Caligula’s Horse – Rise Radiant

CH-RRCaligula’s Horse returns from Down Under with album number 5. Rise Radiant is another logical step in the band’s evolution. I recently went back and walked my way through their discography, while the core of what make them them is still present, you can hear along the way that they seem to ever inch their way heavier and heavier and this album is no exception. There are some fantastically heavier moments on this one but still some of their signature softer ones.

The band is almost the same this time around, with the exception of the change in bass with Dale Prinsse. All the others are here: Jim Grey on vocals, Sam Vallen on lead guitar, Adrian Goleby on guitar as well, and Josh Griffin on drums. And I must say that the band are as tight as ever. Let’s dive right into this beast.
The Tempest comes raging in with some quick drum work and some nice djenty guitars and settles into what they are known for: Time changes and melodies. Great lead in track.

Slow Violence was one of the initial singles, see video below, and is a nice djenty rocker. Jim has an abrupt, brooding style to the vocals in the verses that I dig but still those ever present and flawless vocal harmonies on the chorus.

Seeing us back in a more lighter fare, Salt reminds me more of Caligula of old. Great drum work here too. This song shifts moods and styles to boot: Alternating calm and rocking. Nicely balanced. I’ve heard some say you can hear similarities to Haken on this album and, granted, there have been some similarities all along between their styles. But there does seem to be a mergence going on with both band’s sounds. But it works. And this is clearly Caligula’s Horse. But you could play a section of this song for someone and they might go “Is this Haken?”

The shortest track on the album is Resonate, and I kind of feel that is a crime. This track sees them channeling Seal quite nicely, a la, the Kiss from a Rose era. Would love to have heard this expanded upon. But it’s calmness helps us transition nicely into…

Oceanrise with its misleading calm and quick intro before the drums kick in. Another slice of Classic CH. “Be the flood. Be the ocean.” Jim, soft and gruff, delivers the verses but then lets loose on the chorus. Why is their music so singable?

Up next we get another heavy rocker in Valkyrie that shows these guys are at the top of their progressive game. Love the heaviness to this. And as much as I love their softer side, would like to hear more of this side too.

Speaking of their softer side, Autumn slams on the brakes with a slow and soft start with Jim over acoustic guitars. But it doesn’t stay that way. It’s funny the last track is called The Ascent, but it is this one that slowly builds to a huge sounding close. I love songs that pay off this way. You can tell there is an underlying tension waiting to unleash and when it does… glorious. This could totally have been an album closer.

And, just like that, we abruptly hit The Ascent. Another classic slice of CH, with all their hallmarks. Jim’s soothing vocals along with the driving drums, melodic guitar, and pounding bass. What’s not to love here. That instrumental section is pretty lit too with a nice little guitar solo from Sam Vallen. I think they shine most in their softer pauses between the rock… that calm between the storms. And you get that nicely here just before it opens up and carries us to the end with some great layered vocal melodies. Though, personally, I think Autumn may have worked better as the closer. But that is just me.

Sadly, once again, the bonus tracks/covers were not part of the review copy. But I am glad to see that they are on the physical disc being sold! I was thoroughly disappointed last time when I found that Atlas Revisited wasn’t on the CD but was on the streaming platforms. That was a head scratcher.

And that’s it… over too soon. Another classic from Caligula’s Horse. Though, I will admit, it didn’t grab me as immediately at first as In Contact did, but with repeated listens, it really shines. So, check it out! And don’t be so quick to brush it off if it doesn’t grab you at first!

 

Rating: 9/10

 

Tracklist:
1. The Tempest
2. Slow Violence
3. Salt
4. Resonate
5. Oceanrise
6. Valkyrie
7. Autumn
8. The Ascent
9. Don’t Give Up (Bonus Track) – Peter Gabriel Cover
10. Message to My Girl (Bonus track) – Split Enz Cover
Label:
Release Date: 22/05/2020
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Haken – “Virus”

virusLet’s get this out of the way, the album title for the new Haken album is “Virus” and the timing for that name is…unfortunate. I suppose the upside is that it’s not called “COVID-19.” The title is a direct tie into the last album “Vector” which this album is the sequel of. I didn’t really care much for “Vector” so when it came time to listen to “Virus,” I was quite worried.

