Spheric Universe Experience—Anima (2007)

Spheric Universe Experience—Anima (2007)

Spheric Universe Experience—Anima (2007)

Details

Recorded and mixed by Charles Massabo. Mastered by Tommy Hansen at Jailhouse Studios, Denmark. Drums and bass recorded at Coxinhell Studio, St-Aygulf, France (June to July 2006). Guitars, keyboards and vocals recorded at Kallaghan Studio, Vence, France (July to August 2006). Produced by Spheric Universe Experience.

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Band

  • Franck Garcia—Vocals
  • Vince Benaim—Guitars
  • John Drai—Bass
  • Fred Colombo—Keyboards and English voice on “Being” (track 2) and “The inner quest” (track 3)
  • Ranko Muller—Drums

Additional musicians

  • Ludovic Phiriet-Arcaleni—Italian voice on “Neptune’s revenge” (track 4)
  • Carmen López—Spanish voice on “World of madness” (track 6)
  • Yo Ishikawa—Japanese male voice on “Heal my pain” (track 8)
  • Aurélia Borg—Japanese female voice on “Heal my pain” (track 8)

Tracks

  1. Sceptic
  2. Being
  3. The inner quest
  4. Neptune’s revenge
  5. Stormy dome (instrumental)
  6. World of madness
  7. End of trauma
  8. Heal my pain
  9. Questions
  10. The key
  11. Black materia

Review

Anima is the second (of currently four) full-length album from French prog metallers Spheric Universe Experience (SUE).

Theirs is a very Dream Theater-influenced flavour of progressive metal, complete with soaring vocals, complex time signatures, retro keyboard flourishes, and John Petrucci-style guitar chops. Other than Franck Garcia’s vocals which are quite noticably not those of James LaBrie, on first listen you could easily be mistaken that you are listening to DT.

Curiously, this is one of the few French bands that I’ve heard who sing in English rather than French.

I’ve listened to this album a number of times now and I can’t really fault it: the songwriting is great, the songs are complex and beautifully performed, the production if first class. But… it just sounds so derivative. To my ear, there is little that makes Spheric Universe Experience stand out as much more than French Dream Theater Experience.

Conclusion

If you are a Dream Theater fan then there is a very good chance you will enjoy this album. I can’t help think that this could be something more. But as it is, it is still something rather good.

Review score: 80%

Scythian—Suffering to the Conquered demo (2007)

Scythian—Suffering to the Conquered demo (2007)

Scythian—Suffering to the Conquered demo (2007)

Details

Recorded and mixed by S. Vrath at Pulse and NLE Studios between7 December 2006 and 7 May 2007.

Encyclopaedia Metallum | Bandcamp

Band

  • S. Vrath—Vocals and bass guitar
  • A. Satyruss—Guitars
  • J. C. Volgard—Drums and backing vocals

Tracks

  1. Astral assassins
  2. Shattered idols
  3. Pray to war
  4. Spires to ashes
  5. Suffering the conquered
  6. Holocaust (Bathory cover)

Review

England isn’t particularly renowned for its death metal bands. Scythian appear to have come to put a stop to all of that. And to be fair, given that this is only their demo (they have since been signed to a label) they did a pretty decent job of it.

On Encyclopaedia Metallum this release received two reviews, both gave it 100%. What did I think about it, well, a little history first, I think.

The Scythians were a nomadic tribe of Iranian Eurasians who dominated the central European steppes (from modern Czech Republic in the west to central China and south Siberia in the east) from around the 9th to the first centuries BC. They were amongst the earliest peoples to master mounted warfare.

As a demo this is an impressive release. The production is great, it doesn’t sound too tinny (which is my biggest criticism about many a metal album), there is a depth to the sound and enough bass to get a sense of how powerful they might sound live.

“Astral assassins” (track 1) opens with an eerie soundscape for 50 seconds before launching into a fabulous double-kick-drum-led riff. However, no sooner had I uttered the words “Oh… I like that” out loud, the band hit the Tasmanian Devil button and they upped the pace and went all-out thrash-style mental on the track. They bring the pace back to that opening riff about three and a half minutes in, and that’s where I think they are best and the heaviest. I like fast, thrashy music. But in those few moments they sound heavier and nastier than almost anything I’ve ever heard.

“Shattered idols” (track 2). Ah, good! They’ve been listening. It opens with a doom-like riff that chugs away at the bottom end, and then… no! They’ve done it again. Someone has flicked the switch from 33 to 45 rpm. For the majority of the song, however, they play around riff that grinds away like some kind of underground drill boring through granite.

