Opeth, the modern day, love 'em or hate 'em prog band. 12 now 12 albums under their belt, the band has become very comfortable with their transition into progressive rock, hard rock, and heavy metal; rather than the death metal that makes up most of their catalog. This third album since the watershed Opeth album....Watershed, Sorceress makes no mistake that this sound is here to stay. Even if they get heavier at points, the band is past their death metal part of their career and honestly, that's just fine by me. Let me explain why.
The album starts with the acoustic intro, Persephone. A very nice, majestic opening that sets the mood for the darkness (lyrically) to come. Following this short piece is the title track, Sorceress. It begins with a short drum fill, leading to a 60-70s prog rock style jam led with keys from Joakim Svalberg. After the psychedelic freak out, the song really kicks in with the heaviest riff on the album, proving that Mikael Akerfeldt and Co. don't need death metal to be heavy and evil. It focuses more on a doom metal, prog rock style that is quite welcomed. It is an absolutely solid track. The Wilde Flowers starts off with another drum fill intro leading right into the riff. This is more fast paced than the title track, but still at a comfortable rock tempo. While being a minute longer as well, it feels to the point and feels like a song that could have fit right in with Ghost Reveries or Watershed. The last half of the song showcases more of the acoustic, mellow side of the band, before exploding into the fast moment on the album in absolute chaos with double bass everywhere. Will O Of The Wisp is the first ballad of the album. It feels like a song that Mikael and Steven Wilson would have listened to while listening to the song Trains by Porcupine Tree. It's a great, laid back song that, musically, can put you into such a relaxed state. Chrysalis is easily the heaviest song on the entire album. Honestly, if Mikael felt the need to add growls to this album, this would have been the song to include them. And with that, it doesn't need them. It's just as heavy as anything off Blackwater Park or Ghost Reveries, just without the consistent double bass thrown everywhere. the latter half of the song gets more into the mellow side once again, while staying mid-tempo. This also leads to the song fading away into Sorceress 2. This is an acoustic continuation of the title track. A quite breathtaking breather after the last track. The Seventh Sojourn starts with acoustic guitar and middle eastern style tribal drumming which continues through 3/4ths of this instrumental. the final quarter has faint piano and background vocals. Strange Brew start with just vocals and piano. Living up to it's name, this is one of, if not, the most eerie song on the album. The song finally kicks in about a quarter of the way through and it explodes! With Martin Axenrot's extremely talent drumming over Joakim's eerie keys. Half way into the song it breaks into a killer 70s style hard rock solo section that continues on as Mikael gets back to singing. This all leads to more eerie and chilling solo keyboard moments before kicking into the most grandiose riff of the album. Picture the ending of Pink Floyd's Comfortably Numb done during the Blackwater Park era of Opeth and BOOM! A Fleeting Glance is up next. It starts with more acoustic guitar and Mikael's haunting vocals that (pun intended) sound fleeting. This song is very reminiscent of the Damnation era of Opeth with just more 70's keyboards in the forefront and some heavier moments thrown in for good measure. The solo 3/4ths of the way through is so melodically perfect. One of the finest solos in the band's career. The song ends with long organ chords before kicking into the last song with vocals, Era. Starting with very quiet piano, the song slowly, but surely builds up into one of the fastest riffs on the album. Picture if Deep Purple wrote the song, Deliverance instead of Opeth. The pace continues all the way through the song. The ending to Era is possibly the highest point of the album. This immediately splits right into Persephone (Slight Return) which is the piano coda of the first track to help close out the album.
Sorceress is breathing new life into prog in 2016. Opeth make it completely their own, adding the finest touches of the past and showing what else can be brought to the table. Lyrically, this is as dark and evil as any of their albums have been in the past; even spookier than some albums of the past. While people should realize by this point that the screams and growls are not on this album (and for the foreseeable future, never coming back. That is such a good thing. I wouldn't want Mikael Akerfeldt to rehash the past if he is not inspired by it. I would much rather have an inspired throw back to evil prog rock than a Blackwater Park II that doesn't live up to it's predecessor. Sorceress proves that Opeth really does showcase the fact that they have not lost their touch to write faster, heavy, music, yet can keep things just as evil with their mellow, prog, and hard rock havens they are in today.
Opeth- Sorceress is available September 30th through Moderbloget Records/Nuclear Blast
At 40 years old, Wednesday 13 has had a magnificent career so far. Possibly best known for his work with Murderdolls, he has an established a completely solid solo career. 2017 will be bringing in the release of his 7th solo album, Condolences. Wednesday 13 recently took the time to answer a few questions I've had for him. Check out the Q&A below!
That Drummer Guy: Thank you very much for taking the time to do this interview.
W13: You're welcome.
TDG: You are currently in the studio working on your next album, Condolences, slated for an April 2017 release. How has the album process been so far?
W13: It's been great, and def the longest I have spent writing and recording an album. We started in June and just finished today (September 1st). This album has far exceeded my expectations.
TDG: How would you compare this album to your previous work?
W13: Every record has been different, This one has it's own sound and vibe, and has a little bit of everything I’ve tried. In my opinion, this may be the ultimate Wednesday 13 album.
TDG: At this point in the game, do you feel any pressure to out due your previous work? Or do you just focus on making the songs that you want to make?
W13: Yes, I was worried that following up the last one would be a challenge, but after a few days of writing and I after I heard the first few songs I knew we had a stronger record.
TDG: With working with such a legendary producer such as Zeuss, I expect from the production standpoint that it would sound top notch!
W13: Yes, working with Zeuss has been great, I didn’t think we could top the last recording we did together but we did. He really helped us shape the songs and he pushed us to our limits.
TDG: How did you manage to land Deen Castronovo to play drums on Condolences? That is a great achievement to have him attached to this new album.
W13: It was really easy as Deen is our drummer, Kyle's, father. He is a big fan of the band as we are big fans of his drumming. Deen is one of the greatest rock drummers of all time, and has track record to prove it. It was a complete honor to have him on a track, and HE KILLS IT!!!!
