Obsidian Desert (5:57:), Jealousy With A Halo (4:12), Wounded Healer (4:45), Meltdown (6:03), My Own Kind (5:53), Morning Star (6:21), In Your Mind (7:25), Pyramid Of Charlatans (4:43), Aftermath Of Moral Hazard (4:10), Wasted? (8:21)
Armed Cloud is a young band from the city of Nijmegen in the Netherlands. In 2012 they released an EP called Shroud Of Rain which got a positive reception. It even got them a spot on the Dutch Exposure album, the result of a progressive rock competition. Now a couple of years later, Armed Cloud releases their debut album Obsidian Desert.
Amongst their influences they mention Dream Theater, Rainbow and Iron Maiden. I for sure would like to add Rush to that list, especially the Canadians' early work. In this list of influential bands are bands that I like, but I know that is no guarantee for a positive experience. But in this case, a positive experience it surely is, as Obsidian Desert is very good album. I am so happy that a young Dutch band created a debut album like this.
The style of music Armed Cloud plays is best described symphonic rock with a notch towards metal. Armed Cloud states that their music is song-orientated, which results in an album with songs that last about five minutes each. With ten songs you end up with just under an hour of music. No ten-minute epic songs, but at times they try to fit in a solo a bit more lengthy than average. The variety in songs is remarkable. The Armed Cloud sound is cohesive during the album, but each song has it's own touch. These young guys keep it an interesting listen for the whole of the album.
Obsidian Desert is a very good debut album and I hope Armed Cloud keeps making albums like this for a long time. I am already looking forward to the next album and looking forward to seeing them live somewhere in the Netherlands. The DPRP Poll has already been processed, but I would like to change my entry for best debut into Armed Cloud. Not because I am not satisfied with my entry, but Armed Cloud has made the impact that a "best debut album" should make.
Prologue: Our Souls (1:55), Forever (4:09), Void of the Damned (4:52), The Last Embrace (6:24), A Dangerous Journey (6:46), Into Infinity (5:54), Interlude I: The Confession (1:28), When Darkness Falls (5:33), Believe (5:52), My Revolution (5:11), Interlude II: Release Me (1:15), The Dark Symphony (6:06), Promised Lands (5:00), Until You're Mine (2:08), Conclusion: Still Alive (1:26), Chronicles of a Strange Mind (5:31)
The Chronicles Project is the creation of German composer and keyboard player Malte Rathke. He started this project in 2011. Failing to find enough local support, he turned to the internet for help to realise his ambitions. Following positive feedback, The Chronicles Project became a studio project, with an international line-up of musicians from Italy, Greece, Sweden and the UK and When Darkness Falls finally became reality.
Besides Malte Rathke on keyboards and arrangements, we have Ivan Ravaioli (lead and rhythm guitars), Martino Garattoni (bass guitar), Sam Tickner (drums), plus a cast of five vocalists (including one female voice), each representing a character of this concept album. I must confess that neither Malte Rathke, who used to be keyboard player for J.R. Blackmore (that's Ritchie's son), nor any of the other musicians have come my way musically before. Andi Kravljaca, one of the vocalists, is part of the UK prog metal band Aeon Zen and used to do the vocals in the early years of Seventh Wonder. The musicianship is outstanding throughout the entire album, and all of the singers have enough strength and emotion to perfectly fit this music, which can best be described as symphonic progressive power metal.
Quoting the press material the storyline is as follows: "The immortal soul gatherers Twilight, Nightfall and Sirelius come to earth to collect the souls of the deceased and deliver them to the sleeping god Isaari. But an ancient pact, and the murder of the mortal, Mary, threaten not only their mission, but also the equilibrium of forces and therefore the existence of mankind."
Quite honestly, I did not quite understand the whole plot, and these kind of fantasy/sci-fi stories are not my cup of tea anyway. However, it is possible to enjoy the music, irrespective of the underlying story, as each song has enough independence and originality to stand out on its own. Given such a storyline, one might expect a cheesy album, but most of the songs are too crisp and solid to be called kitsch.
