Archive for the ‘Prog’ Category

2018’s Unheavenly Creatures, (or to give it its full title ‘Vaxis – Act I: The Unheavenly Creatures’) is modern prog masters Coheed And Cambria’s  9th full-length studio album. It follows up from their 2015 record The Color Before The Sun, which departed from their Amory Wars concept album series, and Unheavenly Creatures sees the band return once more to their sci-fi comic book concept.

Don’t worry if you haven’t been following the story, which is already out of order with various prequels and side stories, as the songs are that catchy anyway you don’t have to follow the story as closely as some other concept albums. It’s a nice touch if you are paying attention, but the band have always been more than just a story, they aren’t a gimmick band and the music, vocals and sound have always been just as noteworthy as the concept.

Musically; The Color Before The Sun was also a bit of an evolution which saw some new territories covered, with big stadium rock riffs and bubblegum melodies. Unheavenly Creatures incorporates parts of that, while also leaning more on the style the band were going for on the two Good Apollo albums from 2005 and 2007.

The vocals, the production and lead guitars are all superb and continue the long tradition of interesting and memorable songs that are easy on the ear, but come across as progressive when you look at them more closely. The band have all the hooks of the catchiest pop punk bands, all the solos of the catchiest NWOBHM guitar masters and an ear for production that always makes them sound humongous. This album is no exception. Just listen to the powerful opener ‘The Dark Sentencer,’ when Claudio sings ‘‘Kiss your lover with that filthy mouth you fucking monster’’ you just want to scream along with it like you’re on top of a cliff in the November Rain video.

That being said, its not an instant album, in fact it is 79 minutes long, so there is quite a lot to get through and it can take a lot of spins to really sink your teeth in to, but there is a lot to love if you are willing to give it the time.

For a band who, in my opinion, haven’t released a bad album yet, it can be quite hard to make a recommendation to an outsider. That being said, the general public would seem to suggest Year Of The Black Rainbow and The Afterman Descension from 2010 and 2013 respectively are the band’s least impactful works, whereas the public would advise In Keeping Secrets Of Silent Earth 3 and the lengthily titled Good Apollo, Tonight I’m Burning Star IV, Volume One: From Fear Through The Eyes Of Madness (commonly just called ‘4’ or ‘Good Apollo’ for ease)  are the ones to check out first… at this point I can’t really imagine not loving a Coheed album, but just in case, I would say don’t pick this as your first one. Pick up 3, 4 and Afterman Ascension at a minimum before getting this one.    

Once you are an established fan though; this is not an album you want to miss. Some of these choruses will bounce around your head for days. Some of the guitar lines are as memorable as the average band’s choruses. The first four songs alone have more memorable moments than most albums.  In fact, take any four songs in a row, the first four, the last four, any four in between. Even the slower moments like ‘Queen Of The Dark’ pop on this. If you want to dip your toes in, some of the highlights include ‘True Ugly,’ ‘All On Fire,’ ‘Toys,’ and ‘Unheavenly Creatures.’

Queensrÿche have been on a hell of a hot streak since they got former Crimson Glory frontman Todd La Torre in and started a band called Rising West, playing material from Queensrÿche’s first EP and first 4 albums, following the departure of their long time legendary singer Geoff Tate.

When they changed their name from Rising West back to Queensrÿche, and released their self-titled album in 2013, (with great tracks like ‘Where Dreams Go To Die,’ ‘Redemption’ and ‘Vindication’), it was an utterly excellent batch of material and the ensuing live shows saw the band energised and revitalised in one of the best late-career renaissances in the history of Metal (up there with the likes of Kreator and Accept for later-year triumphs). The following album Condition Human was a strong follow-up that kept up the quality.

As you can imagine, their third album since this revitalisation, 2019’s The Verdict, is my most anticipated album of this year. When they dropped the pre-release tracks, such as ‘Man The Machine,’ ‘Dark Revierie’ and ‘Blood Of The Levant’ it was every bit as good, if not better, than Condition Human’s pre-release tracks like the excellent ‘Arrow Of Time’ and ‘Hellfire.’

With all these expectations I had built up in my head, I was fearful I had built it up too much and set myself up for disappointment.

