Cockroaches & Monuments (ft. Maxi Nil) (4:33), Banner of Light (4:23), We Made You (4:45), Sinbad (3:52), Maps of the Sky (5:35), Curious Tomorrows (ft. Tom Englund) (4:55), A Test of Wills (4:15),This Wasteland (4:12), On the Fields of July (5:17)
Astral DNA is an Athens based quartet featuring two guitarists (John Aktipis and Geoge Antipatis), bassist (Peter Vasilliades), a vocalist (Babis Nikou) and a guest drummer, whose name has been quite hard to track down but I think is Dominik Schweiger. They play what I describe as Power Metal. Supergod is their first release via Bandcamp as they are as yet, an unsigned band.
The music is what you'd expect from this genre being played with great aplomb and technical ability, with a heavy, thick bass dueting with much double kicking, whilst the twin guitars (not as evident as they could be) snaking through the turbid undergrowth of riffage, and a strong vocal cutting through to tell the tale.
There are a few bits of keyboard padding on Banner of Light (which also ends with a pleasant string coda) and We Made You which also has an atmospheric monk chant which works very well. I particularly like the way the album's first notes are from a synth sequence which mirrors the time signature of the initial rhythm. This opening track Cockroaches & Monuments features a guest vocalist in the form of Greek metal goddess Maxi Nil who imbues a certain theatrical element to the proceedings.
In other news, we get Evergrey's Tom S Englund singing along on Curious Tomorrows. This could also be a way of comparing Babis Nikou's vocal talent, as the two voices complement each other superbly. The last track On The Fields Of July gives us the most twin guitar experience on the album and a very good sound it is too.
Astral DNA are rising stars in this category, they have obviously put a lot of hard work into their craft and deserve not only to be listened to, but signed up as well. I very rarely hear the Prog side of this denomination of quavers and crochets, but as a Power Metal album, it's up there with the best.
CD1: Mirage - A Portrayal Of Figures (Pt.1); Aim L45; Burning Sky; Journey To The Afterlife; Alcatraz ; Memento Mori; Pictures; In Appearance - A Portrayal Of Figures (Pt.2)
CD2 (Instrumental): Mirage - A Portrayal Of Figures (Pt.1); Aim L45; Burning Sky; Journey To The Afterlife; Alcatraz; Memento Mori; Pictures; In Appearance - A Portrayal Of Figures (Pt.2)
This is the second album from Germany's Flaming Row. Take a look at the list of 31 musicians featured on Mirage - A Portrayal of Figures and you will instantly see that this is a rock opera of massive proportions.
Massive in terms of story. Mirage revolves around the Magistrate, a group of alien rulers who have decided that mankind has progressed too far technically, but not far enough in terms of morality or unity. The survivors have banded together to fight back, but a lowly soldier believes that his leaders have different plans than they claim.
Massive in terms of the music. I've seen Flaming Row often referred to as a 'progressive metal band'. That is way-off. There are many styles at work here. There are some weightier, guitar-led sections but if that's the only criteria to lump a band into a genre, then this could also be called a jazzy band, American country band, European folk outfit or a straight rock band.
Massive in terms of the cast. In addition to the main songwriters Martin Schnella, Marek Arnold and Kiri Geile, guests include Ted Leonard (Enchant & Spocks Beard), Gary Wehrkamp (Shadow Gallery) and Magaili Luyten (Ayreon) plus (ex)members of bands such as Haken, Spock's Beard, Pain of Salvation, Neal Morse and Seven Steps To The Green Door.
So has Flaming Row bitten off more than it, or anyone can chew?
The story itself is well told and with a nice twist at the end. I've also just reviewed the second cinematic Prog album from Australia's Hibernal. This would be a great story told in the format chosen of that project.
I do find the music randomly eclectic. We constantly drift from heavy guitar and rhythm sections, to passages with sax, uilleann pipes, whistles, and violins to mandolins, cellos, and basically everything you can imagine. The jumps are often sudden, as opposed to transitional.
Like most rock operas, Mirage... falls prey to the basic problem of the songs taking a back seat to the story. The lyrics throughout concentrate on the story rather than the music they have to accompany. The dialogue-style of the lyric writing merely exacerbates the problem for me. The constant changing of singers, to match the ever-changing cast of characters, exacerbates that even more. It feels a bit crowded on that stage. It is impossible to differentiate between most characters by listening, meaning that reading the booklet as you go is the only way to follow the plot.
For those who enjoy the Ayreon style of rock opera, then this is an album that should be on your radar. Whilst it has many highlights, for me I can't help thinking that Flaming Row's ambition has set themselves too massive a mountain to climb here.
