Issue 2021-027: Metal Monday
Breaths — Lined In Silver
If "the light side of the Force" ever launched its own post-metal project, this is how it would sound.
As a reviewer, I am more or less obliged to stick labels to the music under my focus. With Lined In Silver potential labels were rather non-evident, since Breaths is a project of post-... post-... errrmmm, post-everything music. On his first full-length solo album Jason, the man behind Breaths, is doing the same thing with post-metal / doom / core that Alcest did with black metal ten years ago. He brings more light to the generally grim genre. No, it is not an attempt at selling-out or going pop. The records sound like an honest credo of a more empathic, life-loving approach to the music, compared to the pessimism of Neurosis or Cult of Luna.
Imagine Alcest without the major black metal elements, mixed with a good share of Isis doom-and-gloom, a lot of peaceful, meditative shoe-gaze and some of Deftones' slow groove. That's how I'd put Breaths on the music map. Jason's vocals vary from clean singing to nu-metal screams and a few black metal rasps, and it's one of those occasions, when I prefer the brutal delivery to clean chants.
Eight phlegmatic, mood-creating soundscapes are a fine listen, but don't expect any earworms or attempts at writing a song. As I see it, Breaths are about sound-design, rather than songwriting (don't wince, please!) After all, ambient has been a well-established genre for many years already. My favourite track is the 12-minute mammoth In Nightmares, with gorgeous crescendos and meditative rhythms. It is a good opportunity to have some slo-mo' headbanging. Those who love their headbanging to be at least mid-tempo should check the pro-vegan The Forgotten Ones, where heavier passages nod to a Cattle Decapitation death metal sound.
While I stand with the other reviewers to confirm that the album is well-recorded, especially for a COVID-era home-brewed release, I also feel like the music is scraping the barrel of an almost dried-out genre. The wall of sound is there, the riffs are sledgehammer-heavy, the cloudscape atmosphere is what you expect it to be. On the other hand, there is very little development, and the arsenal of techniques is too limited. Not because Jason is unskilled at something, but because the genre itself has defined its set of rules too narrowly (for my taste, at least). The other thing I have to complain about is the abundance of vocals in some tracks, especially for a project that does not have a priority for writing hits.
Breaths is a worthy newcomer to the scene, and I can only wish the project to grow stronger and finally take post-doom / shoe-gaze-core from its long-established comfort zone to new grounds. As for now, if you love post-doom with an ethereal (even soul-saving) atmosphere, then you shall enjoy this record. If you do not, Lined In Silver will likely fail to change your mind.
Cody Clegg — Tomorrow Is Moments Away
Tomorrow Is Moments Away is the second EP by the American prog-metal guitarist Cody Clegg, following his 2018 release Window To Anywhere. His first EP contained a general theme of perspectives and interpretations. This time around he engages by focussing on the trials of life and its daily struggle for conquests. An instrumental, uplifting story of living to fight a new day; of giving our tribulations a positive spin as found in the peace and warmth from loving relationships.
With vivid vibrancy he allures the listener into an invigorating experience, balancing technical prog-metal structures with catchy riffs and alternating melodies and ambient new age. Atmospherically-charged, his playing is carefully refrained from excessive shredding and remains playful throughout; always in service of the composition thereby focussing on beautiful melodies with a melancholic feel.
With crystal clear sound and delicate ambient touches Stardrop opens peacefully, balancing beautifully on intricate and playful guitar melodies. The becalming atmosphere meets lovely, jazzy twinkles and synth sparkles. Pulse is elegantly rock/metal-orientated and brings dynamically-tight rhythms with powerful guitar melodies, entertaining marvellously via the tender tranquillity of the bridge and the minutely distorted ending guitar solo.
The ambient Think Back To When ripples on peaceful tidings, where divine guitar melodies bring waves of emotion, highlighted by a perfectly harmonic sound that creates a soothing triangle of depth, warmth and transparency. Subsequently Weight impresses with melancholic prog-metal melodies, shifting through dynamic movements that alternate with calm and collected passages. This is surrounded by forceful riffs and secure rhythmic musicality, mindful to Xavier Boscher.