After having listened to it both via streaming while I waited for the postman, and on CD repeatedly after delivery, I am happy to inform you that not only is it not a disappointment, but rather it is the best Toddryche album to date. Arguably the band’s best album in a very long time at all, Todd or no Todd.

Even from myself, who doesn’t dislike any Queensrÿche album, (even the controversial ones), this ranks easily in the top half of their discography, top quarter even! I hate statements like “it’s the band’s best album since…’’ but in this case, it really feels true.

The production, (once again by ‘Zeuss’) is brilliant. All instruments are clear and distinct, you can hear the bass at all times, you can separate each guitar from each-other and the drums sound fat and powerful. Speaking of drums; Now that singer Todd La Torre is also playing drums this time around as well as his singing duties while classic drummer Scott Rockenfield is on paternity leave, you also get some drum styles you don’t usually hear on a Queensrÿche album. (Have a quick listen to ‘Launder The Conscience’ and ‘Light Years’ and listen to the beats to see what I mean).

The press prior to this saw Whip telling everyone that this was their heaviest and most progressive album in a while. Usually statements like that are always wrong. Strangely though, again, in this case, it really feels true.

There are some nice heavy moments on here; such as the aforementioned pre-released tracks, ‘Man The Machine and ‘Blood Of The Levant’ as well the very crunchy ‘Inner Unrest’ amonst others, and furthermore, there are some great proggy moments; such as ‘Bent,’ ‘Portrait’ and ‘Inside Out.’ There’s moments that recall the middle-eastern vibes of their American Soldier and Tribe albums, there’s some of the bass-driven textured stuff like their underrated Operation Mindcrime 2 album, and there’s some of the trippy expansive stuff reminiscent of their Promised Land album.

As well as the heavy and proggy stuff, there is just loads of great, catchy, accessible Hard Rock meets Heavy Metal material that has been the core thing tying all of the band’s albums together to date. You can hear bits that sound like the last two albums, like calssic material such as Rage For Order and all sorts of new things as well.

There’s so much great bass guitar parts and lots of space for Todd to show off his impressive vocal range. Album upon album he pushes it further, showing off more and more styles and becoming more of his own thing and moving away from the Geoff Tate style, but still staying close enough that it always sounds quintessentially Queensrÿche. (Take that vocal style and mix it with those really distinctive guitar leads, and you’ve got Queensrÿche in a bottle.)

Overall; its yet another strong Queensrÿche album, but more than that, it is an interesting album, with a strong production, a great range of material, and some of their honestly best material in years, even if they have already been on a very strong run.

s-l300Of all the Djent bands, Periphery are undoubtedly the biggest and most well known. Since 2005 they have been innovators boldly carving their own path through progressive and tech Metal styles, inspiring many in their wake.

Taking influences from mathy bands like Dillinger Escape Plan and Sikth, harder bands like the ferocious Messugah, the crushing parts from Iowa-era Slipknot, as well as taking the flowing guitar solo techniques from the likes of Dream Theater and mashing it together with the general sounds and clean/heavy dynamics of modern metalcore bands, putting that over the top of the bounce from the heavier Nu Metal bands and even peppering it with electronic and ambient bits that wouldn’t feel out of place on a Nine Inch Nails record, the band manage to meld all these disparate styles into one cohesive and entertaining whole.

I know some people get uppity about anyone using the word ‘Djent’ and argue its either not a real subgenre and its just Prog Metal or else its just a lot of people copying Messugah but both of those sentiments are reductive and inaccurate and time has shown this to be a legitimate and true subgenre (just look at the number of bands who do it now, or the amount a websites devoted to it). You know; In the same way Doom is a real subgenre and not just a load of people copying Black Sabbath and that Power Metal is not just Traditional Heavy Metal.

If you like bands like Tesseract and want something heavier, if you like bands like Monuments and want something catchier, if you like bands like Uneven Structure and want something bouncier, you also really need to check out Periphery. If you like Periphery, this is a particualrly must-have album and not one to pass over or miss out on.

Periphery III Select Difficulty, is, confusingly, Periphery’s fifth studio album (due to the Juggernaut Alpha & Omega albums which preceded it not being numbered). It was self produced and released in 2016. The music is a great mix of complicated awkward rhythms, soaring commercial choruses and spicing it up with shimmering guitar lines and the odd bits of electronics here and there. You get some great moments like clean singing over blast beats. There’s violins and trumpets and choirs too. Its probably their most diverse album overall.

