January 2023 saw the magnificent Polish Progressive Rock band Riverside release their eight full-length studio album on InsideOut records, ID Entity. It is their second album since the passing of late guitarist Piotr Grudziński and first with Maciej Meller as an official band member.
Sonically, the album is a delight. The production is superb. Crystal clear, brilliantly balanced, perfectly recorded.
Lyrically, the album seems to either be a concept album or at least heavily themed about modern society in the age of questionable truth in the media, social media enraging the public, and a divided society. The lyrics are very blunt, direct and barbed compared to most previous Riverside albums (not to dissimilar to Pain Of Salvation’s Scarsick album). They could come across as a bit too on the nose if you just read the lyrics, but when you hear it with the vocal delivery and over the excellent music it seems almost profound (eg. “unsubscribe the ones who make us hostile” doesn’t seem particularly epic when written down here, but the part of that song when this lyric gets repeated is absolutely massive!).
Stylistically, the album is varied. There are moments that remind me of the more note dense 70’s prog influenced parts of the previous album Wasteland, mixed with the more ‘80s influenced parts of Love Fear And The Time Machine but it is also in many ways unlike any of the band’s previous material most of the time.
Therein lies the charm. Riverside are the most consistent band in music, and yet never make the same album twice. Constant evolution and change, but unshakable quality-control. A few days ago I tried to make a “Riverside Albums Ranked” list, and I really couldn’t do it, all albums were equal, all joined first… and I don’t mean that hyperbolically. I mean that stone cold literally. In terms of full-length studio albums at least, the band have a perfect discography to date, including this new record).
I usually make a list of standout songs in my reviews, but this album is such a brilliant journey from start to finish, and such a great album experience, that I almost don’t want to mention individual tracks. There is also absolutely no filler. Even the songs themselves have no weak parts. There is nothing skippable on the whole album.
In summary; as if you can’t tell already from all this gushing praise, I wholeheartedly recommend this album (and band if you aren’t into the band yet).
I went to go see Gojira live at Cardiff International Arena on Friday 17th February 2023. I have owned Gojira material since about 2012, but never really considered myself a big fan until April 2021, when the French Prog / Extreme Metal band released their absolutely phenomenal Fortitude album and everything just clicked for me, and I ended up buying all the rest of their discography.
I’d been hearing for years in podcast, website and magazine form about what a special live band they were, and so once I had finally gelled with the band and been converted I was incredibly excited to see them live ever since. About a year ago, I saw that they were playing close to me, but the tour date was so close to the birth of my son I couldn’t / wouldn’t go. Luckily for me however, the original dates got rescheduled by a year due to post-pandemic reasons, and I was able to go to the rescheduled date this year (and with a year more Gojira fandom under my belt, I’d be even more able to appreciate it).
Due to work and childcare commitments, I didn’t actually even leave the house until after doors had opened at the arena, and by the time I drove to the city, parked, hoofed it towarsds the arena and had been to the toilet at the arena, I had completely missed both support bands by the time I found my balcony seat (so cannot comment on the quality of the support acts at all). I arrived to witness a screen with a countdown, which was at about 80 seconds. I had just about got my coat off when the show started. Brilliant timing; didn’t miss any Gojira!
The setlist was brilliant for me, focusing mainly on Fortitude (6 songs of the 17-song set) and then some of their more noteworthy tracks from other albums (3 from Magma, 2 from L’Enfant Sauvage, 2 from The Way Of All Flesh, 3 from their From Mars To Sirius album and the one-off new single “Our Time Is Now”). I had a whale of a time, and am glad they took this approach, although I could imagine some longer-standing fans might be disappointed with the lack of early material. That being said, I think they chose the right material for the arena setting, and did well to balance their more heavy and dense material with their most accesible stuff so the show flowed very well without going too far in any one direction.
Visually, it is one of the most tasteful arena shows I’ve seen in years. Comparable to 10,000 Days-era Tool rather than say something big and theatrical like Rammstein or Alice Cooper. The production was great with all sorts of psychedelic videos, Floydian lasers, and even some sparing steam cannons and confetti whilst still seeming arty and tasteful most of the time. Even the lighting was really clever and well programmed. A treat for the eyes. (The photos don’t really do it any sort of justice at all, because it was all about slow evolving movements of trippy growing/changing imagery and lighting with arty intent, which was all tied and timed cleverly to the music. You know the bit in The Wall movie where the flowers grow during “Empty Spaces”? Like that, but for 2023).
