Vitral – “Entre as Estrelas”

capa FB e web newsBrazilian prog band Vitral are very good at what they do. What they do might not be considered “reinventing prog” but that’s okay with me. They play a very decidedly classic style of prog which is heavily influenced by British prog and Rock Progressivo Italiano. So you will hear such influences as ELP, Tull, Yes, PFM and perhaps even Camel.

“Entre as Estrelas” has only 3 songs on it and clocks in around 64 minutes. However, the title track alone is 52 minutes long! This means the other two tracks are somewhat short in comparison, 7 minutes and 5 minutes set aside for those. What’s fascinating is that the songs were composed back in 1983 and 1985 (except for a part of the title track). The songs finally were recorded in 2016 and 2017, proving how timeless prog rock is.

“Pétala de Sangue” kicks the album off and has plenty of organ and flute. It sounds like Keith Emerson and Ian Anderson jamming with Yes in 1971. The other shorter track is named for the band, “Vitral.” It’s a dreamy number with plenty of flute that would have made Ray Thomas proud. The track closes with a big, slow bit of bombast. This leaves the middle track of the album, the massive title track. Honestly, this song really could have been the album by itself. It really doesn’t need the other two songs at all.

This is not to take anything away from those songs but “Entre as Estrelas” is a huge prog epic. It’s grand in it’s entrance and makes for a wild journey. You will hear plenty of ELP, Tull and even very early Kansas. Like the other 2 tracks, it’s all instrumental. This is a band that is so good at what they do and play, vocals would probably take away from the overall quality of the music. And that’s very high quality indeed.

Yes, “Entre as Estrelas” is a lot to take in both as a song and an album. But this is true progressive rock played by a band that understands the music and LIVES it. This is not an estimation of what prog is which I hear too often. You are going to feel like you’ve been transported back to 1973. Some would argue that’s regressive. I would argue that is playing the music as it was meant to be played. Vitral do it as well as anyone has.

Rating: 9/10

1. Pétala de Sangue 6:49
2. Entre as Estrelas 52:22
3. Vitral 5:12

Label: Masque Records
Facebook: www.facebook.com/bandavitral

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Rank ‘Em: Fates Warning studio albums

It’s been a while since I’ve done one of these. I was reminded by Luke Henson of that, so here’s my rank ’em for the mighty Fates Warning. The criteria is no greatest hits albums, no EPs and no live albums. There is one slight caveat on this list. The Arch/Matheos album, to me, is a Fates Warning album so it’s on the list. The lineup is all current or former FW members and it sounds like them. So here’s the list:

 

13. Night on Bröcken (1984)
12. The Spectre Within (1985)
The first two albums are good (and I know John Arch fans will be pissed off) but they are far from great. Each have signs of what the band would become. I love the band’s energy more than the output. These are always at the bottom for me.

 

11. FWX (2004)
10. Inside Out (1994)
These two suffer from the same problem for me, a lack of energy. Each album has some GREAT songs but also some average ones. In both cases, it sounds like a band that was rather tired and going through the motions. Each album signaled the end for some members of the band so I think the discontent shows on each album. Each can move up a slot or two.

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9. Darkness in a Different Light (2013)
There are some fantastic songs on this album! “O Chloroform” is one of my favorite Fates songs. The problem is the mix and mastering are lacking. The album has no punch at all. They fixed the issue on the next album “Theories of Flight” by getting Jens Bogren to mix it. Maybe have him remix this one?

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8. No Exit (1988)
There are plenty of classic songs on “No Exit” but there are some iffy ones. I’ve never thought “Anarchy Divine” was any good. Plus Ray Alder’s voice was rather rough at this point. This one can move up a slot but no more.

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7. Perfect Symmetry (1989)
What a difference a year made! Ray sounds so much better on this one. The songs are much tighter as well. This one can move up a slot or two for me from time to time.

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6. Arch/Matheos – Sympathetic Resonance (2011)
This for me is a Fates album. Honestly I think it’s every bit as good as “Awaken the Guardian.” The two can flip spots. The songs on this one are stellar and John Arch sounds better than ever.

