Vulture Industries – Stranger Times (Season of Mist 2017)

The weirdest band in Scandinavia is back with a new studio album, Stranger Times. Their last record was excellent. The band masterly combined crazy and brilliant, this time they’ve turned down the crazy and up’ed the brilliant. If you look at their back catalogue. They’ve turned the black metal influences and up the progressive sides of their music. Stranger Times is more atmospheric and slightly softer.

 

Tales of Woe sets the tone from the get go. From about the fourth or maybe fifth second it’s blatantly obvious that this is no run of the mill metal album. Tales of Woe is at once a hard piece of music and soft, woeful tune. The characteristic vocals is distinct and full of emotion, and ever present. If you want to enjoy this band, you’ve got to be onboard with vocals. It’s kind of like with King Diamond, you’ve got to like the unique vocals, to enjoy the band.

 

The vultures haven’t forgotten their metal, even though this might be their most mellow record yet, there are plenty of hard and heavy music. The Beacon, Gentle Touch of a Killer and Screaming Reflections are heavy, riffladen songs.The Beacon is the strongest of the bunch, while Screaming Reflections might be the closest thing the vultures ever get to a straight rock tune.

 

As the World Burns is a slow, creepy, circus tune. It’s this weird kind of song that always remind me of Tim Burton movies. Just like The Dead Won’t Mind from the last record, this one quickly became my favorite track. It’s just easy and fun to curl my face up in it’s most evil folds and snarl out the outrageous, vulgar lyrics and creep around like a serial killer from the horror movies of the fifties.

 

The album is not as shockingly good as The Tower was/is. It’s however a quality album filled with great, unusual twists and turns, in addition to the progressive elements. The black metal sides of the band is turned down, but still present. The music brings out certain moods and atmospheres of creepy, circusy horror..

 

Recommended: As the World Burns, The Beacon, Tales of Woe

 

Rating: 4 / 5

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Leprous – Malina (InsideOut 2017)

I first heard of Leprous in the fall of 2016, when they played a show not to far away from I live. I was asked by a colleague if I wanted to tag along with him. The show really blew me away. Just absolutely amazing; the atmosphere they created and just the overall feel in the rather small venue was breathtaking. As luck would have it, the band stayed at the same hotel as I did. They were friendly and more than willing to chat, nice folks. Since then I’ve plowed through their discography, from top to bottom. I don’t like it as much on studio record as I did live, and few songs are repetitive and just too much focus on atmosphere. I still liked it well enough and have been looking forward to this new record.

 

I’m not a huge fan of Anathema, but I’m familiar with most of their work and Malina reeks of Anathema references and inspiration. Everything from lyrical content, to sound and arrangement reminds me of Anathema. The feeling of the album is that of melody and progressive high swinging concepts. Most of the songs work excellent. Yet, sometimes I think they sound arrogant in way. I can’t quite explain what why that is, something to do with Solbergs voice I think.

 

My main issue with Leprous, and this album more so than their earlier material, is that the songs are a bit interchangeable, they seem very similar. I think they lean a bit too heavy on their brand of sound. I wish they would change it up a bit every now again, if for no other reason than to break the monotony. The tracks that stand out to me, do so mainly because they shift ever so slightly on a chorus, or a bridge, or a verse, and thus; breakes the monotony.

 

The opening track, Bonneville, is a beautiful song. The melody is both riveting and engaging. Track two, Stuck continues in the same vane, and flows into track three From the Flame without notice. The two songs are so similar in sound and feel that they are hard to tell apart. Like I said before, this unity in sound makes for a relaxing atmosphere but not to great individual tracks in my opinion. Is this a good or a bad thing? I’m a bit torn, I’m not the biggest fan of this exact thing, but sometimes it works. Maybe it’s a mood thing, if in need of relaxation this is a great record, if the need is to focus this is not the thing.  

 

The title track Malina is indeed a standout track, it’s one of these songs where everything just clicks and fits together. Just great, relaxing and  punishing at the same time. The exact opposite is my thought of the last track; The Last Milestone. It’s seems overly long and dragged out. The high pitched “oooo oooo ooo” middle section seem to never end. The middle section of the album is the blandest part of on album in decades, at least since Black Sabbaths 13, who whad all boring and uninspired songs in the middle. Illuminate, Mirage and Captive only work in the context of the album, as single tracks they seem to float away into space … la ti da …

 

I recommend this album for about an hour of relaxation, it’s almost meditative.