TDG: You will be going on tour this late summer/fall for a pretty extensive US run. While unfortunately not hitting Minnesota on this run, I imagine it's going to be a fantastic show. How does it feel being able to do such great headlining runs of the states?
W13: Being able to go on tour and travel around the world and meet our fans is the greatest job in the world. I'm so excited for this tour to start, as I’ve been holed up in a studio for 3 months, and playing live is gonna be the best release. We have a great set and show this time around. It's gonna be a blast.
TDG: To those that have yet to see you live, what would you tell people to expect at a Wednesday 13 show?
W13: It's a fun show, and we really try to go beyond and above every night with the songs, image and show. It's a rock show done in the spirit of Alice Cooper and Kiss. This new tour is going to be even weirder and bigger than last time.
TDG: With being able to play a vast array of instruments, what is is currently the most fun instrument for you to play and/or write on?
W13: Always guitar but, I did not even play guitar at all on the new album. I helped with writing, but I’ve mainly stuck to what i do best, and I've just tried to concentrate and improve my voice. I feel it’s the strongest it's ever been and it's made me a lot more confident over the years.
TDG: Besides the release of Condolences, is there any other plans yet in 2017?
W13: The plan is to TOUR non stop and push this band to the next level. Next year will be a brand new version of W13, super charged and revamped !!!
TDG: Is there anything lined up for your other project, Bourbon Crow?
W13: We have a couple things lined up for the first of the year if all goes well.
TDG: When you are not busy on the road or recording, how do you like to unwind?
W13: I read a lot of forbidden history books and conspiracy books, along with documentaries on the same subjects. I also like to collect toys, it relaxes me and restores my youth, haha.
TDG: What's on your playlist right now?
W13: The new Gojira, and Killing Joke album have been on heavy rotation for me as of late. 2 great bands, and may I add very smart bands!!!
TDG: Once again, thank you for taking the time to do this interview. I've only had the chance to see you once so far at your show in Minneapolis with Holy Grail, which was such a fantastic show. I know I'll be enjoying you live again sometime soon. Before we are done, is there anything else you would like to mention that I haven't brought up yet?
W13: Thanks for your time, and thanks to the fans for their undying support. We couldn’t do it without you, and I promise you that we have made a really amazing album that your gonna love!!
Be on the lookout for Wednesday 13's brand new album, Condolences, in April 2017!
Long Distance Calling- TRIPS
FFO- Progressive Rock, Progressive Metal, Post Rock, Atmospheric
Long Distance Calling has been on my radar since I discovered the band with their 2nd album, 2009's Avoid The Light. That album really changed how I looked at music at the time and really helped me embrace what I now enjoy: emotional passages, soundtrack style movements of peaks and valleys, highs and lows, heavy and light; and above all, the idea that nothing is off limits as long as it makes sense to you, musically. With Long Distance Calling, that has always been a driving focus of the band. With the band's 5th album (and 7th release overall) TRIPS, the band continues to follow the path of making the music that is right for them and hopefully the fans will be there along for the ride. Admittedly, this is a bit of a polarizing album. This album goes into different territory from very catchy, almost Top 40 mainstream moments to very dark moments to very symphonic moments. TRIPS is very much like the name implies...a trip. A trip of the mind and soul. Strap in and let me tell you all about it!
The album starts with a bit of a rude awakening with Getaway. By rude awakening, I mean a perfect throwback to the 1980s soundtracks we all (of a certain age) know and love. The synths really drive this and make you feel like you are about to watch Blade Runner or Escape From New York. It's very rhythm based and very simple by LDC's standards, but that is what makes the song great. An elongated intro track to the album, if you will. It also really gives a great impression of what the theme of the album is all about. Next up is Reconnect. This is the first track on the album that features vocals by vocalist Petter Carlsen. The song starts off a bit more modern alternative sound with a driving synth track. the chorus brings the track a bit more on the heavy side while still maintaining it's catchiness. Overall, a great track. Rewind is one of the more emotional tracks on the album and really summarizes what the band is all about in 2016. It starts very somber with emotional vocals and piano that slowly builds up with lone guitar strikes and pulsing drums. The lyrics of the song can really bring a tear to your eye if heard at the right time (it almost has for me a few times now). The song overall has a bit of a Dredg influence in terms of the depressing but emotional and by proxy, uplifting, feel to it. A sheer highlight of the album. Trauma is the next track and it is the next instrumental. This one bring you back to the song, Long Distance Calling, from the band's Self Titled album. Different enough, of course, but a great driving instrumental track that has heavy riffs, prog flavoring and will make older fans of the band very happy. One standout part of the song is the driving bass lines of Jan Hoffmann in the middle section. It definitely brings a great driving feel to the ,otherwise, atmospheric segment of the song. Those that wanted a heavier song from LDC got it with this one. Lines is the first track (and as I'm writing this only track) that has been released so far. The song starts off feeling very Alternative Rock, especially in the vocals. From others I've heard some people say there is a Muse influence. I've heard others even say Hoobastank influence, of all things. The shining moment of the song and easily one of my favorite moments from the band, EVER, is the chorus. From the driving instrumentation to the powerful vocals, it made the song go from a cool modern rock sounding song to an absolute powerhouse. The instrumental section of the song brings back the atmosphere that songs like The Nearing Grave off Avoid The Light and even more so, Middleville off of the Self Titled album, that give great contrast to the rest of the song. The ending with the repeated chorus makes the song impossible not to headbang to. If there was ever a song from a band of this caliber to break out into Radio Rock and change Radio Rock for the better, it's this track! Presence brings things back to a more mellow vibe as an interlude. Starting with guitar, synths and ending with spoken word that leads way into the more upbeat, Absolution era of Muse, vibe with Momentum. This track is a great instrumental that really speaks without vocals (which is always a fantastic element of LDC). It's at a heartbeat tempo rate and very busy playing from everyone involved, especially drummer Janosch Rathmer. 3/4ths into the song, it brings back a heavy Avoid the Light feel that I very much enjoy. The song ends with far away synths that fade away. This of course leads to the last track with vocals, Plans. This has a very Post Rock feel to it with it's clean guitar, and electronic sounding synths and drums. The vocals gain a tremendous amount of power in the chorus. A little over half way through the song, it starts to build into a much more symphonic moment, not usually seen with the band. Gaining heaviness slowly but surely, with the synth strings helping the build, it builds up into a classic LDC riff at 5:02 and going to the end that older fans will love and appreciate. The final track, Flux, is the longest song on the album as a 12 minute plus instrumental that, once again, brings back the memories of Avoid The Light, the S/T album, even all the way back to the band's first EP, Satellite Bay. While a majority of the song stays more mellow, it constantly builds. A little under half way through the song, it builds into a fantastic heavy riff that leads into a more subdued moment once again. Again, Hoffmann shows off how to make a fantastic and groovy bass line in this moment right before the guitar kicks back into the song with a killer clean solo. The last quarter of the song brings the atmospheric moments back with a very emotional movement that almost feels like you are about to crash land in a heroic way. The final moments brings back the piano, synths, and spoken word that brings you back to reality, a sad reality of how life and the universe really works.