Haken have been so good for so long that releasing something like “Vector” was bound to happen. The songs didn’t really hit me and overall it sounded like they were trying to copy the 80s vibe from “Affinity” but it came off really weird. The album also ended oddly but that makes more sense given that “Virus” is intended to pick up where “Vector” left off.

“Virus” is a great album though. While I think “Vector” needs “Virus” to lean on, “Virus” can stand on its own. This is the album that I wanted Haken to make after the amazing “Affinity.” It kicks off with the KILLER opener “Prosthetic” which has a great riff (though it sounds familiar) and this song alone sounds better than anything on the last album. But it doesn’t stop there!

“Invasion” has a throbbing synth and an off kilter vocal line that sounds more like something Leprous would try but when it kicks in…WOW! It’s definitely Haken! And the hooks on both of the first tracks are as good as they have done. “Carousel” is the 10 minute epic that the band are so good at. A long song that doesn’t feel long at all. The song has plenty of good riffs that sound more like Haken has in the past. Less djenty and more straight up prog metal. And the solo section toward the end is amazing.

The key to this album is that the songs have their own identities and stand out from each other. “The Strain” could be a single while “Canary Yellow” has been released as a single. The latter has a more mellow vibe to it which makes for a nice break before the massive 5 part “Messiah Complex” hits you in the face. One thing that “Vector” lacked was a track like this one. MASSIVE!

Even as daunting as this epic is, Haken never lose the listener. Each part can stand on its own, much like I said of the rest of the album itself. Parts to note: “Messiah Complex II: A Glutton for Punishment” is ridiculous. “Messiah Complex IV: The Sect” is shorter and still packs a punch! But it has these mellow sections that make the heavier parts even heavier. There is a video game like part which should bug me but for whatever reason doesn’t.

“Only Stars” is a short, mellow closer that still sounds odd enough to be interesting and not a throw away. What about the theme? How about you figure that out for yourself? The bottom line is that Haken have bounced back with one of their best releases. “Virus” is as good as anything they have done. We might be fighting a real virus in the world but this album is a good respite from all of that.

Rating: 9.5/10

Tracklist:

1. Prosthetic
2. Invasion
3. Carousel
4. The Strain
5. Canary Yellow
6. Messiah Complex I: Ivory Tower
7. Messiah Complex II: A Glutton for Punishment
8. Messiah Complex III: Marigold
9. Messiah Complex IV: The Sect
10. Messiah Complex V: Ectobius Rex
11. Only Stars

Label: Inside Out Music
Release Date: 5 June 2020
Website: hakenmusic.com

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Subsignal – A Song For The Homeless (Live in Rüsselsheim 2019)

GAOM065_Subsignal_2400_RGB smallerSubsignal return with their first live release in 8 years. Coming off the support tour for their latest release, La Muerta, the band are in top form and blaze through a career spanning set and show just what they are about.

I had the privilege to see them at ProgPower USA this past year and was blown away. I’ve always loved their music and sound, but their live presence just kicked everything up a notch. And the set we have here is pretty much the same one we got at ProgPower, with a few changes and a bit longer. So… MORE!

And seeing as how live albums are always a little iffy to review for me, I will make this easy for ya’ll. If you know who Subsignal are and what they sound like, just know this is a great sounding live album with the band sounding fantastic. If you aren’t familiar with them, then read on…

We are eased into the show with the opening notes of Touchstones, all calm and soothing and then kicking in with the guitars and continuing in an almost album perfect rendition.

