Night Crowned – Hädanfärd – Album Review

Artist: Night Crowned

Album Title: Hädanfärd

Label: Noble Demon

Date of Release: 9 July 2021

The press release accompanying ‘Hädanfärd’, the sophomore release from Night Crowned proudly declares that the Swede’s debut album, ‘Impius Viam’ was hailed by fans and critics alike as ‘one of the best releases of the year.’ Normally, I dismiss statements like this within press releases as pure hyperbole, but on this occasion, I know that this statement is true. That’s because I was one of those critics that bestowed such an accolade on the quartet in 2020. Of it, I wrote:

Night Crowned have awakened something within me that I hadn’t realised was laying dormant. It has reminded me what it is I like about extreme metal and blackened death metal in particular, and why I got into this kind of music back as a teenager in the first place. My tastes may have changed and refined over the years, but there is still something within me that adores the blend of aggression, atmosphere and properly catchy melodies. ‘Impius Viam’ delivers this blend in spades…”

The debut release secured the number eight slot in my end of year ‘best of’ list and, had it not been for releases from the likes of Haken, Vanishing Point, Sorcerer, and Silent Skies, it would almost certainly have finished even higher. Not bad for a first attempt, even if the ranks of the band boast seasoned professionals involved in bands as well-known as Nightrage and Dark Funeral.

Naturally, I was excited to find out that Night Crowned would return less than 18 month later with their sophomore release, ‘Hädanfärd’. Unfortunately, its release coincided with an unexpected personal crisis, and not even a new slab of Swedish melodic blackened death metal could tempt me to listen to music at the time. As such, it is only now that I am able to digest the music and finally offer this review.

Right out of the gate, ‘Hädanfärd’ feels more extreme than its predecessor. It is a more condensed affair, being comprised of just nine tracks and with a run-time just shy of the 45-minute mark. But whilst the debut was no happy and jolly affair, ‘Hädanfärd’ ups the ante even further, with a greater emphasis on the black metal aspect of the band’s sound. If, like me, you enjoyed the more melodious side of Night Crowned’s sound, fear not though because this element has not been lost entirely. It is slightly more refined and occasionally more well-hidden in the compositions, but it is there and comes more to the fore as you rack up the listens.

That being said, opener ‘Nattkrönt’ is about as delicious a melodic blackened death metal song as you’re likely to hear all year. Sixteen seconds of an eerie piano melody is all the intro that Night Crowned permit, before the track explodes into an all-out frenzied attack of blastbeats and fast-picked riffing. It’s short-lived however, as the song quickly opens up to deliver easily one of the most striking melodic sections on the entire record. From there, the song flits between all-out melody and all-out savage attack – there is no in between here. The melodies are led by icy, yet memorable, epic-sounding lead guitar lines alongside some sparingly used clean vocals and synths for added effect. If ever there was a way to signal a band’s hungry return in a world that has gone to the dogs since their debut, it’s this. I’m paying attention, that’s for sure.

Happily, the eight remaining songs are up to the task, happy to beat us around the head with some punishing extreme metal. ‘Rex Tenebrae’ is insanely fast, with drumbeats and fills that threaten to signal the end of J Jaloma’s limbs. The riffs are equally fast and uncompromising, but as is the Night Crowned way, there’s a healthy melodic sheen to the track. In addition, this is also a more theatrical composition because, in between the blasts of extremity, we’re treated to some sinister, Gothic splendour, featuring enhanced clean vocals, synth-led choral effects and orchestration, not to mention a really nice lead solo that leads us back into brutal territories.

I could mention just about every track on this album, but in order to keep things as succinct as possible, I’ll instead pick out a couple of my favourites. First up in that regard has to be ‘Gudars Skymning’ because it’s a simply stunning composition. It begins in the way that most songs on this album do: in uncompromising fashion, full of power and malevolence. There is space for some great chunky riffs and groove, as well as some fast-picked melodic riffing to create an engaging, multi-layered soundscape. But just shy of the two-minute mark, there’s a pronounced shift to a more mid-tempo approach, allowing the composition a little space to focus on increased atmospheres. There are hints at some epic melody, but when the song opens up fully, those melodies are incredible, catching my ear immediately. And then, when the lead guitars enter, initially atop a minimalist background, it’s shivers-down-the-spine territory for me – so mournful, but so poetic and eloquent at the same time. The great thing about this song however, is the way in which it never sits still, switching between ideas at will.

I’m also a fan of the over-the-top ‘Grått & Ödelagt’ which is both beautiful and savage in equal measure. And what’s more, it feels as if the band revel in the fact that they are able to create something like this – the music leaps from the speakers eagerly and with an energy that suggests Night Crowned had a blast (pardon the pun) putting this record together. Alongside the enhanced orchestration and Gothic trappings, we get the ubiquitous razor-sharp icy riffs and blastbeats, not to mention the evil rasp from K Romlin to add extra malevolence. And yet, the song remains accessible and thoroughly memorable from beginning to end thanks to well-placed melody that peeks through the tumult as and when required, most notably via a great lead solo at the mid-point.

Clearly, Night Crowned have benefitted from keeping a stable line-up, as the output on this sophomore release so ably demonstrates. Whether it was a result of the pandemic, or other influences, the Swedes appear angrier, more evil, and more determined to wreak havoc on anyone who cares to listen. But it is tempered by some sophisticated and clever songwriting, alongside enough melody to ensure that you are pulled back for repeated listens. And, with each run through, the music gets stronger, the hooks burrow deep, and the atmosphere seeps into your subconscious. With such a strong debut under their belts and with such a quick turnaround, I had my doubts that ‘Hädanfärd’ would live up to my expectations. Well, I shouldn’t have been so doubtful, because ‘Hädanfärd’ is every bit as impressive as the debut. Angrier, spikier, more malevolent, but still rather magnificent.

