which really works thanks to some superb song writing prowess.

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