Great Albums You’ve Never Heard Of… Probably

Great Albums You’ve Never Heard Of… Probably is bringing up some fine releases, which are either from new artists or albums that never caught on the way they should have.

Aether Realm – Tarot

a4166387068_10-500x500After getting goosebumpy by the original sounding intro of the starting track of Tarot (2017), The Fool, the multitude of Finnish metal influences really caught me off guard! A lot of melodeath, Wintersun’s epic song-writing, combining clean, heroic and very Jari Mäenpää-style raspy vocals. Power metal elements and blastbeating with bright melodic backline are straight out of Wintersun’s repertoire too. Insomnium style very melancholic guitar melodylines pop up ever so often. There’s a huge folk metal backbone that could, logically after two such clear influences, be based on Ensiferum, but just as well to some other influental 2000s folk metal band. Then! All the sudden The Emperor is a pure Kalmah track! Have these guys from North Carolina listened to anything else except Finnish metal!?

And why would the Finnish metal influences be negative?

Lo! They are using these influences with a lot of class, Tarot is a really really solid album. The four above mentioned Finnish bands are huge influence on my metal background so it’s no wonder that I’m keen on placing them on Tarot. Upon further listens it is clear that Tarot is not a copycat but an original album and a great mesh. And fair enough, there’s technical death metal riffing, power metal (Tarot), flashy pure rock solo (The Tower), black metal intro and a flamenco break (The Devil), midi intro (The Sun, the Moon, the Star), melancholic acoustic material (Temperance)… I cannot place the backbone of the album anywhere else than on good old Finnish melodic death metal but it does not make the album any lesser.

On actual negatives and melodies

How many times have I stressed that an album that clocks 73 minutes is TOO … FUCKING … LONG. Sure enough, Strength is a filler track and The Chariot not much of my liking. Notable weaknesses are the very cheesy and unoriginal folk metal melodies in Strength‘s verse and chorus and The Chariot‘s chorus. The American groove metal vibe and attitude lyrics of The Chariot are not to my personal preferences either. However Strength does have a pre-verse that does some good old goosebumps and The Chariot a c-part that grooves like a moose. This package would be tighter without them even though these tracks are ok and especially The Chariot may interest a lot of fans. Better to have more material than too little i guess.

Mostly Aether Realm use their melodic patterns, if not originally, but well enough for me to enjoy them. It is not a melodic symphonic extravaganza like the fellow US band Wilderun, through which I found them. Aether Realm’s melodies are often folk but stellar enough to not slip into joyful major keys. The melodies have been used with good harmony. Symphonic sections and melancholic melodies, keep the folkish melodies fresh. An occasional less melodic riff-storm like The Devil is a very welcome addition.

I am very picky about folk metal melodies, I got tired of Ensiferum’sand Korpiklaani’s hip folk metal in about 2004.

Few more notable tracks…

Tarot does have major charm. Especially The Fool, hard-hitting and rhythmic Death (Only For The Weak in the beginning riff, anyone?) and the 19 minute opus, The Sun, the Moon, the Star which has some serious epicness going on. The Sun, the Moon, the Star is really hard to dissect into bits but it flows smoothly as hell from choir hits to electronic sounds, symphonic melodeath riffing with folk cleans to power metal riffing followed by straight to your face melodic guitar frenzy and black metallish blastbeating. Then a piano interlude! And this was just a 3 minute part in the middle of it!

Even the drinking song King of Cups does not fall into an unoriginal drinking song pothole but is genuinely a good track with mean vocal delivery, some killer fucking guitar work and lovely weird ass solo.

8½/10

Lauren Bousfield – Fire Songs – Music Quickies of sorts

a4189338573_10Nero’s Day At Disneyland’s breakcore/gamemusic mesh developed into more artistic and feminine, even electronic indie-pop flirting Lauren Bousfield. BUT the 2017 EP Fire Songs takes a step back towards Nero’s sprained breakcore instrumental music, the electronic indie-pop is largely gone. Is IDM (intelligent dance music) the correct term? What a douche genre name that is by the way. 19 minutes long Fire Songs EP seems like easily the best Lauren Bousfield release. It is a quick starter too, I was really digging it immediately on the first listen. There’s way too little love for EP’s in the world…

Little Half Dead Fire Exits Hi and Piles of Black Dresses… are A-fucking class melody spectaculars with heaviness on beats too. Little Half Dead Fire Exists Hi is almost a melancholic piece, remember the time you got badly burned and were forced to crowdfund your medical bill? Those were the days…