The Score of Much Metal: 93%

Dessiderium – Aria

Cynic – Ascension Codes

TDW – Fountains

Hypocrisy – Worship

W.E.B. – Colosseum

Navian – Cosmos

NorthTale – Eternal Flame

Obscura – A Valediction

Nightland – The Great Nothing

MØL – Diorama

Be’lakor – Coherence

Hollow – Tower

Doedsvangr – Serpents Ov Old

Athemon – Athemon

Eclipse – Wired

Swallow The Sun – Moonflowers

Dream Theater – A View From The Top Of The World

Nestor – Kids In A Ghost Town

Beast In Black – Dark Connection

Thulcandra – A Dying Wish

Omnium Gatherum – Origin

Insomnium – Argent Moon EP

Kryptan – Kryptan EP

Archspire – Bleed The Future

Awake By Design – Unfaded EP

Cradle Of Filth – Existence Is Futile

Seven Spires – Gods Of Debauchery

Sleep Token – This Place Will Become Your Tomb

Necrofier – Prophecies Of Eternal Darkness

Ex Deo – The Thirteen Years Of Nero

Carcass – Torn Arteries

Aeon Zen – Transversal

Enslaved – Caravans To The Outer Worlds

A Dying Planet – When The Skies Are Grey

Leprous – Aphelion

Night Crowned – Hädanfärd

Brainstorm – Wall Of Skulls

At The Gates – The Nightmare Of Being

Rivers Of Nihil – The Work

Fractal Universe – The Impassable Horizon

Darkthrone – Eternal Hails

Thy Catafalque – Vadak

Terra Odium – Ne Plus Ultra

Hiraes – Solitary

Eye Of Purgatory – The Lighthouse

Crowne – Kings In The North

Desaster – Churches Without Saints

Helloween – Helloween

Fear Factory – Aggression Continuum

Wooden Veins – In Finitude

Plaguestorm – Purifying Fire

Drift Into Black – Patterns Of Light

Alluvial – Sarcoma

White Moth Black Butterfly – The Cost Of Dreaming – Album Review

Silver Lake by Esa Holopainen

Bloodbound – Creatures From The Dark Realm

Nahaya – Vital Alchemy

Frost* – Day And Age

Obsolete Theory – Downfall

Vola – Witness

Acolyte – Entropy

Dordeduh – Har

Subterranean Masquerade – Mountain Fever

Seth – La Morsure Du Christ

The Circle – Metamorphosis

Nordjevel – Fenriir

Vreid – Wild North West

Temtris – Ritual Warfare

Astrakhan – A Slow Ride Towards Death

Akiavel – Vae Victis

Gojira – Fortitude

Hideous Divinity – LV-426

Benthos – II

Evile – Hell Unleashed

Ninkharsag – The Dread March Of Solemn Gods

Bodom After Midnight – Paint The Sky With Blood

Morrigu – In Turbulence

Mother Of All – Age Of The Solipsist

Throne – Pestilent Dawn

Sweet Oblivion (Geoff Tate) – Relentless

Exanimis – Marionnettiste

Dvne – Etemen Ænka

Cannibal Corpse – Violence Unimagined

Arion – Vultures Die Alone

Maestitium – Tale Of The Endless

Wode – Burn In Many Mirrors

Everdawn – Cleopatra

Unflesh – Inhumation

Mourning Dawn – Dead End Euphoria

Wheel – Resident Human

Wythersake – Antiquity

Odd Dimension – The Blue Dawn

Metalite – A Virtual World

Cryptosis – Bionic Swarm

Ghosts Of Atlantis – 3.6.2.4

Memoriam – To The End

Aversed – Impermanent

Secret Sphere – Lifeblood

Enforced – Kill Grid

Liquid Tension Experiment – LTE3

Turbulence – Frontal

Iotunn – Access All Worlds

Warrior Path – The Mad King

Stortregn – Impermanence

Mariana’s Rest – Fata Morgana

Orden Ogan – Final Days

Witherfall – Curse Of Autumn

Plague Weaver – Ascendant Blasphemy

Ephemerald – Between The Glimpses Of Hope

Paranorm – Empyrean

Einherjer – North Star

Epica – Omega

Humanity’s Last Breath – Välde

Simulacrum – Genesis

Forhist – Forhist

Evergrey – Escape Of The Phoenix

Empyrium – Über den Sternen

Moonspell – Hermitage

Infernalizer – The Ugly Truth

Temperance – Melodies Of Green And Blue EP

Malice Divine – Malice Divine

Revulsion – Revulsion

Demon King – The Final Tyranny EP

Dragony – Viribus Unitis

Soen – Imperial

Angelus Apatrida – Angelus Apatrida

Oceana – The Pattern

Therion – Leviathan

Tribulation – Where The Gloom Becomes Sound

Asphyx – Necroceros

W.E.T. – Retransmission

Labyrinth – Welcome To The Absurd Circus

TDW – The Days The Clock Stopped

Need – Norchestrion: A Song For The End

You can also check out my other reviews from previous years right here:

2020 reviews

2019 reviews
2018 reviews
2017 reviews
2016 reviews
2015 reviews

Brainstorm – Wall Of Skulls – Album Review

Artist: Brainstorm

Album Title: Wall Of Skulls

Label: AFM Records

Date of Release: 17 September 2021

The catch-up continues after my three-month hiatus, with the latest release from German power metal band, Brainstorm. Entitled ‘Wall Of Skulls’, this is the thirteenth full-length album from the Heidenheim-based quintet, and it was released midway through September on the ever-steadfast AFM Records. Having been an on-off fan since the release of ‘Soul Temptation’ in 2005, their last album, ‘Midnight Ghost’ thoroughly impressed me. And so, when I was reminded of their return, I felt sufficiently interested to check out ‘Wall Of Skulls’.

Blessed with one of the most stable line-ups in heavy metal history, I have to say that Andy B. Franck (vocals), Torsten Ihlenfeld (guitars), Milan Loncaric (guitars), Antonio Ieva (bass), Dieter Bernert (drums) have bested their previous endeavours with ‘Wall Of Skulls’. There is something about this album that, from the first listen, is infectious, energetic, and a huge dollop of fun. It continues where ‘Midnight Ghost’ left off in many ways in that this is an album chock full of melody, groove, energy and importantly for a metal band, some heavy riffs accompanied by a hefty dose of fast tempos. It’s as if the band were buoyed by the reaction to ‘Midnight Ghost’ and decided to up the ante even more. I for one am delighted, because ‘Wall Of Skulls’ can only enhance the reputation of a band that has worked hard, but remained a little too deep in the shadows for my liking.

I could end the review right there if I wanted, because I’ve basically described ‘Wall Of Skulls’ in a nutshell: Fast, heavy, melodic, powerful. But that’s not my style, so allow me to delve just a little deeper.

First off, Brainstorm have used Andy B. Franck to his fullest; this is the album where he excels as the frontman. Not that he hasn’t previously, it’s just that the output on this record plays to his strengths, it feels. He is commanding, engaging, and thoroughly entertaining as he belts out the lyrics with his familiar grit and Teutonic inflections. The power and effort that he puts into his performance throughout the eleven tracks (twelve if you include the bonus song on the limited-edition version) is impossible to ignore and easy to enjoy.

And when I said that there is a hefty dose of fast tempos, I wasn’t lying. Buckle up people because ‘Wall Of Skulls’ is a bit of a bruiser. It gets the blood pumping early on, and then rarely lets the heartrate lower. As such, you get galloping rhythms, incessantly fast drumbeats, and riffs that have plenty of pace to them without sacrificing the grunt. And all that, on top of some well-placed theatrics.

Those theatrics begin with the intro, ‘Chamber Thirteen’, where the sound of Gregorian plainchant echoes within a dark, sinister-sounding framework, into which guitar riffs feed atop a rousing cinematic soundtrack, full of bombast.

From there, we’re straight in to ‘Where Ravens Fly’ with no pause for breath. The immediate pace is best described as ‘full throttle’, with pounding drums, wailing vocals, and then a killer chorus that builds upon the orchestration from the intro. I already like what I’m hearing, a sentiment that has not dimmed with repeated listens over the last few days.

The quality continues with ‘Solitude’, that kicks into life via an organ/vocal duet of what, it transpires, is the chorus melody. A really cool guitar lead line accentuates the central melody whilst Franck steps in again to lead the orchestra in perfect harmony. The pace is slightly slower, delivering a stomping power, allowing a little subtle nuance or two to enter the fray within the verses. However, with a chorus this strong, it’s hardly surprising that it remains the focal point.

‘Wall Of Skulls’ offers another layer by virtue of a couple of guest appearances, a first for Brainstorm at any point within their 30+ year career. ‘Escape The Silence’ boasts Rage’s Peavey Wagner, whilst ‘Turn Off The Light’ welcomes Orden Ogan’s Seeb Levermann, who also assumes the role of the album’s producer. The former is a bulldozer of a power metal song, full of double-pedal intensity and an insanely rousing chorus, whilst the latter which immediately follows, shows no let-up in tempo, with more double-pedal drumming and a classic 80s metal feel to some of the central riffs and squealing lead break. It goes without saying that the chorus is another barnstormer, as Brainstorm seem incapable to penning anything substandard, with the muscular groove towards the close a thing of beauty also.

The intro to ‘Glory Disappears’ allows us a few seconds to catch our breath, as indeed does the song in it’s entirety. It’s more of a mid-tempo quasi-ballad with a chorus that’sslightly reminiscent of the likes of Hammerfall or Sabaton, thanks to the unashamed epic ‘call to arms’ quality it possesses.

‘My Dystopia’, thanks to frenetic rhythms and an urgent lead guitar lick returns us to the faster, higher-octane pace, whilst a certain amount of variety is displayed via songs like ‘End Of My Innocence’ and ‘Holding On’. Both have keys within them that hark back to yesteryear, but the latter in particular plays around with more overt melodic hard rock trappings. The chorus veers close to AOR territory thanks to multi-layered vocals, albeit within a more metal framework. But both once again, deliver satisfying choruses that you’ll be humming long after the album has finished.

