Ray Alder – “II”

Fates Warning Ray Alder returns with his second solo album, aptly titled “II.” It’s safe to say if you enjoyed his first solo album “What the Water Wants” or any of his latter day work with Fates, you will find plenty to enjoy here. He has the same cohorts as the first solo album on “II.” Fates touring guitarist Mike Abdow and Tony Hernando of Lords of Black co-wrote and played on their respective tracks. Craig Anderson does another great job on drums too.

It’s not a Fates album but with Ray’s voice, they certain have that same vibe. “II” might be a bit heavier and even darker than his previous work which was Ray’s goal. Most of the album was written with Abdow, though the three tracks that Hernando wrote the music for are all REALLY good.”Hands Of Time” and “Silence The Enemy” are both solid and melodic. The former has less of a power metal vibe than the material Hernando wrote for the first album. “Silence the Enemy” has a groove and a great chorus. While the closing track “Changes” is epic and easily my favorite song on either solo album. I make a point to reference the guitarists and their songs because there is a definite difference in style and approach.

As for Abdow’s share, the second single “Waiting for Some Sun” is a good song but the borderline djent riff on the verses is a bit annoying. The song has plenty of melody to cover for the overly angular riff. The opening song and first single “This Hollow Shell” is an excellent song. A slow building song with a big, powerful chorus. It’s a definite Fates-ish song. Nothing wrong with that. To prove the point that “II” is darker and heavier, the riff on “My Oblivion” is heavy as fuck. But it doesn’t lack melodies and hooks. A favorite track for sure. This one would translate well in a live setting. “Keep Wandering” is a low key burner of a song, not a ballad. It’s got a mood and vibe to it that sets it apart from the rest of the album, plus a great solo from Abdow.

Down side? “The Words I Bled” doesn’t quite land for me, a mid tempo number that doesn’t quite know which way to go. The next track “Passengers” is decent with a good riff but not only is it similar to the previous track, it’s actually the same exact length, 5:51. It’s definitely the better of the two. But the album is capped off well with the aforementioned “Changes” which has color and shade like any great Fates track would. This is great stuff right here and Ray sounds amazing. The chorus will have you singing along.

Like I said, if you are a Fates Warning fan, you will need to buy this album. If you are a fan of melodic prog metal, “II” stands on its own without needing Fates Warning to sell it. And how does Ray Alder still sound this amazing? Unbelievable. We might never get another Fates Warning album but for me, of all the side projects to emerge from band members lately, “II” stands above all of them.

Rating: 9/10

1. This Hollow Shell
2. My Oblivion
3. Hands Of Time
4. Waiting For Some Sun
5. Silence The Enemy
6. Keep Wandering
7. Those Words I Bled
8. Passengers
9. Changes

Label: Inside Out Music
Release Date: June 9, 2023

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Einar Solberg – “16”

There are artists who are so identifiable with their bands that it’s hard to separate their solo work from their band work. Singers fall into this category most frequently. Singers with voices as instantly recognizable as Einar Solberg of Leprous stand out that much more. “16” is Solberg’s debut solo album and if people didn’t know it was solo, they would definitely assume it was a Leprous album. BUT they’d also wonder why the band was taking so many chances.

On “16,” there are songs that would sit quite comfortably on a Leprous album and others that definitely show Solberg doing his own thing. With solo albums, I always wonder how many risks will be taken. There are a few to be sure. Perhaps the biggest one is the inclusion of rapping on the track “Home.” It’s a brave move. Does it work? It sounds a tad out of place but I do commend the effort. The title track is more acoustic and raw which is not something Leprous normally does either. But having Ihsahn guesting on the song “Splitting the Soul” adds to the Leprous atmosphere of that track, one of the ones I really like.

The lyrics through out “16” are very personal sounding which ties into the title. “It’s called 16 because that’s when the first really, really bad things started happening to me in life. From 16 to 19, there were a lot of very life-defining moments that happened to me, and that changed me,” Solberg says. “That’s when I kind of lost my innocence and I started realizing that life is serious and bad shit can happen. A lot of pretty drastic things happened within those three years. But this album is not only about the bad things. It’s also about some of the career-defining moments, like the moment I started playing with the band and began to find a community to belong to. Emotionally, I’m a bit of everything, so it covers the entire emotional spectrum!” And beyond the title track, songs like “Remember Me” and “Over the Top” really hit me on a lyrical level. You might not have lived his life, but often we all go through similar trials and tribulations.

