I have written in the past about Manchester black metal band Winterfylleth – looking at their 2016 “The Dark Hereafter” album as well as a 2014 live show in Birmingham supporting Polish act Behemoth. Artist Dan Capp has been involved with the creation of Winterfylleth’s artwork for a number of years and joined the band as lead guitarist in early 2015.
Wolcensmen is Capp’s solo project that has been in the works for several years, and was inspired by the acoustic parts of music by the likes of Ulver, Opeth and Empyrium and also by Capp witnessing an Irish folk band playing in a Dublin pub, leading him to reflect that he felt an English version – local pubs etc. with acts regularly performing English folk music – was lacking. Wolcensmen is his answer to that void though, as he says, “…as it happens, the music I’d go on to record had none of the happy, merry-making appeal I’d first envisioned, but anyhow…” I’d venture that Wolcensmen are the English equivalent to the rather super Norwegian act Wardruna who aim to create musical representations of Norse traditions.
“Songs From The Fyrgen” is the debut album from Wolcensmen. The “fyrgen” in the album title refers to mountain woods or a wooded hilltop, so it’s natural that the music contained within should evoke such surroundings. I suppose that the closest his day-job band come to the music found on the record would be something like “Children Of The Stones” (also the title of a super TV series originally broadcast back in 1977) or perhaps “Æfterield-fréon” – both excellent, delicate and atmospheric acoustic pieces.
So it is with this album. Beginning with one of the shortest numbers “Withershins” this is full of acoustic guitars and very natural vocals by the main man, augmented by percussion by Dan & Mark Capp, flute (by American Jake Rogers), some synthesizer (by Grimrik from Germany), piano (by Dries Gaerdelen from Belgium), cello (by Canadian Raphael Weinroth-Browne) and some ritualistic vocals from Norwegian Nash Rothanburg. Despite the multi-national support cast I feel that this record is a very English sounding one.
And that was certainly Capp’s intention. He stated in an interview that Wolcensmen is “…specifically a celebration of old England…”. It is also definitely thematically heathen – “…the Heathen aspect is vital, because I am a Heathen and Wolcensmen is essentially a cultural statement. It is meant to be romantic, and I simply can’t see that there’s anything to romanticise about post-Christian England. It was the beginning of our decline. The stories are mine, except for ‘The Mon o’ Micht’, which is lyrically traditional, and ‘Hoofes Upon the Shymmeringe Path’ whose lyrics are based on the names of the horses belonging to the Asa (Aesir) gods, on which they ride across Bifrost, ‘the shimmering path’, to Asgard. My other lyrics are inspired by folk tales, natural phenomena and esoteric concepts…”
“The Fyre-Bough” is up next and is one of the high points of the album for me. Capp’s voice is almost acapella at points here and there are no rock star histrionics, just an understated delivery that sits perfectly with the theme of the music. The cello and flute parts really shine though on this track too. “Sunne”, the album’s briefest track at 2:42, follows and leads into the excellent “Hoofes Upon The Shymmeringe Path” which has the aforementioned Rothanburg intoning ancient Norse poetry in the background.
The ten-minute plus Heathen epic “‘Neath A Wreath Of Furs” contains all that’s good about the album and just about knocks the later “The Bekens Are Aliht” into second place in terms of my favourite numbers here. In truth there really isn’t a bad track here and the album as a whole is, in my opinion, up there with Skuggsjá’s “A Piece For Mind & Mirror” and “Mausoleum” by Murkur – in fact, had I discovered “Songs From The Fyrgen” last year when it was released, rather than recently, it would likely have elbowed its way onto my top ten albums of the year.
Another quote from Capp is that “…Wolcensmen exists for a specific purpose – to inspire people to reconnect with their ancestors and the old ways of their people. It is Romanticism – not in an unrealistic sense but in an idealistic… don’t settle for what is, strive for what could be… I’d like Wolcensmen to be a small beacon of light in an age of darkness; a small reminder to those not yet dead inside to maintain their inner-spark whilst many of those around them have let it die, wanting for nothing more than to consume and follow…” This really is a fantastic record that transports you to an arguably better time and place. Here’s hoping that this isn’t the last we’ve heard from Wolcensmen. Highly recommended to anyone with a love of good folk music, nature, mythology etc…
“Songs From The Fyrgen” tracklist:
1. Withershins / 2. The Fyre-Bough / 3. Sunne / 4. Hoofes Upon The Shymmeringe Path / 5. ‘Neath A Wreath Of Firs / 6. The Mon O’ Micht / 7. Snowfall / 8. The Bekens Are Aliht / 9. Yerninge
Entries on my blog have been rather sporadic thus far in 2017 and I have realised that there have so far been only two music-related posts – a look at a psychedelic compilation and a gig review. I’m not sure why I’ve not written much on the music front. It’s certainly not because there isn’t any good new (and old) music being discovered and listened to with over two hundred new releases already having been digested since January.
There will be a more gig posts coming up soon as I have shows by Iron Maiden and Hawkwind in my diary during the next week or so, and a few more over the coming months too, but for now I thought I’d return to my rather occasional series on “top ten albums of the year” and look back at my personal favourite ten releases of 2016.