No One3 and CirlGocks (with Omiinindustries, collaboration?) are a step into more atmospheric electro. Girlcocks, i mean Cirlgocks, even does rave beats. The beginning of the album is a strange deja vu “I know this melody from somewhere on her releases, is it a remix?”. Creative continuity of sorts, I dig that. It’s kinda fresh to hear familiar parts in a new context after a long pause from Lauren Bousfield’s music. Here I am on the 4th listen of Fire Songs, 3rd in a row and the album developed into really fucking good. The glitching is gradually getting more pronounced on Lauren’s releases, there’s really a lot of that and it works wonderfully.

Personal crisis often makes musicians give the best out of themselves and it seems this fire certainly did that with Lauren Bousfield. Can we get more good musicians burnt up a bit? Anyone? Please? I’ll pay for the gas.

Best of all, Fire Songs is on Fire Sales! The release is pay what you want in bandcamp! Free download if you so wish:
https://laurenbousfieldanyev3r.bandcamp.com/album/fire-songs

Xenoverse – The Fall: Part I

a1427198727_10Progressive rock/metal “newcomer” Xenoverse seems to have been in the cusp of releasing their debut album since 2015. After a lot of polishing, a few gigs and apparently nearly finishing a 2nd full-length too, their debut The Fall: Part I has finally been released. Xenoverse is full of seasoned musicians but it’s clearly the brainchild of the vocalist/keyboardist Arttu Juntunen.

The music tiptoes on the edge of progressive rock and progressive metal, there’s plenty of virtuosity in instrumentation but also catchiness in choruses. The keyboards play a major role in the compositions, but guitars and drums are both well mixed too. Refreshingly bass also peeks out from behind the guitar riffs and is used as a driving instrument. Behind Enemy Lines is a good example of a track where the bass is constantly present.

There’s not much heavy guitar walls to be found but dynamic interplay between the instruments. The album sounds to be done with live performances in mind, for example the guitar solo of Behind Enemy Lines has no backing guitar, just the bass beating about. This reflects their live setup with just one guitarist. It actually works very well and doesn’t sound gutless, but groovy.

The Torturer is nearly death metal with industrial in keyboards, very far from the other tracks. The “hit” track that is also arguably the best, One Can Rule The Sky, is from the other edge of the pallette; a rocker and a melodic extravaganza! It does not feel like a 7 minute track at all. Disintegration is among the heaviest tracks with lovely hypnotic repetition and space rock whirrs and buzzes after a solid progressive rock beginning.

The album could probably do without The Torturer even though I enjoy the Scorngrain-like industrial keyboards. The mellow finisher Aria’s Premonition is quite boring especially as the album has a lot of mellowness. Perhaps the concept of the album cannot do without it. There’s no denying that the mellow tracks Solitary Confinement and Is This The End are solid, and when the distortion guitars kick in after 4 minutes of Solitary Confinement it sounds frigging fresh. How about the majestic symphonic elements then? Violins, Trombone, Cello, French horn, Viola, Majestic keyboard pad sounds; I admit, I’m a sucker for most things epic.

All in all The Fall: Part I is a complete solid progressive rock/metal album with fine attention to detail. A very impressive debut.

8/10

I also did a live review of their gig a few years ago.

Buy & listen to the album in bandcamp:
https://xenoverse.bandcamp.com/

 

Genghis Tron – Board up the House – Music quickies

R-1242139-1500594095-7229.jpegThe lost bastard brother of The Dillinger Escape Plan slowly created a unique style and broke up after their definitive album Board Up The House in 2008. Genghis Tron mixes mathcore with hardcore and grindcore but with a surprising twist electronic / industrial elements too.

Expect frenzied boosts of speed followed by ambient, sonic mid-paced sections, twisted leads, riff-jams, then an atonal keyboard melody, groove-metal… Just come with an open mind and expect all things in metal, pop, rock and electronic canons. That’s how diverse Genghis Tron is and boy do they make it work. Vocals are mostly very aggressive growled/shouted hardcore vocals, paired with sky-soaring cleans.

9-/10

High Points: City on a Hill, Colony Collapse.

https://genghistron.bandcamp.com/

Dies Natalis – The Bright And The Pure

Released in 2004 the 30 minute LP The Bright And The Pure is the gem of Dies Natalis discography.