There are a few awesome heavier tracks like ‘The Price Is Wrong,’ ‘Motormouth’ and ‘Habitual Line-Stepper.’ The band also try stretching their wings a little bit. There are a few newer ideas and more quiet moments, like the superb closer ‘Lune’ with its beautiful backing vocals, or the catchy and commercial ‘Flatline’ which could be on the radio as well as the Faith No More influenced ‘Reamain Indoors.’ There’s some great lyrics too. I’ve worked a lot in hospital and held a lot of people’s hands as they die in front of me, and the lyrics to Flat Line are pretty affecting. I particularly like the hook ‘He says send an angel to pull me from the hell below. This weight is far too much to own and this body doesn’t feel like home.’

I feel like maybe Periphery II This Time Its Personal is probably their best album overall for sheer impact and creativity at the time, and for how it broke them to a bigger audience, but for me this is a damn close second and their most cohesive and listen-to-on-repeat album to date. I like to leave this album on in the car and just play it end to end, over and over again. There isn’t one song on this I wouldn’t want to hear live and there are a lot on here that demands to be in compilations and play lists.

I also feel like this is also a great introduction point for people who don’t know the band or the subgenre. If you like A Perfect Circle or Cog or Rishloo ‘Lune’ is really likely to hit you. If you like Slipknot when they go a bit Morbid Angel influenced ‘Habitual Line Stepper’ is worth checking out. I  even feel like fans of Nu Metal and Rap Metal bands like Incubus and P.O.D and (Hed) PE might even get in on the bouncy bass driven ‘Catch Fire.’

Overall, this album is pretty superb and deserves to be heard by more people. If you like any of the bands or ideas I’ve mentioned above, take a shot and give it a listen. I doubt you’ll regret it.

ghost-ceremony-and-devotion.jpgIt took me a very long time to get into Ghost, I was really late to the party. For me, I couldn’t get over my expectations, I saw pictures of them and expected to hear something extreme like Darkthrone or something. Then I saw them being lauded as the next big thing and expected them to be catchy and industrial-lite like Rammstein or Marilyn Manson, and I heard them get called Doom Metal and expected them to sound, well, anything at all like Doom Metal. Also, for a band so heavily featured in the Metal press, you’d expect them to be generally heavier and more guitar driven.

Instead of hearing Ghost for what they were, with all the classic Prog leanings and Gothic theatrics, I was just hearing all these expectations, and the dissonance between what I got and thought I’d get was off putting. One day I just took a punt on them, and bought Meliora on a whim with no planning. The guy at the counter even tried to talk me out of it and said he didn’t like Ghost and couldn’t get into them and tried to get me to buy Iron Maiden’s newest live album instead. Needless to say, if I’m writing this review I obviously went with Ghost.

Over the past year, I’ve been getting more and more into the band, checking out all the different albums and EPs, hearing their evolution from quite straight-forward, to more diverse, to their newer more commercial direction, Everything they’ve put out so far has been worth hearing.

In 2017 it was time for a live album, and Ceremony & Devotion was released, with recording from the USA that year. At first I thought it was odd that this was audio only and not video, but actually it is quite clever as releasing a live album this damn good just goes to prove that although the band have a very visual nature, they are excellent musicians and songwriters and not just a gimmick band.

The live album features material from all their first three albums and the Popestar EP and kicks off with their skyscraper of a single, ‘Square Hammer.’ There is a nice range of tracks, from the harder stuff like ‘Con Clavi Con Dio’ and ‘From The Pinnacle To The Pit’ to the more diverse and interesting material from when they were temporarily Ghost BC, like ‘Ghuleh / Zombie Queen’ and ‘Year Zero’ and even the gorgeous Trick Of The Tail era Genesis sounding ballad ‘He Is,’ and the brief instrumental ‘Devil Church’ which sounds like it came right off one of the first two King Crimson albums.

Tobias is a pretty entertaining front man, with unique stage patter (‘do you like drinking blooood?’ ) and the track-listing is great, but the best thing about this album is the sound. The recording quality and mix are brilliant. Talk about crystal clear. Everything sounds amazing. The crowd are enthusiastic and the band are firing on all cylinders, and you can hear every cymbal, every riff, every bass line. You can hear those Camel-sounding lines, you can hear the creepy pervy vocals, which hold up really well live.