When I made my return to reviewing recently and asked readers for recommendations of what I needed to check out, Brainstorm were mentioned a couple of times and I can definitely see why. With ‘Wall Of Skulls’, they have surpassed everything that they have previously done, creating a thoroughly engaging melodic power metal album in the process. If ‘Wall Of Skulls’ does not enhance their reputation and pull them a little more from the shadows, then there is simply no justice in the world; if power or melodic metal sits within your sphere of interest, then ‘Wall Of Skulls’ is worthy of your time, attention, and hard-earned cash.

The Score of Much Metal: 90%

Dessiderium – Aria

Cynic – Ascension Codes

TDW – Fountains

Hypocrisy – Worship

W.E.B. – Colosseum

Navian – Cosmos

NorthTale – Eternal Flame

Obscura – A Valediction

Nightland – The Great Nothing

MØL – Diorama

Be’lakor – Coherence

Hollow – Tower

Doedsvangr – Serpents Ov Old

Athemon – Athemon

Eclipse – Wired

Swallow The Sun – Moonflowers

Dream Theater – A View From The Top Of The World

Nestor – Kids In A Ghost Town

Beast In Black – Dark Connection

Thulcandra – A Dying Wish

Omnium Gatherum – Origin

Insomnium – Argent Moon EP

Kryptan – Kryptan EP

Archspire – Bleed The Future

Awake By Design – Unfaded EP

Cradle Of Filth – Existence Is Futile

Seven Spires – Gods Of Debauchery

Sleep Token – This Place Will Become Your Tomb

Necrofier – Prophecies Of Eternal Darkness

Ex Deo – The Thirteen Years Of Nero

Carcass – Torn Arteries

Aeon Zen – Transversal

Enslaved – Caravans To The Outer Worlds

A Dying Planet – When The Skies Are Grey

Leprous – Aphelion

Night Crowned – Hädanfärd

Brainstorm – Wall Of Skulls

At The Gates – The Nightmare Of Being

Rivers Of Nihil – The Work

Fractal Universe – The Impassable Horizon

Darkthrone – Eternal Hails

Thy Catafalque – Vadak

Terra Odium – Ne Plus Ultra

Hiraes – Solitary

Eye Of Purgatory – The Lighthouse

Crowne – Kings In The North

Desaster – Churches Without Saints

Helloween – Helloween

Fear Factory – Aggression Continuum

Wooden Veins – In Finitude

Plaguestorm – Purifying Fire

Drift Into Black – Patterns Of Light

Alluvial – Sarcoma

White Moth Black Butterfly – The Cost Of Dreaming – Album Review

Silver Lake by Esa Holopainen

Bloodbound – Creatures From The Dark Realm

Nahaya – Vital Alchemy

Frost* – Day And Age

Obsolete Theory – Downfall

Vola – Witness

Acolyte – Entropy

Dordeduh – Har

Subterranean Masquerade – Mountain Fever

Seth – La Morsure Du Christ

The Circle – Metamorphosis

Nordjevel – Fenriir

Vreid – Wild North West

Temtris – Ritual Warfare

Astrakhan – A Slow Ride Towards Death

Akiavel – Vae Victis

Gojira – Fortitude

Hideous Divinity – LV-426

Benthos – II

Evile – Hell Unleashed

Ninkharsag – The Dread March Of Solemn Gods

Bodom After Midnight – Paint The Sky With Blood

Morrigu – In Turbulence

Mother Of All – Age Of The Solipsist

Throne – Pestilent Dawn

Sweet Oblivion (Geoff Tate) – Relentless

Exanimis – Marionnettiste

Dvne – Etemen Ænka

Cannibal Corpse – Violence Unimagined

Arion – Vultures Die Alone

Maestitium – Tale Of The Endless

Wode – Burn In Many Mirrors

Everdawn – Cleopatra

Unflesh – Inhumation

Mourning Dawn – Dead End Euphoria

Wheel – Resident Human

Wythersake – Antiquity

Odd Dimension – The Blue Dawn

Metalite – A Virtual World

Cryptosis – Bionic Swarm

Ghosts Of Atlantis – 3.6.2.4

Memoriam – To The End

Aversed – Impermanent

Secret Sphere – Lifeblood

Enforced – Kill Grid

Liquid Tension Experiment – LTE3

Turbulence – Frontal

Iotunn – Access All Worlds

Warrior Path – The Mad King

Stortregn – Impermanence

Mariana’s Rest – Fata Morgana

Orden Ogan – Final Days

Witherfall – Curse Of Autumn

Plague Weaver – Ascendant Blasphemy

Ephemerald – Between The Glimpses Of Hope

Paranorm – Empyrean

Einherjer – North Star

Epica – Omega

Humanity’s Last Breath – Välde

Simulacrum – Genesis

Forhist – Forhist

Evergrey – Escape Of The Phoenix

Empyrium – Über den Sternen

Moonspell – Hermitage

Infernalizer – The Ugly Truth

Temperance – Melodies Of Green And Blue EP

Malice Divine – Malice Divine

Revulsion – Revulsion

Demon King – The Final Tyranny EP

Dragony – Viribus Unitis

Soen – Imperial

Angelus Apatrida – Angelus Apatrida

Oceana – The Pattern

Therion – Leviathan

Tribulation – Where The Gloom Becomes Sound

Asphyx – Necroceros

W.E.T. – Retransmission

Labyrinth – Welcome To The Absurd Circus

TDW – The Days The Clock Stopped

Need – Norchestrion: A Song For The End

You can also check out my other reviews from previous years right here:

2020 reviews

2019 reviews
2018 reviews
2017 reviews
2016 reviews
2015 reviews

Terra Odium – Ne Plus Ultra – Album Review

Artist: Terra Odium

Album Title: Ne Plus Ultra

Label: Frontiers Music

Date of Release: 11 June 2021

Due to my unexpected but much needed early June hiatus, I am playing catch up with many of the releases that threatened to pass me by unexplored and unreviewed. The focus of this review is the debut album from a progressive metal entity that goes by the name of Terra Odium and I was compelled to review this release because of the clientele involved. This is another of those Frontiers ‘supergroups’ you see, although unlike others on the Italian label’s roster, Terra Odium has not been put together by the label; as far as I can tell, this has been a more organic process that has led to a mouth-watering line-up.

Led by ex-Spiral Architect duo Øyvind Hægeland (guitars, vocals) and Asgeir Mickelson (drums), they have been joined by guitarist Bollie Fredriksen (Manitou), bassist Steve Di Giorgio (Testament), and keyboardist Jon Phipps (Angra, Moonspell, Dragonforce) who is in place primarily to provide the orchestration. As much as I hate the term ‘supergroup’, there can be little argument that this descriptor applies pretty accurately to Terra Odium. But, can the music live up to the lofty expectations that can come from such a group of musicians? You’d certainly hope so, but there’s never any guarantee.

This is so difficult for me, it really is. On the one hand, I cannot deny the quality of the music and the song writing. There is a lot going on within each of the seven tracks as you’d rightfully expect from a proper progressive metal release, especially with the clientele involved in bringing this together. It is heavy, it is technical, it is created with real attention to detail, and the production is huge and affords the clarity that you need for music like this. By way of example, the bass of Steve Di Giorgio is ever present throughout, perfectly audible so that you can hear everything he does, be it simple or complex.

Mind you, everywhere across the band, the performances are great. Mickelson’s drumming is tight as anything, with flamboyance built in when required. The guitar riffs are powerful whilst the dexterity is impressive. The orchestration from Jon Phipps fits well within the music, not overdone, but bold when necessary and subtle elsewhere. It has everything…

But, here’s the rub: do I warm to the music? Do I connect with it, and yearn to listen to it whilst I’m engaged with my fifteenth work video call meeting of the day? No. Sadly, I don’t. I admire it, but my admiration remains at arm’s length for the most part. For my tastes, the songs are lacking in the memorability stakes; whether that’s because there’s not enough melody, or because the instrumentational prowess overtakes and consumes the hooks that are already well concealed. Ultimately, it doesn’t matter because whatever the reason, I’m left feeling a little disengaged.

