Battle Born – Battle Born – EP Review

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Artist: Battle Born

Album Title: Battle Born

Label: Independent Release

Date of Release: 26 June 2020

There are times when you just have to embrace the silliness. I mean, who doesn’t enjoy it when all the stops are pulled out in the pursuit of entertainment? And when it comes to classic power metal, silliness is one of the vital ingredients. Rhapsody Of Fire singing about forests of Elves and all manner of mythical creatures, Manowar’s preposterous battle lyrics, and ‘happy, happy Helloween’s ode to the Gameboy are just a few examples right off the bat. I’m sure you can think of a thousand more besides.

The fact then that Battle Born, the latest UK band to make a mark on the power metal scene, veer dangerously close to the absurd, should come as no surprise. With just about every one of the five songs mentioning the word ‘metal’ multiple times, cheesy and cliched lyrics elsewhere, and their very existence apparently based around the Skyrim video game (yes, I had to ‘google’ what Skyrim was!), this quintet have not left anything in the locker on this self-titled, debut EP.

Initially, I was not sold on the content of ‘Battle Born’. I found the lyrics massively toe-curling, some of the vocals I thought were a little ropey when delivered at a lower range, and when the band shout ‘Bring the metal, bring the metal back’ at one stage, they sound less like battle-hardened warriors and more like public schoolboys after a couple of wine spritzers. And, whilst these will be reason enough for some to maintain a wide berth, something very important helped to change my mind: the music.

After a few spins of this twenty-five-minute EP, it is difficult to remain so mealy-mouthed and miserable. As all good power metal should do, the material gets its claws in you, sweeps you up, and carries you away on the crest of a wave of testosterone, leather and long hair whipping in the wind.

Right off the bat, the title track makes an impression, blending melody with fast riffs, up-tempo rhythms and lashings of keys for good measure. The chorus is suitably epic and memorable, a hook-laden slice of power metal goodness. Lightning-fast lead guitar solos are also present, along with a vocalist in Jack Reynolds that has a satisfyingly robust set of pipes, hitting some high notes with aplomb. Assisted by some choral, battle-cry backing vocals, it is a rousing way to begin.

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‘Bring The Metal Back’ begins quietly before launching into a thunderous, wailing and gnashing affair, complete with galloping rhythms and a decidedly heavier, more in-you-face guitar tone. The melodies are utterly infectious and the sounds of battle in the background, such as the drawing of a swords actually makes the fare even more enjoyable. Yes it is a little silly, as is the mid-song quiet break, but it works especially when the immediate aftermath sees some keyboard histrionics alongside the powerful metal fare. Even the aforementioned ‘schoolboy’ moment starts to work in an oddly satisfying way.

There’s a much more 80s hard rock/classic metal approach within ‘Man Of War’. It’s a great track, led by some great riffs and swathes of keys over a pulsing bass in the verses. The lyrics are ludicrous but when the music itself is this disarmingly entertaining, I don’t even care. Naturally any self-respecting power metal band will indulge themselves in a spot of balladry, and Battle Born are no different. Their offering is ‘For Our Home’ and despite being sweeter and sicklier than a vat of candyfloss, it is delivered with complete commitment and panache. The vocals descend into a deeper well at points and they sound a little forced at points. But aside from that niggle, there can be no arguing with the melodic, saccharine composition that begs for an accompaniment of dry ice, a wind machine and epic mountaintop shots. I defy you to not get caught up in those damn melodies. It’s impossible and in spite of yourself, you’ll be smiling in no time.

The final word goes to ‘Sovngarde Awaits’, which is an homage to the Nordic afterlife in Skyrim. It is equal parts muscular trad metal and blistering melodic power metal, creating something rather anthemic in the process. It’s a great way to finish off the all-too-brief EP.

Despite being over in a flash, Battle Born have set out to achieve what I suspect they firmly had in mind: Get in, make a massive impression, and then depart, leaving those who have listened wanting more. After being remarkably sceptical at the outset, I have well and truly fallen for the charms of this EP. I genuinely cannot wait to see what the future holds for this brand new power metal outfit; whatever it is, I’m sure it’ll be a fun and adventurous ride.

The Score of Much Metal: 85%

Check out my reviews from 2020 right here:

