Thursday, January 17, 2019

Soilwork - Verkligheten (2019)

The word verkligheten is Swedish for reality, and the reality for Soilwork is right now looking pretty good. Their last two full length efforts have been critically acclaimed, and the band is seemingly on a roll, especially guitarist David Andersson and vocalist Björn "Speed" Strid who also enjoy success with The Night Flight Orchestra. They even seem to be more patient, because the four year span between this record and "The Ride Majestic" is the longest "album to album" span in the band's career. Let us see if it is worth the wait.

So before we answer any other questions, yes, this is more or less a continuation of the direction the band has been going in for the last records, and I do not mind that decision at all. The band has showed enough promise to continue down this road without any real hickups, and sure enough, we get treated with a pretty solid record, with enough surprises to keep our interest. Most of those surprises come in the latter half of the record, so we will get to those eventually, but the first half is not just a safe bet with predictable tunes.

To start off the album after a small intro, "Arrival" bring the blast beat with an epic effort that is classic Soilwork work. The rhythm is infectious, the chorus is easy to scream to, and the solo makes you wanna close your eyes and just take it all in. It is a great opening that continues on to "Bleeder Despoiler", a track that goes for a slower, but groovier tempo that works, even if the chorus is not the best. Then we have "Full Moon Shoals", which is easily memorable, but I believe a lot of people will just dismiss this track and its "Pull Me Under"-like riffs. The band does not really get back their groove on "The Nurturing Glance" either, but "When The Universe Spoke" pulls them back in, with some nice "The Panic Broadcast" vibes.

"Stålfågel" (Swedish for steel bird) opens up the second, and more experimental part of the record with something that could have easily been with The Night Flight Orchestra if it had a little more 80's flare to it. It is a melodic track that is easy to hum along to, and it does give the album a nice little half time break, which eventually transitions to the obviously Thin Lizzy inspired "The Wolves Are Back In Town". Not that it sounds like the classic rock band, but it is certainly not much metal in this track. Both "Witan" and "The Ageless Whisper" plays around with the guitars to create some nice melodies, but once again we get some more NFO vibes that could be a little distracting, but it sounds great, so who cares.

In the second to last song "Needles And Kin" we get a guest appearance of Amorphis singer Tomi Joutsen, who brings the most brutal segment of the record, and with some contrasting clean vocals from Mr. Strid, we get an adrenaline fueled steam roller of brilliant metal. Another uptempo track in "You Aquiver" ends "Verkligheten" with Disco. No, I am serious, the drums and the tempo completely reeks of disco, which is just strange. It is not KISS levels of disco, but you can certainly dance to this one.

So if you have not guessed it already, the NFO influence in this record is pretty strong, which is certainly gonna divide some of the fans, but I think the material is strong enough to merit such a risk (also, NFO is pretty good for a 80's inspired AOR band). "Verkligheten" is a reasonable continuation of the last two records, and it changes just enough to make it not feel like a stale repeat. It is a little inconsistent at times, and it might have needed some more heavy parts to add a little spice, but just as that album cover, "Verkligheten" could be seen as a beautiful landscape of Swedish melodic death metal. This definitely (Soil)works for me.

Songs worthy of recognition: Arrival, When The Universe Spoke, Needles And Kin, The Ageless Whisper

Rating: 7,5/10 Stålfåglar

More reviews of Soilwork
The Living Infinite
The Ride Majestic

Sunday, January 13, 2019

From Worst To First: Devin Townsend

While waiting for 2019 to truly get going, let us look back at another one of the bands that I have done a discography review on. Well, it is not a band, it is Canadian mad man who seem to be doing whatever the hell he wants, and he does not give a fuck about what anyone thinks about it.

The career of Devin Townsend is one of the most interesting ones you will ever see, a guy who first appeared in the Steve Vai album "Sex & Religion" has gone on to create one of the most influential industrial/thrash bands of all time through pure youthful anger, while also juggling a solo career from the opposite side of the musical stratosphere. Every record he has done has reflected his personality, where he is currently at the long journey of life, making his discography more of a story than anything else. His dedication and unique mind makes him one of the most colorful figures in metal, and it is excitement in the air every time he presents us with a new project. Needless to say, the man is special in so many way, and so is his music.

Devin is also one of the most hard working men in the business, so tackling his discography was no easy feat. From the first Strapping Young Lad record in 1995, the man has released 23 full length albums under 5 different monikers (well, 6 if you count the short lived Ocean Machine), which is a record a year, and this is not including the Steve Vai record, in which he was only an accomplish, or any of his live records, or the "Ass-Sordid" demos. So let us count them down, all 23 of them, and see which is the best and the rest.

23. Devlab

Well... what do I even say about this hunk of junk. "Devlab" should not really be considered as a music album, because it only consists of ambient noises that Devin experimented a lot with. It is a strange experience that will leave you uncomfortable, to the point where you would take any excuse to not listen through it, everything from "I have to take a piss" to "let me take a toothbrush and scrub the living room floor". I guess this was the original intent from Devin, to release something that is way too strange for anyone to handle, and if it was, then I can say he most definitely succeeded... but he could have at least given the tracks individual names at least, that lazy bastard.

22. The Hummer

Just like with "Devlab", "The Hummer" is mostly ambient noise that a normal metal head like me cannot stand, but this record at least feels a little like a music album. It has some production value, it has some structure to it, and there are tiny hints of melody in here. Still, "The Hummer" is a boring ambient record that acts more like a catalyst for the heavier stuff that Devin was doing during that time. Yeah, this is mostly for venting off steam, which is probably why this was not commercially released. This is for the Dev alone, and if you happen to find it enjoying, then good for you.

21. Punky Brüster - Cooked On Phonics

Okay, on to some real music... or maybe not. "Punky Brüster - Cooked On Phonics" is a rather fun concept record, about a black metal band who changes their direction from blackened death metal to pop-punk rock, becoming instant sensations without any dignity left to spare. For a first try, it was obvious to see that Devin had a knack for writing great, comedic concept records. Unfortunately, that is the only good thing I can say, because the record is basically just watered down punk with some comedic lyrics stating how fake it all is. It is obviously what Devin was going for, but that does not make it better.

20. Ghost

Let us put an end to the ambient phase of Devin with "Ghost", one of the four initial albums of the Devin Townsend Project. This album is undeniably the most "normal" music record of the ambient trilogy, and I cannot disagree with the fact that it is a soothing experience, an album that could probably work wonders on a hangover. However, it is still an ambient record, and I am not a guy who likes this much low sounded progress in one place. I want something to happen, I want action, I want some god damn mother flipping metal. All respect to "Ghost", it is a great ambient record, but it is an ambient record nonetheless.

