Chimera — Gloria Mortis
Chimera (not to be confused with the now defunct Chimaira from America) emerged nearly a decade ago in Poland, joining the long line of other extreme metal acts from the country such. Forming in 2013 and releasing their debut Transmutation in 2016, their second album, Gloria Mortis was unleashed earlier this year (2022) to the world.
A 45-minute work of blackened heavy metal, the spoken intro of I leads into the dark riffs of Dunkelheit. A full throttle blend of heavy metal, but with a tone and vocal style leaning towards the extreme edges of black metal. A fantastic opener that sets you up for what is to come. Necrosis of Soul leans more heavily to extreme metal, bringing in shades of death metal too. Think Behemoth, but good and with more melody.
Following on, we have Madness. Here we see the melodic and groove laden riffs from Charon and Krzysztof come out, with everything a fan of melodic blackened death metal could want for. This backed up by the heavy and full backing section of Wiktor (bass) and Andrzej (drums) makes for a very chunky and full-bodied track. Lastly on this half we have NieistniejÑc. While a more dulcet track in areas than the previous, the group do create a menacing vibe throughout, interspersed with more harmonious moments of clarity.
The second half kicks off, after another spoken interlude, with Immortal Self. The vocals are on point here, dripping with venom and evil intent as they punctuate each riff with a deep growl. Again, a grooving, blackened death number. The Babel Tower has more of a modern metal feel for it, even straying close with some riffs to what Trivium do when their more extreme influences appear. Into the final 3, we have Asmodeus first. Modern, technical, polished and tight is the easiest way to describe it. Flitting between slower chugging riffs and sprinting tremolos and “deedle eedles”, it never lets up long enough for a breath. Dziki Sęp brings another step closer to the end with more ferocity, melody and controlled aggression than you can shake a black metal metaphor at.
And finally, Among Wolves, the last track on the album (aside from the spoken outro). Slower paced, but just as enthralling as everything before. Essentially a combination of everything previous, but somehow even tighter and exact in the execution. A superb ending for the album.
Altogether I thoroughly enjoyed this monument of blackened death metal. A well-produced, written and sounding album in a niche market. Having been trying to find something to fill that niche in my music for a while, I can safely say I have found it in Chimera. If these guys don't manage to become giants in the genre, I'll print, laminate and eat this review.
Recommended for fans of Gojira, Decapitated, Rotting Christ and Gorod
Imaginaerium — The Rise of Medici (Special Edition)
Bonus CD: Fortunes Reverse (Clive & Laura Mix), Duty Of Love (Bonus Mix); Legacy (duet with Andy and Laura); Never Close Your Eyes (Harp Mix with Laura); Fall From Grace (duet with Elena and Laura); Fortunes Reverse (Guitar Mix), Festina Lente (Laura Mix), The Tide Will Change (Instrumental Mix), Interview with Eric, Interview with Laura
It's time to step outside my comfort zone.
Imaginaerium is a band/project formed by Eric Bouillette (Nine Skies, The Room, Solace Supplice), Clive Nolan (Pendragon, Shadowland, Arena) and Italian singer Laura Piazzai. Their debut offering, The Rise Of Medici, aims to recount the various episodes in the life of Cosimo and Contessina De' Medici, of the super-wealthy Italian banking family who became patrons of the arts, learning and architecture in Florence during the Italian Renaissance.
As you may have guessed, this is a bona fide rock opera that blends symphonic, classical, folk and rock elements in the vein of Clive Nolan's previous projects, especially She. Clive and Eric share all the writing credits.
Now, I am far from a devotee of rock operas, and generally find them too formulaic and not a little cheesy. The Rise Of Medici does utilise all the familiar tropes, and it does dip its toes into the tepidly-cheesy waters in which most rock operas tend to wallow. Thus, it should ably satisfy those who have enjoyed Clive's previous endeavours in this area, or those listeners with a penchant for some Ayreon-light.
However, this does rise above the norms in several aspects, making it a surprisingly enjoyable listen.
First, the packaging is of the highest order. The 28-page booklet is well-illustrated and laid-out to both reflect the mood of the music and to give one enough additional information to follow the story. (It always amazes me how so many multi-character concept albums fail to give listeners even the basics of which character is singing which lines!)
Credit must be given to the lyric-writing. The words do ably recount the complicated story behind this couple's dramatic place in history. However unlike many rock operas the actual words sit comfortably within the music. The storytelling never overtly intrudes into one's enjoyment of the songs.
