Progressive metal

Monumental Folkish & Folk metal playlist

1. Fleurety – Fragmenter av en Fortid disappeared from Spotify just a while ago, it will be added back when it comes back around. Full-length Min tid skal komme from 1995 is the real jewel of their discography. One of many “lost” metal releases that many consider a classic but most people have never heard about. It’s definitely a must checkup for fans of folkish metal.

1. Fleurety’s place was taken by Pillorian, the newly formed line-up of ex-Agalloch John Haughm. After Agalloch split into two pieces in 2016, the remaining three members went to form Khôrada that is due to release their first album. Pillorian‘s 2017 release Obsidian Arc starts with it’s brightest spots, By the Light of a Black Sun (+ Archaen Divinity) should sate most Agalloch fans.

2. Fen is not a band that I’ve tracked, even though it’s similarities to Agalloch have been known to me since their first full-length Malediction Fields in 2009. It is only lately that I gave a true chance to their unpolished first album and it unveiled a real jewel in Lashed by Storm. The weak clean vocals in the very end are it’s only grey spot. Fen’s 2017 release Winter materialized on my listening cycle; it does have some very atmospheric sections but its also really-frigging-long (75 minutes!). I would deem it very possible that a track from it appears to my playlists later on.

3.-4. As a humble praise, Wilderun‘s Sleep at the Edge of Earth might be my favourite metal release of past 5 years. It has a glorious quaternity Ash Memory (trinity has 3, quaternity 4, yeah i just looked it up from google…), from which 2 well fitting tracks were chosen. Hope and Shadow (II), and the The Faintest Echo (IV). The traces in the beginning of Hope and Shadow that clip in this collection are from the 1st track of the quaternity. Wilderun really took care to make it a logical entity which I then disturbed!

The Faintest Echo’s 3.20 monumental symphonic centerpiece and outro of the quaternity is a prime example why Wilderun’s output doesn’t pale in comparison with any symphonic and folk metal bands of today.

5. Tore Hund is by Ivar Bjørnson & Einar Selvik’s Skuggsjá. It is a project by Enslaved and Wardruna veterans, which may run below radar cause of it’s eccentric name that sounds like artsy folk music. Well um, it is kind of that actually, in a lot of ways Skuggsja sounds more like folk with metal elements than the other way around. Though even the folkier tracks often have a heavy backbone that owes to metal and makes these two elements come together naturally.

6. In Zuriaake‘s Afterimage of Autumn‘s most stunning moment, the chorus of 歸兮 / Return Journey Zuriaake seamlessly adds a traditional sounding Chinese tremolo melody to a slow doomy basis. Unfortunately I could not pick the name of this guitar like string instrument as the booklet is all in Chinese (except track titles). Zuriaake’s black metal focuses on entwining natural atmospherics, ambience with very overdriven guitars and depressive black metal vibe. I also reviewed them in the past (https://likemusictoyourears.com/2016/01/26/zuriaake-afterimage-of-autumn).

7. October Falls is an interesting beast for their first promo was metal but three of the first four official releases were acoustic guitar driven material with a lot of natural ambience. Since then they’ve mostly strolled on the metallic grounds, always with quality but rarely with something that really catches my ears. A Collapse of Faith Part III, from 2010 A Collapse of Faith must be their best track to date. I must admit however that I have spent way too little time in adjusting to 2013, The Plague of a Coming Age. That ought to be my next listen.

8. The noise / drone wall of Sol InvictusEnglish Murder‘s intro make it a significantly difficult piece. But I am not making these collections for layman listeners quick fix. The controversy and paradox of a folk track being actually heavier and darker than the following metal track make it a juicy addon.

9. Logically following Sol Invictus is Agalloch, who have listed Sol Invictus as one of their big influences. Agalloch is one of the very first metal bands that I got into and surely the first folkish metal band. Yet in their sound progressive elements, post-rock and melancholia are also ever present. Limbs 10 minute brilliance is started by deliciously annoyingly long 10 second note after which it goes all post-rock. Climbing to mountains, descending into valleys and drifting among the transparent mist.

