Friday, June 22, 2012

Storm Corrosion - Storm Corrosion

Storm Corrosion
Storm Corrosion
Roadrunner Records

Having worked on several projects together throughout the years, it was only inevitable that Opeth vocalist/guitarist Mikael Åkerfeldt and Porcupine Tree/No-Man/Blackfield front man Steven Wilson would eventually collaborate on something outside of their respective bands. And sure enough, in March 2010, the pair officially announced their intensions to make an album under the name of Storm Corrosion. Two years on (And a year after its official completion, which allowed both Opeth and Wilson to promote their respective album releases in 2011), and Storm Corrosion have finally released their highly anticipated self-titled debut full-length effort.
Leading up to the release of the album, both Åkerfeldt and Wilson made quite clear that Storm Corrosion was not going to sound like a progressive metal act, but was in fact going to be something entirely different from anything the pair had produced throughout their musical careers. The idea sounded intriguing, and given the pair’s most recent efforts (Wilson’s ‘Grace For Drowning’ and Opeth’s ‘Heritage’), the sound and direction that Storm Corrosion could go in on their debut was really anybody’s guess. In a lot of ways, the best way to describe Storm Corrosion’s overall sound and direction is a mix of both Opeth and Wilson’s most recent releases, but with a greater experimental and avant-garde edge in terms of instrumentation and song writing.
Initially, I can’t say that the album really did much for me. And that’s probably not all that surprising given that while I thoroughly enjoyed Wilson’s last album, I was bitterly disappointed with Opeth’s last release. But despite my initial impression, I persevered with the album, and only after allowing the time and space to really let the music to sink in, it finally started to grow on me.
The opening track ‘Drag Ropes’ is by far the most immediate track on the album, with its cinematic mix of strings and sparse piano, and Åkerfeldt’s soft vocals adding a real melody to proceedings. A couple of minutes into the track, and the atmosphere changes into something far darker and twisted, with the manipulated keyboard sounds and the dual vocalists intertwined arrangements adding a very bizarre vibe to the song. Guitars are used sparingly here, but enough to stand out as something special, while the mix of vocal harmonies, the strings, piano and the guitars for the second half of the track evokes a dark and sinister feel, which is nothing short of absolute song writing genius. Unfortunately, the track really is a one of a kind.
The title track ‘Storm Corrosion’ is another album highlight with Åkerfeldt’s gentle acoustic guitar work and Wilson’s quiet vocals veering more toward folk territory at the start of the song. Åkerfeldt’s sparse solo midway through is a wonderful addition, while the subtle strings and minimalist percussion only enhance the folk edge. Of course, elements of the avant-garde aren’t entirely forsaken, with a section around the three quarter mark really shaking the song up. But while the bizarre sound effects interlude is a little jarring upon first listen, it does make sense once you get used to it.
‘Hag’ initially starts out as a continuation of the former track, but eventually evolves into something a little darker, before erupting with a distorted drum solo (Courtesy of Porcupine Tree drummer Gavin Harrison) and a sinister mix of piano, keyboards and guitars (Which brings to mind Opeth’s ‘The Grand Conjuration’ from 2005’s ‘Ghost Reveries’). Although not up to the standard of the former tracks, ‘Hag’ is at the very least an interesting track that works more than it fails.
‘Happy’ on the other hand is a track that doesn’t quite work. Åkerfeldt’s guitar work is good, and the sonic manipulations of sound towards the tail end of the track are effective, but essentially the pair is tacked onto a song that’s too meandering and short of fully developed ideas and direction. In essence, this is one of the album’s filler efforts.
Unlike the former track, the instrumental piece ‘Lock Howl’ is a definite stand out track, with the band indulging more in progressive sounds here than on any other track on the album. The use of acoustic guitars throughout allows a clarity that wouldn’t otherwise exist with electrics, while the fade in/fade out of strings, odd keyboard effects, hand claps and piano add to the mesmerising magnificence of the cinematic-like piece.
Finishing up the album is ‘Ljudet Innan’ (Which is Swedish for ‘Sound Before’), which opens up with a strangely soulful and blues like performance from Åkerfeldt on vocals (In other words – In a way you’ve never heard him sing before!), before trailing out with a lengthy and soothing mix of dreamy keyboards, gentle guitar notes and Wilson’s near whispered vocals.
Overall, Storm Corrosion has produced an album that will definitely divide fans. Those who enjoyed the more recent efforts from the pair will definitely find plenty to sink their teeth into. It’s experimental, challenging and avant-garde, but an album well worth taking the time to fully comprehend and appreciate. But those expecting something more progressive or metallic (Or even along the lines of the first single ‘Drag Ropes’) will be sorely disappointed with this collaborative effort.

