Friday, December 29, 2017

Best of 2017: top 20 albums of the year

I have to be honest here, while I think there are no year in metal that is technically bad, I felt like 2017 was a disappointment. A lot of good records were released this year, but very few were truly great, nothing that I would even consider to my absolute favourites of all time. This made my selection of this year's top 20 records extra hard, because I had to ask myself if some of these albums even deserved to be here. In the end though, I did create this top 20, and will look back at this year as another decent year in metal, where the width of our beloved genre does show how large it is once again. So before we get into it, let me introduce some honorable mentions, the albums that just missed out.

Annihilator - For The Demented: The Canadians is becoming a "every other record" band
Antichrist - Sinful Birth: A nice sophomore effort from the Swedes
Bell Witch - Mirror Reaper: One song, 84 minutes of play time, 100% emotion
Caligula's Horse - In Contact: Proggy goodness
Fen - Winter: Impressive progressive black metal

Now, let us get to it, the top 20 albums of 2017

20. Avenford - New Beginning
As stated in my review, I did not know what to expect from this Hungarian band who exclaimed that they were starting from scratch in their sophomore effort. Whether that statement was true or not, there was no denying that "New Beginning" is a neat little piece of work, even if it might not be one of the most impressive feats you will see this year. What I love about this record is the grand versatility of it, that it moves through the mini branches of power metal seamlessly. It is just a very likeable record, one that kept coming back to me several times during the year. Not bad at all for a band at the beginning of their careers.

19. Tankard - One Foot In The Grave
Despite seeing that they are reaching the end of their road, Tankard makes sure that they drown those worrying thoughts with their usual set of "medicine", beer and metal. Maybe they saw all the success that a lot of thrash bands have had in recent years and said "hey, we want a piece of that cake too!", so they churned out one of their strongest pieces in over a decade. While it may not be fully focused around partying hard and drinking lots of beer, it is still Tankard to the core, just as funny and quirky as always, with several killer tracks to boot. Just hope that the grave does not get the rest of their bodies all too soon.

18. Cradle of Filth - Cryptoriana - The Seductiveness of Decay
The last couple of albums from Dani Filth and co. was really enjoyable right from the get go, but lost my interest down the stretch. "Cryptoriana..." however, did not. It still holds up as well today as it did the day it was released, and it is kind of hard to pin point exactly why that is, seeing that it is not THAT much different from its predecessors. It is a little more determined, a faster and harder effort where the band is going all in. It is less goth, more metal, and that is how it should be, a seductive mistress that I can come back to anytime.

17. Brothers of Metal - Prophecy of Ragnarök
Winning the "debut album of the year" award is the Swedish group Brothers of Metal, a band that borrows the macho attitude of Manowar, but puts its own spin to it with the viking theme. It could easily be seen as a cheesy rip off band that promotes false advertisement (or gender equality?), but I am having way too much fun to even care. Seriously, "Prophecy of Ragnarök" is one of the most fun power metal records I have heard in a long time, and I am still not sure if I want to call it a guilty pleasure, or just straight out pleasure. Eh, as long as I have fun, I am happy, and I do smile from ear to ear when this record is on.

16. Darkest Hour - Godless Prophets And The Migrant Flora
Now THIS was a shocker, after several years of dwelling in the mediocre metalcore swamp, Darkest Hour found a rope, and dragged themselves out of it, delivering their best record since the early days. With furious speed, extreme rhythms, and an energy that is more or less unmatched, Darkest Hour found back to their hardcore roots and just set a goal on destroying everyone's eardrums. I was blown away, mostly because the band felt so comfortable, that they would never return to the good old days, oh thank god they did.

15. Body Count - Bloodlust
Ice-T in a metal band, it sounds like the plot for some stupid family comedy that he would star in, but this is reality, and Body Count has been one of the more important metal bands in the nu-metal genre after all. I cannot say that I have too much knowledge of their past, but I understand their importance, and I understand that this album is more than a heavy punch in the gut. "Bloodlust" tackles several issues that is dealt within the modern society, and they do it in a manner that leaves quite an impact. Together with the help of Dave Mustaine, Max Cavalera, and Randy Blythe, Body Count takes no prisoners and makes sure you see the problems from a new perspective. Also, the "Raining Blood/Postmortem" cover should not really work, but Ice-T channels his inner Tom Araya and kills it.

Those this look like a guy who would make a metal record?

14. Leprous - Malina

Even if "Malina" is fairly similar to the superior "Affinity", Leprous still makes this their own thing, and unveils a very emotional and smooth record. It does not suit everyone, but I really enjoyed it because it felt more personal than that dark and gloomy "The Congregation". The band is trying to push themselves with every record, and that is something that everyone should admire about them, no matter if you like the album or not. They never stand still, they are never stuck on any mountain or that, they keep evolving and creating emotional records, and this year, I think they hit it out of the park.

13. Warbringer - Woe To The Vanquished
I was unsure whether if Warbringer would be able to channel their early career form again, that I would once again experience an onslaught like "Waking Into Nightmares". Sure enough, the American lads delivered big time with "Woe To The Vanquished", an album with tons of dynamite neatly packed within to blow everyone away. It is everything that I want from a band that is seen as a modern day interpretation of Slayer, they just crushed everything in its way with riffs and blast beats as its main weapons. There is no question here, "Woe To The Vanquished" is a crusher of epic proportions. But not as epic as...

12. Power Trip - Nightmare Logic
You would think that thrash metal has evolved in the close to 40 years it has been around, but albums like "Nightmare Logic" shoves a huge middle finger to that thought. Sure, it does not sound dated or anything, but Power Trip used classic strategies here, from the short and sweet play time of 32 minutes to the relentless riff assault that never seems to end. It is the 2017 version of "Reign In Blood", and it has the confidence to confirm it, definitely a worthy spiritual successor.

11. Mastodon - Emperor of Sand
At first, I was kind of underwhelmed by "Emperor of Sand", mostly in the musical department. The concept is great and imaginative, but the more commercialized music did leave me a little empty. But as time has gone, I have kept coming back to this record, never truly releasing its grip on me. While I still think it is one of the weaker Mastodon records to this date, it is still a Mastodon record with a lot of quality to it and several killer tracks. The quality here is undeniable, Mastodon keeps on trucking with its highly infectious music.

10. Kreator - Gods of Violence
The older, the better, am I right? Well, that is certainly true with thrash metal at least, because while we have seen a lot of great thrash records this year, it is the veterans in Kreator who made the best one. "Gods of Violence" puts all of the young bucks in their place with crushing riffs, catchy melodies, and an energy that certainly matches what they did in their hey days. Yep, Kreator is doing exactly what you would expect with this, their 14th studio effort, a kick ass record that will be remember with joy in the future.

9. Prospekt - The Illuminated Sky
I love finding new progressive talent, and I definitely think Prospekt is a band that more people should take a look at. Everything is showcased in "The Illuminated Sky", the impressive instrumental skills, the great song structures that will keep you guessing, and a keen sense of balancing between the heavy and the melodic side of things. For a band that just released their sophomore effort, they sure act like veterans, hopping here and there within the album without losing their way. It will sure be interesting to see where their journey will take them next.