I do appreciate a well timed and set up grunt, John Haughm’s 6.35 effort is one of the prime examples! “These boughs were said to be lost! Torn, unearthed and broken –  IYRRRRRRRRRRRR”. What the fuck is he even singing about? There must be something to it as it inspires genuine sing-along grunting from yours truly. When it comes to grunting, Haughm is right up there with Thomas Gabriel Fischer.

10. Skyclad‘s past two albums haven’t been nearly as notable as most of their 12 full-lengths before them (many of them are masterpieces after all). I would only rate A Burnt Offering for the Bone Idol and No Daylights Not Heeltaps on level with the new albums. However, on In The… All Together from 2009 Skyclad formed possibly the best track of their career, The Well-Travelled Man. The vocalist Kevin Ridley is on fire, shouting half of the track. Lyrics and composition communicate perfectly into a folky, dramatic, upbeat, yet melancholic tune with a heart-wrenching ending. Wow.

Lykathea Aflame – Elvenefris

coverQuoting my thoughts some years ago while inspecting a random recommendation from Metal-archives. “What the hell, I’ve never heard of Lykathea Aflame and their album (Elvenefris) has a 96/100 rating with almost 20 reviews :O! This must be some fine progressive death metal”.

Nope. Instead Lykathea Aflame must be the most overrated band no one’s ever heard of. Did that make sense? No? Good, neither does most of the Elvenefris. Don’t get me wrong, it has plenty of great musicianship and heavy-duty barrage, I can understand why some people like it. But mainly, it’s a huge mishmash.

Many riffs on Elvenefris sound to be played at random, halting another riff, spiritual melody, section, or whatnot suddenly. These halts are almost always paired with brutally fast drumming. After that there’s four different random riffs and two melodies until they return to the main theme. Many of these placeholder riffs are sure nimble, but sound uninspired and, well, dumb. Some might point out: “isn’t that what proper progressive music sounds at first?” Yes, yes it does sound like that at first, but not after ~10 listens and a couple of years.

Actually, forget my musings and the rest of the review. Go rather read the 2nd and 3rd paragraphs of Lord_genghis review from Metal-archives, after finishing the review I found out he put everything I meant to say down a lot better than I could: http://www.metal-archives.com/reviews/Lykathea_Aflame/Elvenefris/7208/lord_ghengis/89436.

2884_logoIt does not help that growled vocals are just ok. They are supposed to remind of Lord Worm of Cryptopsy but to me Lord Worm has variety, craziness and ability to really engage into it when Ptoe of Lykathea Aflame just grunts away. Clean vocals are at best tolerable, spoken word sounds about as good as recording them yourself.

The beginning of the first track, Land Where Sympathy Is Air is a good example of what’s wrong. Technical riffing with quite typical but rather strong western “ethnic” melody, sudden riff change, continuation. At about 50 seconds it turns to a cut and paste mishmash constantly visited by the same annoyingly jumpy riff that first appeared at 22 seconds. These kind of technical short riff bursts that scale to higher notes, and on highest peak repeat from the start are present on Elvenefris all the time. Judging by the good ratings Elvenefris has gotten,  it seems it appeals certain people. But the appalling 1.38 casio bagpipe melodies cannot be excused, and it’s not the only occurence.

Sadness and Strength has the strongest individual moment, with the best melody of the album leading to a fine, albeit a bit comical, outro. The leading melody resembles some ethnic pipe instrument(?) and sounds a tad like something children’s music band like the Finnish Fröbelin Palikat might write for their more serious tracks. Before that there’s some tight playing and a really, really bad starting riff. A Step Closer has nearly none of the annoying elements and An Old Man and a Child has more memorable than frustrating bits. But there’s nothing that really makes me want to tune them in again.