For more information on Storm Corrosion, check out - http://stormcorrosion.com/

© Justin Donnelly

Wednesday, June 20, 2012

Cape Tribulation - And When You Get To The End Is It What You Expect

Cape Tribulation
And When You Get To The End Is It What You Expect
Impedance Records

Formed a little over three years ago, you could say that northern Wollongong (Austinmer) outfit Cape Tribulation is a relatively new act on the Australian music scene. But in truth, when you take into account the members that make up this trio, it’s clear that Cape Tribulation is anything but inexperienced newcomers to the scene. Comprising of vocalist/guitarist Nik ‘Diamh-inis’ Devenish (Ex-Hateman, Lustre 4, Captain Nemo and Little Death), bassist/backing vocalist Andy Staig (Ex-Boner, Suspect Device, Superpussy and Life Adjustment Disorder) and drummer/backing vocalist Phil Lally (Ex-Fridge, Tumbleweed, El Sanchez and Little Death), the coming together of the three veteran’s of the underground Australian alternative rock movement promise much on their debut full-length effort ‘And When You Get To The End Is It What You Expect’. And sure enough, it well and truly delivers.
Cape Tribulation open up their album with the urgent and energetic ‘Down With The Sea’, which gives listeners a clear idea of the distinctive sound the band have been carefully honing and perfecting for themselves over the last couple of years. Essentially, ‘Down With The Sea’ is a mix of post-punk and alternative rock, with the minimalist approach of Devenish’s angular guitar riffs, Staig’s highly prominent bass and Lally’s driving and solid ever-present drum presence. Topping it all off is Devenish’s half sung/spoken word vocals, which reveals a slight punk edge to the band’s sound, but with an added alternative edge that really allows the band’s sound to stand out.
The follow up track ‘Arms For Oars’ isn’t too far removed from the sound and direction of the opener, with Devenish’s unique vocal delivery giving the song an air of desperation and menace, while the infectious ‘Cabin Boy’, the straight-forward rocking groove of ‘Cat’s Paw’, the strangely melodic and off-beat ‘Clear’ (Which originally appeared on the fourth volume of Helter Smelter’s ongoing Illawarra/south coast regions downloadable compilation releases from last year) and the tight rhythmic closer ‘Latch Key Kid’ are definite favourites on the album.
Elsewhere, tracks such as ‘Dance’, the quiet verses/loud choruses construction of ‘Popular’ and ‘Lift On Three’ showcase a bit more of the experimentation within the band’s song writing, which works quite well, and gives the band a slightly broader sound beyond the confines of the post-punk and alternative rock mould.
Overall, Cape Tribulation’s debut effort is an album that’s kind of hard to pin down in simple terms. But despite this, the trio have created a thoroughly enjoyable album, and one that more than meets the expectations considering the history of those involved.

For more information on Cape Tribulation, check out - http://www.capetribulationband.com/

© Justin Donnelly

Hard Riot - Living On A Fast Lane

Hard Riot
Living On A Fast Lane
Pitch Black Records

If there’s one thing missing in today’s music scene its classic hard rock. You know - the kind of rock that’s driven by a riff, a singer that can actually sing and where the music isn’t influenced by anything remotely modern. Sure, there are a few acts out there (Swiss outfit Gotthard and U.S. act Hardline are two that spring immediately to mind), but more often than not, what’s branded as hard rock these days is nothing more than a modern sounding act attempting to mimic the greats of the past (Saliva, Hinder and Nickelback are the best know worst offenders) – without the benefit of understanding what made classic hard rock so great in the first place. But just when I though classic hard rock was all but dead, along came German outfit Hard Riot to prove me well and truly wrong.
Founded in 2006, the Heilbronn based four piece outfit (Comprising of vocalist Michael Gildner, guitarist Andreas Rockrohr, bassist Mario Kleindienst and drummer Carmine Jaucci) released their independently released five track E.P. ‘The Hidden Truth’ in 2009, and coupled with their reputation of putting on live shows, eventually led to a deal with Cyprian based label Pitch Black Records, who have released the band’s debut full-length effort ‘Living On A Fast Lane’.
The album kicks off in rocking fashion with the opening track ‘Get Ready’. Almost immediately, you can hear traces of AC/DC in the band’s construction of simple but effective riffs. But outside of the riffs, it’s the vocals and the guitar solos that really give the song its character. Gildner really is the life and soul of the band’s core sound, with a voice that’s melodic enough to hook people in, but raspy enough to steer away from sounding too slick. And as for the solos, well you can’t complain about a guitarist who knows how to inject a bit of showmanship on the six strings into the heart of the song can you?
‘Hellfire Rock’ is another driving tune with an anthem-like sing-a-long chorus, while ‘Don’t Need You’ (Which originally appeared on the band’s debut E.P.) slows down the pace a little, but is no less rocking with its strong sense of blues sounding groove and hint of funk.
The fast paced ‘No Surrender’ is a definite stand out cut with its infectious chorus, while ‘Turn On The Lights’, the metallic sounding ‘Take Me Down’, the harmonised twin guitar assault of ‘Take Me Down’ and ‘Rock ‘N’ Roll Outlaw’ are further highlights found throughout the album.
Unfortunately, the album isn’t entirely perfect throughout, with the plodding ‘Tears In The Rain’ (The only other track lifted from their debut E.P.) overstaying its welcome, the ballad ‘Nothing But You’ suffering from a touch too much of Gildner’s German accent coming through (A problem that plagued the Scorpions at times as well), and ‘Black Widow’ a little too blues based to blend seamlessly with the rest of the album.
Despite a couple of tracks that don’t quite cut it, and the awkward title that adorns the album (Did something get lost in the translation?), Hard Riot have produced one killer classic hard rock debut effort.