19. Strapping Young Lad

Without a doubt the most faceless record in the Devscography, the self titled Strapping Young Lad record is just like any other SYL effort, a big "holy crap!". However, instead of "Holy crap, this is awesome!", we get "Holy crap, this is lame". Not that this record is not heavy enough to be a true SYL record, it just does not have the impact that the other 4 have. It is just a bunch of forgettable tracks that displayed Devin's lack of interest in the SYL enterprise. With that said, I still love "Force Fed", and still think it is a top 5 song from the band. It's something.

18. Ki

I have never understood the constant praise that "Ki" has gotten over the years. Sure, it might be the ultimate evolution of what Devin wanted to do with his ambient work, and it has its nice moments (most of them include Ché Aimee Dorval), but the album as a whole has never stuck with me. It might be a little too distant for me, trying to be as mysterious as possible, pulling off a lot of progressive elements, losing any sort of structure as a result. Yeah, this is not a record that makes a grand entrance and becomes the talk of the town, but instead hides in the shadows, not doing anything special. Cool Tool-like cover though.

17. Heavy As A Really Heavy Thing

Ahh, the album that started it all, the record that said "What's up fuckers, let's metal!". "Heavy As A Really Heavy Thing" (man, I love that title) is certainly an experience, a jumbled industrial mess of a record that is filled to the brim with groovy rhythms, crunchy riffs, and mad moments that would make anyone mental. It is teenage anger in musical form, and despite its crude production that even trve black metal acts would negate, the music comes off in such an irresistible way. With songs like "S.Y.L", "In The Rainy Season", and most importantly, "Satan's Ice Cream Truck", you simply cannot fail.

16. Casualties of Cool

The (so far) one off project with Ché Aimee Dorval is certainly interesting, an acoustic project with country influences that creates atmospheric music straight from the moon's surface. The chemistry between Dev and Ché is pretty mesmerizing and honest, a collaborative effort of smoothness that is quite exquisite to hear. I was surprised over how much I liked this record, because as you probably know by now, this calm type of music is not really my thing. Yet, the duo managed to draw me in, and keep my interest for longer than I anticipated. I really do hope they will release more from this project in the future, a nice change of pace from time to time.

15. Physicist

The powerhouse "Physicist" was first meant as a collaboration project together with Jason Newsted, but after the rest of Metallica scrapped that idea, Devin just went out and released it himself, in a hurried manor. "Physicist" is not the prettiest album out there, but under the mud lies some great heavy metal that could easily be seen as SYL light. It is a little uneven at times, but it has some fantastic highs like "Namaste" and "Kingdom" that makes the album more than worth it's while. Pretty good for an album that risked to not even see the light of day.

14. Accelerated Evolution
13. Synchestra

Now we enter the most forgotten era of the Dev, the time when he put the word Band at the end of his albums. The Devin Townsend Band was a short lived project that delivered two pretty good records, none of which made any significant impact on Devin's career. They are still both enjoyable, with "Accelerated Evolution" putting some nice speed into those typical song structures only Devin can create, and "Synchestra" putting a more earthly tone to it, like a more symphonic version of "Terria". This duo may not be too much alike, but they do make a nice double feature, meshing well together to really set this project apart. Still though, they just does not have enough interesting material in them to make me wanna pick them up any time soon. At least we have "Vampira" and its wackiness (which is the only reason to why "Synchestra" is ahead of its brother).

12. Z²

To be technical, "Z²" actually contains two albums, so counting this as one entity is a little unfair, but it was released as a double whammy, so it shall be judged as such. "Z²" is easily described as the DTP against Ziltoid, with one half consisting of the high soaring and poppy "Sky Blue, and the other half is a heavy and comedic conceptual sequel to every one's favourite alien lizard. This album is heavy metal's answer to Yin and Yang, both working against and together with each other in a fascinating way. Sure, it is way too big to muster in one go, and there are a bunch of fillers in here, but when the going gets good (like "Fallout", "Silent Militia", "March of The Poozers", and "Ziltoid Goes Home"), it gets extremely good. Indeed.

11. Infinity

This is just insanity in a can, which is pretty telling of the state Devin was in during the recording of "Infinity", a wide ranged album that has a lot of groovy swing to it, you could even dance to some of this madness. It is such a happy album that it can even make such a grim subject as war jolly. Maybe this is an insight of the mind of a mentally insane human being who perceives life in such a euphoric state where no sadness or sorrow exist, except that the brain has completely blocked off those emotions to give its host a false, but happy sight of life. Man, I am overthinking this, it is probably just a fun record.

10. The New Black

For an end to a monumental metal band, this is a strange one, but there is something with "The New Black" that makes me come back to it time and time again. It is probably the fact that it is way too catchy for its own good, going for a surprisingly poppy approach that should not work, but it does. It still has that classic SYL brutality, like the epic crusher "Almost Again" and the Oderus Urungus invaded "Far Beyond Metal", but the overall light nature makes it truly stand out from the rest of the pack, which I guess is a fitting ending for SYL since Devin did not want to continue this band for much longer. It is certainly a spectacular way to go out on.

9. Terria

The most organic of the Devy 23, "Terria" is a celebration to Mother Nature that ends up being one of the most heartfelt records of Devin. There is a ton of slow and epic progressive stuff that crawls under your skin, and it also has enough heavy moments to also bring in the metal fans as well, giving birth to a sound scape that is as unique as Devin himself. This is definitely one of the most beautiful records the man has ever done, and you can hear that a lot of passion has been put through the work. Now if only nature would be this stunning, then maybe I would go out a little bit more. Hmm... let me start up Pokemon Go, see you in a bit.

8. Addicted

Okay, I am back, and my addiction for Devin is still intact, which reminds me, let us talk about "Addicted", which is the start of a fantastic partnership between Devin and Anneke Van Giersbergen. This poppy monstrosity is the catchiest Devin record to date, and maybe his loudest record as well (at least if you believe the song titles), which is possibly putting off some people, but they would miss out on an incredibly fun record that has a lot more quality to it than what you normally hear on your local radio station. Do not like the remake of "Hyperdrive" though, get me back to space god damn it.

7. Alien

If anyone ever ask me "How heavy can heavy metal become?", I will probably just show them "Alien". This record is as massive as you can get, with a sound design that has the density of a solid lead wall and an energy enough to rival the sun. "Alien" could be considered the ultimate SYL record, because how in the hell could they even top this ridiculousness, there is no way that anyone could. Well, the track list could have been a little better, but it is still great enough to force you through this thick layer of screams, riffs, blasts, and chaos. It is truly a shitstorm worth witnessing.