TRIPS is an album that centers around taking a trip through space and time. Before and after the time of Man, entering areas we have never seen before, moments we wanna go back to, moments we wish we could redo, and really thinking about how our lives work the way they do. Like anyone reading this. I know I have my share of regrets. Not spending enough time with family or friends, letting bridges burn, making choices that altered my life in different ways. This really gives you that short feeling of entering your psyche and exploring what could be if you had those opportunities to go back in time or rocket yourself ahead in time. The overall message of the album is clear. Make the most of the time you have on Earth. Never take any moment for granted and enjoy everything that you can. As you can tell, the album has definitely resonated with me in a big way and hopefully, if this reviews makes you at all interested, if will for you as well. While it's a bit premature to say for sure, I think this has potential to not only be one of the best albums of 2016, but I dare say, TRIPS may be my favorite Long Distance Calling album to date!
Long Distance Calling- TRIPS available April 29th through Inside Out Music
Killswitch Engage- Incarnate
It's hard to believe that KSE is now 7 albums deep into their career. With some inner turmoil, member switches, the rise and fall of Metalcore come and gone; the band continues to be as stronger as ever with their latest release, Incarnate. While the band is not known for reinventing the wheel with every release, the band is known for putting out solid album after solid album. This album is no different.
The album starts with Alone I Stand. With a brooding intro that fades in, it attacks you with the legendary KSE mix of Metal, Hardcore, and melody. With a verse riff that is "oddly" in 9/8, the band continues to capture everything a fan of the band will love...and everything that a hater of the band will hate. The bridge of the song gets into some awesome breakdown/melodic moments that really helps the album begin to shine. Hate Be Design continues in the same vein as one of the heaviest opening riffs on the album. The verse is completely heavy and melodic with a soothing chorus. Near the end of the song is one of the band's few instances of guitar solos. Cut Me Loose starts with a tribal drum beat and ominous guitars. Oddly enough this becomes a song with minimal screamed lead vocals. This song has Top 40 radio potential all over it, especially in the chorus. The 2nd half of the song brings up a bit of a thrash riff that will bring a great circle pit live. Strength Of The Mind starts with an actually, kinda Djenty, breakdown riff before going into the KSE style Metalcore riffing. The chorus of this song is one of the highlights of the album. Perfect soothing cleans and a great message. Overall, a great song! Just Let go starts with a clean guitar riff in the vein of My Curse before kicking in the doors. While starting off slower, it quickly becomes one of the speedier songs on the album. Drummer, Justin Foley shows off his double bass blasts in the verses of this one and they are unbelievably clean. Embrace The Journey...Upraised starts off with an ultra heavy breakdown riff that is sure to get the crowd going wild live. This has the fastest verse in the album going into hyper-speed. This has a little bit of everything for everyone with it's breakdowns, speed and melodic choruses. The song fades out and leads way to Quiet Distress. The song starts with an acoustic guitar passage before going into a ballistic verse that simply destroys everything in it's path. The chorus brings way to a slower, yet uptempo moment. A great mix of thrashy and melodic. Until The Days once again brings in the Thrash mentality, specifically in the guitars. This is definitely a throwback to the beginning of the Metalcore days. A short and sweet kick in the face. This leads into It Falls On Me. A slower song for the band that is prominently beautiful in the music and clean vocals, yet, ferocious with it's growls. The atmospheric guitars really make this song one of the stand outs on the album as, to me, that was the best aspect of the band's last release, 2013's Disarm The Descent. The song quickly fades and leads way to the Thrash laded song, The Great Deceit. A very straight forward attack in the verses and one of the best choruses on the entire album. We Carry On brings in The End Of Heartache era of the band. Very slow and brooding, yet so melodic and catchy. Once again, the atmospheric guitars make an appearance in the chorus and make the song that much more special. A great slower song that is a great way to lead into the final track, Ascension. The song starts off perfect KSE form and, again, brings things back into the bands early sound of ...Alive Or Just Breathing. One big difference is in the per-chorus, it features Justin's use of Blasts (almost like a bookend to the album as the only other song to feature blasts is the opening track). The song ends on an ultra heavy breakdown riff and slowly fades away into the abyss.
There is no denying that Jesse Leach brings the inspirational moments to Killswitch Engage that helped make the band become legendary. A very positive message throughout the album, one that people with depression (like myself) can really relate to. Beyond catchy riffs, memorable melodic riffs, ultra tight musicianship from everyone involved. Incarnate is what you want, need, and crave in a KSE album.
Killswitch Engage- Incarnate is out NOW via Roadrunner Records
FFO: The Blackened Poppy Prog Metal Album You Didn't Know You Needed
Ihsahn, like Devin Townsend, strives to never make the same album twice. Whether it was with Emperor or his continuing solo work, every album has it's own distinct sound. With his 6th album, Arktis, the direction has gone in a way that no one would expect, yet, is oddly expected. How does this make sense in the slightest? Let me explain...
