Flying Colors – “Third Degree”

162473Rock supergroup Flying Colors have returned with their aptly titled third album, “Third Degree” which is their first in 5 years. The band is still made up of guitar god Steve Morse, his bassist buddy Dave LaRue, keyboardist/vocalist Neal Morse, drummer Mike Portnoy and singer Casey McPherson. The band has definitely found their sound on this album. The first album was more rock and alt rock while “Second Nature” was far more prog rock.

“Third Degree” as a little of each but is more concerned about a great song and melody. Even the two longer track still have great hooks. How catchy are the songs” I have the chorus and main riff of “More” in my head now and it won’t leave. And that’s not even the best song on the album! It might be the majestic “Cadence” or the poppy “Love Letter.” The great ballad “You Are Not Alone” is another one. Still it’s hard to deny the closing epic “Crawl.” So yes, this is an album of great songs.

Of course the musicianship is insane. Steve’s solo on “Cadence” is killer. Dave’s bass solo on “Guardian” is RIDICULOUS. And both sound incredible on “Last Train Home” along with killer synth work by Neal. But the only slip up on the whole album comes on that track when Neal takes over on lead vocals. He decides it’s time to practice his alliteration and he just really overdoes it. Lyrically the album is pretty damn good so that part is a shame. It’s goofy and fortunately easy to ignore.

Props to Mike as well who never overplays which can be his forte from time to time. That’s not to say that he doesn’t play his ass off, it’s just that it seems to FIT the song each time. Casey also sounds great on vocals throughout. He never overdoes his Jeff Buckley-isms. The harmonies on the album are also great and I don’t really notice Mike’s vocals so he is blending in better. This is probably thanks to those last few Neal Morse Band albums. Great vocals there too.

“Third Degree” is the album that I’ve wanted from Flying Colors. Yes I like both of the first two but there was always a track here or there that didn’t quite measure up. That’s not the case here. “Third Degree” is an album that when it finishes, you want to hear it again. It doesn’t get much better than that. It’s easily one of my favorite albums of 2019.

Rating: 9.5/10

Tracklist:

1. The Loss Inside
2. More
3. Cadence
4. Guardian
5. Last Train Home
6. Geronimo
7. You Are Not Alone
8. Love Letter
9. Crawl

Label: Music Theories Recordings
Release Date: 4 October 2019

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Goatess – “Blood and Wine”

024241There’s something so nice about falling down the Bandcamp rabbit hole and coming out with several new bands to listen to. Goatess was one of those discoveries, so when Rob approached me about reviewing their latest album, it was an immediate yes.

Dark, fuzzy, and full of ear-tantalizing goodness, “Blood and Wine” is the latest release by the Swedish doom/stoner outfit. While it might not be a trailblazer in the doom stoner field, it falls perfectly in line with their previous two releases. Walking a well worn trail, but is inviting like a warm embrace of howling vocals, thick guitar sounds, heavy bass, and entrancing drums. Some of the vocal layering reminds me of Queens of the Stone Age, which is a good thing in my opinion. I’ve always enjoyed the echoing calls in the right situations. Interwoven at times is a lovely distortion on the guitar reminiscent of older metal or dark-psych music. Black Sabbath-ish, you could say.

The album itself is fantastic, do not get me wrong. Like I said before, it’s like a warm embrace. Something that you can listen to that’s familiar but new at the same time. Forget the world for a good hour or so. Lose yourself in a haze of fuzz, sacrifices, old gods, and heavy riffs. If you’re looking for some trailblazing release that branches off into unfamiliar territory, then just sit back and chill for a moment. Enjoy what “Blood and Wine” has to offer regardless.

Rating: 9/10

Tracklist:
1. Goddess
2. Dead City
3. What Lies Beneath
4. Black Iron Mark
5. Dark Days
6. Dunerider
7. Jupiter Rising
8. Stampede
9. Blood and Wine

Released on: 27th September, 2019
Label: Svart Records

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Rob’s Recommendation Roundup: Volume 15

 

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Borknagar – “True North”
Label: Century Media
Release Date: 27 September 2019

Borknagar should be much more popular than they currently are. For me, they are every bit as talented musically as Opeth. While Opeth has steered more toward a progressive rock sound, Borknagar have veered more into progressive metal. Yes they have a black metal streak to them because that’s how they got started but like Enslaved, they use the black metal harsh vocals as a piece of a much bigger puzzle.