This album reminds me a bit of Kiss’ Alive album. It shows off a very visual band’s great live audio, it has serves as a best-of of the band’s first three albums, some of the live versions outshine their studio counterparts and its full of memorable on stage banter. This is a live album you can really get in to. Its a live album you can swear by (right here, right now, before the devil!). If you like the band this is a damn fine addition to your collection. If you are new to Ghost, this is absolutely the first album you should pick up. It is the band at their absolute best and there is nothing skip-able here at all.

emperor_of_sand_coverAtlanta Prog Metal legends Mastodon return in 2017 with their seventh proper full-length studio album, Emperor Of Sand. Speaking of returns; frequent collaborator Scott Kelly returns for yet another guest vocal performance and producer Brendan O’Brian returns as well, having last done their fourth album, the 2009 masterpiece, Crack The Skye. Also returning is the concept-album format. Leviathan, Blood Mountain and Crack The Skye had all been story-driven concept albums that also served as a metaphor for the band’s lives and Emperor Of Sand continues that tradition after a break into more traditional territories with The Hunter and Once More Round The Sun.

The concept on this record is of a man being handed down a curse/death sentence and wandering the sands of the desert to his ultimate death and or salvation. The band haven’t been shy in interviews of describing the fact that story serves as a metaphor for cancer and especially guitarist Bill Kelliher’s mother’s death from brain cancer. There’s even a dedication to her cleverly hidden in the artwork on one of the creature’s shields.

When you get told that information before hand, you immediately analyze the lyrics for clues. Is this about a biopsy? Is this about a scan? Does this represent the prognosis? Is this about the stages of grief? Does this represent the loss of cognitive function associated with illnesses of the brain? Is this line about a donation? Is this one about a family dispute? Does this character represent the doctor? Does this one represent cancer itself? …We do know for sure from the documentary that sand represents time. Sometimes it isn’t even so hidden at all; the album ends with the line ‘Its right in front of me, your malignancy.’ It all gives the album such a layer of depth, not unlike Crack The Skye had with Brann’s family tragedy. It feels a bit distasteful going into it so much, but then again if they didn’t want us to it wouldn’t have been released and promoted in such a way as to make it so possible.

Background aside, the main thing that sticks out about this album is the lead guitar. Now, Mastadon have always been musical virtuosos, innovators and masters of distilling broad and extreme influences into a cohesive singular whole, but still, even when we get used to excellence from the musicians, the guitars here are especially strong. There are some really stand up and take notice leads, some very crack a smile solos and some screw up your face and nod riffs on here.

It really is a guitar-centric record. Even with the story, Brann’s superhero drumming, all the bonus keyboards and studio touches, and the team approach to vocals… man those guitarists sure are on damn fine form here.

In terms of direction; this one seems to be an attempt to merge the Crack The Skye formula into the most mainstream moments of the most recent two albums. The first half of the album is all more sing-along, catchy, easily accessible stuff, and the second half drops down the prog. Tracks like ‘Show Yourself’ and ‘Precious Stones’ have radio appeal, then tracks like the magnificent album closer ‘Jaguar God’ are a trippy journey through a dozen speeds, tones and moods with bonkers Robert Fripp-esque guitar noodling meeting metal meeting acoustic meeting big beautiful wailing solos. The middle of ‘Clandestiny’ sounds like it could be on a Yes or Genesis record, something they’ve always talked about but I’ve never heard so litterally before.

With Emperor Of Sand it feels like they’ve taken all the lessons they’ve learned with big vocal melodys, hit appeal and targeting a wider audience, and applied it to the slow-burn, grower, hear something new on every listen nature of Crack The Skye. It doesn’t sound anything like that record, but the second half has the same spirit, ethos or vibe as it did. Its all about the repeat listens, the new discoveries, the changing attitudes. I mean, it doesn’t sound like my favourite album, Leviathan, and that is always an adjustment, but when you get over it, like you do every new release you realize that the band can still be amazing even when they are doing a different style.

