• Syu - Vorvados (2019)

    Syu is the guitarist of Japanese power metal band Galneryus and was also involved in thrash metal trio Spinalchord and speed metal outfit Animetal. The skilled musician has released two solo records prior to this one which are a cover album released nine years ago and an instrumental album released less than three years ago. Vorvados is easily the most interesting thing Syu has done apart of his involvement in Galneryus.

    This release is a creative neoclassical power metal record featuring seven different singers from different contemporary Japanese bands. This record is hold together by an epic and almost cinematic atmosphere and obviously Syu's energetic and fast melodic guitar play that fluidly meanders between thrash, speed, power and heavy metal. The song writing is diverse enough to keep the album intriguing from start to finish. 

    ''Reason'' is a fast power metal song with unique high-pitched female vocals by Fuki of Doll$boxx, Light Bringer and Unlucky Morpherus fame. ''Chaotic Reality'' on the other side has an apocalyptic atmosphere with discordant guitar sounds and harsh vocals by Dougen of Afterzero, Thousand Eyes and Undead Corporation fame whose raw vocals are complemented by the calm and soulful performance by Swedish-Japanese singer Akane Liv of Liv Moon fame. ''Aishu'' offers a welcome break in form of an inspired piano ballad with dreamy vocals by regular Galneryus vocalist Ono Masatoshi. This isn't just an alibi ballad but a truly soulful song that works so much better in the context of an overall rather vivid and exciting record.

    Not everything is perfect on this release. The two instrumental songs are solid technically speaking but can't compete with the other creative tunes where the different vocalists have put all their hearts and souls into to reach the highest level. The bass guitar play could be a little bit more present on the album to balance the ecstatic guitar play. The drum play was programmed and while it certainly sounds better than anything Angelo Sasso has ever performed, a real drummer would have made the listening experience even more vivid.

    Syu's Vorvados manages to showcase the guitarist's exceptional skills and also offers a who's who of the contemporary Japanese metal scene. It's a great record to discover the Japanese metal scene and obviously also a perfect release for anyone who likes Japanese power metal that might be stronger than European power metal these days. Vorvados is an early highlight of the year and deserves your attention.

    Final rating: 85%

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  • Evergrey - The Atlantic (2019)

    Swedish progressive metal quintet Evergrey might have released its greatest output yet with its eleventh studio album in twenty-four years of existence. The gorgeous cover artwork represents the adventurous soundscapes on The Atlantic perfectly as it offers lights and shades through stormy compositions.

    The record starts impressively with the epic progressive metal masterpiece ''A Silent Arc'' with its strong melancholic undercurrents that carry it successfully through almost eight stormy minutes of atmospheric entertainment.

    The band cleverly puts its most accessible song on the record next in form of the emotional ''Weightless'' that convinces with heartfelt lyrics and vocals. The song is a great introduction to the band, excellent representation of this album and should become a fan favourite during the upcoming concert series.

    Evergrey calms things down with sorrowful ballad ''All I Have'' that impresses with haunting piano sounds and heavy bass vibes that give it a slightly bleak and menacing tone despite the reduced musicianship.

    The band enters oppressive soundscapes with ''A Secret Atlantis'', a most creative track with sinister radio play passages, industrial metal riffs and a desperate guitar solo. Only the ever-soothing vocals offer some relief during this wild ride.

    The band somehow keeps the brilliant momentum of the first part alive in an equally convincing second half. One particularly outstanding song is industrial metal monster ''Currents'' with its vibrant electronic sounds and melodic vocals in an otherwise sinister tune with powerful drumming, longing guitar sounds and scarcely used mysterious keyboard sounds that blend in perfectly.

    If you appreciate bass guitar sounds as much as I do, give ''Departure'' a try because the instrument positively domineers this elegiac yet efficient songs where the simple musicianship serves as brooding background for most versatile and soulful vocals.

    Even the conclusion of the record is excellent with bleak and sinister album closer ''This Ocean''. It features particularly cold riffs, powerful drums and again impressive bass sounds. Epic keyboard sounds become more and more important and lead to an uneasy finale that almost ends the release on an unexpectedly thought-provoking cliffhanger. Other bands would take ten minutes to build up such a dramatic atmosphere but Evergrey accomplishes the same thing in four and a half consistent minutes.

    I usually don't describe as many songs from a single record, so you might have figured out that Evergrey's The Atlantic is a particularly strong album filled with gloomy emotions, astonishing musicianship and powerful vocals singing inspired lyrics. As soon as the epic voyage is over, you will feel like starting it all over again despite the fresh waves hitting your face. Fans of clever heavy, power and progressive metal should all give this record a spin. What we have here might already be album of the year material. It's too early to tell at this point but Evergrey's The Atlantic underlines that the metal scene is still impressively vibrant, profound and creative these days.

    Final rating: 96%

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  • Aquilus - Griseus (2011)

    This release has the term pretentiousness written all over it. We get a Latin band name and album title. The cover artwork seems to be taken from a painting. The song titles have a poetic touch. The song lengths are challenging and opening an album with a track hitting the fourteen-minute mark is something one would rather expect from a veteran progressive metal band. This release is a one-man project by Horace Rosenqvist who calls himself Waldorf and who quite simply recorded everything. This record reeks of a loner putting together obscure soundscapes in his parents' basement like in the not-so-good old Myspace days.