+Atmosphere, melodies

Interchangeable songs

 

Rating 3 / 5

Secret Sphere – The Nature of Time (Frontiers Records – 2017)

I was incredibly sceptical going into this album. I’ve had some previous experience with the band, but left them for dead a while back. I was totally oblivious to the fact they had gotten a new singer and changed musical direction something fierce, this happened like five years ago. And all for the better.

 

The reason I wrote these Italiens off years ago was the style of power metal they played, I heaped them in with Rhapsody and all their sound-alike bands from Italy, justified in my opinion. They’ve changed in a more progressive direction, and I can hear a lot of Dream Theater inspiration on this record, and even a few bits of pure rip off.

 

The album is beautiful, artwork and all, just gorgeous. The same could be said about the music. Beautiful is the best word to describe it. Songs like Kindness, Love and Honesty are amazingly melodic, with a heavy tint. The songs flows and raps around your ears like a wonderful …. something or other.

 

The Dream Theater references are obvious, down to the guitar sound. Remember that twangy / chorusy guitar from Pull Me Under? It gets more than its fair share on this record. The lyrics are the heaviest part of the album, although some riffs are as heavy as one can expect from Italian progers, the main feel of the album is a soft, melodic type, with rough edges. The metaly metalriffs are spread out through the record and you get a taste on almost every song. The intro to otherwise ballady Faith, for instance, is surprisingly heavy. The Awakening is the heaviest  number on here. It’s built around a classical epic skeleton: A classical intro, with orchestra, that bursts into an amazingly technical guitar solo, befor the proggy rhythm parts steps in and you go to a fast verse, and then slow it down to a more melodic middle section, before going up tempo again for the chorus, and so forth and so on.

 

The melodies, riffs, lyrics and progressive elements mix together in really cool way. I’m totally digging this album, however there is one thing I really really don’t care for: I understand that as proggers they feel obliged to have one long story through the album, a concept. I’ve tried a few times to pick up on the story, but it’s not really speaking to me. I just don’t get it. The last 30 seconds of every track is dedicated to bringing the story forward, the story is poorly told. The soundbites thus become a nuisance and annoying, I wished they would have put them on separate tracks so could escape them easier.

+ Melodies, riffs, songwriting

– Lack of originality, unfulfilling concept / story, too much blatant Dream Theater ripping

 

Recommended tracks: Faith, Love, The Awakening, The Calling

Mastodon – Emperor of Sand (Reprise 2017)

Mastodon has climbed from a band I hardly cared about up to a band I keep an eye on, and now with Emperor of Sand I think they climb even higher in my attention-tree. Mastodon keeps growing further and further away from the sludge of their earlier album and incorporating more progressive elements and adding melodies.

This might not sit right with fans of their classic sound, all the whining about ‘selling out that’ surfaced on the net when Once More ‘round the Sun was released will, probably, bubble back up. I don’t care; this is the Mastodon I enjoy the most. The band that keeps things groovy, heavy, technical and also incorporates some melody, nice hooks and energy, this is the band I like.

The sludge is by no means gone from the bands sound. The latter part of the record is especially sludge heavy, songs like Andromeda and Scorpion Breath are the best examples of the classic Mastodon style. Mid paced, but high frequency songs, with a lot of drums.

The closer, Jaguar God, is the longest track of the record, just short of 8 minutes. It starts of slow with a long melodic part and some weird vocals, complete with harmonies. After about 2 minutes the mood changes, the sound harshens and tempo increases ever so slightly. After about another minute or so, they start building up and bringing back down the intensity and the song keeps shifting from side to side. Then the tempo kicks up another nudge with some nice guitar work. Suddenly the song takes on an Opeth type of chromatic riffing, but with the intensity on high. Then the song relaxes into a melodic outro, playing on the mood and chords of the intro. What a great song, epic! I love it, just amazing … this is the kind tune that makes me feel … something… it’s journey …

The lead tracks were Sultans Curse, Show Yourself and Andromeda. Show Yourself is the most accessible song on the album, the least complicated so to speak and has hooky chorus that easily sticks and can be hummed immediately. It’s a good song, and catchy. Sultans Curse has more of classic Mastodon sound, more of sludge edge to it. I wasn’t too impressed by this song when it was released as a teaser, however it works great as an opener. It sets the mood perfectly; this is going to be a blend of heaviness, grooves, sludgy, muddy sound and intricate melodies and song structures. Everything one would expect from this band. The song itself might not be their strongest track, but opens up the record in a great way. Andromeda  is heavier than the other two singles, both lyrically and musically. It reminds of Trampled Under Hoof from the debut, without having any major similarities other than the sound.

