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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

Wintersun – The Forest Seasons – Album Review

Wintersun - The Forest Seasons - Artwork

Artist: Wintersun

Album Title: The Forest Seasons

Label: Nuclear Blast

Date of Release: 21 July 2017

If there’s one thing I can’t stand, it’s when the off-stage antics become bigger than the music. I understand that in an environment as volatile, unpredictable and fast-paced as the music industry, very little ever runs smoothly. Sometimes the issues are kept strictly behind closed doors whilst others are just too big to be kept hidden. However, when the issues completely overshadow the music, the thing that I’m most interested in, I lose interest. Particularly when it feels, at least to me anyway, that the dirty laundry is being deliberately aired in public.

It is also for these reasons, generally speaking, that I have never been a fan of Finland’s Wintersun. I am pretty sure that, had I given them more time and attention, I might have found a band with which I could click. After all, originally starting life as the side project of Jari Mäenpää from Ensiferum, the DNA was strong. The fact that Wintersun play melodic extreme metal with strong symphonic and folk overtones, with a flair for the dramatic only adds to the likelihood that they’d find favour, musically-speaking, with my ruined ears.

Unfortunately however, over the years, there have been so many dramas surrounding the Helsinki-based quartet that I have felt reticent to get too involved with the entire saga. From dramas with record labels, to huge delays with releases, to crowdfunding campaigns and a myriad of other ‘stuff’, the whole thing is draining and not conducive to building a positive relationship between the band and potential fans. As a result, aside from the occasional cursory dabble, I have kept Wintersun firmly at arm’s length.

It comes as a surprise therefore, that I find myself penning a review for ‘The Forest Seasons’, only the third album of the Finn’s 14-year career. I don’t really know why I have taken this step if I’m honest, but I was sent the promo by the good people at Nuclear Blast and here I am. It certainly wasn’t the hype, I can tell you. Ever since their inception, Wintersun have been the recipients of some of the most insane hype ever. Some of it is undeniably of their own doing, whilst some of it is, to be fair, not their fault. But either way, the hype has been enormous, almost making me shy away from this.

Right from the off, the fact that this isn’t ‘Time II’ will bother many longer-term fans. I’ve never really listened to it, so I’m not bothered in the slightest. But this review cannot ignore the fact that ‘The Forest Seasons’ is not the sequel to ‘Time I’, the record that many quote as being Wintersun’s finest moment to date. Maybe that’s the reason then – the fact that I can review this record unencumbered by the baggage of expectation and without the inevitable, palpable disappointment experienced by others. Or maybe it’s because I was drawn in by the impressive cover artwork which I rather admire.

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Whatever the reason, what do I think of ‘The Forest Season’? Yeah, I’d better get round to that hadn’t I?

Well, to cut to the chase, I like parts of it, I am slightly bored by other parts and I have an overall feeling that can be best explained by a puff of the cheeks and a shrug of the shoulders. Let me explain.

‘The Forest Seasons’ has a running time of around 55 minutes but is split into just four distinct compositions. This means that each track requires the expenditure of quite some time, as the shortest clocks in at 12 minutes whilst the longest falls just shy of 15 minutes. Now, as many of you know, I love long, epic tracks – it’s in my blood as a fan of prog. However, this love is predicated on the fact that the composition has a reason for the extended life. If it doesn’t, I do get bored. And that’s part of the problem here with ‘The Forest Seasons’. Each track contains some excellent moments where either a riff, a melody or a symphonic arrangement will strike a chord with me. The problem is, these are not quite frequent enough to keep my attention unwavering throughout. I tried, I really did, but something fails to click enough for me to fully immerse myself in it and therefore it prevents me from recommending it unconditionally.

The opening track is entitled ‘Awaken The Dark Slumber’ and naturally for an album that is clearly meant to represent the seasons, it is Wintersun’s interpretation of Spring. What I wasn’t quite expecting was the overt black metal feel, complete with dramatic swathes of synths and raspy vocals. However, it takes until the fifth minute for my interest to be fully piqued, when the vocals break out into a bold, almost pleading clean croon. For a couple of minutes, I get swept up in the music but as the track ploughs on, I again switch off as it lacks sufficient variety to pull me along. The last two minutes then see out the longest composition of the four in a much more positive vein.