Long Distance Calling – How Do We Want To Live?
Airbag – A Day At The Beach
Re-Armed – Ignis Aeternum
Atavist – III: Absolution
Frost* – Others EP
Darker Half – If You Only Knew
Atavistia – The Winter Way
Astralborne – Eternity’s End
Centinex – Death In Pieces
Haken – Virus
Pile Of Priests – Pile Of Priests
Sorcerer – Lamenting Of The Innocent
Lesoir – Mosaic
Temnein – Tales: Of Humanity And Greed
Caligula’s Horse – Rise Radiant
…And Oceans – Cosmic World Mother
Vader – Solitude In Madness
Shrapnel – Palace For The Insane
Sinisthra – The Broad And Beaten Way
Paradise Lost – Obsidian
Naglfar – Cerecloth
Forgotten Tomb – Nihilistic Estrangement
Winterfylleth – The Reckoning Dawn
Firewind – Firewind
An Autumn For Crippled Children – All Fell Silent, Everything Went Quiet
Havok – V
Helfró – Helfró
Victoria K – Essentia
Cryptex – Once Upon A Time
Thy Despair – The Song Of Desolation
Cirith Ungol – Forever Black
Igorrr – Spirituality and Distortion
Nightwish – Human. II: Nature.
Katatonia – City Burials
Wolfheart – Wolves Of Karelia
Asenblut – Die Wilde Jagd
Nicumo – Inertia
The Black Dahlia Murder – Verminous
Omega Infinity – Solar Spectre
Symbolik – Emergence
Pure Reason Revolution – Eupnea
Irist – Order Of The Mind
Testament – Titans Of Creation
Ilium – Carcinogeist
Dawn Of Ouroboros – The Art Of Morphology
Torchia – The Coven
Novena – Eleventh Hour
Ashes Of Life – Seasons Within
Dynazty – The Dark Delight
Sutrah – Aletheia EP
Welicoruss – Siberian Heathen Horde
Myth Of I – Myth Of I
My Dying Bride – The Ghost Of Orion
Infirmum – Walls Of Sorrow
Inno – The Rain Under
Kvaen – The Funeral Pyre
Mindtech – Omnipresence
Dark Fortress – Spectres From The Old World
The Oneira – Injection
Night Crowned – Impius Viam
Dead Serenity – Beginnings EP
The Night Flight Orchestra – Aeromantic
Deadrisen – Deadrisen
Blaze Of Perdition – The Harrowing Of Hearts
Godsticks – Inescapable
Isle Of The Cross – Excelsis
Demons & Wizards – III
Vredehammer – Viperous
H.E.A.T – H.E.A.T II
Psychotic Waltz – The God-Shaped Void
Into The Open – Destination Eternity
Lunarsea – Earthling/Terrestre
Pure Wrath – The Forlorn Soldier EP
Sylosis – Cycle of Suffering
Sepultura – Quadra
Dyscordia – Delete / Rewrite
Godthrymm – Reflections
On Thorns I Lay – Threnos
God Dethroned – Illuminati
Fragment Soul – A Soul Inhabiting Two Bodies
Mariana Semkina – Sleepwalking
Mini Album Reviews: Moloken, The Driftwood Sign & Midnight
Serenity – The Last Knight
Ihsahn – Telemark EP
Temperance – Viridian
Blasphemer – The Sixth Hour
Deathwhite – Grave Image
Marko Hietala – Pyre Of The Black Heart
SWMM – Trail Of The Fallen
Into Pandemonium – Darkest Rise EP
Bonded – Rest In Violence
Serious Black – Suite 226
Darktribe – Voici L’Homme
Brothers Of Metal – Emblas Saga
A Life Divided – Echoes
Thoughts Factory – Elements

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

2019 reviews
2018 reviews
2017 reviews
2016 reviews
2015 reviews

Winterfylleth – The Reckoning Dawn – Album Review

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Artist: Winterfylleth

Album Title: The Reckoning Dawn

Label: Candlelight/Spinefarm

Date of Release: 8 May 2020

I’m not overly familiar with Winterfylleth but as I listen to ‘The Reckoning Dawn’, I’m beginning to seriously wonder why. It might be because last time I checked out this UK-based black metal band, it was their ‘experimental’ album and it didn’t quite click with me at the time. I say experimental, but what I really mean is that ‘The Hallowing Of Heirdom’ was an exploration of their quieter, more serene acoustic side. Hardly ‘out there’ or experimental really, just different. It was good, but not at all what I was expecting and so I didn’t really explore any further at the time. Big mistake.

Winterfylleth have been in existence since 2006 and the Manchester-based extreme metal band have released six albums up until this point, with ‘The Reckoning Dawn’ being their seventh. Based on its content, I wish I’d taken a little longer to explore the back catalogue too, because their brand of black metal is right up my street. It’s the kind that is inspired by the natural world, and being from Lancashire, that means that the natural world that Winterfylleth explore, outside the larger conurbations is often rugged and unforgiving, yet beautiful. In a nutshell, that’s the perfect way to describe the music on album number seven, ‘The Reckoning Dawn’, for it too, is rugged and unforgiving, but also very beautiful in places.

There are a number of extreme metal bands out there that are inspired by nature rather than the more normal occult or Satanic references that tend to influence black metal. The likes of Agalloch, Drudkh and compatriots Fen spring to mind, all of which I really like. And now I can add Winterfylleth to the list as ‘The Reckoning Dawn’ has really captured my imagination, as well as offering something a little different to the rest.

The thing I like about what I hear is that Winterfylleth are properly extreme, so when they come out all guns blazing, they thoroughly deserve the black metal tag. Take the opening track as the perfect example of this. It would have been easy for the quintet to ease listeners in gently via an acoustic intro or some such but instead, they waste no time in delivering a full-on attack of fast and aggressive black metal. It’s like the guys wanted to distance themselves a little from their past release and underline their extreme credentials. Aside from some clean chanted vocals and a brief, slower, more atmospheric section at the mid-way point, it’s blastbeats from drummer Simon Lucas, ably assisted by bassist Nick Wallwork, cold and razor-sharp staccato riffing from guitarists Christopher Naughton and Dan Capp, and unforgiving, snarling, higher-pitched growls courtesy of Mark Deeks. Lead guitar lines do add some melody as the song progresses, but these only accent the barrage of spiky black metal that sits at the core of the song.

‘A Hostile Fate (The Wayfarer Pt.4)’ continues with the aggression, albeit slightly more tempered to allow more in the way of atmosphere to seep into the composition. It feels more expansive and it conveys the harshness of the landscape expertly. More lead guitar lines are introduced, but sparingly, and the introduction of more choral-style vocals courtesy of all members of the band aside from drummer Simon Lucas at the end give it a folk edge that I really like.

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It isn’t until ‘Absolved In Fire’ that we are treated to some of the lush acoustic music that so typified the previous record. A violin and acoustic guitar deliver a solemn introduction that conveys sadness and isolation with incredible eloquence. What follows is a battery of fast-paced, blastbeat-heavy black metal, which then turns into more of a gallop, accented by more icy, harsh riffing. As the song develops, more chunky, chugging riffing enters the fray and the song feels like it is suddenly building towards something. My intuition is correct, as it eventually opens up into something altogether more melodic, whilst retaining the abrasive core.