8. Evil Invaders - Feed Me Violence
Man, I love me some speedy speed metal, and no other band delivered as good as Belgium's finest. Evil Invaders got off to a fast start in "Feed Me Violence" ,and beside from a couple of mellow parts here and there, they never slowed down. With a frantic pace that just saw the band spitting out riff after riff after solo after riff, this album became an insane roller coaster ride that left your head swinging back and forth and sideways. The adrenaline is pumping just by thinking of this album, and it is a high that you want to get back to time and time again.

7. Pallbearer - Heartless
The Americans in Pallbearer has only been around for just under 10 years, but has quickly become a giant in the doom metal scene, and listening to "Heartless", I can see why. It is a very beautiful listen that is very careful in what it does, never rushing its progress. Sure, this is a very bright album musically speaking, but there is a lot of darkness behind it that makes it so striking and so intense, without ever feeling dense. At the very least, it made me (finally) realize the greatness of this band, even if it might be seen as the "least good" effort of their short discography, do not miss it.

6. Ayreon - The Source
Okay, so Arjen Lucassen has made better concept albums in his life, but I just cannot ignore the pure joy that this album squirts out all over you, it is contagious. I mean, how in the hell do you make a song called "Everybody Dies" overly happy? It sounds so wrong, but Arjen makes it so right. This whole record has this campy musical feeling blended with power metal, and it mixes up so nicely, I simply cannot stop smiling when listening to this record, and it is all thanks to the passionate performances from all of the artists who was a part of this. Everybody dies, AND I LOVE IT!

5. Persefone - Aathma
When the hell is Persefone gonna get the key to the country of Andorra? Seriously, is there anyone else who have done more to advertise this country in a positive matter? Anyhow, "Aathma" is just a splendid achievement of technical progressive death metal, a grand epic that takes the band further than one would imagine. The technicality is off the charts, the song writing is as good as ever, and they even managed to catch a little Cynic magic together with Paul Masvidal. Yes, "Aathma" is an amazing album, probably the best thing that has come out of Andorra since... well... the last Persefone album.

4. Novembers Doom - Hamartia
These guys have really become one of my all time favourites in recent years. After getting in my top 20 of 2014 with "Bled White", they did it again here with "Hamartia", another brilliant effort of pitch black darkness and pitch black sorrow. Novembers Doom knows exactly how to pull your heart strings, while also delivering crushing blows towards the rest of your body, pummeling you completely. It is a beating I will gladly take, especially knowing how many awesome songs this record presents me with, each one more unique than the next one. Also, Paul Kuhr, can I marry your vocals?

3. Threshold - Legends of The Shire
With a change of vocalist and an announcement of a double record clocking in at 82 minutes, it was fair to wonder if Threshold bit off more than they could chew with "Legends of The Shire". Turns out, they did not, instead they delivered another excellent Threshold experience worthy to remember. All of the classic Threshold traits are here, neatly packed in a double album that takes us on both highs and lows. in various paces as well. This album never feels too long, it does a good job in distracting the listener from time itself, all to tell a neat little story that is accompanied with some fantastic progressive metal. It is an effort definitely worthy of being called "My Precious".

2. Unleash The Archers - Apex
The archers were surely unleashed with the release of "Apex", an album that knocked me out time and time again with its brilliant song writing and shear power. This is not any power metal album that you would find in your bargain shelf, this is a tour de force with a wide range of different weapons, each more efficient than the last. The most impressive thing though is the vocals by Brittany Slayes, because while most female fronted power metal bands not named Battle Beast would go more of a Nightwish route, this band said "fuck that", and went their own way. It may have taken them four albums, but Unleash The Archers have finally found their rhythm, the sound that shall lead them to greatness, and it is a journey we all should be a part of.

Out of all the albums I have listened to this year, no other release hit me as hard as "In The Passing Light of Day". The true story about singer Daniel Gildenlöw's interaction with death was breathtaking to listen to in musical form, and it was even heavier when I listened to him speak about it in the "Spotify Metal Talks" episode. Everything is emoted perfectly here, from the frantic and scary realization in "On A Tuesday", the hopelessness in "Meaningless", to the hope and relief in the title track, this whole album is an emotional roller coaster that hits every note. This album was written from the heart, from personal experience, and that ways incredibly heavy when you are taking it all in, it is a true effort that is shared to the world, and I honestly cannot be thankful enough for what the band has done, bringing this to life. Once again, thank you Pain of Salvation, and congratulations on your achievement.

So yeah, this whole year was kind of a waste, because this year's best record was released back in January, but we certainly had fun along the way. Thank you all for this year, no matter if you just stopped by or are a dedicated reader.

Happy new year, and let us hope that 2018 will be another great year for the greatest music genre there is.

Stay metal!
Robert "Sharkruisher" Andersson

Tuesday, December 26, 2017

Best of 2017: top 50 songs of the year

Once again we have reached the end of the year, and I am once again sitting here wondering where all the time went. Every year seems to go by faster and faster, and before you blink, Christmas is over and New Years Eve is just around the corner. Slow down please!

Anyway, as always, I have two lists to offer, top 20 best albums and top 50 top songs, and yes, the top 50 list was once again incredibly frustrating to create. It all starts with a "short" list of 150 songs that I not only have to trim down to 50, but also rank. It is not an easy task, but I do it every year so I can feel some kind of accomplishment at the end of it all. As usual, the rules are that the songs have to be released this year, no covers, no re-releases, and one song per band/artist (which means that Samael's fantastic cover of "Helter Skelter" by The Beatles is not eligible for the list).

So let us get to it, here are my top 50 songs of 2017.

50. Atlas Pain - Ironforged
If these newcomers keep on delivering nice folk metal like this, I might just keep an eye on them in the future.

49. Nova Collective - Dancing Machines
Top instrumental song of the year, jazzy goodness and cool guitar work aplenty.

48. Keldian - Crown of Starlight
The "never ending" ending turns this song from good to brilliant.

47. SikTh - Riddles of Humanity
Good to see SikTh back, doing what they do best.

46. Pentakill - Mortal Reminder
Riff of the year right here, and the almighty Jorn spices things up even more

45. The Dark Element - My Sweet Mystery
It may sound like Nightwish, but it still has tons of great energy.

44. Jorn - Life On Death Road
Classic Jorn, gotta love it.

43. Edenbridge - Shiantara
That opening is marvelous. Rest of the song is not as good, but is still really nice.

42. Vintersorg - Tillbaka Till Källorna
Vintersorg never disappoints, and since I am Swedish, I can even appreciate the lyrics!

41. The Raven Age - Angel In Disgrace
A band with an Iron Maiden son, with a song that is pretty epic for a normal modern metal tune.