For more information on Hard Riot, check out – http://www.hard-riot.com/

© Justin Donnelly

Paradise Lost - Tragic Idol (Limited Edition)

Paradise Lost
Tragic Idol (Limited Edition)
Century Media Records/E.M.I. Music Australia

Although Paradise Lost never really disappeared, few would deny that since the long running U.K. based gothic rock/metal outfit signed to Century Media Records in 2007, the band have been enjoying a renaissance of sorts, with their last couple of album’s hailed as the strongest releases to emerge from the band is some years.
Three years after the release of ‘Faith Divides Us - Death Unites Us’, Paradise Lost has finally returned with their thirteenth studio outing ‘Tragic Idol’. And true to the band’s recent form, the album is another sterling effort from a band that is well and truly at the top of their game.
In the lead up to the release of ‘Tragic Idol’, songwriter/lead guitarist Gregor Mackintosh likened the sound and direction heard on ‘Tragic Idol’ to their classic efforts ‘Icon’ (1993) and ‘Draconian Times’ (1995). And when you take into account Mackintosh’s recent foray into his death metal past with his solo project Vallenfyre (Who released their debut effort ‘A Fragile King’ in 2011), the news obviously had many hoping that Paradise Lost were making a determined effort to make an album that rivalled their critically acclaimed classics of the formative years.
Well, there’s no doubt that ‘Tragic Idol’ does bear some similarities to the above mentioned albums, as the band’s latest effort is undoubtedly the heaviest sounding effort they have produced in years. But ‘Tragic Idol’ is far from the kind of album that mimics their past sound. There are still plenty of the band’s trademark melodies of their more recent past contained throughout the album, and vocalist/lyricist Nick Holmes hasn’t completely abandoned his clean vocals just yet. No, if anything, ‘Tragic Idol’ is a natural continuation of where their last album left things, but with an added dimension of grimness thematically and a heavier sound to reflect the band’s progress forward.
Paradise Lost (Who also include rhythm guitarist Aaron Aedy, bassist Stephen Edmondson and drum legend Adrian Erlandsson (At The Gates/Cradle Of Filth/Vallenfyre), who joined the band in early 2011) open up the album with the slower paced and doom-like ‘Solitary One’, which is one of the few tracks to feature keyboards high in the mix, and a greater emphasis on melodic structure and clean sung choruses from Holmes. The song itself is a strong opener, and effective as a transitional track that bridges the sound heard on the band’s last release, and the sound that can be heard on their latest effort on the album’s first single ‘Crucify’.
‘Crucify’ is one heavy number, and best showcases the role the guitarists play on ‘Tragic Idol’ as a whole. Although Holmes adds a much needed melodic edge through his growled vocals, it’s the guitarists that really dominate here – and it works exceedingly well.
The cleverly titled ‘Fear Of Impending Hell’ is a broody track that features some outstanding vocals from Holmes on the choruses, while the guitar driven crunch heard on ‘Honesty In Death’, the title track ‘Tragic Idol’ (Which boasts another inspired performance from Holmes) and the powerful ‘Worth Fighting For’ are noteworthy slower paced efforts dotted throughout the album.
‘Theories from Another World’ is an absolute crushing track that combines speed, tribal drums and a genuine sense of theatrics in a way that is different from what you would expect from the band, while the excellent riff driven ‘In This We Dwell’ and the nihilistic ‘To The Darkness’ are efforts from the band determined to inject a heavier edge into their sound – with great results. Finishing up the album is ‘The Glorious End’, which is suitably miserable and funeral march paced, but epic nonetheless.
As noted at the top, this is a review for the limited edition version of ‘Tragic Idol’, which comes with the addition of two bonus tracks on a separate disc. The first is ‘Ending Through Changes’, which is a great track that is every bit as epic as the album closer, but far more melodic and atmospheric. The only reason it wasn’t included on the album that I can surmise is that it’s more along the lines of the material from ‘Faith Divides Us - Death Unites Us’.
The second song on the second disc is the band’s take on Spear Of Destiny’s hit single ‘Never Take Me Alive’ (Which originally appeared on their 1987 album ‘Outland’). I was never a fan of the original, so I wasn’t expecting much from Paradise Lost’s version. But to my surprise, this version is an absolute gem, with the added musical atmospherics and Holmes’ vocals giving the song a whole new facelift. This track alone warrants picking up the limited edition of ‘Tragic Idol’.
As far as I’m concerned, Paradise Lost has never produced a sub-par album. And while I’m not completely sold on the thick sound of their latest release (Courtesy of producer/mixer Jens Bogren), ‘Tragic Idol’ is another first class release from the Halifax based legends.

