Dante — Winter
Dante is a progressive metal band from Germany that was founded in late 2006 and has released four albums to date. DPRP has reviewed their second effort from 2010 Saturnine and their fourth and most successful album so far in the shape of 2016's When We Were Beautiful.
Initially formed as a project by guitarist Markus Berger and keyboardist Markus Maichel, Dante slowly expanded to become a fully-fledged band. I first came across this quintet when their third album, November Red was released on Massacre Records. It was one of my personal top 25 albums of 2013.
Winter should be seen as a new chapter in the band's story. Berger prematurely passed away in early 2013 and this is the first time that his replacement, Julian Kellner, and Swedish bassist Jim Magnusson have been fully involved in the song-writing process,
While it still offers Dante's signature battering-ram style of riff-and-keyboard-hungry progressive metal this is a higher energy, a heavier, a more pulsing and a more propulsive proposition. The big choruses and even bigger solo spots are still there.
The extended opener A Cold Man's Winter attacks from the off. Alexander Göhs shifts between a harsh vocal (not deathly growls) and his cleaner, melodic delivery (which he uses for most of the album). The extended interplay that Kellner sets down with Markus Maichel on keyboards is the backbone for every song here.
This and the following Lazarus Leaving both offer great melodic hooks. The latter is based on a fabulous, rolling riff and a blistering solo from the on-fire Kellner.
There are very few progressive metal bands still playing this style of music this well. Special mention must again go to Christian Eichlinger. I always recognise a good drummer, as much by what they do not play as what they do.
There is an impressive breadth of style and dynamic that encompasses this album. In Vertigo is another mini epic where the band successfully fits everything from its playbook into one song. It's not as intense as it's two predecessors. There's something of Shadow Gallery in the melodic flow here, which I adore.
The Tear That Shouldn't Be keeps the gentler pace, until the anger erupts in the technical, instrumental mid-section. Fans of Angel Dust, Vanden Plas and Tomorrow's Eve should lap this album up. Suspyre and Speaking To Stones would be other reference points.
Darker with the Day is Metallica-meets-Angel Dust. Maybe a little too similar to Master Of Puppets?
Your God In Vain returns to the standard Dante sound, with the band saving the epic C.S.T.M. to end proceedings with another hugely varied showcase, where the use of some female vocals adds yet another dimension.
Here and there, the solo spots lose my focus, but with their fifth album Dante have created something that will bring lasting appeal to any fan of the older, riff-based, epic style of progressive metal.
Epitaphe — II
France has produced many fantastic bands over the years within the realms of metal, all with a unique sound to them. From the progressive grooves of Gojira, to the insane technical death stylings of Gorod and encompassing the ethereal black-gaze sound of Alcest. Going by the opinions on Epitaphe's first album (titled I), it appears that this group have continued the trend.
From the opening track Sycomore, a soft, acoustic number to set you at a melancholic ease, I am hooked. It is gentle, with an almost Pink Floyd-meets-Opeth feel to it. However, three minutes later that soft gentle approach changes.
Celestial starts with uneasy tones before the blast beats and blackened death tremolos kick in with an altogether evil sound. I don't often comment on the album covers, as they don't always reflect the music (I'm looking at you Iron Maiden) but in this case the cover reflects perfectly. An intricate and hellish painting of either trees and clouds, or smoke and fire (maybe both?). It is a superb bit of work by Petri Ala-Manus that perfectly conveys the impact of the album.
The halfway point is marked by Melencholia. A more groove and black metal heavy track, this one brings out more of their progressive side and builds on the vibes of the previous two. It flows so perfectly, almost without expectation but effortlessly, into a Floydian-style bridge nearly halfway through which really brings across the skill and influences of the band. Finally, this morphs into a full-on dollop of funeral doom to see in the second half of the album.
Insignificant starts off with some more of the acoustic leads, before becoming more discordant and intense as it builds to the epic and crushing dark riffs. This track is, for me, the standout. It has the slow and plodding crush of funeral doom, but also the discordant melodies and leads of atmospheric black, added into the mix throughout. Despite being over 18 minutes long, the song maintains largely the same sound throughout and it somehow never gets noticeably repetitive or uninteresting.
And sadly, the closer Merging With Nothingness comes along. A gentle, minimalistic and mournful exit for the album as it slowly fades out. An appropriate finish.