There are quite a few guest appearance which is usually the case on a solo album. Calling in friends to give a hand is not unusual. Besides the aforementioned Ihsahn and the rapping by (apparently) Ben Levin, cellist Raphael Weinroth-Browne adds a nice touch to the tracks he is on and Vola’s Asger Mygind makes an appearance as well. The only thing I will say is that since Solberg has a VERY distinctive voice, it’s actually jarring to hear another more traditional voice singing with him. Does it work? I think I just need to get used to it. And that can actually be said for the album as a whole. “16” has a lot of textures, even on the more tender songs. It took me a few YEARS to love the album “Coal” and I feel like this album may be similar in that regard.

Fans of Leprous will find plenty to enjoy here. But for people not familiar with the band or Solberg, I don’t necessary think this is a jumping off point. This is NOT Leprous watered down. This is an artist taking any and every direction he wants including the paths he has been on previously. “16” is more symbolically like Steven Wilson’s “Insurgentes” in that you hear enough of the main band and enough of what makes the artist within the band.

Rating: 8/10

1. 16 (feat. Raphael Weinroth-Browne)
2.Remember Me
3.A Beautiful Life
4.Where All The Twigs Broke (feat. Star Of Ash)
5.Metacognitive (feat. Raphael Weinroth-Browne)
6.Home (feat. Ben Levin)
7.Blue Light (feat. Asger Mygind)
8.Grotto (feat. Magnus Børmark)
9.Splitting The Soul (feat. Ihsahn)
10.Over The Top
11.The Glass Is Empty (feat. Tóti Guðnason)

Label: Inside Out Music
Release Date: June 2, 2023

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Seven Impale – “Summit”

After six years, the very talented Norwegian band Seven Impale are back with their third full length album “Summit.” One reason for the delay is that their keyboardist Håkon Vinje joined Enslaved and has recorded 3 albums with them. Other members finished school and had kids. Life happens. The good news is that the band never broke up. They mix a very technical ability with a fondness for old school prog and jazz without sounding derivative. Quite an accomplishment in this day and age.

Soundwise they mix old King Crimson with Van der Graaf Generator with the jazz leanings of each. PLUS the band don’t shy away from metal either. With a member in Enslaved, why wouldn’t they incorporate that as well. Their first two albums were “City of the Sun” and “Contrapasso” with the former being a bit more prog and the latter being more jazz. I found “Contrapasso” to be a bit too overthought. “Summit” does a nice job of mixing their various influences. Previously things seemed more separated: this is the Crimson spot, this is the gentle prog slot and this is the jazzier part. They have had time to not only write 4 epic tracks but mature as writers and performers.

“Summit” is the sound of a band fulfilling its potential. Transitions are smoother and they still attack each song with the creativity they’ve always had! The album kicks off with “Hunter” which begins with Vinje on piano. A nice quiet start before he alludes to the oncoming onslaught. The power of Seven Impale unleashed. It’s got that slinky VDGG vibe. Eventually things go completely insane midway thru and then of course revert back. It’s a good reminder of everything this band is capable of. A lot.

Next is “Hydra” which has a more wide open feel to it. “Hunter” being more…malevolent. “Hydra” has a great groove to it which is of course bound to go on a tangent. Spoiler alert. It does. It has some really cool parts but does keep finding its groove. A great track. The first song released from the album is “Ikaros.” The song is bombastic and heavy, and quite vast sounding. It’s an interesting choice as the song the band chose to release since it might be the most complex and downright perplexing at times. But then, that’s Seven Impale. The album closes with “Sisyphos” which vocally reminds me of Vulture Industries. The use of static in the track, while commendable, is one of the misses for me. It’s a bit annoying. But overall, this is a good close to an epic album.

The good thing about Seven Impale is they have one foot in modern day prog and the other one firmly in the classic prog world. This is a band that should appeal to fans who want to be challenged by their prog. Seven Impale have never written music to be popular or played on any radio. “Summit” is the sound of a young band arriving at their current creative summit and having a look around. Time to scale the sonic mountain with them!

