Dyscarnate – With All Their Might – Album Review

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Artist: Dyscarnate

Album Title: With All Their Might

Label: Unique Leader Records

Date of Release: 15 September 2017

Generally speaking, I’d class myself as a metalhead with a penchant for more intricate and complex compositions as well as having a love of melody and a weakness for guitar solos and over-the-top flamboyance. I’m also someone who typically shies away from the hardcore genre because I’m not a fan of the more ‘shouty’ and deliberately confrontational and/or political stance that many of these bands display.

So then, why am I so beguiled by the new Dyscarnate record, ‘With All Their Might’, given that it features no guitar solos, next to nothing in terms of prog-like complexity and is straight-up brutal death metal that flirts with elements of hardcore? I could scratch my head for ages and pretend to mull over the answer. Or, I could be honest immediately and shout the following from the rooftops:

It’s because ‘With All Their Might’ is heavy, uncompromising, brutal and groovy as all hell.

And, despite my comments in the opening paragraph, I am also a metalhead that, on occasion, cannot resist something that is more straightforward, concise and which gets my bald head nodding more vigorously that Kerry King on steroids. Enter Dyscarnate.

For those unfamiliar with the name, Dyscarnate are a Shropshire, UK-based trio that were founded in 2004 and to date, have released two full-length albums, an EP and a demo. Comprised of guitarist/vocalist Tom Whitty, bassist/vocalist Al Llewellyn and drummer Matt Unsworth, they have made a positive impact in the metal underground, culminating in some very positive reviews both of their recorded output and their live shows, most notably from Metal Hammer’s Dom Lawson.

It’s not hard to understand why either, because these west country boys make one hell of a racket that cannot be ignored. And, once heard, has to be listened to again and again because it is so damn groovy, so wonderfully infectious and so gloriously heavy. At times, I simply cannot believe that such a full and bold sound can come from just three musicians.

The first I heard of this record was ‘Iron Strengthens Iron’, which aired recently as the first ‘single’ for ‘With All Their Might’. And it’s safe to say that it was verging on love at first listen. The grooves are colossal, the intensity is evident right from the off and it is relentless in the way that it steamrollers everything in its path. This has got to be one of the standout extreme metal songs of the year.

The thing is, Dyscarnate don’t stop there. In fact, ‘Iron…’ acts as a very good marker for the quality that is consistent through the remaining seven songs. So much so that before I know it, the album is at an end and I’m left breathless but wanting more. Like a committed masochist, I have spent the better part of 40 minutes being beaten with a sledgehammer, yet I still want more. The old adage states that a good artist should always leave the crowd wanting more, and that’s what Dyscarnate have achieved here with aplomb.

The opening duo of ‘Of Mice And Mountains’ and ‘This Is Fire!’ are something to behold, they really are. ‘Of Mice And Mountains’ offers bucket loads of groove, writhing monstrous riffs, razor-sharp drumming and spiteful gruff vocals delivered by both Whitty and Llewellyn. This dual vocal approach is certainly an added string to the bow for Dyscarnate because although both spew forth their diatribes in extreme fashion, their pitch and tone is discernibly different, meaning that you get a deeper growl and a slightly higher rasp working expertly in tandem.

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If the groove in the opener was pronounced, ‘This Is Fire!’ takes things to the next level. I find it utterly impossible not to nod my head or walk without matching my pace and gait to the infectious tempo of this behemoth of a song. The monotone segment in the latter stages is inspired as is the rousing outro that could go on even longer if it really wanted.

After the aforementioned ‘Iron Strenthens Iron’ comes ‘Traitors In The Palace’ and, if anything, the pace is slowed even further into undoubted doom metal territory. Make no mistake that this is still brutal and savage death metal but the doom vibe, accentuated by the casual tolling of a bell, is very much at the forefront of the track. The pace increases marginally at first and then more markedly in the closing stages thanks to some brighter staccato-like riffs and a greater urgency in the drumming.

‘To End All Flesh Before Me’ mixes a swirling barrage of killer riffs with blastbeats and a chorus that veers dangerously close to ‘catchy’ territory, not that this is a bad thing at all as far as I’m concerned. ‘Backbreaker’ meanwhile, should be re-named ‘neck breaker’ such is its undiluted power and groove.

A thrash-like riff acts as the introduction to ‘All The Devils Are Here’ before normal service is resumed and we’re pummelled into quivering submission by the bombardment of brutal intensity, albeit with a little more in terms of variation here and there. I love the fact that the bass is so audible in the mix and whilst it is an important ingredient throughout, it really makes its presence known within this track.

‘Nothing Seems Right’ brings this slab of almighty brutality to a close, complete with dark atmosphere and more melody than at any point in the previous seven songs. It has a little longer to develop at nearly eight minutes, but the dramatic and foreboding intro is stunning as are the simple melodies that are embedded into the initial slow, lumbering riff that makes further welcome appearances as the composition develops.

In keeping with the tone and output of this record, I shall keep my conclusion simple and to-the-point. ‘With All Their Might’ is a brutal behemoth of a record, making it easily one of the best and most satisfying death metal albums of 2017.

The Score Of Much Metal: 9.25

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

2015 reviews
2016 reviews

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

Subterranean Masquerade – Vagabond – Album Review

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Artist: Subterranean Masquerade

Album Title: Vagabond

Label: ViciSolum Productions

Date Of Release: 1 September 2017

When I reviewed the previous Subterranean Masquerade album, ‘The Great Bazaar’, I came to the following conclusion in the final line: “‘The Great Bazaar’ is a very strong album. It’s varied, it’s intriguing, it’s powerful and above all, it’s wonderfully idiosyncratic.”

Fast-forward just two years and after spending some considerable time getting to grips with the band’s new record, ‘Vagabond’, I have to say that my thoughts towards it are frighteningly similar. When I was sent the promo by founding member and principle songwriter Tomer Pink, it was sent with the following comment: ‘Good luck, not an easy album’. And hell, he wasn’t kidding, I can tell you.

The thing that I liked so much about ‘The Great Bazaar’ was the way in which Subterranean Masquerade really went all-out to create something unique. They managed to bring an awful number of seemingly disparate ideas to the table, but made them work. What’s more, the album never felt disjointed or clunky in spite of the myriad influences at work within each composition. Again, the same is very true of ‘Vagabond’.

Since the last record, there has been a little tweak or two to the clientele within Subterranean Masquerade. The core of the band remains the same, with guitarist Tomer Pink at the helm, joined by guitarist Or Shalev, bassist Golan Farhi, keyboardist Shai Yallin and drummer Matan Shmuely (Orphaned Land). This time around however, Novembers Doom’s Paul Kuhr is no longer involved. Instead, Kjetil Nordhus (Green Carnation, Tristania) is joined on vocal duties by Eliran Wizeman, who delivers a frightful growl. In addition, Ilan Arad features in the line-up to provide the brass quota.

