As much as it is good to talk about how music moves on, evolves, finds new pastures to wander, there are times when you just want something familiar. After all, exploring exciting new fusion cuisine can be a lot of fun but sometimes you just can’t beat mom’s pot roast with all the trimmings. Honest, dependable and associated with fond memories. And the same is true of heavy metal.
Well, that certainly rocks. Breathe is a weave of groove and grunt, interesting dynamic changes and relentless power seemingly forged as much from programming as playing. Not that there is anything wrong with that, after all what’s a boy to do if he would rather keep control of his music by remaining a solo concern? Use the studio as an instrument, that’s what.
Here he plays with post-hardcore melodics, old-school metal technicalities, progressive guitar work, razor wire riffery and white hot industrial edge which feels like the future of extreme rock dancing with the past post-punk attitude that saw a whole generation bend broken keyboards, early synthesisers and distorted pedal boards to their will to create the next wave of new music.
As such it references the past whilst still striking out for a new future. It is bold and bombastic, slick and well-produced, energetic and electrifying. Rock, metal, hardcore…call it what you will, always used to be the bastion of the guitar and whilst that still sits front and central on Breathe, it is the peripheral sounds and studio technics that Terrell B. uses around it that marks this track out as a brave step into a whole new metal sub-genre and a whole new future.
Rock music has always had a fine sense of the theatrical, the dramatic, the epic and there is no shortage of such grandeur in Joey Niles sweeping and majestic Death Has No Friends. It is safe to say that the sonic concepts here are going to be fairly familiar to most. It combines that classic metal grunt with technical guitar work, almost prog rock approaches to interludes and breakdowns, deft acoustica and forceful drive. It is a sound that had a golden age in the 80’s perhaps but with the cyclical nature of music, a resurgence in technical rock music and the fact that such progressive metal has quietly being following its own path never out of fashion by virtue of the fact that it was never in fashion, the timing of this song could prove to be perfect.
Musically the song is on interesting ground, combining the same classical interludes and sweeping cinematics, rock muscle and byzantine musical machinations that the likes of Nightwish or Evanescence were so adept at. Such music is built of musical height and tension which when done right can be breath-taking, though all too often it falls into the realms of pretentious, preposterous, bluntness and bombastic. Thankfully, I can report that Death Has No Friends falls pretty much into the former category, delivering a series of dynamic shifts and sonic crescendos, hard driven deliveries and masterful, not to mention unexpectedly, wide ranging vocals. In short it effortlessly walks that fine line between the symphonic and the super-charged.
The video reveals that the narrative is driven from a certain belief, but the song never preaches or tries to sell that particular world view and considering the song deals with such a universal concept, anyone and everyone can find an aspect of it to relate to. And it is imagery that suits the Wagnarian tones that the song uses to deliver its message. Rock and metal has always felt like the perfect medium to express those existential crises, those eternal struggles of morality and man’s effort to understand his place in the grand scheme of things and Death Has No Friends sits perfectly in that realm.
It takes an artist of skill to navigate such waters and come out the other side with a song that avoids running aground or just delivering more of the same. Thankfully, with a wealth of musical experience stretching back to the eighties, Joey Niles has delivered a great, fluid and conceptually brave slice of metal, one that references the past, is relevant to the here and now and suggests a promising future.
Previous Song of Love music I have written about has, and the band admit this to be the case, suffered from poor production to the point that whilst you could see what they were trying to do, it was difficult to really appreciate the music fully. Well, what a difference a month or so makes as the latest piece of rock and roll goodness from gang is leaps and bounds above those previous recordings.
Stagger The Devil is a blend of New Wave of British Heavy Metal style classic rock and more progressive and technical metal styles. It is now possible to appreciate the intricacies of their playing and at times they remind you of the likes of Rush or Triumph in the way that they are able to mix heavyweight guitar riffs with more deft and delicate playing. The bass pops and pulse and the drums keep things firing on all cylinders. Maybe there is still some work to be done on the vocals but considering how far they have come in such a short space of time they will have that issue addressed in no time at all. Good work guys!
