To anyone that knows me, it's not secret that Dan Swano is one of my biggest musical heroes of all time along the likes of Devin Townsend, Arjen Lucassen, Daniel Gildenlow and many others. From discovering Edge Of Sanity around the time I discovered Death Metal to discovering Nightingale when I found out how much I love Prog Rock, Swano has hit every note for me perfectly, from his amazing vocal range to his undeniable instrumental talent. Wanting to get back into Progressive Death Metal, Swano started Witherscape playing drums, keyboards and singing/growling alongside Guitarist/Bassist Ragnar Widerberg with lyrics penned by the legendary Paul Kuhr of Novembers Doom. This marks the 2nd album, and 3rd release for the band. How has the band progressed over the last few years? Let's find out!
The album starts with the first single from the album, Wake Of Infinity. Starting with an ominous piano riff, it kicks into a mid tempo Progressive Death Metal attack. Swano showing that he really does an amazing job behind the drums with his double bass assault. The song switches between growls and cleans seamlessly. The verse riffs contain some nice thrashy and Death Metal tinges while the chorus riff is a mix of soaring cleans and deathly growls. The middle section is the best part of the song for the Prog fan in all of us, containing a melancholy clean tone on the guitar, which then switches to a classic Hard Rock style solo followed by a beyond beautiful bridge that leads into the final chorus. A fantastic choice as the first single. Next is In The Eyes Of Idols, which starts with a classic NWOBHM style mid tempo guitar riff. Swano once again shows off the beautiful power between his growls and cleans. The chorus is very keyboard driven and catchy as all get go. The middle solo section is also keyboard driven with one of the most beautiful, yet short, solos on the entire album. A very fun catchy song that would be another good choice as a single. Up next is Rapture Ballet. This is where the albums tarts to take an emotional turn musically. The opening riffs are very proggy, almost Dream Theater-esque. The story (which I won't spoil) starts to really take a darker turn at this point as well. The song is filled with odd time signatures that will satisfy the fans who really wanted the prog aspect of the band to shine. The Examiner is easily one of, if not the best, song on the album. While arguably the most mellow song on the album, this is where I started to tear up...literally. The song starts with a very emotional piano riff mixed with Swano's emotional reverbed vocals. To me, this is the Dead For a Day (from 2013's The Inheritance) of the album for me, the song that when I listen to it repeatedly it brings out tears of sadness and joy for me because of the music playing, the lyrical meaning behind the song, and, without question, Swano's emotional clean vocals. While the song is not as upbeat as Dead For a Day, it still strike a chord with you just as hard, just like it did for me (actually as I'm writing this and listening to the song once again, it's hard not to choke up a bit). Marionette is the next song, and much like the previous song, the emotion continues here as well. starting with clean guitar and Swano's reverbed vocals, the song picks up into an emotional ballad with the growls over top of the majestic chorus that is another sheer highlight of the album. Near the end, the song features arguably my favorite guitar solo on the album. These two songs back to back can make even the strongest Metalhead weep, but that all changes with the next song, Divinity. Bringing back the double bass and much more uptempo than most of the album so far, the song features some extremely majestic guitar leads driven by a classic Thrash/Prog riffs in the chorus with one of the most proggy sections for the chorus. Widerberg absolutely shreds in the guitar solo of the song. The song is the shortest non instrumental on the album. God of Ruin brings back the slower, brooding, prog, and dark majestic feeling of the album. Those that are looking for a song that soars from dark lows to brilliant highs will be extremely pleased with this track. A fantastic mix of 70s-80s Rock and Prog all over this one with the dark growls at just the right spots. Arguably the highlight of the album, and my personal favorite song tied with The Examiner is the title track; The Northern Sanctuary. this 13 minute epic showcases the best of features of the band in one track. Everything you could possibly want is showcased somewhere in this song. In reality, the whole song feels like the best song Opeth never wrote. When the vocals kick in it continues the electronic feeling then leads to the most beautiful passage riff before going full blown classic Death Metal with growls, chugging guitars and thunderous double bass. the instrumental riff between vocal patterns (which also is the chorus) has gotta be a nod to Opeth's Deliverance, it just has to be. Things then begin to calm down again and begins to feel like the beginning of the song once again. Things then begin to get heavier again with a distorted version of the clean riff. leading back into the Deliverance meets Images and Words tribute riff. The middle of the song features majestic riffs that mix between Swano's growls and cleans before getting more into tribal drumming and proggy once again. 3/4ths through the song things get acoustic for a bit before getting into one of the most eerie riffs on the album which makes you feel like you are about to meet your doom. The end of the song features the keyboards bringing back the 70's Prog vibe and an almost funeral type riff that makes it feel like everything is drifting away into the abyss and a gigantic Iron Maiden style ending to close out the song. The final track, Vila I Frid, is an instrumental track that that is showcased by lone piano that leaves you that feeling that the story is over....but is it?
