Bonus: Virvum—Illuminance (2016)

Virvum—Illuminance (2016)

Virvum—Illuminance (2016)

Details

Mixed and mastered by C. Brandes at Iguana Studios. Drums recorded at S. Egli and Hardbeat Studios. Vocals recorded at R. Beier and Ashburn Productions. Released on 16 September 2016 as an independent release on Bandcamp.

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Band

  • Vocals—Bryan Berger
  • Guitars—Nic Gruhn
  • Guitars—Toby Koelman
  • Bass—Arran McSporran (session musician)
  • Drums—Diego Morenzoni

Tracks

  1. The cypher supreme
  2. Earthwork
  3. Illuminance
  4. Ad rigorem
  5. Tentacles of the sun
  6. Elemental shift
  7. I: A new journey awaits
  8. II: A final warming shine: ascension and trespassing

Review

Illuminance is the debut album from Swiss progressive death metal band Virvum, who hail from Zurich and it’s really rather good.

The album opens with instrumental The cypher supreme (track 1) which initially doesn’t seem to promise anything new. It begins with an intricate, chopping riff but then opens up into a harmonised passage that reminded me of something from early 90s Steve Vai or latter-day Devin Townsend. The instruments dance around one another, they swoop and vie for attention. The track ends with a chugging, proper old school death metal riff that wouldn’t seem out of place on an Obituary album.

Earthwork (track 2) introduces us to Berger’s vocals, which are – as you might expect – deep, and gruff, so-called ‘Cookie Monster’ vocals. But in places they are double-tracked with a more metalcore, shouty vocal. The song showcases their progressive leanings with avant garde solos, and a song structure that twists and turns. Curiously, it stops suddenly around four minutes in and plays out as an ambient introduction to the title track Illuminance (track 3).

Tentacles of the sun (track 5) is one of my favourite tracks on the album. It beings at breakneck speed and promises to be a fairly standard death metal track, with an interesting preces and response-style vocal. But around a minute in to the 4:54 song, things slow down. A fabulous bass run weaves around clean arpeggios, until even that slows to a trickle, before exploding to a luscious chord sequence. It sounds like how dawn should sound every morning.

The album closes with a pair of songs, I: A new journey awaits (track 7) and II: A final warming shine: ascension and trespassing (track 8). The new journey begins instrumentally. It is peaceful and regal, it is grand and pompous.

(Oddly, MusicBee reports that the song is 3:10 but it ends at 1:42 then leaps to 3:10 before moving to the next song.)

The final track is more of the same but draws on elements from track 7. Around three minutes in things slow down again, for what is quite a recognisable pattern. And then the build… Around 7 minutes in the song takes another meandering twist which plays itself out, but for a brief thematic return to the death metal vocals and thrashing of earlier.

Conclusion

I’ve listened to this album quite a bit over the last few months. So I’ve come to appreciate it rather well. While it’s not my favourite album of the year, it is rather good. It has a few really beautiful moments suspended in an opus of fairly stock progressive death metal. But it’s those beautiful moments that transform this album from being just another death metal album.

It’s hard when listening to the album that this is just Virvum’s debut offering. This is a band, I suspect, who are still finding their voice. I’m excited to see where they go next, because as a start this is a fabulous place from which to begin.

Review score: 85%

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Sonata Arctica—Ecliptica (1999)

Sonata Arctica—Ecliptica (2008)

Sonata Arctica—Ecliptica (2008)

Details

Recorded at Tico Tico Studio, by Ahti Kortelainen. Mixed by Mikko Karmila at Finnvox Studios and mastered by Mika Jussila at Finnvox Studios. This is the 2008 remastered edition.

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Band

  • Tony Kakko—Vocals and keyboards
  • Jani Liimatainen—Guitars
  • Janne Kivilahti—Bass
  • Tommy Portimo—Drums
  • Raisa Aine—Flute on “Letter to Dana”

Tracks

  1. Blank file
  2. My land
  3. 8th commandment
  4. Replica
  5. Kingdom for a heart
  6. Fullmoon
  7. Letter to Dana
  8. Unopened
  9. Picturing the past
  10. Destruction preventer
  11. Mary-Lou
  12. Letter to Dana (returned to sender)

Review

Sonata Arctica are a Finnish power metal band, from Kemi near the southern border with Sweden. This was their debut album; they have since released a further eight full-length albums including the 15th anniversary edition of Ecliptica in 2014.

