Album of the Week 15-2021: Gentle Giant – The Power And The Glory


Gentle Giant has got to be the least accessible band that I actually enjoy listening to. They are generally a favorite among connoisseurs of progressive rock, but they never had the crossover appeal that the likes of Genesis, Yes and even King Crimson did have. In a way, this is understandable, as their uncommon blend of progressive rock, chamber music, early baroque vocal music and subtle hints of jazz aren’t exactly easy to digest. However, this does make the listening experience all the more rewarding once it does sink in. ‘The Power And The Glory’ may actually reach that point sooner than many of their albums.

‘The Power And The Glory’ can be seen as the first in a trilogy of ever so slightly more accessible albums Gentle Giant made without sacrificing their unique core sound in the process – something which did happen on their last three records. What makes ‘The Power And The Glory’ the most enjoyable of those to me is the fact that it is notably more aggressive than their other works. Guitarist Gary Green might just be more prominent here than on any other Gentle Giant record. However, he does that without pushing any of Kerry Minnear’s keyboards or any of the brass and bowed instruments off the album.

Another thing that makes ‘The Power And The Glory’ more enjoyable to me than – let’s say – the average King Crimson album is the fact that despite all the complexity in the compositions and arrangements, there is always something memorable in the songs. The main vocal melody in opening track ‘Proclamation’ and its instrumental backing may not fit the traditional description of an earworm, but it’s a hook and there’s a chance it will get stuck in your head the moment you think about the track. Also, Derek Shulman is far from my favorite prog singer, but his diction and delivery are perfect here.

In addition, the sequencing of the album does wonders for its listenability. The listener is lured into the album with the relatively accessible ‘Proclamation’, after which the unpredictable rhythms and the hard left-right panning of the guitars in ‘So Sincere’ show what the band really is about. The rest of the album finds an excellent balance between weird, yet listenable tracks (the almost soulful ‘Playing The Game’, the calm ‘Aspirations’) and busy, complex rockers like ‘Cogs In Cogs’ and ‘The Face’. Also, I really like how the main theme of ‘Proclamation’ comes back in a completely different, more dramatic key in closing track ‘Valedictory’.

Sure, Gentle Giant is not for everyone. And the band was very much aware of that, judging from the mission statement that accompanied their sophomore album ‘Acquiring The Taste’. But when you can find something you like about this band, there are chances they will keep rewarding you when you listen to their albums repeatedly. Somehow, they managed to be more inventive and less pretentious than most other seventies prog bands simultaneously. ‘The Power And The Glory’ would be my recommendation for the Gentle Giant to start with if you are interested in them at all. And my choice for their best album.

Recommended tracks: ‘Proclamation’, ‘Cogs In Cogs’, ‘So Sincere’

Interview Kiyoshi: Heavy and Funky

Bassist Kiyoshi is the only Japanese musician on ‘Tokyo Jukebox 3’, the third collection of new interpretations of former Megadeth guitarist Marty Friedman’s favorite J-pop songs. She toured the world with Friedman, but also makes her own music. Plenty of reason to have a chat with the bass virtuoso from Osaka.

Friedman moved to Tokyo around the turn of the century to become a part of the music scene he so admited. In 2015 werd, Kiyoshi was introduced to him by drummer Chargeeeee…, who had been playing in Friedman’s band for a few years at the time. “Marty had his first North American tour scheduled for the autumn of that year and he was looking for a bassist in Japan to join it“, Kiyoshi explains. “I had worked with Chargeeeeee before and I think he thought I would be a good fit for Marty’s band. Marty got in touch with me and sent me some of his songs, then I met him and played them right in front of him. That was our first meeting. You know, his songs are super difficult. I was super nervous! But he really liked my performance and was sure that I was the one.

The recordings of ‘Tokyo Jukebox’ were also cause for concern. Although the songs are covers of songs made famous by artists like LiSA, Momoiro Clover Z and Sekai no Owari, Friedman has a tendency to frequently alter the arrangements. And then there was the lockdown. “I recorded the bass at my home in the spring of 2020“, Kiyoshi says. “At that time, Japan was in a state of emergency due to covid, so I couldn’t go to the studio. I was worried that I wouldn’t be able to respond well to his requests only through online communication instead of face-to-face, because recording is very delicate work and Marty is a perfectionist. Of course, I wanted it to be perfect too.

Coolest part

“Heavy and funky” is in deed the perfect way to describe Kiyoshi’s style. Her virtuosity on the bass is all the more surprising due to the fact that she did not pick up the bass until age 15. Listening to western artists lead her to her signature style. “I was learning piano when I was little and I thought I would be a pianist“, she recalls. “I played classical music of course, and also played J-Pop piano arrangements.

As I grew up, I became more attracted to rock music. At first, I used to listen to J-Rock bands like L’Arc-en-Ciel and Lune Sea. I felt that the bass was the coolest part of the band, so I started playing bass. From there, I became interested in foreign rock bands and fell in love with bands with great bass players, such as the Red Hot Chili Peppers and Primus and more. As a beginner, I was incredibly shocked by the performances of Flea and Les Claypool. I wanted to be just like them.