40. Kreator - Totalitarian Terror
Totalitarian awesomeness, that's what it is.

39. Darkest Hour - Knife In The Safe Room
Old school Darkest Hour is the best kind of Darkest Hour.

38. Danko Jones - Let's Start Dancing
Feet, don't fail me now!

37. As Lions - Selfish Age
Another band with a Maiden son, been stuck in my mind since it was released.

36. Trollfest - Steel Sarah
Norwegian Balkan metal, it might be kind of silly, but it works... somehow.

35. Soen - Opal
Just another "Tool copy" band, but damn these guys are good.

34. The Charm The Fury - No End In Sight
A weird, but interesting, band you guys should give a chance. Love their groove.

33. Havok - Hang 'Em High
Crossover thrash when it is not even remotely trash.

32. Cyhra - Heartrage
Just like I said in the review, Cyhra is a glass of milk, but this particular sip is excellent.

31. Evil Invaders - Feed Me Violence
Oh yes, feed me that violence, give me give me more!

30. Pallbearer - Cruel Road
I beat myself for not discovering Pallbearer earlier, these guys are just mesmerizing.

29. Next To None - Alone
Long metalcore song that might not suit everyone, but is worthy of a listen for the swing beat in the solo alone.

28. Labyrinth - Stardust And Ashes
A band that is overall solid, Labyrinth delivers a neat melodic attack of goodness.

27. Power Trip - Executioner's Tax (Swing of The Axe)
It is pretty hard to turn down old school thrash metal, especially when it is done this good.

26. Brothers of Metal - Fire Blood And Steel
Is it cheesy? Yes. Does it have cliches? Yes. Is it fun as hell and will make you scream till your lungs pop out? Hell yeah.

25. Enslaved - The River's Mouth
I did feel like "E" was good, but far from brilliant, yet it still has its magical moments, like this song. It is a consistent force that is nothing innovative from the band but it works really well still.

24. Leprous - From The Flame
Man, when Leprous manages to get out the emotions into the right song construction, magic is imminent. There are few people that can be as emotional as singer Einar Solberg.

23. Tankard - Don't Bullshit Us!
There is no question here, Tankard delivers no bullshit thrash metal that pounds you in the face over and over again. For a band that titled their latest record "One Foot In The Grave", they still seem pretty lively.

22. Nocturnal Rites - The Poisonous Seed
They have been gone for a while, but the Swedish power metal group Nocturnal Rites came back in big fashion this year with "Phoenix". Out of that album rises "The Poisonous Seed" as a powerful contender that shows the band at their best, that they are not done just yet.

21. Demon Hunter - Patience
No matter how mediocre the new Demon Hunter albums are, there are always one or two songs that are great, and "Patience" is another proof of that. A very satisfying piece that just feels right, nothing is misplaced or wrong, it is simply really good.

20. Grave Digger - When Night Falls
When Grave Digger turns up the speed and let themselves fly, they seem nearly unstoppable, pulling off some dominating performances. "When Night Falls" is addictive, a power house of a song that pummel its way through your ear drums. Classic Grave Digger stuff really.

19. Prospekt - The Illuminated Sky
This is a group you should definitely check out if you are a lover of progressive metal, and the title track of their sophomore effort "The Illuminated Sky" is a good example of why. It got the versatility of early Dream Theater, while also throwing in some own impressive tricks as well, giving it that all important personal touch.

18. Firewind - Ode To Leonidas
I know, I know, this song is kind of silly. The opening monologue could have been fully stolen from the movie "300", and Greeks doing Greek history is fairly predictable, but this is a return to form for Firewind, a step back to the "The Premonition" days when the band was at its best. Perfect soundtrack when you shall dine in hell.

17. Sepultura - Sworn Oath
I really enjoyed this new Sepultura record, it felt like the band got back their passion and inspiration after a couple of mediocre albums. In the top of "Machine Messiah" was "Sworn Oath", an epic assault that gave me the chills all over. The pounding vocals of Derrick Green, the frightening guitars of Andreas Kisser, and the overall feeling just makes this an impressive feat.

16. Ne Obliviscaris - Eyrie
I have been kind of hard on the Australians lately, but with their track record, how can I not be? Fortunately, "Eyrie" is a great highlight on "Urn" that shows what the band is capable of. Sure it goes on for some time (11 minutes and 51 seconds to be exact), but it does not feel long. Every bit and piece is carefully placed into a complete puzzle, creating a very beautiful track that holds up very well. Pure quality through and through.

15. The Night Flight Orchestra - Midnight Flyer
I really dislike AOR rock, so how does it come that I love The Night Flight Orchestra? It could be because of their energy, which is in full display on "Midnight Flyer", an extremely fun song that is incredibly catchy as well. It displays the 80's at its finest, while still making it sound modern and fresh. Or maybe it is because I love Soilwork singer Björn "Speed" Strid and his amazing vocals that somehow works here as well.

14. Arch Enemy - The World Is Yours
Yes, I know that this is a carbon copy of "Nemesis", in fact, the band does not even hide it, they have only confirmed it. However, when a song contains so much firepower, it is kind of hard to ignore it. Besides, I do think there is enough original flare in here to make it exciting (mostly coming from singer Alissa). Also, that ending solo is freaking amazing, one of my favourites of the year.

13. DragonForce - The Edge of The World
Biggest surprise of the year might come from the band that once was seen as a one trick pony. An eleven minute long ballad (!?) with a touch of death metal vocals. Yep, this is not your ordinary DragonForce tune, this is something special. And you know what, it works really well actually. It got a fragile nature to it that feels honest and true, and the additional surprises here and there are really nice as well. DragonForce has truly evolved these last couple of years.

12. Trivium - The Sin And The Sentence
It seems like a lot of people really loved the latest Trivium outing, and you know what, I like it a lot too (a lot more than the previous one at least). The title track especially showed all of the band's weapons, creating a typical Trivium track with tons of energy and passion. It is a song that really personifies the album, and shows that Trivium do deserve to be in the top of the league.

11. Eagleheart - Reverse
Biggest no name of this year's list, a power metal band from the Czech Republic who stole their name from one of Stratovarius' most popular songs. "Reverse" may not be one of the most original power metal songs out there, but it great from top to bottom. Great vocals, great drive, great guitar work, and even that semi awkward stuttering in the build ups does not ruin this epic experience. A really charming little song that quickly became a personal favourite of mine.

10. Marilyn Manson - Saturnalia
Why do Marilyn try to go back to the "Antichrist Superstar" days where he was Mr. Controversial? He is not that young guy anymore, embrace your age and accept it. After all, when he does do that and goes for a more laid back style, he simply sounds a lot better. "Saturnalia" is a great example of that, where he takes a fairly simple, long song and gives his own unique spin to it, coming up with true Manson magic. It is not in your face, nor is it technically impressive. It is just solid, great, smooth metal that just feels nice. Give me more of this type of Marilyn in the future, please.

9. Mechina - The Synesthesia Signal
Our own little darlings here at Forsaken At The Gates, Mechina keeps on delivering great stuff, and with every album there is this one song that just sticks with you from January 1st to December 31st. This year it is "The Synesthesia Signal", another beautiful song from the band in which they utilize Mel Rose perfectly, letting her take the charge. But the true star here is the constant rhythm that drags you in and never lets you go, those never ending drum beats that are so infectious. Another amazing song from an amazing band.