The album is brutal, expressive, heavy and chaotic while remaining incredibly tight. It combines the impact of Swedish death metal (popularised by the likes of Entombed and more recently Bloodbath), with the intensity of the more modern “American” variant (think Cannibal Corpse). But with added bouts of melancholic, yet aggressive, atmospherics. Just make sure you listen to it in full. For fans of Ahab, Inverloch, Bell Witch and Shape Of Despair.
Michael Romeo — War Of The Worlds, Pt. 2
For some reason I missed Michael Romeo's first solo album in 2018. Thankfully War Of The Worlds, Pt. 1, immediately implied a sequel. And that is what we have here.
Romeo is of course best known as the guitarist with leading symphonic prog-metal outfit Symphony X. That band is currently on a hiatus due to the fact that vocalist Russell Allen was injured in a traffic accident that happened during the tour of his "other" band Adrenaline Mob. Hopefully Symphony X will return with their tenth album when all members are in good health.
That pause has given Romeo the perfect opportunity to release the second part of his story. As with Part 1 he is assisted by John 'JD' DeServio on bass and John Macaluso on drums. The new vocalist for this album is Dino Jelusick, a Croatian singer who won the Junior Eurovision Song Contest in 2003. I know that fact does not sound favourable but Dino has a great blues-tinged rock voice in the vein of Jorn Lande. He is a touring member for the Trans Siberian Orchestra and worked with Gus G., George Lynch, Jeff Scott Soto, Jon Oliva, and many others.
Michael Romeo is known for his neo-classical style of playing, he is influenced by guitarists like Randy Rhoads, Ritchie Blackmore, and Yngwie Malmsteen. His music is progressive, symphonic metal with a cinematic, theatrical approach based on heavy riffs combined with orchestral programming/keyboards.
Romeo also provides a lot of the songwriting for Symphony X, so it is no surprise that his solo albums will sound a lot like a Symphony X album. For his War Of The Worlds albums, Michael has taken the cinematic sound of his main band a step further. There are more orchestral parts than on V: The New Mythology Suite, but if I had to choose a Symphony X album, then that would be the closest.
Immediately the opener Introduction - Part II reminds me of the intro on V: The New Mythology Suite with its orchestral music with heavy guitar and guitar solos. The music quickly moves into a higher pace with Divide & Conquer which is a powerful, up-tempo progressive metal song. Great riffs and how about those vocals by Dino Jelusick. That guy has a powerful yet soulful voice, amazing. War Of The Worlds, Pt. 2 is filled with powerful progressive metal songs like this one.
Destroyer is more a slow-pounding metal song and Metamorphosis is more melodic and technical with fast solos. After a few of these heavy songs there is always room for an orchestral instrumental song and when hearing Mothership I can see many of my favourite movies in my mind. This song does not have guitar solos flying over it so the cinematic part gets emphasised.
Just Before The Dawn is a slower, mellow song with again great vocals by Jelusick. Hybrid also starts slow but rapidly it shifts to technical, complex progressive metal. Hunted is another cinematic orchestral instrumental, possessing some nice fast guitar solos melted with the orchestra parts.
Orchestral parts do not mean falling asleep on this album, they are impossible to listen to without gently nodding the head or some air guitar/drumming. Careful with playing this album on your headphones on the train or bus, you might hit someone playing air drums or air guitar. It would be impossible to sit still.
Maschinenmensch is the longest song on the album and what a great one. Each spin I have a different favourite song but Maschinenmensch is many times the favourite one. Starting very heavy and fast, the second part of the song has a lengthy slower section with guitar solos.
The album ends in style with an up-tempo metal song Parasite and an instrumental orchestral Brave New World. As a bonus you get The Perfect Weapon and Alien DeathRay.
War Of The Worlds, Pt. 2 is a very good album. The album is filled with high quality progressive metal songs. With each spin another song grabs your attention more. If we have to wait a bit longer for a new Symphony X album then I will not mind if Michael Romeo made War Of The Worlds, Pt. 3 as this will end up high in my album of the year list.
Starer — The What It Is to Be
It is safe to say that black metal isn't the most welcome metal sub-genre within the DPRP crowd. However, the presence of BM on the extreme scene has only strengthened during these apocalypse-tinged times. And so many musicians seem to have their own black metal side-projects. Which is almost funny to observe, remembering how elitist, opposed-to-everything the genre positioned itself back in 90s.