One of my favorite songs of theirs, Ashes of Summer, is next and it is just as lively, melodic, and driving as its album counterpart. The airy nature to this live version is a perfect fit. If there was ever a song that should have been a rock radio hit of theirs, it was this one. This album just screams to be listened to outside. Another summer evening album!

The first new song (off the latest album) of the set, The Bells of Lyonesse, and it sounds great in the live setting. Perfect show case for their gift of melody. The chorus just soars. And as I mentioned before about the perfect song for rock radio, this latest album is full of them. It is seriously a crime they are not bigger than they are now.

The Sea comes in next and highlights how great the drums sound here. Love the ocean waves breaking, too. This also shows how in sync these guys are. The vocals are spot on with the harmonies and Arno really shines here. And the Rush-ness in their sound, especially with that guitar tone, really comes out here too.

Subsignal1_Andre WiIms-smaller

Walking with Ghosts is a more brooding track with a nice crunchy guitar in just the right places to add to the ambiance. And dare I say it again… melody!

Once again, the Rush vibe is shining through on Even though the Stars Don’t Shine. This is such an upbeat and mood-lifting song and I love it in all its incarnations. You can’t NOT sing along with this one.

The Passage is up next and is as bombastic as ever. Subsignal have a great knack for recreating the album versions of their songs live. This is exactly what I, personally, look for in a live show. The press release mentions that the band wasn’t trying to do this at all or try to be perfect with it. But, I swear, all the little flourishes that are present on the album are present here and sync my memories up with what I’m hearing.  Don’t get me wrong, I appreciate when artists change things up for themselves, but when my expectations are met with a presentation… I don’t know… endorphins? We are also treated to a great drum solo in this song. The keys sound fantastic here too! The band really are on fire.

The title track from their latest studio album, La Muerta rips along in all its singable glory and, yes, that Rush guitar tone. Another highlight!

And My Sanctuary carries us on in some more 80’s Rush influenced feels with some big choruses. Love that airy guitar in this one with the crowd clapping along. I can close my eyes and it feels like I’m there.

Time and Again segues us into Paraiso which keeps the sing along nature of this show going.

And, closing the album, Paradigm follows and just oozes their great penchant for melody. My only complaint here is the guitar seems to have a lack of bite when it should sound heavier but it does sound great with the solos.

So, there you go. This album serves as a great selection of the band where they are now in their career. If you are a fan, this will go great in your collection as a nice slice of a live experience for a band that it isn’t so easy to see live, at least in the US. And if you aren’t familiar with them, this would be a good place to start. Or if you don’t care for live albums, there is always the collection of songs released recently, A Canopy of Stars, that will be a good intro, though without any of the new stuff.

Subsignal6smaller

Rating 8/10

Tracklist:

1. Touchstones
2. Ashes of Summer
3. The Bells of Lyonesse
4. The Sea
5. Walking with Ghosts
6. Even though the Stars don’t shine
7. The passage (incl. drum solo)
8. La Muerta
9. My Sanctuary
10. Time and Again
11. Paraiso

12. Paradigm

Label: Gentle Art of Music
Release Date: 22/05/2020

 

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Rob’s Recommendation Roundup: Volume 19

SOTM - Black House - general
Secrets of the Moon – “Black House”
Label: Prophecy Productions
Release Date: 8 May 2020

Secrets of the Moon aren’t a prog band in the traditional sense of the word. In fact, I am quite sure that most people would scoff at the notion. But I am not most people. The fact is that they have and do progress from album to album. The biggest change for them was on their last album “Sun,” which saw them move away from their doom laden black metal roots and embrace a more approachable dark rock style.

It’s safe to say that if you are a long time fan of bands like Katatonia and Paradise Lost (see next entry), then you will enjoy the direction that Secrets of the Moon have taken. They have gone a bit further in that direction on their new album “Black House” which also features one of the best album covers I have ever seen. The album is still quite dark…I mean it is a BLACK house. And it is still very much in line with the essence of the band.