If like me your knowledge of Renaissance-period Italian history is limited, then digging further into the stories will add extra interest.
Second, the vocals are great throughout. Clive Nolan just about stays on the right side of pantomime-devil in singing the lines of "the baddie". Andy Sears, Elena Vladyuk, and Mark Spencer all bring different styles to their characters, giving a pleasing variety to the album's flow. Scott Higham (drums), Bernard Hery (bass) and Isabella Cambini (harp) complete the line-up.
But it is Laura Piazzai who steals the limelight. She has worked with Clive Nolan on his musical The Mortal Light, but it is her background with the rock covers band No Limits that offers a better hint of what is on offer here. The near-hour-long playing time includes plenty of softer moments that could be taken to a WestEnd/Broadway musical stage. There are also plenty of classical and folk elements, including a good dose of monk-like chorality that could have been recorded in a Sicilian monastery. However, Laura has a real power and rock-edge to her delivery that I have really enjoyed.
Third and finally, this album simply contains some great melodic songwriting with hooks and moods that are really worth revisiting. With the rock-like quality of Laura's voice, this is very much a rock opera that actually rocks. (Several tracks have gone onto my car play-list!)
The Special Edition comes with a second CD that has some credible alternative versions of the songs. They generally sound lighter than the main versions. So some of you may well end up enjoying these more?
Ending on a sad note, Eric Bouillette passed away in the summer just before the album's official release. Thankfully The Rise Of Medici would stand as a memorable note on which end anyone's career.
O.R.k. — Screamnasium
This is the fourth album from the band put together by ex-Porcupine Tree bassist Colin Edwin, award-winning composer/vocalist Lorenzo Esposito Fornasari (LEF), King Crimson drummer Pat Mastelotto and guitarist Carmelo Pipitone.
Until now I have heard snippets, but they have never endeared me enough to dig deeper into any of the three previous O.R.k. albums: Inflamed Rides (2015), Soul of An Octopus (2017) and Ramagehead (2019). Not being a big fan of Porcupine Tree nor King Crimson, I guess the curiosity just was not there.
So with those cards on the table, and coming to this with zero baggage nor expectation, this is my take on Screamnasium.
Put simply, there are parts I really love and others that I will probably never listen to again.
Highlights are the two songs that bookend this 40-minute package. Someone Waits has a wonderful groove, plenty of dynamic shifts, a good melody and a high-impact use of violin sounds towards the end. As I Leave channels Soundgarden via its bare grooves, driving bass and guitars, and some prime Chris Cornell phrasing. The dynamic crescendos are a pure joy.
Across this album there are endless pools of musical detail that reflect positively on repeat listens. These two tracks contain some of the best details. The bubbly, ghost-like vocal/electronic sounds at the end of As I Leave work well.
Consequence is a Soundgarden-like ballad with a tinge of blues. The vocals are shared with Elisa to good effect. She and LEF harmonise beautifully. The acoustic guitar runs are effective. It just lacks the big hook to reel me in.
Hope For The Ordinary is my conclusion of this album in one song. Bits, like the promising opening and the voice-only section just after the mid-point, work well. Other parts, like the weird early vocal bridge and the jangly-repeated guitar riff, just annoy. It sounds more like segments of different songs, rather than a satisfying single entity.
Unspoken Words has a bare drum sound, a stop-start groove, a Bono-like whiney vocal and a squally guitar that isn't for me. I Feel Wrong is exactly that. The groove is too stilted, the guitar solo doesn't fit and the vocal too pained to be enjoyable. Along with the following Don't Call Me a Joke, all three possess a retro vibe that reminds me of Kings X. The guitar grooves throughout Something Broke does the same thing. As does the vocal phrasing.
Deadly Bite just sounds completely wonderful to me throughout. And I always seem to enjoy Lonely Crowd, with its on-the-edge-of-being-threatening piano and a soaring Led Zeppelin motif. Go Figure!
This is certainly a sonically-ambitious slice of alt-rock. There is a striking variety across the ten tracks. My preference is when the band hits a more straight-forward rock groove. Those with a taste for more retro textures and the sort of alt-grunge experiments that Soundgarden and Pearl Jam played with, may enjoy the parts that I dislike. I guess this is probably one of those albums that require a particular combination of musical tastes to enjoy in its entirety.