6. Epicloud

All you need to do to understand what type of album "Epicloud" is is to take a peek at the title. This album is truly epic and loud, and everyone involved is completely loving it. Devin, Anneke, the rest of the DTP, and a giant choir puts out a performance of extravagant proportions, drowning out every other sound within your normal ear range. It is a record that some might dislike because it is too over the top, but that is the exact reason to why I love this record, it goes all in with everything it tries to do, from the amazing remake of "Kingdom", the blood pumping speed in "Liberation", or even the more soft and beautiful moments in "Save Our Now" and "Where We Belong". Besides epic and loud, there are two other words that can describe this album perfectly. Effervescent quality!

5. Ziltoid The Omniscient

Well, Ziltoid is probably gonna throw me down to the mining pits for putting his album only at number 5, but there is no denying that "Ziltoid The Omniscient" is just a brilliant album front to back. Sure, it has some plot holes, and there is no human being behind the drums, but with a premise so wacky as an alien who is in the search of the universe's ultimate cup of coffee, it is pretty hard not to get giddy. I also love that all of the music have a distinct space vibe to it, which gets you immersed into the story even more. You feel like you are flying through space in "Hyperdrive", you feel like you are summoning Herman in "Planet Smasher", and you feel the immense realization Ziltoid is going through in "Color Your World". I may not like coffee my self, but I would take a hot cup of Ziltoid any day.

4. Deconstruction

From one crazy concept record to another, "Deconstruction" is just another record that proves Devin has a mind that goes beyond comprehension. Following a man who is searching for all the answers of life and death, "Deconstruction" takes us through hell and back with some fantastic progressive metal that is almost as heavy as SYL's music, expressing a man going through a journey of self insight and complete despair, eventually having to realize that his journey was for nought. With the help from some good friends (Mikal Åkerfeldt, Oderus Urungus, and Jamey Jasta just to name a few), Devin brings us a mad album that flows seamlessly from song to song, creating an incredibly strong and tasty unity that will make your mouth water. Mmmmmm... cheeseburger *drools loudly*.

3. Transcendence

The newest record by the Dev is still one I remember very fondly. It marked the end of the DTP, but did so in the most perfect way, with a record were all of the members were involved in the song writing, creating some sort of Nirvana of a record (not the band kind). It takes the epic nature of the predecessor "Epicloud", and mixes in the sound scape of "Terria", which ends up being a heavenly mix of everything that has led Devin to this point. Okay, it may not have any SYL brutality, any immense progressive moments, or any punk songs about wallets, but everything else is there, and it is all intertwined in such an amazing way. This record truly transcends everything, and it does it with such grace.

2. City

"Oh My Fucking God" indeed, "City" is as metal as metal can get, being incredibly heavy smashing your face in with some of the most crushing sounds you will ever hear. It may not have the massive production that its younger brother "Alien" have, but it makes up for it with a bunch of the most memorable Devin songs ever. We have the all out epic "All Hail The New Flesh", the devastating "Oh My Fucking God", the speed freak "Underneath The Waves", the strange cover of "Room 429", and last, but certainly not least, the galloping beast known as "Detox". This album is complete euphoric madness of the best kind, and it is a surprising grower as well, becoming bigger and bigger every time you take it for a spin. I hear this stupid piece of shit, and I fucking love it.

1. Ocean Machine: Biomech

There are probably a thousand types of Devin Townsend fans out there, coming from just as many backgrounds, and yet they all seem to be unified in the fact that "Ocean Machine: Biomech" is the Canadian's best work. No matter if you got into the mad man through SYL, DTP, or even any of his ambient projects, "Ocean Machine: Biomech" is still the common denominator throughout the fan base. So what is it with this record that makes it so special? Personally, I find it insanely hard to describe through text, this is something that you have to experience yourself. It is a calm and collected album that still has a touch of chaos within, and the flow in this record is just remarkable, rolling on like an ocean wave. Simply put, "Ocean Machine: Biomech" is a magical album, and it kind of sucks that the project Ocean Machine did not last very long, but then maybe this record would not be as special, knowing we could have more like this one. This is prime Devin, this is just the best of the best.

And as a bonus, here are my top 10 Devin Townsend songs, in alphabetical order

Almost Again
A different kind of SYL song, almost a ballad by their standards.

10 minutes of pure magic.

Color Your World
An epic finish to Ziltoid's journey.

Iiiiiiiiiiii got a feeeeeeeeeliiiiiiiiiiing!

Earth Day
Remember to eat your beets, and recycle.

Oh you can be sure that this is anything but a failure.

Space has never felt more lonely.

No matter if it is the "Physicist" or "Epicloud" version, it is full on quality.

Planet of The Apes
This takes us through all seven cycles of hell in 11 minutes, and what a ride it is.

The Death of Music
The chills, oh man the chills.

Stay metal!
Robert "Sharkruisher" Andersson

Friday, January 4, 2019

Helloween - The Time of The Oath (1996)

What is it with metal bands and their urge to make concept records of Nostradamus? Sure, the Frenchman was quite the character, spewing mysterious predictions left and right like he was the 16th century version of Oprah Winfrey, but is his life and work really interesting enough for not only Judas Priest to make a concept record about him, but also Helloween. It would maybe make some sense is any of the two bands has shown some previous interest in history and also has some kind of origin in France, but nope, none of that, just a random choice for a random concept. Fortunately for the power metal lovers, Helloween did not make a slog of a record.

So to get more into the concept, "The Time of The Oath" talks about what Nostradamus predicted for the years 1994-2000, and the choices humans might make after these happenings. While none of these predictions did come true, like a third world war, it does encourage some inspiration for the song writing that is interesting to look into. It is also nice to see the band branch out, not staying on the same type of brain patterns for the song writing process, showing some good development.

Even if it is a new direction for the band lyrically, musically it is still that epic style that they created in the predecessor "Master of The Rings", flying far on those golden rings towards eternity. The lads perfect this sound further here with clearer production, and song writing that is euphoric when it is at its best. It still has a little 80's touch to it, so it does sound a little outdated, but who cares when you crank out tunes like the blazing trio "We Burn", "Kings Will Be Kings" and "Before The War", the galloping "Steel Tormentor", and the incredibly fun and catchy "Anything My Mama Don't Like". A good amount of fun and diverse tracks for all of you to devour.

This would make a brilliant 40 minute record, if it was not for the fact that there is an additional three tracks that tacks on 20 more minutes of clearly competent, but highly unnecessary music. The trio of "Mission Motherland", "If I Knew", and the title track brings "The Time of The Oath" to a screeching halt, and keeps the stick firmly stuck at 2nd gear until the end. As individual songs, they are fine, especially the title track is a neat little semi-progressive gem, but putting them all together is not a good idea, it creates a black void of slow motion that takes forever. In other words, this album is too long.