They have been on a roll over the course of their last few albums with each one topping the last one. “True North” continues that trend. It’s not wildly better than their last masterpiece “Winter Thrice” but it’s close. The big change has been long time vocalist Andreas Hedlund a/k/a Vintersorg leaving the band. The good news is that Borknagar still has 2 more singers left! ICS Vortex takes over the bulk of the vocals, including the harsh vocals and I love his clean vocals so this really works for me!

The album kicks off with “Thunderous” which is an 8 1/2 minute ripper of a song. It’s a great showcase of what Borknagar is all about. But it’s the second song “Up North” that blows me away. It’s like Deep Purple on steroids. Lars A. Nedland’s organ would make Jon Lord proud. “The Fire That Burns” was the first single and shows the dynamics that Borknagar are great at. Powerhouse riffs, howling harsh vocals matched with tons of melody.

Another favorite of mine is “Wild Father’s Heart” which is essentially a prog metal ballad with some of the most heartfelt lyrics and melodies that the band has ever done. “Mount Rapture” follows it and snaps you back into reality. Yet another powerful track with a solid groove and a vastness that the band is known for. It’s fucking huge. Borknagar has done it again. “True North” is another masterpiece by a band that makes a habit out of incredible music.

 

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Insomnium – “Heart Like a Grave”
Label: Century Media
Release Date: 4 October 2019

Topping an album like “Winter’s Gate” is something very tough to do. Insomnium raised the bar with that 40 minute long song/album. Granted something that insanely epic was not going to be for everyone but it was a masterpiece for me. “Heart Like a Grave” is not “Winter’s Gate Part II,” but it does have many moments that would not sound out of place on their last album.

The album’s key tracks are the epic “Pale Morning Star,” “And Bells They Toll” and the title track. Each are longer and decidedly more progressive. But for those that prefer when Insomnium steer more towards melodic death metal, there’s “Valediction,” “Neverlast” and “The Offering.” So basically “Heart Like a Grave” unifies all eras of Insomnium’s sound. It kinda plays like a Greatest Hits album in that way.

All in all, while “Heart Like a Grave” is perhaps not as focused as “Winter’s Gate,” it does show off the band’s versatility. There’s really something for all fans of the band on the album. I think it will be an album that I’ll like more and more after further listens. I’ve found that to be the case already. The first listen I was actually a little disappointed and now I really love it. “Heart Like a Grave” is another winner for Insomnium!

 

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Cynic – “Traced in Air Remixed”
Season of Mist
27 September 2019

“Traced in Air” was released 10 years ago and it marked the long awaited return of Cynic. Now it’s been remixed by Adam “Nolly” Getgood of Periphery and features new bass work from Sean Malone. So the burning question is, how different is the remix from the original? While Malone’s new bass work is great, he sounded great on the original so that part isn’t that different to me. But there are parts lost in the original mix that are now present in the new mix.

The biggest change is that Tymon Kruidenier’s harsh vocals are either removed or altered. They sound more like a deep chant than a death vocal which actually works, especially on “The Unknown Guest.” Other times it just sounds more like a deep backing vocal.

Overall the mix is clearer and each instrument is better separated from the others. I am sure there are folks who will still like the original mix but I love remixes because they offer a different view of the same piece of artwork. Now if Getgood would remix “Kindly Bent to Free Us,” I would be beyond thrilled because that one sounds terrible.

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ProgPower USA 2019 – Day Four

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Threshold pictured above

Friday, Sept. 7, 2019 – Day 4:

(All photos taken by me.)

 

For setlist info, see here (Thanks to whoever did this!): https://www.setlist.fm/festival/2019/progpower-usa-xx-5bd71fe4.html

Sorcerer (Sweden)

Screaming into day four is an epic doom metal band, Sorcerer, at least that seems to be their classification. This was a band that I kind of liked on album, but wasn’t really my cup of tea. But I did catch part of their set and was impressed with their sound and stage presence. Made me rethink my initial feelings toward their music. I will be revisiting them later.

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Jag Panzer (USA)

Another one that didn’t quite grab me on album, but had a great sound live. Not all power metal grabs me and the crotch grabbing and hip thrusting was rather humorous. The crowd seemed to have fun.