Frontman SG has a distinctive clean voice that has gotten stronger and more confident over the years. The opener “Sanctum” is a pounding gothic anthem and a great start to the album. The next two songs are the first releases from the album. “Don’t Look Now” sounds incredibly bleak yet has synths that provide a ray of light. “Veronica’s Room” is a catchy tune and a logical selection as a first single.

“Cotard” shows that Secrets of the Moon are quite capable of doing something beautiful. The title track is as ominous as one would assume with a title like it has. But still the chorus provides a bit of reprieve musically. The closing track “Earth Hour” is another favorite that would work as a song by The Mission. While Secrets of the Moon are unpredictable musically, they are quite reliable when it comes to making great albums and “Black House” is yet another one.

 

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Paradise Lost – “Obsidian”
Label: Nuclear Blast
Release Date: 15 May 2020

I’ve loved Paradise Lost for a very long time. Draconian Times was the album that sucked me in. I stuck with the band thru all of the experiments too. Personally I think “Host” is a brave and brilliant album. I am probably in the minority. One thing that I love about Paradise Lost is that fearlessness. They do whatever the fuck they want.

The last 2 albums the band have revisited their earlier death metal sound and mixed it with some doom. For me though, both “The Plague Within” and “Medusa” sound very safe with “Medusa” being rather boring. I miss that sound they had on their self titled album or even on “Tragic Idol,” which was for me one of the best albums they have ever done.

“Obsidian” had a teaser that suggested a step back to that sound and musically it does have a lot more variety than either of the last two albums. “Darker Thoughts” is a great song though the problem is that Nick Holmes is still clinging to his dust choked harsh vocal and using it where it isn’t really needed. It doesn’t ruin the song (or others) but it’s the one thing that sounds a bit forced at times.

There are a lot of really good songs on “Obsidian” like “Ghosts”or “Forsaken” or the massive “Ravenghast.” The last one makes good use of his death vocals though. There’s a time and place for everything. The good news is that “Obsidian” merges the things that Paradise Lost have been doing lately with some of the sounds they have developed over the years. The bottom line is that this is just a great batch of songs and that’s always been the key for this legendary band.

leaves

Green Carnation – “Leaves of Yesteryear”
Label: Season of Mist
Release Date: 8 May 2020

If you don’t know Green Carnation, stop reading this and go listen to “Light of Day, Day of Darkness.” That album redefined what was possible in progressive metal. One song, one hour. From there the band, stripped their sound down a bit and focused more on songs than being epic. It still worked though. Their last album was “Acoustic Verses” which showed they didn’t need amplification to sound amazing.

Ah but that was 2006. So if Tool can re-emerge after the same hiatus, so can Green Carnation. “Leaves of Yesteryear” harkens back to their earlier sound especially since they revisit an early song, “My Dark Reflections of Life and Death” which was on their debut album “Journey to the End of the Night.” It proves that Green Carnation were way ahead of their time as this song sounds as current as ever.

The title track opens the album and was the first song released. It’s dark and has a great hook. Kjetil Nordhus still has one of my favorite voices in music. The guy can just sing. “Sentinels” is another great, somewhat radio friendly track. Well, assuming radio played great music which it doesn’t. OK my radio show does and I will be playing this one for sure. The album closes with a somewhat obligatory cover of the Black Sabbath song “Solitude.” It’s on brand with their song and it’s a good rendition.

If you love Green Carnation, you will love “Leaves of Yesteryear.” It’s a nice reintroduction to the band. It also makes for a nice overview of the band for those who don’t know this Norwegian powerhouse. I am hoping this means that they have returned for a while. Tchort seems to be motivated and “Leaves of Yesteryear” sounds like Green Carnation have something to prove.

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Molitoth is set to release “The Tribunal” on June 26, premieres new track!