The album consists of 16 songs ranging from 1:15 to 6:46, with some of the tracks merging seamlessly into each other. Three of the "songs" are narrations, necessary to understand the storyline upon first listening, but dispensable thereafter. Fortunately, they have been made individual tracks, which facilitates skipping them afterwards. The music sticks to the fundamental of its genres: heavy riffing, melody and harmonic vocals (especially for the ballads). There are some twists and turns to call it progressive, speed to add the power, and some bombastic arrangements to provide for the symphonic element. Over all, the music stays accessible and is not too complicated, with a good mixture of fast, heavy tracks and ballads.
The vocals are excellent and varied, as it needs to be given the fact we have a sort of a progressive metal opera here, and the choruses are very catchy. My preference is with Vasilis Geogiou (usually with Sunburst), performing as the soul keeper Twilight, but also Andi Kravljaca as Nightfall does a very good job. The fact that When Darkness Falls is the project of a keyboardist is not evidenced by the dominance of his instruments (as a matter of fact, the guitar plays the main role), but rather, by the orchestration of the arrangements.
Highlights? Forever, given the excellent riffing and a fierce synth melody to start the song; Into Infinity (my personal favourite) because of the variety of the vocals (three different singers in action) plus a great guitar solo; and the title track because of its virtuoso musicianship. A Dangerous Journey has a great emotional atmosphere, and Believe benefits from a catchy melody and its earworm-like chorus.
Downers? Very few. Maybe the album length. With almost 70 minutes, the music is a tad too uniform to entirely keep the listener's tension from the first to the last minute, but that's just a minor point in my opinion.
Who will this album appeal to? Fans of symphonic, progressive metal such as Kamelot, Avantasia, Rhapsody of Fire, Labyrinth or Threshold and especially Vanden Plas (if you like the album ChristO), will not make a mistake with this release. But the music is appealing and accessible enough to also attract beginners to this genre of music. Give it a try!
Rearrangement of the Gods (10:46), Ambitious (9:12), Beautiful Again (6:42), Until the Last Light Breaks In (10:54), Let Me Down (8:22), Sad Today (3:36), Finally (14:13)
I hate bloody difficult progressive metal bands like Dante. Year after year they go away and produce albums that cause me way too much bother. In the good old days you could stick on the new disk from say Queensrchye, Dream Theater or Shadow Gallery and know that after a few listens you would be swept away to prog metal heaven. Dante on the other hand have been created to make life awkward.
Initially formed as a project back in 2006 by the band members Markus Berger and Markus Maichel, Dante slowly expanded to become a fully-fledged band. They self-released their debut album The Inner Circle in 2007. Their most recent album, November Red, was the first time I came across this Bavarian quintet and it reached my list of top albums of 2014 (read the full list here). When We Were Beautiful is their fourth studio album, and was released through the German label Gentle Art of Music.
As I said, Dante don't make life easy for me. Like its predecessor, when I first put When We Were Beautiful in the player I thought it a meandering collection of chords, solos and aggressive vocals. The second spin I liked it even less. Third time around and a few hooks seemed to have stayed in my memory. Fourth time and I even started to get into some of the extended solos. It was not until about the tenth time of asking that I started to think that this is an album I could recommend.
Now, there are plenty of bands whose music takes a while to properly sink in, but why on earth do Dante have to make it such hard work?
Alexander Göhs has not got the most melodic metal of voices but his style tends to fit the chunky, deep tones of the guitar, and is effective in giving Dante an immediately recognisable sound.
Julian Kellner is just a beast on the guitar. The extended interplay he sets down with Markus Maichel on keyboards is the backbone for every song. There are very few progressive metal bands still playing this style of music this well.
Special mention must also go to Christian Eichlinger. I always recognise a good drummer, as much by what they do not play as what they do.
Anyway my patience has finally allowed me to appreciate the breadth of styles that encompass this album. The hook and playing for Finally is straight out of the Shadow Gallery, Enchant, and Spocks Beard books of song writing, while the intense opener Rearrrangement of the Gods mixes up fellow countrymen Angel Dust, Vanden Plas and the more metallic moments of Superior. Here and there, the music still looses my focus but with their fourth album Dante have created something that will bring lasting appeal to any fan of the older, riff-based epic style of progressive metal.