At a point where the weight and claustrophobia of the raw end of the grunge sound crashes into the more melodic end of the technical metal spectrum, you find Black Note Graffiti. Where the former tended to exult passion over prowess and the latter deliver deftness over emotion, this Ann Arborean quartet manage to circle that square with ease and play to both sides of that particular musical divide.
Such is Art is a powerful slab of evolving music, building from simple visceral riffs laying out anticipation and sign posting the way to a spectacular crescendo, through brooding minimalism to its inevitable intense play out. If the current metal scene seems dominated by screamo caterwauling and showboating solos that seem unrelated to the song, then Black Note Graffiti are probably the answer. If you miss the gloom and dark glamour of goth before it turned into a cyber-fetish scene…again these are you guys. If you feel the angst and vitriol of grunge is a thing of the past…. well, you get the picture.
THE SOURCE is an exciting new chapter in the Ayreon saga, with contributions from renowned vocalists like James LaBrie (Dream Theater), Simone Simons (Epica), Floor Jansen (Nightwish), Hansi Kürsch (Blind Guardian), Tobias Sammet (Edguy, Avantasia), and Russell Allen (Symphony X). The Source will be released on April 28 through Ayreon’s new label Mascot Label Group/Music Theories Recordings.
While Ayreon’s ‘Forever/Planet Y’ saga seemed to have reached its conclusion with the album 01011001, it’s clear that Arjen Lucassen’s creative muses had other plans. The new Ayreon album The Source revisits the Forever saga, adding a whole new chapter to Lucassen’s impressive body of work. With its top-flight cast of singers and musicians, compelling songs, overwhelming sound, and intriguing story, The Source offers everything that has gained Lucassen dedicated fans worldwide since he laid the foundations of Ayreon back in the mid-90’s.
The story of The Source is set six billion years in the past relative to Earth. It begins on Planet Alpha, a world in the Andromeda system where computer intelligence has far surpassed that of humanity. Alpha is facing a massive global crisis, with ecological and political catastrophes threatening all human life. The Alphans (our human ancestors) try to save their planet by entrusting the global computer mainframe—The ‘Frame—to find a solution. Given total control of the planet, the ‘Frame reaches the logical conclusion that its creators are the cause of all the trouble. The only way to solve Alpha’s problems is to exterminate humanity. This leaves the Alphans no other option than to try and escape their horrific fate. But their escape comes at a terrible price. It’s the beginning of a story that contains everything that has made the Ayreon epics so endlessly fascinating all these years.
The international status of Ayreon enables Arjen Lucassen to write his characters with some of the most respected singers in rock in mind: James LaBrie (Dream Theater), Tommy Giles Rogers (Between the Buried And Me), Simone Simons (Epica), Mike Mills (Toehider), Floor Jansen (Nightwish), Hansi Kürsch (Blind Guardian), Michael Eriksen (Circus Maximus), Tobias Sammet (Edguy, Avantasia), Nils K. Rue (Pagan’s Mind), Zaher Zorgati (Myrath), Tommy Karevik (Kamelot), and Russell Allen (Symphony X). Special contributions were offered by guitarists Paul Gilbert (Mr. Big), Guthrie Govan (The Aristocrats, Asia, Steven Wilson), Marcel Coenen and keyboard player Mark Kelly (Marillion).
Just as on his previous albums, The Source has Arjen Lucassen playing a wide variety of instruments, while the inimitable Ed Warby (o.a. Elegy, Gorefest, Hail Of Bullets) once again masterfully handles the drums.
2017 will be a particularly exciting year for Ayreon fans thanks to a unique chance to actually see Ayreon live. Limited to three exclusive performances, “The Ayreon Universe” will take place in September in the prestigious 013 venue in Tilburg, Holland. This unprecedented live event features the best of twenty years of Ayreon music, brought to life by a top cast of musicians such as Floor Jansen (Nightwish), Russell Allen (Symphony X), Damian Wilson (Threshold), Hansi Kürsch (Blind Guardian), Tommy Karevik (Kamelot), Jonas Renkse (Katatonia), Anneke van Giersbergen, and various others. The reclusive Arjen Lucassen himself is also expected to make a rare appearance on stage. The tickets for all concerts – 9000 in total – sold out within a day, proving once again that the Ayreon magic is still very much alive and kicking.