I was a big fan of the band A Light Within and their frontman Kyle Brandt has a new solo project called Molitoth. Kyle is a super talented person and I thought I’d help out by premiering a new track from the album “The Tribunal” which is released on June 26th. Check out the song “Confessional Lock.” Here’s the press release:


On June 26th, 2020 artist Kyle Brandt will release the first LP from his new project “Molitoth” entitled “The Tribunal”.

Brandt had this to say: “Be prepared to embark in an emotional chronological timeline of regrettable actions and consequence, resulting in different stages of grief. “The Tribunal” explores condensed meditation techniques to help balance the anxieties that stem from feelings of accusation, entrapment, and confinement.”

Brandt (Molitoth) is a Vocalist/Producer/Composer from Kansas City, Missouri (USA) that has released a 3-part diary series; (Preface/Body Matter/Epilogue) with the band “A Light Within” and has collaborated with Post-Metal act “Sisters of…”, with critical acclaim, among others.

As a student of Daniel Tompkins Vocal Coaching; Brandt brings a focus in atmosphere, range, and vocal dynamics to provide a distinct presence with undeniable charisma, all while wrapped in thoroughly written lyrics that are metaphorically relative, without becoming too abstract.

Molitoth is set to release “The Tribunal”, which is the first full length conceptual installment of the project. Be prepared to embark in an emotional chronological timeline of regrettable actions and consequence, resulting in five stages of grief. It was recorded and mixed in Kansas City by Kyle Brandt and mastered by Acle Kahney (TesseracT) at 4D Sounds. The LP will be released in both digital and limited release physical formats.

 Bandcamp: molitoth.bandcamp.com/album/the-tribunal

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Pattern-Seeking Animals – “Prehensile Tales”

Press_Cover_01Spock’s Beard side project Pattern-Seeking Animals is back with their second album “Prehensile Tales” which is hot on the heels of their self titled debut that was released just last year. The band consists of current Spock’s Beard members Ted Leonard and Dave Meros, the band’s former drummer Jimmy Keegan and their main songwriter John Boegehold on keys. Much like the debut album, the Spock’s DNA is all over “Prehensile Tales.” However, the band sound more cohesive and they take even more chances on this album.

The album opener “Raining Hard in Heaven” immediately reminds me of Roxy Music (a good thing) with its groovy bass line and groove. Think “Love is the Drug.” Excellent melody lines, typically great vocals along with some vintage keys make this a favorite of mine from this album. This track alone is even better than anything on the first album. Not a knock on that album but rather this shows that Pattern-Seeking Animals have grown a lot in a very short period of time. It’s that good.

“Here is My Autumn” was the first track released from “Prehensile Tales.” Another interesting track with it’s own sound. That’s what I love about this band. The songs get their own identity and it’s not just the words and music but the arrangements. I hear a lot of Asia in this one (yet another good thing). Really the track would fit on any Asia album from the Payne era or second Wetton era. A lot of it is that Boegehold is channeling Downes with not only the key lines but also choices of sounds. Also for those who don’t know, Ted Leonard is a damn good guitarist. Check the solo on this one.

Dave Meros is one of the most underrated bassists on the planet. The whole album is a showcase for just how awesome he is. The track “Elegant Vampires” has another killer bassline from him, along with a nice use of a violin and some…congas? I’ll say this again but this band understand how to arrange a song to get the most out of it. “Why Don’t We Run” is yet another interesting song. The keyboards at the start immediately sets the mood. You are transported to a desert somewhere, on horse back. The trumpet solo is another brilliant moment. Even with the details, the bottom line is it’s another great song. The song is always important.

“Lifeboat” is the first of the two epics on the album, and it’s over 17 minutes. Strap yourselves in. It does sound the most like current Spock’s too. Nothing wrong with that really. Lyrically, it’s story based but makes for a good analogy as well. I’ll let you draw your own conclusions. I love the chorus on this one, MEMORABLE. Very important. But since it is an epic, it does have a big sprawling feel to it. I love the horns used in the section that starts at the 5 minute mark too. Did I mention arrangements? Oh yeah I did. This epic is not about the number of notes but rather the atmosphere that it can create. That doesn’t stop Leonard from playing a great guitar solo. Of course his vocals on this whole album are just amazing, as usual.