The crown jewel of the album is the 11 minute b-movie cinematic outro Walking in the Garden of Ma’at with fucking birds chirping all over the place ALL-THE-TIME. It would be atmospheric if the sounds didn’t remind me too much of Intel four-eighty-six processors.

4/10

Music Quickies – Paradox, Deathspell Omega, Wilderun, Barren Earth

Paradox – Pangea (2016)

573798These old thrash raptors are on the chase (2nd track Raptor, Jurassic Park)! In their manhunt (5th track Manhunt, Rambo) for the second best thrash album of 2016 with Blaakyum’s Line of Fear. Which one comes 2nd then?  I really cannot say but both are really positive surprises.

However, 6th track Cheat & Pretend is an offshot, and by 9th and 10th tracks, Alien Godz (Prometheus) and El Muerte, the biggest joy is gone. 59 minutes is too much for a thrash album, these three tracks could have easily been left out. The younger cosmic-rogues, Vektor still hold the cataclysm force (1st track Apophis, Stargate).

Solid album nevertheless, I had no idea speed metal heritage could still sound fresh!


Deathspell Omega – The Synarchy of Molten Bones (2016)
deathspellomegaarvosteludeathspell-omega-the-synarchy-of-molten-bones-e1475279012978Quote is from their last.fm wall. Free form jazz is a pretty good explanation why I have a hard time appreciating some of Deathspell Omega’s latest efforts. I feel they do hit right notes but I much prefer when they actually try to compose a song instead of section1->section2->section3->section4->section5->section6->section7->section8->section9->section10->section11->section12->section13…

Over random sections there’s vocals that do not really correlate with the music except in a sense that they are quite crazy too. On the other hand, how could you vocalize over this? I guess it’s as good an effort as any.

On Paracletus there were songs that had a more approachable structure and hooks. Quite a few of those hooks were memorable and the album is a solid entity. But Drought and Synarcy are just a mess.

Deathspell Omega is definitely experimental which is why I’d hope that they would realize not to run the damn clean guitar sound above everything on all of these three records. Perhaps Synarchy needs more time to fruition. 4 listens within a month merely crosses my irritation threshold.


Wilderun – Sleep at the Edge of The Earth (2015)

492322Simply the best album to come out in 2015, I have yet to find it’s equal from 2016 either.

Try it if you do not hate any of the following:
metal
symphonic
folk (dibbly-dabbly beerfolk excluded)
clean vocals
guitars
cinematic music



Barren Earth – On Lonely Towers (2015)
onlonelytowersp19com8m781mjt11t431p1i4to4m4The title track On Lonely Towers is the centerpiece of Barren Earth’s 2015 album and welcomes them back into form after the disappointingly tame The Devil’s Resolve (2012).

On Lonely Towers is somewhere between their first album Curse of the Red River (2010) and The Devil’s Resolve on heaviness scale. It’s not a deathdoom-donkey or blastbeat-beaver but occasionally uses both of these tricks to its advantage. Unlike some sections of The Devil’s Resolve it does not sound like Opeth’s Heritage. Unlike some sections of the Curse of the Red not a Swallow The Sun copy either.

Especially welcoming is the great vocal performance by the Faroe Island native Jón Aldará (Hamfero). That is not to say the previous vocalist Mikko Kotamäki (Swallow The Sun) didn’t do a good job on previous albums, but the more powerful voice of Aldará is a really welcome change.

On Lonely Towers, is a true gem of a track and none other ecplises it. The crooked and deliciously sung Shapeless Derelict and Chaos, The Songs Within, are also A class progressive metal. Frozen Processions and Howl are good examples of melodies and progressive twists that make some people deem Barren Earth “Amopeth”.

Persefone – Spiritual Migration – Andorra

366353As proficient as the guys in Persefone are with their instruments, Spiritual Migration, released in 2013, suffers from swelling. It has an incredible amount of content which can only be described as “stuff”. Ranging from 6(!) instrumentals to about 1 000 000 extra notes. I enjoy extra notes as much as anyone and there’s a lot to like in the details, but compositions should have more to say.