Summer follows in the form of ‘The Forest That Weeps’ and it’s here that Wintersun’s game is upped. With a much stronger folk element to it, this slightly shorter track bounds along at a great pace and with a little swagger too. The melodies, although a little repetitive in the latter stages, are a lot more memorable, to the point where I find myself humming the chorus when I least expect it. I really like the over-the-top choir vocals, as they add an epic gravitas to the composition and nicely juxtapose the extended foray into quieter, more laid-back folk territory which arrives around the mid-way point. This is a very nice song, possibly my favourite on the album.

After a dark foreboding intro, ‘Eternal Darkness’ explodes into something very Dimmu Borgir-esque. Furious double-pedal drumming, layer upon layer of grandiose synths and raw, spiteful growls combine to create a very striking passage of music. However, in my opinion, it goes on a little too long without sufficient variety and so it’s not until the six-minute mark that my attention is fully held. At this point, the song slows and opens up allowing a really nice passage that builds whilst all the while being dominated by some increasingly flamboyant lead guitar work. I will also accede to enjoying the bombastic closure of the track which is rather epic and atmospheric

The final season, winter, is represented by ‘Loneliness’, a track that begins quietly and then plods along at a markedly slower pace than their norm. The swathes of synths literally drench the music in atmosphere in keeping with the song’s title, whilst there is a greater variety in the vocal delivery for my money. In fact, I wish we’d heard more of Jari Mäenpää’s clean delivery elsewhere because when he lets go, he can really sing, as demonstrated in the sequence that leads up to the mid-way point as well as the truly excellent final crescendo. At points, this vies for top spot with ‘Summer’ but in between, my mind wanders yet again.

So, in summary, ‘The Forest Seasons’ is a frustrating record. There is a lot to like about it when you start to dissect the music. However, these moments or passages of excellence feel to me like they are too few and far between, padded out by some average music along the way. Put it like this – if ‘The Forest Seasons’ was a ten track record, there’d be about four killer tracks surrounded by six disappointing fillers. That, to me, is not the recipe for a great album. And that’s a shame because when Wintersun fire on all cylinders, it sounds immense.

The Score of Much Metal: 7

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

2015 reviews
2016 reviews

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

BlogOfMuchMetal – Metal News – 31 July 2017

Buckle up because this round-up feature some big and exciting news if you share music taste that is in any way similar to me. With that in mind, I’m not going to waste time. Instead, allow me to dive right in.

(Previous update posts can be accessed via links at the bottom of this page.)

Ne Obliviscaris – new album and new song….

20294172_10155509955749898_2381867514676896945_nNe Obliviscaris – Urn
Date of release: 27 October 2017
Label: Season Of Mist

Many column inches have been filled with commentary about Ne Obliviscaris in recent months after the Australians announced a ‘patreon crowd funding campaign’ to essentially fund them to be full-time musicians. The initiative was designed to raise enough money to pay the technical progressive death metal band a wage to allow them the time to write a new record and continue touring. The idea polarised opinion but despite the naysayers, the sextet have seemed to succeed with the venture because a new album has finally been announced.

If you like bombast and over-the-top cinematic sounds blended with intelligent extreme metal, then news of a new Ne Obliviscaris will be very welcome indeed. It certainly is as far as I’m concerned. It has been three years since the immense ‘Citadel’ was released, so I’m chomping at the bit to hear new material. Well, here you go – here’s ‘Intra Venus’ from the forthcoming album and yes, it is a monster.

Caligula’s Horse bring us the track-listing for their new album…

19146029_10154398261857105_6108765129743949462_nCaligula’s Horse – In Contact
Date of release: 15 September 2017
Label: InsideOut Music

Any new information from the Caligula’s Horse camp is worthy of sharing in my opinion, however small. And so, I bring you news that the track listing for the highly anticipated ‘In Contact’ has been released. Check it out below, in all its glory. However, to summarise, we are soon to be treated to ten new compositions, the titles of which can be seen below. ‘Bloom’ remains on frequent rotation at the Mansion Of Much Metal** so all I can say is that if these new compositions come even close to the quality heard on the majestic predecessor, they will be very exciting to hear indeed.

**I don’t really live in a mansion, I might have made that up just because it makes me sound more windswept and interesting.