Adyta "The Neverending Embrace" (1:27), Sensorium (4:49), Cry For The Moon "The Embrace That Smothers - Part IV" (6:44), Run For A Fall (6:31), Illusive Consensus (5:00), Façade Of Reality "The Embrace That Smothers - Part V" (8:10), Feint (4:19), Seif Al Din "The Embrace That Smothers - Part VI" (5:46), The Phantom Agony (8:59), Veniality (4:37), Triumph Of Defeat (3:54), Veniality - Orchestral Version (4:35), Feint - Piano Version (4:53), Cry For The Moon - Single Version (3:30), Run For A Fall - Single Version (4:29)
Epica is a symphonic metal band hailing from the Netherlands who formed in 2002 (they were known as Sahara Dust originally, before taking inspiration from Kamelot's album Epica), and released this, their debut album the following year. Founding member Mark Jensen (originally of After Forever) continues his "The Embrace That Smothers" story line, which he began in After Forever. The first three parts featured on After Forever's debut album, parts 4-6 are found here on Epica's debut, and the following three parts on their third album (The Divine Conspiracy). These songs deal with the dangers of organised religion.
This is my first proper taste of Epica, having heard them only occasionally before at friends' houses or when exploring YouTube, as well as having heard the name a lot. So I was quite eager to hear what they are like. However, I have to admit I am disappointed.
The album starts how I would have expected, with an orchestral and rather epic-sounding introduction, before the music kicks in properly. From here on out, it is a fairly standard journey. The music itself is good, but far from ground-breaking. Every track is musically pretty much your standard power metal featuring constant double bass drumming, and fairly standard chords and rhythms from the guitars. Good enough to bob your head to or tap your foot to, but (aside from this review obviously) nothing I would really write home about.
The vocals are a huge let down and damage this album. While it is clear the singer (Simone Simons) is a very talented operatic singer, I have to say her vocals do not generally go with the music. While the music is rather quiet, her vocals are rather loud and operatic, to the point you cannot distinguish many words. The growled (or grunted) vocals could also be better. I find them to be too harsh, almost akin to the vocals of black metal bands at points, and too much at the other end of the spectrum to compliment Simone's vocal ability.
I find myself tapping my foot along with the instrumental sections, but sadly the vocals appear to be the focal point, and it lets the entire album down. I must repeat, she is a very talented vocalist, but her delivery and the actual volume level of the vocals, compared to the instruments, do not mix right with the music and overall feel of the album.
A lot of metal musicians are classically trained and many (particularly female) vocalists are extremely talented, but sadly it has been done better by other bands. If you are a fan of Avantasia, Nightwish or Kiske/Sommerville then you may like it. It should be noted, this is a debut album by a band that had only been around a year, there is certainly potential in the album so maybe later ones show some improvement. I am not sure I will ever find out though.
(Editors note: This is a vinyl LP version that includes six "bonus" tracks all of which originally featured as part of a 2CD expanded edition of this album that came out in 2013 by Epica's former record label Transmission Records.)
Seventyfour (6:27), The Lies We Prefer (5:54), Drops To The Lake (3:30), Ripples (4:50), Still Awake (7:40)
Fractured Divine is the fourth record by the German-based alt/prog quintet Futile. It contains five songs that share mental illness as a lyrical theme, but each is very well told via individual experiences/stories.
The record has been recorded in a live situation with all instrumentation being played simultaneously in one room. I wouldn't go so far as to say that it has a full-on "live" feel, as the band is very tight and most of the parts are superbly delivered. On the surface, it would be hard to tell that it was not recorded in the usual manner. My guess would have been that the band just had a limited studio time, as, in places, elements, especially the vocals are a bit raw. However, production-wise it does give an unusual atmosphere to the songs which, overall, I really like.
This mini-album is available on all common digital services, but I'd strongly suggest that this is one album worth getting for the full package. Clearly a lot of thought and effort has gone into the design, with an unusual fold-out booklet with illustrations and full lyrics. These come serially numbered, packaged in a paper envelope, wax stamped and sealed by hand, with three different envelope designs to choose from. Oh, if only all bands would make this effort with packaging!
Musically I am new to the music of Futile, so can not offer comparisons to previous albums. The five songs here show a well-honed love of the sort of crossover progressive rock/metal captured on albums by the likes of Karnivool, A Liquid Landscape, Fen (Canadian version), Sadhana, and the obligatory Tool. Here and there I get a strong flavour of early-period Pain of Salvation.