Overture (4:19), Betrayed (2:19), She (4:35), The Pact (6:54), More Than He Bargained For (5:57), Day and Night (18:09), Ghost of the Past/Abducted (4:15), The Truth (7:32), Man of Darkness (10:14), The Challenge (14:49)
No matter how hard I try to catch all the decent ones, every year there are a few musical gems which get my attention too late to make it into my Top Album lists of any given year. Released in December 2012, I've actually compiled two 'Best of …' lists since this debut album from New York upstarts Infinite Spectrum came out. Ah well! Better late than never, as this is one of the best old-style melodic prog metal discs I've heard for a while.
it has a production that's brought the clarity of a freshly-polished goblet; with clear, brilliant musicianship which stays the right side of showmanship and has one of the hottest metal vocalists to emerge out of the States for some while. This is a very impressive 80 minutes of music. Behind it all sits a clever historical storyline where four characters undertake a fatal battle of love, lust, revenge and reality.
Musically speaking, this band kick some serious butt, thanks to a drummer and guitarist who impress throughout. No symphonics, no power metal clichés, no avant-garde exuberance. This is straight, honest, skillful prog metal of the type which only fellow Americans Redemption has managed to surpass in recent times.
Indeed, the tracks Man of Darkness, Day and Night, and Betrayed easily stand up to comparison with the best that Nick van Dyke and Co have produced.
One or two of the other songs don't quite grab me in the same way and I do find the sound effects and voice-overs for the storyline a little too distracting. However the combination of an engaging storyline, immense head-banging riffage, hooks which bring you back for more, technical instrumentation and a world class, emotive singer, should make this an essential listen to all fans of progressive metal.
Orientation (5:13), Propaganda Techniques (5:30), The Parallel (4:51), Ignition (2:05), Evolving (3:19), Evolved (2:20), Fire (3:33), Loss (4:18), Running (2:06), Human (6:59)
If 'complex', 'diverse' and 'melodic' are three adjectives you seek in describing your favourite albums, then this debut from a quintet out of Athens should go straight to the top of your "Must Buy" list.
Formed in 2008, Mother of Millions has been diligently developing its material via a four-track demo which came out three years ago, and an impressive range of live gigs with more established bands. Human took a year of hard work in the studio to complete.
The sound the band has created is hard to pigeonhole. It's certainly metallic and definitely progressive. Yet it doesn't sound like your average ProgMetal band. Let me try to amplify that statement.
For the metallic side of things, both the guitar of Kostas Konstantinidis and the drums of George Boukaouris offer the required levels of darkness and weight to their execution. Singer George Prokopiou sits definitely in the "metal vocal" camp. It is also a pretty dark album in tone and lyrics.
For the progressive ingredients we have a slight contradiction. On one hand, whilst the album consists of 10 tracks, it is only 40 minutes in length. The progressiveness therefore isn't going to come from extended solos or wandering song structures.
The 'Prog' categorisation is delivered through an ever-changing palette of time signatures, dynamics and pace. Despite their (relative) brevity, almost ever song has a mix of light and shade. Mother of Millions has an innate ability to write songs that shift in an instant, from almost extreme metal to whimsical folk. Some excellent use is made of ProgRock motifs, acoustic passages as well as traditional Mediterranean folk styles. A much more aggressive version of early Pain of Salvation could be one comparison. Sophisticated is the word.
Whilst the whole band is tight, the star of the show for me is the singer. I listen to a lot of bands which seek to cross the stylistic borders of metal. Most albums fail because the vocals are unable to keep up. Prokopiou can deliver melancholy, low-pitched, high-pitched and screams with aplomb. He also has a neat eye for a hook. On top of some great guitar and keyboard riffs, his melodic lines are what makes the music on Human demand repeat listens.
As a footnote to this, you may know my general aversion to extreme vocals: screams, growls and grunts. Prokopiou does use a screamy voice often. However it is a lighter example than most and always retains a quota of melody and soul which makes it bearable, nay enjoyable for me.
The room for improvement for Mother Of Millions, lies for me in the actual song lengths. As you can see from the track listing, Running, Evolved and Ignition all stop around the two-minute mark. All however, have some interesting musical ideas that would be much better rewarded if, rather than stop, they evolved into the following song. Thus when listened to as a whole, the album comes across as a little disjointed; too bitty. The fact that the title track is both the longest and the standout track, maybe suggests that a slightly different songwriting template would take this band to an even higher level next time.
In the current time, whilst 2014 has seen the more established bands from the heavier end of the progressive spectrum happy to retread familiar ground, there have been some phenomenal releases from newer, independent bands.