Rating: 8.5/10

Label: Karisma Records
Release Date: May 26, 2023

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Ihsahn – “Fascination Street Sessions” EP

After back to back EPs, Ihsahn is back again…with another EP. This three song set is similar to the previous ones in that it has original songs and a cover track. “Fascination Street Sessions” stem from a collaboration with URM Academy who also filmed these sessions. It’s a study in music production, from demo to the final mix. An interesting idea for sure but I really just want good music. Producer Jens Bogren of Fascination Street Studios was the obvious choice to take part in these sessions since he is someone Ihsahn has worked with and a legend in the metal community.

The hard part here is that it’s a 3 song, 15 minute EP. After 2 EPs, I am ready for a full length. But that’s really my only criticism. The two original songs touch the two distinct sides of Ihsahn. The melodic and the harsh. “The Observer” opens the EP and represents the more melodic side of Ihsahn with the vocals provided by keyboardist Øystein Aadland, who has a GREAT voice. I really like Ihsahn’s clean vocals but I’ve read he has never liked his own clean vocals. This is why there are often guest vocalists. It’s a song that will please his more prog fans who might have issues with his black metal side.

The second track covers that area with Ihsahn using his patented wretched wail on the aptly titled “Contorted Moments.” While this is certainly not as bleak as Emperor, it would be at home on some of his earlier solo albums. Very solid track. The EP finishes with a cover of a song and band that I don’t know about. The song is called “Dom Andra” and it was done by the Swedish band Kent. Guest vocals are by Jonas Renske of Katatonia who does a great job as always. I love his voice so if Ihsahn was going to get a guest vocalist, this works well for me.

The production and mix by Bogren is flawless as usual. The instrumentation is all organic. They purposefully used vintage gear as part of this project and I love that as well. This brief EP is a nice return from a very talented musician. “Fascination Street Sessions” make for a nice introduction to the music of Ihsahn for those who have never heard him before. For those of us who have, it’s good to hear more music.

Label: Candlelight
Release Date: 24 March 2023

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The trouble with opinions…

A big part of this site has been reviews. Reviews are just opinions but more over, they are opinions at a specific point in time. Opinions can change over time, but reviews are in theory chiseled in stone. That’s one reason I am not keen on doing reviews. I have gone back to my past reviews and there were some glowing reviews of albums that I have NO recollection of what they even sound like. That’s a problem. Bands have come back and said “hey you liked our last album so how about another review?” I have no clue that I reviewed it. So I go back and re-listen to the album aaaaaaaand I have no clue why I liked it.

That puts everyone in a very awkward state. Initially I thought I’d be into certain albums forever, but they don’t hold up. In fact, very few albums comparatively really “hold up.” So for me to go around saying every other album is great is just being silly. While I like helping bands out, it’s actually NOT why I started the facebook page. It wasn’t about the bands, it was about fellow music listeners. My perspective was that I reasonably recommend new music to someone or just remind them of music they forgot they have. “Hey, check this out.” That was it.

Music has an ebb and flow so sometimes you are really into listening to prog death metal. Then the next week, you don’t want a harsh vocal. Variety has always been what makes music great. While this site and FB page are listed as “progressive,” for me it’s a wide range. Plus I find people seem to like similar bands as I do, so if I stray from the hard definition of “prog,” most people understand where I am coming from. It’s about taste or opinion.

So today I edited my Enslaved review because my opinion of it had changed. I noticed in the original review that I was struggling with but I figured that I’d get into it. It didn’t happen so I thought “why not change the review?” I added to it. Maybe no one really cares but I liked the honesty involved. I felt bad being disappointed in that album. And that’s how important music is to me, and the bands that I love. Anyway, I was inspired to throw out some ideas here. Reviews aren’t easy when you are overly analytical.

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Enslaved – “Heimdal” UPDATED

UPDATED: I decided to add to this review, something I probably should do more often. With music such as this, initial impressions are sometimes different from the opinion developed after a few listens. As I alluded to in the review below, “Heimdal” is a tough album. This is still true but the problems are much more apparent now. The album lacks the quintessential hooks and power that I am used to with Enslaved. The songs sound like jigsaw puzzles, except that pieces don’t fit or are missing altogether.