On first listen, I wasn’t keen on this album, the next time I wasn’t sure, I felt a bit negatively about this but I was sure one more listen would prove whether there was something good going on here and then from there it built and built for me until I was a bit positive to satisfied and now I’m very impressed. Its got big ideas, its got big ambitions, and its undeniably Mastodon. Some of these songs feel one way, then they hit the halfway mark and morph into something else. There’s all these neat subtle touches in the background (listen in depth to ‘Steam Breather’). There’s such badass little drum parts (hey there, Ancient Kingdom’s midsection!). There’s such sticky vocal parts. From all the singers. They’re working together even better than before, blending better. Its a team approach to vocals and it works really well. Then you get all the different takes on the album. Sit there with the lyric book in an empty room and the album feels one way, listen to it on a sunny walk and its very different again. Listen concentrating on one instrument and it feels like a different record than concentrating on another, or the vocals.

For me; my favourite tracks would have to be ‘Roots Remain,’ especially towards its end which has a Cysquatch feel to it, as well as aforementioned album highlight ‘Jaguar God’ and the most Remission-like track ‘Andromeda’ with its jagged caustic riffs and awesome guest vocals from Brutal Truth’s Kevin Sharp… but hey, if the weather improves I can see it being the singles ‘Show Yourself’ and ‘Sultans Curse.’ Pretty great for an album I initially had a negative impression of, ey?

A grower. An exceeder of expectations. A Mastodon album.

I went to go see Tesseract tonight (Friday 5th February, 2016) at Manchester Academy 2, with Nordic Giants and The Contortionist as support. This was the fourth time I’ve seen Tesseract (I’ve previously with Karnivool, Protest The Hero and Animals As Leaders, twice at this same venue and once at Sound Control – another venue also in Manchester) and the second time I’ve seen The Contortionist (seen ‘em with Riverside in Club Academy).

I got there a little late, but that meant the merch table was clear and saved me time after the gig, so it actually worked out alright, I got there as Nordic Giants had just finished their first song. I’ve never seen or heard of them before, so was surrised to see two multi-instrumentalists separated by not one but two projector screens centre stage, dressed up as Eskimos or Native Americans or, presumably, Nordic Giants. They moved rhythmically in time with the music and did big Tommy Lee drum gestures, and had violin bows to use on guitars, and played weird arty movies, with things like Game Of Thrones one minute, then parasites evolving the next, then people’s faces melting into sand and then an animated movie with lots of Pink Floyd and Sonic/Mario videogame references. Pretty interesting. The music was, I don’t know, some kind of Post-Rock, Explosions In The Sky meets Sixty Five Days Of Static type stuff (I’m not well informed on this sort of music… I know some music more than others. I could tell you if they sounded like Tygers Of Pan Tang though… they don’t.)
It was very intriguing and I’d happily see them again, or use their music to score an emotional scene in a sports movie if I ended up in the unlikely position to do so.

Next up comes The Contortionist. Their first song was a badass, Rishloo-esque beautiful prog sparkler. The majority of their set was Djent on the very mathy side, very complex and a bit hard to follow, with some really aggressive parts, but mostly quite beautiful. Their singer is still really cool and their main guitarist still looks about 13 years old, but is like a junior Robert Fripp in talent.

It was a good gig, and saw a very quite violent pit from some very odd, angry looking apes who seemed to think they were at a Throwdown or Hatebreed gig, but whatever. I don’t really love their songs because the math thing is a little too far… and the heavy thing is a bit too abrasive, but I’d happily see them again supporting someone else.

Then came Tesseract. It was the first time I’ve seen them since the new album came out. I’ve said it before, but Altered State, their sophomore, was a true stone cold masterpiece, and arguably the milestone against all other new music will henceforth be judged for me. When Ashe O Harra left I was worried and even though Dan is great I’d rather he stay in Skyharbour and I have the best of both worlds. All other times I saw the band, they were touring Altered State effectively, but this time they had Polaris songs to fit into the set.