These weren’t easy to choose – with over six hundred new albums passing across my desk to shift through – and the list will likely change as time goes by but here are my current favourite ten albums of 2016, some of which got an individual review last year…
1. Alter Bridge “The Last Hero”
It’s not the first time that Alter Bridge have made my top ten, having achieved that with “AB III” for 2010’s list. I wouldn’t bet against them making the lists for the years that their other three albums hit the shelves either once I get around to looking back at those particular years. Back to 2016, however, and the band’s excellent fifth studio album “The Last Hero”.
A natural progression from previous record “Fortress”, the album is a little over an hour of top quality hard rock music. Kicking things off is lead single “Show Me A Leader”, which really tells you everything you need to know. Huge guitar riffs, thunderous bass and drums, face-melting soloing from guitar hero Mark Tremonti all topped off with majestic vocals from Myles Kennedy as he sings lyrics demonstrating discontent with today’s political leaders. If you like that you’ll love this record. Alter Bridge are a band that keep getting better and better.
“…the latest (and presumably last, unless there’s stuff in the vaults for future releases) album is, of course, the brand new “Blackstar”. So how does it stack up against his back catalogue? Well, to be honest, to begin with I found it hard going, especially after the fairly straight-forward sounds of “The Next Day”. Having given it repeated plays however, especially in the last twenty-four hours I have to say that it has really grown on me and I now think it’s fabulous!
Kicking off with the near-ten-minute title track, a fusion of drum ‘n’ bass percussion, jazz parts, ethereal vocals, progressive rock style changes and a fairly impenetrable lyric! It takes a few listens to get a handle on, but boy is it a great track… In the end this is a wonderful piece of music by a man who has for decades reinvented himself and his art, so makes for a fitting epitaph…”
3. Epica “The Holographic Principle”
I’ve been an admirer of Dutch band Epica since hearing their debut album “The Phantom Agony” in 2003 and was fortunate enough to be able to witness the band performing live in Bristol in late 2015 when they were touring sixth studio record “The Quantum Enigma”.
September 2016 saw the release of the follow-up album, “The Holographic Principle”. As is usual with a band whose music is as layered and complex as Epica, it took a while to get into the album. When you’re dealing with orchestral instrumentation and choral vocals on top of the six band members contributions there’s a lot to take in. Add in the concept of the record, which is looking at “…the near future, where virtual reality allows people to create their own worlds which can’t be distinguished from ‘reality as we know it’. This raises the question whether our current reality could be a virtual reality in itself – a hologram. The lyrics challenge you to reconsider everything you took for granted and to be open-minded towards recent revolutions in science. Nothing appears to be what it seems in our holographic universe…” So that’s straightforward enough eh?
Leaving aside the lyrical concept, one can enjoy the album simply for the songs themselves. A super mix of classical themes and driving heavy metal riffs and solos with Simone Simons’ fabulous vocal delivery on top, as illustrated perfectly by the singles “Universal Death Squad” and “Edge Of The Blade”. Perhaps not the most immediate record to appreciate but one that is worth taking the time to get into for sure.
4. Ihsahn “Arktis”
If the Epica record demands some listening to really appreciate, then that applies possibly even more to “Arktis”, the sixth solo album from Ihsahn, guitarist / vocalist from Norwegian black metal band Emperor. That’s not because it’s inaccessible, however, but because it is a diverse platter indeed. Progressive metal riffs and black metal vocals dominate tracks such as “Mass Darkness” but suddenly electronics rear their head on “South Winds”. “Until I Too Dissolve” is almost hair metal in a way, “Crooked Red Line” has acoustic and jazzy elements and closing nine-minute bonus track “Til Tor Ulven (Soppelsolen)” is an ambient spoken-word piece that gradually morphs into glacial black metal vocal styling.
There are echoes of Opeth’s mix of progressive metal and 1970s rock sounds to be heard too. You never know quite what to expect next and despite the variations in style and singing style throughout it is both easy to listen to and challenging too. A simply awesome album from start to finish…
“Sometimes I hear a record and it instantly connects, others take a while to kind of sink in and improve with repeated listens. Then there are the albums that somehow manage to do both – they’re immediately gratifying and yet continue to get better with each listen. English blues singer / guitarist Joanne Shaw Taylor‘s latest album “Wild” is definitely one of the latter.
I believe that with this simply superb record Joanne Shaw Taylor – an inspired and inspiring musician – deserves her place amongst the greats…”
6. Joe Bonamassa “Blues Of Desperation”
There are surely few modern musicians as prolific as blues singer / guitarist Joe Bonamassa. Since his 2000 debut album “A New Day Yesterday” he has released, to date, a further eleven studio albums, thirteen live albums, three albums with singer Beth Hart, four as a member of Black Country Communion and three a part of Rock Candy Funk Party – so I make that thirty-five albums in sixteen years?! Anyway, Bonamassa’s most recent solo studio release is “Blues Of Desperation”. This followed 2014’s “Different Shades Of Blue” which was strong without quite reaching the heights of some of his other work such as “Dust Bowl” or “The Ballad Of John Henry”.
From the moment opener “This Train” comes steaming out of the speakers the suggestion is that this album is a step up from the last, and each successive track goes to confirm that to be correct.
There are the heavy blues numbers like “Mountain Climbing” and the laid back late night tracks like “Drive”, the Led Zeppelin-tinged title track and of course a good extended guitar workout in “No Good Place For The Lonely”. A simply brilliant guitar player and still-improving singer, Joe Bonamassa remains an artist to be reckoned with.