Honestly, this is one of Dan Swano's shining moments as a songwriter. This has everything that I want in an album. It's heavy, brutal, proggy, emotional, heartbreaking and a complete tour de force of metal musicality. Combining the heaviness and Progressive Death Metal of Edge Of Sanity, the beautiful emotion of Nightingale and the love of great storytelling by Paul Kuhr; this album needs to be on everyone's Best of 2016 lists. Do not let this absolute gem of an album slip you by. Granted you still have a month and 5 days from this post to pick up the album, but don't dilly dally. You will be so happy that you picked up this landmark album.
- 10/10 *Would give 11/10 if I could!*
Witherscape- The Northern Sanctuary is available July 22nd via Century Media 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
Black Crown Initiate started in 2012 and in those two years have started to make a huge name for themselves. Getting on gigantic Metal tours, releasing a buzz-worthy EP and now they have released their debut album, The Wreckage Of Stars. Still, many metal fans are not familiar with the band. Simply put, Black Crown Initiate is what happens when you take the best parts of Akercoke, Cynic, Meshuggah and Fleshgod Apocalypse and fuse them into an incredible 5 piece Progressive Death Metal band. The Wreckage Of Stars could arguably be one of the greatest debut Metal albums ever. Here's why.
The album starts off with Great Mistake. It starts with an acoustic guitar passage that continues on as the rest of the instrumental part of the band begins their Death Metal assault. The death growls are so ferocious. You'd think that's all you'd need in a band, but the clean vocals are just as incredible. Both balance each other out and create a fantastic atmosphere behind the chaos of the music being played. Half way through the song it starts to focus a bit more on a breakdown with clean vocals (a concept that needs to be utilized more). And ends with it's killer, catchy chorus that once it starts being played live, everyone will start singing along with. The Fractured One is next and it starts off with all guns blazing and super fast blast beats. The whole song has a very aggressive Death Metal feel to it. Fans of the modern sound of Death Metal will love this track. Malignant is the next track and once again it starts with acoustic guitars, and then leads into pure chaos. Picture Fleshgod Apocalypse without the orchestra and that perfectly describes this song. The Human Lie Manifest once again starts off with ferocious blast beats and a Death Metal attack. The whole song flies by as fast as it can go until it leads into a a nice heavy beatdown section followed by more hyper speed Death Metal madness. Withering Waves takes a bit more of a break from all the chaos, although this one is still insane in it's own right. This song is currently the lead single off the album, and for good reason. It showcases a bit of everything the band can do. The chorus, once again, is unbelievably catchy and powerful. The middle of the song slows everything down and somewhat leads into an Damnation era Opeth interlude. while progressively building bigger and bigger until It leads back into the final chorus. It's a rare thing to say about an album, but the single is one of the strongest tracks on the entire album. To The Eye That Leads You is a bit more into the Meshuggah realm of the band while it still has awesome blast beat segments. The title track, The Wreckage of Stars, starts off very melancholic and somber. It's not until around the 2 minute mark where things pick up a tad with some incredible drumwork over very simple guitar lines. This has more of a Post Rock/Post Metal feel. 3/4ths through the song it starts to get heavy with a gigantic breakdown, and the first appearance of vocals on the song. The song ends in a very Atmospheric Death Metal embrace before floating away. Shapes Collapse brings back the chaos. This is a more straight ahead Death Metal song than most of the rest of the album until a little past half way through where it gets into a quiet, bass driven interlude. This leads to a nice Meshuggah and insane drum, breakdown to close out the track. Purge is up next and this leads in with a beautiful guitar passage. This has some of the most variance in any track on the album. This heavily shows off the Akercoke mixed with Cynic feel and may be one of the best tracks on the entire album. Everyone in the band shines on this song in one way or the other. The album closes with the shortest song on the album at 2 minutes and 23 seconds, Linear (Side Note: I got to hear this one back in June in the Black Crown Initiate Van and was beyond spellbound). This song is spectacular and features one of the most under-utilized ideas in metal - Blast Beats and Clean Vocals. The only thing wrong with this song is that it is too short. it makes you want so much more. One of the finest ways to end an album.