Despite that ending, "The Time of The Oath" is still a very enjoyable effort that sees the band continuing to re-build the respect they got with the "Keeper..." albums, and lost with what came after those. The Germans manage to excel with their team work, helping each other out in all aspects in the making of this record, creating a diverse and fun experience that may overstay its welcome a little, but there is enough goodies in here to go around. We are truly witnessing the masters of the rings, and none of them are on the cover.

Songs worthy of recognition: Steel Tormentor, We Burn, Anything My Mama Don't Like, Kings Will Be Kings

Rating: 8/10 Motherlands

More reviews of Helloween
Walls of Jericho
Keeper of The Seven Keys: Part 1
Keeper of The Seven Keys: Part 2
Pink Bubbles Go Ape
Master of The Rings
Straight Out of Hell
My God-Given Right

Sunday, December 30, 2018

Best of 2018: Top 20 albums

So 2018 has come to a close, and it has been quite a mixed bag when it comes to metal. As always, we got a bunch of great records from both known and unknown band from across the globe, but the disappointments have been at a larger number this year. Disturbed fell into the mainstream hype pit, Ministry keeps on existing for some reason, the new Machine Head record was so awful that the band desintegrated almost completely, and the entire genre of thrash seem to have gone on a hiatus (with the exception of Gama Bomb and Angelus Apatrida). Yeah, there were a lot of head scratchers for sure in 2018.

But let us not remember the bad times, let us instead bask in the glory of the bands that did indeed create some magnificent music that we will be talking about for years to come. Down below I have my usual top 20 records (and a few honorable mentions), a collection of albums that had the greatest impact on me this year. There is of course a chance that I missed out on a masterpiece during this jungle of albums that I tried to go through (after all, there is only so much metal you can ingest during a calendar year), so feel free to give a shout out to your own favourites of the year in the comment section or on Twitter. Now, onto the honorable mentions, then the list.

At The Gates - To Drink From The Night Itself
Another solid effort from the Swedish death metal legends.

Between The Buried And Me - Automata II
Still hate that they split "Automata" in two, but the second part is at least consistently entertaining.

Daron Malakian And Scars On Broadway - Dictator
Guess this is the closest to a new System of A Down album we are gonna get.

Kalmah - Palo
Good old Kalmah, never disappoints.

Obscura - Diluvium
A lot of technical candy in here, but the concept still confuses me.

20. Southern Empire - Civilisation
We start off the top 20 with some old school progressive light metal. Southern Empire is not doing anything out of the ordinary with their sophomore effort, it is clean progressive music that is split into four songs, ranging from 9 minutes to almost half an hour, but nothing feels overly long or unnecessarily padded, it all feels right. A calm and soothing experience of sophisticated excellence, perfect for your average trip on your flying ship that does not look like a shitty blue bus filled with spoiled brats.

19. Khemmis - Desolation
Everyone jumped on the Khemmis hype train two years ago with "Hunted", and while that album is great, I do think the band stepped it up another notch with "Desolation". It is just something with their intoxicating and groovy style of doom metal that is weirdly satisfying. The splendid symbiosis between the members is like silk, so smooth and shiny that it becomes hard to resist. For a band that has only been active for 6 years, it is quite impressive that they have already released 3 high quality records, and yet my gut tells me that they can become even better. Let us hope next album proves my feeling is correct.

18. Black Space Riders - Amoretum Vol. 1
Splitting your album into parts has become pretty popular in recent years, and Black Space Riders decided to follow that trend, but seem to have forgotten to balance out their albums, because most of the best material is in volume 1 of the "Amoretum" duo. With a hypnotic rhythm at their disposal, BSR manages to entrance the listener to a submissive state, which is not really necessary because the music is good enough to make most people stay throughout the ride, but it gives result, so who can complain. Stoner metal have never sounded this catchy, so for this achievement, I give BSR the "Double album of the year" trophy, well deserved (sorry BTBAM).

17. Tribulation - Down Below
The Swedes keeps on building a reputation of being one of the biggest risers in the metal scene, with "The Children of The Night" amping up their gothic influences, and this year they took that foundation and added another layer in "Down Below". The end result is a creepy record that acts as the perfect follow up, improving on an already successful recipe to gain even more momentum for their hype train. It is another excellent outing for a style that has not exactly been spoiled with great albums in recent years, but if Tribulation continues down this path, the future for the gothic death metal scene will look bright... or at least a little less black.

16. Orphaned Land - Unsung Prophets And Dead Messiahs
Finally Orphaned Land managed to create an album that is even close to the masterpiece known as "Mabool...", and while "Unsung Prophets & Dead Messiahs" does not quite reach the same levels, it is still a masterful display of great oriental progressive metal. It has a nice mix of all the styles we have heard from the band's career, and also a nice concept to punch it in, definitely making an impact on a really strong progressive year. While I do think the sudden bleeps disrupt the music a little bit, it is quickly forgotten when Hansi Kürsch makes an appearance on "Like Orpheus". Just a marvelous effort.

15. The Algorithm - Compiler Optimization Techniques
Instrumental metal (or as I like to call it, instrumetal) has had a quiet year, but the French duo The Algorithm uploaded one of the most complete instrumental records I have heard in years, not only having that unique techno vibe that they have developed over the years, but managing to create a lot of emotions through a normally sterile environment. It is a joy to go through this entire record time and time again, finding new nuggets to grasp on to. With that in mind, my calculations ultimately place The Algorithm on place 15 this year.

14. Psychostick - Do
Winning the title of "Most epic album title of all time", Psychostick's "Do" is just more than a snappy title, it is a catchy tour de force that will leave you gasping for air for all the laughing you will do. The band is as stupidly hilarious as ever, tackling a bunch of different stuff in classic Psychostick fashion. What makes this album even better from their previous efforts is the consistency, and maybe even the hidden recipe for the ultimate breakfast. It is fun as hell, and if you do not like this record, you have a heart of stone... or maybe you have lost your sense of comedy, it is one of the two.

13. Dragonlord - Dominion
Out of the two guitarists in Testament, Alex Skolnick may get most of the accolades, but Eric Peterson is not too shabby either, and he certainly shows what he is made of in "Dominion", the first Dragonlord record in 13 years. It is an excellent symphonic black metal outing where obviously the guitars are exquisite, but the rest of the instruments are on point as well, creating some nice, creepy music that captures the mood of the album cover really well. Eric is a nice singer too, he is close to being criminally underrated.