The absolute highlight, and the song that first attracted my attention to Futile from the band's YouTube video, is the opening Seventyfour. A superbly painful, emotive vocal from Oliver Reinecke holds the attention, over guitars that shift between and stark central riff and soothing solos that make great use of the stereo effect. There is a wonderful, seamless change of pace halfway through. Even a growly layer of vocals doesn't spoil it for me. This will be one of my favourite songs of the year.
The Lies We Prefer is a song of two halves. The first builds slowly and effectively, with more impressive vocal and guitar work. However the second part uses a guitar sound that is just an annoying buzz, while the vocals struggle to stay in tune.
Drops to the Lake takes the pace right down to plucked guitar, and is more of an interlude. There is a need to increase the intensity afterwards and that is exactly what Ripples does. Both it and Still Awake are solid songs, which show some good craftsmanship in the song writing and playing, but both lack the adventure and emotive hook of the opening song. Both would benefit from developing the initial theme or adding something extra to the mix.
Fractured Divine shows a band with heaps of promise and, through the opening song, a band with the potential to create something rather special. The basic ingredients are there, they just need a little more focus in the song writing to consistently deliver the hooks and intrigue that a great album requires.
Road to Supremacy (4:56), Your life will change (6:41), Polluted Alcohol (6:10), Kill you with kindness (8:17), The Element (1:50), The Science within us (13:14), Semaphore (5:39), The Death Bell (1:49), The Day you Return (3:24), All that you fear is gone (4:53), Borders and Days (5:23), Secular Soul (10:35)
Headspace is usually labelled as a progressive metal band formed by singer Damian Wilson (Threshold) and keyboardist Adam Wakeman (Ozzy Osbourne's band). They are joined by Lee Pomeroy (It Bites, ELO) on bass, Pete Rinaldi on guitars and newest band member, Adam Faulkner on drums. Based on this release, I think it is a bit unfair though to categorise them as simply a progressive metal band. Yes, they do display many elements of that genre and do bear similarities to bands like Dream Theater. That said, there is much more to Headspace than the description implies.
I am a fan of Damian Wilson's solo efforts. In some ways, it has always seemed to me that he has two distinctly different careers. There is his folksy solo side, and his metal leanings in bands like Threshold. Headspace strikes the perfect chord between these two styles, and others. There is no better example of this than in the longest track on the album, The Science Within Us, which masterfully manoeuvres between heavier moments, and Yes-like passages. A true stand-out, this song represents the band at the top of its game. The good news is that the same level of variety can be found throughout this album.
Other highlights include, Polluted Alcohol with its bluesy acoustic guitar-driven melody, and Semaphore which jumps flawlessly between metal, symphonic and pop moments. The Day You Return is lead by a memorable, anthem-like chorus and the title track, All That You Fear is Gone, is an acoustic number featuring a striking vocal performance by Wilson. The album is definitely a progressive ride, and although there are moments that are reminiscent of great bands of the past, it never feels redundant.
There really isn't a glaringly wrong step to be found here. Each track has its significant merits, and the album's flow is perfect. The two final tracks, Borders and Days and Secular Soul probably best represent how interesting and diverse this band can be. The instrumental excellence displayed on the closing track is stunning, but stays clear of wankery. All things considered, this is easily one of the best albums of 2016 so far.
Above, I referenced comparisons to Dream Theater. With that in mind, I have to say that I found All That You Fear Is Gone to excel in ways that DT have not in a while for me.
Though I am familiar with other work by Wilson, Wakeman and Pomeroy, this was my introduction to Headspace. I will definitely be looking into their previous releases at this point. If you are a fan of progressive metal, please don't let my comments above sway you from giving this album a go. You will still find much to enjoy, but you will also see that there are many layers to this outstanding work. Suffice to say that this album is a gift for anyone who loves good music.
