Category Archives: Reviews

Synaptik

Review: SynaptiK – Justify & Reason

Get ready for a gigantic portion of thick, stinking, faux-prog metal cheese of epic stature with this outstandingly campy, exciting, and wholly enjoyable album by SynaptiK!

I have a soft-spot for iconic Heavy Metal, and “Justify & Reason” does everything it needs to to tug on my heartstrings. First, it’s energetic, with genuinelly entertaining songwriting. The opening “The Incredible Machine” sets the majestic tone beautifully, giving way to the big, busy guitar work of Ian Knight and Jack Murton and an ever surging momentum which carries through the entire album. As a whole, the band is very tight, and never burdened by the excessiveness of say… any of Dream Theatre’s recent albums. Songs feature glimmers of symphonic nuance here and there, but largely feel stripped down, simplified, rocking, and very effective.

Justify & Reason cover art

Guitars step in and out of the spotlight tastefully, and solo breaks are fantastic, with lightning dexterity and creative playing. They sometimes come with cool time signature changes as well, making them a real highlight of the album.

Of course, John Knight’s vocals are a big part of this album’s success. He is every metal singer from the 1980s condensed into a perfectly honed, screaming machine — which makes “Justify & Reason” feel very much like a relic of its days…

Prog-metal snobs will probably not be impressed by the occasional concessions the band makes for accessibility and sing-along-ability… but the enthusiasm and talent demonstrated here more than makes up for its sometimes FM-oriented melodies. “Justify & Reason” gets high marks from me because its simply so much fun to listen to! The awesome cover artwork is the icing on the cake.

Pre-order “Justify & Reason” here.

Pregnant Whale Pain

Review: Pregnant Whale Pain – Blank

And so we come to “Blank,” an EP by Pregnant Whale Pain, a Hungarian band that’s been active for a few years now. This release, which was released in January, is definitely one of the best mathcore releases I’ve experienced in a long time. What we’ve got here is sort of a progressive metalcore that dabbles in jazz and schizophrenia. This record should not be overlooked by anyone. Any fan of metal, prog, hardcore or good music in general needs to listen to “Blank.” The technicality and songwriting are both through the roof and there is no shortage of creativity.

Pregnant Whale Pain - Blank

Guitarists Daniek Garamvolgyi and Balasz Lederer play some of the most challenging and jaw dropping guitar parts to be heard here while remaining super creative and not falling into the trap of classic shredding. Krisz Horvath’s vocals are excellent, though would probably be what turns off the most people. These vocals are extremely chaotic, and whenever they stop being as heavy as possible, it is only to build back up again. The fact that the music could be appreciated without the vocals is a testament to the originality. So long as you don’t mind the vocals or can see past them, you will enjoy this.

It is also important to mention that the feeling of this record is never calm. Even when the distortion is gone and it all slows down, there is still a very ominous feeling that the music will jump out from behind a rock and smash you in the head. A prime example of this would be the song “Blank Long Nights Kill Romance Vengefully” which falls back form the intensity but never even approaches soothing. That isn’t to say there is no dynamic because the level of intensity shifts.

When someone tells you that there is no good metal left, point them here. When they say all core stuff sucks, point them here. When they say metal and core are all just shrieking and screaming, point them here. This release is the killer of cliches.

Links:

Bandcamp

Facebook

Anakdota

Review: Anakdota – Overloading

British-isms that fuelled the first golden years of progressive rock are here in tandem with the byzantine instrumentation that would give it lasting appeal.

It’s clear that these folks already have a firm grasp of what they wanted to do and how to do it from the very start. Overloading shows that Anakdota is confident and precise from the first song to last, offering well-thought melodies, interesting vocal arrangements, and passages that connect the dots that are quite enjoyable. Erez Aviram, who is the key person for this project, is a pianist who absolutely shines here. The main instrument on this record is the piano, played masterfully by Aviram. The sound is well-rounded, the passages are melodic. The interplay between piano parts and vocals, courtesy of Ray Livnat and Ayala Fossdeld, is another highlight of Overloading.The term “virtuosity” has been a synonym for progressive rock for a while, but this release is focus on melody over the technicality, but still the latter is present a lot.

Overloadning

The craftsmanship and musicianship are top-notch. Starting from the openers “One More Day” and “Different Views,” as Overloading flows by Anakdota are even more prolific; they are like a flower that opens up slowly.

The album’s centrepiece is the title track, which sees Aviram providing an intricate work on his piano, with Livnat providing his most theatrical performance, and a very imaginative rhythm section.

To conclude, with Overloading Anakdota hints that they have the knowledge and potential to make something good. At least, this record is far from being categorized as a “hobby album,” it surely needs to be listened and is not one of those “skip-over” releases. Give this album a chance and let the music speak to your heart, rather than your brain!

Get a copy of Overloading here.