The thing I like least however, is the vocals. I hate to single musicians out, but I am just not a fan of Øyvind Hægeland’s offering. This is a completely subjective view, but I find the singing to be cold and a touch sterile. Hægeland can sing, of that there’s no doubt; hell, he can hit notes that I could only ever dream of. But crucially, I don’t find his delivery to be engaging and warm. Instead, it makes the complex soundscapes that surround him even less penetrable, as if they are deliberately at odds with the music to create a vague dissonance at times. At this point, I can’t help but focus on the artwork, because it’s both compelling, but stark, depicting a lone soul entering a giant maze. That’s me – lost, confused, and about to suffer at the hands of the maze.

Having said all that, I will concede that there are flashes of music on ‘Ne Plus Ultra’ that I do like. The more melodic sections within ‘Winter’ are really nice, usually coalescing when the orchestration is at its most overt and bold. The noodling in between does little for me, coming across as virtuosic for the sake of it, but there’s just enough melody at the right times to counteract these parts. Just.

Elsewhere, the intro to ‘The Thorn’ features a really cool riff, complete with pinched harmonics, whilst there’s a dark, sinister, cinematic feel to the music. The slower tempo helps to build up a sense of drama, which is something that the entire album benefits from – the star of the show in many ways is Jon Phipps because without him, the music would also lack the depth and atmosphere that is a strong component of the Terra Odium sound. And to underline that point, check out the final minute or so of ‘It Was Not Death’. If more of the album was like this, I’d be raving about it.

I’ve got to be honest, but I’m disappointed. I have heard extremely positive things about Terra Odium on social media from sources that I trust as well as the normal background noise. As such, I know that ‘Ne Plus Ultra’ is a quality body of work. I’ve hopefully conveyed that within this review as much as possible. It’s just that, for some reason, it’s not for me. Clever, precise, and clinical, it just isn’t warm enough, melodic enough, or memorable enough to keep me entertained. But don’t take my word for it, as I’m just a lone voice within the crowd – give it a try nonetheless and I’ll be delighted if you like it.

The Score of Much Metal: 74%

Dessiderium – Aria

Cynic – Ascension Codes

TDW – Fountains

Hypocrisy – Worship

W.E.B. – Colosseum

Navian – Cosmos

NorthTale – Eternal Flame

Obscura – A Valediction

Nightland – The Great Nothing

MØL – Diorama

Be’lakor – Coherence

Hollow – Tower

Doedsvangr – Serpents Ov Old

Athemon – Athemon

Eclipse – Wired

Swallow The Sun – Moonflowers

Dream Theater – A View From The Top Of The World

Nestor – Kids In A Ghost Town

Beast In Black – Dark Connection

Thulcandra – A Dying Wish

Omnium Gatherum – Origin

Insomnium – Argent Moon EP

Kryptan – Kryptan EP

Archspire – Bleed The Future

Awake By Design – Unfaded EP

Cradle Of Filth – Existence Is Futile

Seven Spires – Gods Of Debauchery

Sleep Token – This Place Will Become Your Tomb

Necrofier – Prophecies Of Eternal Darkness

Ex Deo – The Thirteen Years Of Nero

Carcass – Torn Arteries

Aeon Zen – Transversal

Enslaved – Caravans To The Outer Worlds

A Dying Planet – When The Skies Are Grey

Leprous – Aphelion

Night Crowned – Hädanfärd

Brainstorm – Wall Of Skulls

At The Gates – The Nightmare Of Being

Rivers Of Nihil – The Work

Fractal Universe – The Impassable Horizon

Darkthrone – Eternal Hails

Thy Catafalque – Vadak

Terra Odium – Ne Plus Ultra

Hiraes – Solitary

Eye Of Purgatory – The Lighthouse

Crowne – Kings In The North

Desaster – Churches Without Saints

Helloween – Helloween

Fear Factory – Aggression Continuum

Wooden Veins – In Finitude

Plaguestorm – Purifying Fire

Drift Into Black – Patterns Of Light

Alluvial – Sarcoma

White Moth Black Butterfly – The Cost Of Dreaming – Album Review

Silver Lake by Esa Holopainen

Bloodbound – Creatures From The Dark Realm

Nahaya – Vital Alchemy

Frost* – Day And Age

Obsolete Theory – Downfall

Vola – Witness

Acolyte – Entropy

Dordeduh – Har

Subterranean Masquerade – Mountain Fever

Seth – La Morsure Du Christ

The Circle – Metamorphosis

Nordjevel – Fenriir

Vreid – Wild North West

Temtris – Ritual Warfare

Astrakhan – A Slow Ride Towards Death

Akiavel – Vae Victis

Gojira – Fortitude

Hideous Divinity – LV-426

Benthos – II

Evile – Hell Unleashed

Ninkharsag – The Dread March Of Solemn Gods

Bodom After Midnight – Paint The Sky With Blood

Morrigu – In Turbulence

Mother Of All – Age Of The Solipsist

Throne – Pestilent Dawn

Sweet Oblivion (Geoff Tate) – Relentless

Exanimis – Marionnettiste

Dvne – Etemen Ænka

Cannibal Corpse – Violence Unimagined

Arion – Vultures Die Alone

Maestitium – Tale Of The Endless

Wode – Burn In Many Mirrors

Everdawn – Cleopatra

Unflesh – Inhumation

Mourning Dawn – Dead End Euphoria

Wheel – Resident Human

Wythersake – Antiquity

Odd Dimension – The Blue Dawn

Metalite – A Virtual World

Cryptosis – Bionic Swarm

Ghosts Of Atlantis – 3.6.2.4

Memoriam – To The End

Aversed – Impermanent

Secret Sphere – Lifeblood

Enforced – Kill Grid

Liquid Tension Experiment – LTE3

Turbulence – Frontal

Iotunn – Access All Worlds

Warrior Path – The Mad King

Stortregn – Impermanence

Mariana’s Rest – Fata Morgana

Orden Ogan – Final Days

Witherfall – Curse Of Autumn

Plague Weaver – Ascendant Blasphemy

Ephemerald – Between The Glimpses Of Hope

Paranorm – Empyrean

Einherjer – North Star

Epica – Omega

Humanity’s Last Breath – Välde

Simulacrum – Genesis

Forhist – Forhist

Evergrey – Escape Of The Phoenix

Empyrium – Über den Sternen

Moonspell – Hermitage

Infernalizer – The Ugly Truth

Temperance – Melodies Of Green And Blue EP

Malice Divine – Malice Divine

Revulsion – Revulsion

Demon King – The Final Tyranny EP

Dragony – Viribus Unitis

Soen – Imperial

Angelus Apatrida – Angelus Apatrida

Oceana – The Pattern

Therion – Leviathan

Tribulation – Where The Gloom Becomes Sound

Asphyx – Necroceros

W.E.T. – Retransmission

Labyrinth – Welcome To The Absurd Circus

TDW – The Days The Clock Stopped

Need – Norchestrion: A Song For The End

You can also check out my other reviews from previous years right here:

2020 reviews

2019 reviews
2018 reviews
2017 reviews
2016 reviews
2015 reviews

Power Quest – Sixth Dimension – Album Review

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Artist: Power Quest

Album Title: Sixth Dimension

Label: Inner Wound Recordings

Release date: 13 October 2017

I feel a bit of a fraud reviewing this record, because until now, I had never really given UK power metal band Power Quest the time of day. I knew the name, I had heard the odd track but I was never sufficiently moved to go any further than that. I’m not sure why though, because in theory, Power Quest should really scratch the itch I get for power metal, particularly of the more melodic kind.

Still, better late than never and here I am confronted with ‘Sixth Dimension’, the sextet’s sixth studio album. You might be wondering ‘why now?’ In all honesty, there are two strands to my reply. Firstly, this is the band’s first album for six years having disbanded in 2013, citing financial problems and lack of record label support as the reasons for the split. Secondly, being a huge fan of the sadly-defunct Triaxis, I felt I had to check out the new home of lead guitarist Glyndwr Williams because a guy of his immense talent wouldn’t join a bad band.