    However, Aquilus' Griseus is actually a very solid album that deserves some of the praise it has gotten over the past few years. The record has an epic sound based upon elegant symphonic keyboard passages that would make this album a perfect video game soundtrack. The occasional acoustic guitars also blend in with relaxed melodies. The choirs are scarcely used which makes them very efficient.

    These uplifting symphonic neofolk passages are contrasted by melodic black metal elements. This release offers a few cold guitar riffs that add some grit to keep the long tracks together. The harsh vocals sound quite unusual, being almost breathed or whispered at times. They lack power in my opinion but certainly have a quite unique style. Even people who usually despise black metal vocals could appreciate them in the context of this release because they aren't overused and always contribute cleverly to the atmosphere.

    Despite the massive song lengths and a total running time just below eighty minutes, the record grabs you with its mysterious atmosphere right from the start and manages to keep things imaginative until the very end. One shouldn't listen to this album while being tired though because the calm passages will soon make you fall asleep but if you actively listen to this record with your headphones on, it will take you on a wondrous voyage.

    In the end, Aquilus' Griseus isn't the masterpiece some people claim it to be but it is an elegant mixture of symphonic neofolk and epic melodic black metal that is perhaps best compared to Summoning but certainly has its very own style. It might be one of the most imaginative metal records of the decade. I couldn't listen to this release quite regularly because of its massive length and at times sleep-inducing vibes but it certainly is a creative discovery I like to come back to from time to time.

    Final rating: 80%

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  • Uncured - Medusa (2017)

    Uncured is a contemporary progressive metal quartet from New York City and Medusa is its first full length effort. The young band convinced me with an energizing concert that made me buy this output. However, Medusa is quite a mixed bag and shows as much promise as downsides.

    On the positive side, the four young musicians play their instruments skillfully. The drums are certainly more adventurous than your average groove metal band. The guitar play is also solid and even takes inspiration from jazz chord progressions and lounge atmosphere. The track's calmer passages are particularly inspired. This works very well in the diversified ''Enucleate'' and the complex album closer ''Spontaneous Regeneration'' that is easily the best track on the album.

    On the other side, the chugging groove metal riffs with minor djent influences end up sounding tiresome and don't blend in with the musicians' capabilities. The husky lead vocals are also banal and never vary to grab the listener's attention. The second vocalist isn't outstanding either but his slightly more distinctive style is less obnoxious.

    If I were to give the band two pieces of advice, I would suggest to hire a proper singer with a wider vocal range and to focus on the band's eclectic progressive soundscapes instead of bringing back exchangeable chugging groove metal riffs.

    In the end, Uncured's Medusa is a mixed bag but promising enough to keep the band on the radar and give it another shot in the future. The four musicians are obviously talented, perform very well on stage and are quite young which means that they can still progress. If you like modern metal with a progressive twist, you should give this record a few spins.

    Final rating: 60%

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  • Swallow the Sun - When a Shadow Is Forced into the Light (2019)

    Heartfelt loss can provoke great inspiration. This is certainly the case for Swallow the Sun founder and guitarist Juha Raivo who lost the love of his life under tragic circumstances and went on to release astonishing records with atmospheric doom metal band Trees of Eternity and funeral doom group Hallatar. Swallow the Sun's last single Lumina Aurea was one of the bleakest songs I have ever heard in my life but there was a natural beauty hidden in this drowning darkness. The band's new record When a Shadow Is Forced into the Light might be a first step back towards a more positive mindset. It might be the last step towards partial recovery of the soul.

    I'm not as pretentious to compare myself to the ordeal Juha Raivo had to go through. But I deeply empathize with him. A long time ago, a person I loved from the bottom of my heart unexpectedly left from one day to the other. It came as a complete shock and took me several weeks and even months to be in a positive mindset again thanks to the support of my family members and friends. This loss came at the worst possible moment during my most challenging year at the university, with my most important training just ahead and with two jobs I had to do simultaneously. Many people wouldn't have been able to face these challenges but I somehow managed to excel in my classes, passed the most challenging training I have ever had and performed very well in my two jobs. I even managed to write some of the most inspired texts back then. The terrible event had sparked my creativity and this inspiration helped me to rise from the ashes and become stronger than ever before. It also changed my view of the world as I became more relaxed, pragmatic and careful. Even though I could have all the reasons in the world to despise what that person did to me and especially how she did that, I decided to move on and forgave her.

    I can sense all these elements on this record as well. When a Shadow Is Forced into the Light still has a gloomy undertone but it sounds much more airy, melodic and relaxed than anything else released by Juha Raivo over the past three years. The opening title track amazes with enchanting clean vocals and uplifting melodies that make this track unexpectedly catchy. ''Firelights'' might be the softest song ever by the band but isn't shallow by any means as it was even supported with a music video and convinces with a dreamy neofolk atmosphere that helps the creator and listener to dream themselves far away. ''Clouds on Your Side'' includes songwriting ideas from the person Juha Raivo has lost and impresses with wonderful mellow symphonic elements and the recitation of French poetry that make this song particularly surprising.

    Swallow the Sun's When a Shadow is Forced into the Light still has some of the band's traditional death and doom metal soundscapes but is much more an ambient and neofolk record with airy melodies, dreamy symphonic elements and inspiring poem recitation. Even though it barely classifies as metal record, it's certainly Swallow the Sun's most personal record and probably also its best. This is the kind of album to listen to on your own in an empty room in order to unfold its profound magic as the listener can discover new fascinating elements with each spin. Don't be afraid and drown into the darkness to find your way into the light. As we all know, light can't exist without darkness and that's why one has to embrace both.

     Final rating: 85%

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