If this song is anything to go by, then I’m really looking forward to the new Awooga album, released on Friday 20 April 2018.
Written and performed by Goya. Recorded at Tremolo Recording Studio, Staffordshire, England, UK. Mixed by Dan Rowley and Goya. Mastered by Sam Taylor. Artwork by Sam Taylor. Released 8 December 2017.
- Jason Kester—Guitar
- Sam Taylor—Bass
- Mark Connolly—Drums
- Collider (4:02)
- Venenatus (13:05)
- Ashoka (7:39)
- Kathmandu (7:35)
I’ve been sitting on a number of releases for the last few months while the craziness of my personal life gently explodes around me. In a moment of relative calm I decided to take a listen to this EP, released by Goya a couple of months ago.
Flippin’ ‘eck it’s good! So good, in fact, that I’ve listened to it at least eight times in the last few weeks.
Goya are a three-piece instrumental group from Stoke-on-Trent in the Midlands (England, UK) and Kathmandu is their first EP. It’s what guitarist Jase Kester describes as the band’s “initial musical statement”. And what a statement! Not least that the whole EP was recorded live, with all three musicians interacting with one another in the same room. There is no substitute for such chemistry.
“We’ve tried to take all the things that we love about rock—the riffs, rhythms and sounds, the building blocks and devices—strip away some things that we feel have become clichés of the genre, in an attempt to create ‘absolute music’,” he said in an interview.
The idea of absolute music—or abstract music—developed at the end of the the 18th century. It’s the idea that music is not explicitly about anything, and that “instrumental music transcends other arts and languages to become the discourse of a ‘higher realm'”. It was the belief that music could be more emotionally powerful and stimulating without words.
“Collider” (track 1) is built around two riffs that seem to call and answer one another. It’s a bouncy, upbeat song that you can’t but nod along to. It’s a simple post-rock track that kicks things off nicely but it doesn’t give too much away of what is to come.
“Venenatus” (track 2) which is Latin for venomous is a 13-minute epic. It may not be poisonous but it’s definitely infectious. The track opens with a delicate guitar piece that playfully rises and falls like a children’s piano piece. Then about a minute in (see the video below) it changes direction completely into a crushingly heavy, doom-laden riff that slices its way through the next few minutes before returning to its delicate roots.
The track seemingly has a life of its own. From its fragile, pseudo-classical intro, through the Sabbath-like darkness, the stark bass and drums-only section, to a decidedly up-tempo movement, a section of feedback, and an acoustic outro that was entirely improvised during the recording session. It’s a prog-lover’s dream.
“Ashoka” (track 3) is built around a simple three-note riff that evolves and revolves around a bass heartbeat. The track has both a sense of urgency and mournfulness. Around six and a half minutes in, the music gradually slows and dissolves into distortion and white noise.
The final and title track “Kathmandu” (track 4) brings the EP to a beautiful conclusion. It begins in a quiet, contemplative way; it sounds how I imagine it would be to hear the sun rising in the morning. A few minutes in a bass line drives the song through a few twists and turns until the rather distinctive outro in 6/4 time.
This is a really beautifully crafted EP. It has something for everyone: fragile and delicate guitar, thundering bass lines, crushing doom-filled riffs. This is absolute music—bring your own meaning—and it is absolutely gorgeous. The music speaks to me regardless of my mood: at times invigorating, at times mournful.
In places it reminds me of early Amplifier (a very good thing), and Shutter (a former prog/post rock style band from Inverness); but it always sounds vibrant and… well, without trying to be too pretentious, human. There is an honesty about this music that somehow makes it feel like it’s been the soundtrack to my life that I’ve not heard until now.
If this is Goya’s “initial musical statement”, I am all ears for whatever comes next.
Review score: 98%
The new album Emperor of Sand (2017) from Atlanta, Georgia progressive metallers Mastodon is scheduled for release later this week (Friday 31 March).
So far they have released two tracks on Mastodon’s YouTube channel: “Andromeda” (above) and “Sultan’s Curse” (below).
So far, there hasn’t been a Mastodon album that I haven’t loved. So my hopes are up for this being another classic.
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.
- Vocals—Bryan Berger
- Guitars—Nic Gruhn
- Guitars—Toby Koelman
- Bass—Arran McSporran (session musician)
- Drums—Diego Morenzoni
- The cypher supreme
- Ad rigorem
- Tentacles of the sun
- Elemental shift
- I: A new journey awaits
- II: A final warming shine: ascension and trespassing
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.
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%
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.
- 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
- 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)
- The inner quest
- Neptune’s revenge
- Stormy dome (instrumental)
- World of madness
- End of trauma
- Heal my pain
- The key
- Black materia
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.
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%
Recorded by Michal Kacunel and Tomasz Gajewski at Sia Accoustics, New York City. Mixed by Pawel Marciniak at Manximum Studio, Lodz, Poland. Mastered by Alan Silverman at Arf! Digital, New York City. Released on Black Current Music, 2009.