12. Antimatter - Black Market Enlightenment
First of two albums on this list with saxophone in them, "Black Market Enlightenment" is just an unreal experience created by Mick Moss, one that at times made my jaw drop. Just how he uses all the different instruments in splendid arrangements, creating Tool inspired emotions that are very difficult to nail properly, making some moments hit you hard as hell. As said, this is an experience, and if for nothing else, just check this album out solely for the qamancha, which is an instrument I did not even knew existed.

11. Judicator - The Last Emperor
The decision to go back to historical themes may have made me a little disappointed, but that quickly vanished when I first played "The Last Emperor", and realized that Judicator is just as good as always. Their infectious style of power metal is so memorable, rolling down the highway at break neck speeds that keeps your adrenaline pumping throughout all of its run time. It may not be as personal of an album like "At The Expense of Humanity", but it is still quality all the way through the field of battle.

10. Eneferens - The Bleakness of Our Constant
Eneferens delivered the most atmospheric record of the year, one that flows so nice and smooth through your ear holes that it leaves you with a sense of soothing satisfaction. I honestly do not know why this type of music can even be classified as "black" metal, but I do know that when a band finds that sweet spot where the light and the dark meet, some magical music can happen. It is a hard feat to pull off, and Eneferens hit it like a professional dart player makes three perfect throws. One hundred and eighty!!!

9. Judas Priest - Firepower
When Judas Priest released "Redeemer of Souls" a couple of years ago, I was satisfied with it, having just enough good material on it to think that it could be a worthy closing record for the band's career. Well, they were obviously not done, because this year they just brought literal firepower in "Firepower". I have not heard the band being this energetic in a ton of years, displaying an attacking arsenal that the younger bands have a hard time to match. It is classic Judas Priest to the core, while still throwing out a few nice surprises here and there, showing that this band is not ready to throw in the towel just yet, and I am so thankful for it. Easily their best record since "Painkiller".

8. Fireproven - Future Diary
Progressive death metal have had a massive year, so it might not be a surprise that an unsigned Finnish band did not get that much attention when they released a really solid debut record, but Fireproven has really stuck with me through the year. "Future Diary" may not be a game changer in the genre, and the production is far from perfect, but it is a grand album that show off a lot of cool gymnastic skills, and the band sticks the landing in every song. It is a great start for a band that I will keep an eye on, and you should too, go check them out.

7. Barren Earth - A Complex of Cages
Just as the name suggest, "A Complex of Cages" is a pretty multi faceted album, one that is pretty hard to compile into just a few sentences. It is definitely one of the grandest records of the year, with slick production and a meaty sound that will take some time to get it all in, but is well worth the invested time. What I think ultimately makes the album excel is the way it is constructed, how the songs are built and where they are placed in the record, it creates a full image of titanic proportions that will leave you in awe. Just listen to it, so you can understand what this album is truly made of.

6. Redemption - Long Night's Journey Into Day
I thought I knew the progressive landscape pretty well, then Redemption came along to remind me that there is still room to explore. This band has been off my radar completely, but they finally showed up with their 7th studio effort "Long Night's Journey Into Day", and what an effort it is. It is just like you would want your prog metal to be like, expansive, imaginative, diverse, and epic as all hell. The addition of Tom Englund from Evergrey seem to have given positive effect, adding a vocalist who can nail the emotional part of the music with pinpoint precision. Yes, it is a long journey, but it is one worth taking every night.

5. Rivers of Nihil - Where Owls Know My Name
I was pretty close on missing this album, but after seeing this emerge in several other "best of the year" lists, I gave it a shot, and it did certainly hit me. Rivers of Nihil have created a truly masterful record that cannot really be put in one specific genre, meshing a bunch of styles to make this highly emotional album that is so balanced that Thanos would love the hell out of it. Oh, and if you are wondering what I think about the saxophone, I think it adds another element to the record that makes it even more diverse. Feel so sorry for those who have yet to understand the sexy nature of the sax.

4. Immortal Guardian - Age of Revolution
Debut record of the year goes to the Texas band Immortal Guardian, who delivered the musical equivalent of a Lamborghini, a big and fast album that will leave you breathless. "Age of Revolution" has all the power and force that a certain band who walks through fire and flames has, but instead of relying on technical skill, it uses great song writing and pacing to get the listener going. It is one of the most brilliant power metal albums I have heard since... well last year (still love that Unleash The Archers album), but it is god damn impressive nonetheless.

3. Oceans of Slumber - The Banished Heart
I hoped that Oceans of Slumber would take the leap this year, and they sure did, a much bigger one than I anticipated. While the predecessor "Winter" was great in itself, "The Banished Heart" is just the band firing on all cylinders, hitting us with some of the best mix of beauty and brutality you will ever hear. The thing that makes the album truly shine though is singer Cammie Gilbert and her extreme range. She nails every note perfectly, while also capturing the mood spot on in every syllable. Still bothered though that I keep singing "feelings of nutmeg" on "The Decay of Disregard", even though I know it is wrong. I am awful.

2. Michael Romeo - War of The Worlds, Pt. 1
Gah, it was so difficult not to put this record at the top spot, because Michael's first solo record in over 2 decades is a marvelous exhibition on how talented the guy is. The Symphony X guitarist takes his signature style, adds a classic concept to the music, hire one of the most brilliant young singers imaginable, and it all ends up in what can only be described as a progressive power metal lover's wet dream. Everything in this album works to its strength (yes, even the dub step track), and never goes so far that it feels like Romeo is showing off, it is all contained just the right amount. I cannot wait for the second part, hope it comes soon.

I have followed Amorphis ever since I started going deep in the metal well, and I have had the same feeling for the band, that they are without any question talented, that they can create some great music, but that they have missed that little extra tidbit to make me truly love them. Well, you may call me a believer now, because "Queen of Time" has converted me.

"Queen of Time" is as solid of a record you will find these days, a jam packed folk/melodic/death metal gumbo that is equal parts beautiful and heavy, but is all quality. This album has it all, catchy choruses, melodic passages that will stick with you for weeks, incredible precision, masterful innovation, and a little dose of Anneke Van Giersbergen as well to sweeten the deal even further. I have a bunch of albums to catch up to in this band's discography, but as far as I am concerned, it will be extremely tough for the elder albums to take out this Queen bee from its throne. A worthy champion.

Thank you all for this year, may 2019 be even greater.

Stay metal
Robert "Sharkruisher" Andersson

Thursday, December 27, 2018

Best of 2018: Top 50 songs

Another year is coming to a close, which means it is once again time for me to bitch about how hard it is to make a top 50 song list, right? No, not this year, because even if it is still hard as hell to decipher which 50 of over a hundred capable candidates will make my list, I have taken a more light approach to this yearly task. So do not take the pure ranking of those songs that are out of the top 10 all too seriously, because they could be anywhere on the list, all depending on the current mood. At the end of the day, these are all great songs that have all made some kind of impact on me, and they deserve to be celebrated. As in previous years, only one song per band is allowed, and it had to be released this year. Let us get to the goodies.