7. Marillion “F.E.A.R. (Fuck Everyone And Run)”
Although there will always be folk who think of Marillion as being the band headed by singer Fish (who held that role from 1981-88), the band’s many fans have continued to follow and enjoy their evolution since current vocalist Steve “H” Hogarth took on the mantle in 1989. “F.E.A.R…” is the band’s fourteenth album with Hogarth at the mic, and carries on their strong catalogue from where 2012’s “Sounds That Can’t Be Made” left off, with excellent musicianship, great songs and thought-provoking lyrics.
This time around the themes of the record are inspired by the state of the country and the world today. Hogarth stated “…the title is adopted and sung tenderly, in sadness and resignation inspired by an England, and a world, which increasingly functions on an “Every man for himself” philosophy. There’s a sense of foreboding that permeates much of this record. I have a feeling that we’re approaching some kind of sea-change in the world – an irreversible political, financial, humanitarian and environmental storm…”
With a duration of over an hour the record comprises just six tracks, and is one of those that rewards total immersion to fully appreciate both the music and the message – the latter including greed and corruption (“The New Kings”), war (“Living In FEAR”), lost youth (“White Paper”) and even life on the road (“The Leavers”). Perhaps the most potent of all, though, is the opener “El Dorado” with lines including “…we all know about the wars that are raging, all the millions who just cannot see, there’s so much more that binds us than divides us but our fear denies it while the papers stir it, the colours of the flag we wave were and will become blood red again…”. The band do not preach and give us answers but ask plenty of questions and get us to think about what the answers might be.
For a group approaching forty years of age one could be forgiven for expecting something formulaic and so-so but this is surely one of Marillion’s strongest albums yet and a real tour de force from the whole band.
“…not an acoustic album in the usual sense, the songs are recognisable from the original versions and yet the treatment given here means that they do stand up in their own right. In fairness, I find it impossible to point to any particular highlights on this record as all nine tracks are uniformly excellent. Despite not having the extremes in sound of the studio work this beautiful recording still enchants the listener. Best listened to late at night in the dark, or perhaps out in the forest or on a hill without modern civilisation breaking the spell, this is twenty-seven minutes of pure atmosphere. Utterly compelling listening…”
9. Opeth “Sorceress”
“Sorceress” is the twelfth studio album from Swedish progressive metal band Opeth, recorded not far from here at Rockfield Studios in Monmouth. It all starts peacefully enough with the delicate acoustic guitar and piano intro of “Persephone”. The jazzy groove of the title track then starts up before a massively heavy guitar riff kicks in at around a minute in, ushering in Mikael Åkerfeldt’s clean vocals. Death metal vocals are heard less and less with Opeth as the years go by but amongst the lighter moments that adorn their material these days there are still plenty of crushingly heavy passages.
Although only two of the album’s thirteen tracks made the setlist for the band’s Wembley show last year – the title track and “The Wilde Flowers” – the rest of the record is certainly strong enough to be included alongside their classic material, with my favourites including “Chrysalis”, “Era” and the brilliant “Strange Brew”.
“…you would perhaps expect Skuggsjá’s music to sound like a cross between Enslaved and Wardruna, given who the creative forces behind the project are. Bjørnson contributes vocals, guitars, bass and keyboards whilst Selvik provides vocals, taglharpa, Kravik-lyre, goat-horn, birch-bark lure, bone-flute, percussion and electronics.
This is a unique sounding album, taking the best of the two composers’ day jobs and coming up with something distinctively different, even from one track to the next. The running order is beautifully balanced and the whole thing is evocative and uplifting, a superb album from start to finish…”
So there we have it. My favourite ten albums released in 2016. Honourable mentions should be made to records that nearly made the grade, which include All Saints “Red Flag”), Big Big Train (“Folklore”), Seth Lakeman (“Ballads Of The Broken Few), Megadeth (“Dystopia”), Merry Hell (“Bloodlines) and Winterfylleth (“The Dark Hereafter”). A less than honourable mention, however, must go to Meat Loaf for his “Braver Than We Are” album which recycles old Jim Steinman numbers (including lines later used for Bonnie Tyler’s hit “Total Eclipse Of The Heart” which just sound odd re-used in this context) as sung by a legendary performer who just doesn’t seem to be able to sing anymore. Not one that will get many repeat plays around here I’m afraid, and this review sadly sums it up very well.
OK, I’ll get back to individual album reviews shortly, with releases from Wolcensmen, Thunder, Snakecharmer, Quinn Sullivan, Fen, Mostly Autumn and the lovely Imelda May on rotation at the moment…
Last Saturday, 19th November, I was fortunate enough to be able to travel to the SSE Arena at Wembley (or, Wembley Arena as it was) to see Swedish progressive metallers Opeth in concert.
Not being overly keen on Wembley’s parking charges, and having memories of taking hours to get out of their car parks on previous visits, I had used a website called Your Parking Space to arrange to “rent” someone’s driveway for the evening. Considerably cheaper and only a few minutes walk from the Wembley complex. I’d certainly use this service again.
I’d left the Forest of Dean in plenty of time to reach Wembley with enough time to park and grab some food and drink before it was time to enter the venue but having got caught in some very heavy traffic jams meaning that the section of journey from Churcham to Elmbridge Court roundabout – which would normally take about 10-15 minutes – took two hours to complete! Luckily once past there the traffic returned to normal and with weather being clear and crisp I was parking at my destination in good time.