Conversely, despite how understated and refined the stage-show was, the band’s actual performance was surprisingly fun. I was expecting a dour, serious, and moody afair… but they were fist pumping, headbanging, body swinging performers… the bassist was doing jumping splits and spins like a mixture of Blink 182 meets Van Halen… and despite being one of the most complex and technical drummers I’ve ever seen with my own eyes, Mario is a master showman who swings his arms about, flails and does stick tricks like a mix between Tommy Lee and the “this drummer is at the wrong gig” guy – there was even a fun drum solo with audience participation and which wasn’t boring (how few drum solos can you say that about?). Singer Joe made some jokes on stage and seemed genuinely concerned when a fan temporarily hurt themself, and there was the sort of song teasing and “hey, hey” bits you’d expect from a huge good time rock act like AC/DC rather than a crushing band who have songs like “Backbone” (stream it if you don’t know what I mean). Overall, they played like it was a party, even if they planned a show like an arthouse movie.
The sound was perfect, clear and brilliantly balanced. You could hear everything to almost album-perfect degrees, but with enough live edge to prevent it going too sterile.
They ended the evening with what has become my favourite song of theirs (“Amazonia”) and the whole thing felt like a massive celebration. Its crazy that a band this proggy, extreme and dense (see “Flying Whales”) get to headline an arena when much more melodic palatable bands like Anthrax and Megadeth can only sub-headline this same venue, and bands that have been all over “normal” radio like The Libertines or The Fratellis are playing smaller shows than this. What a triumph for this band!
A few days ago, I was kind of dreading the show a bit, because as much as I love Fortitude and Magma, I felt a bit of imposter syndrome about not being a big enough fan… due to being a latecomer, but it was a magnificent show and I’m really glad I went. I know I write this almost every time but I really recommend seeing them live.
I have been putting off reviewing this album for a while since I feel a little unqualified to talk about it. Sure, I bought their live DVD about 7 years ago and listened to it a few times, and I bought two of their studio albums as a gift for my brother about 5 years ago and have heard those in passing. I’ve always known I should get into Gojira, but never quite got around to it. Basically, I have been hearing a constant gushing stream of praise about this band since about 2005 in print, online, in podcasts, from word of mouth and just about every source imaginable, yet somehow never really properly tried the band enough, and had certainly never personally “got” them.
For a good few years I had heard that they had toned down the extreme metal sections and upped the amount of prog on their previous album, Magma, which I kept meaning to buy but didn’t get around to, but I heard one single from it at the time which I was thoroughly impressed by, and I had already always said to myself, “if they get a little bit less extreme, I’ll start listening to Gojira.” Cut to 2021, and the environmentally-themed French Prog—Metal released their seventh full-length studio album (on Roadrunner Records), and to my delight all the reviews and press beforehand had been talking about how it was less heavy and more proggy, with a huge chunk of groove metal added to their palate. I finally decided to take the plunge.
Review in short: Love. At. First. Listen.
I listened to it every single day, sometimes twice, for about a month after release day and still try to listen to at least some of it very regularly now. I’m going to be coming back to this for years. I don’t think it is unfair to say this album has had as big an impact on me as some game changing album that you heard back in high-school and bonded with forever. Wow, I wasn’t sure you could get that feeling again as an adult, but wow, this record really floored me.
Take all the best parts of the proggy but accessible Crack The Skye by Mastodon, mix it with the best parts of the groovy but experimental Against by Sepultura, add in the best sort of Architects’ thought provoking the-planet-is-doomed lyrics, blend them together with an utterly unique and singular musical voice (which is the Gojira signature sound, I later discovered when going back to all their previous albums after this), and out comes Fortitude, one of the most instantly loveable metal albums I have heard in years and years.
From the teasing drum build-up of the disjointed and rhythmic opener “Born For One Thing” to the delicate acoustic fade out (following the otherwise brutal sonic bombardment) of “Grind” this album is sheer bloody perfection from start to finish, with not a wasted second. Everything is so perfectly balanced; each song is such an intriguing and hypnotic journey and they strike the perfect balance between expansive and catchy. It feels at times just about as cosmic and floaty as you can without disappearing up your own ass, but then by contrast still so instantaneous and crushingly metallic when it wants to, bouncing between the two at just the right moments so you never get sick of one style, and never staying at one pace long enough to get boring.