Mother of Millions is one of those and will certainly be vying with fellow Greek bands Need and Astral DNA when it comes to compiling my top 10 albums from 2014. This is a mature and highly impressive debut which manages to straddle several styles, yet remain addictively accessible.
Morning Star (7:59), Concrete Garden (4:19), Lost (Signs Everywhere), (8:01) Hooked up in the third Reich (7:17), Narcissus (4:34), Clinging to the Last Thing You Thought (3:17), Cold Silence (5:30, Revelator (6:14)
I remember hearing Paul Simon 's Graceland and thinking that there is always a distinctive guitar sound on anything that comes out of South Africa. A little research and it appears that the Roland JC120s amp could be the culprit. The JC stands for "Jazz Chorus". I cannot confirm in any way whether Paving The Labyrinth uses this equipment but its debut album Polyopia seems, at least in the more jazzy, clean guitar sections, to have the same timbre.
Elsewhere there are heavier guitar parts, but even then the (two) guitars of Angelo Dias and former drummer Levi Thöle (who also sings), have a unique appeal. Combine this with the very jazzy rhythm partnership of Shakeel Sohail Gibran on a busy five string bass and Bruford-esque drummer Max Liebenberg, and you have really paved a labyrinthine way to a very interesting eight tracks of proggy, jazzy metal music.
The opening track Morning Star also includes the virtuosic violin playing of their talented stick man. The album is packed to the brim with notes and quirky cross rhythms, it is very much in the same league as Animals As Leaders, maybe Tool, and hints of latter day Opeth.
The longest track, Hooked Up In The Third Reich could almost have been a lost Radiohead track in parts. However the clever weaving of actively employed drums, with adept bass playing wrestling with punchy guitar picking and slicing, launch this track into a higher plane which would leave that comparison on the starting grid.
This is true progressive music provided by this Johannesburg foursome. The vocals of Levi Thöle cut through the cacophony of noise as clearly as the laid back jazz sections. In fact the recording quality is also to be celebrated, with every dexterous pluck and hit sounding good on everything I have played it on. Who needs expensive producers?
Good luck lads with this album and I hope you continue to show the world that Prog Metal doesn't always have to wear the same dress. Polyopia is superbly played by four very talented people. This a wonderful debut that is a steal as a free download, but readers please contribute, because we want more!
Fire (9:08), Wind (14:14), Water (9:30), Earth (14:46), Quinta Essentia (10:19)
I think sometimes it is too easy to resign some of the unknown or lesser-known acts into a category that doesn't give them a chance. Hence the 2012 release from Speaking to Stones (S2S) which came my way for a review. Honestly I was expecting the pedestrian, melodic metal routine from Elements which would likely have some highlights but in the end would wash around with all the other outfits without distinction.
Cheerfully I admit my expectation was incorrect. I expected that this would be a prog metal release where the melodic elements would be drowned out by yawns. But Elements is a carefully thought out and creative series of tunes that never gives you a chance to turn it off.
The band's website describes Elements as being a collaborative effort; a culmination of three years of work creating this theme-based, groove metal-laced product that rests firmly in the prog metal arena. I agree, and having listened to segments of the band's self-titled debut from 2006 (DPRP review here) I can safely surmise this is a much improved and stronger work. Never mind the rating differential, all scales slide randomly when it comes to musical tastes.
The improvement can be attributed to a change in chemistry. This is effectively a new line-up that now includes guitarist Tony Vinci (original member), Andy Engberg on vocals (Section A), Mark Zonder on drums (ex-Fate's Warning), Greg Putnam on bass (Jam Pain Society) and Anthony Brown on keys (Graphite Symphony). Where Tony did most writing previously, this album is a shared venture. The collaboration of this gang has definitely paid off.
Each song is named after the original elements of the world: fire, wind, water, earth, and quintessence. The personality of the songs is built around these ideas. At close to ten minutes or more for each song, S2S has given itself plenty of space to explore.
Starting with Fire the music is amped-up, driving, and full of changing melodic elements. I am particularly impressed with the way Mark's drumming has the flow of a primary instrument as opposed to just a rhythm resource. He frames the stature and mood, thereby creating a well-balanced mix between the guitars and keys. The lead guitar and keyboard solos are inventive and fresh, making for an impactful introductory song.
Wind continues the action with even more drama. The song moves from searing metal guitar to a midsection of soft, flowing vocal melodies. The dimensions of Wind carry some spacious symphonic elements that provide for a wide and grandiose experience. It then thrusts into a high-speed-run through the scales with the drums firing off the punctuation.