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Caligula’s Horse (Australia)

Now we are getting into the home stretch of the bands I have been looking forward to. Caligula’s Horse is a prog metal band that handles the heaviness and the softer moments with perfect balance. And with lyrically heavy songs, it brought a lot of emotion to the crowd.

Me personally, was kind of hoping for the song Atlas, especially the “revisited” version, but alas, it didn’t make an appearance. But that is ok. That had a stellar song selection, going by the feedback from the crowd. And reading through the Facebook group, they won over a lot of new fans.

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Poets of the Fall (Finland)

Talk about stealing the show. There were a lot of expectations from Poets for many reasons. They have a stellar catalog, which I haven’t heard all of yet, and have a fairly rabid following. BUT, they didn’t quite fit the theme of the festival. They are neither Power nor Prog, but come from a label that tends to deal with those styles. And not fitting those categories means that some didn’t take to them. But I feel the ones that didn’t care for them were in the minority.

It was a risk to bring in a band that doesn’t necessarily fit the format of the fest, but it was one that paid off! I like that this happened as it helps expand our horizons!

The venue was packed and everyone was cheering and dancing along to the songs. You see, this is a band that SHOULD be popular. That SHOULD be on the radio and a major label. But for whatever reason or another, they are not. I don’t get it. I know everyone wonders why the bands they like aren’t more popular but I get why most of my favorites are not. But Poets have that U2/Coldplay sound but more advanced, and dare i say, more meaningful.

They took the stage like the veterans musicians they are and had the crowd in the palm of their hands. They were clearly having a great time performing and that fed into our energy. I had ONE song I had to hear from them live and they played it! My Dark Disquiet has quickly became one of my favorite songs of all time and sounded perfect live. Their set was one that left me completely satisfied.

Thank you, Glenn, for bring them to us!

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Threshold (UK)

I have been a fan of Threshold since 2004, since finding their live album, Critical Energy, randomly in a Borders Bookstore. So not old, old school…. but a pretty long time. And given that I haven’t been able to start going to this festival until 2015, missing it for various reasons each time, I haven’t seen Threshold before this show. It has been a long time coming and it was worth every year of wait.

They launched into Slipstream (is that right? I didn’t note it at the time and am going by the setlist. Could have sworn this was later in the set) and didn’t let up until the last note of Small Dark Lines, playing the full hour and a half of their given time slot. And yes, the greedy Bastard in me wanted 3 hours. 😁

Glynn was in top form, making each song sound like he was naturally its perfect fit. And there were times I heard shades of Mac (RIP) in his voice on the songs that Mac had originally performed. Gave me chills. The rest of the gang were spot on as well. And I particularly enjoyed watching Johanne having fun behind the drums. Caught him once motioning along with the lyrics to someone off stage all the while keeping the band in tight sync.

Most of the set consisted of songs from Legends of the Shires, which was fine with me as that album is perfect from beginning to end.

The set was over too soon but, along with the Poets set, left me feeling the most satisfied and content that I have felt from a concert in a long time. Coupling that with, as I said before, the religious experience that was the MaYaN set, this festival fed my soul.

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Demons & Wizards (USA/Germany)

Not being all that familiar with this group, but more familiar with the groups it is made from, Blind Guardian and Iced Earth, I knew we were in for a treat.

We were setup at the back of the floor but something came up that I had to step out of the venue for a few moments. When we came back, we couldn’t really get back in. I stepped in to get a few shots of the stage, which was the most amazing of the stage presentations of the festival. The stage was made up to look like a graveyard, with multiple tombstones and an amazing back drop of a skeleton playing a violin. See photos below.

We waited out in the hall way and could hear every note anyway and what I heard was awesome. Also during this time, spent a while chatting with the great Lance King, who recently had a new album released. Hopefully we will get him back performing some material soon.

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Afterward, we made it to the floor for the after fest group photo. This keeps getting bigger each year. One of the festival photographers, Joel Barrios, usually takes this shot. Check out his work when you can at the ProgPower festival Facebook page.

And that was it! This is my fifth year going and I must say, all the years have had amazing lineups, but this one felt more fun. In part, because my wife attended with me this time, and I had more of a connection with more people this year than previous years. It’s been said before repeatedly, but it is true: this festival is like a family. A great big family reunion every year. Everyone is so nice and friendly and open that it just makes the whole thing genuinely enjoyable. The staff and festival runners are second to none and help elevate this experience above and beyond any other festival experience I have had.