The album starts with Disassembled. Right off the bat it comes with a very proggy feel to it, much like the band, Leprous. This is expected as said band was Ihsahn's backing band until the band was big enough to be able to branch out on their own. Although they haven't fully left him behind as Leprous singer, Einar Solberg contribute his clean vocals to the song. As for the song itself, it ranges from proggy to very poppy to Ihsahn's recognizable blackened screams. A lovechild between Leprous and Shining (NOR) with Ihsahn curating the creation. Mass Darkness is next and it again goes into uncharted territory, very catchy modern metal. No doubt Ihsahn has this in mind when he asked Trivium's Matt Heafy to contribute his clean vocals to this song. It really feels like Trivium wrote an Emperor song yet could not take away their poppy and catchy elements to make it tr00. My Heart Is Of The North again feels like a track that would have been written by Shining (NOR). Such an oddly catchy and glorious track. While there is a little bit of electronic moments, they are pushed in the background for the jazzy and modern-ish black metal mix. South Winds brings in the most polarizing song on the album. It is 2000s dance keyboard driven. It is much like a dark rave mix that you would hear in a black metal BDSM club. The chorus brings it back into more of a traditional Ihsahn sound with a proggy driven chorus. Such an odd mix that works. In The Vaults is technically a ballad. It really has a big 80s metal vibe that got mixed with 2000s prog metal. Until I Too Dissolve again brings the 80s vibe in a big way. It honestly feels like a riff that The Scorpions would write. While, of course, there is Ihsahn's signature screams in moments, it is heavily a cock rock song, but an excellent cock rock song and one of the best tracks of the album. Pressure starts right off the bat with a Frank Zappa style opening riff that leads to some insane drumming by former Leprous drummer and Ihsahn and Shining (NOR) drummer, Tobias Andersen. Right about the half way mark of the song features the only Symphonic Black Metal moment of the entire album and it rips you apart! The song ends on a more sludgy feel before giving way to the next song, Frail. Starting off with an acoustic passage, it leads into a dark carnival/vaudeville style piano, circus style drumming, and 80s science fiction keyboards. For fans of bands like Stolen Babies and Sleepytime Gorilla Museum, this is 100% up your alley. Crooked Red Line features Shining (NOR) mastermind Jorgen Munksby on saxophone (his 3rd time appearing on an Ihsahn album). The song is very reminiscent of the title track of the 2010 album, After. Very mild and eerie. It gives a 1930's US Noire feeling. Roughly half way through the song, it becomes slow, doomy, and filled with Munksby's distinct saxophone stylings before leading back into the Noire scene. Celestrial Violence is the last track on the standard edition of the album. It once again features vocals from Einar Solberg. The song starts with acoustic guitar buried in the background with piano before you get bombarded with a wall of blackened prog. If there was to say there was any traditional song you could expect from Ihsahn, this would be the one, but take that with a HUGE grain of salt. If you enjoyed what was done on the albums After and Eremita, this will be much more up your alley, but keep in mind, it very much fits in the style of this album. If you are fortunate enough to get the limited edition version of the album, you get an additional track, Til For Ulven. This is a 9 minute song that features Norwegian spoken word poetry and horror style piano that is in tribute to Norwegian poet, Til Ulven. The song begins to pick up about 3/4ths of the way through where Ihsahn goes into is black metal vocals and distorted guitar then it fades away. I won't pretend to understand the Norwegian language, so I don't know if this is one of Ulven's poems, or just in tribute to him. Either way, considering Ulven committed suicide in 1995, the music behind it perfectly fits the title.
This album is the Blackened Poppy Prog Metal album you didn't know you needed...until now! This reaches on so many different boarders of what one thought was possible. Black Metal, Avant-garde, Prog, Jazz, Pop, Rave; it's all there and it all makes sense. While you could not possibly comprehend the entire album in one sitting, upon repeated listens, you see how everything melds together and exactly what Ihsahn was going for with Arktis. Without question it will polarize many fans, but if you have enjoyed most of, if not all of what what Ihsahn has done in his solo career, Arktis proves to everyone that this is the next logical step in his career. And with being a little more accessible, maybe this will lead to a US tour? We can only hope so!
Ihsahn- Arktis available April 8th through Candlelight Records
Circus Maximus- Havoc
FFO- Progressive Rock, Progressive Metal, AOR
Norway's Circus Maximus is a band whose light has been shining brighter and brighter since their debut album, The 1st Chapter hit back in 2005. Since then the band has gone through a major change as well that made it's first appearance with 2012's Nine. Instead of going full on progressive metal, the band explored much more into what makes the band tick. Exploring melodies, harmonies, and styles you don't see often in the prog world, which is of course, poppy, more mainstream moments. Havoc, despite having a very metal name, is not as metal as you would imagine. In all honesty, that is what makes the album shine.