Without spending too much time on every element, this album is good from start to finish. It has enough variety to keep my interest and the influences draw widely across the globe. What's missing is perhaps some of the darker side of the matter covered. The tenor of the album stayed somewhat upbeat stylistically within a comfortable metal range but I would have liked to hear some darker character to create more contrast.
Judging from the leap to this album from the last, I expect great things to come. I consider this one of the pleasant surprises of late. Elements is good enough for repeated plays without tiring of it. The quality is there in every respect, from the vibrancy of the sound to the imaginative and captivating artwork on the cover.
I recommend this to anyone who enjoys high action progressive metal with contrasting soft and hard phrases within the same song such as Vanden Plas, Zero Hour and Section A.
Monster (5:53), A War OF Our Own (4:09), The Curse (4:24), Autophobia (3:48), Burning Star (3:43), For You (3:00), Exile (5:10), Delirio (5:02), Earthquake (4:27), Secrets (4:38), Don't Let Go (6:00), Out Of The Darkness (4:43), bonus track: The Distance Between Us (4:20)
It's quite remarkable that a small country like the Netherlands has so many wellknown female fronted (progressive) metal bands: Within Temptation, Epica, After Forever, Delain, and Stream of Passion. Of course After Forever is now no longer active since lead vocalist Floor Jansen has joined the ranks of Finnish top group Nightwish in 2013. Stream of Passion (SoP)
also have had problems after ending their deal with their record company. The band initiated an international crowd funding campaign. Within a few short weeks SoP fans managed to raise the staggering amount of EUR 44,000 by bidding on band-related goodies and events. Finally, French artist Alexandra Bach contributed generously to the campaign by offering to create the stunning artwork.
Conflict is a recurrent theme on A War of Our Own. The intimate song Secrets was inspired by the struggle of 3 year old Mara, who sadly passed away last year after a long battle with Neuroblastoma (a rare and very aggressive form of child-cancer). Don't Let Go is a message of hope to someone who can't cope with life anymore. Exile involves the struggles faced by an asylum-seeker forced to leave his country behind. The first two songs of the album are about the conflict raging in lead vocalist Marcela Bovio's homeland of Mexico. The battle between armed drug gangs and the government causes a lot of trouble and has resulted in many people getting killed. Reading about this makes you think it's all a bit depressive on this album but there is also a ray of hope that things will improve.
This album is more progressive and melodic than the previous albums and is once again produced by Joost van den Broek (former keyboard player of After Forever). There are no grunts to be heard on this album and for me that's a good thing. Marcela Bovio has a great voice that has even improved during recent years. On the album there are several nice string arrangements to be heard, some subtile piano pieces, heavy guitar work and pounding drums as you would expect from a female fronted (gothic) metal band with progressive elements!
To be honest I suffer a bit from female fronted metal fatigue but I must admit after giving this album more playing time in my CD-player it gets better and better the more you hear it. Maybe not so many surprises on the album but another great contribution to the collection of Dutch female fronted metal albums.
Some Things, Part I (4:10), Chameleon (5:18), Surface Scratching (4:04), Heading Back* (2:19), Home (4:43), Butterflies (3:58), Mourning After II (6:10), Dreamwalk, Part II - The Descent* (8:47), Shock Awakening* (1:29), Jimmy (5:44), Some Things, Part 2 (10:31)
It's not easy to review a piece like Music to Stand Around and Feel Awkward To, from TDW (initials for Tom De Wit, also main man behind Mind:Soul). It's one of those not-a-concept-album records, meaning that although there is no plot carrying a story, there is an overarching theme. In this case each song presents a different individual, mostly archetypes found in today's civilisation.
First of all, the album consists of some re-recordings and re-interpretations of De Wit´s material from previous albums, which isn't something necessarily bad, but feels much more logical when an older act does it with material that is decades old. Secondly, despite the fact that the drums sound programmed, they feel too dehumanised at times. Lastly, De Wit's voice fits most of the music well, but his higher registry's effectiveness is questionable.
There are two versions of this record available: a free one that can be downloaded from TDW's website, consisting of eight tracks; and the one for those "that support by buying the album for real", which adds three exclusive tracks.
The album opener, Some Things, Part I has a nice acoustic melody with all kinds of arrangements. It starts like an upbeat, folky tune lead by Spanish guitar, then turns towards a darker mood. The simple, yet beautiful violin and dulcimer solos by Laura ten Voorde and Elvya Dulcimer add color.
From there on, we have two re-imagined tracks in a row, Chameleon and Surface Scratching, which are better versions of their older selves, more mature and layered. Both are interesting on their own, with classic prog metal elements, riffing and even electronic drum beats.