You know how some albums have to be listened to from start to finish in one go? This isn’t one of those. Its certainly benefits from that don’t get me wrong, but it isn’t reliant one it. The album has a brilliant flow, sequencing and journey, and travels across the sonic landscape with a clear beginning, middle and end, however, if you want, all the songs sound great without that context, and literally any single track from it sounds great away from the album if it comes up on shuffle. Basically, it has all the best features of a concept album without the drawbacks.
The production, by singer/guitarist Joe Duplantier is majestic, and Andy Wallace (who mixed Iowa and Toxicity) mixes everything to perfection. The actual sound of this record feels like it was made just to appeal to me. I can’t get enough. I just melts in the ear. Speaking of Duplantiers, drummer Joe Duplantier is one of the most instantly loveable drummers I have ever heard. What a drummer, such a unique drumming “voice.” Such a balance between virtuosity and restraint. Utter magnificence.
Possibly the best thing about the album though, is that I always wanted to like Gojira but was a bit intimidated, and this album finally “unlocked” them. I’ve since gone back and been blown away by all their other amazing albums (I’m damn partial to a bit of The Way Of All Flesh now, and can finally see for myself what everyone was telling me about From Mars To Sirus for years. I guess some fans who love the heavier early days could potentially be a bit disappointed by the band being a bit too accessible with this album, but on the other hand, if anyone else like me out there knows they could like Gojira but don’t yet, this album is the way in for sure. For a few years, one of the thing that stopped me fully going in on Gojira was that the vocals were just a bit too abrasive for me, and the music was a bit mysterious. However, like the leap between Mastodon’s Lifesblood EP and their Crack The Skye album, the vocals here are so advanced and impressive compared to the earlier Gojira records my friends all told me to love in college like The Link of the fan-beloved From Mars To Sirus that it is like night and day. Sure, the more brutal vocal stylings suited those albums because the music was more brutal itself, but here, you can actually say, these are objectively fantastic vocals. The mid-section vocals on “Hold On” send a shiver up my spine in the way Tool sometimes do when they’re being particularly majestic.
If I was to choose one song to suggest to newcomers to test the waters, I think I would recommend the groovy mid-paced “Sphinx.” It has a few heavier moments, it grooves, the lead guitar section is proggy and weird and overall I think it is probably the mid-point of everything on the album. That said, if you do like things heavier, the one to go for is definitely the energetic and punchy album closer “Grind” which despite the aforementioned outro, is the most punch-to-the-face pick-scraping stomper on the record, and the closest thing to their more famous albums. For the opposite end of the spectrum, the surprising stoner-rock left turn of “The Chant” has the cleanest vocals of any Gojira to date, so if you don’t like any extreme metal at all, that is the one to check out first, after which you can graduate to “The Trials” which reminds me a bit of a darker version of the Title Track to Coheed And Cambria’sThe Afterman mixed with the haunting end of Roots Remain by Mastodon.
Never a dull moment, delicate, crushing diverse, intriguing, infinitely replayable, Fortitude is all these things and more. I don’t use this word often, and my opinion might not be worth much coming to the band so late, but to me this album is an utter masterpiece. Can’t recommend enough.
Polish Prog Metal band Riverside suffered the terrible loss of their lead guitarist Piotr Grudziński less than half a year after their superb sixth full-length studio album; Love, Fear & The Time Machine.
After the difficult decision to carry on without replacing him, their next and at time of writing newest album was released in 2018 via InsideOut Music and met with deserved acclaim (and surprisingly in this day and age, sold relatively well for a prog album, continuing their streak of gold albums in their homeland).
It can’t have been easy carrying on without such a key member of the band, who’d been there since the very start, but somehow they managed to create a beautiful, affecting, and very interesting album with no loss of quality, while also not losing their ‘sound’ or ‘spirit’. If they had understandably chosen not to continue after 2016, they would have been leaving us with a wonderful catalogue. As it stands however, on Wasteland they do a masterful job of continuing their genuinely near-flawless discography and only solidifying their legacy as absolute masters of the genre.