See, never judge a book by its cover, or an album for that matter. The combination of the band name, album title and the slick, futuristic artwork had me thinking thoughts of indulgent progressive rock or cyclonic and largely unlistenable metal. Thankfully first impressions are often wrong and what lay in store was something much more palatable.
Shadow Hunters are a Norwegian rock two-piece but far from the gloom and fantasy medieval imagery beloved of that nations rock fraternity, this is a symphonic journey into the future. And if thoughts of a dystopian Blade Runner-esque doom come to mind, dispel them immediately, this is the sound track to a gleaming, hi-tech vision, one of science and success, vast galactic vistas and boldly going where Norman has gone before. Whoever he is.
They conjure these images from swaths of symphonic backdrops, stratospheric rock crescendos, charged atmospherics and, ironically, Vangelis-like chiming synth lines. But above all the feeling is one of positivity and potential, a space opera built of “turbulence and tranquillity” but with enough rock know how to keep its feet planted firmly on the ground. It is a combination of the here and now and the what might be, of modernity and futurism, of solidity and dreamscape. Their guitars may indeed be in the gutter but they are certainly looking at the stars.
Yes, I’m always banging on about how pointless generic tags and labels are, especially in this largely post genre world. But then again when I pick up a press release for a band described as “Parisian avant-garde psych desert metal” how can I not go there, I would defy anyone to pass by such a description without at least checking it out…maybe labels do work.
Blaak Heat is the sound of worlds colliding, desert worlds at that as Southern California stoner rock and middle eastern tones and progressions are feed into the musical equivalent of the Large Hadron Collider and fired at impossible speeds into each other. The resulting explosion is one of hard metallic riffs and kaleidoscopic psych-rock grooves but as the noise dies down you hear the luscious oriental beats and spiralling arabesque patterns that lay at its heart. Or as guitarist Thomas Bellier puts it : “We took our favorite Middle Eastern sounds, and reinterpreted them through the prism of our cultural baggage – weird European psychedelia, a healthy dose of vintage hard rock, experimental jazz… we were able to mix loud fuzz guitar tones along with traditional acoustic instruments, such as the oud and the kanun.”
It is technical yet emotive, thunderous yet subtle, it is the sound of occident meeting orient and it is gloriously inventive.
I have to admit that I am often put off of venturing into reviewing a record when it has the word metal in the genre description. Although as a younger man I was brought up on many of the classics of that genre, the metal world has moved on a long way since then and sadly left me behind. If not out of my comfort zone, I’m certainly no longer best equipped to review the stuff and what’s with the fact that there’s about 357 sub-genres of metal; would I know my Teutonic Thrash Metal from my Crust Punk? And try as I might I can’t find Djent on my road map of Wales. Put the word Progressive into the mix, however, and I’m on much safer territory. Progressive normally implies a tempering of the blind aggression and “more is more” approach, progressive implies melody, structure, dynamics and inventiveness, all things I can hang my reviewer’s hat on, and Teramaze has all that in spades.
Without abandoning the power and drive bestowed by the Gods of Metal, this is an album that has room to embrace some wonderfully tangential musical moves, piano balladry, sweet vocal harmonies, guitar solos built from sounds more reminiscent of a Pendragon album (remember them?) and brooding electronica.
The bands ethic seems to be to build the song only from what is required to hit its mark, just because you can shred like Steve Vai on his 10th espresso doesn’t mean you have to throw it in all the time, they don’t let such showpieces become their hall mark, they let them become their secret weapon, just one of many in a whole arsenal of musical munitions. And if a song has the desired effect from just the most straight forward of playing, with out needing to be forged of time signatures that you would actually need an extra leg to dance to, then that is the route they are happy to take.
This is an album of majesty, nothing less, the sound track to worlds colliding, hearts breaking and empires falling but also the sound of the intangible forces, emotions and introspection, the mighty and the minutiae, the complete spectrum of life and it proves that power and elegance, impact and eloquence are not mutually exclusive concepts.