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5. Awaken the Guardian (1986)
A classic album for sure. It showed how far the band could come by their third album. This one never gets any higher for me than number 5. It can drop as low as 8 though. I figured I’d better give it my highest rating or Arch fans would hunt me down.

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4. Parallels (1991)
There’s not a weak song on this one. This album SHOULD have made Fates Warning huge. Some might knock it for it’s pop sensibility but who doesn’t want to sing along with the songs on this album. It can go as high as number 2.

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3. Theories of Flight (2016)
This is the album I had been waiting for Fates to make. It really showcases everything that they can and have done over the years. Great songs, GREAT mix. But I can’t place it higher than 3.

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2. Disconnected (2000)
This might be a surprise to some but the longer tracks on this album are some of my favorite Fates songs. It has Kevin Moore on it. Enough said. It goes no lower than 3 but usually it’s a strong number 2.

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1. A Pleasant Shade of Gray (1997)
Easily my favorite Fates Warning album. There is no contest. This is one of my favorite albums by ANYONE. Love the songs, love the reuse of themes, love Terry Brown’s production and of course…Kevin Moore.

So there you have it. This is my ranking for Fates Warning. How did I do? What does your list look like?

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Black Neon District – “Standing Waves”

BLDDjent as a genre has pretty much exhausted itself. At least that’s what I think and then a band will come along that channels djent in a new, fresher way. VOLA was one of those bands. Letters From The Colony are another of those bands. Desperse are reinventing it as well. And now France’s Black Neon District are another one of those bands but they use djent more as an accent to their music.

The band take the melodic approach that VOLA is currently championing and attempt their own spin on that. So it comes down to the songs, as it should. When you are playing this style of prog metal (or really ANY style of prog for that matter), the band has to be able to play. Black Neon District can certainly play. But they don’t fall prey to overplaying like bands like Animals as Leaders or Periphery tend to do. Their debut EP “Standing Waves” has more hooks than both of those bands combined.

The EP kicks off with “Emergence” which has some EXCELLENT vocals and strong harmonies. The band mix in some great riffs and just enough technical moves to let you know they are good. “Resurgence” is next up and it has a bit more openness to it than the first track. Together they show that Black Neon District can write a song. That is the key to what Black Neon District are about, the SONGS! It helps that lead vocalist Maxime Cuillerat has an outstanding voice!

“Seclusion” has an outstanding groove to it. It’s also yet another great sounding song. By this point, you’re wondering if they are going to slip up. That’s what I was wondering but “Ghost Line” is as strong as the previous tracks with a KILLER bass line AND bass sound…and the chorus is great! The song reminds me a little of Dead Letter Circus. The EP was recorded, mixed and mastered by Jean-François di Rienzo who deserves a mention here for just how great this whole thing sounds.

“Smattering Entities” closes out the EP with probably the trickiest guitar riff on the EP. At first, I assumed Black Neon District would finally give in and just overplay. Nope! The song has plenty of great parts but the melodies win out yet again. I think the band can only get better considering that this is their debut. I expect even bigger hooks and better songs on their next release. Let’s all hope there is one!

Rating: 8.5/10

Tracklist:

1. Emergence 05:57
2. Resurgence 05:01
3. Seclusion 05:38
4. Ghost Line 05:53
5. Smattering Entities 06:39

Bandcamp: blackneondistrict.bandcamp.com
Facebook: www.facebook.com/BlackNeonDistrict

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Letters From The Colony – “Vignette”

Letters From The Colony - Vignette - ArtworkIt would be easy to just lump Letters From The Colony in the djent category with their Swedish countrymen Meshuggah. But Letters From The Colony only use some djent as part of their overall extreme metal/progressive metal sound. There are more influences at play on their debut album “Vignette,” an album that has been many years in the making.

When listening to Letters From The Colony, there are elements of tech metal like Fallujah and also the groove prog metal approach of bands like Gojira. But none of these influences, including that of OLDER Meshuggah (think: “Destroy Erase Improve”), ever dominate their music enough to be derivative of those bands. The second track “Erasing Contrast” has dashes of djent along with a jazzy Meshuggah like solo. While the amazing opening track “Galax” merges atmosphere with great riffs and an incredible closing solo that none of the bands mentioned have done.