This is very much a power metal album in the family of Helloween. It is boppy, it is poppy, it’s melodic with shredding guitar solos, and plentiful and fast chord changes, and soaring, high tenor vocals.

There is a youthful innocence and excitement about this album which gives it a certain charm.

For some reason the song “Letter to Dana” (which was apparently named after the X-Files character Dana Scully) feels like the centre-piece of the album, not least because the final track has a reworked version of the song which curiously omits the first two verses. “Dana, my darling, I’m writing to you / Cause your father passed away, it was a beautiful day / And I don’t want to bother You anymore / I used to hope you’d come back / But not anymore Dana.” It is a bittersweet tale of a lost love.

The album closes with “Mary-Lou” a strong rocker of a song, and the “returned to sender” version of “Letter to Dana”.

Conclusion

Did I mention that it reminds me of Helloween? It does. A lot. But without the silliness.

It will be interesting to see if I choose to listen to this album again. I rather like it but I don’t really listen to much Helloween these days, wheeling it out every now and then to relive wasted days in the prefect’s common room at high school!

Review score: 85%

Relentless / Ruin—Relentless / Ruin (2008)

Relentless / Ruin—Relentless / Ruin (2008)

Relentless / Ruin—Relentless / Ruin (2008) FRONT

Relentless / Ruin—Relentless / Ruin (2008)

Relentless / Ruin—Relentless / Ruin (2008) BACK

Details

Released on Relapse Records, 2008.

Ruin

Tracks 1–3 recorded in December 2006. Vocals, bass and drums recorded in Coldworker Studios by Anders Jakobson, Einar Magnusson and Tobhias Ljung. Guitars recorded at Studio Ülgnor by Johan Berglund, Daniel Schröder and Anders Bertilsson. Mixed and mastered at Unisound by Dan Swanö.

Tracks 4–6 recorded in December 2005. Vocals, bass and drums recorded in Kuml by Emil and Ruin. Guitars recorded at Studio Ülgnor by Johan Berglund, Daniel Schröder and Anders Bertilsson. Mixed and mastered at Unisound by Dan Swanö.

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Relentless

Tracks 7–9 recorded and mixed at Abyss between 23 and 24 July 2005 by Tommy Tagtgren and Relentless. Track 10 recorded and mixed at Musikhuset, Lindesberg 23 to 24 April 2005 by Rikard Löfgren and Relentless. Mastered at Unisound by Dan Swanö.

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Bands

Ruin

  • Einar Magnusson—Vocals and bass
  • Daniel Schröder—Guitar
  • Anders Bertilsson—Guitar
  • Tobhias Ljung—Drums

Relentless

  • Mattias Andersson—Vocals and guitar
  • Oskar Pålsson—Bass
  • Pär Svensson—Drums

Tracks

  1. Ruin—Welcome to insanity
  2. Ruin—The black angel
  3. Ruin—Tainted soul
  4. Ruin—Ruin the world
  5. Ruin—Insomnia
  6. Ruin—Falling down
  7. Relentless—This is where I burn them
  8. Relentless—Perish in blasphemy
  9. Relentless—Incarcerated
  10. Relentless—The suicidal dilemma

Review

A split album from two Swedish death metal outfits, Ruin and Relentless, with a 60/40 split in favour of the former in terms of quantity of material.

While Ruin have more of a European death metal vibe there is more than a touch of the Florida sound in there too, most notably echoes of Death and Obituary.

Ruin’s tracks are pretty solid, and hit the brutal level right from the start. “Welcome to insanity” (track 1) doesn’t begin particularly well, straight into the jangling-bags-of-cutlery pattern. But it soon shakes things up a bit and redeems itself by the end of its short 1′ 41″ duration.

The remaining five songs are better. The production is great, especially for what I believe are demos, with a tight, punchy but rich sound. “Tainted soul” (track 3) is fast paced and interesting with a haunting guitar solo about 2/3 of the way through, reminiscent of Obituary. “Insomnia” (track 5) has a very Leprosy-era Death feel to it. I love the bass sound in this song. And through this song and the next (“Falling down”) there are some fabulous rhythms. The dual guitars playing off one another is the latter song, too, is fun.