My favourite song on the album has to be the title track. I adore the way in which the song is a tale of two halves, where the first half is full-on black metal attack full of savage intent, whilst the second half delivers something epic, grandiose and incredibly beautiful. I never like using the word ‘epic’, but it’s fitting here. The way that the lead guitar melodies and harmonies soar over layers of atmospheric keys, whilst the rhythm section lays down a simple, uncluttered beat is utterly beguiling and mesmerising. It’s like the inhospitable terrain is suddenly bathed in shafts of sunlight, giving the vista below an entirely different appearance. I love it.

The word ‘elegance’ is another that I would tend to rarely use for a black metal release, but there is a genuine elegance about ‘A Greatness Undone’, from the sweeping grandeur of the melodies that accompany the heavier sections, to the quieter, bass-and-guitar led introspective passage that grows gently only to erupt with power and intent once again, despite being shrouded in an ominous darkness to accompany a glorious reprise of those opening guitar melodies and a rousing crescendo of sorts at the death.

I realise that I’ve mentioned just about every song, but it isn’t by accident as every song offers some magic that’s worth highlighting. ‘Betwixt Two Crowns’ may only be 92 seconds in length but it is a sumptuous acoustic interlude. ‘Yielding The March Law’ starts off with a muscular and rousing intro complete with one of the most immediate melodies on the album. And yet, given the speed and savagery on offer, it also feels like one of the most malevolent too, meaning that it delivers an intriguing juxtaposition that really speaks to me.

Then, finally, we have ‘In Darkness Begotten’ which shows no let-up in the intensity and quality of Winterfylleth. That is, until around the six-minute-mark, when the black metal tumult is replaced for a slower, acoustic-embellished section, complete with more clean choral vocals that quickly unravels and becomes more minimalist. In the end, the album is led to its conclusion via an incredibly solemn and poignant melody created by synths and string sounds. The desolation and misery contained within the final three minutes is stark and extremely powerful, a fitting end to the record.

I liked ‘The Reckoning Dawn’ from the first spin but, with time, my affection for it has grown massively. It contains just about everything I like from extreme metal and it brings all these elements together in a sophisticated and professional manner so that each aspect of the music works together to create something greater than the sum of its parts. In short, ‘The Reckoning Dawn’ is a fantastic album and leads me on yet another adventure of back catalogue discovery. If you like quality black metal, then why are you still reading my review and not pre-ordering this?

The Score of Much Metal: 92%

Check out my reviews from 2020 right here:

Firewind – Firewind
An Autumn For Crippled Children – All Fell Silent, Everything Went Quiet
Havok – V
Helfró – Helfró
Victoria K – Essentia
Cryptex – Once Upon A Time
Thy Despair – The Song Of Desolation
Cirith Ungol – Forever Black
Igorrr – Spirituality and Distortion
Nightwish – Human. II: Nature.
Katatonia – City Burials
Wolfheart – Wolves Of Karelia
Asenblut – Die Wilde Jagd
Nicumo – Inertia
The Black Dahlia Murder – Verminous
Omega Infinity – Solar Spectre
Symbolik – Emergence
Pure Reason Revolution – Eupnea
Irist – Order Of The Mind
Testament – Titans Of Creation
Ilium – Carcinogeist
Dawn Of Ouroboros – The Art Of Morphology
Torchia – The Coven
Novena – Eleventh Hour
Ashes Of Life – Seasons Within
Dynazty – The Dark Delight
Sutrah – Aletheia EP
Welicoruss – Siberian Heathen Horde
Myth Of I – Myth Of I
My Dying Bride – The Ghost Of Orion
Infirmum – Walls Of Sorrow
Inno – The Rain Under
Kvaen – The Funeral Pyre
Mindtech – Omnipresence
Dark Fortress – Spectres From The Old World
The Oneira – Injection
Night Crowned – Impius Viam
Dead Serenity – Beginnings EP
The Night Flight Orchestra – Aeromantic
Deadrisen – Deadrisen
Blaze Of Perdition – The Harrowing Of Hearts
Godsticks – Inescapable
Isle Of The Cross – Excelsis
Demons & Wizards – III
Vredehammer – Viperous
H.E.A.T – H.E.A.T II
Psychotic Waltz – The God-Shaped Void
Into The Open – Destination Eternity
Lunarsea – Earthling/Terrestre
Pure Wrath – The Forlorn Soldier EP
Sylosis – Cycle of Suffering
Sepultura – Quadra
Dyscordia – Delete / Rewrite
Godthrymm – Reflections
On Thorns I Lay – Threnos
God Dethroned – Illuminati
Fragment Soul – A Soul Inhabiting Two Bodies
Mariana Semkina – Sleepwalking
Mini Album Reviews: Moloken, The Driftwood Sign & Midnight
Serenity – The Last Knight
Ihsahn – Telemark EP
Temperance – Viridian
Blasphemer – The Sixth Hour
Deathwhite – Grave Image
Marko Hietala – Pyre Of The Black Heart
SWMM – Trail Of The Fallen
Into Pandemonium – Darkest Rise EP
Bonded – Rest In Violence
Serious Black – Suite 226
Darktribe – Voici L’Homme
Brothers Of Metal – Emblas Saga
A Life Divided – Echoes
Thoughts Factory – Elements

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

2019 reviews
2018 reviews
2017 reviews
2016 reviews
2015 reviews

Twilight’s Embrace – Penance – EP Review

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Artist: Twilight’s Embrace

Album Title: Penance

Label: Independent Release

Date Of Release: 23 February 2018

I have been aware of the UK’s Twilight’s Embrace for a number of years now. The Nottingham-based quintet first appeared firmly on my radar in 2011 when I caught their set at Bloodstock Open Air. I was impressed by their brand of melancholy melodic Gothic doom metal and from memory, I wasn’t the only one in the crowd that shared this opinion.

