Archive for the ‘Prog Studio’ 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.’

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.

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.

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.

Queensrÿche – Condition Hüman

With their previous album, the self-titled one, American Progressive Metal band Queensrÿche had the eyes of the world on them due to the much publicized split with Geoff Tate and the existence of two competing Queensrÿches. There was the intrigue of a new singer, and the “they’ve gone back to their Metal roots” tagline to get everyone’s attention. Luckily, It was a brilliant album, but people would’ve been paying attention anyway. In 2015, with all the dust settled, and no more special taglines, the band have to sink or swim solely on the merits of the music.

Like their previous self-titled effort, Condition Hüman was crowdfunded, and if like me you pledged I’m sure you’ll already be very familiar with the first three tracks which the band let you download while you waited for the full album to be released. As it turns out, these three tracks are actually a pretty fair cross-section of the album proper and display the different moods explored on the record quite adequately. Opening with ‘Arrow Of Time’ which is now firmly in the band’s live setlists, the band show off their Heavy Metal roots, going for a “remember, we wrote ‘Queen Of The Ryche’ and ‘The Needle Lies’ too you know!” sort of feel. Promotional single ‘Guardian’ is next which I would say is the average sound of the album overall, so go out and listen to the song and watch the video because I think it is a pretty clear indication of what you can expect from the band nowadays. Then comes the slower, darker, less conventional ‘Hellfire’ which explores the progressive side of the band – never going so far as to have a 7-minute keyboard solo or songs about flowers developing split personalities in space, but certainly finds the Seattle group putting more thought into structuring, dynamics and unusual ideas than your average bread and butter Heavy Metal bands would. It wouldn’t feel too out of place on Promised Land beside ‘Damaged’ or even Hear In The Now Frontier beside ‘Hit The Black’ at a push but there’s a more modern feel too it… making it feel more like a logical successor to the type of music the band were writing on Operation Mindcrime II (an underrated album in my opinion).

The band do explore more of their overall discography on this one, which feels fair to me. It was unquestionably good to go back to the EP-Empire days, but it would also be a shame to outright ignore the best parts of what came afterwards and keep an artificial boundary in place forever. This album seems to be a reconciling of the previous Todd-fronted album with the post-Empire material to excellent effect; ‘Selfish Lies’ for example sounds at first like a bit the Tribe album, then goes a bit Empire-esque towards the end once the delicious album-highlight guitar solo comes in. ‘Eye9’ opens with a nice Tool-esque bassline and heavily processed vocals that reminds me of a mixture between ‘I Am I’ and ‘The Hostage’ from previous releases, but the song takes so many twists and turns in its duration it crosses all sorts of territory from American Soldier to Rage For Order, and when the (also album highlight) guitar solo came on for the first time it made my already high estimation of the song double or even triple (the lead guitar on this album is simply joyous!). Most surprising of all, ‘Just Us’ is an acoustic-flavoured, jangly Alternative Rock song that wouldn’t be out of place on either Hear In The Now Frontier or Q2K and even though the thought of that is off-putting to a lot of the fanbase, well, the rejuvenated band show us how good it can be, (and hey, when you’ve not got a full album of it, it works as a nice contrast) injecting an almost Houses Of The Holy feel into the proceedings and elevating it to something special.

The album lasts twelve tracks long, (with one of those just being an intro for the final song), and clocks in at 54 minutes, which is a lot more substantial than the trim and cheerful album which the Todd-lineup debuted with. Not only is it in the addition of more tracks that this extra length manifests itself, but the individual tracks themselves are all a little longer…the previous record’s tracks all lasted between two-and-a-half to four minutes in length and this album sees that average shift to something like between four and five, with the final track lasting almost eight. What you get for your extra invested time isn’t simple repetition or wasted time or filler… you get extra guitar solos, more thoughtful and sophisticated song writing and the ability to work in slower tempos alongside the fist-pumping Metal. You could make an argument that it isn’t as lean and focused, but you could also make the argument that there’s more depth.

Yes… my two favourite songs are predictably ‘Arrow Of Time’ and ‘All There Was,’ (which just happen to be the two most traditional songs on the record and the closest that the album comes to Speed Metal because I’m dreadfully predictable) but the band’s experimentation here is a profound success… with the record’s most progressive moment, the album-closing Title Track being not only one of the best songs on the album but one of the best songs the band have written in years and years, ending on an almost Voivod note and showing the guys still aren’t afraid to try new things.

All the background history and discography comparisons certainly get you to adjust your expectations, to guess what type of music might be here and get you interested in talking about it… but its all for nothing unfortunately, if the actual music is cack. Well, to put your mind at ease, it isn’t cack. Not by a long shot… stick on ‘Hourglass’ and just drink in those vocals, stick on one of the aforementioned guitar solos and bathe in the whip’s distinctive playing, pay close attention to the drum fills and hi-hat teasing from the unique and enjoyable Scott Rockenfield (in my opinion, one of the most important things in separating Queensrÿche from their peers). Yes, the musicianship is out of this world, with the same renewed passion and energy as the last album but more time to show off in! On top of that, the production job is better, with a more satisfying, less harsh sound and a clearer more balanced mix.

Overall; Condition Hüman was a surprise to me, but a really welcome one. I love the Todd line-up and I’ve loved their previous album so much that I still can’t stop listening to it ahead of numerous other classic releases, so when this record abandoned the formula slightly it could’ve been a bad move for this particular listener… but hey, the whole point of Queensrÿche was that they evolve between every album, never sounding the same twice. This album is not only another evolution, but a reaffirmation of everything that worked with every era of the band’s prestigious history, and its an album I’ll be listening to for a long time to come. Get yourself a copy without delay!

