Mastodon—’Emperor of Sand’ released on Friday 31 March 2017

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.

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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%

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.

Encyclopedia Metallum | Facebook | Website

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%

Gwynbleidd—Nostalgia (2009)

Gwynbleidd—Nostalgia (2009)

Gwynbleidd—Nostalgia (2009)

Details

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.

Band

  • Maciej Kupiszewski—Vocals and rhythm guitars
  • Michal Kacunel—Clean vocals and lead guitar
  • Jakub Kupiszewski—Bass
  • Adam Romanowski—Drums

Tracks

  1. Nostalgia
  2. Egress
  3. New setting
  4. Stormcalling
  5. Adrift
  6. Thawing innocence
  7. Stare into the sun
  8. Canvas for departure

Review

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.

Conclusion

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%

Gwynbleidd—Amaranthine EP (2006)

Gwynbleidd—Amaranthine EP (2006)

Gwynbleidd—Amaranthine EP (2006)

Details

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.

Facebook | MySpace | Encyclopaedia Metallum

Band

  • Maciej Kupiszewski—Vocals and guitars
  • Michal Kacunel—Vocals and guitars
  • Jakub Kupiszewski—Bass
  • Adam Romanowski—Drums

Tracks

  1. Nostalgia (10′ 54″)
  2. New setting (9′ 45″)
  3. The awakening (9′ 51″)
  4. Lure of the land (9′ 12″)

Review

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…

Conclusion

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%

Detrimentum—Embracing this Deformity (2008)

Detrimentum—Embracing this Deformity (2008)

Detrimentum—Embracing this Deformity (2008)

Details

Drums, percussion and vocals recorded at The Lodge Studios, Northampton. All guitars and bass recorded by Paul at Dominus Studios, Milton Keynes. Mixed and mastered by Ed Shackleton and Derimentum at Antithesis Audio. Released on Grindethic Records, 4 February 2008.

www.detrimentum.co.uk | Twitter | Facebook | YouTube

Band

  • Eddie—Vocals, bass
  • Jon B—Guitars
  • Paul—Guitars
  • Jon R—Drums and percussion

Tracks

  1. Scalestomeasurethemisfortuneofman
  2. Disillusion ethos (of torment and my bleeding shadow)
  3. Blood simple
  4. Dark eye
  5. The flesh elemental
  6. Born to bleed (losing myself to silence)
  7. Negativity flux
  8. Ills to which the flesh is heir
  9. The contusions of remorse
  10. Twilight’s slow attrition

Review

My late father used to tell me a tale of when he was an engineering apprentice. His mum would kindly make him a packed lunch each day, part of which was a Thermos® flask of hot soup. He conversation with him mum would go something like this:

“Keith, what kind of soup do you like?”

“Oh, I like most soups, thanks mum.”

“But is there one in particular?”

“I like them all… like, erm… minestrone.”

And so for the next two months my grandmother would prepare flask of minestrone soup for his packed lunch, until he could take it no more.

“Mum! It’s not just minestrone soup that I like. I also like other soups. Like chicken soup.”

And so for the next two months he’d get nothing but chicken soup in his packed lunch flask.

The reason that I’m telling you this is that I’m pretty sure Derimentum had a similar conversation about metal:

“So, how do you like your metal?”

“Aw, you know: fast and brutal.”

And so that is all this album is: raw, brutal noise. It sounds like a pneumatic drill stuck inside a washing machine on the spin cycle, next to a machine gun nest mid-battle.

Thereisnospacetobreathe.Thereisjustaconstantwallofnoise.Itisunrelentingandconstant.Anditgoesonandonandonandonlikethatforfiftyoneminutes.

By track three I realised that this was track three. On most albums this is not a revelation; on this one I honestly thought it was still on the first track. There was no discernible difference.

In a few places there is something that you might almost call a guitar solo. It threads itself through the barrage of sound and stands out as the only element in the song not trying to rattle itself to pieces. But the rest is just unrelenting and brutal.

It’s the space around the forest that lets you see the forest. It’s the sea around the land that defines the shape of the island. Music needs space in order to define the shape of the songs, enable you to appreciate the dynamics, in order you to move you and touch you.

This moves you… but in the same way that being hit by a juggernaut might.

Conclusion

This was another album that I wanted to like. Another UK extreme metal band. But… and it’s a big but… there was nothing to hold on to. This wall of granite gave me no sharp edges to hold on to and admire the view from. This wall of granite just smacked into me and pushed me out of the way.

I can score it on the production and the musicianship—I may not have liked it but I can appreciate the skill required to play drums at 200 bpm (or however insanely fast he was playing). But the music… I’m sorry.

Review score: 20%

Cynic—Focus (1993)

Cynic—Focus (1993)

Cynic—Focus (1993)

Details

Produced by Cynic and Scott Burns. Engineered and mixed by Scott Burns. Recorded and mixed at Morrisound Recording, Tampa, Florida. Released on Roadrunner, 14 September 1993.

http://cyniconline.com

Band

  • Paul Masvidal—Vocals and guitars
  • Jason Gobel—Guitars
  • Sean Malone—Bass (inc. fretless bass)
  • Tony Teegarden—Keyboards and death growls
  • Sean Reinert—Drums
  • (Sonia Otey—Vocals)

Tracks

  1. Veil of Maya
  2. Celestial voyage
  3. The eagle nature
  4. Sentiment
  5. I’m but a wave to…
  6. Uroboric forms
  7. Textures
  8. How could I

Review

With both guitarist/vocalist Paul Masvidal and drummer Sean Reinert former members of Chuck Schuldiner’s Death when they recorded the seminal album Human (1991) I had an expectation of what this album was going to sound like. How wrong I was.

Don’t get me wrong, there are definite hints of Florida death metal sprinkled throughout Focus but this is more Death meets Devin Townsend meets King Crimson and Dream Theater. It’s technical-progressive-death metal.

The songs twist and turn, hardly settling for a moment into any kind of groove. One moment they are slow and clean, the next dark and overdriven. Masvidal’s vocals at times sound like they’ve been processed through a vocoder. Keyboardist Teegarden adds his death growls now and then for good measure.

Production-wise this album is very much of the era. The production on track three, “The Eagle Nature” has a moment around 1′ 50″ that reminded me of “The demise of history” from Sabbat’s 1991 album Mourning Has Broken (1991). In recent years metal albums have gotten bassier and punchier. This album sounds quite top-heavy and weak in comparison with say the latest albums from Lamb of God, Machine Head or Testament.

There’s an uncomfortableness to this collection of songs, as though the melodies are hanging on by their fingernails ready at any moment to fall into dissonance. Coupled with the continual time changes this isn’t a particularly easy album to listen to.

Conclusion

My overarching feeling is that I want to like this album more than I do. And yet each time I listen to it I get drawn in. It’s an album that demands that you pay attention or… wait for it… focus. This is nothing if not an interesting record. There’s something there for everyone: blues, rock, metal, death metal, jazz, prog… and yet, well, I’m not surprised the record company had a difficult time finding the right market for this album.

This is the kind of album I don’t think I’ll go searching out to play over the next few months but if I stumbled on it via shuffle I wouldn’t switch it off.

Review score: 65%

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