And so the rest of the demo goes with Scythian morphing from thrashing moments of breakneck speed to ponderously heavy moments of doom-laden riff upon bouncing doom-laden riff. The music sounds like a fusion of death, thrash, black and doom metal. And for the most part it really works.

The final track is a cover of black metal Bathory‘s “Holocaust” (from their Blood Fire Death album, 1988). It has an authentic early thrash/black metal production to it, which is nice, with the bass levels rolled back a bit.

Conclusion

Overall, I enjoyed this. It doesn’t quite the spot for me but there are some brilliant moments that genuinely made me smile when I heard them for the first time. I’d certainly be interested to check out their newer material on Bandcamp.

Review score: 80%

Joyless—Wild signs of the end times (2009)

Joyless—Wild signs of the end times (2009)

Joyless—Wild signs of the end times (2009)

Details

This CD contains the first recordings with Joyless, “more or less the metal years of the band, where Forgotten Woods turned into Joyless and Joyless turned from one thing into something else.”

Tracks 1–4 and 7 are taken from Unlimited Hate (1996); tracks 5, 6, and 8 are taken from the Blue in the Face EP (1999); track 9 is not listed in the booklet or on the cover.

Band

  • Thomas Torkelsen — Vocals
  • Reinhardt Toresen — Vocals
  • Olav Berland — Guitars, drums, backing vocals
  • Nylon — Guitars and harmonica
  • Rune Vedaa — Bass

Tracks

  1. (untitled)
  2. Your crystal fragments
  3. Blå melankoli
  4. Inherent emptiness
  5. Room of velvet splendour
  6. Swansmile
  7. (Don’t need) religion (Motörhead cover)
  8. Room of velvet splendour pt. 2
  9. Trilobite

Review

This album was not what I expected. And sometimes that turns out to be a good thing.

Encyclopaedia Metallum categorises Norwegian metallers Joyless as “Black Metal (early), Depressive Rock (later)”. But — at the risk of upsetting Mikael Åkerfeldt who lamented earlier this month that “the metal scene was so conservative” — this doesn’t sound like any black metal album that I’ve ever heard.

Wild signs of the endtimes is a compilation album comprising five tracks from their first album (which  itself contains some songs from Olav, Rune and Thomas’s days as Forgotten Woods), three from their Blue in the face EP (1999), and a surprise track that isn’t listed on the cover.

The opening track “[untitled]’ is a delicate, piano-led instrumental with a vibrato keyboard solo that carries the melody. It reminds me of the kind of music that accompanied 1970s public safety films. It is beautiful and oddly eerie all at once.

“Your crystal fragments” (track 2) has a very lo-fi sound that’s not too far from Pulp or other Britpop-era bands. It has a kind of modern-retro feel.

“Blå melankoli” (track 3) has a more typically metal tempo even if the guitars are not particularly overdriven.

“Inherent emptiness” (track 4) is very bass-heavy, and a world apart from the tracks before it: shouted vocals, and a melody that trundles along in the depths.

The following two tracks, “Room of velvet splendour” and “Swansmile” return to the retro/indie/Britpop sound. The latter is perhaps a little more catchy and features Nylon on harmonica.

Then it’s hair down again, gently nodding while staring at the floor, metalesque riff with a lot of bass in the mix: “(Don’t need) religion”.

“Room of velvet splendour, part 2” sounds like it could be incidental music for the original Italian Job film.

And then the mystery track, “Trilobite” (track 9) keeps the vibe firmly in the sixties with lo-fi guitars and vocals that sounds distorted but in the arty-rather-than-metal way.

Conclusion

All in all, I was surprised by this album. It’s not what I would class as black metal by any stretch of the imagination. But I rather liked it. There’s an honesty to it, and it was really rather fun in places. I could happily listen to this for some years to come.

Review score: 80%

The Howling Wind—Into the Cryosphere (2010)

The Howling Wind—Into the Cryosphere (2010)

The Howling Wind—Into the Cryosphere (2010)

Details

Recorded and mastered at the Thousand Caves by Colin Marston, February 2010, Queens, NY.