The Bright And The Pure is not essentially just a simple neofolk album, it has a lot of neoclassical and cinematic hues. The starting three headed beast Near Heaven / The Bright And The Pure / The Fortress is a joyous glimpse of a 70s psychedelic western film that never existed. This trinity is tight with atmosphere and lo-fi-massive and organic with mystic compositions. I can’t help thinking The Good, The Bad and The Ugly.

Three following tracks are sung neoclassical / neofolk that retain the cinematic mysticism. Really far from regular neofolk really. The atmosphere is unlike earlier or later in Dies Natalis discography. Occitanias Knights is the least impressive of these 3 tracks but the intro builds tension wonderfully with deep ambience and acoustic guitar. Later on the march drums keep the weirdly bumpy verse on the bright side.

Rich female vocals are an essential texture to the release. La Complainte Pour Esclarmonde De Foix a French art film track (!) highlights the vocals and woodwind instruments while gently overpeaking. Perhaps it is just my copy that does it, but I do love some gentle overpeaking!

My hate relationship with the 7th track The Upward Spiral turned to a friendship yet ultimately it is on a wrong release. Nihilistically symphatetic lyrics on a bright, major key composition are a nice paradox but thematically it does not really fit on The Bright and the Pure. It is like a disjointed Ben Stiller film scene in an art film.

The Upward Spiral is musically very close to other releases by Dies Natalis. Their earlier releases suffer from accented German vocals which aren’t that well sung either. A lot of great Neofolk is not that well sung though, so the dislike of German lyrics and accent may be my personal problem. Dies Natalis did correct that to their later album The Phoenix Contradiction (2008) but compositions are a lot more straightforward and acoustic guitar driven than on The Bright And The Pure. This may be a positive or a negative feat, depending on the listener and the mood!

The final track, another cinematic trinity, Near Heaven II / The Bright And The Beast / The Stake, shifts from ambient to finale after halfway mark and resembles the title track of the album. It grows in tension until suddenly ends. Actually it sounds like a duality, unlike the first track that has clearly three different sides. Be it a duality, trinity or a quadruplicity, the finale really weaves the release together.

The Bright And The Pure might be a bit difficult album to get into and even more difficult to find these days, yet it has continued to grow in our over 10 year old relationship. Very much recommended for seekers of strange neofolk and neoclassical who are not afraid of a dose of lo-fi.

9/10

The Clan Destined – In The Big Ending

57929The Clan Destined is a band and a collective that released its debut In the Big Ending… in 2004 as a demo and 2006 officially. The band is most known for its frontman Martin Walkyier (ex-Skyclad, ex-Sabbat). However, the line-up that recorded In the Big Ending… has a considerable amount of metal experience from Iscariah (ex-Immortal), Andy Sneap (Hell, Sabbat, well-renowned studio technician), James Murphy (Ex-Death, ex-Obituary, ex-Testament), Les Smith (ex-Anathema, ex-Cradle of Filth) + female vocals by Grim Rita.

The Clan “Destined”, split up before the official release of In The Big Ending in 2006. An irony not even a master lyricist like Martin Walkyier could plan. Apparently most of the music was written by Iscariah, and it is far from the folk metal of Skyclad. It traverses somewhere in heavy metal / thrash metal / groove metal terrains. The tracks are packed with memorable riffs, melodies and good background keyboard work, occasionally fiddling a lead melody.

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I cannot tell if Mr. Walkyier and Jacqui Taylor are roleplaying, commencing on a pagan ritual or just having a really weird drug-trip

Lyrically it is closest to Skyclad’s first album Wayward Sons of the Mother Earth (1991), which features very well written tree-hugging, earth-saving, western-life-critizing lyrics. The thunderous starter Swinging Like Judas is thematically straight out of the said album. With a lovely The Wicker Man (1973) sound clip in the beginning!

In the Big Ending has a strong pagan aspect, sometimes it even feels like forced conversion (I Am Because We Are!) which is exactly what Martin Walkyier is so often singing against (Swinging Like Judas + multiple Skyclad songs).

After the turmoil of the band, Walkyier’s lyrics on I Am Because We Are! praising the collective become unintentionally funny. It’s a lucky break that the track also includes the line “Soon we’ll be gone – The Earth keeps on turning.” 

The lyrics are still interesting and mostly of good quality. Walkyier’s trademark puns and clever wordplay are present but the general style is more straightforward than in his previous records. For a Skycladaholic like me, it’s still quite irresistible. Among with the good stuff, Walkyier does turn to a bit of a pagan preacher which is not much of my liking anymore (10 years ago I was sold!).