50. Blaze Bayley - Eagle Spirit
The epic end to the William Black saga is... epic.

49. Lordi - Romeo Ate Juliet
Best interpretation of the classic tale I have ever heard.

48. Behemoth - Ecclesia Diabolica Catholica
This songica is pretty goodica.

47. Omnium Gatherum - Gods Go First
Okay, but I better go second.

46. The Ocean - Permian: The Great Dying
Technicality, and loads of it.

45. Clutch - How To Shake Hands
Fallon and crew gets my vote, I too want to see Jimi Hendrix on the 20-dollar bill.

44. Slash - Mind Your Manners
Jeesh Slash, you are not my mom.

43. Dynazty - In The Arms of A Devil
Ahh Nils Molin, love that powerful voice of yours

42. Ihsahn - Lend Me The Eyes of Millennia
Lots of hair rising brutality in here.

41. Heir Apparent - The Door
Ahh, good old Dream Theater... wait.

40. Watain - Nuclear Alchemy

39. Daron Malakian And Scars On Broadway - Never Forget
Oh believe me, I won't.

38. Eneferens - Amethyst
Oh, how I love that atmosphere.

37. Immortal Guardian - Never To Return
So much power, I am almost drowning in it.

36. Joe Satriani - Headrush
Yes, Joe still got it.

35. Gama Bomb - Give Me Leather
These guys are sick, both in mind and in skill. Just filthy.

34. Angelus Apatrida - Martyrs of Chicago
Two straight thrash songs? What is this, 2017?.

33. Kalmah - The Evil Kin
Keep coming back for that sweet Kalmah sound.

32. Barren Earth - Withdrawal
Just a brilliant ending to a brilliant album.

31. Kamelot - Amnesiac
I forgot what I wanted to say about this song... oh well.

30. White Wizzard - Critical Mass
Rest in peace you brilliant, unstable tour de force of a band.

29. A Sound of Thunder - Second Lives
This group just gets better and better for each release.

28. Manticora - Katana - Awakening The Lunacy
Yes, the lunacy is awake, and it is magnificent.

27. Alice In Chains - Never Fade
Believe me Alice, you will not fade for a good while.

26. TesseracT - Juno
Album was a slight disappointment, song is great though.

25. Skeletonwitch - Fen of Shadows
It is a completely different Skeletonwitch that we have gotten this year, and most of it did not really work. This did however, and it is hopefully a start for something extra ordinary in the future.

24. Amorphis - Wrong Direction
Know the Anneke Van Giersbergen track "Amongst Stars" has gotten a ton of love, but this track just struck a chord with me. Then again, I could pick any song from "Queen of Time", and it would easily nest its way into this list.

23. Visigoth - Outlive Them All
Talk about a power house of traditional heavy metal, Visigoth delivered big time, and with "Outlive Them All", they went all in, showing that they will indeed survive further than its competition.

22. Angra feat. Alissa White-Gluz - Black Widow's Web
There is something with Angra and collaborations with female singers. Two years ago they created magic with Doro, now they do the same with Arch Enemy singer Alissa. Just marvelous.

21. Avatar - Legend of The King
Avatar is a really strange band, and their new album is nothing different, featuring a king who has constipation. The legend of said king is pretty fun to listen to at least, showing the band's potential that does not really hold up for an entire record.

20. Dimmu Borgir - Alpha Aeon Omega
A lot of mixed reviews for the black metal legends, but they did nail it with this song, a catchy, symphonic assault that is Dimmu Borgir at their very best. It is definitely the Alpha standard of symphonic black metal.

19. Antimatter - Sanctification
The saxophone had quite a year in metal, and it had some of its most shining moments in the album "Black Market Enlightenment" by Antimatter. "Sanctification" is the clear epic highlight of the record, that ending is as good as it can get.

18. Psychostick - Introvert Party Time
Kinda hate to say it, but I recognize myself a lot in this song. Love video games and getting drunk but hate people and being disrupted by those who love to tell their whole life story. Just one of many hilarious songs from "Do".

17. Judicator - The Queen of All Cities
I never say no to a epic 9 minute power metal track, especially if it is as well crafted as this one. Judicator loves doing these types of tracks, and I love listening to them.

16. Saxon - They Played Rock And Roll
Classic Saxon material that is a celebration to Motörhead, and what a homage it is. The group brings out their inner Lemmy's and crank out a banger of classic heavy metal.

15. The Algorithm - Sentinel Node
A master class of instrumental technology, The Algorithm delivers an emotional roller coaster ride filled with double bass drums, futuristic riffs, and neon lights. What a time to be alive.

14. Haken - Puzzle Box
It may not be another mastodon of a song like "The Architect", but "Puzzle Box" is another piece of proggy goodness from Haken that you can listen to time and time again without getting tired of it. It is pure magic, laid out piece by piece.

13. Mad Hatter - Go
There is nothing overly complicated here, just a band who took inspiration from "Alice In Wonderland" doing a straight up melodic power metal song that is catchy, epic, and just all around fun as hell. You do not need much more really.

12. Summoning - Silvertine
The new Summoning album was okay, but this little gem is a clear display of what the band is capable of with their own style of atmospheric folk/black metal. Moodful, precise, melodic, and straight up magical.

11. Fireproven - Future Diary
The title track of Fireproven's debut opens up furiously with a bad ass guitar solo, but it quickly evolves beyond a wanking fest. It is progressive power metal at its finest, equal parts epic, heavy, and loud. Just brilliance all the way through.

10. Khemmis - Isolation
To pick just one track from "Desolation" was not easy, but how could I ultimately resist the greatness that is "Isolation". It throws you in with some of the most intoxicating riffs you will ever face, then later change faces from being a groovy tour de force to a slower, more moodful doom masterpiece. An intelligent track from an intelligent band.

9. Engel - Book of Lies
Holy crap, this song gets me so god damn pumped up every time it gets on. Engel turns on the after burners with some relentless double bass action and true anger. Add in an extremely sing along friendly chorus, and you got yourself a song that will be stuck in your brain for months to come. An amazing surprise from an otherwise mediocre album.

8. Redemption - Long Night's Journey Into Day
If you want a tutorial on how to write a progressive metal epic, then look no further than to the title track of the excellent Redemption album "Long Night's Journey Into Day". This is a 10 and a half minute giant that takes you through all kinds of emotions, a song that is paced perfectly on the millisecond, and executed with surgical precision. I still do not know how I can have missed out on this band for so long.