Persefone are from Andorra, they’ve released four albums since 2001, which all seem to have a massive theme around them. A new album Aathma is due to come out 2017, Spiritual Migration is the latest released record.

You can hardly blame people who have been fooled about the quality of the record (88 %, in Metal Archives). Well, first of all it is a quality record (duh). The production is top notch, instruments are very clear in the mix and still have so much power. Flying Sea Dragons is a great intro,  the beginning of the first real track Mind as Universe promises an unforgettable ride for progressive metal fanatics with some pretty full thrash riffing before sudden breaks and keyboards getting in the mix.

It is only with further listens that one notices that Mind as Universe, albeit a good track, does not really have much when it comes to song-writing. Lots of fine details; but the only thing one is bound to remember is the thrash riff that’s most visible in the first seconds and the twisted outro riff that’s arguably the best of the album. This is the whole album in a nutshell.

The growling / grunted vocals do they job with some emotion. The clean vocals may be a bit amateurish but the singer Moe Espinosa does have a rather unique sound, and the slight Spanish accent (is it insulting to call an Andorran accent Spanish?) actually sounds really pleasant. In the beginning I felt clean vocals was one of the weakest links of Persefone, but pervertedly on further listens they turned to one of the features I most enjoy.

What do I remember from the album then? Very impressive instrumentation, you gotta give credit for the ambitious approach. The Majestic of Gaia works great as an individual piece, most notably its last 2.5 minutes of epic song-writing with just the right amount of extra dibbling. Inner Fullness has a brilliant solo and emotive rhythmic chorus with some dual work from the vocalists and really fitting massive instrumentation. Outro is a memorable instrumental that sounds like a more somber part of a Japanese Anime-film. Returning to the Source has some of the most interesting bits with a solo that could almost be classified crazy, the rhythmics are wickedly unexpected. Unfortunately the end track turns really repetitive.

As apparent from the instrumentals and these high points Persefone handles epic melodies and movielike atmospheres very well. I seem to have pointed a lot of negatives. On my defense that is because Spiritual Migration has A LOT of high points that make it an enjoyable ride. When Persefone focuses into song writing without mixing too much stuff in it, they sound pretty damn good. Not many 7/10 albums have me expecting a new album so eagerly.

7/10

Music quickies – Vektor, Current 93, Katatonia, Devin Townsend Project, Behemoth

vektor-terminal_redux Vektor – Terminal Redux (2016)
Vektor’s hyped 2016 release is astronomically progressive metal. Vektor was the best modern thrash metal band for years, it is about time for them to get recognition. For an album that sates me midway, it is astoningly good but it would be more enjoyable shorter. It’s really not a better album than their previous efforts but still ridiculously good and full of everything tasty.
9/10
Listen: Mountains Above The Sun + Ultimate Artificer

0Current 93 Calling For Vanished Faces Calling for Vanished Faces (I: Funeral Music for
Us All) and (II: Love, Sleep And Dreams) (1999)

David Tibet’s overtheateritical aesthetics drove this Sol Invictus fanboy mad for half a decade. “Maybe, I might finally appreciate something of theirs?” I thought. I: Funeral Music for Us All starts as an oddities collection I cannot recommend less but picks up on Coal Black Smith, staggers to its most annoying pieces and picks up decently at Hourglass (For Diana) soon to turn into 1 hour 30 minutes of pure neofolk bliss. Probably my favourite release on which I completely skip 1/3 of it.
I 7/10
II 10-/10
Listen: The whole second side, except the 4 ending tracks, is blissful.

570160Katatonia – The Fall of Hearts (2016)
Some outerworldly charm with heartbreaking atmosphere. Drags time to time yet still wrenches heartstrings every minute. Passer‘s descending scale should be obnoxious yet it is genuinely alluring. How on earth did they make it work.
Listen: Decima & Residual for angsting in a dark room, Passer for prog.
Grade upcoming

 

devintownsendprojecttranscendencecdDevin Townsend Project – Transcendence (2016)
Middle aged Devin is zen and re uses his components but those lures still amount some catch. Not bad, but I may have heard too much “c-grade progressive metal” (quoting their own making of documentary) to fully appreciate this kind of polished sound anymore. Danger lurks somewhere else. Here’s hoping the next album goes permanently Higher.