Finally it's the dreamy Through The Ether that hits the ball out of the park. With beautiful piano parts and orchestral elements freshly sparkling with vivacity and brightness, this exquisite entity speaks volumes through it's many creative layers that counter energetic movements with gently flowing passages, giving way to inner rest. Every note is spot on, which is reflected in the marvellous guitar leads of Clegg that bring to mind many of today's heroes like John Petrucci (Dream Theater), Steve Vai and Joe Satriani.
Overall Tomorrow Is Moments Away's conceptual compositions are bursting with feelings of hope and inspiration, enchantingly shaped by wonderful melodies and breathtakingly graceful instrumentation. Fans of (instrumental) progressive metal and the aforementioned greats should definitely pay attention, for Clegg's glowing light shines bright at the horizon.
Everdawn — Cleopatra
While Cleopatra may be Everdawn's first studio album, the band actually dates back several years. They were originally founded in 2014 as Midnight Eternal when Richard Fischer and Boris Zaks (both of Operatika) invited Daniel Prestup (Rivera Bomma, Spider Rockets) and Mike LePond (Symphony X) to record a couple of tracks. After tours with Queensryche and Therion, they added Russian-born Canadian vocalist Alina Gavrilenko in 2019.
Perhaps the most striking think about Everdawn is that they aren't a European band. They're from New Jersey in the USA, but their music is a very European style of symphonic metal that isn't very common in the US (where I'm from). As an American, I think it's great that there are Americans making this sort of music. It's even better that they're so good at it, although considering the other bands the musicians are involved with, the high quality of the music shouldn't surprise me. With that said, they still retain the heaviness that is more characteristic in American progressive metal. I don't know if this will make sense, but the keyboards strike me as being more akin to progressive metal, while the drums, bass, and guitars are closer to a symphonic sound. I may be splitting hairs though.
The songs have a power metal gallop to them, but the swirling synths filling in the mix, elevate the overall sound to create a full and mature-sounding result. There's a driving synth sound around the middle of Pariah's Revenge that really helped demonstrate the unique sort of flavour of progressive and symphonic metal that Everdawn has created.
The album itself is mixed very well, to my ears at least. It was mixed and mastered by Dan Swanö, whose history as a metal musician clearly shows in his production work on Cleopatra. The instruments are clear and distinct, yet blend to make a great metal sound. I'm glad I received uncompressed digital files to review, so I could truly absorb the mix.
What would a metal album be without blistering guitars? Fischer's shredding is fantastic. Heart Of A Lion has a particularly face-melting solo passage that's fantastic. I only wish it could have been longer, but I'm a prog fan so I'm always going to advocate for longer instrumental sections. The track Toledo 712 A.D. is brief, but it is an instrumental track that seems to blend multiple genres of metal. The bass is much further forward on this song, with a pounding drum beat and overall rhythm section that almost sounds like djent. The keyboards bring in the symphonic element while the high guitar notes bring in that power metal sound, to balance out the heaviness of the rhythm section. It may only be two and a half minutes, but it's a great two and a half minutes.
Gavrilenko's vocals stand in the forefront on the album. I'll readily admit I'm usually not the biggest fan of operatic vocals in metal. That's obviously a personal preference. But Gavrilenko's voice is stunning. She has moments that are clearly operatic, but her voice isn't so high that it is piercing, which is usually what makes me cringe with operatic metal and some symphonic metal vocalists. Gavrilenko sings to the song and to the moment, and she has a lot of power in her voice, which perfectly compliments that immense wall of drums, guitars, bass, and keyboards with which she has to compete. She holds her own, in the end demonstrating why the band brought her in. Musically the album is fantastic, but her voice brings the whole thing to another level.
The individual tracks are relatively short, but they are filled with catchy melodies and varying keyboard sounds that make the album flow well. The 48 minutes go by like a breeze. The galloping metal carries you on a journey narrated by Gavrilenko. The close listener will pick up on some hidden musical gems from the keyboards throughout the album - that is if you can resist losing yourself in the pounding metal. There's not much to dislike about Cleopatra.