The actual playing and vocals are top notch. The production and mixing and have a tasteful, stripped back, classic-sounding, raw feel that perfectly suits the material and the place in the band’s discography.
The real magic of the album however, comes from the material here, which is simply wonderful from start to finish. There isn’t one track I would lose, edit or alter. Nine perfectly balanced no-fat tracks over 50 minutes and not outstaying its welcome.
Its so good all the way through it could be difficult to choose highlights, but if you like the band at their proggiest, then check out nine-and-a-half minute “The Struggle For Survival” which features a bit of a 21st Century Schizoid Man/Heart Of The Sunrise/The Necromancer vibe with a lot of instrumental muscle flexing with some brilliant bass and keyboard showing off (and Maciej Meller’s guest guitar solo is especially quite entertaining in a Fripp sort of way). If however you prefer the band just writing good songs; then the varied ‘Veil Of Tears’ and the haunting and touching semi-ballad ‘Guardian Angel’ for example are two of the best songs the band have ever released to date.
This is a record with a lot of up front charm and instantaneous gratification, but a lot of mood, atmosphere and subtle depth as well and even the tracks that don’t drop your jaw right away become favourites in time (I like “River Down Below” more every single time I hear it for example, and I do mean every single time, I can’t say that for many other bands). As with all the Riverside albums to date, I can’t recommend it enough.
Progressive Poles Riverside have such a fine track record when it comes to top quality, album-of-the-year level studio albums. Their fourth album Anno Dommini High Definition for example, is arguably one of my favourite albums by any band, ever.
2015’s Love, Fear And The Time Machine; their third consecutive gold album and final output with guitarist Piotr Grundizinski (before his untimely passing), is no exception.
Their early works were dark and interesting, they then hit a phase of being bombastic, colourful and Deep Purple influenced. I saw them live during this period and it was such a rocking good time, you didn’t expect such good fun from a morbid bunch of proggers who usually released concept albums about psychiatric hospitals.
This sixth full-length studio record sees yet another evolution of their sound. It is cleaner, softer, with more prominent classic-‘70s-prog moments and a bit more of an unexpected The Cure influence. (That’s not to say it doesn’t rock out when it wants to, “Saturate Me” hits a delicious Tool-influenced groove in the middle, for example).
I regret, I have been sleeping on this album for a few years, I was hoping to time buying it for just before my next Riverside live show for maximum excitement overlap, but in 2020 with all the concerts dried up, its gotten a bit “well, what are you waiting for?” so I’ve finally taken the plunge, and I’m beyond glad I did. In hindsight, I don’t know how I ever coped without “Afloat” in my life, (a chilling tune, which out -Judgements Anathema).
Its hard to chose highlights, but if I was to introduce the band to a stranger, the number one pick of introductory track would be “Discard Your Fear.” If you like my wet trousered praise of this album, that would probably be the first track you should investigate to see if you’ll like the album as much as I do. It doesn’t really sound at all like typical Riverside fare, but as a singular one-off song, it just rubs me up in all the right ways. If you already like the band but have been sleeping on their later works as I had been, try out “Time Travellers” to see just how well Mariusz’s vocals have developed.
There is rarely such a thing as a flawless album, but I feel confident in saying that this beautiful, exciting, mellow, peaceful, energetic, diverse, interesting, tasteful bag of contradictions is a completely magical masterpiece.
Ps. [If you are unfamilair with the band but like bands such as Haken, Dream Theater, Opeth, Pain Of Salvation or even The Mars Volta then I highly recommend you check them out.]
Canada’s Young Punk-Turned-Mature Prog act, Protest The Hero return in 2020 with their fifth full-length studio album, Palimpsest. It follow’s the creatively marketed and disturbed Pacific Myth EP from four years earlier, and is their first proper length album since 2013’s superb Volition(remember, the crowdfunded one with Chirs Adler from Lamb Of God on drums?).
PTH have been one of my favourite bands for years and years now. Their ridiculously-good debut album Kezia could well be in my top 10 albums by any band ever. I’ve seen them live a few times and utterly loved it. They haven’t released a record yet that I haven’t liked. So, you’ll have to forgive me if this review is a little biased, ok?