Josh Hines is no exception among such musicians. For those who are unaware, he is a mastermind of Kentucky-based indie-prog-metal outfit Chest Rockwell, which has been a frequent and welcomed guest on DPRP ever since 2007, getting justified praises for his releases Total Victory in 2009 and Weep and You Weep Alone in 2013.
Josh has a plethora of musical projects, spreading from psychedelia to extreme metal, and Starer is his recent solo outfit, exploring the vast territories of atmospheric / sympho / post-black with a very characteristic American “natural” vibe, shaped by better-known acts such as Wolves In The Throne Room, Agalloch, and Panopticon, something that I prefer calling "eco-black".
The What It Is To Be is the second full-scale release by Starer, featuring three nine-plus-minute tracks and a closing 22-minute mammoth What Became Of Those Who Were Before. In case you don't have an uncontrolled allergy to harsh screams and blast beats, there's plenty to enjoy here. The overall feel lolls more on the melancholic / elegiac side than towards the hateful / anti-life. Harmonic flows are sorrowful, well-built and moody, sustained by vast synth sections, which play an important part in the final sound-design, but never outshine the guitar/drum-work.
A balance between complexity and primitivism is adequately kept, and in this sense parallels with ambient music are not unwelcome. On the other hand, the raw aggression of the genre stands tall here, and it is eventually up to you, dear readers, whether to put on your spiked armour and paint your face in a morbid mask, spitting venomous curses, or just push the play button while strolling in the countryside with your favourite poems in your armpit. Starer fits both ways.
Considering how overcrowded the Cascadian Black Metal scene has become over the past few years, Starer may serve as a great example of an enjoyable, even ear-friendly representative of the genre. While The What It Is To Be does not break (so far) any new grounds, it is multi-layered and kaleidoscopic and is designed with good taste for music.
Whales Don't Fly — The Golden Sea
From Portugal comes Whales Don't Fly, a tight group of friends bringing a heavy mix of prog, thrash, and melody to the world. Having formed at the end of 2018, the group have released their debut album The Golden Sea.
The album starts with an ominous short intro that lulls you into a false sense of security. Almost serene and dark, it pulls you in, before the melodic thrash of Man and the Pilgrim fires across. With shouted vocals over some technical riffs, and with some melodic, catchy choruses, this song hits the spot for a perfect mix.
Journey Begins slows down but gets heavier. It retains that tight bond between the musicians before breaking into a soulful bridge. It then evolves into the heavier riffs again, with more chugging as it builds to the chorus.
The shortest song (aside from bookend pieces) follows, with a similar sense of harmonious riffing and a mix of clean and screamed vocals. Stylistically, it has a similar approach to Man and the Pilgrim, but somehow it does it even better. Fast and punchy, it utilises the vocals to excellent effect to really hook you into the choruses.
The halfway point is marked by the eight-minute Dream Walker. Starting with a soft, clean intro, it then delves into a groovy section dripping with classic prog vibes. An expertly layered build-up dominates the first half as it slowly gets more aggressive while remaining calm. The song manages to strike a fine balance between heavy and emotional, but is gentle and intriguing as well.
Blossom In The Dark leads us into the second half, with an intricate riff oozing with dulcet tones as it chugs and twists throughout. Musically it reminds me a bit of bands like Alien Weaponry with hints of Killswitch Engage in the chorus.
Melodic arpeggios and discordant chords bring in the weighty sounds of A Journey's End which continues the build-up towards the penultimate offering and title track. The Golden Sea has a high bar to reach, and it grabs hold of that bar and launches it with a sublime mix of hard rock riffs, tremolos, and screeching solos. The extended instrumental section is the perfect area for the band to show why they are here. A supremely tight rhythm section completes the sonic assault while the keys and guitars work together. Again a build-up to an epic crescendo takes control of the second part of the song, in what is a truly magnificent end to the album.
My only criticism would be that some riffs do occasionally sound a bit samey, and the screamed verse/clean chorus pattern is a bit overused for my tastes. However, that is not to discredit the songwriting at all. The album is exceptionally well put together and written, and hits all the right buttons. I'd have a listen if you're a fan of prog and groove metal like Gojira or Sepultura, but also if you're a fan of technical groups like Persefone or always imagined what Seventh Wonder would sound like with more distortion and screams.