A bite to eat and a coffee later, and just as the weather turned to rain, it was 6:00pm and time to enter the arena. As I found my seat it became immediately obvious that this was one of those occasions when playing Wembley Arena actually meant playing half of Wembley Arena as the stage was halfway along the floor and the other half of the arena was curtained off behind it. No matter, this is still a significant event for what is essentially a niche artist, albeit one that has already headlined at the Royal Albert Hall.
Before the main event, though, there was the small matter of supporting act. When I’d booked my ticket the support hadn’t been announced and I must admit I was a bit gutted when I discovered that recent discovery Myrkur was supporting the band on their European dates subsequent to London, and Sahg covering the pre-London shows. However, things looked up with news that Liverpool progressive rock band Anathema.
I had listened to some of Anathema’s albums in the past and quite enjoyed what I heard but wasn’t terribly excited about seeing them live. That changed when they hit the stage and, following an intro tape that seemed somewhat out-of-place with their music, broke into opening number “Thin Air” which grew into a quite impressively epic sound.
Something of a (two) family affair, Anathema are led by lead vocalist / guitarist Vincent Cavanagh, and feature his brothers Daniel Cavanagh (guitars / vocals) and Jamie Cavanagh (bass) as well as siblings Lee Douglas (vocals) and John Douglas (drums / percussion / keyboards). The line-up is completed by percussionist / drummer Daniel Cardoso.
Daniel Cavanagh, unusual in attire in that rather than in-ear monitors he sported full-size over-ear headphones, did his best to gee up the less than full crowd and succeeded in getting a good proportion of those who were in their seats to use the light apps on their smart phones in place of stage lighting during the evocative “A Natural Disaster”, which featured a lead vocal from Lee Douglas.
My personal highlight of the band’s short set would be the electronically based “Distant Satellites” which, at one point, saw both John Douglas and Daniel Cardoso joined by Vincent Cavanagh in providing a triple-pronged percussive assault. A very impressive set and a band that I shall be listening to more!
1. Thin Air / 2. Untouchable, Part 1 / 3. A Simple Mistake / 4. Distant Satellites / 5. A Natural Disaster / 6. Fragile Dreams / 7. Springfield
1 and 3 originally from “We’re Here Because We’re Here ” (2010) / 2 originally from “Weather Systems” (2012) / 4 originally from “Distant Satellites” (2014) / 5 originally from “A Natural Disaster” (2003) / 6 originally from “Alternative 4” (1998) / 7 to be on forthcoming studio album “The Optimist” (2017)
A short break later and at around 8:30pm the house lights went down on a much fuller crowd as headliners Opeth began to enter the stage. Joakim Svalberg (keyboards), Martin Axenrot (drums) and Martin Mendez (bass) take to the stage first and lock into the opening jazz-inflected riff to “Sorceress”, the title track of the band’s superb album released in September this year. Fredrik Åkesson (guitars) and frontman Mikael Åkerfeldt (guitars / vocals) stride on in time for the track to get going and it’s simply brilliant. The sound is great, vocals clear as a bell, and the guitars heavy as you like.
Following this up with “Ghost Reveries” highlight “Ghost Of Perdition” surely meant that even those not over enamoured with the band’s recent lighter output must have been happy. The band’s playing was incredibly precise, with the light and shade all the more effective live than on record.
Åkerfeldt is an engaging and humorous frontman, with a nice line in self-deprecation. He tells us that when his friends back in Sweden ask what it was like to headline Wembley he’ll tell them that it was “intimate” but will neglect to mention that they moved the stage half way down the hall. Later, when introducing “By The Pain I See In Others” from the album “Deliverance” he will say that this is the third of four times that they will ever play it live, and that this is no real shame as it’s “a bit shit”!
A faultless rendition of “The Grand Conjuration” brings the first set to a thunderous close. Åkerfeldt tells us beforehand that after the song there will be some mysterious sounds and that the group will mysteriously disappear “…well, we’ll go and stand over there…” to give an artistic link into the second set – during which they will play highlights of the “Deliverance” and “Damnation” albums.
Four largely acoustic numbers come first and all are beautiful and haunting, with “Windowpane” and “Closure” being highlights for me. The best track of the night, however, has to be the crushing closer “Deliverance” itself which sees the band’s machine gun riffing send the rapturous audience out into the pouring rain on a real high.
Even a slow drive back to the England / Wales border in torrential rain with lots of surface water cannot dampen what has been a top class two and a half hour show from a band truly on top of their game. A brilliant performance…
1. Sorceress / 2. Ghost Of Perdition / 3. Demon Of The Fall / 4. The Wilde Flowers / 5. Face Of Melinda / 6. Cusp Of Eternity / 7. The Drapery Falls/ 8. Heir Apparent / 9. The Grand Conjuration / 10. Windowpane / 11. Death Whispered A Lullaby / 12. In My Time Of Need / 13. Closure / 14. Master’s Apprentices / 15. By The Pain I See In Others / 16. Deliverance
1 and 4 originally from “Sorceress” (2016) / 2 and 9 originally from “Ghost Reveries” (2005) / 3 originally from “My Arms, Your Hearse” (1998) / 5 originally from “Still Life” (1999) / 6 originally from “Pale Communion” (2014) / 7 originally from “Blackwater Park” (2001) 8 originally from “Watershed” (2008) / 10, 11, 12 and 13 originally from “Damnation” (2003) / 14, 15 and 16 originally from “Deliverance” (2002)
I believe I first discovered Swedish progressive metal band Opeth through a magazine cover mounted CD around the time of the release of the band’s breakthrough fifth studio album “Blackwater Park” in 2001.