If you don’t know the band; they are a very techy, slightly complex, musically ambitious band focused on baffling guitar lines, awkward drum patterns, but anchored by a really emotive and varied singer who delivers their really insightful and creative lyrics with such power and personality thatI it gels into this really powerful whole that somehow seems catchy and fun despite how difficult it would be to actually play or hum along to otherwise. There’s also a sort of maturity and balance to it. It isn’t jarring mixes of styles, its all very cohesive.
As they’re such a varied band, its hard to know who to recommend them to fans of? Megadeth due to the guitar wizardry? Periphery due to the techy nature? Letlive due to the really powerful vocals and lyrics? Dream Theater due to the ambition? Killswitch Engage, as if you are the kind of person who hates anything ‘core then major aspects of the band’s sound might scare you off? All or none of the above? I don’t know.
This fifth album is both a mix of various areas they’ve tried before on other releases, and in some cases trying new things and breaking new ground.
A lot of the reviews I’ve read about this album focus on how guitar and drum parts are sort of reminiscent of the band’s first two albums, Kezia, and the ever-popular Fortress (I guess them recently touring doing Fortress in its entirety live might’ve affected their song writing – ‘Soliloquy’ and ‘Gardenias’ in particular stand out as being Fortress-like). But equally, I can hear a lot of the touches from their more recent album and EP, some of the orchestral touches like the end of ‘From The Sky’ & ‘Little Snakes’ are reminiscent of things they’ve tried on tracks like ‘Caravan’ a few years ago, and shimmering guitars from the break in ‘The Fireside’ could be on one of the deep cuts from Voltion. Most of all, some of the newer vocal styles that developed over the years wouldn’t be heard on those first two albums. There’s also parts that don’t sound anything like they’ve done before, such as the grand sweeping opening to the first track. This album is definitely more of a culmination of a whole career rather than a rehashing of the past.
My only minor flaw with the album is that it would probably be better if track eight was the closer, it has the perfect endeding with the nice little piano outro there.
Lyrically; this is a very interesting album, covering topics from the Hindenburg disaster, the plight of the Native Americans, female aeroplane pioneer Amelia Earhart and even the Make America Great Again movement from the perspective of outsiders. As always, its not even so much the topics but the balanced, intelligent and interesting ways in which they are discussed and the clever ways they’re turned into catchy lines you just want to shout out at a concert.
Highlights include the speedy ‘All Hands,’ the heavy ‘Soliloquy,’ the ambitious ‘Little Snakes’ and perhaps most of all, the feminist themed single ‘The Canary’ which is boundlessly catchy and sticks in my head for hours after every listen, (the pre-chorus is as good as the best chorus on most albums, the part where it says “7,000 miles of ocean stand between me and my destiny/Somewhere beyond it or inside it” puts chills down my spine).
Even after being out a few months, its still hard to know where to place this album ranked in the band’s discography, they’re the kind of band like Tool or Opeth that give more and more on every listen and everything they do is a grower that you don’t fully get all the nuances of on first listen, but my first impressions so far are that while it doesn’t dethrone my number one spot, it is definitely a damn fine album and in the upper half of the discography. If you aren’t a fan yet, it should be a great entry point, and if you are a fan already there’s no way you could be disappointed.
I haven’t had a lot of blogging time recently, with a combination of fatherhood, increased workload due to the pandemic, getting back into exercising again, no concerts available and trying to buy fewer CDs just in case… there hasn’t been as much obvious material to cover (New Releases, Concert Reviews etc) or indeed time to cover it in. Before my next review or opinion piece however, I’d like to just drop a quick blog about what I’ve been getting up to since the new year.
I once heard that classical music can make your child smarter, and while scientific studies eventually disproved this, it is still a nice idea. Now, being a dyed in the wool rock fan who hasn’t willingly listened to classical music since a particularly annoying music teacher killed my love of it at age 15/16, I don’t have a lot of classic music to play to my child. What I do have though, is a nice little collection of progressive rock albums with lots of Jazz, Folk and Classical influences. Hey, my username is Kingcrimsonprogafter all.
I’ve decided for a) child bonding b) getting my money’s worth from current CDs instead of buying new ones (remember Getting Into What You Paid For, my blog series of that nature from a few years ago?) and c) listening to some beloved records that I’ve been ignoring lately to focus on newer acquisitions, that I would initiate a new family tradition. Prog For The Sprog. I play my child a new prog record every day. So far he’s listened to Yes, Genesis, Gentle Giant, ELP, Jethro Tull, Camel, Caravan, King Crimson, Pink Floyd, Roger Waters, Van Der Graaf Generator, early Rush, early Queen and early Marillion. Out of all of them so far, I think, as far as I can tell with a baby, that he enjoyed Gentle Giant the most… I think the xylophone reminds him of Peppa Pig.