The riffs on “The Final Warning” do have enough meat to be a Meshuggah riff. Vocalist Alexander Backlund has a great death vocal style. He does sound more like Jens Kidman but not a copy of him. Next, “This Creature Will Haunt Us Forever” represents an brief, peaceful instrumental reprieve from the onslaught. “Cataclysm” reminded me that I should mention the band Kataklysm as one of the minor influences on Letters From The Colony. The song veers from a midtempo groove to an over the top blast beat that would make Kataklysm fans happy.

“Terminus” has a massive low end to it with ethereal guitar lines over the top, which makes for a nice juxtaposition. The harmonics and riffs on the song remind me a bit of Gojira. The riffs on “Sunwise” are also Gojira like. The album closes with the 12 minute epic title track which is the perfect climax to the album, plus it highlights everything the band do well. Wait for the solo 4 minutes in! AMAZING TRACK!

The band started out 8 years ago and have battled lineup change after lineup change. Finally, they have their debut album out with “Vignette” and it’s a stellar piece of work. Hopefully, the band will continue to make great music and also evolve as they do. Letters From The Colony may not have invented their own brand of prog metal but they have all the ingredients for something quite tasty.

Rating: 9/10

Tracklist:
1. Galax
2. Erasing Contrast
3. The Final Warning
4. This Creature Will Haunt Us Forever
5. Cataclysm
6. Terminus
7. Glass Palaces
8. Sunwise
9. Vignette

Label: Nuclear Blast Records
Release Date: 16 February 2018
Facebook: www.facebook.com/lettersfromthecolony

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Usurpress – “Interregnum”

UsurpressI passed on reviewing the last Usurpress album “The Regal Tribe” and it’s one of those times that when I did pass, I knew I had fucked up. My excuse at the time was that I was buried in reviews so I had to pass on some albums that I might not have previously. When I saw the press release for the new album “Interregnum,” there was NO WAY I was going to pass again. And that was a good call on my part.

Usurpress have one foot in the classic 70s prog rock era and the other foot in the mid 90s raw death metal era. This makes for a fascinating combination. You might say they are like Opeth but that’s not exactly the case. Maybe if you took the last few Opeth albums and merged them with the FIRST two Opeth albums, you might be closer to what Usupress are about.

The band added jazz drummer Stefan Hildman and keyboardist Erik Sundström to the recording sessions and each play a MAJOR part in what makes “Interregnum” such a great album. The songs are more complex at times and have a ton more atmosphere. The opening track “A Place in the Pantheon” does have spoken word which as everyone knows I don’t like. Yet, it doesn’t sound cheesy at all. In fact, vocalist Stefan Pettersson delivers it with such darkness that when coupled with Sundström’s keyboards, it’s a great track.

Tracks like “In Books Without Pages,” “Ships of Black Glass” and “The Iron Gates Are Melting” all have a firm grasp on prog rock while keeping true to the band’s death metal roots. It’s funny because I wouldn’t exactly call this progressive metal. It’s like a death metal band doing prog or even a prog rock band doing death metal.

The press release said “an unholy mix between Camel and Bolt Thrower” but I don’t really hear either of those bands specifically. But it gives you an idea of the disparate influences at play here. Yes I went back and BOUGHT “The Regal Tribe” since I fucked up by not reviewing it. Don’t make the mistake I did and miss out on Usurpress, this time or any other. If you like something unique (which can be hard to find these days), you need to give “Interregnum” a listen.

Rating: 9/10

Tracklist:
1. A Place in the Pantheon
2. Interregnum
3. In Books Without Pages
4. Late in the 11th Hour
5. Ships of Black Glass (I: Shards, II: Black Echo)
6. The Iron Gates Are Melting
7. The Vagrant Harlot

Label: Agonia Records
23 February 2018
Bandcamp: agoniarecords.bandcamp.com/album/interregnum
Facebook: www.facebook.com/Usurpress

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The Atlas Moth – “Coma Noir”

478973The Atlas Moth are one of those bands that there are times I really like and other times I wonder if I am out of my mind for listening to them. They are heavy and very much along the lines of Neurosis and even Cult of Luna, two bands that I love. I’ve distilled the “problem” I have to guitarist Stavros Giannopoulos’s shrieking. I love death vocals as much as anyone but Giannopoulos has an atonal scream that can get monotonous.