Starting out in 1990 as a death metal band with progressive tendencies, singer / guitarist Mikael Åkerfeldt and his group had gradually incorporated more texture into their material leading up to 1999’s anti-Christian concept album “Still Life” which drew the attention of Steven Wilson, then leader of Porcupine Tree.
Wilson became involved in the production of the follow-up “Blackwater Park”, leading to a shift further away from the band’s death metal origins and having no small part in the eventual success of that album. The influence ran both ways, however, with a marked change in Porcupine Tree’s sound being noticeable on their music from 2002’s “In Absentia” onwards. It was no surprise, therefore, that Wilson was again on board for the recording on Opeth’s next musical creation.
In 2002 he joined the band – Åkerfeldt, guitarist Peter Lindgren, bassist Martin Mendez and drummer Martin Lopez – in Gothenburg once the sessions were underway to help with production and contribute musically too.
The result of around six weeks of recording was not one, but two albums of new material. Each showed a completely different side to the band. The first of them, “Deliverance”, co-produced by Åkerfeldt and Wilson, with mixing handled by the band and Hell guitarist Andy Sneap, was released in November 2002 and was the band at their heaviest.
A few months later, in April 2003, the second record “Damnation” was released. Again co-produced by Åkerfeldt and Wilson, this time mixed by Wilson and the band, it was the sound of Opeth at their most gentle and reflective, with no harsh vocals present at all for the first time on an Opeth album. It seems that the records were originally intended to form both parts of an ambitious double album, but for whatever reason (record company issues presumably) that didn’t happen.
Subsequently Opeth went on, with a few line-up changes, to release ever more successful and progressive sounding records with “Ghost Reveries” (2005), “Watershed” (2008), “Heritage” (2011) and “Pale Communion” (2014), the latter two again featuring Wilson in a production capacity.
Now “Deliverance & Damnation” has been issued as a complete double album and the original plan has finally been realised. Crucially, however, both original albums have been remixed. The “Damnation” record has been remixed by Steven Wilson and “Deliverance” by Pineapple Thief founder Bruce Soord.
Taking for granted that the original albums in this case are classics, in my opinion, the big question is whether the remixes are worth having? Simply put, yes. I do not have a 5.1 system so cannot judge the new 5.1 mixes and am instead listening to the new stereo mixes. The sound is clearer, with each instrument more audible than previously and both albums seem to be bursting with new life.
“Damnation” was the better sounding record of the two when they first appeared, so I would have to say that it is “Deliverance” that has benefited most from this reassessment. Tracks like “A Fair Judgement”, the simply stunning “Deliverance” and the crushing “Master’s Apprentices” were brilliant to begin with but sound even better now.
The best of “Damnation”, such as “Death Whispered A Lullaby”, “In My Time Of Need” and “Windowpane”, again sound superior to the original versions and leave me wondering if I will listen to those original albums much now that this edition has seen the light of day.
If you have the original releases then I would still recommend adding the remixed double set to your collection. If not, why not?! Containing excellent, interesting material, top drawer performances all round and now state of the art immersive mixes, whether together or apart these are two essential records…
“Deliverance & Damnation” tracklist:
1. Wreath / 2. Deliverance / 3. A Fair Judgement / 4. For ABsent Friends / 5. Master’s Apprentices / 6. By The Pain I See In Others / 7. Windowpane / 8. In My Time Of Need / 9. Death Whispered A Lullaby / 10. Closure / 11. Hope Leaves / 12. To Rid The Disease / 13. Ending Credits / 14. Weakness
1-6 originally from “Deliverance” (2002) / 7-14 originally from “Damnation” (2003)
Time for a little something from the dark side today. Formed in 2010 by singer / guitarist Andrea “Burdo” Burdisso, guitarist Marco “Gale” Galeotti, bassist Riccardo “Paso” Pasini and drummer Andrea “Allo” Allodoli, Italian band Void Of Sleep describe their music as occult progressive metal.
A debut album, titled “Tales Between Reality And Madness” saw the light of day in 2013 and the group’s follow-up effort, “New World Order” has recently been released.
In theory, given the increasing amount of occult and extreme metal, not to mention progressive rock, that I’ve been listening to in recent years, this should be right up my street. So?…
The record follows in the steps of the promotional lyric video “Slaves Shall Serve” which has a procession of images providing an effective visual accompaniment to the song’s Luciferian theme. Although bearing the same title, this is a more 70s hard rock / doom sounding song than the Polish black metal act Behemoth’s ferocious track.
The album’s opener “The Devil’s Conjuration” has a nice sludgy doom metal feel topped off with vocals akin to Ghost, and picks up the pace a little towards the track’s climax.
“Hidden Revelations”, meanwhile, hints at influences from the likes of Opeth with its progressive metal guitar riffs and melancholic vocal passages.
The aforementioned “Slaves Shall Serve” is followed by “Ordo Ab Chao” (translation – order from chaos) which has plenty of light and shade even though the song is generally slow and heavy.
“Lords Of Chaos” is a forty-two second interlude and introduction to the title track which sees the band channelling Tool at their most reflective, and is one of the highlights of the album.