8. Ayreon - Planet Y Is Alive!
Out of all the songs on "The Source", somehow this spoke the most to me, an overly happy song that should be annoying as hell, overloading the listener with cheese. Somehow though, this song works with its joyous nature, with an emerging chorus that is more epic than it has any right to be. Every artist in here give their all and transforms this simple song into something special. Also, that ending when Tobias Sammet is doing his highest scream possible, man that gets me every time, what an incredible moment of music magic.

7. Unleash The Archers - The Coward's Way
I could have easily picked a bunch of songs from "Apex" to this list, but I ultimately ended up with "The Coward's Way", which just feels like a complete song. It is catchy, epic, got awesome vocals, a really nice guitar intro, an even better guitar solo, and even some hockey choir chanting as well. Yes, this song has it all, and it is a clear testament to what the band has done this year, and what might be a glimpse of the future. One thing is for sure though, they are not any cowards.

6. Novembers Doom - Apostasy
Novembers Doom have become a favourite of mine as of late, and with songs like "Apostasy", it is quite easy to see why. With its infectious and steady groove, the perfect blend of haunting clean and pitch black harsh vocals, and a non-catchy catchy chorus, this song stood quickly out as a front runner among the rest of the tracks in the fantastic "Hamartia" record. An amazing effort from a band that rarely fails to deliver some great death/doom metal.

5. Overkill - Our Finest Hour
No, I do not think that "The Grinding Wheel" is Overkill's finest hour, but it does have some great music, and the first single is classic thrashy goodness that is simply irresistible. Overkill goes with the "no bullshit" card, delivering classic stuff that we certainly have heard from the band before, but it still sounds just as fresh. Some might complain it is a tad bit too long, but I think it is just the right length. After all, I cannot get enough of that amazing Bobby Ellsworth and his never aging vocals.

4. Pain of Salvation - On A Tuesday
The title is one of the worst this year, but the story behind it is more impressive. Being the opener to the amazing concept record "In The Passing Light of Day", "On A Tuesday" displays the discovery of Daniel Gildenlöw's flesh eating bacteria, of the frantic emotions that went through him, and all the thoughts that came to his head. It is very hard to imagine yourself being in a similar situation, but the song does a fantastic job in delivering the utter panic and despair that one might feel. And with an ending that is so god damn epic that every hair on your body starts to rise, it becomes a proggy jawbreaker that you wanna get a taste of very often.

3. Mastodon - Words To The Wise
You can always count on Mastodon to make at least a couple of kick ass songs every new record, building up their impressive catalog. "Words To The Wise" is classic Mastodon stuff, with a fast and furious tempo that you barely can hang on to, addictive rhythm sections to make you move, but then they throw in a surprisingly calm and collected chorus into all of this madness, and it still somehow works. Actually, if nothing else, it makes it even better, a very diverse and addictive song that definitely has the muscles to bolster into the prestiged Mastodon club with ease.

2. Persefone feat. Paul Masvidal - Living Waves
I never thought that we would get anymore Cynic material after the break up, so this was a very nice surprise. Now that Cynic is back together with a new line-up, the magic of this being perhaps the last Cynic piece is gone, but the quality is still the same.

"Living Waves" is the perfect combination of Paul's hauntingly beautiful voice and the complete brutality that Persefone has perfected over the last several years, a fusion that sounds good in theory, but sounds even better in reality. Despite all of the heavy bits, it is a very calming song that you can relax to

1. Wintersun - Loneliness (Winter)
I am not the biggest Wintersun fan out there. I like the band, but I have always felt that they were over hyped, no matter what they did, never reaching the potential everyone said they have. This song however, might be the closest to that said potential.

"Loneliness (Winter)" is simply astonishing, a long ass song that has so many layers to it. The instrumentation is close to impeccable, and the emotional vocals of Jari Mäenpää sends tons of chills down my spine. It is a song that takes its time, making sure nothing is done half heartedly, and it is not afraid to go that extra mile, being bigger, becoming more epic, just flat out exaggerating a lot of aspects without losing its touch. Sure, it starts out slow, but the mood is set nicely, and it just builds up the further it goes, leading to a climatic ending that is unlike anything I have ever heard.

In short, "Loneliness (Winter)" is a grand epic masterpiece, it represents the Wintersun we want, need, and deserve. Now get "Time II" done already so we can get a chance to experience more moments like this one.

So what do you say, do you agree with my selection or is there any songs I missed? Hit me up with a comment or a tweet (@ForsakenGates), and start a discussion. My list of the top 20 albums of the year will be up later this week.

Until then, stay metal!

Robert "Sharkruisher" Andersson

Thursday, December 7, 2017

Operation: Mindcrime - The New Reality (2017)

So after only two short years, we have finally reached the end of Operation: Mindcrime's album trilogy, and the end of a story that centers around stock trading and virtual currencies. Man, when I first got into the story, I thought it was fairly decent and that it had an opportunity to evolve into something spectacular, but then I remembered, it is stock trading we are talking about. Kind of hard to make an exciting story out of that, don't you think? Anyway, good old Geoff has done his fair share to make it as good as possible, wish I could say the same about the music.

To my surprise though, "The New Reality" is a big step forward in the music department. Okay, it is not a revolution or anything close to that, but you can say good bye to the boring and uninspired bland rock that "highlighted" "Resurrection". The entirety of "The New Reality" just have a completely different aura to it, an amount of energy that I have not seen since the provoking "Frequency Unknown", but this energy is not directed to Queensrÿche, it is instead used for more sensible reasons. Huh, maybe Geoff has moved on after all.

The other members get more room to shine too, showing off some of their skills. The drums flows really nicely, while also having some nice technicality to them (although they are a tad bit loud in the mix). The guitars are actually memorable this time around, not being demoted to background noise to the vocals. And yes, the vocals are of course as well versed as you would expect from a Tate release, but they do not take too much space, they take just enough to run the show, but not overtake it. The balance between the band members is surprisingly even, something I certainly did not expect from this release.

But while "The New Reality" feels more balanced and more passionate, it still does not feel like the epic finish of a conceptual trilogy that one would expect. It is still a fairly slow effort that takes its time, never rushing anything, and it is both an advantage and disadvantage. Especially the ending of the record is very slow and dull, it never feels like the band is reaching the climax of the story, so you would think that they would gear up for a fourth release. That ain't happening though, in fact, this is the last release we will see from Operation: Mindcrime, period. Apparently, this was just a short lived project, and Geoff wants to move on to other things. Not a big loss, but a curious decision nonetheless.

The first half of the record is strong though, and it is certainly some of the best material we have seen from the band. I really love the energy in "Wake Me Up", and the instrumentation in "It Was Always You!" and "Under Control" are simply fantastic. And while the "wut wut wut wut wut wut wut wut" part in "The Fear" makes me laugh hysterically, it is quite a serious song, and a staple in the story, another good piece in the first half. Once again, not anything spectacular or anything, but still, pretty enjoyable.