Three years later and I had the pleasure of reviewing their debut full-length release, ‘By Darkness Undone’ for Powerplay Magazine. Again, my overriding impression was very positive. I very much enjoyed the morose and gloomy, yet heavy and beautiful sonic tapestry that they created. But when the main musical influences in evidence are Katatonia, Paradise Lost, Swallow The Sun and Daylight Dies, is it any wonder that I liked what I heard? Whilst I am not the biggest pure doom fan, I have a huge soft spot when it is blended with a melodic edge, death metal extremity and a Gothic sheen.

Fast forward to 2018 and finally Twilight’s Embrace has returned, albeit with only an EP to present. Containing just four new tracks with a running length of fewer than 30 minutes, I must admit that initially I was a little disappointed. I wanted another full-length release, especially if it was to be of a similar standard to the preceding debut.

The truth is though, that despite its relative brevity, ‘Penance’ displays a band that has further grown and further matured. As such, the music is even stronger than anything that has gone before. I’m still a little disappointed that I don’t have more material to wrap my ears around but I’ll put that to one side, because of the quality of what we do have.

The influences on Twilight’s Embrace haven’t appreciably changed – the band are clearly still inspired by the bands mentioned above, not to mention the likes of early Opeth and Insomnium, as the music on ‘Penance’ serves to firmly underline. That said, I can hear a few additional, tasty nuances within these new tracks that prick my ears.

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For a start, the vocals of Andy Walmsley strike me as being more varied. In addition to his deep gravelly tones that have featured from the beginning, there is a more pronounced use of a rich clean delivery. This delivery can be heard within opener ‘Dying Earth’ and provides a demonstrable Gothic vibe to the track. But additionally, I like the higher, raspier gruff approach that also features as it lends the composition a vague black metal edge, something that I lap up gleefully.

But do not fear, because those trademark solemn and melodic lead guitar lines are still present, driving the song forward, underpinned by some hefty, chugging riffs and a robust rhythm section to keep everything nicely in line. The mid-tempo groove that pops up as the composition develops is a welcome touch, as is the adept use of light and shade, leading me to refer back to the clean vocals.

‘Curtain Call’ continues the high quality of this EP, whilst taking the stomping groove hinted at previously to a whole new level. The lead guitar lines are haunting but the riffs are the stand-out feature here, forcing me to practically break my neck as I move in time with the crushing torrent of six-string power. Given the heaviness of the material, the brief quieter passages make a much more marked impact and inject a level of maturity to the song writing that can’t be overlooked.

Without doubt though, my favourite song on ‘Penance’ is the title track. Out of the gate, it reminds me of ‘Discouraged Ones’ era Katatonia with a slightly higher tempo and further melancholy lead guitar work that sings to my soul. Just as swiftly, the song shifts and there’s a greater Swallow The Sun vibe, led by the strong riffs. But the pièce de résistance is the melodic clean guitar and vocal combination which sets shivers coursing up and down my spine, accented by yet more strong riffing.

I love the sheer variety in this longer composition – all three vocal deliveries are used, along with a greater shift between tempos which helps to increase the overall dynamics of the song. The melodies are out of the top drawer, as are the procession of great riffs. If this kind of extreme metal can be described as such, there are elements within the track that are downright catchy too. This has to be the guys’ strongest single song of their career to date, such is the level of my affection towards it.

The EP then closes with a cover of Paradise Lost’s ‘It’s Too Late’ from their 1999 album, ‘Host’. I make no secret of the fact that this is the era in which I briefly fell out of love with Paradise Lost, so I wasn’t expecting to like it. However, Twilight’s Embrace have given it the full death/doom treatment and so, I can’t help but enjoy the final result. Naturally the Gothic-sounding clean vocals get an airing but it isn’t long before the heaviness is let loose, proving how good the original could have been with a bit more guts and oomph to it. In this incarnation, it’s a cracking piece of melodic, melancholic metal.

I just hope that a second full-length album isn’t too far off in the distance because on the evidence of ‘Penance’, Twilight’s Embrace unquestionably have the ability to make serious waves in the melodic death/doom scene. If the quality from this EP is translated into a similarly high quality album, there’s no reason why Twilight’s Embrace couldn’t find themselves supping at the top table with the genre’s elite.

The Score Of Much Metal: 8.75

If you’ve enjoyed this review, you can check out my others from 2018 and from previous years right here:

2017 reviews
2016 reviews
2015 reviews

Bloodshot Dawn – Reanimation
Rise of Avernus – Eigengrau
Arch Echo – Arch Echo
Asenblut – Legenden
Bleeding Gods – Dodekathlon
Watain – Trident Wolf Eclipse

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

Cradle of Filth – Cryptoriana – The Seductiveness of Decay – Album Review

Cradle Of Filth - Cryptoriana - The Seductiveness Of Decay - Artwork

Artist: Cradle Of Filth

Album Title: Cryptoriana – The Seductiveness Of Decay

Label: Nuclear Blast

Date of Release: 22 September 2017

My first Cradle of Filth review for my website was for the eleventh studio release, ‘Hammer Of The Witches’, released in 2015 by Suffolk’s finest extreme metal export. Unconstrained by the shackles of word limits, I was able to delve into my personal history with the band and go into some detail about why this band remains an important part of my life. If you missed that review and wish to read my personal story, you can check that review out here.

Suffice to say that they made an indelible impression on the psyche of a wide-eyed teenager, who was getting into more extreme forms of metal around the time of the release of ‘Dusk…And Her Embrace’ and ‘Cruelty And The Beast’. And it helped too that this band were so local to me, residing in a location more used to tractors and fields than the unholy noises that Cradle of Filth so deftly created.