For more information on Paradise Lost, check out – http://www.paradiselost.co.uk/

© Justin Donnelly

Tuesday, June 12, 2012

The Firstborn - Lions Among Men

The Firstborn
Lions Among Men
Rastilho Records

Initially starting out as a black metal outfit (The band’s 1998 debut ‘Rebirth Of Evil’ was released under the name of Firstborn Evil), Portuguese outfit The Firstborn has been slowly evolving over the last dozen years to emerge with a sound and style that is completely removed from what they started producing - these days focussing on predominately Buddhist based lyrical themes, and music that is more akin to progressive/groove metal. Four years after the release of their highly regarded ‘The Noble Search’ effort, the quintet (Comprising of vocalist Bruno Fernandes, guitarists Nuno Gervásio and Filipe Lima, bassist Hélder Malícia and drummer Rolando Barros) are back with their fourth full-length effort ‘Lions Among Men’ - which is also their first release through Rastilho Records.
The first track on the album is the title track ‘Lions Among Men’, and it’s the first to show the progression the band has made to their sound in the years since their last release. The song begins with a long and slow building introduction that draws the listener in, before settling into a doom heavy groove that brings to mind Neurosis at their bleakest, albeit with some eastern influences heard within the intertwining swirling guitar tones and subtle percussion instruments. Fernandes’ vocals are a mix of harsh spoken word efforts and deep audible growls, which work exceedingly well with the dense eclectic sound mix that emerge from the band. Direction wise, the song showcases a greater groove and structured sound to anything from their former releases, and with the subtle eastern instrumentation incorporated into their sound more this time around, the whole track seems to tie in more with the what the band have long been producing on the lyrical side of things.
‘Without As Within’ doesn’t stray too far from where the opener left off, with the groove dominating the overall sound of the song for the most part. But having said that, the brief pockets of atmospheric passages that allow Fernandes to focus more on his clean voice do add a bit more variation to the up-tempo number to make it stand out as different.
The use of sitar (Provided by Luís Simões) on the Sepultura-like ‘Wantless’ is a welcome addition to what is otherwise one of the album’s more riff driven tracks, while ‘Eight Flashes Lances’ and ‘Nothing Attained, Nothing Spoken’ are the definitive stand out tracks on the album with their energetic up-tempo drive, and the best examples of where the band’s metallic sound and the dynamics of the eastern instrumentation work perfectly in harmony.
Finishing up the album is the instrumental piece ‘Sounds Liberated As Mantra’, which isn’t too dissimilar in direction to the above mentioned tracks in terms of incorporating eastern sounds into a traditional metal sound, but differs in that the band focus more on guitar leads and an overall progressive direction, which gives the song a sound different from the rest of the album - but in a great way.
‘Lions Among Men’ isn’t going to be the sort of album that will find a wide audience amongst traditional metal fans. If however you’re a fan of Neurosis, Sepultura or Australia’s own Alchemist, you’ll definitely find something of interest in the music The Firstborn conjure up.

For more information on The Firstborn, check out - http://www.lionsamongmen.net/

© Justin Donnelly

Live Elephant - Speak The Truth Or Die Alone

Live Elephant
Speak The Truth Or Die Alone
Pantherfarm/Ninetone Records

For a band that’s been around for the better part of two decades, there’s not a whole lot of information about Swedish (Umeå based) outfit Live Elephant. And in terms of output, the band hardly qualify as the most prolific of acts, having only released three full-length albums within that time (1996’s ‘Skin N’ Bone’, 2000’s ‘Masterhead’ and 2006’s ‘Into The Machinery’). While Live Elephant have yet to find success, it hasn’t been through a lack of trying, with the band having earned support slots alongside Deep Purple and Europe guitarist John Norum solo tours in the past - all achieved without the aid of any label support.
Six years after the release of their last album, Live Elephant (Who comprise of vocalist/drummer Morgan ‘Mogge’ Eriksson, lead/rhythm guitarist Mathias ‘Matte’ Nylén, rhythm guitarist Henrik ‘Henke’ Mikaelsson, bassist Olov ‘Olle’ Norberg and drummer Olov ‘Jompa’ Nilsson) are back with their fourth album ‘Speak The Truth Or Die Alone’ - which is their first release to be distributed worldwide through Pantherfarm/Ninetone Records.
Live Elephant has generally been described as a thrash act by most, yet the band have coin their sound as ‘Slugger Metal’. But on the opening track ‘Hellyeah! (Come Taste My Blood)’, there’s no denying the strong influence Pantera has on the band, with the song delivered with a fast paced groove, powerful riff and drum structures and a powerful and commanding performance from Nylén out front. Despite the obvious comparisons, the track itself is a great tune, and the varied tempo changes, catchy chorus and brief spurts of melodic lead work give the song an undeniably infectious energy that makes you sit up and take notice.
The slower paced follow-up track ‘Before I Die’ sees a slight change, with a sound that brings to mind a more straight forward and groove driven Lamb Of God, while ‘Dead End Sorrows’ sits somewhere in-between the two above mentioned acts, but with an added European edge thrown into the mix. Needless to say, this song is definitely one of the album’s many highlights.
‘Hurt’ is a bit of an oddity on the album with its Meshuggah-like intense and dense riffing grooves, but still manages to slot in with the other tracks with its strong choruses, while tracks such as ‘Back To The Roots’, ‘Black Crown’ and ‘End Of The Line’ showcase the so-called thrash side of the band’s sound, with traces of latter day Testament’s melodic thrash sound rising a little more to the surface.
But while there’s plenty of twists and turns throughout the album, it’s the Pantera-like groove metal sound that dominates most of the sound and direction of the majority of the songs, with ‘Oh Sweet Lord’ (Which has a touch of Down’s heavy southern styled vibe injected into its riffs), ‘B’ and the title track ‘Speak The Truth Or Die Alone’ the definite favourites from the remainder of the album.
It’s taken Live Elephant a while to release a new album, but the time spent on ‘Speak The Truth Or Die Alone’ has been well worth the effort. The album is richly diverse, catchy and heavy as hell, and a testament to the band’s hard work. If there were any justice in the music business, this album should finally earn the band some well earned and overdue success.