Those that know me and my musical preferences will now be expecting me to deride the band for the inclusion, and indeed the increase, of brass on this record. I have a rule: if the album contains brass, it gets deducted one point immediately. I just cannot stand brass. There are exceptions to every rule and in my case, Big Big Train are perhaps the most notable. With Subterranean Masquerade, my prejudices have been tested to the very limits. So prominent is the saxophone et al, that I did baulk at it in the beginning. Even now, I can’t help but wish that this element be reduced. However, I really like ‘Vagabond’ and initially I thought that was very much in spite of the brass. As it turns out, I have come to the surprising realisation that this is a necessary ingredient, without which the compositions and the whole essence of the music would suffer.

The growls of Wizeman and the strong guitar work of Pink and Shalev might mean that Subterranean Masquerade have a sheen of extreme metal about them, death metal being the most obvious protagonist. However, ‘Vagabond’ is much more extreme in terms of its bold ambition and it revels in being a hugely uplifting and positive-sounding record. The melodies that litter the album are really lovely, making the whole thing a warm and positive-sounding affair. In fact, I am struggling to think of a heavy metal album that sounds quite so ‘happy’, exuberant and fun.

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There aren’t many metal records that can have these three adjectives applied to it, but with ‘Vagabond’, they are well-placed and accurate. With the plethora of Middle Eastern influences and cheeky quirkiness within each composition, there’s almost a sense of carnival about ‘Vagabond’. I’m not entirely certain that the lyrical content always marries up, but this is the distinct feeling I get when I listen to this record.

The sounds of a bustling street accompany simple hand-clapping and a terrific Indian-tinged melody to open up the album via ‘Place For Fairytales’. The lyrical tip of the cap to the previous album is a nice touch too. It is a bright and breezy introduction that continues even when the heavier instrumentation eagerly enters the fray. It doesn’t take long until the brass makes a forthright entrance, but it fits with the care-free feel to the track. Female vocals, menacing growls, saxophone solos, chugging riffs, powerful drumming and strong 70s-inspired keyboard sounds all make their mark in an opening song that’s utterly glorious. I love the way it ebbs and flows whilst incorporating everything so smoothly and serenely. Even the saxophone solo atop the crescendo at the close is a thing of unbridled joy.

The clean vocals of Green Carnation’s Kjetil Nordhus take centre stage within the equally glorious and eccentric ‘Nomad’. Here is a highly underrated vocalist delivering some excellent vocals, so smooth and nuanced. I hear echoes of Amorphis in the key melodies but equally, there’s a hint of the avant-garde, reminiscent of bands like Knifeworld in the brass arrangements, as well as the injection of psychedelic ingredients. Again, the ethnic influences loom large, hardly surprising given the Israeli homeland of several of the members.

‘Ways’, a more ‘normal’ composition, albeit with jazz undertones then pushes me to the limits via a mid-section out of nowhere that I can only refer to as a brass-led oompah-like affair, conveying an almost comedic circus feel. In stark contrast, ‘Carousal’ is a two-minute instrumental, led initially by piano and strings for the vast majority once the Middle Eastern sounds die away. This is arguably the saddest-sounding composition, the most wistful and poignant, even if the final moments deliver another excellent quick-fire melody.

The shifting tempos and moods of ‘Kippur’ are intriguing, from fast-paced folk to the slower, heavier dirge of something altogether doomier. Once again, the melodies that feature in the expansive chorus are a delight and a much needed anchor for the listener, particularly when sandwiched between such an eclectic soundscape that incorporates Gothic synth-pop, ska, jazz and 70s progressive rock, not to mention the inclusion of an accordion. On paper, it shouldn’t work, but remarkably, Subterranean Masquerade pull it all together with aplomb.

The rhythm section really catches my ear within the extended instrumental of ‘Daled Bavos’; the bass of Farhi rumbles nicely alongside the more aggressive drumming of Shmuely. The swift ‘As You Are’ follows and has a bouncy rhythm and a tone that reminds me of Orphaned Land. ‘Hymn Of The Vagabond’ is the longest track on the record but it is fully worthy of its seven-and-a-half-minute length. In fact, it could have gone on for twice as long as far as I’m concerned. The track is equally as complex and multi-faceted as all of the others but what I like about it are those things that normally I’d shy away from, like the ethnic female vocals and the use of what I assume is a sitar. Those melodies are heavily Eastern-influenced but they are bold and rather irresistible.

The album then ends with a cover of David Bowie’s ‘Space Oddity’. I’m not the biggest fan of covers, but given the full Subterranean Masquerade treatment, complete with funeral doom intro, this is actually a pleasant surprise and a nice tribute to an iconic artist.

‘Vagabond’ is another triumph for Subterranean Masquerade, a definite step up from their last record. The members of the band may have changed slightly but the core feels like it is more stable and confident as a unit. This translates through the music without doubt; I have mentioned the fact that the music feels ‘happy’ and ‘fun’, but I get the distinct impression that the members of the band buy into this too and had fun making ‘Vagabond’. The only gripe I have mirrors that of their last: I want there to be more material on the album. Discounting the cover song, ‘Vagabond’ lasts for just over 40 minutes. It’s positive that we’re not left bored or confused by an over-bloated album but I’d have liked something this good to last a little longer. A double-album next time lads?

The Score Of Much Metal: 9

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

2015 reviews
2016 reviews

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

Adagio – Life – Album Review

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Artist: Adagio

Album Title: Life

Label: Zeta Nemesis Records

Date Of Release: 26 July 2017

It has taken a while to get around to reviewing this record, but for those of you who are eager to hear my thoughts about it, here you go.

One of the main reasons why this review is being published after the release date is because I was unable to secure a promo. Such is life, I can’t get them all. I have therefore had to listen via YouTube and other streaming platforms. It has meant that my listening time has been drastically curtailed because my day-to-day responsibilities mean that a lot of my listening is done away from free internet access. But nevertheless, I have succeeded.

I’ll start this review by stating that I have never been a fan of Adagio. I don’t own any of their back catalogue and I am completely unfamiliar with their previous work. I can only assume that when I tried them previously, they didn’t make enough of an immediate impact for me to persevere. Given the amount of music I listen to, sometimes I have to make snap decisions and Adagio must have been an unfortunate victim of my often ruthless screening process.

I had in mind, with a name like Adagio, that they’d play a form of neo-classical power metal with perhaps a vague progressive edge. Who knows, that may indeed be true of their four previous records but that’s certainly not the reality with which I am faced with album number five, entitled ‘Life’. And I’m rather pleased about that if I’m honest, because neo-classical power metal is not a personal favourite musical style it has to be said. Maybe that was why I dismissed the French metal band in the past?

Whatever the reason, I am here to write about the present, and that means focusing on ‘Life’ which has been crafted by the Gallic quintet comprised of long-standing members Stéphan Forté (guitar), Franck Hermanny (bass) and Kévin Codfert (keyboards) alongside complete newbies Jelly Cardarelli (drums) and Mayline Gautié (violin) and their illustrious American vocalist, Kelly Sundown Carpenter (Beyond Twilight, Epysode etc).