The albums tarts with the first single, The Weight, which is quite polarizing for some fans. The organ driven, Led Zepplin's Kashmir style intro riff leads into a very melodic verse and overall melodic song. It almost have a Muse/Coheed And Cambria vibe to it as well. The middle section is where the prog begins to shine with a very technical and beautiful guitar solo that leads into a great prog instrumental section. Overall, a great choice for a potential radio single. Highest Bitter begins with a very Chris Cornell style vocal style with a proggy breakdown style that continues throughout the song. A dark song overall that would have fit well as a song from Dream Theater's Awake album. Without question the title track, Havoc is the most polarizing song on the album. You are either in for the ride or not. It is the song that is undoubtedly the poppiest and top 40 style. If you can't appreciate radio rock in anyway, just skip the song. If you can appreciate top 40 rock, there is a lot to like about the song and it makes you wish that more bands would sound like this on said stations. I know I wouldn't be disappointed. Pages sounds like a loving tribute to Lighting Shadows Off A Dream by Dream Theater. While being overall heavier than said song, the style brings out those great memories. The Instrumental sections are absolutely fantastic. A very mystical sounding song that works great in the middle. Flames starts with an opening keyboard and drum fill before leading into a guitar riffing and vocal melodies that remind you of U2. This is more of what the average CM fan would be hoping for in a poppy song from the band, poppy, yet filled with prog moments. A very beautiful song that I'm sure will sound fantastic live. Loved Ones is BY FAR the best song on the album. A very loving tribute to those that we love in our lives. This has everything that a CM fan could want in a song. Soaring vocals, the right amount of prog, majestic instrumentation and musicianship. It can really bring a tear to your eye. After The Fire starts with a bouncy keyboard line that hearkens you back to Pain Of Salvation's Remedy Lane album mixed with Matt Bellamy vocal melodies. This is carried throughout the songs as one of the proggy slower to midtempo numbers. This song proves that Circus Maximus didn't fully abandon their prog roots. Remember is another poppy tune that is filled with happy sounding keyboards and a very upbeat and uplifting feel throughout. The solo section is one of the coolest moments on the album. The whole song would have been cool enough to end on and give you that rise up and cheer moment, but alas, there's one last song. Chivalry is the song that is not like the others, but unlike The Electric Company, this song DOES belong. It starts off very ominous and sounds far away, it slowly builds up to become fully audible about a quarter of the way in and leads to the best chorus on the album. Slower to midtempo in speed, yet absolutely gorgeous. The instrumentation to this song working the way it does. and makes the very end of the song one of the highlights of the entire journey and makes the whole ride, that is Havoc, worth it.
Havoc is going to be a polarizing album for the band. Dream Theater's Falling Into Infinity as a great example. While it still features moments of what brought you into the band. it showcases some moments you never would have expected. Surprisingly pop friendly moments, shorter track lengths and what may or may not be, an attempt to reach a new audience. You either enjoy the ride or you hate it. For myself. I have listened to the album every day since I received the promo and enjoy it more with each listen. If you are looking for The 1st Chapter or Isolate, you won't find it here. If you enjoyed Nine, you will find something to love about the album. Havoc proves that there doesn't need to be boundaries between prog, metal and pop, good music is good music!
Circus Maximus- Havoc, available NOW through Frontiers Records
FFO- Technical Death Metal, Progressive Death Metal
Obscura Is a phenomenal German Technical/Progressive Death Metal that has definitely gone through the wringer in the last two years. From losing half the band (Guitarist Christian Muezener and Drummer Hannes Grossmann) in 2014 and recently guitarist Tom Geldschläger in 2015. When the band got back on it's feet in 2015 to be a part of 2015's Summer Slaughter tour in North America, the band suffered from several issues making the band drop off the entire tour. From that point on, Frontman and Guitarist, Steffen Krummerer, set out to make sure that the band's 4th album, Akroasis, would be a complete force to be a reckoned with. Not only did he succeed, but the band is arguably the strongest it has ever been. Let me explain why...
The album starts off with Sermon Of The Seven Suns, which starts with a fade and Cynic style clean vocoder vocals before kicking into the band's signature sound of technical riffs, bombastic blast beats and outstanding Guitar and Bass work. So many great technical riffs mixed with melodic moments of sheer beauty. The middle instrumental section features fantastic Bass riffs provided by Bassist, Linus Klausenitzer. The ending features some more crazy riffs that eventually lead into a fade out that leads into the Middle Eastern Influenced song, The Monist. While still being very technical, the song is a bit slower than most of the rest of the album. Lots of groove and very double bass driven ala Death. The chorus features a great vocoder section that would make Cynic fans very happy. An overall killer, groovy, song. The title track, Akroasis, is easily the fastest song on the album. Absolutely pure chaos right from Drummer Sebastian Lanser's opening drum fill. The song is layered in Blast Beats and melodies and harmonies of the great 90's Tech Death bands, which the band has made so perfectly well their own. The guitar solo section of the song is easily one of the highlights of the entire album. The song ends with clean guitar and bass sections that slowly fade away leading into the clean guitar intro of Ten Sepiroth. The song has more of an upbeat Thrash/Death Metal feel compared to the rest of the album, yet, still featuring plenty of blasts and growls. The short instrumental sections really make this song great to hear. A song that would definitely be perfect to get caught in the middle of a circle pit. Ode To The Sun (Sadly, not a Dredg cover) has is another groovier song that is beyond crushing. The slower riffs give off that ultra heavy vibe Gojira has become famous for. Actually that's a great way to look at it. Cynic meets Gojira. Arguably, this is one of the best choruses on the entire album. The second half of the song features a slower doomy feel to it with choir type vocals that lead to a quite eerie ending before leading into the chaos that is Fractal Dimension. The song features the famous Obscura signature sound. The solo section features some slower and crushing riffs that are meant to make you bang your head, before it snaps from the verse riff kicking back in. After a short bass-driven interlude the song ends on one of the best riffs of the album to close out the song. Perpetual Infinity starts with clean and acoustic guitars and bass, giving a great Cynic feeling once again with the vocoder vocals. While the song is more uptempo compared to the rest of the album, it is almost the catchiest song on the album. Giving more nods to 90's Tech Death, it has the most melodic moments in the album on almost the entire song before ending on a very chaotic last riff to make way for the final epic. Weltseele is the longest Obscura song to date at 15:16. While on paper, a 15 minute Tech Death epic may feel way too long and jarring to listen to, that couldn't be further from the truth. Without question, this is the best song on the album. While starting is a mellow intro, the song eventually throws it's way into a march style assault. This definitely shows off everything the band is capable of, The fast, the mellow, the heavy, the melodic, the chaotic. It's all here. This also features the other best chorus on the album, if not the best. Roughly half way through the song it gets a bit more mellow and focused on creating atmosphere with synths, acoustic guitars and clean spoken word. This comes back into an amazingly dark section that gives such an evil feeling. This is followed by the fastest blasts on the entire album for just a little bit before kicking into a Cynic style and synth driven instrumental section before hitting the climax of the song. the climax makes you feel like you are just about to fall off the side of a mountain in sheer terror. The final riff on the album rivals Between The Buried And Me's White Walls as one of the best ending riffs to an album put on record. Everything about it is brilliant. The song finally ends with bass and clean picked guitar that leaves on a final lingering and fading note to close out Obscura's 4th magnum opus.