20248229_10154513775542105_4392782350163514912_o

Redemption are working on a new album…

dsc_5905Redemption – TBC
Date of release: TBC
Label: Metal Blade Records

It seems too good to be true doesn’t it? For fans of quality progressive metal, the name Redemption is a very important one. Fronted by Fates Warning vocalist Ray Alder, masterminded by the extraordinarily talented guitarist/songwriter Nick Van Dyk, and boasting talent in every position, Redemption is without doubt one of the best prog metal bands out there at the moment.

And so, when you consider that the band released the excellent ‘The Art of Loss’ just last year (review here), I can hardly believe I’m reporting that there is plenty of activity afoot in the Redemption camp. Chris Quirarte has posted updates of drum recording ‘for our upcoming new record’, whilst within the last few days, bassist Sean Andrews has confirmed that the tracking of his instrument is complete.

No release date or further information has been released, but the fact that a new album is so far advanced is more than I could have hoped for. In the meantime, in case you need the nudge, allow me to remind you just how good ‘The Art of Loss’ is:

Some more hints are given about one of the most exciting new bands around…

17218771_387176474982109_6918641734903355632_oCyHra – TBC
Date Of Release: October 2017?
Label: Spinefarm Records

The name CyHra has been doing the rounds for a fair while now, and it’s a name that has got me very excited. And I’m sure I’m not the only one because how can certain sections of the heavy metal community not get excited about a band that features none other than Jake E (ex-Amaranthe), the ex-In Flames pairing of bassist Peter Iwers and guitarist Jesper Strömblad, as well as drummer Alexander Landenburg from Luca Turilli’s Rhapsody? Come on, this is one very capable quartet, the stuff of dreams.

We are yet to hear any clips of completed songs, so we can only dream about what CyHra sound like. And, whilst I don’t hate the new direction that In Flames are going in, I am secretly hoping that a little of the early In flames melodeath magic creeps into the compositions. What I can tell you is that the guys have been in front of the cameras with Patric Ullaeus, working on their first video. Rumours abound that the debut album will see the light in or around October 2017, so I’m expecting the video to be released relatively soon. And then we’ll know. For now, all I can bring you is this slightly awkward video where the band introduces itself to an expectant metal community.

My Soliloquy finally edge closer to releasing their new record…

16558419_710300499129700_1372606098_nMy Soliloquy – Engines Of Gravity
Date of release: 14 September 2017
Label: Rare Artist Records

It feels like an age ago that I reviewed ‘Engines Of Gravity’, the new album from Pete Morten who, until recently and amongst many other things, was the rhythm guitarist for Threshold. In every way, ‘Engines Of Gravity’ is a step up for Pete from his debut ‘The Interpreter’. And when you consider how much of the writing, playing and producing is dealt with by Pete alone, this is an impressive feat. Want to read the review again? Click here.

Unusually, the review was written before any confirmed release date had been set. But now, finally, Pete has confirmed that pre-orders will begin from 14th August and the release date is 14th September. So it won’t be too long before one of the stand-out prog metal albums of 2017 will be let loose and then the superlatives can begin to flow from progressive music fans the world over. And with no music released from the new album yet, here’s something from the debut to tide you over for now.

Previous updates:

24 July 2017
22 July 2017
28 March 2017
23 March 2017
11 March 2017
5th March 2017
26th February 2017
13th February 2017
3rd February 2017
30th January 2017
21st January 2017

BlogOfMuchMetal – Metal News – 24 July 2017

Well, while I’m on a roll, I may as well continue. And while so many bands are also on a roll of late it seems, I owe it to them to keep the news flowing.

If you’ve missed any of my other posts in this series, links to all of them can be found at the bottom of this post.

Jag Panzer release their first song off their new album.

c09ce1fccd75b68f298157c7f5ffc169Jag Panzer – The Deviant Chord
Release date: 29 September 2017
Label: SPV

Jag Panzer and I have never had the smoothest of relationships. I bought ‘Thane To the Throne’ many years ago when it was released but didn’t warm to it, so sold it soon after. Having gone back and listened to it again a few years later, I realise that I made a rather big mistake. They are obviously a band that requires time in order to acquire the taste.

This must still be true to this day because, on a first listen, I was not blown away by ‘Far Beyond All Fear’, the first song to be released off ‘The Deviant Chord’, the tenth album from the US power metal stalwarts. Subsequent spins have been increasingly positive to a point where I’m really rather liking it. The melodies are subtle, the riffing is satisfyingly chunky and there are plenty of solos. In fact, that galloping rhythm is very reminiscent of Iron Maiden. So what’s not to like, then? It bodes well for the entire album when it is released at the end of September.