Shadowland (6:31), Cry for Love (7:50), Cold and strange (4:29), Endless Game (6:30), Raindrops (7:22), The real Thing (6:06), Blowing away (6:33), When It's All Over (7:19)
Neronia is an edgy, seasoned band from Germany whose music could be likened to that of Dream Theater, Saga, and Rush. The band returns with a new CD, Nero, approximately a year after the solid Limnotapes. On the new CD, the band's fourth, the music veers a step (but not a leap) further into metal terrain. The machine-gun guitar riffs characteristic of this genre are more frequent, and, with the departure of the band's dedicated keyboardist, the music is more spartan and all-around rougher. Vocalist Falk Ullman is still prominent, and, for some listeners, his unusual, Geddy Lee-like voice could make or break this CD.
The style shift is noticeable in several ways. Some of the more-atmospheric aspects of the previous CD have faded, and, unfortunately, a sonic sterility has seeped in. The tunes seem less complex and crafted as well. Nevertheless, some shining guitar solos (and those distinctive vocals) create some memorable, although short-lived crescendos.
Most of the tunes have both strengths and weaknesses. A good example is Endless Game. There's not much to the composition itself: for the most part, guitar riffs and vocal lines repeat and, ultimately, wear thin. But suddenly, guitarist Reudiger Zaczyk lets loose, and, for a short time, the burden of the monotony is lifted. But just as quickly as the high appears, it dissipates into the frail foundation that remains. A similar hodge-podge appears on the closer, When It's All Over. The guitar shredding is certainly impressive, but the abrupt ending to the song (and entire CD), in the midst of a patch of peak sound, leaves disappointment.
So, fans of the band's previous music should take note of the somewhat hardened style on offer here. Likewise, fans of metal (mild rather than full-blown) may find Nero an appealing addition to their playlists. These are talented musicians. It will be interesting to see whether, down the road, the band back-pedals, stays put, or again ventures into new territory.
Winter (7:57), Devout (5:07), Nights in White Satin (5:45), Lullaby (1:45), Laid, To Rest (1:41), Suffer the Last Bridge (5:00), Good Life (2:07), Sunlight (5:34), Surpentine (5:31), Apologue (6:55), How Tall the Trees (1:33), ...This Road (7:43), Grace (3:20)
Oceans of Slumber hail from Texas and their second album, Winter, is a oft-confusing amalgam of all things melodic, complex, heavy, atmospheric, and forward-thinking.
The band confesses that their self-released debut offering, Aetherial, was more of a test, to see how the group would gel. Now signed to a major label, this album is the product of a desire to use their combined talents to create something adventurous, darker, more grandiose and special.
I would not call this progressive metal in the sense of extended solos, complex time signatures or a bending of genres within single songs. Winter is progressive in the sense that it tries to introduce numerous styles and textures and blend and position them in slightly experimental ways. As is the way with experiments, some work, others should be left on the laboratory floor.
Sunlight is a case of a more metallic Anathema or Antimatter and works well. The heartfelt, bluesy vocal and jazzy guitar which follows on Surpentine is a highlight of the album. The opening title track is an aggressive confrontation of blast beats, furious guitar and twin death vocals, superbly tempered by front woman Cammie Gilbert's unbelievable mix of power and grace. A similar approach is tested out on Apologue but with less impact.
Then we have ...This Road which is more of an Old Skool prog metal workout blending a Candelmass-style of doomy chords, with some Rush instrumentation complexity and a more melodic gothic vocal (early Lacuna Coil). It reminds me of Aghora, another USA prog metal hopeful from a decade ago.
Gilbert is undoubtedly the star of the show. Her rich, southern, gospel, bluesy vocal is the key element that transforms an otherwise straight revisiting of the Moody Blues classic Nights in White Satin. The other difference is an extended use of blastbeats towards the end of this song, which totally ruins any favourable impression.
Suffer The Last Bridge is pretty-direct, mid-paced rock song that again becomes overwhelmed and looses its groove when the double kick drums come rampaging in.
Apart from the inappropriate use of blastbeats, the thing that spoils the album, is the over-use of short interludes. The use of a short pan-pipe instrumentation could work well in the context of a song, but sitting on its own in-between two normal songs, Good Life makes no sense, and ruins the flow of the music.
Lullaby is a wonderful showcase for the tender side to Gilbert's voice, but ends too quickly. Laid to Rest follows immediately and is no more than a random instrumental filler, as is the piano solo closer Grace. Just before that we have How Tall The Trees; an out-take from a No-man album, that placed as a coda to a death metal-track, stands out like a black eye.