External — Stillness
Ah Finland, a country that never ceases to amaze me with the calibre of bands that emerges from that stretch of Scandinavia. From Swallow The Sun, to Insomnium and Amorphis, a great number of them hail from that country. So I was excited to hear of External, self-described as a “forward-looking progressive/alternative metal group” and having a “hyper-modern, constantly-evolving sound” with a “heavy focus on groove, emotion and dynamics”. That sounds right up my street. However, this EP is a change of pace from their usual metal sound, and the band have used the opportunity to explore influences from outside of metal.
The opening track Feet Don't Fall was not what I was expecting. Sounding along the lines of indie music, such as The Editors or Bloc Party, but with a light feel to it and some added heavy prog to bring the outro in and the song out.
The halfway point brings in the main single (accompanied by the band dressed with penguin masks for an interesting Bjork-like video). The song has two distinct parts; a soft and minimalistic intro followed by a catchy and “modern prog” second half with a superb bass line to it. Reminds me a bit of Anathema's later stuff.
Hunting Butterflies brings in some needed heaviness, with some darker riffs and a slower pace and some djent-styled riffing, much more akin to the likes of Periphery and similar. And then finally Inertia comes in to close the album with a more indie/djent/electronic feel.
All in all, not a bad EP, and certainly not what I expected. Unfortunately, I feel it sounded like an indie band trying their hand at prog. Nothing wrong with that, but it isn't for me. If you like Editors, Bloc Party, Bastille or Anathema, give this a listen. Since they said that this EP is a departure from their usual sound, then I'm going to try their other material out instead.
Novena — Eleventh Hour
Eleventh Hour is the second release from the UK progressive rock/metal band Novena. Novena is a collection of established musicians from groups like No Sin Evades His Gaze, HAARP Machine, Ravenface, and Slice the Cake. Perhaps most notably, Novena also features Ross Jennings of Haken on lead vocals.
For a sophomore effort, Eleventh Hour is a surprisingly daring statement, both musically and thematically. To start, it wastes no time in announcing that it is very much a concept album. The short intro, 2258, has the sound of footsteps of someone walking at night toward a church where a choir is singing. In track 2, 2259, we are transported inside the building with the choir singing "breathe the air one more time", in anticipation of the clock striking 11pm. It's a mysterious set-up that raises expectations prior to the band entering with a musical overture.
A listener's initial impression is likely to be of the vocals, where Ross Jennings' singing is paired against Gareth Mason's death-core growls. Fans of Haken no doubt already know that Jennings has a great voice, but the less-busy musical context of Novena offers an even better showcase for his melodic, almost angelic vocals with effortless high notes. He really steals the show in Sail Away, a dreamlike interlude where Jennings' voice floats above a sparse piano accompaniment. Together with Mason's growls, there's a vocal contrast that fits the inner conflicts portrayed in the lyrics.
Novena's sound is of a modern, tightly-arranged prog rock, with more of a studio than a live feel. There are some similarities to Haken (naturally) and Opeth. The album shifts constantly between musical styles, with jazz and Latin influences finding ample space along with the rock and prog metal passages. It is tied together throughout, by strong melodic elements.
Harrison White is the Theatrical Director and main composer behind Eleventh Hour, and also contributes guitar and some beautiful piano passages that provide essential textural lightness and warmth. The piano reminds me pleasantly of Jordan Rudess' playing in Dream Theater, though the resemblance to Scenes From a Memory may have been planted in my head from the sound of the person walking at night at the album's start.
The lyrics of Eleventh Hour explore very weighty themes like religious conflict, mental illness, feelings of isolation, of being trapped, and ultimately, impending death. Some of the music is, as you would expect, quite dark and heavy, especially on the second half of the album. But other tracks, especially Disconnected and Indestructible, are accessible, upbeat, and catchy prog rock songs. The inclusion of the lighter songs and the one ballad, Sail Away, keep this 73-minute album from becoming excessively weighty or ponderous.