Teramaze — Flight of the wounded
Teramaze are a four-piece prog metal band based in Melbourne, Australia. They formed in 1993 and were originally named Terrormaze. On religious conversion they softened the name to Teramaze and since then there has been numerous band-member changes. Their current formation has been in existence since 2017, except for Dean Wells who is a member since 1995. In 2019 he added vocals to his guitar duties, he also writes most of the music and plays most of the lead guitar. Chris Zoupa is on guitars, and if you feel inclined to learn how to shred or play lead solos, then it may be worth your while visiting his YouTube teaching channel. Completing the ensemble are Andrew Cameron on bass and Nick Ross on drums. Wells and Zoupa are both members of sidebands.
Teramaze have released their latest offering Flight Of The Wounded following a prolific two-year period where they completed four albums. The Melbourne four-piece are not strangers to DPRP, nor are they strangers to receiving critical acclaim. The three other recent albums are: I Wonder (2020), Sorella Minore (2021), And The Beauty They Perceive also in 2021.
Exploring the prog-metal scene in Australia would indicate that it is very vibrant with quite a number of prog metal bands in existence, for example, Perth-based Karnivool and Voyager and Caligula's Horse from Brisbane. Internally, there are numerous bands who have made an impact but failed to do so outside Australia. There are reasons for this. The critical one is that it takes more than hours to travel coast to coast. Perth to Melbourne is over four hours flying time. This might explain why so many Australian bands are overlooked, given travelling to London is more like 20+ hours. Social media and YouTube have made things easier for the promotion of bands, but the distance might explain the difficulties in becoming better established.
Teramaze's music is one of slick production, with the additional use of keyboards, strings and symphony. Powerful melody with hooks and big chorus's combine with a mixture of chugging and strong vocals.
Flight Of The Wounded opens with the title track, which is the most prog-metal track on the album. One could be critical as to the location on the playlist, given the fact that it is the longest track on the album at ten-plus minutes. It could be defended in that the structure of the track commences with a soft, haunting prelude for the first two minutes, then launching into complex arrangements driven by powerful vocals with lead guitar and keyboards.
The second track Gold, the first to be released as a single, commences with a short 10 second synth melody before it flows straight into a tight, chugging riff and a catchy melody.
The Thieves Are Out sticks to the melodic formula with lyrics exploring social media. The lead guitars on this track are shared by Wells and Zoupa. Until The Lights starts with hauntingly soft strings, the closest to a ballad that this album produces.
Ticket To The Next Apocalypse has many Christian references such as “if believing in God is wrong, then I don't want to be right” and “When they are crying your son away, stand with me and pray”. Towards the end, a crescendo is reached with growling vocals adding to the anger when you least expect it.
Addiction is the theme in For the Thrill. Battle was inspired by the lockdowns and protests that took place in Australia in 2021.
The last track is The Ruins Of Angels, which brings the frenetic playing of Flight Of The Wounded to an exhausting close, with a haunting piano outro.
Teramaze's album cover is a striking image that can be interpreted as a world turned upside down by global events. The lyrics cover a variety of themes, religion, war and inner demons.
This is powerful collection of music; prog-metal at its best. Their music has a hint of the melody and guitar work of Alterbridge and a touch of Van Halen and Journey of the mid-80s. That they have maintained the standard of output over the last two years, needs to be commended. The excellent melodies and hooks, combined with the use of strings, piano and synth added to the lead guitars, provides a variety of melody and instrumentation.
As a band they have arrived at a point where they have achieved critical mass regarding the line-up of musicians, group chemistry and the quality of their music. Teramaze deserve a bigger audience. It is now time to broaden their horizons in the form of raising their profile in Europe and the US.
Vanderwolf — 12 Little Killers
Max Vanderwolf is a New York-born musician who currently resides in Los Angeles after a long period of working in London as a music programmer and concert producer. Next to his role as vocalist of Last Man Standing, he's also known for collaborating with the likes Patti Smith, Massive Attack and David Bowie. Despite having written and recorded various unreleased albums, 12 Little Killers is his debut release.
Vanderwolf describes his music as being comprised of a wide array of genres from choral folk, hard-spiked blues, and psychedelic balladry to prog-rock monstrosities. Many of these influences are indeed found in abundance on 12 Little Killers. The folky aspects for instance make a fine entrance in the singer/songwriter styled opener I Am Not A Mountain. Elevated by excellent harmonies and acoustic refinement, its engaging melodies breathe a nice Texas-like camp fire atmosphere that simmers with a delightful 70s feel.