Nearly every track has a lot of infectious groove and catchiness, I Am Because We Are! probably the most so, if you are not annoyed by the preaching lyrics. Musically and lyrically the best track must be the epic More Than War. I would go so far to say it nears a masterpiece. The video track A Beautiful Start To The End Of The World is a very merited melodic track that would have deserved radio airplay which I’m sure it never got.

T.C. Lethbridge (Julian Cope cover) informs the world about this influental and controversial author, archaeologist, parapsychologist and explorer. The track itself is a compact and catchy rock track with memorable melodies. Some proper “library beer rock” really!

Have you even heard of T.C. Lethbridge?
Have you seen his books in any mall?
You’d be enthralled at his methodology,
While ‘scholars’ sit indoors going; “Ha ha ha ha ha!”.

I went so far to try to get hold of one of his 16 books, but none of the half dozen bookstore keepers I asked had never heard of him! Figures.

Even though I’m not planning in joining a pagan community any time soon (never say never!) when I first heard this album at a foolish ~21 year age old I wanted to shout out: It’s time let’s rhyme – United Pagan Massive. Come together or forever remain impassive.” That’s the power of good rock n’ roll!

Rating:
9/10
(Skyclad fanboy)
8/10
(Regular dude)

P.S. In the Big Ending… has had multiple reissues, 2004 a demo, 2006 the first “official” release by Lime Records. 2008 re-release by Lime records, still the only releases Lime has ever put out. 2015 Hammerheart Records re-re-released it as an LP, cd and 12″ MiniAlbum.

In the Big Ending… does have truly memorable thoughts. Perhaps the most important being:
“No one too can convince another who does not wish to believe what he is told. Only the doubter loses by his incredulity.”
– T.C. Lethbridge

Sad Legend – Searching For The Hope in Utter Darkness – South Korea

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Cursive white basic font is one of the few stylistic follies in a mostly fine release

The self-titled debut of Korean Sad Legend (1998) had a lot of melodic black metal trails, but already on their second official release, EP Searching For The Hope in Utter Darkness (2002), Sad Legend stripped almost all the black metal off. Instead the EP brought in more melancholy

The title track that starts the EP is a particularly somber piece. The memorable and mournful lead melody with double bass thundering reminds of their black metal roots. The track also features some screeching vocals underneath until the band shifts to an atmospheric slow section. It is quite typical for them really and has some gothic metal / symphonic rock in it with grandiose clean vocals and growling doubling. Naamah’s voice is not as versatile as on their final full-length The Revenge of Soul (2009, that I also reviewed earlier last month) but he does the vocals with great esteem.

I am not quite sure who made the final decision to include female vocals on the title track because they are quite horribly out of tune. The folk/power metal flirting that they proceeded to do a lot more on their final LP is also present here, with an awful casio keyboard interlude. On The Revenge of Soul such misses would be completely gone, Sad Legend really learned from their mistakes. Luckily Searching For The Hope In Utter Darkness does end with some nice progressive bits leading to the brilliant lead melody.

It brings a pleasantly expectant tone as the second track starts. And boy is Sigh on the Billow something to behold. The cliche waves crashing on the shore and gentle guitar with magical clean vocals is a wonderful sigh(t) to listen to. I’ve never been a big fan of power ballads but Sigh on the Billow is a rare breed. The female vocals also work here. Or is it actually Naamah singing with a ridiculously high-pitched voice? Knowing the vocal capabilities that Naamah showed on the next album this would not surprise me.

The track ends into another overreaction with merry folk metal keyboard alteration of the main theme. Perhaps I am too unforgiving but after a few listens I grew to dig this variation, even though at first listen I sighed audibly enough to wake my neighbours.

Third track An Echo of Bizzare Screams might be the shortest and also the least memorable but the march style on which the drums are played with is particularly refreshing. It is a compact but a rather sweet track.

I might label the closest genre to Searching For The Hope In Utter Darkness Gothic metal but it does not have the melodramatic vocals gothic bands usually go for. Instead you have strong varied vocals and compositions which have a lot of symphonic metal elements and a distant trail of black and power metal with a good amount Korean mystique!

8½/10

Also check the review of their final 2009 release here: https://likemusictoyourears.com/2017/04/15/sad-legend-the-revenge-of-soul/