During reacquainting myself with some of my favourite prog (or prog-ish albums, if you want to be strict about some of them) I realised that I had another little nerdy project I could resume…
Several years ago I decided that LastFM, the website which I love for making statistics about what I’m listening to, always makes it look like I don’t listen to these bands as much. I mean, you can listen to about 13 Punk songs for every one prog song. To that end, I decided that a few of my favourite side-long or album-long songs, including ‘Atom Heart Mother’ by Pink Floyd and ‘A Passion Play’ by Jethro Tull, should be counted as several different songs rather than one huge song. That way, If I listen to a whole Prog album, and then a whole Stoner Rock album, it doesn’t look like I listen to the Stoner band 10 times as much as the Prog band. Dorky right? But it made me happy and kept me entertained.
During the lockdown but after work and after the baby is in bed, I’ve decided to expand this. ELP’s ‘Tarkus’ for example, and Caravan’s ‘Nine Feet Underground’ as well as Pink Floyd’s ‘Shine On You Crazy Diamond’ all have parts. The track listing actually lists them with either titled sections (eg. Nine Feet Underground is split into: I. “Nigel Blows a Tune” II. “Love’s a Friend” “Make It 76” IV. “Dance of the Seven Paper Hankies” V. “Hold Grandad by the Nose” VI. “Honest I Did!” VII. “Disassociation” VIII. “100% Proof, and ‘Shine On You Crazy Diamond’ is split into parts I-X).
So I have decided to do similar things using the magic of iTunes:
So that’s part of how I’ve been spending my time. Another thing I’ve been doing, which is equally dorky, is trying to keep some of my favourite bands higher up in the LastFM stats. For example, I’ve been listening to an absolute boatload of Sepultura recently, but I saw them overtake or threaten to overtake bands I consider absolute favourites that I want to listen to most often. To that end, I’ve started listening to much more of my real favourite bands like Manowar, Pantera C.O.C and Helloween, and doing so a heck of a lot more often again, just like I used to when I first got into them.
Now again, as I have said; this is driven by a very nerdy reason, but in fairness, I benefit completely, as I am listening to only the best music. I had embarassingly put on a lot of weight when my wife was pregnant, but a nice fortnight-long norovirus infection (full on pant-shitting, can’t stomach dinner stuff) that I picked up taking the kid home from nursery one day made me lose some weight again, and so when I recovered I decided to jump back on the exercise train with a long term view of eventually getting back in shape.
Anyway, let me tell you, there is no more fun feeling than working out at home with Pantera or Manowar in your ears, or going for you daily government-permitted exercise and walking in the sun with a fat groovy C.O.C playlist keeping your pace up. It sure beats some obscure D-list band I’m checking out just for educational/historical reasons. Its nice to just crank out your favourites.
With that being said, here’s a brief screengrab of the artists I’ve listened to most since joining the site back in 2011, just after my first decade into being a rock fan:
Prior to cottoning on to the fact that Sepultura were getting very high up my listening charts and then chosing to overplay my favourites in response, I was doing something else equally nerdy anyway.
I had decided before the Slipknot concert that some of the bands included on my Patch Jacket maybe weren’t being listened to as much as others. I started feeling weird about maybe not listening to Obituary, Morbid Angel, Deicide and Death as much as other bands that made it onto the jacket, and was really heavily playing those bands at the start of year. Usually at night. Going to bed? Spiritual Healing. Bed the next night? Once Upon The Cross. Bed at the weekend? Cause Of Death and Covenant!
I also have an Iced Earth patch. No death metal, but still, although I love their work with Tim ‘Ripper’ Owens and Matt Barlow, I decided that it was weird I hadn’t kept up with their new releases, so decided I needed to get the Stu Block era albums. So the most recent CDs I bought, the only ones I dared to buy during all the Covid stuff (just in case…), was Iced Earth’s Plagues Of Babylon (appros pos these days, given that half the record is a concept piece about mankind being destroyed by a plague) and its follow up, Incorruptible. Damn that Stu can sing! I tried to make the baby listen to Iced Earth too, but clearly they don’t use enough Xylophones. Something to think about for the next album maybe?