“Soon But Not Today” rounds out the album and clocks in at a touch over 12 minutes. A lovely intro which has strings, vintage keys and…a mandolin? Then a surf guitar line kicks the song into gear. Wait what? Then it goes…reggae? And spot the Brian May spot in the song! So PSA aren’t afraid to try different things. Doing this project allows that. Not to say that Spock’s Beard haven’t tried a few things but much of what happens on “Soon But Not Today” sounds very much apart from what that band has done. This is a great example of WHY Pattern-Seeking Animals exists. When 12 minutes can have so much going on and never lose the listener, that’s a damn good song.

I had high expectations for Pattern-Seeking Animals from the start because I love all incarnations of Spock’s Beard. While I did really enjoy their self titled debut album, “Prehensile Tales” is the album I really wanted. It’s as good as anything that Spock’s Beard has done! I said it. “Prehensile Tales” is a must for fans of Spock’s Beard but it’s more than that. It’s a must for anyone that thinks prog rock’s best days are behind it.

Rating: 10/10

Tracklist:
1. Raining Hard in Heaven
2. Here in My Autumn
3. Elegant Vampires
4. Why Don’t We Run
5. Lifeboat
6. Soon But Not Today

Label: Inside Out Music
Release Date: 15 May 2020
Website: www.psanimals1.com

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McStine & Minnemann to release debut album on July 3rd!

Exciting news! The great Marco Minnemann is teaming up with the immensely talented Randy McStine (Lo-Fi Resistance) for a new album! Check out the press release below!


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McStine & Minnemann is a new band consisting of Randy McStine and Marco Minnemann (The Aristocrats). Pre-orders for their debut album will begin on Friday May 1st, along with the release of their first single, “Program.” Over ten minutes from the album can be heard below.

The duo initially met in 2018 while working with other artists, but as they discovered their shared passion for an assortment of Rock, Pop, and Punk artists, they decided to embark on a collaborative project together. Although McStine and Minnemann initially set out to record an EP, they quickly shifted to making an album as their musical ideas and chemistry flourished.
The result of their self-titled debut, McStine & Minnemann, is a high-energy collection of ten compact, yet expansive Rock songs that sit well next to the likes of XTC, Mr. Bungle, The Knack, Queen, and Frank Zappa. As both men are prolific multi-instrumentalists and writers, they have created a space for each other to showcase their incomparable instrumental talents, while infusing them with an incredible mix of melodic and lyrical depth.

WATCH THE ALBUM “TEASER” VIDEO HERE

 Premieres on May 1st

McStine & Minnemann was produced by the duo, and mixed by Forrester Savell (Karnivool, SikTh).

 

Randy McStine is an acclaimed guitarist, bassist, and vocalist, whose initial work under the name Lo-Fi Resistance led to collaborations with members of King Crimson, Joe Satriani, Porcupine Tree, King’s X, Tears For Fears and more. McStine’s work embraces genres such as Rock, Alternative, Progressive, Blues, Singer-Songwriter, Folk, Pop, and Ambient. Towards the end of 2019, McStine released a new album called ‘Idle’, which coincided with a 20-date North American tour as support for The Pineapple Thief.

 

Marco Minnemann is one of the world’s most respected drummers, having recorded and performed with diverse artists such as Paul Gilbert, The Buddy Rich Big Band, Steven Wilson, Necrophagist and U.K. His own band, The Aristocrats (featuring Guthrie Govan and Bryan Beller), is a hugely sought-after touring act all over the world. Marco is also an accomplished guitarist and composer, which is evident throughout his vast catalogue of solo albums. His most recent album, ‘My Sister,’ was released in 2019.