In actual fact, the Power Quest line-up of 2017 is really quite different from when they split. Only keyboardist Steve Williams remains from the original 2001 incarnation of the band and he is joined by his pre-split colleagues, bassist Paul Finnie and drummer Rich Smith both of whom date back to 2009. Everyone else is new though, meaning that Williams has a six-string partner in Andy Kopczyk whilst Ashley Edison is the new lead vocalist, stepping into the shoes of the likes of ZP Theart (ex-Dragonforce, Skid Row), Chitral Somapala (ex-Firewind, Red Circuit) and Pete Morten (ex-Threshold, My Soliloquy) who have held the position previously.

So, in some ways, it would be easier to refer to Power Quest as a brand new band. Indeed, if that were the case, I’d be saying that in ‘Sixth Dimension’, we have in our midst a truly excellent debut melodic power metal album, one that puts the name Power Quest on the European power metal map. Instead, I will say that in ‘Sixth Dimension’, we have in our midst a truly excellent melodic power metal album, one that puts the name Power Quest back on the European power metal map.

Essentially, I have had my head turned quite a bit by ‘Sixth Dimension’ and find it to be a really satisfying and fun listening experience. Some will inevitably consider the output to be a little cliched, perhaps even a little cheesy. After all, what Power Quest deliver is a heavy dose of classic melodic power metal, drenched in keyboards, liberally sprinkled with flamboyant lead guitar solos and topped off by lyrical content that suggests that however bad our lives are, tomorrow is another day and things can get better.

Yes the lyrical content could be considered a little toe-curling but the thing is, Edison has a superb voice, perfect for the music that surrounds him. He has a great range, able to hit the trouser-splitting high notes whilst dealing expertly with the lower, more reserved passages. I find his delivery to be extremely smooth and rich.

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And yes, each of the nine compositions sticks firmly to that classic power metal recipe, with giant hook-laden choruses, driving rhythms and big riffs. But again, it is all delivered with slick professionalism and with a smile on their collective faces. ‘Sixth Dimension’, which benefits from being mastered by the renowned Jens Bogren, sounds like a happy, fun record and it is meant to, I’m sure. I’m a big fan of melancholy music, just like the next metalhead. But I also like to listen to upbeat, feel-good music occasionally and that’s where albums like this come in. Badly-done cheese is awful, yes. But ‘Sixth Dimension’ is not badly done and it is definitely not cheesy in my view. It is undeniably a high quality record in just about every department.

A lot of credit has to go to Power Quest stalwart Steve Williams because his keys are an utter joy throughout. They don’t sit unobtrusively in the background like the reticent wallflower at a house party. No, the ivories are the life and soul of the party, providing bold atmosphere as well as leading many of the strong, memorable melodies that feature on just about every track. I challenge you to listen to the superb ‘Pray for The Day’ for example without breaking into a smile. The synth tones remind me of the 80s and create a melodic hard rock/AOR sheen to the composition that I find truly infectious.

And yet, Williams and Kopczyk manage to provide enough grunt and power to give the songs the necessary crunch required of a heavy metal band of any genre. Backed up by the energetic combo of drummer Rich Smith and bassist Paul Finnie, the whole thing just hits the right note overall. The glorious ‘Coming Home’ acts as the justification for what I’m trying to say here because the rhythms are frenetic and they dovetail wonderfully with the more soulful and nuanced lead work from the guitars in places.

To be honest, I am more than a little surprised at just how consistent the quality is across ‘Sixth Dimension’. There seriously isn’t a duff track anywhere to be heard. That said, personal favourites include ‘Starlight City’ with its positive energy and killer epic conclusion and the gloriously outrageous keyboard-led melodic pomp of ‘Kings and Glory’ that reaches Dragonforce speed and contains monstrously catchy hooks throughout, not to mention plenty of lead guitar flamboyance. Then there’s the muscular riffing of ‘Revolution Fighters’ and mid-tempo stomp of ‘Face The Raven’ which blossoms into a superbly irresistible chorus led expertly by Edison who scales the heights effortlessly. Or how about the closing epic title track, co-written by Threshold’s Richard West, that’s intense and brooding, and includes a guest vocal appearance from ex-Nightwish chanteuse Anette Olzon? Full of light and shade, it is a fittingly commanding and atmospheric way to bring ‘Sixth Dimension’ to an end.

Occasionally, I want to listen to something a little bit frivolous, something that I don’t have to think to deeply about, something that entertains me right from the very beginning and which plants a great big smile on my ugly mug. If you’re searching for something similar, I cannot recommend ‘Sixth Dimension’ more highly. This is slick, professional and thoroughly irresistible melodic power metal of the highest order.

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

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

Caligula’s Horse – In Contact – Album Review

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Artist: Caligula’s Horse

Album Title: In Contact

Label: InsideOut Music

Date Of Release: 15 September 2017

When it comes to modern progressive music, this Brisbane-based outfit are currently up there with the very best. Caligula’s Horse stunned me with their previous album, ‘Bloom’, so much so that it ended up well within my top 10 albums of 2015, and rightly so. I have yet to grow tired of that record, such is its beauty and intensity. To quote my review at the time:

“I absolutely adore this record and I consider ‘Bloom’ to be a modern progressive rock/metal behemoth that will leave a hugely positive impression on anyone who likes quality music that is as beautiful as it is subtle and ambitious.”

I stand by what I said – ‘Bloom’ is a masterpiece. The only problem then is that it makes it tricky for the band when it comes to the follow-up. With expectations high amongst their growing fan base, could the quintet match the levels of excitement and anticipation with another high quality release? Being one of those rabid fans myself, this was my overriding thought as I entered the conceptual world of ‘In Contact’ for the first time.

If lead vocalist Jim Grey, guitarists Sam Vallen and Adrian Goleby, bassist/vocalist Dave Couper and drummer Josh Griffin felt any nerves or apprehension, it does not show. Instead, they have thrown heart and soul into this new record. From the irresistible cover artwork, right through to the deeply considered concept that flows through the album, it is clear that ‘In Contact’ has been put together with genuine passion and a tremendous attention to detail. Then there’s the music itself which I shall come on to in the fullness of time.

‘In Contact’ features ten individual tracks and, in stark contrast to ‘Bloom’, which was never long enough, has a running time that breaks the hour mark. But it’s more complicated than that. To quote Jim Grey from an interview he conducted regarding the concept:

“I had this idea, this big broad sci-fi thing. In the world in which this album is set, every piece of art that exists in the world is an attempt by human beings and artists to remember a dream that we all share that we have forgotten. That’s the fundamental idea. We found a way to tell that story by telling four separate very personal stories about artists that are displaced from each other by space and time across this universe. The stories are telling the things in their life that they are reaching for, that they are attempting to improve.”

Grey goes on to confirm that ‘In Contact’ features some of the most personal material of their career to date. I’m not surprised either because one of the first impressions I get with this record is that it is definitely a darker, heavier and altogether more intense listen than any of their previous output. The first notes of the opening track are heavy and rather uncompromising, setting the tone for what is to follow.

That said, like all Caligula’s Horse material before it, ‘In Contact’ is not afraid to mix things up and so whilst much of the music treads a heavier path, you still get the quieter, more introspective and more soothing passages, where much more subtle soundscapes are experimented with. I love this mix of styles because it helps to create more depth to the music and, in turn, allows the different ingredients to make a stronger impact. In addition, to use that age-old cliché, the music takes the listener on a journey, where you cannot help but become immersed in the story that’s being told.

At the hands of vocalist Jim Grey, that story really comes alive too. Here is a vocalist that has all the talent and intelligence to use just the right tone or delivery at just the right time. Whether that’s soft and vulnerable or something bordering on anger or frustration, his voice is damn-near impeccable, enabling the various emotions to come to the surface with sincerity and, on occasion, with spine-tingling results.