Although the band's photos and videos show the high string-to-player ratio that might make one think that this is a shred-fest, the playing on Eleventh Hour is in fact largely restrained and song-oriented. Drummer Cameron Spence uses a lot of tom-tom drums to drive the rhythm and fill in the low-end of the sound. This allows bassist "Moat" Lowe to freely roam the fretboard with interesting lines and fills, which are particularly effective in Sun Dance. Dan Thornton's guitar playing adds a lot of proggy complexity, while bridging the stylistic boundaries, and he always seems to find the right melodic element to connect the parts.
The ten-minute track Lucidity is not the longest on the album, but is the most illustrative of Novena's full musical range. The song is a sampler of everything on the rest of the album, from the opening piano arpeggios, a driving rhythm section, Jennings' stunning high-E vocal lines, dramatic spoken words, growled vocals, big Queen-styled vocal harmonies, and a brief guitar solo at the end.
The most musically-risky song, and my personal favourite, is Corazon. This Latin-influenced track morphs into Gentle Giant-inspired a cappella vocals and a prog metal instrumental section, and then makes a completely unexpected turn. The music stops, and all that remains is a single person clapping a clave rhythm, soon joined by more hand claps, and then a piano playing a classic Cuban montuno pattern. A female guest vocalist, Luisa Santiago, enters, singing in Spanish. This captivating Cuban or Caribbean section is over all too soon, as the band comes crashing back in to bring the song to a breathless and triumphant finish.
Ross Jennings' tour de force vocal performance, strong melodic song writing, and ample stylistic variety all make Eleventh Hour continually rewarding on repeated listens. The growled vocals and darker lyrical themes may take the listener a bit out of their comfort zone, and the last couple of tracks seem to go on just a touch too long, while building drama toward the album's conceptual conclusion, before the tension resolves with a simple major chord played by a string quartet. These are, however, very minor quibbles for a commendably adventurous and impeccably executed album.
Odd Dimension — The Blue Dawn
Their first release in eight years, The Blue Dawn is the third album by this classic-style progressive metal band from Italy.
A few line-up changes in the interim means that Odd Dimension now features a new singer in the shape of the gifted Jan Manenti. He fronts the traditional group formation of guitar (Gianmaria Saddi), keyboards (Gabriele Ciaccia), bass (Gigi Andreone) and drums (Marco Lazzarini). We also encounter contributions by former Dream Theater keyboard maestro Derek Sherinian on the title track and Labyrinth singer Roberto Tiranti on the song Flags of Victory. To complete the name-checking, we have artwork by Gustavo Sazes (Angra, DGM, Firewind, James LaBrie).
Musically this owes a heavy debt to Dream Theater, with splashes of heavy prog in the style of Neal Morse Band or Magic Pie. With the various characters portrayed by different singers alongside two narrators, it also has the feel of an episode from the Ayreon/Star One discography.
Escape To Blue Planet is one of the stand-out tracks. Musically it could sit alongside Falling Into Infinity-period Dream Theater. The use of cello, piano and delicate percussion is well done and the mix of male and female singers adds extra contrast.
The male/female mix also works well on the other notable track, Flags Of Victory. This time we have two different singers (Roberto Tiranti and Eliana Parodi) and a simpler groove that mixes a hint of blues and folk, within its melodic rock setting.
Jan Meneti has a naturally powerful voice and impressive range. The lovely blues-rock vibe he employs around a third of the way through the title track, should be used more often.
Equally, the band displays ample dexterity to delight most fans of the prog-metal genre. The problem I have had with this album, is that despite repeat spins, most of the melodic lines and riffs fail to hit the right notes. It is all very predictable. It is well performed, but it does not engage with me emotionally or melodically, nor does it throw up any musical intrigue.
It's all wrapped up in a sci-fi concept storyline about two space travellers, forced to land on a new planet (The Blue Planet) on which they struggle to survive. Their solution is to create an army to help them restore order and save their children, who will eventually mix with the hosts created by them, generating a new race. A sort of modern-day version of Rush's 2112 tale. The title track employs a heavy dose of early-Rush-style riffing to reinforce the point.
This album will be released by Scarlet Records on March 26, 2021.