- Maciej Kupiszewski—Vocals and rhythm guitars
- Michal Kacunel—Clean vocals and lead guitar
- Jakub Kupiszewski—Bass
- Adam Romanowski—Drums
- New setting
- Thawing innocence
- Stare into the sun
- Canvas for departure
My second (and final) Gwynbleidd recording to review in as many weeks.
First off: the artwork and packaging is brilliant. Travis Smith at Seem Pieces has done an amazing job. It’s earthy and dark, reminding me of some of the early Opeth artwork. The booklet continues in the same vein, with grainy photographs with lyrics printed over the top of them in white, typeset in a scratchy handwriting font.
This album follows the path of the first two tracks on Amaranthine (2006), which took a more death/black metal path (compared with the folk-metal offerings that made up the rest of that EP).
And it’s good: the songs twist and turn in a suitably progressive way, without becoming predictable or clichéd. The album opens with a re-recording of “Nostalgia” from the Amaranthine EP. The following track on that EP, “New settings”, also appears in a re-recorded form at track three. The rest of the album contains, as far as I can tell, new material.
The production on this album is great, which makes such a difference to an album. The guitars are powerful and meaty, with a fine crunch. The bass cuts through the mix, between guitars and drums.
In my opinion this is a much, much better recording than Amaranthine, but then by 2009 the band had about three years more experience, and the songs have had time to breathe and develop.
Track five, “Adrift” is the shortest on the album, at 2′ 45″. It’s mostly acoustic guitar, with a twiddly guitar solo over the top of it.
But it’s back to distortion and growling vocals for “Thawing innocence” and beyond. Though each song (in a true prog death metal way) transitions between dark and light, distorted and clean.
The final track “Canvas for departure” gradually grinds to an irregular, and mildly chaotic standstill to close the album.
I really like this album. It’s well written, well played, and the songs seem to discover themselves, naturally cutting a path that uncovers beautiful clean arpeggios alongside full-out death metal riffs.
I guess if you’re really upset that Opeth have taken a left turn into 70s-inspired prog rock, and you’re in need of a fix of good old fashioned progressive death/black metal then turn your sights on Gwynbleidd. Though, to be honest, you currently only have this album and the Amaranthine EP to chose from, and this album far outclasses the latter.
Review score: 95%
Recorded with Ka on Luna Sun at DMD Studios, Brooklyn, NY. Mixed by Michael Kacunel and Maciek Miernok at Galicja Studios, Brooklyn, NY. Mastered by Alan Silverman at Arf! Digital, New York, NY. Released on 6 June 2006 as an independent release.
- Maciej Kupiszewski—Vocals and guitars
- Michal Kacunel—Vocals and guitars
- Jakub Kupiszewski—Bass
- Adam Romanowski—Drums
- Nostalgia (10′ 54″)
- New setting (9′ 45″)
- The awakening (9′ 51″)
- Lure of the land (9′ 12″)
The EP opener “Nostalgia” beings with a clean guitar, quite pretty, almost folk-y sounding riff, that gradually sounds more and more sour before it transitions into a distorted riff and the growling vocals begin.
And this being progressive death metal, the song then grumbles on for another nine minutes, twisting and turning, starting and stopping, delighting and surprising.
About seven and a half minutes in, the guitars are clean again for another folk-y, almost Gregorian chant-style passage. And a minute later we’re back on the train, and treated to a slightly uncomfortable sounding (in a good way!) guitar solo.
“New setting”, track 2, opens with a slow, doom-like riff, that reminds me a little of Paradise Lost. This song seems to have a little less variation than its predecessor, or perhaps it’s that they wait until about a minute before the end before the clean passage.
By now, on my first listen, I was already comparing Gwynbleidd (Welsh for ‘wolf blood’) to Opeth with their mixture of heavy and clean riffs. But these guys have a decidedly folk metal slant. This is even more evident on the next track.
“The awakening”, track 3, starts with a strong, driving riff. The vocals surface quite unexpectedly about 90 seconds in. A proper folk-y riff played on what sounds like a nylon-string acoustic guitar, with accompanying bodhran-style drums and a flute.
And at nine minutes and 51 seconds, the song just cuts off.
The final track, “Lure of the land” follows a similar path. It opens with an acoustic, strummed chord sequence before it’s overtaken by the same riff on electric guitars. Vocals growl into view around 1′ 45″.
Throughout the song, amidst the distorted riffs, like clearings in a dark forest, there are clean passages. In places folk metal, in places mediaeval-sounding—like Opeth once were when they imagined they were lute-playing minstrels.
Around 7′ 20″ the song slows to a dirge. Out of which is reclaimed the original riff for a minute or two. Until fade to black…
For an EP it’s pretty long, with none of the four songs dipping below nine minutes, firmly placing it in the progressive camp. While this EP didn’t exactly set me on fire, I did enjoy it. Parallels can be made in places to Opeth, but that’s perhaps inevitable given its genre.
I have another Gwynbleidd album coming up this week, that actually includes the first two tracks from this EP. So it will be interesting to hear how that compares.
In the meantime, I think this is definitely a keeper.
Review score: 68%