This 70s experience gets stronger by the minute as shown in the pleasantries of Ain't Gonna Hurt, where a bluesy vibe and a superb vintage feel are embedded with organ parts. Vanderwolf's charismatic voice adds bags of emotion to this, in an Alex Harvey and Marc Bolan kind of way, which is most excellent. The equally likeable Something For Nothing follows suite in similar fashion, and features some outstanding guitar work. Images of The Rolling Stones, The Kinks and a variety of platform-soled glam-rock acts like Mott The Hoople are formed.
Actually, repeated listens reveals an ever growing amount of relatable influences, showing precisely how diverse and eclectic the album really is. Somebody's Love Song for instance brings Roy Orbinson and Buddy Holly back to life for me, with the sweetness of choirs activating a marvelling 50/60s vibe mindful to Elvis Presley. The vibrantly spacious Headway adds a colourful mid-seventies psychedelic Spirit atmosphere with prog-ish synths and beautiful guitar play, with a slight edge of U2 in the vocal department.
And by strange coincidence when If This Is Love (Please Make It Stop)'s fierce and steamy garage rock/proto-punk mindful to The Tubes and The Dictators wants me to declare Vanderwolf's excellent band as the perfect house-band for the, sadly lost, New York based CBGB club. This notorious bar is mentioned but a mere seconds later in NYC. The feel and expression of this catchy song could just as easily have been recorded by the likes of The Jim Caroll Band at the time when this bar still programmed their obscure Punk rock and New Wave artists.
Prog-minded enthusiasts are catered for with the slightly symphonic The Existential Terrier which is one of the finer songs on the album, sharing hints of The Beatles and David Bowie, with lots of voiced psychedelics circling in its lush melodies. The equally great Walking Away is another fine example of Vanderwolf's compositional strength, with psychedelics streaming freely.
The overall result is a surprisingly cohesive and delightfully-engaging one that invites frequent visitations. Admittedly most of the material shies away from prog's borders, but on basis of the strength of the material this might well be a nice surprise for fans Pavlov's Dog, Crack The Sky, The Brain Surgeons and the other artists mentioned above.
I hope Vanderwolf issues more of his unreleased treasures some day, for the eclectic brew presented here is a lovely song selection that is worthy of exploration.
Wizrd — Seasons
One of the lyrics on Wizrd's Seasons describes the music on this project almost perfectly. It goes 'racing, always racing towards something' and that is what the music on this release does. The something in question is a mix of energetic psychedelic rock and prog, with jazz-fusion touches.
Two members of Wizrd also play with jazz rockers Soft Ffog and they are Vegard Lien Bjerkan on keyboards and vocals, and Axel Skalstad on drums (also with jazz rockers Krokofant). Joining them is another jazzer, guitarist Karl Bjorå (Megalodon Collective), and rounding off the troupe is Hallvard Gaardløs' bass and lead vocals. He plays with hard rockers Draken and Motorpsycho spin-off Spidergawd.
The band that Wizrd most resemble is Motorpsycho. Taking exquisite harmonies, banging songs, and attaching them to full-on psyche-rock but adding their own, lightly applied, jazz twist.
Pick any track on Seasons and you will find musicians layering multi-faceted melodies with all the musical expression at their fingertips. Dynamic arrangements, both instrumentally and vocally, and a seamless variety of musical ideas within their chosen (but broadly explored) genre, show a passionate commitment to where they are heading. There is drama and subtle surprises in equal measure, as the music flies freely.
There are many detailed passages that alleviate the headlong psyche-rush. The joyful 60s psyche stomp of Lessons contains a smart slide guitar solo that emerges from the interweaving keys and guitars. Hammond organ and guitar tangle on the blasting Spitfire. Great vocal harmonies and jazzy guitar touches intertwine on All Is As It Should Be. There is a slinky fusion bass and hand percussion, topped by a lovely synth solo, on Show Me What You Got, and a blues spirit haunts the psyche-jazz moves of Fire & Water.
It's not all perfect. A couple of tracks have moments that take me out of the atmosphere carefully curated on Seasons. The sitar on When You Call feels a bit of an obvious choice, but it remains a good song. There is also a misstep for me in the shouty chorus of Free Will. These though are minor points.
Gritty, pacey to the point of breathlessness, rhythmically intricate, passionate and wonderfully melodic; Wizrd's Seasons is a romp.