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Credit: Martial Lenoir

What I certainly wasn’t expecting was the degree of heaviness which confronted me almost from the outset. Not only that, but the overt djent influences were a shock to the system too. This was not at all what I expected to hear but I like it when that happens because it keeps me on my toes and prevents me from getting too blasé about things.

At its core, ‘Life’ remains a melodic, power metal record but there’s so much more to the music than that. This is an album that is crammed full of different styles and influences, from symphonic bombast, to technical progressive indulgence via classic heavy metal and back again. Staccato riffing, djent-like groove and plenty of flamboyant lead lines all come together in a multi-layered, extravagant body of work. The compositions are involved and purposeful, a veritable explosion for the senses, demonstrating the undeniable talent that oozes from the pores of all six musicians.

To underline the diversity of ‘Life’, within its nine tracks and near-hour length, there are echoes of bands as diverse as Symphony X, Epica and even Periphery. And, in many ways, this is the thing that prevents me fully falling for its many charms. It is just a little too over-the-top, a little too ambitious. Just because you can do something, doesn’t mean that you should. If Adagio just reined things in a touch more, ‘Life’ could have been a very special album indeed.

That being said, ‘Life’ is still, overall, a positive listening experience. For starters, there’s the voice of Kelly Sundown Carpenter, another of the newbies to Adagio, joining the band during the seven-year gap since they last released new material in the form of ‘Archangels In Black’ (2009). The American seriously owns the microphone from start to finish, sounding hungry and full of energy and passion as he delivers everything from menacing lower notes to soaring high over the music far below.

Opening with your longest track is a brave move but the title track is worthy of the accolade. The chugging, churning djent riffs are full of intent, but it is the myriad of twists and turns within the song that draws my admiration. It refuses to sit still, always looking to explore different sonic tapestries, occasionally returning to a bold and melodic chorus.

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‘The Ladder’ contains some great bass work as well as an excellently melodious lead guitar solo, whilst ‘Subrahmanya’ blends some striking djent guitar riffing with an Eastern flavour to nice effect. This is Adagio at their cinematic and symphonic best, delivering something extremely powerful in the process.

The album continues in a similar vein until the very end, mixing a myriad of different influences into their substantial output. But as the record progresses, I find my attention waning and my patience faltering. As I said before, there’s just too much going on to be able to absorb it properly. Sometimes subtlety and finesse is called for rather than a megaphone and a sledgehammer. Additionally, as I listen to ‘Life’, I realise that it is in the melody department where Adagio also falter. If you’re going to be as ambitious as this, you need to give the listener enough of an anchor to hold on to. That anchor is often melody and whilst ‘Life’ is not without hooks and memorable moments, the melodies are not big and bold enough to permeate everything else that’s going on. Even when left in the capable pipes of Carpenter.

Ultimately, ‘Life’ is an extremely frustrating listen. I love some of the flamboyant musicianship and the ambition. I also love the vocals from Carpenter as well as the production which does allow all of the instruments to be heard most of the time. But unfortunately ‘Life’ is too long, too busy and too chaotic. In the case of Adagio, less really could be more.

The Score Of Much Metal: 7.25

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

2015 reviews
2016 reviews

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

Paradise Lost – Medusa – Album Review

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Artist: Paradise Lost

Album Title: Medusa

Label: Nuclear Blast Records

Date Of Release: 1 September 2017

I have been a fan of Paradise Lost for over 20 years since, as a teenager, I took a chance on ‘Draconian Times’. It was love at first listen and it served as the soundtrack to some very important moments in my life, most notably, my GCSE art exam. I got an excellent grade, but how could I not with this album inspiring me throughout?

Naturally, I delved into the back catalogue at my earliest opportunity and was blown away by ‘Icon’ and ‘Shades Of God’. In fact, the latter remains my all-time favourite Paradise Lost album. I was less enamoured with ‘Lost Paradise’ and ‘Gothic’ initially, although both were littered with moments of excellence. Today, I listen to the latter a lot more and the former almost never to be honest.

At the time, I hated ‘One Second’ and ‘Host’ with their strong electropop/Goth overtones and apparent abandonment of their heavier roots. I still don’t enjoy them as much as many others, although my hatred has certainly softened to grudging respect, with an admission that there are a few songs that are rather enjoyable.

Nevertheless, it took me until the release of ‘Faith Divides Us, Death Unites Us’ in 2009, some four albums and an entire decade later, to rediscover the magic. I had casually listened to the intervening albums, pleased to note that there was a gradual reintroduction of heavier material, but it was with ‘Faith…’ that I was truly knocked for six. Successive albums have seen a further increase in heaviness, but have also maintained a consistent level of quality along the way. So much so that ‘Tragic Idol’ (2012) and ‘The Plague Within’ (2015) rank as two of my favourites by the gloomy Yorkshiremen.

‘That’s all very well’, I hear you cry, ‘but what about this new album?’

It’s a fair question, but the preceding history lesson is designed to add context to the review because in order to understand my views on ‘Medusa’, you need to be familiar with the back story. So, with that sorted, I can now turn my attention to Paradise Lost’s 15th album and their first on their new label, Nuclear Blast.

It doesn’t take genius to fathom, almost immediately, that the veterans have gone for yet another slightly different approach with this record. And this approach effectively turns back the clock a quarter of a century as the quintet delve back into their murky past to dredge up their dark and gloomy doom roots, with a hint of death for good measure, principally via the vocals of Nick Holmes. On this record, he lets his gravelly and sinister gruff tones take the lead and, aside for a few notable exceptions, keeps his more melodious clean tones under lock and key.

The parallels to their very early material is striking. For one, the whole record sounds dirty, raw and organic, the perfect foil for the unashamed doom metal output that ‘Medusa’ provides. The music here is ugly and oppressive, claustrophobic and unsettling. Initially, given by predisposition against the band’s very early material and my general apathy to doom in general, I didn’t warm to ‘Medusa’. I found the generally plodding pace and slow-moving material quite dull and unedifying, even though it was markedly less naïve-sounding than those first couple of records.

But yet, after a few listens, there is a subtle, warm beauty that starts to become apparent, like the occasional stubborn ray of sunshine that refuses to be entirely expunged by a sky thick with dark clouds. And those self-same foreboding clouds slowly begin to offer a rugged beauty themselves at times. The slow, lumbering heavy riffs, the low bass rumble from Steve Edmondson and the simple, uncomplicated bruising beat of Wallteri Väyrynen’s drums; they all come together to create something strangely compelling, almost hypnotic at times.