So yeah, Operation: Mindcrime ends on a high note, even if that note is not too high. "The New Reality" is without a shadow of a doubt the best album of the trilogy, but it is not saying that much, because while this album is fairly good, it still has some blind spots that drags out for too long, and the music is not all too inventive. It is a fine record that does not stir up any rash emotions, but lots of kudos to the guys for finishing this massive project. Now we will wait and see where Geoff Tate will take his voice next.

Songs worthy of recognition: Wake Me Up, It Was Always You!, Under Control

Rating: 7/10 Tidal Changes

More reviews of Operation: Mindcrime
The Key

Saturday, December 2, 2017

Bell Witch - Mirror Reaper (2017)

We are officially in December, so that means it is time for me to do two things. One is to begin working on my "best of" lists, and another is to catch up on music that I might have missed over the year, albums that a lot of people would consider to be the best of the best. One of those albums that got such a buzz was the third album by the funeral doom band Bell Witch, entitled "Mirror Reaper". While I did get the word on them quite early (mostly because of that Dark Souls inspired cover, one of my favourites of the year), I was not sure if I would really enjoy the record, this genre is not exactly my wheel house.

So why was I so hesitant with "Mirror Reaper"? The first clue is in the line up, which consists of Dylan Desmond on bass and vocals, and Jesse Shreibman on drums and vocals. Yep, no guitars on this band, and the vocals are kind of a side thing too, which means this is basically a big rhythm album. And I really mean big, because another thing that made me uneasy is the length of the album, which is 1 hour and 23 minutes, all "divided" into one song. Yes, it is one of those albums, a single, long ass song, without any guitars and very little vocals, all in a style that is very dark and dense. Jesus Christ, we are in for a special experience folks.

Like all of this was not enough, the album has even more meaning to it with the fact that one half of the original band died in between albums. The death of Adrian Guerra was untimely for sure, but it does add an extra layer of emotion to "Mirror Reaper" that simply would not be there otherwise. It is like he still is a part of the album, in every possible way. It is a great homage to a fallen brother.

A warning first to anyone who wants to try this album out, make sure that you have no other disturbances outside, because this is an album that demands its listener to be in a very calm and collected mood so that everything can be taken in. Also make sure that you have time, this is not an album that you just plug in and swallow quickly. To make it justice, you have to give it respect, sit down, and just relax. Once you do that, every carefully placed note, every drum hit, every line of vocals will hit you just right. It is an album that really deserves every bit of attention.

At the same time though, it is pretty difficult to keep your attention on this album. The whole album consists of long, slow notes that do create an amazing atmosphere, but because the entire album is more or less around the same wave length, it does become very tiring after a while. The struggle to keep your concentration levels in check is certainly real here, and for some, this album could just be outright boring. It does pick up some momentum towards the final 20 minutes, but that might be too little too late for most, and the change is not that significant either.

Unfortunately, I will most likely not listen to this album ever again. It is not that "Mirror Reaper" is a bad album, it is an emotional album that has an amazing atmosphere and well thought out writing that goes beyond the boundries of what metal can be. However, this is simply not an album for me, it is not an album that you can enjoy all that often, it requires certain specific moments to do so, and those moments are few and far between in my world. The length is excruciating, making it incredibly difficult to get through in one sitting. In the end though, I highly recommend this album to everyone, experience it at least once, it is most certainly one of the highlights of the year. Maybe not "best of" worthy, but it is a special one.

Songs worthy of recognition: Mirror Reaper (obviously)

Rating: 7,5/10 Mirror Reapers

Thursday, November 30, 2017

The Dark Element - S/T (2017)

I kind of feel bad for Anette Olzon, she never really got a fighting chance when she replaced Tarja in Nightwish. Her time in the band was anything but pleasant, despite doing an alright job on two full length records. Sure, she was not a good fit (Nightwish needs a strong female vocalist, and Anette is more delicate), but I always hoped that she would bounce back into the metal scene some day to get her redemption.

Well, seems like she is getting an opportunity this year, because together with former Sonata Arctica guitarist (and co-founder) Jani Liimatainen, they have created The Dark Element, a new symphonic power metal band that tries to squeeze their way in to a genre that already has tons of talent. Looking from the outside, it is a project that certainly sounds interesting. Jani is a great songwriter and seems to know how to utilize those around him to make the product as good as possible, just look at the latest Cain's Offering album "Stormcrow" for proof.

Sure enough, this album definitely uses Anette's vocals better than Nightwish did, even if a lot of the music here is directly borrowed from the legendary Finnish band. "The Dark Element" is an incredibly melodic record with tons of catchy melodies and choruses, sure to leave an impact on you whether you like it or not. But for a band that is called The Dark Element, there is very little darkness in this record. We get some heavy riffs and some gloomy atmospheres, but this is a fairly jolly album, and that is honestly not a bad thing, just think it is false advertisement that your band have a name like The Dark Element (and an album cover as gruesome and disturbing as the one that is fronting said album), but play music that is pretty harmless in its nature.

As said before, this album has a good amount of Nightwish in it, like just listen to "My Sweet Mystery", that opening with the haunting keys and bone crushing riffs is literally stolen from "Dark Passion Play". Fortunately, I do not think it overshadows the whole album, because it does have more in common with Cain's Offering, but with some more symphonic moments sprinkled around. It feels very natural in a way, taking Jani's preferred style and incorporating Anette into it all, creating a nice fusion between the musicians.

And there are some really good music in here. The previously mentioned "My Sweet Mystery" is a fantastic, powerful song that certainly gets you going, "Here's To You" is simply loud and proud, "Dead To Me" have a really nice rhythm and a very satisfying chorus (even if it does steal from Nightwish again), "The Ghost And The Reaper" is nice and heavy, and even some of the calmer moments are really nice, giving some nice variety (although, I gotta say, the lyrics in "Someone You Used To Know" give off creepy stalker vibes, when I think it is supposed to be a lost love story).

Overall, I do not think The Dark Element will wow anyone with its simplicity, but it has enough good content to go around. This debut record is certainly very enjoyable despite it borrowing from other bands within the genre, the strength of the songs helps you get through the record with ease, and there is enough chemistry in here to really make this project last for some time. So if you are a fan of any of the two main contributors, you should definitely check this release out, even if it is a little brighter than the name and artwork suggests.

Songs worthy of recognition: My Sweet Mystery, Here's To You, The Ghost And The Reaper

Rating: 7/10 Halos

Sunday, November 26, 2017

Opeth - Blackwater Park (2001)

So we have finally reached "Blackwater Park" in our discography review series of Opeth, the album that is considered to be the band's magnum opus. To most, this is a modern progressive classic, a must have in every metalhead's collection. It is also the album that elevated the band to the next level, from being an underground group that was getting some positive feedback, to being one of the biggest metal acts around. This record is monumental for the evolution of Opeth, and it has a place in many people's hearts, but is it really as good as the early material, or was it just lucky coincidence that this gave the band its big breakthrough?