For more information on Live Elephant, check out - http://www.myspace.com/liveelephant

© Justin Donnelly

Friday, June 8, 2012

Anathema - Weather Systems

Anathema
Weather Systems
Kscope Music/Snapper Music Label

Liverpool (U.K.) atmospheric/progressive rock outfit Anathema are undoubtedly in their prime at this point in their career. Their last three full-length albums (2008’s ‘Hindsight’, 2010’s ‘We’re Here Because We’re Here’ and 2011’s ‘Falling Deeper’) have not only seen the band enter a new phase of their lengthy career in terms of direction, but creatively as well, with each one of the above mentioned releases regarded as modern era Anathema classics. Obviously keen to keep the momentum going, and still very much in a creative state of mind, Anathema (Who comprise of lead vocalist/guitarist/keyboardist/programmer/bassist Vincent Cavanagh, lead vocalist Lee Douglas, guitarist/vocalist/keyboardist/programmer/bassist Danny Cavanagh, bassist Jamie Cavanagh and drummer/keyboardist/programmer John Douglas) have returned with a rather quick follow up to their album from last year in ‘Weather Systems’.
Given the direction that Anathema has taken on their last three releases, it’s not all that surprising to see the band remain true to the same direction and mood on their latest effort. But having said that, ‘Weather Systems’ (Their eleventh full-length album) does have enough of its own character and identity to distance itself from their last couple of studio releases, to stand out. The question is - How does it fare against their undisputed run of classic releases of recent times?
And the answer is pretty damn well, with the opening track ‘Untouchable Part 1’ definitely one of the album’s real stand-out cuts. Starting out with the finger picked acoustic guitar work and Vincent’s powerful emotive vocals, the song gently builds up layer by layer with more and more instrumentation (Including the now familiar subtle orchestration (The London Session Orchestra was recorded by Steve Price and produced by Dave Stewart) to really build up the sound), before drawing to a climatic symphonic close. Without a moment’s pause, ‘Untouchable Part 2’ ushers in a reprise of the song’s main melody with Vincent singing over piano, before Douglas joins Vincent out front, with the duo’s harmonised voices adding a real sensitivity to the song to match the acoustic/orchestral musical accompaniment.
‘The Gathering Of The Clouds’ doesn’t stray too far from the format of the opening two tracks, with the dual vocal melodies over acoustic finger picked guitars and lush orchestration creating a dense arrangement that comes across as both complex and simplistic at the same time, while on the former track’s second half ‘Lightning Song’, Douglas takes on the lead vocal role with confidence and class.
Despite a solid performance from Daniel Cavanagh, and coming across as one of the album’s heavier sounding efforts, ‘Sunlight’ is a little unremarkable and one of the album’s least memorable. The lengthy ‘The Storm Before The Calm’ is one of the album’s more experimental efforts with the first half of the nine minute track boasting programmed electronic beats and effects that take on a greater role, which in turn gives the song a darker and colder feel to the band’s more upbeat and emotive material, while the second half is a Pink Floyd-like epic with stunning instrumentation that work in tandem with the understated melodic and classic lead guitar solos.
Outside the former track, the piano based ‘The Beginning And The End’ is another highlight in terms of guitar work, with Daniel given plenty of space to provide an extended solo without being overshadowed, while treading in a similar path is the follow on track ‘The Lost Child’, with its piano led melancholy coming across as a real moment of beauty that could only work in the hands of Anathema.
Finishing up the album is ‘Internal Landscapes’, which not unlike ‘Hindsight’ from ‘We’re Here Because We’re Here’, is another lengthy track that features some spoken word samples (A spiritual near death experience as told by Joe Geraci) to give the album a heartfelt life affirming message that’s become the centre of Anathema’s lyrical themes these days.
Although a few tracks slip below the standard set by Anathema’s last few albums, ‘Weather Systems’ is still a stunning album on its own, and strong enough to maintain the band’s status as virtually untouchable by fellow acts within the same musical realm.