Take the gargantuan opening piece, ‘Fearless Sky’ as the perfect example of all that I have just said. The first half is all-out doom worship, slowly and inexorably crushing everything it its path. The riffs of Gregor Mackintosh and Aaron Aedy churn and Holmes growls spitefully as the song slithers along at its own stubborn pace. But around the half-way mark, things change. A subtle melody is introduced, those recognisable guitar tones and distinctive leads of Mackintosh’s guitar break through the gloom and Holmes reverts to a clean approach. Suddenly, what was oppressive, becomes far more epic and, for me, enjoyable. There’s even space for a segment where the spirit of the late 90s briefly emerges, albeit cloaked in something far heavier.

Frustratingly, I don’t find the follow-up, ‘Gods of Ancient’ quite so positive and indeed I’d still go as far as to say that it’s a fairly unremarkable doom metal track. ‘From The Gallows’ on the other hand, delivers some great drumming and more of those archetypal mournful leads that Mackintosh pens so well. The guitar solo is a brief, twisted affair and overall, its shorter life also aids it, preventing it from outstaying its welcome.

‘The Longest Winter’ perks me right up, as it is an absolute belter. The effect-laden guitar work that acts as the opening centrepiece is marvellous, as is the slow groove that accompanies it. And as much as I like Holme’s gruff delivery, I’m a sucker for his clean croons and here he obliges, even soaring over the more melodious chorus to stunning effect. If there’s such a thing as a catchy track on ‘Medusa’, this is it, right here.

The title track has a lot to live up to then, but it manages it. Rather deftly actually. Again, the mournful doom metal overtones are present, as are Holmes’ clean vocals – it really does make all the difference for me. The added injection of melody that his voice provides is, for me, the difference between a good song and an excellent one. Not always, but on the whole. I really like the brief quiet interlude which introduces a simple piano embellishment, which seems to dial up the misery to another level. Again, Mackintosh delights with his expressive leads whilst the rhythm section does its best to bulldoze its way through everything.

There’s then another disappointing dip, as ‘No Passage For The Dead’ fails to make the same impact as its couple of predecessors. It’s a perfectly adequate song, but doesn’t get my juices flowing. ‘Blood and Chaos’ on the other hand catches my attention as it ups the pace a little, entering the fray in an uncharacteristic up-tempo manner. The pace continues throughout, acting as light relief to the more sedate meanderings elsewhere.

Pleasingly, ‘Medusa’ is brought to a close in positive fashion, courtesy of ‘Until The Grave’. The sombre and menacing tone is accented by a magnificent chorus that is beautiful but conveys forlorn and desperate emotions. There’s a wailing and gnashing, swirling lead solo and even a hint of synths at one point if I’m not mistaken.

‘Medusa’ has really pulled me back and forth, toying with my thoughts and feelings on a frequent basis. As such, this has been a difficult record to review. Those that prefer the more raw and extreme metal output of the early days will probably be in raptures about this release. Indeed, there is a lot to like about the material here; it is without doubt created with care and passion, and executed in the ultra-professional manner you expect from a band of the calibre and long-standing of Paradise Lost. There are some excellent tracks here, with some strong melodies to be heard which, in turn, pull me back for repeated listens. And I do like ‘Medusa’ more after each run through. But, I’m just not sure that this is the incarnation and direction of Paradise Lost that I like most. And, in addition, there are just a couple too many less-than-stellar tracks lurking within the record. So, in conclusion, ‘Medusa’ is very good. But in my opinion, it is not quite their best.

The Score Of Much Metal: 8.5

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

2015 reviews
2016 reviews

The Haunted – Strength In Numbers
Serious Black – Magic
Leprous – Malina
The Lurking Fear – Out of the Voiceless Grave
Prospekt – The Illuminated Sky
Wintersun – The Forest Seasons
Witherfall – Nocturnes And Requiems
Tuesday The Sky – Drift
Anthriel – Transcendence
Decapitated – Anticult
Cosmograf – The Hay-Man Dreams
Orden Ogan – Gunmen
Iced Earth – Incorruptible
Anathema – The Optimist
Solstafir – Berdreyminn
Dream Evil – Six
Avatarium – Hurricanes And Halos
Ayreon – The Source
Until Rain – Inure
MindMaze – Resolve
God Dethroned – The World Ablaze
Bjorn Riis – Forever Comes To An End
Voyager – Ghost Mile
Big Big Train – Grimspound
Lonely Robot – The Big Dream
Firespawn – The Reprobate
Ancient Ascendant
Pyramaze – Contingent
Shores Of Null – Black Drapes For Tomorrow
Asira – Efference
Hologram Earth – Black Cell Program
Damnations Day – A World Awakens
Memoriam – For The Fallen
Pallbearer – Heartless
Sleepmakeswaves – Made of Breath Only
Ghost Ship Octavius – Ghost Ship Octavius
Vangough – Warpaint
Telepathy – Tempest
Obituary – Obituary
Fen – Winter
Havok – Conformicide
Wolfheart – Tyhjyys
Svart Crown – Abreaction
Nova Collective – The Further Side
Immolation – Atonement
The Mute Gods – Tardigrades Will Inherit The Earth
Ex Deo – The Immortal Wars
Pyogenesis – A Kingdom To Disappear
My Soliloquy – Engines of Gravity
Nailed To Obscurity – King Delusion
Helion Prime – Helion Prime
Battle Beast – Bringer Of Pain
Persefone – Aathma
Soen – Lykaia
Exquirla – Para Quienes Aun Viven
Odd Logic – Effigy
Mors Principium Est – Embers Of A Dying World
Firewind – Immortals
Slyde – Back Again EP
Sepultura – Machine Messiah
Deserted Fear – Dead Shores Rising
Kreator – Gods Of Violence
Borealis – World of Silence MMXVII
Pain of Salvation – In The Passing Light of Day

The Haunted – Strength In Numbers – Album Review

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Artist: The Haunted

Album Title: Strength In Numbers

Label: Century Media Records

Date of Release: 25 August 2017

The Haunted have to be one of the most consistent bands within the extreme metal genre. I have been a fan since the very beginning, when in 1997, At The Gates folded and bandmates Adrian Erlandsson (drums) and Patrik Jensen (guitars) found themselves out of a job. They decided to waste no time and created The Haunted almost immediately. Their 1998 self-titled debut set up camp on my stereo, refusing to vacate for several weeks solid. And ever since then, each of their successive seven records has found favour with me. Of course, I like some more than others but what they all have in common is their undeniable quality and consistency.

This is made all the more remarkable given the line-up changes that have befallen the band over the years. The spine has remained intact with Jensen and bassist Jonas Björler ever-present and admittedly, there is a theme of members coming and going rather than staying away for good, so the upheaval has been lessened a little. But with no less than four lead guitars during the last two decades, it is testament to the drive and focus of the band that their output has always sounded like The Haunted and has always been top quality.

Given my affection for The Haunted, I can’t tell you how excited I was to hear ‘Strength In Numbers’, the ninth album of their career. I had to wait too, and nearly missed the boat entirely. But thankfully my lovely PR contacts came through for me and so here I am, writing this review with the new opus blaring out at dangerous levels on my headphones.