Also, since I’m on the subject of what I’ve been listening to lately anyway, and its about a quarter of the way through the year already (I’m only a few weeks early) so this is about a good point to do a LastFM screengrab for this part of the year:
I remember when Baroness first broke out, they were quite sludgy and while not inaccessible, certainly not quite radio-friendly either. Early albums like Red Album and Blue Record mixed Thin Lizzy clean guitar with thick stoner-sludge and swampy vocals. I remember also, when they dropped their double album ‘Yellow And Green’ and they went from a band I liked a bit due to a slight Mastodon similarity, to a band I really cared about and actively followed.
To date, I still think of Yellow & Green as an utter masterpiece and that it was one of the best albums by anyone I care about to be released that year. Its when the band really stepped out of any other band’s shadows or any one subgenre’s constraints and just went everywhere they wanted all at once…. The follow up Purple was near as good, trying (and succeeding) to condense the sprawling mix of styles, tempos and timbres of the very diverse double album into one single straight-up rock record with flavours from everything the band had done before but a focus on being succinct and accessible (without sounding too far from their more metallic roots of course).
With their new album, Gold & Grey, the band are leaning a bit back more into Yellow & Green’s experimental territories. There is a focus on diversity here. Succinct is not a word I’d use to describe this. This album seems to be reveling in the freedom to do everything and anything. ‘Seasons’ for example has spidery guitar lines that wouldn’t feel out of place on a King Crimson album, mixed with a strange lo-fi noisy production job that makes it sound like some Sonic Youth style art rock piece, but then there are also blast-beats in their briefly to bring back the metal. Sometimes it goes full prog, with ‘Sevens’ sounding like mid period Camel. ‘Broken Halo’ has some lovely bridges that I can see crowds loving when this material is toured live, but goes a bit Yes during the solo.
There are also quite a few brief quiet, sombre, slow numbers across the album’s 17-track duration. ‘Blankets of Ash’ for example is a nice sounding acoustic guitar interlude over some creepy foreboding soundscape. ‘Crooked Mile’ is a jangly acoustic number that sounds more like an intro than a full blown tune of its own. ‘Assault On East Falls’ sounds like the music from a dream sequence in a Japanse videogame.
You can hear a bit more Radiohead and a bit less Red Fang in the DNA at times I guess (the intro to ‘Tourniquet’ or for example), but that being said there are still enough big fat choruses and catchy hooks to keep the sing-along feel of Purple. The album opener ‘Front Toward Enemy’ for example is just a foot down melodic rocker to get the blood pumping. The chorus to the single ‘Throw Me An Anchor’ is almost as catchy as something like ‘Take My Bones Away’ or ‘Shock Me’ from previous albums. ‘I’ll Do Anything’ sounds like it could be used to advertise the Olympics. Its like if Bon Iver took happy pills and wanted to inspire people to action.
Singer John Dyer Baizley’s rich voice really sets this band apart from the crowd, and when he really leans into the big melodies, it is proper 360 degree helicopter shots on a cliffside stuff. He has such a powerful and evocative voice that can make any line sound immensely meaningful and majestic.
Considering the line-up change between albums, it still
sounds totally like Baroness. You may not have had female backing vocals back
on Blue Record but the way John and Gina’s vocals blend and mesh
together just sound right.
The album isn’t without its flaws however. The production seems to be quite controversial based on all people I’ve seen complaining on social media. It is also a bit tough to swallow in one go, sitting somewhere between standard and double album length. (Its only an hour, but with 17 tracks there is a lot of different moods, directions and sounds to digest and so it takes up more brainpower than your typical 10-14 track album. If you just wanted an album of ‘Shock Me’ clones, something like ‘Can Oscura’ might be a bit off-putting for example). You couldn’t just slap this on in the background once and love it forever, it’s a grower that you’ve got to give a lot of attention to. That being said, these are minor flaws at the most. I didn’t really consider the production notable until it was pointed out to me by others, and usually an album being a grower at the start leads to an album you’re still loving years later rather than an album that would lose its flavour as fast as chewing gum if it popped right away.