The second album is simply too much as can be noticed from the lack of recognition it has gotten. The (demo) titles are a very Devin Townsendish joke, the stuff is nearly as polised as the first. Love the commercial suicide though, it could have well been released it as a lone piece.
Listen: Higher
7ish/10

395440Behemoth – The Satanist (2014)
If you can think of a more epic way to start a track than in the title track of The Satanist please let me know. The track does not carry the weight of its beginning but the album does. The wall-of-sound production, mildly reminiscent of Emperor, gives it weight unlike many releases.

Incorporating a massive and satisfying finale that only runs through the last minute of Blow Your Trumpets Gabriel requires so much finesse. O Father O Satan O Sun! towers above the rest of the release with another finale, this time based on a monster riff and oration like an esoteric sermon. Here’s hoping The Satanist won’t be the last of Behemoth like Nergal hinted in the past.
Listen: Blow Your Trumpets Gabriel & O Father O Satan O Sun!
Grade upcoming

Myrath – Legacy / ميراث – Tunis

555267Myrath is likely the biggest metal band yet to come from Africa. In their 10 years of activity they have released 4 albums of solid standard.

Myrath play melodic progressive metal but during the years they’ve calmed down on the metal and progressive and added more symphonic, almost bombastic elements. The latest album Legacy does not emphasize heaviness and the progressive elements are interwoven in the tracks. There’s no Dream Theater like instrument extremities that were present on their earlier years. It is still very much a metal album, even though the lightweight video track Believer might fool the unwary.

The musicianship and songwriting is top notch. The more crooked and catchy bits like the sudden rhythmics of Nobody’s Lives or the stadium chorus of Get Your Freedom Back are natural parts in the body of the tracks. Nobody’s Lives also includes one of the most notable choruses of the album where English is for a moment replaced with Arabic. The c-part of the said track has a mighty rhythmic groove and at the same time to untrained European ears sounds like a prayer call from a minaret!

The most thrilling component of Myrath are the middle eastern folk influences they augment. Singer Zaher Zorgati deserves a very special mention of his extremely pleasant voice and how he floats his voice in true Arabic fashion. I’ve never heard that being used in metal before and it sounds fantastic. Surprisingly Myrath also adds a few bits of electronic backgrounds here and there.

After the first 3 full tracks of near bliss the quality goes down, I noticed myself humming and sing-alonging way less to melodies and choruses of the latter part of the album. The Needle is a track that for the most part could have been made by any Western band and that is probably why it is less interesting. Duat and Endure the Silence also do not have as strong a melody and choruswork as the rest of the album. Through Your Eyes is a good track with mildly too sweet chorus (although it must be pointed out that it fits the lyrical theme) and Storm of Lies is a good track overall but just more of the same, failing to be the epic closer I was hoping for. Luckily The Unburnt and especially I Want to Die, with its touching lyrics, bring some top notch quality for the latter part of the album too.

The Unburnt’s lyrics surprise by showcasing the story of Daenerys Targaryen of A Song of Ice and Fire (or Game of Thrones if you prefer the watered down albeit still good tv-version). It encompasses such ethnic elements so naturally that in my mind it has already intertwined as a part of Daenerys’s character.

Myrath’s strength and weakness lay in the same area, accessibility. For a progressive metal album it’s song structures are too similar to each other to hold interest on top of the scale. However it is really hard to point out many wrongs in what they do. Picking up a single track from the last part of the album yields almost no faults. For someone who is looking for really challenging progressive music, Legacy is probably not ideal, but it has accessibility to spare for more lighthearted music fans who are not afraid of some surprising twists.

8/10