The even more gratifying thing is that ‘Strength In Numbers’ does not disappoint, not even a little bit. I’m sure many of you will already be familiar with the output of this Swedish quintet, currently comprised of Björler and Jensen alongside returning vocalist Marco Aro, returning drummer Adrian Erlandsson and lead guitarist number four, Ola Englund. However, if you’re not, this album is as good a place to start without doubt.

‘Strength In Numbers’ features the ubiquitous brutality and menace that all The Haunted records have delivered. The quasi-thrash-meets-death blueprint also remains intact as does the insane amounts of groove and the cleverly subtle use of melody. This isn’t pure thrash metal, it isn’t pure melodic death metal; it is a hybrid of the two to a certain extent with other small influences thrown in for good measure (dare I use the ‘prog’ word?) And the final product is utterly joyous. Whatever style of metal you’re into, it is almost certain that you’ll like The Haunted.

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What strikes me most about ‘Strength In Numbers’, at least initially, is the sense of variety within the ten compositions. It could be argued that albums like this could get a bit repetitive and samey. But this just isn’t. So confident are the protagonists that they are able to mix things up just enough without losing any of the impact or power.

Tracks like ‘Brute Force’ or ‘Tighten The Noose’ are the expected, no-nonsense blitzkriegs designed to rend heads from shoulders given their ferocity and aggression. The pace of ‘Brute Force’ is intense with little or no let-up but it still delivers bucket-loads of groove at points, counterpointed by some adept machine-gun drumming. ‘Tighten The Noose’ is fast again with a slightly more pronounced thrash influence but for my money, the subtle hooks make this a touch more accessible, despite its feverish brutality.

Elsewhere, the brooding and melodic opening instrumental is a surprise, beginning the album with a clean guitar melody before unleashing the dogs of war and segueing into a really gorgeous soaring melodic lead solo from Englund.

‘Spark’ also makes quite an impression. It opens with a muscular mid-tempo stomp before Aro’s caustic vocals intrude and in so doing, increases the overall anger of the track. In fact, Aro’s snarling voice is all over ‘Strength In Numbers’, something of a metaphor for what I interpret to be a huge hunger and desire across all aspects of the record.

Back to ‘Spark’ and if your head doesn’t nod within the opening minute, there’s no hope. But then, out of nowhere, everything drops away, leaving just a lone guitar to play a beautifully mournful melody, not too dissimilar to something you might hear from Dan Swanö. The melody remains as things get heavier, making further appearances as the track develops. It certainly isn’t prog, but the song has that feel to it by virtue of the way in which is shifts and eddies throughout. This is one of the best tracks of The Haunted’s career, no question.

Having said that, ‘Preachers Of Death’ isn’t far behind. The expansive chorus is glorious and the perfect foil for the more overt, chugging headbang-worthy material that surrounds it. The quiet segment towards the end of the track provides an ideal opportunity for Björler’s bass to steal the limelight.

Mind you, so good is the production that no instrument ever feels like it is lost in the melee. Take the title track as the perfect example. The bass rumble looms large over the track, even when the song hits full throttle. The drums of Erlandsson have depth and a crisp snap when required, whilst the guitars deliver muscular riff after riff with a pristine clarity.

I’m also a big fan of the bruising groove-hungry monster that’s ‘This Is The End’ with its surprisingly catchy and epic finish, whilst closer ‘Monuments’ injects something slightly different again. In amongst the huge riffs and uncompromising stomp, there’s a darker, more subtle atmospheric vibe lurking which I find strangely compelling and intriguing.

Once again, The Haunted prove that they are simply a cut above most other acts out there. What’s more, it just feels so damn effortless. ‘Strength In Numbers’ could well be considered the band’s best ever album and right now I’d find it difficult to argue against that.

The Score of Much Metal: 9.5

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

2015 reviews
2016 reviews

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

Serious Black – Magic – Album review

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Artist: Serious Black

Album Title: Magic

Label: AFM Records

Date Of Release: 25 August 2017

What do you get if you put together vocalist Urban Breed (Pyramaze, Tad Morose, Bloodbound) , guitarists Bob Katsionis (Firewind) and Dominik Sebastian (Edenbridge), bassist Mario Lochert (ex-Visions Of Atlantis), keyboardist Jan Vacik (ex-Dreamscape) and drummer Alex Holzwarth (ex-Rhapsody of Fire)? The simple answer is you get a damn good time and a great listening experience.

Let’s be honest, it isn’t really that surprising given the clientele involved, but sometimes it’s worth stating the bleeding obvious at the outset.

Mind you, this might not have been the case, because this is the band’s third full-length album in three years. That means that Serious Black have released a new album every year since 2015 on top of a busy touring schedule. That’s impressive but may have led to a dilution in quality or consistency from the six. But it didn’t.

Instead, ‘Magic’ is a thoroughly enjoyable romp, where the already fuzzy boundaries of melodic metal and power metal become ever-more indistinct. If you have a penchant for mid-to-up-tempo heavy metal with a bright and breezy feel, that’s big on melody and strong hook-filled choruses, then this could be the album for you. It is the kind of album that gets under your skin and will have you smiling broadly, in a similar fashion to many of the European greats out there.

Underpinning the music is a distinct concept, the first voyage into these waters by Serious Black. The story has been put together by Urban Breed and essentially, it follows the exploits of the central character, Mr Nightmist, as he tries to fathom out the mysteries of the universe. There’s more to it than that, but it gives you a flavour of what’s on offer. Personally, I can take or leave concepts because I’ve always been someone who generally pays little attention to lyrics. I like it when bands write deep and meaningful words that resonate but equally, I’ll not be put off by terrible, cheesy lyrics if the music behind it is worthy of listening to. I can’t abide poor vocalists, but they can sing about washing their socks if they have a good voice and sit atop strong music.

With ‘Magic’, the compositions are certainly strong enough to grab my attention. Despite being very melodic, I like the fact that the songs also have guts and a backbone. The guitarists Bob Katsionis and Dominik Sebastian deliver some nice, chunky riffs as well as some flamboyance and a touch of shred when required. And the rhythm section of drummer Alex Holzwarth and bassist Mario Lochert create a strong spine to the material. There are some syrupy moments, as is the trend with this style of music, but there is no doubt that ‘Magic’ is a heavy metal album.

I also like the fact that the keys of Jan Vacik are well-placed in the mix. As such, they rarely overpower the compositions, yet they are ever present and provide an added dimension that’s most welcome. There’s the occasional lead break or other moment of excess but in general, the keys are used in a supporting role, to add depth, atmosphere and to soften the edges whilst enhancing some of the melodies.

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So, to the songs themselves, of which there are a weighty fourteen. In spite of this, the album concludes comfortably under the hour mark, meaning that none of the songs outstay their welcome. Aside from the six-minute ‘Skeletons On Parade’, nothing extends much beyond four minutes; each song delivers the goods with the minimum of fuss and with a pleasant succinctness. That said, there are a couple of songs that could have been dispensed with if I’m being overly picky and hyper-critical.