Band

  • Ryan Lipynsky—Vocals, Guitars, Bass
  • Tim Call—Drums

Tracks

  1. The seething wrath of a frigid soul
  2. Teeth of frost
  3. Obscured pyramid
  4. Ice cracking in the abyss
  5. Will is the only fire under an avalanche
  6. Impossible eternity
  7. A dead galaxy mirrored…

Review

Another week where I’m running hideously late. At 5 pm on Friday I start a three weeks’ vacation and in my wisdom I’ve packed too much into this week to compensate for 21 days of blissful rest. Anyway, enough with the excuses… and I’ll keep this short: it’s a school night.

The Howling Wind‘s album disappointingly doesn’t start with the sound of an actual howling wind. More a kind of traffic sound in an echo-y tunnel.

I’m sure I read somewhere that this was a black metal band. If that is so then they are surprisingly doomy. It reminds me quite a lot of early Paradise Lost. It has those big, fat, slow riffs. The songs chug away with a rather bass-heavy production which makes it difficult to listen to in the car but decent enough on my PC speakers.

There are some albums in this project, I’m sure I’ve said this before, that I find difficult to listen to—I have to force myself. This wasn’t one of them. I must have listened to this quite a few times over the last few weeks. I imagine I’ll listen to it again and not just on random play, it’s the kind of album I might go to look for.

Conclusion

A hastily written review that doesn’t do the album justice. Thankfully the music stands on its own merits.

Review score: 80%

 

Half Makeshift—Omen (2008)

Half Makeshift—Omen (2008)

Half Makeshift—Omen (2008)

Details

All instrumentalisation, recording, mixing and artwork by Nathan Michael. Mastered by James Plotkin. Thank you Nicholas, Chris, James, Marc, Adam, Jess and Earth. Released on Profound Lore Records, 2008.

Band

  • Nathan Michael—Everything

Tracks

  1. Omen I (15′ 27″)
  2. Omen II (12′ 12″)
  3. Omen III (11′ 01″)
  4. Omen IV (12′ 11″)

Review

This is a curious album. It is only four tracks long, but it still lasts over 50 minutes. The album packaging is quite surreal. It looks like a collage, drawing together retro images from, I guess, the 1950s or 1960s, alongside photographs and illustrations of human anatomy, and chess diagrams. And then there is next to no text on the packaging—nothing to do with the album, anyway. Anything that I’ve gleaned about the album or composer I’ve had to find elsewhere.

I tried to listen to the album at first in the car, but I couldn’t hear much above the rumble from the road.

Omen appears to be one piece of music, separated into four parts, sitting somewhere on the experimental / ambient / drone spectrum.

I’ve been searching for a word to sum it up, and I can’t get far beyond “devastating”. There’s a deep melancholia to the music, as it densely flows from one cinematic soundscape to the next. At times I felt as though I was drifting aimlessly on an ocean, beneath a heavy grey sky. It’s definitely not a piece of music to put on to cheer yourself up to.

And yet… having listened to it once and having come out the other end feeling utterly miserable, I just went back and started it again. And again. And I’m now on my fourth listen today. There is something mysteriously human about it; there is something about it that makes it oddly soothing and comforting while paradoxically making you also feel on edge. It’s like sitting down in your comfy fleece trackies and jumper, clutching a mug of hot chocolate to watch The Blair Witch Project.

The music itself is a mixture of guitar (clean and distorted), bass, drums, keyboards/piano, and various sounds, frequencies, waves and bursts of static. Passages are played backwards, and throughout there is a deep drone. Some passages flow, others like those in “Omen III” lurch adding to the jarring. It is simple but uneasy.

Conclusion

Half Makeshift appears to have been the project of Nathan Michael, who stopped recording music convinced that the world would end on 21 May 2011 (the birthday of Great King Rat, for any Queen fans out there; and the birthday of my grannie and her twin sister, for any members of my family out there). Omen then was his last recording: a requiem for the human race. If I’d known than before I might have kept this as the final album to review.

Like much modern choral music, this is a love-it or hate-it kind of album. I’m veering towards the love-it end of that particular spectrum, but I guess I’d need to be in the mood to listen to it. It’s just that mood will likely be depressed.

Review score: 80%

 

 

Gutworm—Ruin the Memory (2004)

Gutworm—Ruin the Memory (2004)

Gutworm—Ruin the Memory (2004)

Details

Produced by Greg Chandler and Gutwork. Engineered by Greg Chandler.  Recorded at Priory Recording Studios, Birmingham. Mastered by Denis Blackham at Skye Mastering Studios. Released on Anticulture Records, 2004.