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Returning to the aforementioned opener, ‘Dream The Dead’, it certainly sets the album off in the right manner. In many ways it is the perfect amalgamation of everything that is so powerful about Caligula’s Horse, taking the blueprint of ‘Bloom’, but expanding it, refining it and making a glorious noise in the process. We have the heavy element, led by some commanding ‘wall of sound’ riffing but we also get plenty of melody, tons of variety and an ebb and flow that feels effortless. Given the technicality on display, the smoothness of the composition is quite incredible as is the immediacy. But this is all testament to the song writing prowess of a band that is becoming ever more secure in their own abilities as well as displaying a clarity of purpose and direction.

I love the way that, just after we are confronted by big stop-start riffs and a wailing guitar solo from Sam Vallen, the song almost dies, kept alive only by the subtle, tentative sounds of a lone guitar somewhere in the distance. Inevitably, the track builds and it does so in exquisite fashion, almost ambient post rock in tone initially. The melodic refrain as all of the instruments come together is gorgeous, creating an otherworldly, heart-warming climax that is as epic as it is beautiful.

‘Will’s Song (Let The Colours Run)’ follows and, as many of you will have already heard, it is classic Caligula’s Horse. Modern-sounding heavy progressive music imbued with some melodic intent that grows the more I listen. The quasi-hardcore shouted vocals are unexpected but I somehow like them, as they fit the more urgent and confrontational tone that flows through this track.

The piano and clean guitar sounds that dominate the opening of ‘The Hands Are The Hardest’ are magnificent and this is an instant favourite of mine. Underpinned by an expressive rhythm section, there’s a bounciness and cheekiness that is a total joy, whilst the delicate vocals from Grey are the perfect accompaniment. The chorus is magical too, showing Caligula’s Horse at their memorable best, giving me goosebumps each and every time I listen.

‘Love Conquers All’ could be referred to as something of an interlude but it is just too exquisite to be dismissed in such a casual manner. It is as light as air and features some of the most instant and sublime melodies of the entire record, bringing the first part of the album, entitled ‘To The Wind’ to a very agreeable and fitting close.

Part Two of the concept, entitled ‘Caretaker’ kicks off with ‘Songs For No One’ which wastes no time in stamping its authority via a heavy and frantic intro that then gives way to a cracking, chunky riff that writhes and twists. Grey unleashes his entire range, whilst the chorus delivers some delicious hooks and melodies that counteract the overt progressive nature of the remainder of the track.

The acoustic-led ‘Capulet’ is ethereal in in tone and features some interesting synth tones, whilst Grey’s voice is so delicate and sensitive. ‘Fill My Heart’ is a more forceful and confrontational beast but only in part, as it also displays the softer, more subtle side of Caligula’s Horse. By this point, I am marvelling at the crisp and clear production which allows each instrument the space to make their mark. On this particular track as with many others, my ear is drawn to the rich and powerful bass of Dave Couper and the flamboyant drumming of Josh Griffin which is both intricate and bruising when required.

If there’s one minor gripe that I have with ‘In Contact’, it’s the spoken-word monologue ‘Inertia And The Weapon of the Wall’. I appreciate what Jim Grey is trying to do here. It fits the concept, offers something different, and his delivery is intense and full of drama. However, personal taste dictates that I am left ever so slightly cold by it. When the band are as talented as this, I want more music, not a theatrical diatribe, however passionately delivered it might be.

Returning to the music again and the bruising, chug of ‘The Cannon’s Mouth’ assaults the senses, full of groove and interesting time signatures, closing out Part Three, ‘Ink’, with a bang. The way in which it flirts with melodies that are almost waltz-like in the way that they rise and fall in tandem with the vocals is very interesting as is the formidable djent-esque riffs that bring the track to a robust end.

The final song, ‘Graves’, stands on its own as Part Four of the concept and, at 15 minutes in length, it has every right to do so. It goes somewhat without saying that the track is an epic, multi-faceted affair but I am struck each time by the sheer variety which is contained within it. The quiet opening, the uplifting, feel-good melody that follows as the song breaks out of its minimalist cocoon, the effortless blend of heaviness and subtle complexities, the immediacy of some sections and the challenging nature of others, the vocal choir segment that has religious overtones despite not necessarily having any religious content; it takes a number of listens to take it all in adequately but it also gets better with each spin.

I really love the sense that within the ebb and flow, this track is slowly, inexorably building to profound climax. And so it comes to pass. The climax to this song brings back those defiant-sounding gang-type vocals and, a little alarmingly, a shrieking saxophone to enhance the urgency present at this late stage in proceedings. But these elements are then interspersed with a reprise of those lush, warm melodies heard earlier in the piece, giving ‘Graves’ a truly memorable finale.

In a year that has produced some top-drawer progressive albums already, here’s another to add to the list. Caligula’s Horse may have produced a masterpiece with ‘Bloom’ but the more I listen to ‘In Contact’ and the more it burrows into my affections, the more certain I am that the Australian quintet have matched their past efforts, maybe even superseded them. ‘In Contact’ is very nearly a flawless record and demands Caligula’s Horse be placed at the prog top table with immediate effect.

The Score Of Much Metal: 9.75

 

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

2015 reviews
2016 reviews

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

Nocturnal Rites – Phoenix – Album Review

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Artist: Nocturnal Rites

Album Title: Phoenix

Label: AFM Records

Date Of Release: 29 September 2017

A good decade ago, Swedish melodic power metal band Nocturnal Rites released the eighth album of their career, ‘The 8th Sin’. It received generally very positive reviews and I certainly enjoyed the content. What I didn’t realise then was that this would be the last we heard from the quintet for ten long years. Then again, I’m not entirely sure that the band themselves thought this would be the case either. In 2008, long-time guitarist Nils Norberg left to be replaced by Christoffer Rörland who in turn later left to join Sabaton. But even then, we are led to believe that a follow-up album was to be recorded in 2011. Needless to say, that this didn’t happen and so fans have been left waiting and wondering for what feels like an eternity.

All that history is exactly that though: history. It’s in the past and it is time to focus on the here and now. On that score, things are looking very rosy indeed because not only have Nocturnal Rites returned, but they have delivered an album, the aptly-titled ‘Phoenix’, that’s better than I had ever dared to hope for.

It is like the band never went away. The core of vocalist Jonny Lindqvist, guitarist Fredrik Mannberg, bassist Nils Eriksson and drummer Owe Lingvall remain in place, recently joined by Scar Symmetry guitarist extraordinaire Per Nilsson to round things out. As a huge fan of Scar Symmetry and the impeccable guitar playing of Nilsson, I was even more excited about ‘Phoenix’ than I would have otherwise been. And they have put together a truly brilliant heavy metal album. If you’re looking for inspiration on how to create the perfect blend of melodic metal, power metal and classic heavy metal, then look no further than ‘Phoenix’.

Ok, so ‘Phoenix’ might not be perfect, but it is damn close. For example, I’m struggling to pick out any of the songs as being a weak link or a dip in the quality, such is the consistently high standard that runs like a golden thread through this record.

Everything a died-in-the-wool heavy metal fan could possibly want is right here. There’s no wasted time, no wasted notes; the whole album feels well-honed and well oiled, like a machine. But don’t let that fool you into thinking that the music on ‘Phoenix’ is devoid of humanity or lacking in heart. Quite the opposite in fact. And if your blood doesn’t start pumping a little faster as you listen, you may as well give up on listening to heavy metal entirely.

What you get on ‘Phoenix’ is wall-to-wall riffs, gigantic rhythms, huge melodic choruses that frequently veer into anthemic territory, blazing solos and powerful vocals that are dripping with heart and passion.

That word ‘passion’ is important because, although I talk about this being a honed, well-oiled album, the passion with which the material is delivered is apparent in every department. ‘Phoenix’, as the name suggests, has the feel and atmosphere of a band that has been reborn and as a result, are loving every minute. I can imagine the guys grinning ear to ear in the rehearsal room and studio as the music came to life. And quite justifiably too.