You do need a pretty wide tolerance of musical styles to appreciate this album.
Overall, that kind of begs the question, who is gonna go for this album? The firm backbone of black metal will surely alienate those who may go for Gilbert's more gentle vocal talents or Wes Montgomery's jazz guitar approach. I think, like me, most people will take the bits they like, and ditch the rest.
Oceans of Slumber certainly aren't an easy band to peg musically. They have heart and soul and talent in abundance but the wide range of styles and moods often sit in separate songs, rather than work together to shape a particular track. Thus the band and the album lack an identifiable sound and purpose.
For aficionados of the progressive metal genre, Winter is certainly worth a careful listen: but it won't be an easy one. I feel Oceans Of Slumber should use next winter to perfect their mix of raw ingredients.
Passive Observer (6:29), Fragments (5:42), The End Justifies the Means (5:23), Bound Insanity (8:21), Weakness (5:09), Desire (7:55), Remission of Breath (8:20)
Throughout history many things have come out of Greece: the lighthouse, democracy, great mythology and stories, to name but a few. Now music can be added to their great contributions. From Athens comes the band Poem, and what a band they are. Their debut album, The Great Secret Show, came out in 2008, and was said by Metal Hammer Greece to be of the 10 best Greek metal albums ever. And opening for the likes of Opeth, Paradise Lost and Leprous to name a few, Poem is a band steadily making their mark on the world. Their second album, Skein Syndrome, carries on building their legacy.
The band is heavy, filled with progressive and catchy wizardry, atmospheric, melancholic and all-round hard hitting. Skein Syndrome is an album full of head banging, fist pumping riffs, technical drumming and blistering solos. Evidence of their influences (Katatonia, Tool, Porcupine Tree) clearly shows throughout the album, which has something for every fan of modern progressive rock and metal.
After listening through the album, it has been a struggle to find a dull moment. Initially tracks one (Passive Observer) and track three (The End Justifies The Means) stood out as my favourites, but as I listened to it more, this changed each time. Every track is a wonderful creation and sticks out. If you want an album to swing your air guitar about to and air drum until the sun rises, this is it.
Flowing through different styles, from melancholic to hard rock, through to outright angry progressive metal, they cover all basses, and showcase their talents at song writing.
This is a modern progressive masterpiece, which thankfully breaks the mould of a lot of modern progressive music. Too many have fallen into the trap of being progressive, but very formulaic (look at the sounds of Pineapple Thief, Anathema and Big Big Train these days for example), but Poem have avoided that completely, keeping a fresh sound and style.
If you are a fan of Klone, Tool, Porcupine Tree or Opeth, you will love these guys. A fantastic band who are surely headed for greatness within the progressive scene. Time for me to go get their debut album I think...
Halucinda (5:33), Myriad Man (7:50), Every Room (8:36), A Million Sequences (2:17), Wavemaker (10:48), Hexa Luna (6:09), In The Dark (7:49)
An interesting band from Gothenburg that will be of interest to those who like rhythmically-complex, female-fronted music which straddles the grey mists between progressive rock and metal. Think The Mars Volta's more accessible parts mixed with the ambience of Paatos and the power of District 97, and you will be heading in the general musical direction of this sextet's second album.
The opening title track is what prompted me to investigate further and it is a great way to start any album. I just love Halucinda's grooves, mixed with some very catchy vocal lines. The other tracks are built on a similar template but with variations of power, dynamics and ambience. All are enjoyable listens but none manage to reach the same level as the opener.
It is a very vocally-dominated album. Paulina Nyström has a really powerful voice that is pushed right to be front of the mix throughout. On the whole I really like her voice, although her softer tones are easier on the ear, than when he forces the power. With so much emphasis on the voice, I do find it strange that the CD comes without a lyric sheet!
There is a good mix of dynamics across this album, from the piano-led softness of Every Room, to the darker Myriad Man. All but one of the tracks have extended instrumental sections and a clear desire to create hooks that tempt you back for further listens. I will certainly be back for more.