It's hard to put into words how amazing Obscura has rebounded from turmoil and back luck in the last couple years. While many thought that the band would have reached it's highest point with 2011's Omnivium, Steffen Kummerer and Co. not only shatters that notion, they prove that they are stronger than ever and the band's best days are still to come. Akroasis is sheer and utter brilliance! Combining the best of the Tech Death days of yore with a modern twinge. Obscura is one of the leading bands in the Progressive and Technical Death Metal realms for a reason. Come see why for yourself!
Obscura- Akroasis available February 5th via Relapse Records
The Mute Gods- Do Nothing Till You Hear From Me
FFO- Progressive Rock, Alternative Rock, Pop Rock
The Mute Gods is the brainchild of Nick Beggs (contributor to the likes of Steven Wilson, Lonely Robot, Steve Hackett and so much more) on Chapman Stick, Vocals, Guitar and Bass. Also featured on this album is Marco Minnemann on drums and Roger King doing production and playing Keys. The album is an extremely catchy brand of prog rock layered in pop and alternative rock. Imagine Steven Wilson doing Hand. Cannot. Erase. with 70's prog instead of having electronics and BOOM! Let's dive right into this amazing album.
The album starts with the title track, Do Nothing Till You Hear From Me. While having the awesome 70's prog twinge, the chorus is unbelievably catchy. There is a good reason why this was, indeed the first single from the album. Praying To A Mute God starts quite mid-tempo and keeps that similar speed much like the former track, but expands upon it. Much more diversity and fills happen throughout the song giving a little bit or room to show off on each instrument. The second half of the song is a great example of that. Nightschool for Idiots is much more mellow and piano driven. A great, almost relaxing song, until you hear the lyrics. It definitely has the Steven Wilson cynical lyrical charm to it. Feed The Troll is the second single off the album. It starts off bass driven and an electronic movement before kicking into a darker, almost King Crimson style riff. The song is one of the heavier moments on the entire album as well. Very dark and brooding, but so enjoyable. Your Dark Ideas follows next and is a bit more uptempo. It almost sounds like a track Steven Wilson penned around the time of In Absentia or Deadwing. A very killer track. In the Crosshairs is the shortest track on the album. Being that it is instrumental, it showcases every instrument in the band in a great way. A great change of pace in the album. Strange Relationship starts with a great 8 bar, almost Opeth like, swing beat provided by Minnemann. The song is quite mellow in comparison to other songs on the album and features quite a bit of keyboard changes until the song. The fading piano notes of the last track segue way into Swimming Horses. The song begins more atmospheric before kicking into a mellotron style riff mixed with guitar, then finally kicking into a dark, brooding song. It features song Middle-Eastern style riffing and very bass and chapman stick driven. The second half of the song is where things start to pick up in tempo before progressing back to the dark mood it left before. Father Daughter closes out the album and features a Porcupine Tree feel and more of the electronic faded drums that Steven Wilson is famous for in so many moments before kicking in. The album ends in a very electronic way as it dramatically stops, leaving you wanting more.
All in all, The Mute Gods have provided an absolutely phenomenal debut album. Combining all the best parts of prog rock mixed with a great nod to the likes of Steven Wilson and Steve Hackett throughout. The lyrical content is very much intended to be a way of living your life to the fullest and not giving into the world we currently live. Explore, Create and most importantly, try to make the world a better place for those that will follow us in this world. It is a great sentiment!
The Mute Gods- Do Nothing Till You Hear From Me available January 22nd via InsideOut Records
Exmortus- Ride Forth
FFO- Thrash Metal, Death Metal, Neoclassical
Exmortus is a band that has been on an incredible streak as of late. Doing their blend of Thrash Metal, Death Metal and Neoclassical has kept the band sounding fresh as ever. With Ride Forth, the band's 4th album, the band really finds their sound and sounds tighter than ever.
The album starts with Speed Of The Strike, which is easily one of the fastest songs on the album and a great way to start this 4th adventure. For new fans, you will easily hear the Classical and Orchestral influences in the band. Relentless is still fast but not near as speedy as the first track. More of the Thrash influence is on this track. For The Horde is a classic sounding song for the band. Feast, heavy, thrashy and shreddy. A great single for the album. Let Us Roam is very mid-tempo in comparison to the rest of the album, but really showcases the band's chops. Almost like a nice breather for what is to come. Black Sails comes off as the most versatile song on the album. While coming in as a more mid-tempo, yet upbeat number, It really showcases the band's versatility as far as songwriting. Not as focused on notes and shred and love or Classical music, but much more on writing for the song itself. Hymn Of Hate brings back the speed and Orchestral chops highlighted in the guitars. Mixed with the speed of Thrash, it reminds you of versatility in chops that has gone missing in modern Metal. Beethoven's Appassionata is up next and is an absolutely flawless cover. It reminds you very much of playing one of the highest levels on Tetris, especially at the end. Exmortus always covers as least one classical movement on each album and this was an excellent choice this time around. Death To Tyrants is a very worthy song to follow the Beethoven cover. Starting with more of a march intro, it is a upbeat, midtempo song that is greatly paced throughout. While picking up at times, it just focuses on being an excellent march to war. Fire and Ice closes the album. While not the fastest song on the album, it is a great Metal assault. It is the longest song on the album (at 6:24). It gives a very epic, victorious feeling, much like winning a Viking Battle. A perfect song to close out the album.
Exmortus has done it again with their brilliant chops, classical influence, their love of speed and strive to make quality music. This is a band for those who want more substance in their Thrash and Death Metal or want what Orchestral music would sound like if it had distortion back in the day. Ride Forth proves that Exmortus is breaking new ground and creating a world of music that should have been touched upon years ago, especially in non-instrumental bands. Exmortus rules, plain and simple!