Let us start with the basics, what separates "Blackwater Park" from its four predecessors? It definitely has a lot of the same elements that previous outings have, like the poetic lyrics and the guttural death metal moments, but what I think makes "Blackwater Park" a different album is that it is just much smoother around the edges. The production (made by legendary Porcupine Tree singer Steven Wilson) is cleaner, but it still has enough darkness in it to not hurt the album, helping to enhance all of those sweet melodies.

Another reason to why this album blew up might be because it is more accessible than its brethren. Yes, it is still a true progressive metal album, with a song span that could be everything from 6 minutes to 12, but the structures of the songs are more straight, giving off to some really catchy moments in this album, mostly thanks to the amazing instrumentation. It still has that Opeth vibe to it though, so the band is not selling out or anything, they are still the imaginative group that we got to know on all previous records.

Besides, let us be honest, the previous albums felt a little all over the place, having tons of influences from several different genres that did mash up well, but it is with "Blackwater Park" where Opeth perfected their sound, making it more fluid and cohesive. The band is truly hitting their stride with all of these fantastic, sweeping melodies that really helps in telling a story.

Yeah, there is not much else to say about "Blackwater Park" other than that it completely deserves all the praise that it has gotten over the years. It is a transcending album that just flows naturally through your ears, and it also have a cohesive sound throughout the album that set the band up for success. However, I do not think this is an all around perfect album. It could have benefited from being a little grittier in its production, and some of the lyrics here are not as good as in previous outings. Despite those minor issues, "Blackwater Park" is still an amazing record, a must listen for every prog metal lover. Is it the best Opeth record though? We will see eventually...

Songs worthy of recognition: The Funeral Portrait, The Leper Affinity, Bleak, The Drapery Falls, 

Rating: 9,5/10 Harvests

More reviews of Opeth
My Arms, Your Hearse
Still Life
Ghost Reveries
Pale Communion

Wednesday, November 22, 2017

Amberian Dawn - Darkness of Eternity (2017)

I am not the last to admit that I miss the good old days, at least when it comes to the Finnish power metal group Amberian Dawn. Ever since they changed lead singer, the band has lost an edge in both originality and energy, making two fairly decent records in "Magic Forest" and "Innuendo", but they did not stay in my mind for very long. I still like the band, a single member change does not affect me that much, but it does feel like that their best work is behind them.

Which leads me to "Darkness of Eternity", an album that is very close to literally piss me off. You see, it opens up really nicely with "I'm The One", a more or less classic Amberian Dawn song that has power, drive, and a sense of wonder that you can only get from some kind of fairy forest. Yes, this is a track that breathes Amberian Dawn from start to finish, and so does the aggressive "Dragonflies" a little later in the album, another very good track with some crunchy riffing.

Unfortunately, it goes pretty much downhill from there, with almost the rest of the material being head scratchingly weird. No seriously, I am fine with the band and what they have done in the last couple of albums, but this is just awkward. Several of the songs in "Darkness of Eternity" sounds like, and I kid you not, ABBA songs. Yes, freaking Sweden's first international super star group, that is what Amberian Dawn sounds like today. Jesus Christ...

So what exactly is it with the music that makes me claim this statement. Well, a lot of the songs, like "Maybe", "Sky Is Falling", and "Breathe Again", are very bright and jolly, drenching in 70's glory. Add to the fact that the fantasy vibes that is the personality of the band is very toned down, almost missing completely. You can just take any famous ABBA song to compare with, then try to tell me with a straight face that Päivi "Capri" Selo would not fit in as the fifth member of the group. It drives me nuts, I may like ABBA, and I respect everything they have done for Swedish music, but a Finnish symphonic power metal group should not sound like them.

Okay, I am being a little too harsh, I do still think that "Darkness of Eternity" has some redeeming qualities. Production is nice, several songs are memorable, and we also get some really nice instrumental performances here and there, but this album is hurt badly by its incredibly uneven nature, it goes back and forth without settling for something to latch on to. I want more of "Dragonflies, "Luna My Darling", "Abyss", and "I'm The One", that is the Amberian Dawn I know and love, but we do not get enough of it in this record.

So this leaves me with this question, do I prefer "Innuendo", which is a solid, but easily forgettable album, or do I like the more memorable "Darkness of Eternity" better despite its inconsistencies? It is kind of a coin flip, but I do at least get a couple of songs here that will stick with me for some time. It does not mean I like the album as a whole, it is a very bumpy ride with strange decisions, but it is kind of interesting to see this band take this path, hearing them dive deep into their inspirational banks. So yeah, while "Darkness of Eternity" can be frustrating, it is still an intriguing listen, even if it does sound like 70's pop at times.

Songs worthy of recognition: Luna My Darling, I'm The One, Dragonflies

Rating: 6,5/10 Golden Coins

More reviews of Amberian Dawn
Magic Forest

Sunday, November 19, 2017

Live review: In Flames + Five Finger Death Punch at Scandinavium, Gothenburg

In later years, the whole Co-headline concept has become more popular, with two or more bands joining forces throughout a tour, sharing the work load to bring a great experience to the fans. I think it is a great way to get a lot of value for your money, getting to watch two fantastic acts in the same evening to make your night complete. So I was obviously excited when In Flames and Five Finger Death Punch decided to tour together through Europe, giving me a chance to finally get to see two bands that are known for explosive shows.

It also made sense that exactly these two got together, because they are sort of in the same spot in their careers (even though one of them has been active for a longer time). Both are insanely popular acts that have released several big hits over the years, but they have also been receiving a lot of hate for various reasons, even to the point where some do not even consider these band to be metal at all (which is ridiculous, what else are they? Techno?).

Anyway, I was not alone in wanting to watch them, the show in the indoor stadium Scandinavium (located in central Gothenburg) was completely sold out, bringing some warmth in this cold Autumn evening. Let me tell you how the night was.

Opening act: Of Mice & Men

Opening up for the two big guns were Of Mice & Men, a metalcore group from Orange County, California that I have heard of before, but have never digged deeper into... which is also why I did not see these guys.

Now, it would have been pretty difficult to get in time for them anyhow because I live close to two hours away from Gothenburg and I cannot leave work how early I want. Besides, the group of guys I went to the show with did not really want to see them, so... yeah. It is nothing against the band, I simply did not have the time/peer pressure got to me.

I did more research since and I even listened to the songs that they did play, and to be completely honest, I do not think I missed much. While I believe most music does become better when you experience it in a live setting, I think I would be pretty bored with the band's predictable and unoriginal brand of metalcore (although I do have to admit that the new single "Warzone" has a really nice groove to it). All of the songs were nothing special, maybe heavier than your average metalcore band, but still fairly bland, it is close to just being needless noise infact. And once again, it is unfair of me to judge them solely by studio efforts, who knows, they might have killed it on stage. I will probably give these lads another chance when their fifth album comes out next year, but I doubt that the music will make me do backflips out of shear joy.