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At this juncture, I feel compelled to return to an aspect of ‘Phoenix’ that I find so wonderful, and that’s the lead guitar solos. I’m a sucker for a good lead break but over the years they have generally become less fashionable. But fashion be damned, Nocturnal Rites demonstrate without question, just how irresistible a good six-string shred can sound and why heavy metal should never abandon this most glorious of excesses. This is hardly surprising though if I’m honest. This was always a significant weapon in the Nocturnal Rites armoury but now, with Nilsson delivering many of the leads, they are a thing of utter joy and exuberance, both melodically charged and technically adept.

It is a challenge reviewing albums like this because it is always tricky choosing which songs to highlight for special praise. Each of the eleven tracks has something about it which is deserving of mention but that would make for a lengthy review.

Nevertheless I feel compelled to begin with the opening cut, ‘Heart As Black As Coal’. The opening riff grabs you by the scruff of the neck with its no-nonsense attitude and it’s not long before the first gigantic chorus of the record hits with style and panache. The production is great, offering clarity to all instruments whilst providing the guitars with an exceptional strength. The tone of the track is dark and menacing, accentuated by the aggressive and forceful delivery of Lindqvist but it’s ultimately an enormous heavy metal anthem that fills my heart with unbridled joy.

‘Before We Waste Away’ ensures that ‘Phoenix’ maintains the best possible start. The mid-tempo stomp underpinned by Lingvall and Eriksson is irresistible, especially when it leads into such an edifying chorus; hook-laden and sublime. It also features a mind-boggling lead guitar solo that veers nicely into Scar Symmetry territory before being dragged back into the monstrous chorus.

By way of contrast, ‘The Poisonous Seed’ is a harder, faster and darker beast all round. Double-pedal drumming dovetails with yet more crunchy, uncompromising riffing whilst there’s a more pronounced use of dramatic keys just behind the metallic tumult.

One of my favourites, a little surprisingly, has to be the slightly more ballad-like ‘Repent My Sins’. I love the slower, writhing riff and the way that it works excellently in tandem with one of my favourite choruses on ‘Phoenix’. Again the tone of the composition and the lyrics is relatively dark, with Lindqvist offering a mesmeric performance, but I can’t help but smiling as I listen because everything is just so on-point and insanely enjoyable.

Another stand-out track is ‘The Ghost Inside Me’ which is as dramatic and symphonic as I’ve heard from Nocturnal Rites. At its heart, it is still a monstrous metal song but thanks to the inclusion of choir vocals and a marked increase in orchestration, it stands out in grandiose style, full of pomp and theatrics. Then there’s the instantly more modern-sounding ‘Nothing Can Break Me’ with its bold electronic effects and even more impactful chorus.

With any band that returns after such a long hiatus, the anticipation is always going to be huge. But crucially, Nocturnal Rites have not just lived up to my expectations, they have smashed them out of the park. It is a dangerous thig to say with over three months of 2017 left, but I am struggling to believe that anyone else will release a better melodic power metal album this year. ‘Phoenix’ is huge and it deserves your attention immediately.

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

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

Arch Enemy – Will To Power – Album Review

Arch_Enemy-Will_To_Power-2017-Cover

Artist: Arch Enemy

Album Title: Will To Power

Label: Century Media Records

Date Of Release: 8 September 2017

Have I ever mentioned that I love early Arch Enemy? I’m talking ‘Burning Bridges’ and before. This, as far as I am concerned, was the pinnacle of their career, with ‘Stigmata’ remaining my personal favourite. I loved the dark brutality that married so effortlessly with blazing solos, soaring melodies, a touch of progressive intent and topped off by the characterful growls of Johan Liiva. This was proper, unadulterated melodic death metal that delighted and beguiled me on each and every spin.

Since the departure of Liiva and the recruitment of Angela Gossow, I have to be honest and say that the output from this undeniably talented quintet has been disappointing and frustrating. Sure each album remains littered with muscular riffing and lightning fast and expressive solos, because to a certain extent, with the likes of Michael Amott and now the newest recruit, Jeff Loomis in the fold, there has to be a certain amount of six-string exuberance. It is part of the Arch Enemy DNA. However, in almost every other department, Arch Enemy have taken a step backwards as far as I am concerned.

To be crystal clear though, I am not blaming Gossow for the reduction in my enjoyment. Sure, I preferred Liiva’s delivery but this is only part of the story. Overall, I have found the post-Millennium material too dull, too prescriptive and lacking in that magic ‘je ne sais quoi’. I appreciate that I am likely to be in a minority with this view but I have to be honest otherwise what else do I have?

But that being said, there are moments within the likes of ‘Wages Of Sin’, ‘Doomsday Machine’ and even ‘War Eternal’ that make my ears perk up. I’d be a fool to say otherwise given my undying fondness for heavy guitars and wailing solos, particularly when handled by such accomplished musicians.

And now, in 2017, Arch Enemy find themselves fronted by the utterly gorgeous Alissa White-Gluz for whom ‘Will To Power’ is her second studio album having replaced Gossow in 2013. She is joined by the founding duo of guitarist Michael Amott and drummer Daniel Erlandsson as well as long-time bassist Sharlee D’Angelo and now second axeman Jeff Loomis.

Arch Enemy 04/2017

This being the first studio record to feature Loomis as a fully-fledged member of the band, I had a tingle of excitement about a new Arch Enemy album for the first time in the better part of two decades. Being a huge fan of Nevermore and their more unique style of melodic prog/power metal, I was hoping Loomis’ songwriting abilities would have an effect on ‘Will To Power’. Imagine the huge lump of disappointment I experienced then, when I found out that Loomis has zero input into the songs on this record. Nevertheless, I find it difficult to let go of bands that have historically been so important to me. As a result, I wanted to give Arch Enemy one last chance before giving up on them once and for all.

Sadly, I can honestly say that my relationship with Arch Enemy is at an end. And I am genuinely sad to say this. I really wanted to like ‘Will To Power’. I really wanted to welcome the band back into my life with open arms. And, after hearing the infectious anthem that is ‘The World Is Yours’, I dared to believe that the spark might be reignited. It contains some devastating riffs, savage drumming from Erlandsson, bold bass work from D’Angelo and some excellent growls from White-Gluz. The chorus is hook laden and the lead guitar trade-offs between Amott and Loomis are full of energy and mind-bending dexterity. There’s even a riff at the two-minute mark that’s classic ‘Burning Bridges’ territory.

The unfortunate truth however, is that this is by far and away one of the best tracks on the record, leaving much of the rest in its dust. Hell, a few songs in and I find myself getting bored, wondering when I can listen to something else – ‘Stigmata’ for instance.

In the interests of fairness and as I have hinted elsewhere, I will gladly admit that the musicianship throughout this record is of the very highest order. There are plenty of bruising and satisfying riffs to be heard as well as some crazy lead work. But I have come to realise that these ingredients alone are not enough. I need more. I want to be blown away by the music that I listen to, or moved, or fascinated. ‘Will To Power’, does none of these things. Even the painfully inevitable dabble with clean vocals within the ballad-like ‘Reason To Believe’ does very little to stir my interest. White-Gluz has a tremendous voice, with a rich, smouldering tone. But when she executes something in between this and her all-out extreme delivery, it just sounds a bit cringe-worthy.

Speaking of cringe-worthy, I now find myself addressing the lyrics on ‘Will To Power’. I’m all for bands spouting positivity if that’s what they want, but the content here hits an entirely new level. ‘The World Is Yours’, ‘Reason To Believe’, ‘A Fight I Must Win’ and the album title itself; these all sound like chapters in some kind of self-help book rather than heavy metal song titles. Being this overt and in-you-face, I find the lyrics just a little too positive and a little too toe-curling. It’s all too saccharine and nauseating to be perfectly honest.

That said, tracks like ‘Murder Scene’ with its lovely dual guitar harmonies and very strong melodies are rays of sunshine in an otherwise murky and unfulfilling record. There’s also ‘Blood In The Water’ which has more of a ‘Burning Bridges’ bright and breezy feel to it. And the closer ‘A Fight I Must Win’ has a certain gravitas thanks to a lush orchestral intro and symphonic overtones throughout.

