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Hype?!

Haken – The Good Doctor

Is this a good single or what! Haken’s last three releases Affinity (2016), Restoration (2014) and The Mountain (2013) are among the very best progressive metal/rock releases of the 2000s. Haken is about to release a new album Vector October 26th. First single The Good Doctor really ups the expectations.

 

Riff driven, memorable melodies, funky bass groove… Haken is a multifaceted band but I’m glad they are embracing their riff driven metal side. The musical theatrics of Crystallised and Cockroach King, occasional worship of Dream Theater or 80s prog rock of Affinity is not on the forefront. Rhythmic mid-part reminds quite a lot of one of their killer tracks In Memoriam from The Mountain. It’s still pretty damn neat. The way it flows seamlessly back to now heavier double-kicking bridge that leads to chorus really makes sparks fly inside my mind.

Two of the best progressive metal bands at the moment are Haken and Vektor. Therefore I do not think it is coincidence that Hakens new album will be named Vector. The title of Vektor’s next album is still unannounced, but I bet it will be called Hacen!

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

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/

 

Loss – Horizonless

cover-smThe second album of LossHorizonless is more melancholic and melodic than most funeral doom / death-doom bands from the US. Horizonless has gotten plenty of fine response and is destined to become Loss’s breakthrough from the funeral doom underground.

The soothing melody lines of All Grows on Tears switch fluently between sorrowful and life affirming, reminding of very melodic death-doom bands like Swallow The Sun. At times Loss broods on dark riffs and the melodies are more nihilistic serving in a supporting role. Loss doesn’t go as far as all encompassing heaviness of Evoken although the first halves of Banishment and the title track Horizonless seem to seep from same sources.

There are plenty of small sections that are not from a playbook of a layman doom band. For example the acoustic guitars in the beginning of When Death Is All, or the little jazzy bass lines that at times heighten into leads riding over the dark wave of The Joy of All Who Sorrow. I have come to know – THE JOY OF ALL WHO SORROW! Then… How about the last 20 seconds that goes black metal? It’d actually be a really fucking good ending track. Too bad Loss didn’t ask me before they released the album ;).

I first thought the album to be a stellar but not superb that has an incredibly strong starter in The Joy of All Who Sorrow. After such a great track the rest of the album feels a tad stale. Also let’s face it, When Death is All is not the epic closer a masterclass album should have. It does have a pretty outro and good elements but as an entity it sounds a bit pieced together. The rest of the 5 main tracks that clock around 10 minutes are more fluent.

The album was on hiatus from my playlist for a few months after which I decided to move The Joy of All Who Sorrow as a last track and LO! Imminent new charm skyrocketed Horizonless among the best releases of 2017. I.O. serves as a fine intro but Moved Beyond Murder‘s 2.44 of ambient humming I removed altogether. Besides these 2 there are also two other semi-intermission tracks that serve well in their place. Almost 15 minutes of intermissions is still too much. (See the bottom of the post to listen the Like Music To Your Ears version of the album).

Naught deserves a couple of special mentions. The beginning clean guitars twinkle like the stars in the cover of the album and its last 3 minutes have the most chilling and indulging vocal lines. The vocalist Mike Meacham sounds to be committing an auditory seppuku with output of pure suffering and contempt. His usual vocal style is almost comically low growling, but the moments when he ranges to high screams and clean vocals are all highlights.

I dare to say this is my favourite doom release from the US since Morgion’s criminally underknown Cloaked by Ages, Crowned in Earth (2004).

9/10

Bandcamp: https://loss.bandcamp.com/album/horizonless
A good interview about the themes of the album: http://newnoisemagazine.com/loss-self-reliance-exceeding-horizons/

Fixed track order to maximize The Joy of All Who Sorrow:

Grave Pleasures – Motherblood

gravepleasuresmotherbloodcdYes! Everything that Beastmilk, who later renamed themselves to Grave Pleasures did right in the first album Climax (2013) also comes in place on Motherblood. In the get-go Climax dangled on the edge of annoyingness and hipsterness but regained its balance with a 2.5 twisting somersault. The second album Dreamcrash (2015) had the same setting but dived belly first in the short end of the pool.

It only took about 5 seconds of the first track Infatuation Overkill to get the first goosebumps. First minute confirmed the track better than anything on the previous release. It is not a void promise, the album keeps a strong base level throughout. The blasphemous lyrics, deathrock and catchy pop hooks dance together elegantly again.

Joy Through Death would work great as an eulogy, or is it just a piece of dark humorous obscenity? The way Grave Pleasures tackles them both at the same time is par none. Doomsday Rainbows is one of the many brilliant titles in their repertoire. Middle-paced track blasts off with the c-part. “and when i’m high on the mushroom cloud”…

The three tracks after Joy Through Death are a tad more average than the rest but the ending trinity is all style. Atomic Christ‘s repetitive and hypnotic rhythm reminds a bit of space rock and post-punk greats (“Whaaat is that David Tibet!?!” *Quick google*, “It is him!!” (Current 93 / neofolk legend)). Deadenders is a pure rock track with radio potential. It also works really well as an acoustic version! Haunted Afterlife is a gloomy lyric, with lovely resounding post punk sounds. It is only three minutes long and for once Grave Pleasures does not seem to take any pleasure from death. But the greatly sung melodic sorrowful chorus is such a pleasure to listen to.

Among the best albums of 2017.

8½/10