Fit ‘em they did. In fact, not only did they fit ‘em, but they were the highlight of the night. “Hexes,” “Survival” and “Dystopia” were three of the best performances I’ve seen out of a band in years. The crowd went flippin wild for “Survival” too, which I didn’t realize was such a big deal because I’m semi out of the loop with other music fans at the minute.
They did play the first four songs off of Altered State too, so I’m damn happy, and this time none crowd surfed over my head during “Resist.”
The sound was very clear, the setlist was nice and balanced from all three albums, the light show was more advanced with colorful lazers and the audience didn’t get up in my business. A very good night for this fan. I didn’t even get into my usual ‘beer, littering, photos and crowdsurfing should be banned’ mood because their weren’t any Slayer fans spoiling for a fight or shirtless English versions of Frat Boys in an out of place party mood. Good stuff.

Oddly; when the band left the stage, ‘My Heart Will Go On’ from the Titanic movie played and most of the audience stayed and sang all the words for good minute or two before admitting defeat at the lack on formal encore. An unusual end to a gig, and surprising how many people knew all the lyrics, but whatever… I’m not the music police. I like music my favourite critics and “opinion-makers” think is awful all the time.
Did I mention the new material was good? Its really good. It worked really well live. I’m very excited to see the band again, when they start dropping even more new stuff into the set, Here’S hoping for ‘Seven Names.’

Coheed & Cambria - The Color Before The Sun

Coheed & Cambria – The Color Before The Sun

The Color Before The Sun is the innovative American Prog/Punk/Rock/Metal hybrid band Coheed & Cambria’s eight full-length studio album, it was produced by the band and Jay Joyce (who also contributes some piano) and released in 2015.

That hybrid sound isn’t quite so pronounced this time around though. There’s nothing on here that’s as heavy as the band’s heaviest output, there’s nothing as progressive as the band’s most progressive moments, there’s nothing as fast as the band’s fastest moments. Nothing is so sugary or so lush as the band’s most grandiose ballads of yore. There’s no summery happy single. There’s no ‘Welcome Home’ or ‘No World For Tomorrow’ or ‘Domino The Destitute’ or ‘Sentry The Defiant’ type big smashing centrepiece either. Even Sanchez’s usually immensely emotional, evocative and expressive vocals are a bit more restrained. He’s usually singing about the most dramatic point in a character’s entire life, and Claudio can really make you feel that. Here he still has the talent and the signature style but the performance is a bit more held back, a foot off the gas pedal and less hair raising.

As an album; its very much Coheed on the ‘medium’ setting. As such, it took the album a bit longer to really click with me than usual… but click it did. I’ll admit, the very first time I heard this record in full I didn’t like it much and I could imagine it getting bad reviews from professional critics without the time to really let it sink in because of the fact its such a grower and it does take a bit of listening to reveal all its secrets and hidden depths. Its not even as if it’s a return to roots or going back to their early sound either because although its poppy and cheerful it doesn’t really sound much like Second Stage Turbine Blade either. It’s a bit more raw, honest, stripped back and realistic. The emotions are more human. If you’re willing to give it a chance, the quality’s absolutely there though.

The other big talking point about this record is that the lyrics are no longer conceptual or telling the Amory Wars story, but you’d be hard pressed to notice sometimes with all the mentioning of moons and planets and returning words and ideas the band always use like ‘home’ and ‘love’ etc. The band write about relationships, fatherhood, artistry and similar topics here, same as always in one way, just without the sci-fi angle. There’s some great memorable lines here, with ‘Ghosts,’ ‘Atlas’ and ‘The Audience’ being especially interesting.

The album also goes to town on lots of sing-along moments, there’s a real surplus of ‘woah ah ooooh’s and ‘da dada da’s. It seems like the band are compensating for the lack of power with pleasant smiley moments, and it works well. There’s also a few really sweet, enjoyable guitar lines that’ll stick in your head. Now, on top of that there are some seriously fun moments and memorable choruses; the opener ‘Island’ as well as the singles ‘Here To Mars’ and ‘You’ve Got Spirit, Kid’ in particular are all worth checking out. Another major highlight is the subtle and understated ballad ‘Ghost’ which has some different sounding vocals from Claudio.

Overall; this is a more mature, mid-paced, cohesive and restrained album from Coheed & Cambria. It isn’t as instant or dramatic or adventurous as some of the band’s back catalogue but it is enjoyable and it is worth your time. There’s just something very good about it, it is a real grower, its earthy and honest and it is just very well crafted and succinct with no filler and an absolute boatload of hooks. I recommend it to anyone who’s ever had an interest in the group.