At only 2:19 in length, Heading Back (one of the three album exclusives) is a soft song with clean guitars that work wonderfully well with De Wit's voice. The solo follows a classic question/answer pattern, alternating between the right and left channels and is transformed into a heavier tune, which works as an intro for what comes next.
Just like the aforementioned reworked tracks, the rest of the re-recorded material reinvents older tunes, and they all sound better than their original recordings. While Home is nothing too groundbreaking, Mourning After II and Jimmy are both pure prog metal songs improved by the new production.
Butterflies is a heartbreaking piece, carried mostly by piano arpeggios and later a violin that accompanies the song to the end.
After a slow paced intro, the second album exclusive track, Dreamwalk, Part II - The Descent, breaks into a metal song that includes death growls, death metal-like instrumental segments, Prog Rock choruses and even a quotation from Grieg's In The Hall Of The Mountain King, which builds up to more prog metal passages.
The third album exclusive, Shock Awakening, is a piece with some electronic instruments and some rapped vocal parts that remind me of Daniel Gildenlow. Just like Heading Back, it's a short song that works as the intro for another re-imagination.
The album ends on a high note with Some Things, Part II, which closes the idea from the opening track. This prog metal composition has good ideas and a great amount of variation, but makes me wonder why there wasn't more of this throughout the whole disc.
With five re-recordings of older material and two really short tracks that work as intros, it's hard to review Music to Stand Around (...) as a full release. It has its ups and downs, but the amount of rehashed material leaves roughly 30 minutes of unheard ideas on a nearly one-hour-long album. On one hand, it shows De Wit's growth, and on the other, the interesting concepts found here and there do not solve the fact that it feels incomplete as a whole. However it is a good entry point to get to know the band.
All Seeing Eye (3:33), Line of Symmetry (6:57), Transhumanist (4:16), Bodies of Betrayal (6:32), Parallels/Dual Reality (4:48), Spawn (5:09), Punishment by Design (5:27), Dust of Martyrs (5:17), The Divulgence Act (6:05), Esoteric Symbolism (7:13), VI Order Out of Chaos (7:17), VII Darkest Days of Symphony (7:34), VIII In Vitro (7:59)
I found this album, on my first few listens, to be a fairly impenetrable mix of thrashy, metallic riffing and some of the most ferocious drumming, I had heard for a while. Then, after a few more plays, it slowly reveals itself as a rough diamond; sharp, hard and full of hidden facets.
Teramaze is a five piece progressive metal band from Melbourne, Australia. Esoteric Symbolism is its fourth full length album. It revolves musically around the riffing guitars and solos of Dean Wells (lead/rhythm guitars/backing vocals) and John Zambelis (guitar), propelled by the fearsome rhythm section of Dean Kennedy (drums) and Luis Eguren (bass).
However the real polish on this rough diamond is provided by vocalist Brett Rerekura, who uses neither screams nor growls to get his point across. His stylish singing extends the vocal melodies over the intricate, riffing guitars and powerhouse rhythms, allowing the ear to make sense of it all. The prime example of this is on the track The Divulgence Act, which also features nice vocal harmonies, making it one of this album's gems.
This album slowly reveals its more progressive aspects. These include the use of intricate vocal harmonies and different styles of soloing from the guitarists, even within the same song, such as the title track. The solos never become flashy or widdly, and are always at the service of the song.
The progressive elements increase as the album goes on. It is front-end loaded with shorter, punchier, more metallic, riff-driven songs. As the album continues, the songs get longer and more complex, with different sections within each track mixing time signatures and dynamics to great effect. The final four songs are a perfect mix of progressive elements, melody and metal, and are the standout highlights.
The other thing to mention is that the songs on this album are proper songs, filled with melodies that shine. They have verse-chorus structures with complex lyrics fleshing them out. I found myself humming them after a while, driving work colleagues to distraction.
This is an album that reveals itself slowly and is well worth persisting with. If you are more of a ProgMetal fan than I am, then I'm sure its strengths will become obvious sooner than they were for me. I have been trying to think of a comparison band but Teramaze really does seem to be a band that does not sound quite like any other. It plays progressive, melody-driven metal with superb power and technique, but never letting it overwhelm the songs.
If I have a complaint, and it is a minor one, it is possibly one or two songs too long. At almost 80 minutes it is a full-on listen. A vinyl edition would give you that break whilst switching over sides but hey, that's what a pause button is for.
So overall, Esoteric Symbolism provides an intense but increasingly interesting and rewarding listen and becomes more of a polished diamond than a rough one with repeated plays.