I love this band so of course they can do whatever they feel. Unfortunately, I can’t figure out what they feel. There are parts that seem to work and others that just happen without impact. Nothing is that memorable at this point. “Forest Dweller” is probably the closest track to catchy and even that has an awkward transition in it. Enslaved have always had a lot going on musically but “Heimdal” sounds like the unrefined version before the band distills it down to something better. It’s tough to even admit that.

All in all, I am very disappointed in “Heimdal” currently. I’ve decided to set it aside and revisit it in the future. Perhaps it will be less thorny then. Or it’s just a misstep and they are certainly entitled to that. It does bother me because I really pushed hard to like this album. For now, I just don’t…

Original Review:

Enslaved is one of my favorite bands so reviewing any of their releases definitely comes with a very heavy bias. They are a VERY consistent band. Album to album, they just deliver. And this is even with various lineup changes. The new album “Heimdal” finds them with the same lineup as their last album “Utgard.” However, this album is not really the same as that one. If anything, the heavier parts on “Heimdal” rival any of their heaviest moments. “Utgard” had a more melodic tone to it.

This doesn’t mean that “Heimdal” doesn’t have plenty of epic melodic moments. They are always countered by plenty of pounding passages. The lead track “Behind the Mirror” starts out with a boat on the water and the sound of a horn blowing loudly. The vikings are coming. And the song itself is both abrasive and still sweeping. The second track “Congelia” is about as intense as Enslaved have ever been. Then you have songs like “Forest Dweller” and “Kingdom” that have sonic counterpoints. The heavy parts make the melodic parts sound even more melodic.

It’s cool that they included “Caravans To The Outer Worlds” on the album (it was released on an EP previously) and it fits both the sound and concept of the album perfectly. The bonus track “Gangandi” like the rest of the album has a lot going on musically and instrumentally. Enslaved have always had a ton of musical layers to their songs but there is a LOT going on here. I find myself saying “wait, what was that?” a lot. The title track closes out the album in typical epic fashion. It’s a heavy track but even the synths are heavy! And then it just goes off.

The band sound amazing. I definitely think they keep improving vocally. Grutle is still spitting venom like he always has and has lost nothing with his harsh vocals. And the addition of drummer Iver Sandøy and his clean vocals is still a masterstroke. He can SING. And yes he’s a great drummer too. This allows keyboardist Håkon Vinje to be his backing vocalist, a role he is better fit for. This is why this could be the band’s strongest lineup yet.

How good is “Heimdal”? This is a good question. Usually I know right away how much I love an Enslaved album. “Heimdal” isn’t making it that easy which I actually like, it will take many more listens to figure out everything that is going on here. “Heimdal” is complex, brutal, beautiful and NOT a simple listen. This is a challenge that all Enslaved fans will be up for. It’s awesome that Enslaved are still able to surprise the listener and push the envelope of progressive metal.

Label: Nuclear Blast
Release Date: 3 March 2023
Bandcamp: https://enslaved.bandcamp.com/album/heimdal

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Haken – “Fauna”

Perhaps this is where Haken and I part ways. While their new album “Fauna” will receive a ton of glowing reviews and be welcomed by their fans, it’s more weeds than actual flowers. The first three songs are singles released ahead of the album and each had some potential to them but each have the band fighting against things they do well. Why? I really don’t know. So my hope going in was that maybe these were outliers. Maybe the rest of the album was more like the Haken I liked in the past. Then again, this might just be how they are now. The theme is fauna so each song is based on an animal. A cool idea but how good are the songs?

“Taurus” has obnoxious djent riffing that derails it from the start. “Nightingale” start off SO good before it sounds like the band decided to ruin a good song with random riffs. “The Alphabet of Me” is pure gimmicks in the guise of a song. “Sempiternal Beings” is akin to “Nightingale” in that there is a good song that the band adds way too many random heavy riffs to. And what I mean by that is, these are cool complex riffs but lacking in hooks. They sound cool but after a while, you get lost in what the song was supposed to be. And it just continues, “Beneath the White Rainbow” has some great melodies in the verse and great potential. But Haken can’t help but djent it to the ground. The mid-section is very cool but sounds like it was shoehorned into the song to make sure it was considered “prog.”