Cradle Of Filth have been around for the better part of three decades, nearly as long as I have been alive. It hasn’t always been plain sailing and success for the band, what with the frequent line-up changes meaning that the only original member left standing is the irrepressible vocalist Dani Filth. For better or worse, Dani has always been the driving force behind Cradle Of Filth so there has never really been the fear that the band would ever fold or go off in radically different directions. Nevertheless, it is never helpful to have to keep introducing new members into the fold as undoubtedly the chemistry is affected each and every time. And without doubt, some of the previous eleven records suffered, culminating in material that I didn’t find as satisfying as that of their earlier days.

In light of this, it is very pleasant to be able to report that ‘Cryptoriana – The Seductiveness Of Decay’ features the very same line-up that delivered the surprisingly excellent ‘Hammer Of The Witches’ a couple of years ago, the album that reignited the excitement that I felt in the beginning. And the benefits of a stable line-up don’t take long to be realised, for this is yet another step up in quality and another indication that perhaps some of the magic that was present in their halcyon early years is well and truly making a comeback.

I’d actually take my comments a little further and say that Dani, alongside guitarists Richard Shaw and Ashok, keyboardist Lindsay Schoolcraft, bassist Daniel Firth and drummer Martin Skaroupka have delivered their best record for 20 years with ‘Cryptoriana…’

As the album title suggests, ‘Cryptoriana – The Seductiveness Of Decay ’ is heavily embedded in the world of Victorian Gothic horror and the tone is cleverly set by the opener, entitled ‘Exquisite Torments Await’. Unlike many Cradle Of Filth albums before it, this two-minute introduction is no mere instrumental. It might start with the disconcerting and creepy soundtrack of a horror film but before long, things turn heavy with a lumbering riff, blastbeats and the immediately recognisable shriek of Dani Filth. Lush keys and choral vocals give the brief track a sense of the grandiose before ‘Heartbreak And Séance’ takes over.

The minute I heard this song, I knew that this could be a very special record indeed. It contains everything I like about Cradle Of Filth. Fast riffs, uncompromising heaviness, over-the-top dramatic cinematic pomposity and the most memorable of lush, all-encompassing melodies, the kind of beautiful indulgence that they always effortlessly inject within their own distinctive brand of blackened Gothic extreme metal when firing on all cylinders. I must have listened to this track about ten times before I heard the remainder of the album but instead of getting old or boring, I like it more now than I did at the beginning. Noticeable right from the outset is the guitar solo that is both melodic and expressive, something that I welcome with open arms. And, whilst Cradle of Filth have never been shy with their use of keyboards and synths, Lindsay Schoolcraft really comes to the fore here with a perfectly-balanced use of sounds and textures that bathe the track with lashings of atmosphere.

‘Achingly Beautiful’ follows and another thing hits me as I listen and absorb the album further. Cradle of Filth have always explored songs of a more epic length but on ‘Cryptoriana…’, the compositions weave and dart around more than ever, twisting and writhing with vim and vigour as they make their way through the dark fog-drenched streets of a bygone era. The result is that there is simply more variety and drama within each individual track, heightening the overall impact greatly. I’m not suggesting for one second that this is a progressive metal album, but occasionally, the songwriting hints at it just a touch as witnessed within this particular track.

Lightning-fast staccato riffs, a frantic rhythmic backbone and an unhinged, wailing and gnashing lead solo; they are all parted expertly by understated yet theatrical keys and choral vocals, only to be replaced themselves by a thunderous, sedate riff that makes a huge impression.

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The introduction of ‘Wester Vespertine’, with its atmospheric keys initially and then its urgent black metal riffing immediately takes me back nearly a quarter of a decade to the ‘Dusk…’ days. The female spoken word section and the synth drenched melodic Gothic savagery of the returning black metal riff then continue my journey into the past. However, the riff that follows is sculpted more from the realm of thrash, whilst Dani’s vocals do little to minimise the similarities. This composition is sheer extravagance, culminating in the kind of grandiose, galloping crescendo that brings a smile to my face and turns a great song into a sensational one. Without doubt, this is a highlight within an album of highlights.

In and amongst all of the other influences within ‘The Seductiveness of Decay’, the importance of Iron Maiden on Dani and Co. is arguably the most pronounced, thanks to the twin guitar harmonies and galloping melodies that surface frequently. However, it is so well done that the track becomes addictive and a lot of fun, despite the sinister overtones that loom large elsewhere in the song.

Ex-Leaves Eyes vocalist Liv Kristine makes an appearance within ‘Vengeful Spirit’ and in so doing, adds another welcome ingredient to an already rich and rewarding listening experience. The track itself is a little softer-feeling around the edges, more retrained perhaps but retains the sophistication shown elsewhere on this album.

‘You Will know The Lion By His Claw’ features more classic Cradle of Filth melodies, juxtaposed against some of the most of the most extreme material on ‘Cryptoriana…’, led from the outset by a lengthy, agonised shriek from Dani, supported by rich synths and fast-paced black metal riff. The melodies are slightly more subtle but no less impactful, accented as they are in the chorus by some pronounced choral vocals. Again this song goes in all directions within its seven minute length but it retains an almost exclusively high tempo, culminating in some impossibly fast drumming from Martin Skaroupka near the death.

The album is completed by a cover of Annihilator’s ‘Alison Hell’ but not before ‘Death And The Maiden’ brings to a close the original material in powerful fashion. The symphonic introduction is pure decadence, full-on film score territory. I like the fact that this song also deliberately slows things down a touch and delivers a muscular punch to end proceedings. The ubiquitous blast beats remain present but feature more sparingly, allowing chunkier riffing instead to pair up with the flamboyant Gothic overtones. Lead guitar solos are present too, capping off what has become a new and very welcome staple ingredient of Cradle’s sound on ‘Cryptoriana…’

If ‘Hammer of the Witches’ was a welcome return to form, then ‘Cryptoriana – The Seductiveness of Decay’ is the sound of a band building on a new-found belief and a rich vein of creativity to deliver, without doubt, one of the best records of their career.