McStine & Minnemann Tracklist:

 

  1. Program
  2. Falling From Grace
  3. Your Offenses
  4. Catrina
  5. Top Of The Bucket
  6. Tear The Walls Down (No Memories)
  7. Fly
  8. Activate
  9. The Closer
  10. Voyager

Pre-Orders for McStine & Minnemann will be available on Bandcamp from May 1st with several packages to choose from – PRE-ORDER HERE NOW

 

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Katatonia – “City Burials”

889592After a (thankfully) brief hiatus, Katatonia got back in action with a tour to honor the 10th anniversary of “Night is the New Day” in 2019. So naturally the next step was a new album and that’s something I always look forward to. And once again, Katatonia do not disappoint! “City Burials” is quintessential Katatonia with more metal muscle than the last two albums yet still a ton of atmosphere that they’ve come to be known for.

“The Fall of Hearts” was a bit more overtly prog rock than anything that the band had done prior so there was no need to clone that album. So on “City Burials,” there’s songs like “Behind the Blood” that’s about as straight forward metal as Katatonia has ever done. But then the band have songs like “Lacquer” and “Vanisher” that drip with synths and style which wouldn’t sound out of place on the previous albums. Both of those tracks are definitely favorites.

“City Burials” does a great job of not only acknowledging Katatonia’s classic sound but also adds a new wrinkle here and there to it. “Rein” is one such song. The chorus is classic Katatonia while the guitar line on the verse is that nuance that I’ve not heard before. Katatonia know how to be subtle…especially when there’s a shitload of layers there are well. Hiding in plain sight? Something like that.

In addition to the songs mentioned before, “The Winter of Our Passing” also uses synths but more to drive the song along. Throbbing a bit. Then you get that BIG chorus as well. This one will sound great live…whenever they get to play live again. Just another really great song.

While the album is called “City Burials,” the files that I received were tagged as “City Glaciers.” I like that as a title. But there is a song called “City Glaciers.” You are probably tried of reading this but yes it’s another GREAT song. Katatonia is almost upbeat on this album! Well, okay they are upbeat for Katatonia. “City Glaciers” sounds like a band that’s rejuvenated. That’s really true for this whole album. The hiatus seems to have served them well.

What don’t I like about the album? Wow I can’t think of much really. “Lachesis” is a tad brief and solemn but it’s still a nice piece. “Behind the Blood” is a little bit too 80s metal at times but again, I like the song. There are just better tracks on the album than that one. The shapeshifting “Neon Epitaph” is a good example of that. Any time the second to last song on an album is great, the album is great. Try that out on albums that you love.

I’ll admit that I am very partial to Katatonia but as most people who know this site know, I am even harder on bands that I love. My expectations are VERY high for a band like this. If this album was “just okay,” I would rip it to shreds. But they have done it yet again. “City Burials” is as good as ANYTHING the band as done and underscores that Katatonia are without question still a force to be reckoned with.

Rating: 9.5/10

Tracklist:

1. Heart Set to Divide
2. Behind the Blood
3. Lacquer
4. Rein
5. The Winter of Our Passing
6. Vanishers
7. City Glaciers
8. Flicker
9. Lachesis
10. Neon Epitaph
11. Untrodden
12. Fighters

Label: Peaceville
Release Date: 24 April 2020

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Mantric – “False Negative”

falseIt always amazes me when a band sets the bar higher with each album that they release. Eventually you think “okay, there’s no way this one can be better than the last one.” Mantric has 2 exceptional albums already and their last one “Sin” was outstanding. So when I saw that they were back again with “False Negative,” I was figuring that maybe this was going to be the step backwards. Not in the least!

“False Negative” is yet another massive LEAP by the Norwegian outfit. And I mean this one is one great song after the next. While the band always was able to write strange songs with some hooks, “False Negative” is the perfect balance of quirky stuff and just amazing song craftsmanship. It’s just relentless! The first three songs hit you (“Itching Soul” should be played on prog radio) and you’re thinking “ok how can this get any better?”