But at this point, there’s not much more to say really. I will state once again that I am almost certain to be in a small minority with my views and there will be legions of fans chomping at the bit to deride my review. Some might even use an occasional swear word in my direction. That’s fine, everyone’s entitled to their opinion and if you like a polished and conventional style of extreme metal, ‘Will To Power’ will be a triumph. But in all honesty, there are far too many excellent records out there that I’d rather listen to. I wish that it wasn’t the case but hey, you can’t win them all. And with that, Arch Enemy and I have officially parted ways.

The Score Of Much Metal: 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

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

H.E.A.T – Into The Great Unknown – Album Review

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Artist: H.E.A.T

Album Title: Into The Great Unknown

Label: earMUSIC

Date of Release: 22 September 2017

When I reviewed ‘Tearing Down The Walls’, the fourth album from Swedish hard rock band H.E.A.T, I suggested that it was even better than their previous effort, ‘Address The Nation’. And that was a superb album, one of my all-time favourite hard rock albums no less. So, the bar has been set stratospherically high for album number five, entitled ‘Into The Great Unknown’. But let’s face it, if anyone can meet these expectations, it is going to be H.E.A.T.

With the core of the band remaining intact, the only alteration to the line-up for the new disc is the somewhat surprising departure of guitarist Eric Rivers towards the back end of 2016. Given that Rivers was a founding member of H.E.A.T and was an integral ingredient within the overall H.E.A.T sound, the shoes to fill are pretty large. However, arguably the perfect replacement has been found in the shape of Dave Dalone, who returns to the band that he left in 2013. He re-joins vocalist Eric Grönwall, keyboardist Jona Tee, bassist Jimmy Jay and drummer Crash and together, they headed to Thailand to record ‘Into The Great Unknown’ alongside producer Tobias Lindell.

Now, the cynics amongst us might raise an eyebrow at the choice of location for the recording of the new album. Were the band just looking for a warm, exotic place to party? Bangkok is famous for plenty of reasons, but I’m not entirely sure that musical creativity is one of them. However, after one spin of ‘Into The Great Unknown’, it is clear that for all the partying that may or may not have taken place, plenty of serious work was also undertaken by the Upplands Väsby-based quintet.

The big question I’m sure you want me to answer is ‘is this record as good as the last two?’ Well, in keeping with the cocky swagger that H.E.A.T possess in bucket loads, I’m not going to answer this question just yet.

Instead, allow me to offer a run-through of the album. Seeing as I penned a blow-by-blow account of ‘Tearing Down The Walls’, I may as well do the same again with ‘Into The Great Unknown’.

This hugely anticipated record opens up in exactly the way you’d hope a H.E.A.T album to. ‘Bastard of Society’ is the kind of hard rocking, hook-laden, up-tempo sing-along anthem for which they are known and loved. It’s an instant testosterone-fuelled classic within their back catalogue, the kind of song that would easily open up their lives shows from now on.

In keeping with their last album, the number two slot is then reserved for a little bit of a curveball, certainly a song that might raise a few eyebrows and divide opinion. On ‘Tearing Down The Walls’ it was ‘Shot At Redemption’ with its country twang. Here, it’s the quieter, arguably more mainstream-sounding ‘Redefined’. And surprisingly, given its prominent keys and more minimalist approach, it has turned out to be my current favourite track on the record. I hear smatterings of U2 and Bon Jovi within the track but it is again the chorus that leaves its indelible mark on my brain. That and the slower, more melodic and emotive lead guitar solo from Dalone, which is a delight.

I may come across as sounding straight-laced or old-fashioned, but I’ve never been a fan of song titles that contain swear words. Let the music do the talking, not a vaguely controversial song title – that’s my view anyway. In spite of this minor grumble, ‘Shit City’ dials things back up into more natural H.E.A.T territory. Grönwall is all over this track, hitting some impressively high notes along the way as his band mates deliver a glorious racket behind him, most notably a powerful rhythmic backbone from drummer Crash and bassist Jimmy Jay.

Lead single, ‘Time On Our Side’ is up next and it’s the track with which readers will be most familiar. It may even have single-handedly influenced your decision about whether or not to explore this album further. It was a close-run thing for me, I must admit, but I’m glad I took the plunge. After initially feeling thoroughly underwhelmed by it, I have grown to love it. There is an undeniable pop sheen to the song with the pronounced keys of Jona Tee and an electronic beat. I will admit that I still enjoy the verses more than the higher-pitched chorus which, whilst becoming quite infectious, doesn’t grab me like others on the record. But regardless, it’s a song that cannot be ignored.

‘Best Of The Broken’ is a cock-sure, swagger-laden anthem of defiance that features another huge chorus. In between, the verses deliver a simple but driving rhythm and there’s even space for a strange 80s digitised segment that would sound out-of-place if it had been delivered by anyone other than H.E.A.T. But given that they turn most things up to 11 anyway, it works.

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Picture credit: Klara Fowler

Just over the half-way mark, H.E.A.T pander to their softer side with the monster ballad ‘Eye Of The Storm’. If you’re going to indulge in a ballad, this is the way to do it. Quiet introspection? Check. Enormous heartfelt chorus? Check. Passionate lead guitar solo? Check. Irresistible crescendo? Check. It’s all there and it is delivered with aplomb. No half-measures, no regrets, just full-on big-hair-and-wind-machine music.

Unless I’m hearing things, the guitar riffs in ‘Blind Leads The Blind’ are some of the chunkiest and heaviest I’ve ever heard with H.E.A.T. It leads to a driving, no-nonsense hard rock track full of more of that swagger and cockiness that is such a huge part of this band’s DNA. There’s even time for a lead keyboard solo from Tee and a few snarled lines from Grönwall which I rather like having initially baulked at them.

If you can’t hear the Queen influences on ‘We Rule’, you need to need to consult an audiologist because they are writ large across this track. Overall, this is a much more theatrical track that always reminds me of both ‘Who Wants To Live Forever’ and ‘We Are The Champions’ thanks to some of the chosen melodies, guitar sounds and quieter moments. The way that it builds from subtle beginnings to a huge anthemic chorus is a thing of beauty, a huge statement of where H.E.A.T are currently in terms of their song writing ability.

If I’m honest, I can take or leave ‘Do You Want It?’. IT is the one track on the album that still hasn’t entirely clicked with me yet. The vocal gymnastics from an ever-improving Grönwall are impressive, especially his falsetto in the bridge, but for my personal tastes, this is by far and away my least favourite track on the record.

It is left then to the title track to conclude ‘Into The Great Unknown’ in strong fashion. At over seven minutes, this could have been a misstep but such is the power of this song, it ends up being one of the biggest triumphs on the entire album. The pace at the outset is slow and measured. The guitars are up front and centre, just where I like them and there’s a nice groove to the track as it builds towards the chorus. And what a chorus it is. Epic, sprawling and hook-laden, it is very much a case of leaving the very best until last. And given the epic feel to the track over all, it fits the bill perfectly.

And there you have it.

So, to go back to that question you’re burning to ask me – ‘is this record as good as the last two?’ The short answer is ‘yes, it is’. In terms of the performances all-round, the attitude of the band and the consistent quality on offer, it is definitely as good as its predecessors.

However, the bigger question for me is ‘do I like it as much as the last two albums?’ The answer there is more nuanced and more reserved. I really, really like ‘Into The Great Unknown’ but, as I sit here now and type, I’m not entirely sure that it’s my favourite H.E.A.T album. My opinion may change in time of course, but I can’t help shake the feeling that the choruses in particular were more to my taste on the last couple of albums.

Putting all of that to one side, if you’ve dismissed H.E.A.T on the basis of ‘Time On Our Side’, I urge you to give the album a proper listen. ‘Into The Great Unknown’ is without doubt a superb melodic hard rock album. It might be a little more mainstream and honed in places, but it still rocks like a bad’un and is guaranteed to put a smile on your face.

‘Into The Great Unknown’ is out on earMUSIC on 22 September 2017.

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

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

Dyscarnate – With All Their Might – Album Review

12 & 1

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.

Dyscarnate 2017

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

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