If you haven’t been before, I highly recommend it. There are only 900 tickets sold for the event, which is small, but they want to keep things nice and intimate. Let me know if you do attend and if it is your first time. I will try to help get you familiar with things and introduce you to some awesome people!

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ProgPower USA 2019 – Day Three

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Friday, Sept. 6, 2019 – Day 3:

(All photos taken by me.)

For setlist info, see here (Thanks to whoever did this!): https://www.setlist.fm/festival/2019/progpower-usa-xx-5bd71fe4.html

Paladin (USA)

Grabbed lunch and hit the vendor room to check things out first. Grabbed some goodies and then made my way to catch the last part of Paladin’s set. They were a recent addition to the roster after Wind Rose had to cancel. And being local to Atlanta it was a safe addition and as such, I have seen them multiple times before. They put on a good show. Kind of power thrash metal and a great way to start day 3.

 

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Subsignal (Germany)
This is one of the bands I had been looking forward to all year. And they played through a nice sampling of their catalog. I love all their albums, but for some reason, the new one clicked more right off the bat with me, so I was kind of hoping for a few more from it. But I am completely happy with what was delivered. They had a great energy live and the harmonies were fantastic! I would see them again in a heartbeat if given a chance… Technically, I DID see them again, but it was at the Silver Skillet on Saturday around lunch, so it doesn’t really count.  😜

 

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Barren Earth (Finland)
I wasn’t all that familiar with Barren Earth going into this festival. I heard their last album and really liked it. On a recent long drive, I was playing catch up and sampled some of their older stuff. They have a great balance of the growls and the clean vocals and handled that balance well in the set too. Without digging, couldn’t tell you if this set was a balance too, or not. But it was an enjoyable time.

PS: I was a little surprised to see the singer had on an ELO t-shirt. Man has good taste.

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Psychotic Waltz (USA)
Had to go back to our room after the Barren Earth set so got back in the middle of this one and caught the last half. I recall the music not grabbing me much on the albums, but they were definitely interesting live. More of an avant-garde metal band. And the flute sounded great.  I think I may need to give them another chance.

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Orden Ogan (Germany)
I made sure i would be present for this set. I love bands with huge choruses and Orden Ogan bring it strong! This was one of the more elaborate stage designs with the faux wood walls to look like an old west setup. See pictures below to see what I mean.

They brought the metal and the crowd head banged and fist pumped all the way thorough.

There was one rather humorous moment during the set where the sound was lost to the audience, but I can only guess the band still heard it through their feeds as all we heard were the drums for a few seconds but the whole band was still raging on the instruments. So, once the audio came back, they didn’t miss a beat. It was a little surreal for a moment but the band handled it perfectly.  I would definitely go see them again!

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Seventh Wonder (Sweden)
I like their material, but on album they really hadn’t grabbed me yet. Their albums are really good, don’t get me wrong… they just haven’t gelled with me so far. Live however, they really had a lot of energy and showed the crowd why they were the Headliner. Lot of great sing along moments and Tommy really knew how to work the crowd. Everyone was at the top of their game, it seemed. And no one wanted it to end. I will say, their set seemed a bit shorter than I was expecting. It didn’t seem quite an hour had passed and they were going off stage for the usual encore stuff. For a headliner, I thought there would have been more songs. Oh well… more sleep for me, I guess!

 

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(Review for Day 4 will be coming… I don’t know… soonish)

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Anacrusis – The Metal Blade Re-issues


Anacrusis emerged from St. Louis, Missouri back in 1986. They merged thrash metal with progressive metal though their earlier material was more thrash. By the time the band released their fourth and final album “Screams and Whispers” in 1993, they had pushed themselves into a much more progressive sound. It seemed like they could join contemporaries like Fates Warning, Dream Theater and Queensryche in the prog metal big leagues but it didn’t happen.

Anacrusis disbanded shortly after that album was released and apart from a few reunions here and there, they have never made a true comeback. They were signed to Metal Blade and now the label is re-issuing all four albums with some bonus tracks PLUS each are getting released on colored vinyl. For me, “Screams and Whispers” is definitely the cream of the crop. It is a very mature and complex album that showed Anacrusis were on an upward trajectory.