That’s when Mantric twists into a modern version of the Beach Boys whilst channeling Failure on the song “Norwegian Dastard.” It’s the best track that Mantric have done. Well okay there are other songs on “False Negative” that rival it. “Down” is a fuzzed out asskicker which still holds to Mantric’s odd style. “The Towering Mountain” is a mix of blasting punk metal and Motorpsycho on acid. It proves that Mantric isn’t about to stop trying different things.

Mantric were always good with twists and turns which keeps the listener alert. “Every Day Is Independence Day” is a classic Mantric song in that respect. Odd time signatures and unique arrangements. That’s all here. “Darling Demon” will definitely upset those people that don’t like harsh vocals, while “Starmonger” is the big epic that I’ve wanted from Mantric. Big sound, big riffs and powerful vocals. Reminds a little of Oceansize, a good thing!

It’s time to officially stop thinking of Mantric as an Extol offshoot. Mantric have evolved to be something way, way more than that and to be honest they’re more compelling than Extol has been in years. “False Negative” is the masterpiece that Mantric always had in them. I can only hope that people that love truly progressive music won’t miss out on this album.

Rating: 9.5/10

Tracklist:

1. Polyana
2. Itching Soul
3. Queen Fatigue
4. Norwegian Dastard
5. Blame the Beggar
6. Dawn
7. The Towering Mountain
8. Everyday Is Independence Day
9. Darling Demo
10. Starmonger

Label: Solid State/Tooth and Nail
Release Date: 24 April 2020

Posted in art rock, atmospheric metal, modern prog, progressive metal | Tagged | 1 Comment

Witchcraft – “Black Metal”

Witchcraft - Black Metal - ArtworkFirst off, do not be fooled. “Black Metal” is not a black metal album. For that matter it is not a Witchcraft album either. So what gives?

What “Black Metal” really is is a solo acoustic album by Witchcraft mastermind Magnus Pelander. Because of this, it sounds more like his side solo project Pelander. It’s a bit puzzling as to why it was not released under that moniker. I supposed Witchcraft would get more attention.

So with all of this out of the way, how is the music? Well it has a few things going for it. Pelander is a great vocalist and a great writer. But even that doesn’t save it. Soundwise, it reminds me a bit of My Morning Jacket (not as good though), in that Pelander uses a fair amount of echo on his vocals. The songs are good but I wouldn’t rank them among the best that Witchcraft/Pelander have done. Fair from it to be honest. I’m curious if any of them would sound better if they were fleshed out more. These really sound more like acoustic demos than final versions.

The other issue is the overall length. It’s a brief 34 minutes and given that the songs don’t always seem like they have a clear direction, I suppose 34 minutes might actually be a good idea. For example, “Sad People” just moves so slowly and at times it seems like Pelander is still working it out. It comes across as unfinished. Certainly it lacks any sort of polish. And that’s really true of “Black Metal” as a whole.

“Grow” clocks in at almost 8 minutes and actually works the best for me, other than probably being a little longer than needed. It does move along and has nice melody lines. The other issue is that midway thru there’s a sameness that creeps in. Without anything other than Pelander’s voice and acoustic guitar, there’s little options to make things songs any more than they are.

At best, the songs are nice and the performance committed. The problem is there’s nothing compelling about this album. It sounds like something done to fulfill a contract. Recorded in day? It very well could have been, I am not sure. It’s very disappointing considering the great albums that Witchcraft have done. “Legend” is essential. “Black Metal” is more of a throwaway album for completists only.

Rating: 3/10

Tracklist:

1. Elegantly Expressed Depression
2. A Boy And A Girl
3. Sad People
4. Grow
5. Free Country
6. Sad Dog
7. Take Him Away

Label: Nuclear Blast
Release Date: 1 May 2020

Posted in art rock, folk rock | Tagged | 1 Comment