Exmortus- Ride Forth available NOW via Prosthetic Records
Borknagar- Winter Thrice
FFO- Progressive Black Metal, Folk Metal
Borknagar is one of the most legendary names in Norwegian Metal. As a supergroup powerhouse that is most notable for featuring ICS Vortex and Vintersorg on shared lead vocals (Vortex providing bass guitar as well), the band has become a very collective outlet for the group to share their Norwegian Pagan Ritualistic music. Winter Thrice is the 10th album for the band and hearkens back to more of the Norwegian Folk Metal side of the band that has been missing for the last couple albums (that said, Borknagar has yet to ever release a disappointing album) yet, also make for their proggiest album to date as well.. Winter Thrice just may be the best thing the band has ever released! Let's find out why!
The album starts with the lead single from the album, The Rhymes Of The Mountain. This is collectively the strongest single from the band to date. It features everything that makes the band strong. Soaring clean vocals, evil screams, majestic music that makes you feel like you are in the heart of a Norwegian winter (maybe not so much in the style of Immortal, but you get the idea. Winter Thrice is the next track starting with haunting keyboards before coming in with a double bass driven assault. The song features a great contrast of clean vocals and Progressive and folk elements for the majority of the song and pure Black Metal and screams as the chorus. A great song to name the album after. Cold Runs The River is much more of a mid-tempo song to start then just blasts into Black Metal goodness before a very gorgeous chorus. The song features a choir type background vocals throughout that hit in all the right spots. 3/4ths of the way through features a Led Zepplin style guitar riff and guitar solo mixed with the Black Metal screams that makes for an unexpected, but gracious change. Panorama has the feeling of the last couple albums with Prog style keyboards throughout leading into a nice, off-time, verse riff and shared dual vocals. For those that love the Prog-Driven side of the band, this is definitely a song that will hit home for you. When Chaos Calls starts with a short piano break before leading to a blast beat driven, clean vocal attack (nothing is better than blast beats over clean vocals done right). While there are some screams, the song is more focused on the cleans. The middle of the song leads to a nice, instrumental interlude featuring clean guitar before leading to one of the most majestic moments on the whole album and ending with a nice blend of cleans and screams. Erodent starts with desolate style clean guitar that leads to amazing clean vocals, proggy keyboards, and a killer mid-tempo battle theme. When the song picks up it goes heavy on the blast beats and Black Metal elements and has a gorgeous and evil chorus. Noctilucent is the "ballad" of the album. The song doesn't feature much vocals, but they are all clean and beautiful. The music behind it is very majestic sounding and gives a nice breather for the last couple songs to come. Terminus is by far the best song on the album. Starting off with a quick drum fill leading to a Black Metal driven Assault that has a bit of an early to mid era Opeth and even some Soilwork feel to it. The chorus is slower but sounds absolutely grand. This song has the best use of the of the synths that not the typical keyboard sounds. And absolute highlight of the band's career. The closing track, Dominant Winds, sounds very desolate as well with some wind sound affects that make you feel like you are alone right before the force of double bass driven, grandiose clean vocals, and Black Metal riffing takes place. The middle of the song is another highlight of the album that is both beautiful and evil. Roughly 3/4ths of the way through hits a big Opeth/Goblin style keyboard instrumental section before kicking into the grand finale of the album. Another great mix of the cleans and screams. It ends with keyboard becoming a force with a mid-tempo evil riff leading to a slower clean guitar and bass that slowly fades away making you want to start the whole album cycle over again.
In short, Borknagar has come back with a vengeance! Winter Thrice is the perfect mixture of Prog, Black Metal, Folk, and Melodies/Harmonies. Winter Thrice is the perfect starting point for getting into the band. Any direction you go from here is the way to go. For those that want more substance out of your Black Metal or want your Prog to be way more evil, Borknagar is the band for you! This will be regarded as one of the best albums of 2016!
Borknagar- Winter Thrice available January 29th, 2015 via Century Media Records!
Hey Kids, it's that time of year again where I show off my musical knowledge skills and present the greatest albums of 2015!
For those that are new to my end of the year reviews. I'll do a short recap of what I normally do. Since I was in high school. I've been doing a big end of the year review of every album that I listened to in said year. Once I got popular enough with what I did, I started a radio show to help with that process. Over the years, becoming more and more popular, I started having less time to do the reviews all at the end of the year. in fact, this year, I have only time to do my Best Of 2015 and, unfortunately, not even get to the other albums of the year worth checking out. Starting in 2016, I am going to do album reviews as soon as I receive the album. Looking on it now, more people would be interested in said album before it comes out (hence why I get promos, to promote the albums on the air and in written form as they come out). So be on the lookout for that possibly as soon as the end of this year as I have received some great 2016 albums already.
This year, as things were cut short for me. I'll be doing the Top 100 in countdown order; 10 at a time until we reach the top 20, where each album will get it's own post.
But before we get to all of that, I got 10 Honorable Mentions to mention as well. This is new to me as I'm used to reviewing everything worth checking out in one year, but when going over my Top 100, I ended up with 110, so why not keep the last 10 and make them honorable mentions?
LET THE GAMES BEGIN!!!!!.....!
110.) Periphery- Juggernaut: Alpha/Omega
FFO: Progressive Metal, Djent
For anyone that knows me well. I am a huge Periphery supporter. I've been there since before the Self Titled debut and felt they have only been getting better and better over the years. And I have been fortunate to have met all of Periphery 3 times and interviewed Jake Bowen twice. That's why it pains me to see the newest double album ranked at the very bottom of my best of and not even in my Top 100. How can this be you ask? In all honesty, it feels like a very forced double album. In a "make this album for the fans" kind of way. In that regard, it worked because fans love the album. Don't get me wrong, I still very much enjoy the album, but it's hard not to feel like their heart is not in this album as much as Periphery II and Clear were very much, fully, from the heart. It's still worth checking out, but I sadly have to say keep your expectations low if you haven't heard it already. Still great, just lacking.