7. Oceans of Slumber - The Banished Heart
The entire album is a show case of how diverse Oceans of Slumber is, mixing beautiful ballads with extremely brutal maulers, so choosing one for this list was not easy. The title track is more on the beautiful side, taking its time to develop and make a connection with you. It is also the ultimate display on what I think is the ultimate strength of the band, Cammie Gilbert and her euphoric vocals. That ending still give me massive goosebumps.

6. Orphaned Land - Chains Fall To Gravity
And the prog metal songs just keep on coming. Orphaned Land are masters of mixing the oriental sound with modern prog metal, and "Chains Fall To Gravity" is just another piece of evidence to that fact. It is a perfectly crafted goody that could be easily mistaken as the twin brother to the classic Dream Theater song "Home". A marvelous piece of art, just put a frame on it and hang it in your living room.

5. Black Space Riders - Fellow Peacemakers
Black Space Riders has always been a personal favourite of mine, their own style of stoner metal has managed to mesmerize me time and time again, but I think they have out done themselves with "Fellow Peacemakers", a really calm and collected song that uses a lot of piano work to set the mood. Then the band starts building, building, and building up the tension even more until it all bursts out to some catchy euphoria. I really hope she did find them, so that they also can experience the magic of this track.

4. Judas Priest - Lightning Strike
Choosing "Lightning Strike" from "Firepower" might seem like a safe pick since it is basically classic Judas Priest in a nutshell, but while I did love some of the band's more risque songs ("Never The Heroes" and "Rising From Ruins" just to name two), this track is just firing on every cylinder. It is everything you want from the group, it is catchy without being annoying, the double guitar assault from Tipton and Faulkner is tight, and Rob Halford is Rob Halford. For a band closing in on their inevitable end, they sound pretty energetic.

3. Michael Romeo - Differences
Yet another album that came with a difficult decision, because "War of The Worlds, Pt. 1" is just filled with bangers. It eventually fell on which song I remembered the most, and what got me going the most. "Differences" is ultimately just a stellar track that has excellent pacing, it is well integrated with the album concept, and it is the best display for the two main men, Michael Romeo and Rick Castellano, who are both disgustingly good. And yet, it only gets the bronze medal.

2. Rivers of Nihil - A Home
It starts with some simple riffing, a basic start, then the drums literally crash the party with full on insanity, and the magic can start. Rivers of Nihil has created a frantic experience that takes my mind to one of the favourites here on FATG industries, Mechina. Just like some of the best songs from the industrial death metal band, "A Home" has a futuristic brutality to it that is insanely intoxicating, but still has enough melody in it to not get lost in the noise. It is 5 minutes of brilliant madness, great metal at its purest form.

1. Between The Buried And Me - Voice of Trespass
Technically,  some of the previous tracks might be better and more innovative, but there is no other song this year that has given me such joy, made me move so much, and made me scream more loudly than the insanity known as "Voice of Trespass". Coming from the second of the two "Automata" albums, this track takes you to some shady jazz lounge where everyone has taken a mix of speed, coffee, Red Bull, and steroids, then proceeds to go completely ballistic on all the instruments (including the xylophone), creating an insane groove that you simply cannot resist. It is BTBAM at its BTBAMiest, and I would say that this song alone makes the album it is from an easy pick up, even if it is short as hell. Just more proof on who is one of the leaders of the progressive metal scene. BTBAM, you madmen have done it again.

Thank you for reading, and stay tuned for my top 20 albums of the year coming in the next few days. In the mean time, go listen to these songs in this handy Spotify playlist.

Stay metal
Robert "Sharkruisher" Andersson

Thursday, December 6, 2018

Winter break

Yeah, you have probably noticed already that I have been quite inactive in recent weeks, my inspiration to review music is just not there right now. Gonna take a break for most of December, come back with my usual "End of the year" lists (top 50 songs, and top 20 albums) at the end of the month. Hopefully I will emerge as a more refreshed reviewer once 2019 arrives

Stay metal, and merry Christmas
Robert "Sharkruisher" Andersson

Wednesday, November 28, 2018

Helloween - Master of The Rings (1994)

After two very strange records and a shuffling of the line-up, Helloween emerged in 1994 as a reborn band, seemingly with a goal to completely erase both "Pink Bubbles Go Ape" and "Chameleon" from existence by going back to the band's roots. The title "Master of The Rings" sure has a nice ring to it (pun intended), taking us back to the fantasy realm where close to anything can happen, but who is the master? Maybe it is the video game part of my brain talking, but it cannot be anyone else than that blue blur known as Sonic The Hedgehog. Let us see if he makes an appearance, telling the band "You're too slow, come on, step it up".

It is funny that I talk about Sonic, because we do get a song dedicated to video games called "The Game Is On", talking that it could be a good way to escape reality and have some fun, as long as you do it responsibly. The lyrical themes are otherwise going in all sorts of directions, like doubts in faith inn "Why?", making sweet love in "Secret Alibi", and even giving former singer Michael Kiske a brutal slamming in "Mr. Ego (Take Me Down)". Ouch, that has to hurt.

While we are in the topics of singers, let us discuss Kiske's replacement, Mr. Andi Deris, who was picked up from Pink Cream 69. In terms of pure talent and range, Andi is definitely a down grade for Helloween, he just cannot match what Kiske could do, but he still has a unique tone to him that does fit the heavier side of the band. He is definitely not some average Joe that you are gonna forget, he gives his all, and does so in his way, which is probably why he is still with the band over 20 years later.

Andi does get a good amount of opportunities to shine in this record, because "Master of The Rings" has a bunch of really enjoyable tunes. "Sole Survivor" and "Where The Rain Grows" opens up the record with classic old school power metal, it is powerful, epic, and catchy as all hell. "Perfect Gentleman" shows off a more groovy and less serious side of the band that just feels fun, and "Still We Go" closes the album in an full on HammerFall-like offense. It is a dynamic record that may not have the same fire power as the "Keeper..." albums, but it is still a fun record to listen to.

However, even if the album is dynamic, it has sort of the same problem that "Chameleon" had, and that is that it feels sort of like a collaboration album, with songs that could have been made by other bands. "Mr. Ego (Take Me Down)" could have been a Queensrÿche song, and "In The Middle of A Heartbeat" could have been written by Bon Jovi. Then we have the most bonkers song in the entire record, "Take Me Home". I had to triple check to see if this was not a cover, because this track sounds so much like Van Halen that it just could not be an original track. It has everything that makes Van Halen what they are, the fast paced groove, the confident swagger, and the deciding factor, the guitars. Michael Weikath and Roland Grapow brings out their inner Eddie Van Halen and goes ballistic with insane riffs and solos that Eddie himself would be either proud over, or mad because they they straight out copied his style. I bet both Michael and Roland did a ton of practice on "Eruption" in their youth, and they nailed this one, creating a fun as hell song that is a clear stand out.