Steambreather has a few opening notes, before the riff kicks inn, that it’s so similar to Phantom Lord that I had to check if Metallica had snuck into my playlist. The rest of the song is a midtempo, muddy riff, almost a stoner riff on the verse. The chorus is actually to popy sounding to me. Precious Stones is catchy as all hell and seems to made for the grand old men of rock radio, I would imagine Eddie Trunk will go bananas over this track.

The record kind of falls a bit in the middle as Roots Remain, Word to the Wise and Ancient Kingdom  is structured in similar manner and also has communalities in tone and riffs. There is nothing wrong with these songs as single tracks, when they are piled on top of each other like this, it gets a bit pale and boring. Scorpion Breath and Andromeda  brings the focus back, the sludge is thick on both of these and they should speak to old fans, as mentioned above.

Mastodon is kind of heading into dangerous waters now, if they take this popy direction any further they risk a Megadeth fall, think Risk and Supercollider, when the urge to get airplay outweighs the integrity of the musician and the result is awful music, that falls flat for the pop lovers and the rockers. If Mastodon slows down even further they might end up in this exact spot.

But for now, the music sounds inspired and heavy and groovy. The lyrics have lost a little edge. Brann is still a wicked drummer, the three vocalists combo still works.

 

Recommended tracks: Jaguar God, Show Yourself, Steambreather.

Opeth – Sorceress (Moderbolaget 2016)

Opeth continue there seventies inspired progressive rock thing. The band holds on to their new style with a firm grip, but this album is … I don’t know how I feel about this album. It’s sounds kind of tired and uninspired. I could deal with the new direction on Pale Communion and Heritage because the music was inspired and there was a sense of honesty and joy to the music. This time around the music is still, at times, phenomenal and beautiful, but it’s sounds soulless. A lot of the songs seem to be progressive for the sake of being progressive, not to make a contribution to the song.

Opeth has continuously developed their sound, all the records show some sort of progress from the last one. Sorceress seems to me like Pale Communion: the lost tracks or something in that direction. The music seem like lesser tracks for some reason. I’m not a big fan of songs that use a full stop and then continue in a totally different direction, if you can’t make the two parts work together, then maybe they should be two separate songs?

Choosing artful, macabre and beautiful coverart has always been one of Opeths strengths. The  Sorceress front cover is gorgeous and gruesome at same time; a peacock with a sinister look fading over a heap of rotting corpses. This might be the most metal thing about the record, perhaps the only thing that is metal at all actually.

The title track is exactly what to expect what I’ve come to expect from Opeth. A lot of guitar runs, in a partly chromatic scale, and nice, but complex structure and melody. The Wilde Flowers might have the most boring riff and rhythm figure Opeth has ever released. The lyrics are rather good on this one, but the main riff just ruins it for me. The melodic middle section is however quite excellent, at least until the vocals kicks in again.

Will o the Wisp is a boring song, which brings nothing new, nothing exciting. Why this song was pushed before the release of the album don’t understand. Sorceress 2 continues the trend of boring music, but this time Åkerfeld uses a falsetto vocal, that just doesn’t work. It sounds horrid.

The Seventh Sojourn is more of a classic Opeth composition. It builds and sways in nice melodic waves. Even though the awful falsetto returns at the end of this song as well, it all balances out. Strange Brew is yet another rater boring intro. It’s beautiful in a way, but it takes a while to get going. Yet another song that uses a single piano to set a rather melancholy mood, until the melodic guitar kicks in, after about two minutes. Magic ensues 30 seconds later, when a manic drum part starts up and takes the song in strange new directions. This is one of the songs that really bring the elements of Opeth together in a brilliant way.

Era I kind of like and dislike at the same time. The strong guitar licks are a plus. To me some of the progressive elements seem out of place and brings nothing to the song.