In Principio (2:45), Distant Sky (4:33), Into the Legend (5:01), Winters Rain (7:44), A Voice in the Cold Wind (6:18), Valley of Shadows (6:55), Shining Star (4:39), Realms of Light (6:01), Rage of Darkness (6:03), The Kiss of Life (16:45)
Rhapsody of Fire have released one of their most ambitious albums with their latest effort, Into the Legend. The culmination of seven years of recording, this album combines the best elements of the band's past: epic guitars, heavy drums, full orchestra and soaring vocals. Rhapsody of Fire shows us yet again why they are the best symphonic metal band in the world. Indeed, it is clear why the late Sir Christopher Lee chose this band to back him in his heavy metal albums about Charlemagne.
The Italian band is made up of Fabio Lione on vocals, Alex Staropoli on keyboards, Roby de Micheli on guitars, Alessandro Sala on bass, and Alex Holzwarth on drums. While originally named Rhapsody, the band has been around since the mid 1990s, with original member Luca Turilli leaving in 2011. Despite his departure, the band is still composing excellent music.
In the past, Rhapsody of Fire embraced explicit themes of fantasy, but this album steers away from that. Their past albums have told full stories about dragons, elves, and wars, but Into the Legend is more song-oriented, while still remaining a cohesive collection. Musically, this album is remarkably heavy without being overpowering. The orchestra, which plays throughout, does an excellent job of softening the metal punch, without taking it away. Lione's vocals are a high point with this group, and he never fails to impress with his range and power. Like a lot of power metal groups, Rhapsody of Fire is heavily guitar-oriented, with great emphasis placed on riffs and solos. However, the drums stand out as a driving force for the music.
The title track is an excellent example of the band's style: heavy, intense, driving, and soaring all at once. However, the album takes a slower turn with Shining Star in the middle, focusing on Lione's emtional vocals, to give the listener a brief rest from the intensity. Never fear though, for they rip back into it with Realms of Light.
Personally, the only drawback to the album was the use of an female operatic vocalist in parts of Valley of Shadows, Realms of Light, and The Kiss of Life. I am not a huge fan of opera, so this sound grates on me a bit. However, it is not overdone, and it is tolerable. For fans of operatic metal, there should be no problem here at all.
One of the best parts of this album is the periodic use of instruments not normally used in metal, even symphonic metal. At points, the band uses bagpipes, flutes, and whistles, which really adds to the variety of their sound.
Into the Legend is an excellent example of symphonic metal from the top band in the sub-genre. For those that were turned-off by their use of fantasy themes in the past, this is the Rhapsody of Fire album for you. Fans of progressive, symphonic, and operatic metal will find this album to be one of the best metal albums of the year. To describe Into the Legend in one word: I'd have to say "Epic".
Dreaming Of Death (11:45), The Spell Of Dark Water (6:20), An Outsider (9:44), Somewhere (3:38), Paralyzed (10:29), Dissolved In Fire (7:32), P.R.E.Y. (5:10), Into The Unknown (6:13), Shipwrecked In Stasis (2:42), Fragments (8:00)
Rhine is a progressive death metal band from Seattle. And indeed this one is for the true metalheads among the DPRP readers.
The best comparison is the heavy Opeth stuff. This album also touches the heavier work of Devin Townsend, but also mentioned as comparing material are metal bands like Enslaved. I maybe would like to add Dimmu Borgir to the list of bands that I heard in the sound of Rhine.
The lengthier songs on the album have many parts that are not heavy, alternated with very heavy music. The mellow parts have some acoustic guitars and piano, and that is why the comparison with Opeth is so very strong. Where Opeth during their career stopped with the grunting, the Rhine sound is still heavy on the grunting. That is the reason why this album leans more towards those who enjoy (extreme) metal bands.
The first part of the album is very solid. Lengthy songs like Dreaming Of Death, An Outsider and Paralyzed will certainly appeal to many heavy music fans. But the quality is not constant throughout the whole album. P.R.E.Y. makes a bit of an awkward turn, but all directions are lost with Into The Unknown. That song is very experimental with some very clear misses. The ending of the album is very dark with some NIN influences.
An Outsider is overall a good album for the readers that enjoy heavy/death metal, especially the ones who like Opeth. Rhine also plays mellow music but you really have to like the very heavy stuff to be able to live with the grunting.