“Island in the Clouds” is slick and synthy but sounds good…by the middle it’s no longer the same song. It’s like they forgot what they were doing. By the time “Lovebite” comes along, I am just waiting for it to fail. It’s the best track to this point but that could be more a case of being so disappointed to this point. The “oh-way-oh” parts are silly and pointless, but the chorus is awesome and more like what they are capable of. Still, it’s no where near the quality of anything off of “The Mountain” or “Affinity.” Then comes the lone epic “Elephants Never Forget” which clocks in at over 11 minutes. They are back to showcasing their love of Gentle Giant on the verse. While it’s obvious, they are good at it so I can’t be mad at that at all. It’s of course very over the top but I think with more space in a longer track, Haken don’t have to rush to get every single idea at the listener all at once. This track is the saving grace of “Fauna.” Not enough for me. “Eyes of Ebony” closes out the album. And it starts out really cool. But will they sabotage it? A bit yes. The section at 2:30 sounds like a different song. A poor segue and a very tedious part, before it almost wanders back to where it should be. And then the awkward djent riffs. Oh well.

This is a band that could use a top line producer to take them to the next level. They can PLAY. That’s never been an issue. Self indulgence is great in prog if it makes sense and doesn’t sound like a band trying to show off or just lose the listener. That’s where Haken are now. They used to let the song breath. Now they jam so much shit into each one, they lose their impact. There is too much hitting the listener over the head. But like I say, this will go down well with fans that just like complex riffs with great vocals. I prefer giving a song a chance. Do some weeding, guys. There are some actual flowers in here.

Rating: incomplete. There are good parts but too many not so good ones.
Label: InsideOut Music
Release Date: 3 March 2023

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Riverside – “ID.Entity”

I don’t really write reviews unless somehow I am motivated. I am motivated in this case because Riverside is back. I mean really back. Following the death of guitarist Piotr Grudziński in 2016, it was unclear how or even IF Riverside would continue. The band initially decided to proceed as a trio with guest guitarists assisting them. This seemed like a tentative step forward but made sense for sure.

In 2018, they released “Wasteland” which just didn’t click with me. They clearly missed Grudziński and his sense of melody. The guitar work was mostly handled by Mariusz Duda and it was good but they were like a car with only three wheels. Even current guitarist Maciej Meller’s solos didn’t really fit. But he was subsequently asked to join the band. I wasn’t sure it would work but thankfully it has. The new album “ID.Entity” shows that the band has indeed gelled and Meller is the right person for the job.

Musically this sounds more like classic Riverside to me. Think a mix of “Second Life Syndrome” and perhaps “Rapid Eye Movement.” The album looks at how technology is taking over our lives and musically it’s more aggressive than “Wasteland.” The band sound more confident as well. The songs are just a strong batch. When the first two singles are the last two songs on the album, you know this is a VERY strong album musically. Both the heavy “I’m Done With You” and the closing track “Self-Aware” are killer. The latter is much longer on the album which needs to be heard. A great ending.

“Friend or Foe?” leads the album off and sounds different than really anything they have done and I love the track for that reason. But by the time the second song “Landmine Blast” it sounds like the aforementioned classic Riverside. The opening voice on “Big Tech Brother” is annoying but the song makes up for that. That’s probably the only downside of the whole album. “ID.Entity” has a timely (and intelligent) theme running thru it lyrically and this is some of the best variety of music that Riverside have ever done. There’s something for every Riverside fan on this album.

Rating: 9/10
Label: Inside Out Music
Release Date: 20 January 2023

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My Top 10 of 2022

Here are my 10 favorite studio albums of 2022 (in order):

  1. Elder –  “Innate Passage”
  2. Umphrey’s McGee – “Asking For a Friend”
  3. Threshold – “Dividing Lines”
  4. Tedeschi Trucks Band – “I Am The Moon: I-IV”
  5. Tangerine Dream – “Raum”
  6. Porcupine Tree – “Closure / Continuation”
  7. …And You Will Know Us By the Trail of Dead – “X: Bleed Here Now”
  8. The Gathering – “Beautiful Distortion”
  9. Voivod – “Synchro Anarchy”
  10. Devin Townsend – “Lightwork”
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My top studio album of 2022 is the new album by Elder, “Innate Passage.” Highest possible recommendation. This band just gets stronger and stronger.

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