Public Service Announcement
You Make Me Sick
The Depths

Five Finger Death Punch

After all of what has happened with this band during the year, I was a little afraid that I was going to witness another massive meltdown, Fortunately, that did not happen, instead we got a band that was obviously pumped up, ready to kick some metal ass. And you could clearly tell that singer Ivan Moody was the happiest of the bunch, coming in wearing the jersey of the Swedish national ice hockey team Tre Kronor. Ivan was soaking in every moment of the show, really enjoying himself and playing with the crowd, despite very minimal small talk between songs.

The energy is obviously the band's biggest strength, but they tried to make it a very visually appealing show as well, and they did succeed... to some extent. There were a lot of lighting and lasers that tried to make the show more colorful, and while I do like lasers, it became pretty tiring after a while, being more of a gimmick than any real help. Then we had the huge prop that hung behind the band, which depicted their mascot Knucklehead and a couple of baseball bats crossing behind, making some kind of an urban Jolly Roger. It looked cool and all, but the way it was shaped and assembled made it look more like Vic Rattlehead from Megadeth, and that was an image I could not get out of my head. Why did they not just paint a hand palm on the right side of the face, like in the album covers? So yeah, it looked cool, but it did not look like it belonged with the band.

Go home Vic, you are drunk
Anyway, the music is still the main thing in a concert, and without a new album in recent time, the setlist was pretty well versed between all of the band's releases. I was a little surprised to hear that their latest single "Trouble" (from the upcoming best of record "A Decade of Destruction") was not in the setlist, because even if I think the song is pretty meh, it is kind of a missed opportunity for the band to not market it. It was also surprising that the band went acoustic on two songs, with also Ivan sincerely apologizing for his behaviour the last year. It was a touching moment for sure, but when you think of 5FDP, you do not think of slow songs that you can play around the camp fire. No, you think of adrenaline pumping songs that gets you incredibly hyped up, and that is what I wanted to see, so that acoustic part was kind of a buzz kill.

Oh well, I got enough macho metal to go around anyway, and the band did a fantastic job in getting the crowd going (seriously, the front mosh pitted during songs like "Bad Company" and "Wash It All Away", how is that possible?). So despite some weird things here and there, it was a pretty good show the Americans presented us with. No matter if you like them or not, you gotta admit, their energy is extremely contagious and exhilarating.

Best: "Burn MF" certainly has a lot of power to it

Worst: I did not come to see this band for their acoustic bit

Rating: 7,5/10

Lift Me Up
Never Enough
Wash It All Away
Got Your Six
Hard To See
Bad Company (Bad Company cover)
Jekyll And Hyde
Burn MF
Wrong Side of Heaven (acoustic)
Remember Everything (acoustic)
Coming Down
Ain't My Last Dance

Under And Over It
The Bleeding

In Flames

Going into this show, I was not worried that In Flames were going to phone it in or not give it their all. After all, Gothenburg is their city of origin, and for a band that travels the world year after year, there simply is no place like home. Sure enough, one of Sweden's biggest metal exports surely gave their home crowd a lot to cheer about with a show that a lot of people are not gonna forget in the near future. Simply put, In Flames love Gothenburg, and Gothenburg loves In Flames.

So instead of lasers and tons of lighting, In Flames put their chips on more technological stuff, putting together several screens and creating two pillars for the keyboardist (who I could not find out who it was) and drummer Joe Rickard. This allowed a lot of really cool and some times disturbing imagery to play around with the songs, feeding both your ears and eyes of course. We also got a big puppet prop as well that was revealed during "Alias", a recreation of that human with the bird head from the "A Sense of Purpose" record. It was pretty cool, but it just stayed the for the rest of the show, not doing anything besides staring at everyone with its glowing eyes. Kind of creepy if you ask me.

Damn Jesterheads, please leave the little guy alone
The setlist was mostly based around the last year release "Battles", and no matter what your opinion is on that album, it does show that the band knows how to make incredibly memorable sing along choruses. Songs like "Save Me", "Drained" and "The End" all work extremely well in a live setting, giving the crowd an excuse to sing their lungs out. Otherwise, there were few surprises in this setlist. All of the band's biggest hits were in here, mixed in with some old favourites. To be completely honest, the only real surprise was "Everything's Gone", the only representative from "Siren Charms" (thank god for that). It was placed in the first half of the setlist, where the band just went full on mad mode, almost burning off all of their heaviest materials with "Take This Life", "Trigger" (renamed this evening as "Twitter"), and "Only For The Weak".

While I did enjoy myself during the entire show, and I saw that the chemistry between the crowd and the band was good, there were more or less no small talk in between, even less than in the 5FDP show. The songs were fired with a machine gun, bam bam bam bam bam, close to no break at all. At the very end we probably got the answer to why it was so, because they had to be done before a certain time (because of Swedish law), and they wanted to maximize the time as much as possible. So that explained it, but it still felt weird the way the band handled it.

Oh well, no matter what, In Flames still delivered an impressive performance that echoed out into the Gothenburg night. The band were in their element all night, they simply felt like they were home, playing for all their relatives and friends. They were comfortable, but they made sure to not relax all to much, keeping laser focus. It is no wonder why this band is considered as one of Sweden's biggest bands, they delivered big time here in Scandinavium.

Best: "Everything's Gone" and "Take This Life" is an amazing one two punch

Worst: The setlist was way too predictable

Rating: 8,5/10

Before I Fall
Everything's Gone
Take This Life
Only For The Weak
Dead Alone
Darker Times
The Jester's Dance
Save Me
Here Until forever
The Truth
Deliver Us
The Mirror's Truth
The Quiet Place
The End

Tuesday, November 14, 2017

VUUR - In This Moment We Are Free - Cities (2017)

Ever since leaving The Gathering in 2007, vocalist Anneke Van Giersbergen has been hard at work, showing off the different styles that she can perform. She has done a good job of displaying herself to the world, being a part of The Gentle Storm, Lights Off, her own solo project of course, and also appear in various albums of the effervescent Devin Townsend Project. But with her new band, the entirely Dutch ensemble VUUR (Dutch for fire), she has a goal to really solidify and narrow down her musical directions when it comes to metal.

With "In This Moment We Are Free - Cities", Anneke has created a progressive metal record that does have a lot of similarities with The Gentle Storm, but instead of recapturing the spirit of the 17th century, VUUR is firmly planted in present day, while still having the delicate emotions that "The Diary" presented. It is some of the heaviest stuff that we have heard from Anneke, but that is not really saying much, this album is still fairly soft, focusing more on beautiful melodies than crushing riffs.

Each of the 11 tracks in this record is inspired by a city that has left Anneke with some kind of impact during all the years she has been on the road, and while it is a neat idea, I do not really see much of a point with it, because I do not think the songs represent their cities particularly well. There is no song in here that you can easily connect with its city, like what does "Sail Away" have to do with Santiago, or how much of Rio De Janeiro is in "Freedom"? Maybe there is a deeper meaning to the songs that I am missing, but it does not come out strong either way.