Nevertheless, there is an impressive level of consistency to the material on ‘Magic’. It means that it would be impossible to mention every track individually, as can be my normal verbose style. Instead, what follows is a precis of a few of my favourite moments within the album.

‘Binary Magic’ serves as the perfect introduction. It kicks off in urgent, up-tempo style with thunderous drumming and chugging riffs before quietening down into the verse, only to explode into one of my favourite hook-laden choruses on the record, led by the huge vocal prowess of the inimitable Urban Breed. At this point, you’ll know whether or not this is the album for you.

The combo of ‘Burn! Witches Burn!’ and ‘Lone Gunman Rule’ is irresistible also, thanks to further big choruses within both and thanks to the more pronounced keyboards, chunky riffing and cheeky swagger in the latter.

‘I Can Do Magic’ offers more of a moody hard rock vibe interspersed with a chorus that becomes impossible to ignore alongside an epic-sounding closing sequence that I love. ‘Mr Nightmist’ bounds along and features some cool lead guitar and keyboard solos, whilst ‘The Witch Of Caldwell Town’ is easily the most frantically-paced and urgent track on the record. Pure power metal in construction, the chorus is a bold and compelling affair, complete with a double-pedal drum attack to increase the overall impact.

I even like the closing track, ‘One Final Song’. It begins with a piano melody and some subtle vocals from Urban Breed, before turning into something much more theatrical and quirky, finally ending with one last burst of mid-tempo, epic power metal.

I must admit that I have fallen for the charms of Serious Black. ‘Magic’ is the product of six talented and seasoned musicians and it shows. The output may not be the most original you’ll ever hear but there is no doubting the quality. Finely honed, well-crafted and extremely professional, ‘Magic’ is a fun and highly infectious melodic power metal album that I am liable to listen to for some time to come.

The Score Of Much Metal: 9

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

2015 reviews
2016 reviews

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

Leprous – Malina – Album Review

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Artist: Leprous

Album Title: Malina

Label: InsideOut Music

Date of Release: 25 August 2017

One of the very biggest compliments that I can bestow upon a band is to say that they sound unique. In a day-and-age where originality is harder to come by than a public sector pay rise, it is quite an accolade to be able to declare to the world ‘we sound like no-one else’. And that is exactly what Leprous can boast. Good on them too, I say.

Ever since their debut, ‘Tall Poppy Syndrome’ (2009), the Norwegian outfit has delivered superb music. In the early days, there was a touch more of the generic about them as they cut their teeth in the tough world of music whilst proudly wearing a few of their inspirations on their sleeves. The album was still brilliant, with a vibrancy and confidence thoroughly belying the incredibly young age of the individuals concerned. However, as they have become older, wiser, and ever-more proficient, the output has become more unique and, as a result, ever more intriguing.

I confess here and now my love for Leprous. However, that being said, my love is not the easy kind where I metaphorically fall into their arms, swooning at the immediate saccharine beauty of their music. Instead, it is a more reserved love, born out of respect, admiration and often astonishment at what I am hearing. That’s not to say that Leprous’ music is not beautiful, because it is, but they never seem to make it easy. And why should they? This is prog after all.

Whatever album you listen to within the back catalogue, you must make the effort, listen hard and work at it. If you do, ultimately the rewards will come. The same is true of ‘Malina’, the quintet’s fifth release to date.

At this point, I will admit to a certain amount of sympathy for Leprous, although the reason for the sympathy has been somewhat self-induced by the Norwegians. You see, their debut placed the bar very high. And remarkably, every release since then has nudged that bar higher and higher. Not one of their four previous albums has been less than brilliant. Always pushing themselves, always honing their output and tweaking their sound, they have consistently released brilliance without ever standing still. That’s all very well and good, but how can Leprous possibly continue to improve when each previous release is so strong?

Whatever the answer and whatever their strategy, something must be working though because, with ‘Malina’, they’ve done it again. You can hear the influences of previous albums, ‘The Congregation’ (2015) specifically. But importantly, the output and musical direction has been tweaked yet again; some might even baulk at the word ‘tweaked’. Nevertheless the Leprous of 2017 via ‘Malina’ sounds fresh, interesting, compelling whilst remaining totally, unequivocally unique.

True to form, my first spin through did not result in love at first listen, far from it. Instead it resulted in shrugged shoulders and apathy. My second brought consternation; would I ever like what I am hearing? The answer is ‘yes’, but not until at least the fifth pass through. Suddenly, chinks of light began to emerge, my mind opened and I now hear music full of variety, full of drama, full of melody, and full of emotion.

The rumours circulating on the internet are true, in that ‘Malina’ is definitely a less heavy beast, but to these ears, that’s only if you consider heavy guitars and pounding rhythms to be sonically heavy. ‘Malina’ has these elements and they use them wisely. But they are used less. And, as with each and every Leprous release before this, the music remains intricate, full of atmosphere and crushingly intense. It is also a multi-layered and multi-faceted affair too, with plenty going on in each composition, even if that’s not how it immediately appears.

Much of the intensity is down to the vocals of Einar Solberg, the guy that only got into music because he was coerced into it by his family. Solberg has a tone and delivery quite unlike all others. He can be melodious, he can be angry and he can be sombre, fragile, and deeply emotional. Like a chameleon, he can bring exactly what is needed to each and every composition. And he does it effortlessly. On ‘Malina’, Solberg has clearly worked a lot on his clean singing and in fact, has all but ditched the more abrasive delivery that featured so strongly on earlier albums.

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Credit: Bjørn Tore Moen

The aforementioned intensity is also created, in part, by the song writing and the absolute attention to detail. Each of the eleven tracks has been beautifully crafted and executed with a loving care. There is an ebb and flow to the material too, from atmospheric minimalism to the bang and crash that you’d expect from a band consistently labelled in some quarters as ‘progressive metal’, despite more of a rock sheen of late. Whether or not ‘Malina’ is a concept album, the music itself undeniably tells a story. Dip in and out of the record if you wish, for each track stands on its own. For maximum enjoyment however, ‘Malina’ should be listened to in its entirety.

‘Bonneville’ is the perfect introduction to the record and a firm insight into the overall stylistic direction of ‘Malina’. With its stark, minimal soundscapes at the outset, it gently builds as it develops, ultimately becoming heavier and more robust as it nears its conclusion. The melodies become more pronounced with repeated listens and those familiar guitar tones of Tor Oddmund Suhrke and newbie Robin Ognedal offer some reserved muscularity.

Unfortunately for ‘Bonneville’, it is then followed by ‘Stuck’ which is an absolute monster, arguably my favourite track on the album currently. I could spend hours dissecting it but suffice to say that there is a lot going on within the composition. Again, with perseverance, the melodic intent becomes more obvious and addictive, culminating in a very strong chorus, almost pop-like in many ways. However, I love the way the song frequently undulates and transitions from quiet introspection to something altogether more powerful. And then there’s the wonderful juxtaposition in the latter stages between the modern and the traditional, when the utterly gorgeous cello/strings of guest musician Raphael Weinroth-Browne join the electronic sounds created by Solberg’s synths. It makes for a truly epic finale.