All in all this is not an album I will listen to a whole lot. It will probably please fans of the last to records and bring nothing but distance to purist of the pre-Heritage-era. I’m a medium fan of both eras, maybe leaning towards the Blackwater Park times more than Watershed, and Heritage rather than the this new one or Pale Communion. If you do like the newer material and direction than this will probably be right up you ally. When I go to find some doomy, seventies inspired, melodic rock, I think I will prefer HEX AD. new record to this one.

Recommended tracks: The Seventh Sojourn, Strange Brew

Gojira – Magma (Roadrunner Records 2016)

This album is just beautiful, both visually and musically. Gojira has chosen the path of many of their contemporaries in sludge / death metal segment, and are headed towards are more progressive sound. This record is heading in the direction of Enslaved or, to some degree, Opeth.

They’ve kept a lot of their heaviness, but added much to the melodic side of their sound. The soundscape is still similar to the earlier material, with a heavy bottom and a lot of going on in the background. And overall the sound is as atmospheric as ever. The sound is layered with a heavy bass and drum sound in the bottom layer, crushing guitars in the middle section and lighter top from lead guitars and vocals. Even when the harsher vocals turn up, it still has a softer feel then earlier material.

Silvera has sneaky intro and continues into an almost Meshuggah-ish riffing. This style of riffing is prevalent on other songs as well, stranded for one.

The album is really cohesive in that songs end and slide into each other, which makes for a seamless listening experience. The record doesn’t have any real single-tracks; they all sort of belong together. If I had to pull out a couple of songs I guess I would choose the title track, Low Lands and Liberation.

Magma, the track, has that certain sound and feel which I like in Gojira: Big variety in intensity, creative arrangement and great lyrics. Low Lands  is a haven of heavy and melodic riffs and turns into a beautiful soft outro. Liberation is Gojira at their most melodic and experimental. Usually they have experienced with atmospheric sounds, but this is more of a melodic and rhythmic song. It’s a great ending to a great album.

I like that they keep the songs rather short, and don’t feel the need to push the ten minute mark on every song, and keep it around five minutes. I wish they would let even more rules behind, because they’re still quite bound by metals dogmas. Gojira deserve to be much bigger than they are. Even though this album is beautiful in almost every way, I don’t think this is the kind of album that brakes through to the kid crowds.

 

Recommended tracks: Magma, Low Lands

Rating: 4,5 / 5

Vektor – Terminal Redux (Earache 2016)

How talented are these guys? This is some complicated music. There is so much going on, that it’s a bit much for my taste. I really enjoyed Outer Isolation for its creativity and solid songwriting. This time around I’m not, totally, onboard however.

 

Although this is musically very varied and progressive, the sound doesn’t change at all. The horrible vocals sound horrible throughout the entire thing. The vocals are so bad that I didn’t make it through the entire record the first time I listened to it. The fact that the guitars too has the same shitty sound for most of the album, also casts a dark shadow on the entire thing.

 

There are probably some good tunes on here, but the sound is gruesome. I just can’t listen to it in its entirety and it ruins the whole experience for me. I think of an album as an entity, it must work together. It should fit together and ebb and flow. So it doesn’t work as an album.

 

I have listened to the tracks individually and must say that it’s nowhere near as good as Outer Isolation. I enjoy Mountains Above the Sun, amazing guitar work is still amazing, even if it sounds terrible.

 

I’m not a huge fan of ten minutes plus songs from almost any band, and this certainly goes for Vektor as well.The last track, Recharging the Void, starts off brilliantly, but doesn’t go anywhere and seems endless and repetitive towards the latter part. Cygnus Terminal is the best track of the album, it is laden with riffs. Massively heavy and progressive, and a fun listen.

 

I’ll mention one more track, Collaps. Why on earth would they put this shit on here? The song is horrible in comparison with the rest of the album. Terminal Redux has more than enough of material, why would you put on a song that is leagues below the standard of the rest of the music. It’s just … horrible and piss poor.

 

I’ve mixed feeling about this album. I can’t stand the sound and the production. To me the sound is so awful that it makes it impossible to listen to this as an album. On the other hand, as stand alone tracks, I really enjoy the music. Hmmm
Recommended tracks: Cygnus Terminal

Rating: 2,5/5