Overall, "Master of The Rings" is a clear return to form for Helloween, at least in the eyes of those who enjoyed their first three records, but not the two after those. For me, this is for sure a fun record that displays a band that has once again found harmony, a group that felt with ease in where they were at. It still has its fair share of bumps on the road, so the ride does not come out limousine quality of smoothness, but it is still a fun ride nonetheless. It is not like you are flying on a giant, golden ring in space, more like a four wheeler in the woods.

Songs worthy of recognition: Where The Rain Grows, Take Me Home, Still We Go

Rating: 7,5/10 Perfect Gentlemen

More reviews of Helloween
Walls of Jericho
Keeper of The Seven Keys: Part 1
Keeper of The Seven Keys: Part 2
Pink Bubbles Go Ape
Straight Out of Hell
My God-Given Right

Saturday, November 17, 2018

Skull Fist - Way of The Road (2018)

Classic speed metal as a genre is not exactly dead, but it certainly does not get a lot of attention these days. There could be several reasons to that, like no new bands taking the leap or no ground breaking records have been made for some time, but I think it is because we as a metal community has grown tired of the genre, which of course hits it hard on the bands that are still active within the genre. I do not think the Canadians in Skull Fist are doing terribly bad, but it has after all been 4 years since their last release, and judging by the album cover of their third effort, "Way of The Road", it seems like their budget has been cut down. No more colorful artwork with that skeleton mascot, instead we see the band in front of their beat down van, hoping for some much needed help to get to the next gig.

Their previous two LPs, "Head öf The Pack" and "Chasing The Dream", were both really enjoyable little speed demons, so it was not too far fetched to expect something similar for "Way of The Road", and we certainly got it. We got the killer double guitar combo that has always worked since the early days of Judas Priest, the vibrant bass that gives the sound that extra oomph, and also some nice high flying vocals that matches the speed quite well. From a quick glance, it seems like "Way of The Road" is standard, good stuff, starting off furiously with "You Belong To Me".

Then we come to the second track, "No More Running", and the band has already lost most of its momentum. It is an okay track overall with a nice melodic aura, but to let go of the gas so soon just does not feel right, and it also feels incredibly outdated, like it came straight out of the 80's. The band gets back up to speed again in "I Am A Slave", then gets immediately back to the sluggish pacing in the following three tracks. It is a roller coaster ride that does not feel very good.

Now, I do not want the band to go completely full speed ahead in the entire record, but if you are going to go for some slower, more melodic tracks, then do them well. "Heart of Rio" is a title that Duran Duran would do, and the music sounds like it could have been from Social Distortion, or any other old band that uses very simple riffing. In other words, not very speed metal like. Then we have "Witch Hunt", which has some neat guitar work in the solo, but it is otherwise a standard cookie cutter metal song that is just dull. I just wished they would have focused on creating more faster tracks, because those are genuinely good, like "Better Late Than Never" and its cool mix of Rainbow structures and Iron Maiden guitars.

The biggest problem with "Way of The Road" is that it feels pretty outdated, both in terms of a Skull Fist release, and as a general speed metal release. It is certainly a fine record overall that can give you a quick 80's fix, but if you are into the genre, you have surely heard albums like this one that are more fun, better executed, and are way more enjoyable. "Way of The Road" is an inconsistent release that does not warrant the 4 year wait, an album that is some rough shape from the get go, kind of like that van the band has. If you want to help these guys out, get one of their previous releases instead, do not bother with this one.

Songs worthy of recognition: I Am A Slave, You Belong To Me, Better Late Than Never

Rating: 5,5/10 Witch Hunts

More reviews of Skull Fist
Chasing The Dream

Tuesday, November 13, 2018

Haken - Vector (2018)

After spending some time in the past, British progressive metal group Haken is now back in present day, ready to unleash a brand new record onto our ears, and also giving us all a good old Rorschach test. So, what do I see in this album cover? A pair of lungs, an angel, a couple of doves, and also a cool comic book character that I have seen in some film, but cannot quite remember what his name is. Oh well, it is ultimately not what we see that matters, but what we hear, that is another kind of test.

After a strange and eerie opening in "Clear", "Vector" bursts out in "The Good Doctor", which is the shortest and simplest song in the album, but what it lacks in complexity, it makes up for it in hard hitting accuracy and jazz beats. It is for sure a positive start to the record, with a chorus that is catchy as hell, but it is still only a warm up for the onslaught of technicality that is about to hit us.

The following song "Puzzle Box" is pretty self explanatory. The riffs and beats in here by drummer Raymond Hearne, bassist Connor Green, and guitarists Charlie Griffiths and Richard Henshall are doing some wild gymnastics, spreading as much as possible to flex its muscles. The remaining members (vocalist Ross Jennings and keyboardist Diego Tejeida) do not let down either, helping out to make this track extremely versatile and exciting. All six has been playing together since 2014, so they have created a chemistry that is surely impressive, which is why the following song "Veil" is kind of a disappointment, because it has a little too much Dream Theater in it, and not enough of Haken and their signature prog style. It does not help that "Veil" is the longest track in the album, the only one going over the 8 minute mark, which in itself is a disappointment, together with the fact that we only got 44 minutes of new music, small potatoes for a prog band.

Haken gets back on track though with the instrumental track "Nil By Mouth", a diverse track that blends heavy and chaotic riffs with more soothing sections. It is just as dynamic as you would want an instrumental to be, never losing the listener among the sound gymnastics that is happening in seemingly light speed. Do not know if the band has done an instrumental before, but "Nil By Mouth" is impressive no matter what.

To get the listener back down to Earth, "Vector" ends with two pretty calm songs that does not challenge your mind all that much. "Host" is pretty forgettable with its jazz lounge style, but the closer "A Cell Divides" sticks with me quite well. No, it is not one of the more impressive songs of the record, but it is well executed in the build up phase, leading to the most memorable phrase of the record. "It's the beauty of the flaw, the grace of imperfection". Now that I think of it, this lyric line does describe the album fairly well. "Vector" has its flaws, like that it feels too short and that it is a little inconsistent, but it is still an album that is beautiful in its most shining moments. It does not live up to the expectations that both "The Mountain" and "Affinity" has created, but it is still a serviceable album that should please the fans, at least for a little while.

Songs worthy of recognition: Puzzle Box, The Good Doctor, Nil By Mouth

Rating: 7/10 Veils

More reviews of Haken