Actually, the entire album was kind of underwhelming at first. The songs where nice and all, but through the first few spins, it did feel a little sluggish and not dynamic enough to grab my attention. It was about as grey as the cover. But just like the cover, there was something shiny that was waiting to burst out into the darkness, and yes, this album did grow eventually and became more and more interesting for each new listen. It is still not a super original album, but it kept my interest.

The first couple tracks are pretty meh, nothing ear catching. It is by the third track, "The Martyr And The Saint - Beirut", things are starting to get interesting, with some nifty riffing and clean melodies that fits Anneke's voice like a glove. The songs keeps on coming, all in different shapes, from haunting opera and beautiful ballads, to quick hitters and oriental influences. It is a solid mix of songs that together make a very solid record, but while most of the focus is obviously on Anneke, I would like to lift up guitarists Ferry Duijsens and Jord Otto for delivering some great guitar work all throughout the album, taking it one step higher.

In the end, VUUR might have something interesting going for it, but it is clear that it might take an album or two for this band to really get going. This debut record is nice and has several neat ideas, but it is an underwhelming record. It does not jump out at you, making a statement that it is here to entertain. No, it instead quietly and politely informs you that it is available now. Fans of Anneke will definitely enjoy this record, but as said, their true "vuur" might not show up until the next release.

Songs worthy of recognition: Days Go By - London, The Martyr And The Saint - Beirut, Sail Away - Santiago

Rating: 7/10 Valleys of Diamonds in Mexico City

Thursday, November 9, 2017

Ne Obliviscaris - Urn (2017)

I do not mind when band keeps it minimalistic when it comes to naming new releases, but Ne Obliviscaris please, this is close to ridiculous. Three letters, that's all? I swear to god, when I first read about this album, all I saw was that it was named "Um". Then I saw that itty bitty tiny space between the r and the n, and it all made sense... but it still felt strange with such a small title. That is Ne Obliviscaris in a nutshell, simplistic in titles, complex in sound.

So this is the Australian band's third release, and at this point in their career, you kind of know what you are going to get from them. It is just what you would expect, it is six tightly packed songs that are filled to the brim with extreme technicality, a healthy mix of soaring clean vocals and brutal harsh vocals, and let us also not forget the generous use of violins, a registered trademark for the band. It is a style that does not suit everyone, but I have been down for the ride ever since their debut "Portal of I".

So we got a collection of 6 songs at our disposal... well, technically there are only 4 songs, but two of them are split into two parts each. Still, they are certainly meaty songs that fill up some time (45 minutes to be exact). During that time, the band flex their muscles and show off all of their abilities, from the intense drumming of Daniel "Mortuary" Presland, to the beautiful strokes of Tim Charles' violin. They once again show that they are among the elite when it comes to pure playing ability, creating such fantastic melodies with both the simple and difficult techniques.

But there is a big problem with "Urn". No matter how much I rave about the technicality of the record, and how much work and effort has been put into it, I just do not get the same angelic feelings that I received from "Citadel". Why? Because "Urn" is not showing that the band has evolved, they are still in the same spot as they were last time we heard from them. You can easily hear the same patterns as in their predecessors, which makes "Urn" very predictable. You know when they are going soft, or when they are turning up the tempo, it is so god damn predictable, and it annoys the hell out of me.

With that said though, it is hard not to get enchanted by the music, because it is still made with some really good precision. When the album reaches the most epic bits, you can just feel your skin crawl from how good it sounds. And while I do not really think there are any songs here that matches the level of the best Ne Obliviscaris songs has to offer, I still get a lot of enjoyment from such epic pieces as "Eyrie" and both parts of the title track.

So even if "Urn" is same same, but different, it is still another proof that Ne Obliviscaris is a true elite band. There are no other band out there like them, with a sound that really stands out in the metal sphere. These guys are too talented to be stuck in one place, and I hope that they can see that. I do not want to see this band becoming the technical extreme progressive symphonic death metal answer to Motörhead. So yeah, "Urn" is no revolution for the band, but it is still a damn good record that fans of the band will absolutely love.

Songs worthy of recognition: Eyrie, Urn (part 1 and 2)

Rating: 7,5/10 Saturnine Spheres

More reviews of Ne Obliviscaris

Sunday, November 5, 2017

Keldian - Darkness And Light (2017)

The Norweigan duo Keldian blew me away like a supernova in 2013 with the record "Outbound", an album that quickly became one of my favourites of the year with its infectious and nostalgic power metal that had a clear sci-fi theme going with it. But this band is more than a single genre can explain. The love child of Arild Aardalen and Christer Andresen taps in to a lot of 80's rock, as well as that decade's synth movement. It is a strange combo, but when all comes together, it becomes a very uplifting experience.

So "Darkness And Light" is their fourth release, and it is not too far off from their previous efforts, it is unmistakeably Keldian in this album. The way that they can take such simple components and still make such compelling music is just astounding, it never gets tired or stale. You will never hear this band steer out into complex solos or perform any impressive drum fills, it is basic music at its finest.

With that said, "Darkness And Light" might be one of the more underwhelming albums of the band's discography. Do not get me wrong, this is an enjoyable album, but I do not feel like the magic that their previous releases had is here. It is hard to pin point why, but it might be that they rely a little too much on the 80's sound here, and that the space vibe does not get enough room to shine. There are several parts of the album that just feels too nostalgic, too dated to be released in this millennium, and that is normally a line they have balanced pretty well, but does not do that quite as well this time around.

There are also some songs in here that just feels off, not coming out as bright stars. The giant epic in the middle, the close to 13 minute long "I'm The Last of Us", has some neat ideas, but it is just way too long for its own good. I love long songs, but they have to have a purpose to be long, and I do not see any reasons for this track to be this long. Then we have both "Broadside!" and "The Haunting", two songs that are just drenched in 80's AOR goop, and it just becomes too much for me to handle. Maybe my mother will like this tracks, she absolutely loves 80's music.

Still, we do get several fantastic moments and songs that makes the album worth its staying. The typical ultra catchy, single worthy tracks are here, like the ultra epic "Life And Death Under Strange New Suns" and the very joyful opener "Nightfall". Both are easily likeable and very addictive sing along songs that gets you going. And then we have "Crown of Starlight" that is just pure magic in a bottle, relying on simple, but effective, riffing, together with a steadfast tempo that keeps the blood of the song pumping to a scream worthy chorus that keeps going on and on in the end. It ends the album in a fantastic way, leaving you with an ear to ear grin on your face.

So while "Darkness And Light" has its share of problems, and it could even be considered the weakest album Keldian has put out to this date, it is still a very enjoyable experience that fans of the band are gonna love. The usual Keldian magic is here, and they have not lost their ability to create something magnificent and epic from simple ingredients. This album has some dark moments, and some light moments, but it is still Keldian, it is sci-fi music that Starlord should be considering when he creates his third "Awesome mix", just in time for that infinity war.

Songs worthy of recognition: Crown of Starlight, Blood Red Dawn, Life And Death Under Strange New Suns, Change The World

Rating: 7,5/10 Nightfalls