That just leaves the closing number “Ending Theme”. At a little over fourteen minutes this is by far the longest track on the record. It starts with some atmospheric and discordant guitar before the drums and vocals join the fray, and before you know it all those influences mentioned above are making their presence felt through your speakers.
Given those influences this is clearly not a hugely original album. What the band have done, however, is to take those influences and produce something fresh and interesting from them. The band members’ musical ability is not in question as they shine throughout.
Is it up my street then? It’s certainly in the neighbourhood. As a whole this is an album rich in texture. There is plenty of great guitar riffing to get your teeth into and harsh vocals to display aggression, whilst there are more memorable melodies and harmonies present than on your average album of this type. The sound gets more complex and challenging as the album moves into its second half, but flows beautifully as a whole piece of work. So overall this is impressive stuff…
“New World Order” tracklist:
1. The Devil’s Conjuration / 2. Hidden Revelations / 3. Slaves Shall Serve / 4. Ordo Ab Chao / 5. Lords Of Conspiracy / 6. New World Order / 7. Ending Theme (I Mourn / II Triumphant / III Void)
I have just discovered a relatively new folk metal band, going by the name Wilderun. Unusually for this genre, the band isn’t from Europe but actually originate from Boston, Massachusetts.
Formed in 2012, the band comprises vocalist / guitarist Evan Anderson Berry, guitarist Wayne Ingram, drummer Jon Teachey and bassist Dan Müller and already have a well received album under their belt with debut release “Olden Tales & Deathly Trails”.
“Sleep At The Edge Of The Earth” is their second album, and what a good record it is. Opening with the acoustic instrumental “Dust And Crooked Thoughts”, I was reminded a little of the likes of the equally atmospheric “Children Of The Stones” by Winterfylleth, though I felt that this track is perhaps more Viking flavoured with the addition of choral sounds.
Then it’s into the four-song “Ash Memory” – a diverse suite that brings to mind European folk metal bands such as Ensiferum but also the progressive metal of Opeth. In fact the album as a whole should, I would have thought, appeal to fans of Mikael Åkerfeldt and Opeth, such is it’s breadth of vision.
The record is very well produced by the band and Jason “Jocko” Randall and is sonically rich – it sounds superb through headphones.
As well as the main guitar, bass and drums, and additional lead guitar supplied by Joe Gettler, other more folky instrumentation is employed by the band, including dulcimer, mandolin, autoharp and banjo, and there is some excellent cinematic orchestration arranged by Ingram and Müller that really enhances the whole listening experience.
Following “Ash Memory” is the nearly ten minute duration “The Garden Of Fire” where the Opeth comparisons feel particularly apt with a mixture of harsh and clean vocals and some decidedly Opeth-like guitar work. That said, whilst it may not be overly original it is nonetheless a demonstration of the very good songwriting skills of Berry, who composed the whole album.
“Linger” showcases the more mellow side of the band before the eleven minute epic “The Means To Preserve” which is a little like a snapshot of the record as a whole, containing, as it does, the full range of styles and tempos found throughout. A spellbinding number for sure, which leads to the closing title track which reprises the melody of the opening instrumental in a more cinematic setting – in fact, like the rest of the album, to my mind it could easily work as a soundtrack the TV series “Vikings”.
Bearing in mind that this is just their second album I am seriously impressed with “Sleep At The Edge Of The Earth” – a contender for top ten albums of 2015 without doubt…
“Sleep At The Edge Of The Earth” tracklist:
1. Dust And Crooked Thoughts / 2. And So Opens The Earth (Ash Memory Part I) / 3. Hope And Shadows (Ash Memory Part II) / 4. Bite The Wound (Ash Memory Part III) / 5. The Faintest Echo (Ash Memory Part IV) / 6. The Garden Of Fire / 7. Linger / 8. The Means To Preserve / 9. Sleep At The Edge Of The Earth
Today I’m going to look at another top ten albums of the year – this time 2003 – the year that I left Bristol for a new chapter of my life in Gloucestershire. The list includes some long-term favourite acts alongside some newly discovered artists. So, without further ado…
1. Akercocke “Choronzon”
Discovered via a magazine article, though I can’t remember with magazine it was, Akercocke were a black metal band from London, and “Choronzon”, their third studio album, was my first exposure to their unique take on the genre.
The band had an unusual visual image for a black metal band, choosing to present a suited and booted gentleman image rather than the more usual black leather and corpse paint, as can be seen in the video for the single from this album, the rather fabulous track “Leviathan”.
As with the rest of the album the music is dense and challenging and entirely evocative of the satanic theme that runs through the record. Although I also enjoy the rest of Akercocke’s catalogue, this album remains – in my view – the pinnacle of their musical achievements, containing such highlights as “Praise The Name Of Satan”, “Goddess Flesh” and “Valley Of The Crucified”. Cracking stuff!
2. Cara Dillon “Sweet Liberty”
The second new discovery here, Cara Dillon is an Irish folk singer who these days hails from Somerset where she lives with her husband Sam Lakeman and children.
“Sweet Liberty” is her second album and featured a wonderful version of “There Were Roses”, a song about sectarianism in Northern Island.
Cara has a beautifully pure voice which is very much to the fore on this excellent album. The best songs, or rather my favourites, are “Black Is The Colour”, “The Winding River Roe”, “The Emigrant’s Farewell” and the aforementioned “The Were Roses”. A brilliant modern folk album.