I had my first band in 2004 in Osaka, my birthplace, and played in several bands without interruption from then until 2008. I moved to Tokyo in 2009, and my career as a bassist began earnestly.

Help

Kiyoshi’s career has been busy and varied. She played bass on albums by the popular rock band Ziggy, their singer Juichi Morishige and, of course, Marty Friedman. Besides that, she was a part of the bands Mega High Ball, The Madcap Laughs en Inside Me. In 2016, she started her solo career. “I think it was simply good timing“, Kiyoshi summarizes. “At that time, I had been busy for years working with many artists and had met many great people in the music industry. I was in a situation where I could get help from the people around me. I had always wanted to release my solo album someday, and I was always writing songs, so I was ready. It just felt like the time had come.

This also means that her other projects are currently inactive. “If I had several Kiyoshi bodies, I could be active in all of those bands“, Kiyoshi admits. “I produce everything myself, so I have a lot to do. Not only songwriting, but also thinking about artwork, videos, merchandise, et cetera. It’s tough, but now I’m really into it and having a lot of fun with it.

Room

By now, Kiyoshi has released five solo albums, the most recent of which, ‘Kiyoshi5’, was released in October last year. Her albums are notable, because they feature no guitar, keyboards or other additional instruments. Every sound on the albums is made by Kiyoshi and drummer Eiji Mitsuzono, who played with the likes of SADS and the highly influential hard rock band Bow Wow. Remarkably enough, the songs never end up sounding empty or dull.

Bass line, rhythm track and vocal melody; each part should be super impressive“, Kiyoshi explains. “Apart from that, creating powerful and solid basic tracks that leave no room for other instruments is the most important things. I often use an octaver to compensate for the higher frequencies.

Also worth noting is the fact that Kiyoshi sings on her own albums. When asked for her lyrical inspiration, she is brief: “Anger. Many of my songs are about frustration and irritation against the world. I also like to write positive lyrics that can cheer someone up. I’m so glad that many people say they like my lyrics. I’d like to make more songs in English so that more people can understand the meaning of the songs.

International

While the corona pandemic makes the future plans of all musicians uncertain, Kiyoshi is resolute: “I’m planning to do a couple of shows before the summer. And I hope to release my new album by the end of this year, so now I’m working hard on that.

Anyone who wants to listen to Kiyoshi’s solo albums outside of Japan can use Spotify, iTunes and other big streaming services to do so. Since all of Kiyoshi’s albums were self-released, physical cd’s are only available through her web shop. The good news is that her web shop offers international shipping. “We’ve shipped to many countries even last year when Covid started to spread“, Kiyoshi explains. “And everything has arrived safely. If you buy something from my web shop, you’ll get a lot of extras, like signed stickers and postcards. Please check it out.

More information (in Japanese and English) can be found at Kiyoshi’s web shop.

Album of the Week 14-2021: Marillion – Sounds That Can’t Be Made


When ‘Sounds That Can’t Be Made’ was released, Marillion was in a bit of a rut for me. ‘Somewhere Else’ and the double album ‘Happiness Is The Road’ were good for what they were, but the alternative rock and progressive pop on those albums were not how I personally prefer Marillion to sound. Those sonic qualities have not completely vanished, but ‘Sounds That Can’t Be Made’ sounds significantly closer to Marillion’s earthy, accessible take on progressive rock from the mid-nineties. In fact, the album’s main draw over its direct predecessors is that the songs simply have more surprises to offer.

My main issue with Marillion’s twenty-first century short, accessible material is that it frequently is significantly more upbeat than the longer tracks, which tend to be significantly darker. ‘Sounds That Can’t Be Made’ goes a long way in restoring some sort of balance in that regard. The clever layered arrangements often create a foreboding undercurrent in the shorter tracks – which, admittedly, are still around the six-minute mark here – while a long track like ‘Montréal’ has, despite its pensive mood and a few dense, more traditionally progressive passages, a relatively upbeat atmosphere overall.

The shorter track that best illustrates the presence of darkness is ‘Power’. Initially, power seems to be a relatively downbeat track showcasing Marillion’s alternative pop side, mostly due to the atmosphere that Steve Rothery’s deceptively simple guitar riff manages to bring across, but the song houses a lot of drama in its relatively short six minute runtime. The chorus is overwhelmingly dramatic and features one of Steve Hogarth’s most passionate vocal performances to date, while the latter half of the song presents a new climax that is darker than the previous one multiple times. A rather unexpected highlight of the album.

However, the song that really sold me on ‘Sounds That Can’t Be Made’ is opening track ‘Gaza’. Not because its seventeen and a half minutes makes it one of Marillion’s longest songs, but because no song in Marillion’s discography quite sounds like it. The main 7/4 riff sounds more aggressive than anything Steve Rothery ever played and there are a lot of dense rhythmical arrangements in the song. Marillion being Marillion, these are of course interspersed with more tranquil and emotional segments, all done very tastefully. Another highlight is the title track, which starts out sounding like another poppy, keyboard-oriented Marillion track, but grows into a powerful, theatrical prog song during its latter half.