On my first few listens through I preferred the four remaining Relentless tracks. Having listened to this album a good few times now I think I’ve grown to appreciate the Ruin tracks equally.

I’ve read elsewhere that others hear a more US-thrash and death metal sound in Relentless, which is perhaps why I took to those more quickly. The production has a good bassy rasp to it. The vocals are also more ‘cookie monster’, deeper and more growling than Ruin, more akin to Opeth.

“This is where I burn them” has a very signature death metal riff to start off with. It then bludgeons itself neatly through the next 2′ 50″ with all the suitable twists and turns, thumps and bumps. And growling all the way.

“Perish in blasphemy” (track 8) opens with a pounding bass and drums riff. To be fair, if your death metal song starts off like that I’m not overly fussed what happens next. You’ve already won me over.

“Incarcerated” (track 9) is a nicely understated, medium-paced death metal song with a wicked riff about half way through that chugs along in a most pleasing manner.

Conclusion

This is one of those albums that does make me think that perhaps I ought to just spend a little more time with each disc before reviewing them. Because I started out not overly fond of Relentless (a word, incidentally, that I have used frequently to describe my experience of looking after infant twin boys) and now it’s one of my favourite albums of 2016.

Of course, on the other hand I could just be experiencing the album-equivalent of Stockholm syndrome. Which would be rather fitting for a Swedish death metal band.

Review score: 85%

 

Raise the Dead—Hymns of War (2005)

Raise the Dead—Hymns of War (2005)

Raise the Dead—Hymns of War (2005)

Details

Mixed, mastered and brutalized by Stu McKan and Jamie Graham. Recorded at Studio 6, Wooton Bassett, England. Released on Thirty Days of Night Records in 2005.

Band

  • Dean of the Dead—Vocals
  • Jamie Graham—Guitars and backing vocals
  • Khaled Lowe—Guitars and backing vocals
  • Chris Varnham—Bass
  • Chris Claydove—Drums

Tracks

  1. Prelude to war
  2. Zone of magical immunity
  3. Warcraft
  4. The curse of years
  5. Sea of dead souls
  6. Cloak of mist

Review

It feels like an age since I’ve mentioned CD packaging, so let’s start there. The front cover, as you can see from above, features a very beige-dominant mediaeval battle scene; assuming that the crusaders fought armies of skeletons. I wouldn’t be surprised if there was more than a little Tolkien influence here with his armies of the dead from The Lord of the Rings.

What I really like, though is the booklet which has the feel of a stylised Book of Kells, like an illuminated manuscript from the Middle Ages. The first five pages contain song lyrics, resplendent in a thankfully-readable Old English style typeface; the last page lists thanks.

Hymns of War in a mediaeval style

Hymns of War in a mediaeval style

Of course, the booklet looks more like a ye olde gospel than a hymn book but we’ll let that one pass. It does look fab and it’s nice to see the band putting in some thought about the packaging. It’s just a shame that (and this is obviously entirely subjective) the art quality in the cover doesn’t match that of the booklet. It would have been great to have the two tie-in much more than they do.

Anyway, it’s the music we’re really interested in.

Raise the Dead were a thrash / death / metalcore band from London/Peterborough between 2004 and 2006. They released only two records in their three years: a three-track demo, Famous Last Words, in September 2004 and this six track EP in December 2005. The only common track was “Warcraft”.

The album opens with an atmospheric track (“Prelude to war”) of monastic chant interrupted from time to time by peals of thunder and a continuously ringing bell. When the chanting ends, footsteps lead to a single note, more thunder and the gentle growl of who knows what monster.

“Zone of magical immunity” (track 2) is a fast paced death metal song. The guitars have a pleasing overdriven tone, double-kick drums underpin the rhythm and Dean of the Dead’s guttural vocals sound terrifically meaty—it’s not just uncontrolled screaming. There are certainly enough dynamics within the song to hold interest. It almost has a progressive metal feel to it.

“Warcraft” (track 3) offers more of the same, the whole song built around a very death metal lead guitar riff. Towards the end the track slows right down into an almost sludge metal-style riff. Curiously track 4, “The curse of years”, follows exactly the same recipe right down to the sludge style stomp towards the close.