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

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

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

Prospekt – The Illuminated Sky – Album Review

cover

Artist: Prospekt

Album Title: The Illuminated Sky

Label: The Laser’s Edge

Date Of Release: 21 July 2017

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Score Of Much Metal: 9.25

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

2015 reviews
2016 reviews

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

Essential rock & metal releases still to come in 2017 – Part 1

It’s true what they say – the older you get, the faster time disappears. I mean, it doesn’t seem possible that we are already half-way through 2017 for a start. And yet here I am. With my round-up of the best releases so far in 2017 under my belt, it is time to turn my attention to the future and consider what else is due to cross our paths this year.

If the first half is anything to go by, we’re in for a treat, I can tell you. I don’t remember a year where I’ve given out so many high scores. Unlike last year though, I have yet to bestow a perfect 10 on anyone, although the new Voyager album, ‘Ghost Mile’, Persefone’s ‘Aathma’ and Big Big Train’s ‘Grimspound’ all came deservedly close.

But enough about the past, here’s to the future…

19106010_10154760456619077_388154856530751419_nCradle of Filth
Cryptoriana – The Seductiveness of Decay
Release date: 22 September 2017

I was going off the boil regarding Suffolk’s most famous extreme metal export. I was a member of the fan club many years ago in my late teens having worshiped the likes of ‘Dusk…And Her Embrace’ and ‘Cruelty And The Beast’. But after a string of less-than-stellar releases throughout the noughties, I began to re-evaluate. That was until a couple of years ago and the release of ‘Hammer Of The Witches’. Their best since their heyday, it brought me kicking and screaming back into the fold. I now cannot wait for the next chapter in the saga of Dani Filth and co.

This next chapter is entitled ‘Cryptoriana – The Seductiveness of Decay’ and is due for release on 22nd September via Nuclear Blast. Watch out for the first single release very soon too.

19146029_10154398261857105_6108765129743949462_nCaligula’s Horse
In Contact
Release date: 15 September 2017

There are a huge number of excellent bands coming from Australia these days but alongside Vanishing Point and Voyager, Caligula’s Horse are one of the very best. Their previous album, ‘Bloom’ was superb, one of the best releases of 2015. In fact, the more I listen to this record, the better it gets – I should have placed it even higher in my end of year list, but hindsight is a wonderful thing. It is undeniably prog but it is intelligent, modern and full of the kind of swagger and assuredness that only the very best bands display.

The new album is quoted as being “an immense conceptual work”. Enigmatically-entitled ‘In Contact’, it is due for release on 15th September via InsideOut Music, one of the best and most consistent labels out there today. Just listen to the teaser trailer below and tell me this doesn’t sound exciting…

18556032_10155643571650101_6880641999645372966_nLeprous
Malina
Release date: 25 August 2017

It is an undeniable fact that Norwegian band Leprous are now regarded as one of the very best bands in the prog metal genre. They have yet to release anything less than extraordinary in their 16 year-career to date. And they are still young and still learning. But crucially, they appear to remain extremely hungry and out to prove that they deserve to build upon the accolades that they have rightly received so far in their career.

They have released a new track, ‘From The Flame’, from their upcoming new album, entitled ‘Malina’ which is released on August 25th. It remains very recognisable as Leprous but also a little different at the same time. In interview, the band describes the record as a ‘natural-sounding organic album’, but still modern with great songs. If that’s the case, and based upon the first single, count me in.

19420708_1698781136823429_4102190633439104941_nArch Enemy
Will To Power
Release date: 8 September 2017

I’m no longer the biggest Arch Enemy fan, it has to be said. I loved ‘Stigmata’ and the follow-up ‘Burning Bridges’. But that was several years ago and since then, the Swedish extreme metal band with a penchant for over-the-top guitar histrionics have ditched original singer Johan Liiva, replacing him with first Angela Gossow and now Alissa White-Gluz. In fact, there will be a dwindling number of fans even aware that Liiva was ever involved now that the band have re-recorded those aforementioned albums. A bad move in my opinion, but what do I know?

Nevertheless, when a highly-respected fellow journo of long standing makes positive noises about the new material due to see the light of day in the near future, who am I to not take notice? Particularly when the positive noises refer to some brilliantly flamboyant guitar work, for which I am a sucker at the best of times. The door for Arch Enemy has not been slammed shut yet, but this is probably their last chance as far as I’m concerned.

‘Will To Power’ is due to be released on 8th September 2017 on Century Media Records.

Threshold
Legends Of The Shires
Release date: TBC

The Threshold camp has gone a little quiet since the rather shock news surfaced that the UK progressive metal band had parted ways for a second time with Damian Wilson. Aside from news that the band are looking for fans to take part in the shooting of a new video, we’ve not heard anything new about the new material. Until that point, we were fully expecting the new album, ‘Legends of the Shires’ to surface in the latter stages of 2017. I still think we will have the double record, it’s just a matter of exactly when.

It is also a matter of who will be the vocalist on the record, as I understand that the album had been recorded with Wilson behind the mic. I suspect it’ll be Morgan, but nothing as far as I’m aware has been confirmed. You wait, as soon as I publish this post, an announcement will be made. An announcement is also still to be made regarding the guitar position made vacant by the recently departed Pete Morten. Interesting times ahead for one of my favourite prog bands.

