Koen Herfst – “Leo”

KOEN HERFST_LEO_ALBUMCOVERI am not familiar at all with Koen or any of his previous work, but when I was asked if I wanted to review it, I gave it a listen and immediately jumped on it. A move I partially regretted due to the heavy subject matter at play here. Leo is a progressive metal “rock opera” about the death of Koen’s father and as such, the lyrical content can get emotionally draining. But that is not to say it is not worth it. It is! And it is a bit more than progressive metal. It is very much a prog metal meets industrial beast.

And there are some impressive guests here as well. You have a solo appearance by Jordan Rudess on one track. You have Marcela Bovio providing backing vocals throughout along with Harrison Young (The Cards). And you have Anneke van Giersbergen playing the part of the mother. Now, I think this is the first time I have heard Anneke’s voice as part of an industrial tinged project, but it definitely works. And Merijn Van Haren (Navarone) playing Leo. Other guests included here: Rob van der Loo (Epica) on bass, Ben Mathot (Ayreon) with a violin solo, and guitar solos from: Paul Quinn (Saxon), Ruud Jolie (Within Temptation), Jord Otto (VUUR), Mendel Bij de Leij (Ex-Aborted).

And I can’t go any further without mentioning that this album was mixed and mastered by the great Dan Swanö! Impressive line up! Let’s see how it plays out.

KOEN HERFST - LIVE2_photo by Arjan Vermeer

We start things off with July 20th 1984 and immediately I am surprised by the chugging, slow, industrial onslaught this track brings. And then surprised again to be greeted by Anneke right off the bat here too. A great contrast to the harsh vocals. But it isn’t all slow. There is a ripping, galloping part that takes off and keeps the track interesting.

Dream Away is next and here I am realizing that Koen seems to be fond of that Devin Townsend “wall o sound”, and uses it to great effect here. This is almost a ballad, but it is heavy. And the song seems to be from the perspective of the father with the realization they won’t see their loved ones again. A very difficult song, but well done. Noting here that lyrics would have been helpful with the promo.

A kickass drum intro leads us into some more heavy “wall o sound” in Realization of the Inevitable. Noting here that the vocalists on this album are a great fit.  And speaking of vocalists, Coffin and Carriage is a kick ass instrumental with lots of pounding drums and chugging guitars.

Bereaved is yet another great song, with Anneke. I dig this one but the vocal line that repeats what the harsh vocals recite don’t gel with me. Like a lazy singing style. I think it’s Koen? I don’t know. I’m sure it’s just me. The rest of the song is great.

Saying Your Name Out Loud has more of that industrial onslaught/devy style “wall o sound”. Here, the vocalist that had the style that kind of annoyed me on the last song has a much better delivery. Kind of giving me a VAST vibe. Really liking this.

D(e)ad starts off very creepy, with the sounds of off kilter percussion and then continues the full on chugging industrial onslaught with vocals that very much reminds me of Brainchild era Circle of Dust (does anyone besides me get this reference?). The instrumental section later in this track just RIPS!!!! I can’t get enough of it.

Now we get a more straight up prog metal song on here in I See Myself. And it has a nice big choir to boot!

Are you out there? slows things down a little for a moment but then kicks in again with that heavy chugging riffage that just grabs me. One of the more spiritually searching songs on this album. Is there someone out there watching over us. There at all?

Simple Life is a short and simple track (makes sense). But utterly brutal. A dying person’s plea for more time. God, this album is difficult to get through.

Almost to the end and we get a small sampling of the piano playing of Leo himself, in the track aptly titled: Leo. Very nice touch to honor the man.

All We Have is Now is an interesting contrast. Starting with the guttural sounds of vocals from hell, followed by a chorus that has Anneke and Marcela. So, it becomes heavenly. And just like that, we’re done. Great way to close out this emotionally draining album.

Like I said, this is a beast of an album to get through, both in the sheer metal onslaught and the extremely heavy subject matter at hand. I have been putting off doing this review due to all of this. Taking notes here and there as I listened to the album many times over the past month or so. But I will say it is worth it. And I will always listen to something with Anneke and Marcela. So, there is that too.

Give it a listen if you like brutally intense lyrics accompanied by brutal, at times, music. This is Koen’s second album and he has said it is the first he wrote on his own. His first album having been written with other musicians. I need to listen to that first album but I will say I am perfectly happy with him writing solo.

Rating: 9/10

Tracklist:

1. July 20, 1984 (5:52)
2. Dream Away (5:11)
3. Realization of the Inevitable (5:53)
4. Coffin & Carriage (4:03)
5. Bereaved (4:53)
6. Saying Your Name Out Loud (4:21)
7. D(e)ad (6:56)
8. I See Myself (4:16)
9. Are You Out There Somewhere? (6:41)
10. Simple Life (1:48)
11. Leo (8:55)
12. All We Have is Now (5:30)

 

Release Date: Out now (came out on July 14th)
Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/koenherfst/

Website:  http://www.koenherfst.com/leo-koen-herfst

Bandcamp:  https://koenherfst.bandcamp.com/album/leo

 

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