Encyclopaedia Metallum

Band

  • Neil Hudson—Vocals
  • Lee Mason—Guitar
  • Noel Davis—Guitar
  • Carl Davis—Bass
  • Wayne Minney—Drums

Tracks

  1. What you are
  2. Loveless
  3. Below within
  4. Obscure devotion
  5. Saturate in sadness
  6. Sick inside
  7. Blind from truth
  8. Incineration
  9. Twisted
  10. Reborn

Review

It’s a shame that this now-defunct, UK-based death metal/metalcore band  only released two full-length albums (the second being 2007’s Disfigured Narcissus) in their 11 years together. This, their debut, certainly showed promise.

Everything from composition to production comes together nicely to create a solid, extreme metal album. The only thing that’s hard to stomach is the band’s name: Gutworm.

The vocals are gruff, but—as far as near-shouty vocals can—they blend well with the percussion. The guitars and drums complement one another nicely. With lots. Of. Stops and. Starts. Just the way I. Like it.

The band reminds me of Gorefest’s final album Rise to Ruin (2007) in places: it has the same bass-y feel and modern death metal sound. And in my book of metal, that’s a good thing. A very good thing indeed.

Conclusion

A short and sweet review, not least because I’ve got a million and one things to do this week. But this has been an easy album to listen to. File under easy listening? Perhaps not, but it’s great to hear a solid UK metal band. It’s just such a shame they split.

Review score: 80%

Diabolical Masquerade—The Phantom Lodge (1997)

Diabolical Masquerade—The Phantom Lodge (1996)

Diabolical Masquerade—The Phantom Lodge (1997)

Details

Produced by Dam Swanö with Blackheim. Captured with digital devices at Unisound Studio, September 1996. Mixed and engineered by Dam Swanö. Mastered at Cutting Room by Peter In De Betou. All music, lyrics and concepts written between 1995-1996. Released on Adipocere Records, 1997; re-released on Peaceville Records, 2007.

The band split in September 2004.

Website | MySpace

Band

  • Blackheim—Vocals; electric and acoustic guitars; bass; keyboards/FX; drum programming

Guest musicians

  • Sean C Bates—Drums and percussion
  • Ingmar Döhn—Bass on track #5
  • Marie Gaard Engberg—Flute on tracks #5 and #6
  • Roger Öberg—Vocals on track #1
  • Tina Sahlstedt—Flute on tracks #5 and #6
  • Dan Swanö—Additional programming and “heavy metal” vocals on track #7

Tracks

  1. Astray within the Coffinwood Mill
  2. The puzzling constellation of a deathrune
  3. Ravenclaw
  4. The walk of the hunchbacked
  5. Cloaked by the moonshine mist
  6. Across the open vault and away… (instrumental)
  7. Hater
  8. The blazing demondome of murmurs and secrecy
  9. Upon the salty wall of the broody gargoyle

Review

Another week, another Diabolical Masquerade album to review; and there’s another one coming up next week. I’m stuck in some kind of black metal Groundhog Day.

I have to admit that I got rather distracted this week, partly by work and a couple of web development projects I’m working on at home, but mostly—in terms of listening—by the new Steven Wilson album, Hand. Cannot. Erase, that was released on Monday. So this has been a largely in-car listening review.

I really liked last week’s album Ravendusk In My Heart so I was hoping for something similarly good, even if this was the difficult second album.

In many ways this is more of the same but unlike their debut I didn’t quite connect with this album. I know there is often a tension between fans wanting more of the same and bands wanting to develop, I can’t quite work out on which side of that argument this album lies. Perhaps it would take a few more listens before I fully appreciated it.

A few tracks stand out, though. “Ravenclaw” (track 3) has a kind of plodding mediaeval feel which is quite out of keeping with the rest of the album, but that does make it memorable.

“Across the open vault and away” (track 6) is quite a beautiful, acoustic instrumental. Why is it that metal bands can write such beautifully sweet melodies in a way that is absent from almost every other genre? (I’m not complaining.)

“Hater” (track 7) has a very old school thrash feel, with vocals that wander from King Diamond to Jeff Waters (Annihilator).

The final track “Upon the salty wall of the broody gargoyle” opens with a riff that could easily be early Celtic Frost, even the vocals are very Tom G Warrior—including a few ‘death grunts’. It’s quite brilliant.

Conclusion

Even though I didn’t get to spend as much time with the album as I would have liked, even just listening through it just now as I wrote this it still made me smile. Again, this is definitely a keeper. I look forward to listening to this and its older sibling back-to-back.

Review score: 80%