Cosmograf – The Hay-Man Dreams – Album Review

Cosmograf-TheHayManDreams-RGBCover

Artist: Cosmograf

Album Title: The Hay-Man Dreams

Label: Cosmograf Music

Date Of Release: 14 July 2017

When I reviewed ‘The Unreasonable Silence’, the fifth album from Robin Armstrong under the Cosmograf moniker, it was my first real exposure of this project. I really enjoyed that record and still listen to it on a relatively regular basis. And so I just had to get involved again when, just a year later, I heard noises from Armstrong on social media regarding a follow-up. And here we are, with my considered thoughts on album number six, entitled ‘The Hay-Man Dreams’.

Ostensibly a one-man project, one of the strengths of Cosmograf is that Robin is always open to allowing others into the fold. Perhaps it has something to do with an acceptance of his limitations where certain instruments are concerned. Or perhaps, just as likely, it is because Robin is an intelligent chap and he understands the fact that his compositions can benefit from the inclusion of others.

This time around, the cast of guest musicians is different but no less mouth-watering, featuring Kyle Fenton on drums, Big Big Train violinist Rachel Hall, former BBC voiceover artist David Allan as the narrator, The Fierce And The Dead guitarist Matt Stevens and the returning vocalist Rachael Hawnt. Robin himself handles all the songwriting and production duties as well as being the primary vocalist, guitarist, keyboardist and bassist.

Thematically, I’d venture to say that ‘The Hay-Man Dreams’ is darker and more poignant, at least on a human level than previous releases, as far as I am concerned at any rate. The concept resonates with me greatly as this record tells the story of the untimely death of a farm labourer and the loving family that is left behind. At the centre of the tale is the scarecrow or ‘hay man’, as depicted on the beautifully moody album cover artwork.

And over time, I have well and truly fallen for the veritable charms of ‘The Hay-Man Dreams’. What I love most about it, is its richness and vibrancy. This is a lush album sonically, with real depth and an atmosphere that envelops the listener from beginning to end. A lot of this has to do with the production of the record but there’s more to it than that I feel.

For one, I like the fact that ‘The Hay-Man Dreams’ is a slightly more guitar-driven record than others in the catalogue. As someone who prefers their music on the heavier end of the spectrum for much of the time, an increase in oomph with the guitars will always be welcome. Importantly though, Robin has not sacrificed the subtlety of his music as a result; indeed, ‘The Hay-Man Dreams’ remains as varied, nuanced and cinematic as you’d hope and expect from a seasoned progressive rock artist.

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Take the opening track for instance. ‘Tethered And Bound’ features some gorgeously strong riffs made all the sweeter by the chosen tones, forcing a raising of an eyebrow in appreciation. However, the song offers much more besides, opening up with some theatrical narration from David Allan atop a dark and foreboding synth-led soundscape and later delving into more minimalist territory where we’re treated to some classic prog keyboard effects. Naturally, given the album’s subject matter, the lyrics are not a ray of sunshine and they are delivered very honestly and with passion by Robin himself.

Acoustic guitars feature prominently alongside the piano and synths as well as some hushed vocals to create an intro to ‘Trouble In The Forest’ that is ethereal in tone and bathed in rich atmosphere. Robin’s vocals are really captivating when they eventually arrive at around the three-minute mark, echoing the sense of sadness that the track conveys so well with its evocative melodies. The bass work is prominent and offers a sombre flamboyance, whilst the guitar solo courtesy of the highly talented Matt Stevens in the latter stages is a thing of beauty, like an eruption of raw feeling as if from nowhere.

‘The Motorway’ offers a change of pace somewhat and is welcome because of it. Again it is introduced by acoustic guitars but they are quicker and more urgent in tone, not dissimilar in some ways to the likes of latter-day Anathema. As the intro gives way to the heart of the song, there’s an overt and instantly demonstrable 70s prog rock vibe to what is ultimately a slightly brighter and breezier number. Robin’s voice impressively reaches new heights and there’s a cheekiness to some of the melodies and numerous embellishments. This isn’t to say that there’s not a dark underbelly to the song, because there certainly is, and as the song reaches the half-way mark, I am surprised by the classic rock vibe that is introduced as well. It is unexpected, but it fits the song really well, as does the energetic and expressive extended guitar solo that sees the song to its conclusion.

Without doubt, my favourite track on ‘The Hay-Man Dreams’ has to be ‘Cut The Corn’. If the previous three tracks were dark and sombre, this song takes things to a new level. Slow-paced and led by a simple but effective piano melody, there is a melancholy fragility to the song, enhanced by Robin’s vocals that come across as very heartfelt, vaguely reminiscent of Marillion’s Steve Hogarth at times. The song builds gently in intensity as more layers of synths and a simple beat are introduced. The acoustic guitar solo that then enters the fray is stunning, heartbreaking, poignant and melodious in equal part.

‘Melancholy Death of a Gamekeeper’ does little to lift the mood, but its neo-prog overtones are beautifully lush and inviting, helping to soften the sober edges just a little. Rachael Hawnt then takes centre stage as the six-track album draws to a close via the 12-minute epic title track. It begins quietly with plenty of acoustic guitars and Hawnt’s delicate vocals before taking a pronounced cinematic turn thanks to more narration and atmospheric sound effects that are both sombre and quite thought-provoking in tone. Rachel Hall’s distinctive violin playing lends a folk edge but not before the song has flirted with some of the heaviest material I have heard from Robin. Churning riffs swirl around us as well as some excellent lead guitar shredding and I’m thoroughly engaged and edified by the marked change of pace and intensity. At the flip of a switch though, the folk-esque violin melody acts as a stark juxtaposition and alongside the sounds of nature within the closing pastoral soundscape, it is undeniably reminiscent of Hall’s main employer Big Big Train and the perfect way to end this record.

I truly hope that my preceding waffle has sufficiently captured how much I like this record. If not, I have failed miserably because I have genuinely taken ‘The Hay-Man Dreams’ to my heart. It is, for me, right up there with the very best that the progressive rock world has to offer right now. Confident, assured, intelligent and beautiful; that’s Cosmograf and that’s ‘The Hay-Man Dreams’.