3. Dream Theater “Train Of Thought”
American progressive metal band Dream Theater followed 2002’s double disc concept album “Six Degrees Of Inner Turbulence”, which featured just six tracks across it’s 96 minute running time (including the 42 minute title track) with a more concise, direct and musically darker and heavier record “Train Of Thought”.
Seven tracks made up this single disc release, and although there is one track, “Vacant”, that comes in at under 3 minutes and another, the single “As I Am” at nearly 8, the rest are all over 10 minutes duration. Nonetheless, this is a far more accessible record than it’s predecessor featuring the angry “Honor Thy Father”, instrumental tour de force “Stream Of Consciousness” and the epic “In The Name Of God”. One of the band’s strongest albums to date.
4. Epica “The Phantom Agony”
Another new discovery to me in 2003, Epica are a Dutch symphonic metal band formed by former After Forever guitarist Mark Jansen and featuring the fantastic Simone Simons on lead vocals.
The record features parts 4-6 of Jansen’s “The Embrace That Smothers” series of songs, which had started on After Forever’s 2000 release “Prison Of Desire”. These songs are all on the theme of the dangers of organised religion.
Three singles were released to promote the album – title track “The Phantom Agony”, “Feint” which addresses the assassination of Dutch politician Pim Fortuyn, and “Cry For The Moon” which is a song about child abuse carried out by Catholic priests.
The band have gone from strength to strength since, but “The Phantom Agony” is a very assured and accomplished debut album, featuring strong performances and superb material.
5. Iron Maiden “Dance Of Death”
The second studio album released since the return to the band of singer Bruce Dickinson and guitarist Adrian Smith, “Dance Of Death” was even better than it’s predecessor “Brave New World”.
Kicking off with the singles “Wildest Dreams” and “Rainmaker” the record is chock full of brilliant tracks. Amongst the strongest are “No More Lies”, “Dance Of Death”, “Paschendale” and the acoustic “Journeyman”. As is so often the case, this is an essential Iron Maiden album.
6. Marilyn Manson “The Golden Age Of Grotesque”
The last really good album from Marilyn Manson until “The Pale Emperor” in 2015, “The Golden Age Of Grotesque” is probably my favourite Manson record.
For this album Manson was using themes from the Weimar Republic of the 1930s and early days of Nazism, musically and visually, as can be seen in the videos for single release “mOBSCENE” and “This Is The New Shit”. Perhaps Manson’s then-girlfriend Dita Von Teese’s burlesque style was also an influence.
A more electronic based album than previous releases, “The Golden Age Of Grotesque” also features other highlights such as “Doll-Dagga Buzz-Buzz Ziggety-Zag”, “Para-noir” and “(s)AINT”. Dark and edgy lyrics combined with catchy and infectious grooves, this is a very good album.
7. Meat Loaf “Couldn’t Have Said It Better”
This was Meat Loaf’s eighth studio album release, and easily his best outside of the “Bat Out Of Hell” series.
Only the third album to feature no material from long-term collaborator Jim Steinman, instead having songs from a number of different composers including Diane Warren and MötleyCrüe’sNikki Sixx.
My favourite tracks on the record are “Testify”, “Mercury Blues”, a great cover of Bob Dylan’s “Forever Young”, “Love You Out Loud” and the title track “Couldn’t Have Said It Better”. A very solid album.
8. Opeth “Damnation”
Recorded at the same time as 2002’s “Deliverance”, which showcased the Swedish progressive metal band’s heavier side, “Damnation” highlighted the other side of Opeth – this time a far lighter and more introspective sound.
The album starts with the single “Windowpane” which is a great snapshot of the record as a whole. Progressive, acoustic, cinematic and expansive.
The involvement of Porcupine Tree man Steven Wilson, who contributed keyboards and backing vocals, the lyrics to “Death Whispered A Lullaby” as well as studio wizardry, continued to make a mark on the sound of Opeth too. A totally indespensable Opeth album.
9. Liz Phair “Liz Phair”
“Liz Phair” is the self-title fourth album from the American singer / songwriter, and was my introduction to her work. A more commercial record than her previous work, “Liz Phair” seemed to have been aimed more at fans of the likes of Avril Lavigne than her own existing fan base.
Nonetheless, I found it to be a very good rock / pop record, glossily produced and containing good songs with some great hooks.
My favourite tracks on this album include the singles “Why Can’t I?” and “Extraordinary”, as well as “Rock Me”, the delicate “Little Digger”, “Favorite” and the x-rated “H.W.C.”. All in all, accessible great rock / pop record.
10. Stereophonics “You Gotta Go There To Come Back”
Stereophonics were formed in the village of Cwmaman in South Wales, and “You Gotta Go There To Come Back” was their fourth studio album – and their third UK number 1.
Sadly it was also to be their last album with the late Stuart Cable on drums.
It felt to me that, having toured previously with the Black Crowes, there was an influence to be found within the dense sound of this record, particularly on tracks like “High As The Ceiling”, and Kelly Jones has since confirmed that the band were stoned for a lot of the recording process.
Regardless, this is one of my all-time favourite Stereophonics albums, with my personal highlights including “Help Me (She’s Out Of Her Mind)”, “Jealousy”, “Rainbows And Pots Of Gold” and the brilliant hit single “Maybe Tomorrow”. A top class rock album.