Tesseract – Polaris Review

Posted: September 28, 2015 by kingcrimsonprog in Metal, Metal - Studio, Music Reviews, Prog, Prog Studio
Tags: , , ,

Tesseract – Polaris

The British Progressive Heavy Metal band Tesseract’s previous album, Altered State was my studio introduction to the band (after catching them live supporting someone else) and has since become one of my very favourite albums of the last decade and one that I would without hesitation call a genuine stone cold masterpiece. Vocalist Ashe O’Hara was an excellent frontman on record and live (both as a surprisingly great opening band I’d never heard of and then again later when I saw them again as a converted fan) and quickly became one of my favourite singers.

I’ve since gotten into Tesseract’s earlier material and also Skyharbour’s output featuring Tesseract’s excellent original singer Dan Tompkins but my real love of Ashe made me very happy to have both options, it was nice to have both Tesseract with Ashe, Skyharbour with Dan… the best of both worlds if you will, and I was a bit sceptical of Dan’s return to the band and saddened by Ashe’s exit. I know its popular to root for the original guy… (There’s always someone to point out that their favourite band’s first singer was better – Paul Diano, Paul Baloff etc) but individual personal preference, I just always liked Ashe more, and so got a bit worried when he was no-longer in the band. Since catching the band live with Dan however, all my fears were alleviated and I began to get excited for their new album. They started the promotion cycle and excitement built even more.

Now that its finally here, and I’ve had time to digest it all, I can safely say that Tesseract’s self-produced third full-length album Polaris is a damn fine record. Even coming at it from the perspective I was, this is a great record and very satisfying.

Stylistically; Its not as heavy as their debut album, One, and its not a perfectly blended singular journey like Altered State was, its got a cool unique feel to it. It’s essentially a lot of distinct, separate moods and vibes, experimental and loose in one manner yet studied and perfectly formed in other ways. It feels like the listener is exploring a lot of different sides of the band’s influences and areas of interest. Some of it is more electronic, some of it is more Djenty, some of it is a bit more traditionally prog, and best of all… all of it is good. That’s the real crux here, because with reality being what it is, some people are always going to hate or dismiss this record; Some, because it isn’t heavy enough for them, some because Ashe isn’t there, some simply because its Djent and its cool to hate on Djent at the moment… but regardless of what genre it is, who sings on it or how brutal it is or isn’t – its just good. Damn good. A fine third album by this band and most importantly a fine album in and of itself even devoid of any context.

The highlights of the album for me are the momentously enjoyable and memorable ‘Hexes,’ as well as the entertaining robotic-sounding opener ‘Dystopia’ and the lead single ‘Messenger.’ Even in such an awkward, angular, evershifting genre as Djent they manage to pack in the choruses and vocal melodies that stick in your head for days and make you hum along in your head long after the record is over. ‘Hexes’ in particular has a shot at being the best song in the band’s whole discography for my money.

In summary, Tesseract don’t sound anything like either of their previous full-length records here, but they do sound fresh, interesting and captivating. It’s a grower for sure, and I’ve found its charms revealing themselves more and more with each new listen, always something fresh and interesting to focus on, always some new thing in the background coming to your attention, always a cool bass or drum part to make you smile.

Angra – Holy Land Review

Posted: July 26, 2015 by kingcrimsonprog in Metal, Metal - Studio, Music Reviews, Prog Studio
Tags: , ,

Angra - Holy Land

Angra – Holy Land

The Brazilian Heavy Metal band Angra’s debut album Angels Cry had sounded somewhere in the area of like a mixture between early Helloween and Queensryche. Three years later the band diversified their sound, with a sort of Dream Theater flair in places, a lot less Power Metal, and the introduction of what would come to define the band in the eyes of many… lots of Brazilian indigenous folk music influences, additional percussion and classical influences in there too for good measure.

Where the first album had a lot more speed, this album mixes it up. It’s a lot more rhythmic, based on interesting patterns. They upped the amount of keyboards, orchestral arrangements and percussion for sure, and there’s some sound effects here and there (boat and water sounds to fit with the theme), but the biggest difference is in how the songs flow and are structured.

Its also a concept album about their Brazilian homeland and its early history. Not your typical character-driven concept (usually about a fictional rockstar). It makes for interesting listening and adds an extra layer of intrigue to the proceedings.

The style has changed a little since the debut, but what hasn’t changed is the band’s talent. The vocals and lead guitar alone are phenomenal and then you have the really powerful rhythm section who shower this album full of impressive bass runs and tricky fills and manage all the tempo and time sig changes effortlessly making the complexity feel smooth and natural.

The superb production job by Power Metal producer-extraordinaire Charlie Bauerfeind (Hammerfall, Helloween, Gamma Ray, Primal Fear, Blind Guardian, Freedom Call etc.) is the icing on the cake that pulls together the spectacular songwriting and performances and makes you appreciate everything all the more.

Highlights include ‘Nothing To Say’ which is beyond catchy, ‘Carolina IV’ and perhaps my favourite of all, ‘Z.I.T.O’ which starts off in an Angel’s Cry mould and then goes off on one.

Overall, this is a really good album from a talented band. If you like your Prog Metal or your Power Metal then you need to check out Angra, and if you like Angra then Holy Land is pretty essential listening.