That said, “Manic Impressions” has a lot to offer as well. It definitely has some progressive parts but it has one foot firmly in the thrash metal genre. While these re-issues have been remastered, the two older albums definitely sound dated. “Reason” sounds more like 1985 than 1990 while “Suffering Hour” actually sounds a bit better for whatever reason.

The band started out more like Atheist meets Slayer before migrating to a Voivod meets Fates sound. Vocalist/guitarist Kenn Nardi is better at screaming and shrieking than singing for the most part. He was never the same type of vocalist that the big 3 prog metal bands had. There were no big notes or melody lines. Still, his voice did fit the music for the most part. I do think he’s an acquired taste.

The bottom line is you should at least check out “Screams and Whispers” if you love the late 80s/early 90s scene. From there, work your way back carefully. If you aren’t into the thrashier side of prog metal, Anacrusis might not be for you. I still wonder what might have been had the band lived on. I guess we will have to just wonder. “Reason” and “Suffering Hour” will be re-issued on September 27th while “Manic Impressions” and “Screams and Whispers” come out on November 15th.

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Opeth – “In Cauda Venenum”

Opeth-In-Cauda-VenenumOpeth are back again with “In Cauda Venenum” and, for those fans still thinking the death vocals will make a return, it’s time to give that up. There’s the one moment in “Dignity” that is somewhat harsh but, other than that, Mikael Åkerfeldt showcases his outstanding CLEAN vocals. In fact, he actually has a great falsetto as well!

“In Cauda Venenum” is unique in that there are two versions of the album, one in English and one in Swedish. Since I can barely understand English, that’s the one I’ve been listening to. Musically, “In Cauda Venenum” is incredible. I found “Sorceress” to be lacking both song-wise and production-wise (turns out it was unmastered!). Both of those concerns are gone on this album. The first two singles, “Heart in Hand” and “Dignity,” are fairly good indicators as to the album’s quality.

There are songs similar in structure to those songs — meaning loud, metallic moments mixed with melodic acoustic moments — then there are other songs that are completely different. “Lovelorn Crime” is a ballad in the “Burden” vein — and since I love “Burden,” I really love “Lovelorn Crime.” It should be a single. “The Garroter” is a very unique number as it’s basically lounge jazz complete with clarinet. But don’t worry, Opeth pull it off well!

The album has mostly longer tracks but nothing over 8 1/2 minutes, which is fine since the songs don’t need to be any longer than they are. So yes, I love the album. It reminds me a bit of “Pale Communion” as far as vibe and quality, but the songs aren’t really the same structure-wise. Maybe if you were to mix the last three albums, you’d have this one — the adventure of “Heritage,” the melody of “Pale Communion” and the heaviness of “Sorceress.” But even that doesn’t do “In Cauda Venenum” justice.

So what do I NOT like about “In Cauda Venenum”? Well, the intro piece “Garden of Earthly Delights” is longer than it needs to be and there are too many sampled spoken parts. They don’t actually bother me too much, but many of them could be removed and not missed. On the plus side, the addition of strings to quite a few tracks is a bonus. It reminds me again of “Pale Communion” in that regard. It’s also interesting how good the outros on many Opeth songs are, especially the closers. “All Things Will Pass” is another to add to that list.

“In Cauda Venenum” could be Opeth’s most overtly progressive album to date. There’s no compromising and Åkerfeldt sounds particularly inspired in his songwriting. The performances by the entire band are just phenomenal, with some of the best guitar solos I’ve heard by both Åkerfeldt and Fredrik Åkesson. “In Cauda Venenum” is another masterpiece by a band that have really found themselves a second act in their amazing career. If you want “Blackwater Park,” go listen to that.

Rating: 9.5/10

Tracklist:

01. Livet’s Trädgård / Garden Of Earthly Delights (Intro)
02. Svekets Prins / Dignity
03. Hjärtat Vet Vad Handen Gör / Heart In Hand
04. De Närmast Sörjande / Next Of Kin
05. Minnets Yta / Lovelorn Crime
06. Charlatan
07. Ingen Sanning Är Allas / Universal Truth
08. Banemannen / The Garroter
09. Kontinuerlig Drift / Continuum
10. Allting Tar Slut / All Things Will Pass

Label: Moderbolaget Records / Nuclear Blast
Release Date: 27 September 2019

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