“Sea of dead souls” (track 5) opens with a very Annihilator-style arpeggio riff that reappears throughout the song. Thankfully this song closes differently with a very Slayer-like screaming and diving solo: fast and tight right to the end.

The closing song, “Cloak of mist” (track 6) is perhaps the most death metal song on the EP, both musically and lyrically. It’s a study in hatred. “Hate is a strong word / but I feel it for you / I should have buried you in a ditch / the day you were born”.

“Cloak of mist” is probably the strongest song on the album and I can’t help wondering if it indicates the direction that Raise the Dead would have taken had they not split nearly ten years ago. Perhaps we’ll never know.

Conclusion

All in all, this was a pretty solid debut EP from a UK extreme metal band. I really can’t help feel anything but admiration for the band and the recording. It’s by no means perfect but it is pretty darn good none-the-less. They certainly showed promise. Wherever you are now guys, I raise a glass to you—I can’t quite manage raising the dead.

Review score: 85%

BONUS: Siderian—Cancel Your Future EP (2015)

Siderian—Cancel Your Future EP (2015)

Siderian—Cancel Your Future EP (2015)

Details

Siderian are Northamptonshire-based metal band formed in March 2015. Recorded, mixed and mastered by Neil Hudson at Initiate Audio and Media in July 2015. Released 18 September 2015.

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Band

Siderian

Siderian

  • Dave Pope—Vocals
  • Kyle Ainsworth—Guitar
  • Piotr Lukasik—Bass
  • Mike Wilson—Drums

Tracks

  1. (The) small house
  2. Reduced aisle
  3. Hell of a week
  4. Limb efficiency

Review

This EP was kindly sent to me for review back in September but as things were personally going south for me around that time this has sat in my email inbox until now. Which is a real shame because this is a pretty great EP from a new British metalcore band hailing from Northamptonshire, England.

The EP comprises four tracks recorded in July 2015 with Neil Hudson (Krysthla, ex-Gutworm) and to be honest it did take me a few listens to get into it, as I don’t really listen to much metalcore, but I’m really glad I put in the time. This is a very impressive EP.

“(The) small house” (track 1) kicks the EP off in quite an understated but none-the-less rather majestic way, taking about a minute to get going. Dave Pope sings in a typical gruff metalcore style somewhere between a growl and a scream.

“Reduced aisle” (track 2) opens with a single guitar riff, that is soon mirrored by bass as the kick drum keeps the beat. The song has a mid-pace stomp, slows right down to a ponderous guitar riff in the middle before building again to blast its way home.

“Hell of a week” (track 3) begins with a very punk-sounding chord progression hammered out on guitar. Bass and drums bounce along beneath it. This is one of the more melodic songs on the EP, probably the most catchiest.

“Limb efficiency” (track 4) has a driving groove that I imagine sounds killer live. I particularly like the dynamics of the song as it speeds up and slows down throughout, and I love the bass guitar sound which unpins the song and doesn’t get lost in the mix.

Conclusion

All in all a pretty solid debut performance from Siderian. It’s great to hear new British bands with such energy and drive and talent. More of this please…

Review score: 85%

Not Above Evil—The Transcendental Signified (2011)

Not Above Evil—The Transcendental Signified (2011)

Not Above Evil—The Transcendental Signified (2011)

Details

All music written, performed and produced by Not Above Evil. Engineered, mixed and mastered by Daniel Mucs. Released on independent label (self-release?) in September 2011.

Band

  • Sideeq Mohammed—Vocals, bass
  • David Gwynn—Guitar
  • Damien Levette—Guitar
  • Daniel Mucs—Drums

Tracks

  1. Crossroads
  2. Legion
  3. Capture the dawn
  4. Against the tides
  5. Nexus
  6. Death and transformation
  7. As the curtain falls
  8. The duel

Review

I’m glad I generally take two or three listens of an album before I review them, because it really took until my third or four listen through to really begin to appreciate the quality of this sophomore full-length release from Manchester melodic death metal band Not Above Evil.

The album clocks in at an old school 44 minutes 10 seconds—short enough to fit on a single side of a TDK D90 cassette! It doesn’t overstay its welcome, and if anything leaves you wanting more.