Thereafter, we’re treated to a run of songs that are very nearly as excellent in their own way. ‘From The Flame’ offers one of the most openly catchy choruses as it ploughs a slightly more straight-forward construction, relative to the usual Leprous output of course. The properly progressive ‘Captive’ by contrast is all about the rhythms, with drummer Baard Kolstad and bassist Simen Børven working overtime to act as the foundation for this lurching number, enhanced by layers of vocals and more genuinely interesting synth sounds and effects. ‘Illuminate’ reintroduces strong melodies and manages to be the perfect contradiction by simultaneously being both upbeat and densely introspective, the latter achieved in part by the swathes of gentle keys that nestle just beneath the surface.

‘Leashes’ is smothered in emotion, quiet and unobtrusive for large parts but then dominated by some of the best, most impassioned vocals from Solberg when things take a turn for the heavier and more intense. The ebb and flow continues courtesy of ‘Mirage’ which enters the fray with some seriously heavy-sounding instrumentation from what I assume emanates from the four and six-strings respectively. But the chorus, when it hits, is bright, breezy and distinctly pop-ish in tone albeit underpinned by a clever, complex beat that seems second nature to Leprous. The djent-esque outro is a clever touch too, with props going to Børven again for some flamboyant bass work.

The title track, with the reintroduction of those lush strings is a dark, sombre composition that occasionally bubbles up via some well-placed percussion from Kolstad, but generally remains an intense, claustrophobic experience due to its fragility and emotional minimalism. It’s not an easy listen, but the pay-off is well worth the effort.

‘Coma’ reintroduces a faster pace, interesting because of the impressive drumming and incessant nature, whilst ‘The Weight of Disaster’ is a lumbering, loping hector but in the best way possible. The hint of groove finds much favour with me, particularly with the way I which it is not overplayed. In fact, this is another track of huge contrasts, where extended passages of quiet contemplation are butted up against moments of forceful intent. And it works thanks to the adeptness and sophistication of the song writing.

It is left to ‘The Last Milestone’ to close out ‘Malina’ and it does so in fabulous style. It is a crushingly beautiful, poignant and sad hymn, led by the strings of Raphael Weinroth-Browne and the sorrowful, almost operatic delivery of Solberg. It is a very different approach for Leprous but not for a single second do I believe that it doesn’t belong on this record. It is a bold way to end, but just like the opening track, it is perfectly placed, providing maximum impact in the process.

To conclude, ‘Malina’ is ultimately a stunning record. In so many ways it remains faithful to the core Leprous sound but it is bound to raise the eyebrows of many existing fans at the same time. The more rhythmic, staccato guitar work remains, as does the flair for the deceptively complex compositional and instrumental work. That said, ‘Malina’ feels smoother, even more assured and, dare I say it, more mature. Put simply, it is the sound of progressive music par excellence. Just don’t dismiss it after the first listen because if you do, you’ll be making a big mistake.

The Score of Much Metal: 9.5

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

2015 reviews
2016 reviews

The Lurking Fear – Out of the Voiceless Grave
Prospekt – The Illuminated Sky
Wintersun – The Forest Seasons
Witherfall – Nocturnes And Requiems
Tuesday The Sky – Drift
Anthriel – Transcendence
Decapitated – Anticult
Cosmograf – The Hay-Man Dreams
Orden Ogan – Gunmen
Iced Earth – Incorruptible
Anathema – The Optimist
Solstafir – Berdreyminn
Dream Evil – Six
Avatarium – Hurricanes And Halos
Ayreon – The Source
Until Rain – Inure
MindMaze – Resolve
God Dethroned – The World Ablaze
Bjorn Riis – Forever Comes To An End
Voyager – Ghost Mile
Big Big Train – Grimspound
Lonely Robot – The Big Dream
Firespawn – The Reprobate
Ancient Ascendant
Pyramaze – Contingent
Shores Of Null – Black Drapes For Tomorrow
Asira – Efference
Hologram Earth – Black Cell Program
Damnations Day – A World Awakens
Memoriam – For The Fallen
Pallbearer – Heartless
Sleepmakeswaves – Made of Breath Only
Ghost Ship Octavius – Ghost Ship Octavius
Vangough – Warpaint
Telepathy – Tempest
Obituary – Obituary
Fen – Winter
Havok – Conformicide
Wolfheart – Tyhjyys
Svart Crown – Abreaction
Nova Collective – The Further Side
Immolation – Atonement
The Mute Gods – Tardigrades Will Inherit The Earth
Ex Deo – The Immortal Wars
Pyogenesis – A Kingdom To Disappear
My Soliloquy – Engines of Gravity
Nailed To Obscurity – King Delusion
Helion Prime – Helion Prime
Battle Beast – Bringer Of Pain
Persefone – Aathma
Soen – Lykaia
Exquirla – Para Quienes Aun Viven
Odd Logic – Effigy
Mors Principium Est – Embers Of A Dying World
Firewind – Immortals
Slyde – Back Again EP
Sepultura – Machine Messiah
Deserted Fear – Dead Shores Rising
Kreator – Gods Of Violence
Borealis – World of Silence MMXVII
Pain of Salvation – In The Passing Light of Day

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

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Artist: The Lurking Fear

Album Title: Out of the Voiceless Grave

Label: Century Media Records

Date Of Release: 11 August 2017

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

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

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

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

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

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Credit: Martin Ahx

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Score Of Much Metal: 8.75

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

2015 reviews
2016 reviews

Prospekt – The Illuminated Sky
Wintersun – The Forest Seasons
Witherfall – Nocturnes And Requiems
Tuesday The Sky – Drift
Anthriel – Transcendence
Decapitated – Anticult
Cosmograf – The Hay-Man Dreams
Orden Ogan – Gunmen
Iced Earth – Incorruptible
Anathema – The Optimist
Solstafir – Berdreyminn
Dream Evil – Six
Avatarium – Hurricanes And Halos
Ayreon – The Source
Until Rain – Inure
MindMaze – Resolve
God Dethroned – The World Ablaze
Bjorn Riis – Forever Comes To An End
Voyager – Ghost Mile
Big Big Train – Grimspound
Lonely Robot – The Big Dream
Firespawn – The Reprobate
Ancient Ascendant
Pyramaze – Contingent
Shores Of Null – Black Drapes For Tomorrow
Asira – Efference
Hologram Earth – Black Cell Program
Damnations Day – A World Awakens
Memoriam – For The Fallen
Pallbearer – Heartless
Sleepmakeswaves – Made of Breath Only
Ghost Ship Octavius – Ghost Ship Octavius
Vangough – Warpaint
Telepathy – Tempest
Obituary – Obituary
Fen – Winter
Havok – Conformicide
Wolfheart – Tyhjyys
Svart Crown – Abreaction
Nova Collective – The Further Side
Immolation – Atonement
The Mute Gods – Tardigrades Will Inherit The Earth
Ex Deo – The Immortal Wars
Pyogenesis – A Kingdom To Disappear
My Soliloquy – Engines of Gravity
Nailed To Obscurity – King Delusion
Helion Prime – Helion Prime
Battle Beast – Bringer Of Pain
Persefone – Aathma
Soen – Lykaia
Exquirla – Para Quienes Aun Viven
Odd Logic – Effigy
Mors Principium Est – Embers Of A Dying World
Firewind – Immortals
Slyde – Back Again EP
Sepultura – Machine Messiah
Deserted Fear – Dead Shores Rising
Kreator – Gods Of Violence
Borealis – World of Silence MMXVII
Pain of Salvation – In The Passing Light of Day