Resurgence

EP Review: Burnt City – Resurgence

One of the first releases of the year, released on January 1st, is a debut EP by Australian progressive power metal project Burnt City, led by guitarist Aydin Zahedi. Titled Resurgence, it could be said that the EP is an all-star (progressive power) metal affair. Put together by Zahedi, the band also includes bassist Mike Lepond (Symphony X), drummer George Kollias (Nile), keyboardist Bob Katsionis (Firewind, Serious Black), and singer Gus Monsanto. Based on this, I can safely say that this release is off to a good start!

The songs tend to go the route of hard hitting progressive metal, as on the riff heavy “Seven”, title track, or the melodic yet highly intricate “Wild Hunter” and “Armageddon.” Monsanto lends his unquestionable talents throughout the album; he is such a pleasant revelation on this record. “Armageddon” closes out the album in quite thunderous fashion, with sledgehammer riffing, orchestral keys, and locked in tight rhythms. Plenty of stellar lead guitar work to be found throughout the album courtesy of Zahedi, so be prepared for a progressive metal feast from start to finish.

Though we get treated to many of these types of collaborations, most of them feel unnatural. The chemistry between the members here flows smoothly. Along with some very special guests, Zahedi has created a very intriguing and enjoyable record. Looking forward to hear more.

Links:

Facebook

Website

To the Moon

Review: Cloudspeak – To the Moon

Over the last few years, instrumental releases within the progressive rock/metal genre have been on the rise, and like with everything else, the quality of the releases vary from hit-and-miss to some absolutely amazing gems. Cloudspeak, based in Chicago, is a project of Johnny Wright IV. To the Moon is an EP debut by Cloudspeak released on January 13.

Well composed, arranged and wonderfully performed, To the Moon is an ambitious piece of largely instrumental prog metal, with more than enough epic ideas to keep a listener engaged and attentive. Suffice to say, there is more than enough of a variety to keep the music from sounding stale or rehashed. Although Johnny’s true calling lies in melody-driven progressive metal guitar, the stylistic curveballs here are fully-realized and sound great. The EP opens with a short intro “Set Sail,” which connects with “The Great Sea.” This is an excellent example of Wright’s skill as a multi-faceted composer. And this skill just keeps on improving throughout the six-track release. Song structures seem arranged to cater to a string of individually satisfying moments, as opposed to the ideas all contributing to the overall whole of a composition. Even in the most ambitious progressive rock/metal moments, I tend to look for some of the same qualities found in conventionally good songwriting.

Obviously, much of the spotlight here is placed on Wright’s prodigious grasp of the electric guitar. Although the album’s djenty side doesn’t stand any bit above what we’ve already heard from that corner of prog metal, Wright makes himself out to be an absolutely brilliant fusion guitarist, possibly one of the most talented I’ve heard in recent years. “Storm Clouds” might be my favourite track on the EP for this very reason; Wright’s marriage of keen instrumental wandering and tight melodic passages is gorgeous.

To the Moon is a record packed with instrumental inventiveness and technical proficiency. Cloudspeak excels here both as a composer and musician.

Links:

Bandcamp

Website

Second Horizon

Review: Second Horizon – Albdruck

Second Horizon, a four piece from Cologne in Germany, have quite a challenge as with any new band playing this stylistically demanding music. They either need to add something exciting and original to the genre, or be so bloody good at delivering captivating instrumental rock (that visits quite a few genres) in its conventional form that they stand head and shoulders above the oceans of ordinariness that surround them. While they will not win any awards for innovation, the debut release Albdruck does in fact rise most convincingly from the latter category, and has enough variation in its six tracks to keep interest levels high.

Albdruck

Beginning with the short intro “Zucht,” Second Horizon expertly marry the sludgy histrionics of Panopticon era Isis to the noise rock sensibilities of Melvins. The band doesn’t fuck about with long intros, and like to get on with the business at hand, with only two tracks passing the 6-minute mark. This makes for a more urgent and also provides a much more organic feel to the band’s playing.

In addition to Isis and Melvins you can undoubtedly hear the massive influence of Cult of Luna, Mono, Mastodon, all the major names, but Second Horizon somehow manage to put a unique stamp on this rather derivative framework.

Second Horizon have risen far above the sum of their influences, and delivered a very fine instrumental rock album. Check it out!

Links:

Bandcamp

Facebook

Instagram

YouTube

Memories Have No Name

Review: Althea – Memories Have No Name

What the second album by Althea presents the listener with is an up-and-coming Italian progressive metal band still discovering and honing their sound; a style that’s adequately complex with dark influences, is melodic, and puts the emotion-packed vocals of Alessio Accardo at the forefront. The album commences with a short instrumental Regression From Regrets, that is followed up with Paralyzed which for 3:20 minutes carries the listener through a barrage of riffs, drum fills, and high soaring vocals all on top of a grandiose atmosphere. Frankly, the song slays, and simultaneously gives the listener a taste of the orchestrated clamor that is to follow. Revenge epitomizes all that is great about metal, and I would go as far as saying the song still may be the band’s crowning achievement.