For more information on Anathema, check out - http://www.anathema.ws/

© Justin Donnelly

Hypno5e - Acid Mist Tomorrow

Hypno5e
Acid Mist Tomorrow
Klonosphere/Season Of Mist/Truth Inc. Records

Despite being released in 2007, it took several years before Hypno5e’s debut full-length album ‘Des Deux L’une Est L’Autre’ was available throughout the rest of the world. Under normal circumstances, the delayed release of more than four years for a typical act might well have had virtually no positive impact. But for avant-garde metal act Hypno5e, the slow introduction of ‘Des Deux L’une Est L’Autre’ only heightened the buzz surrounding the band, and eventually built up anticipation for a new full-length effort from the avant-garde act. Now, after a lengthy five years after the release of their debut (And two years since the release of their side project’s A Backward Glance On A Travel Road’s critically acclaimed self-titled debut), Hypno5e (Who comprise of vocalist/guitarist Emmanuel Jessua, guitarist Jonathan Maurois, bassist/backing vocalist Cédric ‘Gredin’ Pages and drummer Thibault Lamy) has returned with their long awaited sophomore effort ‘Acid Mist Tomorrow’.
The band start off their latest release with the ten minute title track ‘Acid Mist Tomorrow’, and showcase the extremities in styles and sounds that have earned the band their name as one of the metal scene’s more adventurous and avant-garde acts. Alternating between harsh pockets of brutality and passages of melodic atmospherics, ‘Acid Mist Tomorrow’ is a compelling piece of work that does take time to fully absorb, but worth it once fully understood. Not unlike their debut effort, the track features spoken word samples to add an extra dimension to their sound, which only adds to the haunting atmosphere created by the band’s eclectic and somewhat cinematic style of song writing.
Next up is the two part suite ‘Six Fingers In One Hand She Holds The Dawn’. The first part is a rather short instrumental piece that serves as an introduction to the second part - A track that is definitely one of the real highlights on the album. Much like the opener, this track is a mix of the chaotic and the melodic, with a greater emphasis on blurring the line between the two. Jessua’s harsh vocals are a real stand out, while the diversity of riff structures and quick time changes are well executed, and combined gives the song a real progressive edge. The tail end of the track is quite effective too, with the spoken word samples over the creepy keyboards helping to bridge the track to the follow-on effort ‘Story Of The Eye’.
‘Story Of The Eye’ is perhaps the most accessible track on the album in terms of flow and streamlined song writing structures, even if it is the heaviest and most progressive track on the album. The addition of keyboards and violin/flute samples against crushing metallic passages only add to the epic nature of the song, and earn the track its place as the best song on the album.
Next up is the three part suite ‘Gehenne’, ‘Part I’ begins with a slow building/softly sung introduction, which is soon pushed aside for a brutal middle section that incorporates some acoustic interludes in ‘Part II’, before combining equal parts of the first two parts for a climatic conclusion on the closing ‘Part III’.
Finishing up the album is the two part ‘Brume Unique Obscurité’, which starts out with a cinematic and atmospheric introduction with lots of spoken word samples (‘Part I’), and finishes up with a full-on vicious groove-like tail end that is full of jagged riffs, progressive time changes and a mix of acoustic and electric instruments.
I had high expectations of ‘Acid Mist Tomorrow’, and after allowing the album to grow on me, I’ve concluded that the album is quite an accomplished effort from Hypno5e, especially given the high standard set by their debut offering.
Suffice to say, if you’re looking for something a little left of centre, ‘Acid Mist Tomorrow’ is an album that should definitely fit the bill.

For more information on Hypno5e, check out - http://www.hypno5e.com/

© Justin Donnelly

Tuesday, June 5, 2012

Calling Zion - Calling Zion

Calling Zion
Calling Zion
Independent Release

I remember hearing Melbourne based heavy rock/metal outfit Tread’s debut three track E.P. back in 2005 and thinking that while the band had potential, vocalist Scott Lathwood really impressed me. Of course, Tread and Lathwood parted ways, and Tread duly blew me away with their debut effort ‘Rise From Silence’ in 2009. In the years since his days with Tread, I’ve kept an ear out for Lathwood’s other projects, including Ordain, who managed to make some waves here in Australia, before moving to the U.S. in order to further make a name for themselves. It’s been a couple of years since I last heard from Lathwood, but the Chicago (Illinois) based vocalist finally resurfaced in a brand new outfit who go by the name of Calling Zion.
Since coming together back in 2011, Calling Zion (Who aside from Lathwood, comprise of Novembers Doom/Divinity Compromised guitarist Vito Marchese, guitarist Mike Warner, bassist Frank Michelkamp and ex-Symphony drummer Rocky Roppo) have been busying themselves with writing songs and refining their sound, and after spending time in the studio with producer Chris ‘Wisco’ Djuricic (Ex-Jungle Rot/Novembers Doom bassist), have emerged with their self-titled debut E.P.
The opening track on the four cut E.P. is ‘Let You Down’, which is a track that gives listeners a clear idea of what the band have in-store for the bulk of this release - and that’s big heavy guitar chords, a powerful rhythm section and Lathwood’s strong vocals. Although the music has plenty of muscle (Which isn’t exactly metal, but more a heavy duly alternative rock sound that packs a real punch), it’s Lathwood’s use of memorable melodies and powerful performance out front that really gives the song its identity.
The follow-up track ‘Stand & Ignite’ leans a little more towards the metallic side of things with its upfront guitar riffs, but never at the expense of Lathwood’s huge vocals on the chorus front, while ‘Stop The World’ and the slower paced and moodier closer ‘Window Of My Life’ are by far the most melodic and accessible tracks on the E.P. with their more hard rock sounding direction and vibe, but no less worthy because of that.
Although a little on the short side of things, overall, Calling Zion have put together a thoroughly enjoyable E.P. I can only hope that this is a taste of what will hopefully be a full-length effort the next time around.