Without a shadow of a doubt, Black Crown Initiate is one of the bands in the current generation to save Metal. They take Prog, Death Metal, a little Djent and Atmosphere and fuse it into the perfect formula for what current Metalheads should listen to. If all goes right in the world, Black Crown Initiate will make it huge and will make the Metal world a better place. Now get up and go get The Wreckage of Stars.....NOW!!!
Black Crown Initiate- The Wreckage Of Stars Available NOW via eOne Music
- Josh Rundquist (That Drummer Guy)
The Contortionist is a band that has gone through a few major changes since their beginning in 2007. Their biggest change being what they sound like. Back on their first EP, Shapeshifter, the band sounded like a Deathcore group. But in those 7 years, 1 EP and 3 albums later; The Contortionist has flourished into a modern day Progressive Metal band. Old fans of the band will always love the debut album, Exoplanet, the most and do not like the change in sound for the band. But newer fans of the band and those who can appreciate a band trying to spread their wings and explore their creativity will find things to appreciate on their second album, Intrinsic and now, Language. 3 almost major changes in the band is in the new lineup. The Contortionist now features 3 new members consisting of new frontman Michael Lessard (also of Last Chance To Reason), full time keyboardist Eric Guenther, and new bassist Jordan Eberhardt (Formerly of Scale The Summit). Language is a continuation of stepping away from the Deathcore sound and showcasing the broader aspects of Progressive Metal. If you haven't heard the album yet, here is what Language is all about.
The album opens with The Source, which may be one of the most soothing openings to a Metal album in recent times. The intro mainly showcases piano, synths and Lessard's soothing vocals. Light acoustic guitars also are featured lightly in the background. It feels very much like a New Age song. Very soothing and beautiful beyond words. This quickly changes when the song transitions into Language I: Intuition. This was the first single from the album and a brilliant choice for a single. The song starts off mellow with clean guitar and synths and then transitions itself heavier with the inclusion of the rest of the band. Lessard shows off his great clean vocal approach while also beginning to show his growls and screams in the right spots. Overall, while the first part of this two part song is quite mellow, it does feature it's share of heavy moments near the end before exploding into Language II: Conspire. The second half of the song Language starts off with what sounds like a very cool off time drumbeat by Joey Baca and continues being very heavy. It has it's share of clean, beautiful moments as well. The ending of the song Language may be one of the most beautiful moments in Metal in 2014. Integration is the next song and starts off once again with some very spacy synth sounds before launching into a nice, Cynic influenced, riff. The song is a quaint, mellow song overall, even with its distorted guitars and odd time signatures. But near the end it gets nice and heavy again with screams and Exoplanet style riffing. Thrive is up next and it is easily the overall heaviest song on the album. With the exception of the middle section, which is in 9/8 and features a bass solo by Eberhardt (his only contribution to the album before joining), the song is just heavy from start to finish. Very fast and upbeat with lots of time signature changes. It's easily one of the best tracks on the album. Primordial Sound is one of the more mellow songs on the album, but it features such a great musical soundscape. It is perfect from start to finish. While there isn't too many heavy moments on this song, except near the middle, it flows together so well. Arise is right up there with Thrive as the heaviest song. The song absolutely showcases Robby Baca and Cameron Maynard's exceptional guitar work. It also features one of the only uses of blast beats on the entire album. The next song up is Ebb & Flow. Unless you count Language I and II as one song, this is the longest song on the album. This once again showcases a huge Cynic inspired Progressive Metal sound. It once again is one of the best songs on the album. Joey Baca showcases his amazingly dynamic drumming on this song flawlessly. The ending to Ebb & Flow is the biggest highlight of the entire album without question, so heavy, so beautiful, so perfect. The perfect...Ebb & Flow. The album ends with The Parable. This song is a great blend of mellow, intricate, heavy, and catchy. In a way, it's the entire album of Language fit into one song and the perfect way to close the album.
All in All Language is a perfect album for fans of Prog Metal. Again, old school fans of The Contortionist will have a hard time digesting this album because it's not "Brutal," but the fans who care enough will see Language and enjoy every second of it. It's an easy contender for 'Feel Good Metal Album Of 2014'. While treading on the subject of Language as a whole, it does feel like a concept album about the use of Language in life. Just imagine where you'd be in life without Language, both the vocation and the album. Now go support The Contortionist in any way you can (and Last Chance To Reason as well!)
The Contortionist- Language available NOW via eOne/Goodfight Music
- Josh Rundquist (That Drummer Guy)