Prospekt – The Illuminated Sky – Album Review

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Artist: Prospekt

Album Title: The Illuminated Sky

Label: The Laser’s Edge

Date Of Release: 21 July 2017

I remember reviewing the debut record from UK progressive metal band Prospekt for Powerplay some years ago. But more importantly, I remember being very impressed with the output and so it was a natural step for me to seek this out and give it the full treatment on the Blog Of Much Metal. No word limits here, so I am able to explore the music a little bit more in depth.

Formed in 2008 in Oxfordshire, a county more renowned for its world famous higher learning establishment than for its world class progressive metal, Prospekt remain a relatively young band with a self-titled EP (2011) and debut full length (‘The Colourless Sunrise – 2013) in their locker already. But it has been a long four years leading to ‘The Illuminated Sky’, the band’s sophomore studio release; four years that has seen a few changes to the band’s line-up. Keyboardist Richard Marshall and lead vocalist Matt Winchester have left, to be replaced by Rox Capriotti and Michael Morris respectively.

Now, I always get nervous when a progressive band changes vocalist, particularly when the departing member was a perfectly good fit. However, it is clear that Prospekt have expertly dodged the ‘disappointing vocalist’ bullet that hits a good number of bands within the genre. In Michael Morris, they have found a vocalist who works really well with the music that sits behind him. His range is impressive, able to hit the lower notes, the high notes and, as demonstrated within ‘Beneath Enriya’ by way of just one example, the very high notes. You know the ones that threaten to veer into ‘canine-only’ territory? Yeah, them!

And whilst ever so occasionally, I wish Morris has just a little more bass to his voice, I really can’t fault his ability or his delivery at all. He certainly has the ability to tell a story convincingly which is important in this kind of music, working with the complex compositions rather than battling them. In time, we could be looking at another Michael Eriksen from Circus Maximus or Tommy Karevik of Seventh Wonder perhaps. We shall have to wait and see.

Given that Prospekt’s musical weapon of choice is dextrous and complex symphonic prog metal, the choice of keyboardist is just as important as the vocalist. Again, Rox Capriotti would appear to be ideal. Not only is he clearly adept at creating sweeping atmospheric vistas and layers of bombast with his synths, Capriotti can deliver a flamboyant solo too, as demonstrated within ‘In The Shadows Of The Earth’ for example.

They join the unchanged core of bassist Phil Wicker, guitarist Lee Luland and drummer Blake Richarson who are equally adept and impressive in their chosen fields. The licks, leads, riffs and chops delivered by Luland are wonderful, the flamboyance of Wicker is not lost in a decent mix and as such is reminiscent of Seventh Wonder and Shadow Gallery. And Blake Richardson lays down some excellent rhythms, just the right balance of power, precision and flair.

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Everything so far is pointing in the right direction and the positivity continues as one’s focus then shifts to the compositions themselves. I’m a big sucker for melody and whilst there are just a few occasions where I want the quintet to go bigger and bolder in this area, they generally deliver something rather ear-pleasing to keep me coming back for more. In fact, in true progressive metal style, the more I listen, the more I discover.

Prospekt describe themselves as ‘cinematic technical progressive metal’ which I completely agree with. The content of the ten tracks on ‘The Illuminated Sky’ are truly epic in scope and cover a multitude of different influences, from the neoclassical output of Symphony X, to the more symphonic elements of bands like Dream Theater and the all-out technical flamboyance of Haken. To be honest though, listen carefully enough and you’ll be able to pick out ingredients from just about any of the biggest and best protagonists in the prog metal genre. And yet the music does not sound like a clone of any one band. Nor does it come across as being derivative in the slightest. Instead, it sounds confident, assured and remarkably vibrant.

The dramatic intro ‘Ex Nihilo’ sits somewhere between the aforementioned Haken and Dream Theater in tone, before the title track kicks in. And kick in, it certainly does, with the force and fury of a band that know they have something to offer the metal world. The riffs are excellent, the rhythm section is thunderous and the transitions between sections are slick. The chorus is a real grower and throughout it all, the synths provide that wonderfully dramatic and grandiose feel.

Remarkably, the quintet keep up the momentum as the album develops. ‘Titan’ has a vague Middle-Eastern flavour within its up-tempo structure, as well a striking lead guitar solo from Luland, whilst ‘Beneath Enriya’ offers a beautifully melodic and expansive chorus as well as some spoken-word samples to increase the sense of theatre.

Arguably my favourite track on ‘The Illuminated Sky’ is the nine-minute giant ‘Alien Makers Of Discord’. But it isn’t the amazing guest lead guitar work of Greg Howe that draws me in, it’s the huge melodic hooks within the chorus that floor me, nestled expertly within some impressive musicianship, a staple of the Prospekt sound.

And then, there’s ‘Cosmic Emissary’, which seems to dial everything up a further notch if that’s even possible. The neoclassical lead guitar work that introduces the song is superb but the symphonic elements are possibly the most ear-catching aspect of the song, adding drama and boosting the cinematic flavour even further. And then there’s the thunderous drumming that injects genuine heaviness to expertly counterbalance the well-placed quieter sections within the track.

‘Akaibara’, the closest Prospekt get to a ballad, is also a winner thanks in large part to the brief reduction of complexity and the subtle way that it builds. And what a pay-off when it reaches its climax – the melodies are so powerful and the relative simplicity, topped off by Morris’ emotional performance makes the whole thing more impactful and honest.

And yet there’s still time for one more song. And it’s the biggest of the lot. Weighing in at over 11 minutes, ‘Where Masters Fall’ which features the guest vocal talents of Dragonforce’s Marc Hudson, is the massive conclusion to an already massively impressive album, where just about nothing is off limits. Combining a little bit of everything that has gone before, it is the perfect way to conclude the record, leaving the listener on a real high.

The only conclusion I can reach is that with ‘The Illuminated Sky’, Prospekt have signalled their intent to become a big hitter in the prog scene in the most impressive of ways. Or, to put it another way, if you’re a fan of progressive music, it won’t be long before you’re a fan of Prospekt.

The Score Of Much Metal: 9.25

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

2015 reviews
2016 reviews

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

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