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

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

Memoriam – For The Fallen – Album Review

Memoriam - For The Fallen - Artwork

Artist: Memoriam

Album Title: For The Fallen

Label: Nuclear Blast Records

Date Of Release: 24 March 2017

Bereavement. We’ve all experienced it in our lives to a greater or lesser extent. Personally, I’ve suffered greatly due to the death of loved ones and, nearly a decade on from the most significant and heart breaking of these, I am still a hollow shell of the person I used to be. But whereas some of us handle these tragedies badly, there are others who use the raw emotions more positively, as a catalyst for change or as inspiration for creativity.

When UK death metal stalwarts Bolt Thrower lost their drummer, Martin Kearns in 2015, the band were understandably beside themselves with grief. However, rather than succumb to negativity and other dark thoughts like some of us weaker mortals have, vocalist Karl Willetts took a different path. Bolt Thrower was put to rest as things just didn’t feel the same any more but to fill some of the void left behind, Willetts was instrumental in the formation of a brand new band.

Three weeks after the death of Kearns, Benediction bassist Frank Healy sadly lost his father. Therefore Willetts and Healy joined forces and out of the immense tragedies, Memoriam was born as a way out, to channel their grief. The duo recruited ex-Bolt Thrower drummer Andy Whale and guitarist Scott Fairfax to the Memoriam cause and now, in 2017, after an impressive EP, ‘The hellfire Demos’ (2016), we’re faced with their debut album, ‘For The Fallen’.

Immediately, those familiar with Bolt Thrower will realise that Memoriam are cut from a very similar cloth. As a result, what we are treated to with ‘For The Fallen’ is an intense, monolithic slab of brutality and groove, familiar enough to offer Bolt Thrower fans a whiff of nostalgia but with enough of an individual identity to sound fresh and appealing to a wider audience.

For the most part, this album rumbles along at an inexorable mid-tempo from which there is little or no escape. Bulldozing riffs, a bludgeoning rhythm section and those deep vocals from Willetts form the bedrock to the Memoriam sound and I have to say that it is a sound that I am digging an awful lot. In fact, the more I listen, the more enjoyment and satisfaction I glean from ‘For The Fallen’.

As the striking cover artwork more than hints at, the lyrical content primarily deals with war and the way it shapes us as humans, as well as the aftermath from a more human angle, namely dealing with the death of a loved one. I can think of few more fitting themes to entwine within music of this nature.

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The opening title track begins in a fashion that vaguely calls to mind the likes of early Paradise Lost thanks to the chosen guitar tone. However, the huge, chunky riff that enters the fray just shy of the minute mark blows those references out of the water. The groove quota on this sub-three-minute blast is insane and impossible to avoid headbanging to. But then the same can be said for the vast majority of the eight tracks on this album; whilst out for a walk with the dog, I must have seemed like a possessed zombie with my head slowly nodding with force, in concert with long loping steps, also measured to be in time to the music.

The voice of Prime Minister Neville Chamberlain declaring war on Germany ushers in ‘War Rages On’, a powerful introduction to an equally powerful song. After a slow start, the drums drive the composition on in a slightly brisker fashion, complete with blastbeats and fast, aggressive riffs. But then, at the half-way mark, the mother of all mid-tempo grooves hits and hits hard. I can’t help but grin at this point given how infectious it is.

‘Reduced To Zero’ introduces a modicum of depraved melody to proceedings before steamrollering the listener into submission. The churning, roiling riffs and unrelenting power of the drum and bass combination are a thing of malevolent brilliance as is the utterly killer groovy riff that dips in and out of the track to great effect. In fact, I really enjoy the way that there’s a surprising number of twists and turns within the song if you listen carefully enough. If such music could ever be referred to as epic, then this is the piece of music to justify that term.

In an effort to keep us on our toes, ‘Corrupted System’ then clatters onto the scene with the urgency and pace more akin to punk rock or a slightly more measured form of grindcore. It is attitude and aggression channelled the right way but this being Memoriam, something slower and pummelling cannot be far away and so there are slower interludes within the speedier tumult which ultimately unravels at the end into something disquietly dystopian in tone and delivery.

‘Flatline’ then returns to the out-and-out groove and brutality, featuring one of my favourite riffs anywhere on the record. It is a real stomper but so cheeky and addictive, nevertheless remaining heavy as hell and forceful in the extreme. The blast beats that surround it are thunderous and only enhance the overall impact, as does the fabulous grinding beat down that acts as an irresistible outro.

There’s space for a brief guitar solo within the brisk and pulverising ‘Surrounded By Death’, whilst ‘Resistance’ is another great track that, as the title suggests, acts as a song of defiance, introducing a little more speed at points as well as another flamboyant solo.

It is then left to the longest composition on ‘For The Fallen’ to see the album out. ‘Last Words’ begins with a distant-sounding guitar riff that offers a fair amount of melody and which is built on with the introduction of all of the other instruments. It still sounds suitably dark and malevolent but with a slightly more immediate edge to it. Even when things increase in speed and intensity, the over-arching melodic framework remains intact. Scrub what I said earlier in the piece, this is the song that demonstrates that this kind of music can be genuinely epic. And it is the perfect way in my opinion to close the album.

The strength of Karl Willetts and Frank Healy is incredible. They have used Memoriam as a way to channel all of the substantial and gut-wrenching misery they felt into something positive. It puts me to shame in many ways and as such, I really wanted to like ‘For The Fallen’. It may not be the most original of recordings but it is a bona-fide brute of a death metal album and I have grown to love it.

The Score Of Much Metal: 9

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

2015 reviews
2016 reviews

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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