For more information on Calling Zion, check out - http://www.facebook.com/callingzion

© Justin Donnelly

Firewind - Few Against Many

Firewind
Few Against Many
Firewind Ltd./Century Media Records/E.M.I. Music Australia

With Ozzy Osbourne taking a leave of absence from his solo career to work again with the reunited Black Sabbath in the studio, guitarist Gus G. has seized the opportunity to revisit his own project Firewind, who return with their seventh full-length effort ‘Few Against Many’.
Given the direction Firewind have taken over the course of their six former studio efforts, you could be forgiven for assuming that the Greek based outfit would again deliver exactly what the fans want, and nothing more. But the truth is that even though the band’s sound is still primarily founded in the tried and true heavy/power metal mould, ‘Few Against Many’ does reveal a few differences from anything the band have offered up in the past - all of which help give Firewind’s latest release that something special that was missing on their last full-length release ‘Days Of Defiance’ (2010).
Firewind (Who aside from G. Comprise of Spiritual Beggars vocalist Apollo Papathanasio, bassist Petros Christodoylidis, keyboardist/guitarist Babis Bob Katsionis and new drummer Jo Nunez of Nightrage fame) open up the album in a typically speedy fashion with the first single ‘Wall Of Sound’, which boasts some great keyboards and drums mixed in perfectly with G.’s melodic lead runs. But while there’s a definite heavy metal/power metal template underpinning the whole track, there’s also a touch of classic rock running through Papathanasio’s vocal melodies, which give the song a sound that’s a little different from the standard Firewind fare.
G.’s introductory guitar work on the slower paced follow up track ‘Losing My Mind’ has a slight Zakk Wylde/Alice In Chains feel to it, but soon picks up and charges ahead with a powerful classic rock effort with huge choruses, while the title track ‘Few Against Many’, the slowed down ‘The Undying Fire’ and the anthem like/neo-classical tinged ‘Another Dimension’ are fast paced blasts of pure power metal with huge soaring choruses - and the kind of songs that we’ve come to expect from the band.
‘Glorious’ is a catchy hard rocking effort that definitely stands out as a favourite, while the guest appearance from Finnish act Apocalyptica on the ballad ‘Edge Of A Dream’ is a daring experiment that will no doubt divide some fans. But for this critic, the collaboration works exceedingly well, with the songs darker vibe and Papathanasio’s performance coming across as a perfectly inspired match.
Getting back to familiar territory is the mid-paced power metal anthem ‘Destiny’ and the classic rock/Spiritual Beggars like ‘Long Gone Tomorrow’, before finishing up the album with ‘No Heroes, No Sinners’, which not unlike the track that proceeded it, is solid 70’s inspired hard rock based.
‘Few Against Many’ has a bit of an adventurous sound for Firewind, and is the kind of album that will have some fans claiming that the band has strayed too far from the sound that brought them into prominence in the first place. But for those who are looking for something a little different from Firewind, check out this album. There may be a few tracks that don’t quite hit the mark, but overall, Firewind have enough on ‘Few Against Many’ that proves the band aren’t interested in rehashing the past purely in the hope of maintaining their established fan base.