What complicates things for me is that guitarist David Kush handles the clean vocals so well. Together they sound great and even if they split the vocals, it’s quite good. The problem is that there are times that the screaming is overdone. Musically, “Coma Noir” is outstanding. The Atlas Moth know how to write a great riff and I love their use of synths to add texture to the music. BUT, as on the title track Giannopoulos screams like his hand is stuck in a car door. He can definitely scream his head off. Sometimes it’s a bit too much in the front of the mix maybe?

Things sound more balanced on “Galactic Brain” which works out so much better for me; it’s a great track. “The Streets of Bombay” has a solid vocal balance but even more atmosphere thanks to keys from Andrew Ragin. A great track for sure. The use of an effect on Giannopoulos’ voice on the first part “Smiling Knife” is a great idea because it makes the screaming later on the track have a greater impact. An excellent move by producer Sanford Parker, who really brings out the best in the band throughout the album.

At first, I wasn’t overly thrilled with “Coma Noir.” I am not convinced it’s a big enough leap from their last album “The Old Believer.” That album had more of a psychedelic feel to it while “Coma Noir” turns up the intensity even more. I do think that The Atlas Moth have a masterpiece in them based on the talent and musical output to this point. Unfortunately, “Coma Noir” is not that masterpiece.

Rating: 7/10

Tracklist:

1. Coma Noir
2. Last Transmission From The Late, Great Planet Earth
3. Galactic Brain
4. The Streets of Bombay
5. Actual Human Blood
6. Smiling Knife
7. Furious Gold
8. The Frozen Crown
9. Chloroform

Label: Prosthetic Records
Release Date: 9 February 2018
Facebook: www.facebook.com/theatlasmothband
Bandcamp: theatlasmoth.bandcamp.com/album/coma-noir-2

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Howling Sycamore – “Howling Sycamore”

Howling Sycamore.3000x3000Just when you thought all the great band names have been taken, along comes supergroup Howling Sycamore! When I learned that the band was made up of former Watchtower vocalist Jason McMaster and ex-Obscura drummer Hannes Grossmann, I couldn’t wait to hear this album! Much of the credit for this album goes to guitarist Davide Tiso, who had the idea to put this band together.

Tiso is an INCREDIBLE guitarist and writer. The songs on Howling Sycamore’s self titled debut are fucking insane. This meant that McMaster would need to be equal to the task when it came to his vocals. This is his best recorded effort ever. He goes from classic prog metal vocals to sounding like a raving madman, and it’s amazing! Grossmann is one of the best drummers on the planet and he uses plenty of his patented blast beats along with plenty of technical moves.

The songs are jaw dropping to say the least. Adding to this mix are some special guests including Bruce Lamont from Brain Tentacles whose sax playing on the incredible opener “Upended” and the next track “Obstinate Pace” serve notice that this is quite avant-garde. If you are looking for subtlety, you are pretty much out of luck. The instrumental closer “Dysphoria” is about as “peaceful” as things get and that is still quite uncomfortable.

I cannot believe that I almost missed out on this album! I do get a lot of things to review and thankfully Prosthetic Records contacted me again to reconnect. This is picture perfect extreme progressive metal. It takes the modern extreme approach that Grossmann is known for and adds in the more classic extreme approach that McMaster is known for to create something that is legitimately fresh and new. The self titled debut from Howling Sycamore is a definite candidate for album of the year for me and HOPEFULLY not the last we hear from this supergroup!

Rating: 10/10

Tracklist:

  1. Upended
  2. Obstinate Pace
  3. Let Fall
  4. Intermezzo
  5. Midway
  6. Chant of Stillness
  7. Descent to Light
  8. Dysphoria

Label: Prosthetic Records
Release Date: 26 January 2018
Facebook: www.facebook.com/howlingsycamore
Bandcamp: howlingsycamore.bandcamp.com

Posted in atmospheric metal, avant garde, extreme metal, progressive metal | Tagged | 2 Comments