109.) Forty Shades- Camera Silens
FFO: Progressive Metal, Melodic Metal
This is a band I discovered this year that really expands well into different territory without getting meandering. Coming from the ashes of their previous band, Nagor Mar, the band moved away from their Symphonic Metal sound and created some awesome, Melodic and Progressive Metal. Every song has it's own vibe to it, yet still fits together very well. With this just being their debut, I expect the band to really come into their own with the next release or two and expanding into an even bigger band. Let's hope I'm right.
108.) Sarpanitum- Blessed Be My Brothers
FFO: Blackened Death Metal, Atmospheric Death Metal
In short, Sarpanitum is very reminiscent of Fleshgod Apocalypse. similar style apocalyptic drumming, the right amount of melodic and grandiose movements, just not as many orchestral and symphonic moments as Fleshgod. The album, like most albums of this style, should be heard in sections and not all the way through, or else it loses it's merit, but when you check out a few songs at a time, it is definitely worth it. The only thing this one is lacking is in the production is a bit too raw and tinny at times, but if you can get past it, you'll hear some fantastic music and musicianship.
107.) The Dear Hunter- Act IV: Rebirth In Reprise
FFO: Progressive Rock, Indie Rock, Art Rock
Continuing on with the Act story, The Dear Hunter returns with the 4th Act of the 6 Act story. While The Dear Hunter spent a few years away from the story with releasing their monstrous EP series, The Color Spectrum, and their stand alone album, Migrant, it feels as though TDH is fresher than ever. While this is not my favorite TDH release, this does have a lot of range and variation, many highs and lows and great diversity that blends so very well together. It adds a lot more orchestral moments, which is much appreciated. That's about all I really have on this one, just a solid Act to the story. Can't wait to see how it all ends with the next two albums in the series.
106.) Muse- Drones
FFO: Alternative Rock, Progressive Rock
Muse was a band that I thought was never going to get back to the glory of their highest point musically, Absolution. Everything since that point has been a disappointment or worse. With the release of Drones, I thought to myself "Great, another Muse album, can't wait to hear how they let me down once again." Oddly enough, that is not the case this time around. While far from being a perfect album, this is the first Muse album I have been able to listen to all the way through, without being bored or thinking it sucks, since 2003's Absolution. That is already a step in the right direction. The band returns from it's pompous and pretentious vies with a less pompous and pretentious album. It brings back some heavier elements, that have been severely missed. Again, not a perfect album, but it is a step in the right direction. I hope that continues because we need that back in our lives, even the fans of the band that only discovered them through Rock Band and Guitar Hero.
105.) Angelus Apatrida- Hidden Evolution
FFO: Thrash Metal, Power Metal, Heavy Metal
A band that I discovered this year that has really impressed me. A band not afraid to be heavy and fast and mix it with melody and thrash. The album refrains from getting boring and stays very concise from beginning to end. Nothing that hearkens that they reinvented the wheel, but they are unbelievably solid. That's what matters!
104.) TesseracT- Polaris
FFO: Progressive Metal, Djent
Many Progressive Metal and Djent fans rejoiced when hearing the news that Dan Perkins is back in TesseracT, as was I. Thinking this would be an absolutely perfect combination that will destroy everything in it's way. Then upon the 3rd listen, I learned something. TesseracT is going to be the same band no matter who is singing and I mean that musically as well. Polaris is the perfect example that TesseracT has their niche and they are not going to be shying away from it anytime soon. What's my biggest complaint? TEMPO!!! Every song is either Slow or almost mid tempo. Nothing very diverse or mindblowing, it is standard TesseracT. While in and of itself, there is nothing wrong with that; I was really hoping for an album that would at least not feel like another album long song. That's what Polaris is. With that in mind, it is a great album, in that regard. But if you wanna look for anything past that, you won't find it here.
103.) Angra- Secret Garden
FFO: Power Metal
Angra, one of the most legendary names in Power Metal, is back with their 8th album and 1st album with their new singer Fabio Lione (most famously known for his work with Rhapsody Of Fire). The album is absolutely solid from start to finish and features some guest appearances from the likes of Doro and Simone Simons. Sadly, the band does touch back on what made their early albums such a force to be reckoned with, with their Brazilian influenced Power Metal and sticking with a solid straight up Power Metal approach. Definitely not a bad thing as that's not Lione's forte to sing that style. Overall, just a very fun Power Metal album.
102.) Orpheus Blade- Wolf's Cry
FFO: Progressive Metal, Soundtrack style Metal
Another discovery I made this year that I really love. The male vocals are very much in the vein of Devin Townsend, just lower register. Musically, it feels like the soundtrack to a war or fantasy film that wanted to have Metal featured in the background. That is definitely a great thing! This proves again that despite all of the turmoil going on in the world right now. Israel is a hotbed for Progressive Metal. If I have to nitpick anything, the production could be a little more full and mixed tighter, but that's just nitpicking. The songs are unbelievably solid and well crafted. I hope to hear more from these guys down the road. I know touring is a bit of a long shot right now for obvious reasons, but I hope that they only get bigger and better from here on out.
101.) Art Of Anarchy- Art Of Anarchy
FFO: Alternative Rock, Hard Rock, Heavy Metal
Even with my incredibly unpredictable timing of putting my Top 20 Worst of 2015 up the day Scott Weiland died, I still refuse to take back my feelings of his solo album with the Wildabouts, it is an absolutely horrible meandering album. And I have every right to feel that way when Scott Weiland is capable of not sucking. This is the prime example of that. Teaming up with Bumblefoot, John Moyer, Jon Votta, and Vince Volta made an incredible album with Weiland that reaches so many areas of Rock and Metal that those that have "mainstream" reach stay away from. That goes for Moyer as well, being a part of Disturbed! The song Til The Dust Is Gone is the prime example of the power of the band and sadly, a foreshadow to Weiland's death. While this is not part of my top 100, I HIGHLY recommend checking it out for one of the most solid Hard Rock albums to come out in the 2010's. While I don't see it happening I love the idea of the band getting together for every album with a new singer to keep the ideas fresh. Hey, maybe it's possible?
Coming Soon: That Drummer Guy's Top 100 Of 2015 Part I: 100-90