The Haunted release another song of their highly-anticipated new album…

19399139_10154703997157503_7451569900000520260_nThe Haunted – Strength In Numbers
Release date: 25 August 2017
Label: Century Media Records

The more I hear of this new album from The Haunted, the more excited I get. After the uncompromising and brutal blitz of the well-named ‘Brute Force’, the Swedes have released their second track ‘Spark’ which is a different beast altogether. You still get the harsh vocals and the big, bruising thrash-like riffs. But this time, the song contains more variety, more subtlety and arguably a more sophisticated vibe all-round.

And you know what? I dig this song a lot. It shows that The Haunted are growing and maturing all the time, with the confidence and ability to experiment just a little bit. I love the bass intro andthat quiet mid-song interlude – it is brief but the melody is continued for a time once things get heavier which is a nice touch, as is the more soulful lead guitar solo. There are hints within it to previous work but it still sounds fresh, interesting and has me very intrigued as to the overall sound of ‘Strength In Numbers’.

Confirmed release date and a non-finalised tracklist for ‘1755’ by Moonspell.

19943052_1371175159604409_8323465143835788802_oMoonspell – 1755
Release date: 3 November 2017
Label: Napalm Records

I seem to have been aware of a new album from Portuguese metallers Moonspell for ages. In fact, as early as March, I was gearing up for it.  As I confirmed back then, the record will be entitled ‘1755’ it will centre on the Great Lisbon Earthquake of that year. And, according to the press release, “the band has developed a lyrical concept that looks into the death and rebirth of Lisbon and how the disaster changed Religion, Politics and Philosophy in the whole of Europe.”

We were also told that it would be heavier than ‘Extinct’ and will be sung entirely in Portuguese. It might not be 100% confirmed yet but the track list would bear this out. And that is possibly the most intriguing thing about ‘1755’ – I generally love albums where the lyrics are not in English because there’s a greater authenticity with them and what they are singing about.

Momentum increases on the new Vanishing Point album, coming in early 2018…

Vanishing Point – TBC
Release date: 2018
Label: AFM Records

I have it from the horse’s mouth that the new Vanishing Point album will see the light of day in 2018. During a chat with guitarist and songwriter Chris Porcianko, he confirmed that whilst a date isn’t cast in stone yet, the new record was progressing well. However, it had to be delayed until early 2018 for various reasons. As soon as I hear news of a definite date, I will bring it to you.

Despite the 2018 date, I couldn’t help but bring you an update right now. Why? Because not only are Vanishing Point one of my favourite bands ever, updates from the melodic prog metal masters themselves suggest that the new music could be more in the vein of their 2000 magnum opus, ‘Tangled In Dream’. A top 5 all-time album, this is news that threatens a grown man’s bladder control.

To quote Porcianko directly, he actually said of the new record: So far the new Vanishing Point album is a mix of Prog, metal , melodic metal , hard rock and AOR…There’s a little bit of something in it for everyone…Fans of Distant is The Sun and Tangled In Dream will like it I think.’ No wonder I’m bursting with excitement! So here’s some solo action for us all to enjoy.

https://www.facebook.com/plugins/video.php?href=https%3A%2F%2Fwww.facebook.com%2Fchris.porcianko%2Fvideos%2F1653026798044753%2F&show_text=0&width=222

Orphaned Land confirm new album in early 2018…

Orphaned Land – Unsung Prophets and Dead Messiahs
Release date: 26 January 2018
Label: Century Media Records

In a similar vein to Vanishing Point above, I felt compelled to comment about this confirmed release, even if it is destined to see the light of day in 2018. Israeli band Orphaned Land are a special outfit; not only do they create superb melodic progressive metal, but they have managed the seemingly impossible: brought fans of all faiths and backgrounds together in a collective love of music.

It has been quite a while since the quintet last gave their fan base some new music; five years in fact. And given how superb their last record, ‘All Is One’, I am climbing the walls waiting for this new album.

With no new snippets of music to bring you, instead, allow me to remind you just how good their last album was.

Previous updates:

22 July 2017
28 March 2017
23 March 2017
11 March 2017
5th March 2017
26th February 2017
13th February 2017
3rd February 2017
30th January 2017
21st January 2017