While there is nothing particularly inspiring or genre-changing about the album it is a solid album with some pretty decent musicianship, production and song writing.

Vocals are gruff and growly but they have some depth and don’t get in the way. The guitars have a melodic bite to them, the bass guitar sits back nicely in the mix and the drums cut through nicely.

It’s great to see such quality from an independent British release.

Conclusion

This is definitely a keeper for me. It took a few listens for it to finally grab my attention but I was rather preoccupied with other bits and pieces during my first few listens.

This is an album that I would seek out to listen to, not just not-skip-over if it came on random play. Good work Manchester metallers!

Review score: 85%

Manes—[view] extended play (2006)

Manes—[View] Extended Play

Manes—[View] Extended Play

Details

Tracks 1, 3, 5 and 6 recorded at Godt Selskap Studio, 2005. Remixes by Cordell Klier and DJ Don Tomasso. Limited to 999 copies. Produced by Manes. Mixed and mastered by Emil Sporsheim. Additional mixing by Rune Hoemsnes. Released February 2006 on Code666 Records.

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Band

  • Asgeir Hatlen—Vocals
  • Tor-Helge Skei—Guitars, Keyboards, Programming
  • Eivind Fjoseide—Guitars
  • Torstein Parelius—Bass
  • Rune Hoemsnes—Drums, Percussion
  • Tor-Arne Helgesen—Drums

Tracks

  1. cinder alley (16 horsepower cover)
  2. terminus rmx [DJ Don Tomaso remix]
  3. the neoflagellata revision
  4. terminus deconstructus [Cordell Klier remix]
  5. knife and kleenex
  6. title [“somewhat inspired by Duran Duran”]
  7. terminus dei profundus [Cordell Klier remix]

Review

Manes started life as a Norwegian black metal band in the 1990s. But to be fair, as far as I can see that’s an almost obligatory starting point for any rock band in Scandinavia. They evolved into what Wikipedia describes as “a hybrid of jazz, trip hop, electronica and metal with clean sung vocals and many progressive overtones.”

The EP opens with a cover of American alternative country band 16 Horsepower’s song “cinder alley”. I haven’t heard the original but I really like this cover, which doesn’t sound at all country. It has more of an alternative rock feel to it — think somewhere in the region of Smashing Pumpkins.

“terminus rmx” is a completely stripped down and remixed version of “Terminus a quo / terminus ad quem” from Volisophe (2003). Every ounce of metal has been removed by DJ Don Tomaso. It actually reminds me a lot of the Rockabye Baby remixes: laid back and gentle. I liked it, but not as much as the original, to be honest.

Next up is the first original track on the EP, “the neoflagellata revision”. It’s a bouncy electronic rock anthem. I really like how the simple keyboard melody weaves its way in and out of the guitars, drums and vocals, like a thread being sewn throughout a garment. About two minutes in the song opens out into a more dance track, that put me in mind of Killing Joke or Crowforce.

“Terminus a quo / terminus ad quem” is treated to another remix by Cordell Klier in “”terminus deconstructus”. This is an even bleaker version of the song. It could be the soundtrack to a post-apocalyptic nightmare.

Original track number two, “knife and kleenex” has quite a remixed Depeche Mode feel. It bounds along quite pleasantly, like a train carving through the countryside.

“Title” claims to be “somewhat inspired by Duran Duran”, which is exactly what I thought when I listened to it at first in my car. But like many of the other tracks, there is also a Depeche Mode feel to it — which isn’t surprising given the band’s use of guitars and keyboards. It’s a really good track.

“Terminus a quo / terminus ad quem” remix number three, “terminus dei profundus” also by Cordell Klier is little more than pops and crackles and white noise. It is a profoundly deconstructed metal song, reinterpreted as electronic noise. This is real pop music. It’s not an easy listen, but if you like it do pop it on after listening to The Second Annual Report of Throbbing Gristle (1977) and Mike Patton’s Adult Themes for Voice (1996)

Conclusion

This is a curious EP from Norwegian experimental band Manes. It touches a little on their past, reinterpreted by their present and offers something for the future.

If I was to listen to this EP regularly I expect that I would reorder the tracks: group the covers and new tracks and perhaps even hide the last one, which stands more as an example of art rather than listen-able music.

Review score: 85%