So that’s my top ten albums of 2003. Things of note that year? Prime minister Tony Blair leads Britain into the Iraq War, Manchester United win the Premier League with Arsenal winning the F.A. Cup, and some of the year’s top cinema releases were “The Lord Of The Rings : The Return Of The King”, “Finding Nemo” and “Pirates Of The Caribbean : The Curse Of The Black Pearl”…
In 1996 Niklas Kvarforth, a twelve year old from Halmstad, in south west Sweden, formed black metal band Shining. Their debut album “Within Deep Dark Chambers” was released in 2000.
Since then, Kvarforth and band have released a further eight albums, and numerous EPs, with the newest being “IX : Everyone, Everything, Everywhere, Ends” released in April 2015.
From the outset Shining have been a band that pushes the boundaries of acceptability, as they are vocal in their support and promotion of suicide and self-harm in the lyrical content of their material – including drug abuse, something that is also indicated in one of their rare music videos, for the song “Tillsammans Ar Vi Allt” (which translates as “Together We Are Everything”) from the 2011 album “V : Född Förlorare (Born Loser)”
Whilst this ideology does nothing for me, and I can quite see why people might get upset about it, musically the band are strong, an certainly “IX…” is a very good, well produced, extreme metal album. Joining vocalist / guitarist Kvarforth are guitarists Peter Huss and Euge Valovirta, bassist Christian Larsson and drummer Rainer Tuomikanto.
An eerie soundscape ushers in opening track “Den Påtvingade Tvåsamheten” (Being Forced Into Twosomeness) an atmospheric instrumental which is also rather gentle and melodic in places, recalling perhaps some mid-period Opeth. The piano ending to that track lulls us into a false sense of security however, as we are immediately woken up by the initially pacey and snarling “Vilja & Dröm” (Will & Dream) which itself has slower passages but never loses its menace.
“Framtidsutsikter” (Future Prospects) begins with a simple acoustic guitar motif accompanying Kvarforth’s almost plaintive vocals before gradually progressing to a mid-paced metal sound. “Människotankens Vägglösa Rum” (Human Thoughts, A Room Without Walls) has some aggressive riffing and excellent drum work from Tuomikanto underpining more tortured vocals, and manages to build up to quite a furious pace.
“Inga Broar Kvar Att Bränna” (No More Bridges Left To Burn) and “Besök Från I(ho)nom” (A Visit From WitHi(m)n) round out the record, with the latter being another good example of just how well Kvarforth has developed the progressive side of his band without losing the fury and blackness that lies underneath it all.
Not for everyone, particularly taking into account the lyrical subject matter. However, given that the songs are sung in Swedish, for listeners such as myself it’s a case of getting an aural impression rather than the actual words – and listening to this record in terms of the music and mood I would certainly recommend a listen to anyone who appreciates black or progressive black metal…
IX : Everyone, Everything, Everywhere, Ends tracklist:
1. Den Påtvingade Tvåsamheten / 2. Vilja & Dröm/ 3. Framtidsutsikter / 4. Människotankens Vägglösa Rum / 5. Inga Broar Kvar Att Bränna / 6. Besök Från I(ho)nom
Written from a female perspective, “Hand. Cannot. Erase” is a concept album, inspired by the tragic story of Joyce Vincent. Wilson is quoted as saying that the story of the record is “about a woman growing up, who goes to live in the city, very isolated, and she disappears one day and no one notices. But there’s more to it than that. Now, what’s really interesting about this story (of Joyce Vincent) is that your initial reaction when you hear a story like that is, ‘Ah, little old bag lady that no one notices, no one cares about.’ She wasn’t. She was young, she was popular, she was attractive, she had many friends, she had family, but for whatever reason, nobody missed her for three years.”
Anyone familiar with Wilson’s past work with Porcupine Tree, or his subsequent solo work will have an idea of what to expect with this record. This is not background music. It’s not easy listening. This is an album that challenges you. It needs and deserves to have your full attention. And with that attention you will discover what a rich and engaging album it is.
There are some beautiful melodies and harmonies to be found here. Some haunting passages, such as the wonderful “Perfect Life”. Many musical twists and turns, just as you should expect from a musician who is a major figure in progressive music these days.
There is excellence throughout. The lyrics, the complex compositions, the musical performances, the production – in fact everything about this record is top-notch.
There are some echoes of the heavier end of the Porcupine Tree catalogue, such as “Fear Of A Blank Planet” to be heard, lyrically too, in the brilliantly observed “Home Invasion / Regret #9”:
“Download sex and download God Download the funds to meet the cost Download a dream home and a wife Download the ocean and the sky
Another day on Earth has passed me by But I have lost all faith in what’s outside They only are the stars across the sky And the wreckage of the night
Download love and download war Download the shit you didn’t want Download the things that make you mad Download the life you wish you had
Another day on Earth has passed me by But I have lost all faith in what’s outside They only are the stars across the sky And the wreckage of the night”
– Steven Wilson
The top tracks, for me, are “First Regret / 3 Years Older”, “Perfect Life”, “Routine”, “Home Invasion / Regret #9” and the awesome thirteen-plus minute progressive rock masterpiece “Ancestral” – which is the vast majority of the album. Simply put, there is not a bad track to be had here. An excellent listen from start to finish.
“Hand. Cannot. Erase” tracklist:
1. First Regret / 2. 3 Years Older / 3. Hand Cannot Erase / 4. Perfect Life / 5. Routine / 6. Home Invasion / 7. Regret #9 / 8. Transience / 9. Ancestral / 10. Happy Returns / 11. Ascendant Her On…