For more information on Firewind, check out - http://www.firewind.gr/

© Justin Donnelly

Monday, June 4, 2012

Karnak Seti - In Harmonic Entropy

Karnak Seti
In Harmonic Entropy
Independent Release

Portugal (Funchal, Madeira Islands based) outfit Karnak Seti have been around for the better part of a decade, but only managed to release their debut full-length effort ‘Scars Of Your Decay’ in 2009.
While the album slipped under the radar for most, those who happened to stumble across it gave it positive reviews. A few years on, and Karnak Seti has returned with a new line-up (Vocalist Luis Erre replaced Nelson Nascimento in 2009, and joins guitarists Antonio Jesus and Renato Ramo, bassist Claudio Aguiar and drummer Luis Barreto) and a new full-length effort in ‘In Harmonic Entropy’.
On ‘In Harmonic Entropy’, Karnak Seti have pushed their sound to even greater heights than anything heard on their previous effort, and the opening track ‘Long Gone Shadow’ is all the proof you need to hear. Sitting within the Arch Enemy/In Flames mould of melodic death metal, ‘Long Gone Shadow’ is stuffed with plenty of melodic riffs, solid backing from the rhythm section, tempo changes and melodic lead work, and some solid and memorable growled melodies courtesy of new front man Erre. Although far from original or groundbreaking, the song has plenty going for it in terms of sounding enjoyable, and the production (By multi-instrumentalist/songwriter/producer Daniel Cardoso) is a definite improvement on anything the band has produced in the past.
The riff led follow-up tracks ‘Only Red Mist Descends’ (The second single from the album) and ‘Among The Sleepless’ (Which features guest backing vocals from Cardoso and the first single from the album) are perfect mixes of aggressive verses and keyboard injected melodic choruses (Juan Pestana provides the keyboards), while the fierce ‘Loss’ and the aggressive ‘Golden Age Of Downfalls’ reveal a touch of metalcore to the band’s melodic death metal sound with their choppy riffing and dominate drum presence.
‘Luctor Et Emergo’, which is Latin for ‘I Struggle And Emerge’, is a little slower in pacing and has a greater emphasis on the riff structures and the vocals from Erre, and is perhaps the only track that fails to deliver on the chorus front. But more than making up this lack is the lengthy ‘Stranded By Existence’ and its follow-up ‘Figureless Icons’, both of which steer a little away from the standard melodic death metal sound to allow more progression and experimental elements to take the lead – even if some of the keyboard sounds are a little too high in the mix.
Finishing up the album is ‘Collateral Dreams’, which is a track that’s been in the band’s repertoire since 2005 (Appearing on the band’s demo with the same name), and has already been recorded a couple of times. This however is considered to be the definitive version of ‘Collateral Dreams’ - And it sounds great. By far the heaviest track on the album, the song does deviate from the aggressive parts to allow for a little more experimentation in the atmospheric sense, which only helps to give the song a genuine epic feel as a whole.
Karnak Seti is far from a well known group, but on the strength of ‘In Harmonic Entropy’, it won’t take long for the band’s name to be dropped amongst journalists as one of Portugal’s best kept secrets.

For more information on Karnak Seti, check out - http://www.karnakseti.net/

© Justin Donnelly

Powderfinger With Dino Scatena - Footprints - The Inside Story Of Australia’s Best Loved Band

Powderfinger With Dino Scatena
Footprints - The Inside Story Of Australia’s Best Loved Band
Egg The Nest Songs/Hachette Australia

When Brisbane act Powderfinger held a press conference on 9th April 2010 at Sydney’s Annandale Hotel, many were expecting that the event was simply a way of announcing upcoming tour plans in a grand fashion. And sure enough, the press conference saw the band unveil their upcoming ‘Sunsets’ tour. But to everyone’s complete surprise was the announcement that the tour would signal the end of the road for Powderfinger as a band. The news sent shockwaves throughout the Australian music scene, and left many fans questioning the band’s decision to break-up at the height of their successful twenty-two years together.
In an effort to give fans an insight into the band’s formation, their building success throughout the years, the reasons for their eventual split and everything in-between, the band decided to team up with Sydney based music journalist Dino Scatena (Ex-Rolling Stone Australia/Daily Telegraph editor, and who co-authored the Billy Thorpe biography ‘Keep Rockin’ – Celebrating An Australian Music Legend’ in 2010) and present the official Powderfinger story. And what a story it is.
The book begins with a short introduction piece from Scatena (‘Sunsets’), who shares his memories of Powderfinger’s last stand together, which is both humorous and insightful. This is followed up by a chapter (‘The End’) detailing the events leading up to the band decision to split, and the many reasons for their decision to do so (Which surprising enough, was far from an agreed feeling amongst everyone within the band). The whole band is quite open and honest with their opinions and feelings about the monumental decision to bring things to a close, and at the end of the chapter, you can’t help but feel that even though Powderfinger’s music is now ingrained into Australian culture, the various aspects of the personalities that make up the band itself is a story that has until now never been told.
Over the course of the next three hundred plus pages, Powderfinger and Scatena leave no stone unturned with the telling of the complete Powderfinger history, with virtually every aspect of the band’s lengthy history recounted in-depth.
Like a lot of biographies, ‘Footprints - The Inside Story Of Australia’s Best Loved Band’ details the early life of the members within the band, starting from their early childhood right through to taking their place within the band. But unlike many stories of this kind, there’s room made for past members of the group, record producers, quotes from fellow Australian acts who played their part in Powderfinger’s history and talk of the music the band made in their time together (A total of three E.P.’s and seven studio albums). The mix of personal stories and the music has rarely been balanced this well, which makes the Powderfinger story all that more interesting and captivating.
The other interesting aspect of the book is the band’s openness to the tension and disagreements on a personal level, which helps to explain the reasons for their split. And when you add to that the band member’s differing opinions on their musical efforts (In particular 1994’s ‘Parables For Wooden Ears’ and 2007’s troubled ‘Dream Days At The Hotel Existence’), the book is hard to put down once started.
I always classed myself as a casual fan of Powderfinger rather than a diehard, and as a consequence, I wasn’t expecting much from ‘Footprints - The Inside Story Of Australia’s Best Loved Band’. But I have to admit that the book was compelling from start to finish, and gave me an insight and respect for the band that I never thought previously possible.
Lavishly presented (The rarely seen photos on offer throughout the book are priceless), detailed and incredibly well written (A real credit to Scatena), ‘Footprints - The Inside Story Of Australia’s Best Loved Band’ is a must for any fan of Powderfinger, and an impressionable final release from the sorely missed and iconic Brisbane outfit.

For more information on Powderfinger, check out - http://www.powderfinger.com/

© Justin Donnelly