Superhuman (12:45), Out Of The Dark (7:46), In Danger (8:01), Inside (4:19), So Far Away (7:05), IDWTSTWT (4:10), Guiding Light (4:02), Take You Down (6:34), Exile (16:27)
Section Four (or S:IV as their name appears on the album cover) is a relatively new band hailing from Norwich in the east of England, not a million miles from where my own family originate. This is their debut album and comes courtesy of Sam Linay (lead vocals), Rob Harrop (lead guitar), Richard Lockett (keys), Nicko J. Ruddock (bass) and Stuart Robertson (drums).
The band may be British, but to my ears their sound is more American than European, with an even balance of mid-tempo pop-rock, hard rock and prog. Whilst the musicianship is as good as you would expect, they've also put a lot of work into the vocals, an area often neglected in prog. They also have an ear for memorable melodies and strong hooks, and with the exception of the concluding Exile, the arrangements are refreshingly unfussy.
The swirling synth and explosive drum intro to the title track, is conspicuously similar to Rush's Spirit Of The Radio, whilst Linay's lead vocal and the harmonies in particular sound uncannily like Extreme. In fact it's the latter's monster crossover album III Sides To Every Story from 1992 that could almost be a template for this ambitious recording.
The ridiculously catchy Out Of The Dark features the strongest choral hook I've heard so far this year, whilst the ballad-like Inside, with its acappella harmonies and delightful acoustic melody, tips its hat to early Spock's Beard.
The crunching riff and syncopated rhythm of So Far Away nods its head towards Dream Theater, whilst the frantic IDWTSTWT (which stands for I don't want to save the world today, if you were wondering) and the muscular guitar of Guiding Light both hark back to Deep Purple and tunes like Highway Star and Burn. The latter song plays out rather cleverly with a children's choir.
The album's pièce de résistance, Exile, wears its prog credentials firmly on its sleeve, with a soaring guitar theme, tricky time signatures, noodly synth solo, a pastoral Celtic interlude (recalling Iona), symphonic keyboard section and the almost obligatory, epic guitar coda (à la Mostly Autumn). Overall, this piece reminded me of Florida-based proggers Cryptic Vision and it creates a fitting ending to what is after all a concept album.
With its superior songs, excellent performances, first-rate production, and snappy, comic book-style artwork, Superhuman certainly lives up to its name and is a stunning debut album by anyone's standards. I only hope Section IV receive the support and exposure they deserve; this is a band we need to hear more of in the future.
Ethereal Organisms (14:05), At His Behest (06:09), Surrogate (02:43), Primal Revelation (06:28), The Fevered Spirit (11:08), Elsewhere (04:27), The Whisperer (20:57)
Once the inventor of heavy metal, Britain has sadly been falling behind with it's heavier outputs in recent years. However, for fans of UK metal, hope arrives in the shape of Spires, a little band from Manchester.
Their album draws you in, with an atmospheric intro made up of strings and both electric and acoustic guitars, to create a dark and brooding tension, before moving into a slow, yet heavy number. With a perfect mix of both clean and growled vocals, the opening track delivers a heavy, slow, progressive punch. But all is not simply a behemoth, relentlessly powering through with doomy riffs. The breaks in the song are a wonderful addition, being melancholic and relaxed with some impeccable bass work from Alex Jolley, and an overall blues feel to them.
Track three, Surrogate, is a short instrumental, which I suspect is to give Chris Barnard a break from his relentless progressive-style drumming and the thundering grooves of the previous two songs. This clearly showcases the band's multiple talents for songwriting, as it has an almost Spanish feel to it, with a melodic style of finger-picking being used to bring a bit of peace and rest to the pace of the album.
Throughout this release, there are elements of doom, death and progressive metal within the fretwork, all combined to create a stunning piece of work. The guitars create an incredible atmosphere, with both acoustics and electrics being used at the same time, mixed with the machine-gun drumming of Chris Barnard and the fretless bass.
The band effortlessly weaves between progressive death metal, surrounded by harmonies and growled vocals to compliment the ferocity of the music, and more mellow moments with flowing melodies that allow it to be heavy and atmospheric, while still being relatively "clean" in its sound.
Fans of progressive death metal bands such as Opeth and other progressive doom bands such as Agalloch and My Dying Bride will be in their element with this album. The simplest way to describe it, is if the aforementioned bands had a child, Spires would be it.