A key attribute of Althea is their ability to engage the listener with a multitude of topics, and in every sense of the word, diversity. Halfway Through is a slower thematic piece about extra terrestrial life, complete with spoken-like singing throughout the song. An echoing guitar note completes the eerie feeling the song is intended to achieve. Dream Theater fans will dig this one.

Further adding to the depth of the album is Last Overwhelming Velvet Emotion (L.O.V.E.), a well-constructed, well-executed ballad featuring touching guitar solos and grandiose singing. Accardo, now in typical fashion, wears his heart on his sleeve.

In sum, Memories Have No Name is an outstanding release worth your time and hard-earned money whether you’re a fan of melodic progressive metal or not. There are highs; there are lows; there is pain; and most of all there is passion. I’ve listened to this album a solid ten times, and I’ve yet to find anything that qualifies as true filler, although the album is full of short interludes that connect pieces together. If there is one single word to describe Memories Have No Name, it would be “genuine.” Not only are Althea outside of the one-album-wonder galaxy…. they’re in a completely different universe.

Get a copy of the album here.

As A Conceit

Review: As A Conceit – Frown Upon Us

There are many ways of creating music. Following the rules, being bound of genre limitations, or letting your wheels go off road to wherever you want your sound to reach out. This change in the direction only brings rich melodies, “new” tunes, tasty sound.

As a Conceit, a hardcore band from Italy, is one of those off-roadsters. They don’t follow the rules but create their own way. Their album “Frown Upon Us” is a great example which walks around melodic death metal, with additions of nice progressive clean vocals. There is a mystic side of the album in the way of narrative and female vocals.

frown-upon-us

“Frown Upon Us” may remind you of some In Flames works, some Korn, Slipknot and most prominently Architects. From the first moment until the last, the record is full of tasty, energetic melodies. “Frown Upon Us” stays true to hardcore with great passages through melodic death metal.

“Frown Upon Us” is one of those great records from 2016 that might be overlooked. With its rich sound it will make your ears satisfied no matter what kind of genre takes your attention.

Follow As A Conceit on Facebook.

juodvarnis

Review: Juodvarnis – Mirusio Zmougas Kelione

In some ways many metal listeners have divided opinions when the topic is “black metal.” Most of them find it raw or pretentious, but there are some that adore every melody that could come out of a black metal song. Juodvarnis, a lithuanian Epic/Pagan Black Metal band is just like a problem solver at this point. This band’s versatility lies in combining epicness of the pagan take on the black metal genre and folk, heavy, doom, and stoner metal elements, wrapped with a touch of progpower.

The band from Vilnius released two albums so far. “Mirusio Žmogaus Kelionė”, their second album carries every single element that is specific to the mentioned genres. Very epic, at times softened by great high pitched clean vocals, you can also find a fair dose of doom metal. Lyrically the album has its own dark side either. The songs are written in Lithuanian, a language that sounds as a perfect fit for the music Juodvarnis creates.

There is astonishing black metal drumwork in the songs, there are great heavy metal guitar solos, accompanied with tasty folksy elements. But besides that what takes the attention at the most is high-pitched clean vocal that is combined with screams. A rare singing style, which also makes the album unique itself.

There is a similarity between with the known doom bands such as Candlemass, While Heaven Wept, maybe a little of Solitude Aeternus and there is a smell of Void of Silence in the vocals. In some parts you find similarity with Moonspell and a little bit of early Amorphis. As all these bands are far from black metal, and that is what makes Juodvarnis different. A must-listen album of the year right here.

Like Juodvarnis on Facebook.

Dusks Embrace

Review: Dusks Embrace – ReAwakening

10 years is quite a long time for a band – definitely enough time to mature a very special blend of sound and refine a creative vision into something very special and unique. Originally conceived by Josh Brewer, the band set out to release their first album with a new consolidated line-up earlier in 2016.

ReAwakening is therefore, a perfect title for this release, because it does not only represents the band’s evolution and newfound balance, but also the eclectic nature of these songs. The band now consists of singer Aldo Arevalo, guitarist and backing vocalist Josh Brewer, as well as drummer Liam Manley and bassist Myke Daniel.

ReAwakening by Dusks Embrace (album art)

The songs on this particular album blur the lines between genres, with a great progressive attitude. Opening number, “Harbinger”, has some really great electronic / industrial influences, while the second track, “With Cleansing Flames”, has some truly beautiful melodies that make me think of early Dream Theater or Porcupine Tree.  One of my favorite track son the album is probably “Reflections”, which strikes from some of the best guitar parts on the entire album, in my opinion. I love how the guitar blurs the lines between jazz and rock so seamlessly – showcasing great artistry and compositional talent.

Listen at:

https://dusksembrace.bandcamp.com/album/reawakening