Maybe if you were only into the band for the heaviness of
the early days, this album won’t suit you. If you liked the last two albums
though, this album is very much going to be right up your street. Its softer,
proggier and more considered than it is bludgeoning and meaty. It’s a bit more
ponderous than direct and rocking. But it is definitely worth checking out,
sticking on repeat and loosing yourself in. It’s an odyssey of new worlds to
glimpse, it’s a journey to get lost on. You might not want to head-bang, but
you’ll never be bored.
I have been an Arctic Monkeys fan for a fairly long time. Basically, since the same month the debut album dropped. I have bought all their early singles and like all the B-Sides and deep cuts as much as the fan favourite stuff. I still liked the more controversial moments like their Humbug album and the trippy B-sides from the Suck It And See era singles.
Basically; I am not some casual fan who just cares about the
big hits. Coming into this record, the band have basically done no wrong.
…And then we come to this album. To the moon. The Tranquillity Base to be specific. Now, I am not a fan of negative reviews. You may have noticed reading this blog, there are ‘its good’ and ‘its average’ reviews in abundance, but not many, if any ‘what a pile of shit’ reviews. I am very much of the ‘’If you can’t say anything nice then don’t say anything at all’’ approach to reviews. That being said, this album is very possibly the single worst album I have heard by a good band in a long time.
Don’t take this for me just not liking the band’s change of direction. This album is a bit progressive, a bit psychedelic, a bit dreamy, and very low key. As I said though, I like the band doing all sorts of things. Its not like ‘’Your So Dark’’ from the last album’s B-Sides or ‘’Fire Side’’ from the last album didn’t work with the band being low key. Its not as if ‘’Pretty Visitors’’ and ‘’The Jeweller’s Hands’’ from Humbug didn’t work with the band being a bit Psychedelic. Its not as if I don’t like me a bit of prog now and again or the general sound of this album (sometimes I can pick up little flavours of Caravan here and there).
Its not even as if the theme of a hotel and casino on the moon, and songs from the perspective of different staff and visitors is too confusing or off-putting. Just look at how many Mastodon, Dream Theater, Pink Floyd, Queensryche or Coheed & Cambria albums I own to know I am a big fan of concept albums.
No; the problem with this album isn’t the direction or the concept. Its not that it is a departure from previous styles. Its not that it is for serious fans only. The fan is that the songs are uniformly boring. The material uninspiring. The whole album is one-paced, uninteresting and forgettable. It is a samey sludge of un-music that is so dreadfully dull it may as well not exist. If you don’t have laser-beam focus on it you can’t tell when one song ends and the other begins (my wife has been heard to remark ‘’Is this still the same song?!’’ three songs later).
Okay, in fairness; When you do focus as hard as you can, its not all bad… You can hear some flashes of attempted hooks. For example, in ‘Star Treatment’ there is a line that goes ‘’who you gonna call, the Martini-police?’’ that is musically catchy (even if the lyric itself is a bit smug and pretentious). The bit on the title track where he says the title of the album is also good. The single ‘Four Out Of Five’ is kind of decent all the way through and is somewhat reminiscent of their better single from Humbug, ‘Cornerstone.’
But really; you shouldn’t have to dig so deep to
apologetically try and find some small sliver of likeability. Compare that to
their debut album, where it is literally as difficult to find something NOT to
like as it is to name great moments from here, and you can see by just how far
this once great band has missed the mark.
How do we explain this terrible dirge of an album? Maybe this album was a response to the huge success of the previous album AM. Maybe the band were sick of playing bangers like ‘Arabella’ for years on end and wanted to do something deeper. Maybe the band have always wanted to make this album and are only now in a position to risk it with near universal acclaim for a decade to buoy their confidence. Maybe they just took a bunch of drugs after hanging around Josh Homme too long and decided to get trippy. Who knows?
All I know is I have listened to this album so many more times
than it deserved, constantly trying to get it to ‘click.’ Constantly trying to
discovery its hidden depths. Constantly trying to find the good in it. I have
tried across several months, in different contexts, with different kinds of
music before and after, just wanting something good to happen.
The only thing that happened is that I finally felt allowed
to give up on it. This is not a deep a profound work. This is not a slow burn.
This is not a grower. This is not even one for hardcore fans only. This is,
unfortunately, as much as it goes against my instincts to say so… a pile of
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.’