Some reviews hail ‘Sounds That Can’t Be Made’ as the grand return to Marillion’s progressive rock days. Personally, I would not necessarily agree with that, but they don’t really need to and moreover, isn’t the idea behind progressive music to, you know, progress? While the first half of the album is notably superior to the second half, I would probably consider ‘Sounds That Can’t Be Made’ to be Marillion’s best post-‘Marbles’ album. Its follow-up ‘F.E.A.R.’ is more consistent, but the highlights on ‘Sounds That Can’t Be Made’ are good enough to suggest that Marillion may have entered its third youth.

Recommended tracks: ‘Gaza’, ‘Power’, ‘Sounds That Can’t Be Made’

Album of the Week 13-2021: Genesis – Duke


After Steve Hackett left Genesis, the band changed significantly. This change ultimately proved to be quite lucrative, as progressive pop Genesis outsold progressive rock Genesis by a wide margin. However, save for a few excellent tracks, they never fully recovered from Hackett’s departure musically in my opinon. Having said that, there is one album Genesis made as a trio that I think still ranks among their best works and that would be 1980’s ‘Duke’. The album successfully bridges the gap between Genesis’ progressive rock roots and their later pop sound and contains some of the best performances ever to be recorded by the musicians involved.

When Mike Rutherford took over guitar duties for Genesis, the band’s guitar parts were notably simplified. Also, Rutherford has a significantly brighter guitar sound than Hackett, that works incredibly well with the loud, blaring synths that Tony Banks at times used on ‘Duke’. Phil Collins really came into his own as a lead singer on ‘Duke’, delivering what are without a doubt the most powerful performance he recorded up until then. But the best thing about ‘Duke’ is that the songs just work. Especially the songs Collins, Rutherford and Banks wrote together are nothing short of excellent.

One of the brilliant ideas on ‘Duke’ is to split up the multi-part suite they had written rather than sticking them all together. Because of this, ‘Duke’ is infinitely more dynamic than it would have been if it was one side suite, one side solo compositions. Also, it allowed tracks like the fantastic poprocker ‘Turn It On Again’ to be released as singles. Admittedly, the suite tracks are generally my favorites, with opening track ‘Behind The Lines’ and the largely instrumental diptych of ‘Duke’s Travels’ and ‘Duke’s End’ in particular simply feeling like prog Genesis evolving into a new decade.

The folky leanings of the band’s seventies work had completely disappeared from ‘Duke’, but there is enough spirited musical interaction to please open-minded fans. Initially, the drum computer rhythm that starts ‘Duchess’ threw me off, but the surprising chord structure, along with Collins’ incredible vocals make the song one of the highlights of the album. The solo compositions are mostly ballads, though ‘Man Of Our Times’ is an expertly arranged prog pop song and ‘Misunderstanding’, despite lacking a truly strong melody, has a cool guitar and bass unison melody that almost makes it Beatle-esque. ‘Cul-De-Sac’ was allegedly most divisive among the band, but it would have not sounded out of place on ‘Wind And Wuthering’ and therefore is just fine with me.

‘Duke’ is not perfect – especially the dull ballad ‘Alone Tonight’ rubs me the wrong way – but it is one of the last albums on which Genesis was truly allowed to stretch out as musicians before becoming a bestselling act with some good, but at times too tightly arranged music. This is probably one of the albums I would play people as evidence of how good Phil Collins was as a drummer. And even though this is one of his best recorded vocal performances, it was especially the instrumental part of ‘Duke’ that impressed me far more than I expected I would by a Hackett-less Genesis album.

Recommended tracks: ‘Turn It On Again’, ‘Behind The Lines’, ‘Duchess’, ‘Duke’s End’

Album of the Week 12-2021: Smith/Kotzen – Smith/Kotzen


From the first notes I heard from the project that Iron Maiden guitarist Adrian Smith and multi-genre guitar virtuoso Richie Kotzen, I was looking forward to their self-titled debut album. It is always interesting to me that Smith’s side projects generally tend to sound nothing like Iron Maiden and Smith/Kotzen is no different. Significantly more rock than metal, with notable touches of blues and even some soul, ‘Smith/Kotzen’ is a triumph in the songwriting department first and foremost, despite ample impressive lead guitar work, sounding like the album Whitesnake should have been making for the last decade or so.

On paper, Smith/Kotzen may sound like the a Frontiers-style project with two big-name musicians thrown together in the hope that it will work. There are two important differences, however. First of all, Smith and Kotzen have been friends and in fact neighbors for multiple years, during which time they have frequently played together just for fun. Secondly, no outside big-name writing or production teams have been brought in. ‘Smith/Kotzen’ is the result of both singer/guitarists bonding over their love for bluesy hardrock with memorable, but not too beefy hooks and organic, largely single-coil guitar sounds.

Both Smith and Kotzen deliver some excellent riff and lead guitar work here, but the thing that blew me away most about the tracks that surfaced prior to the album is the vocal interaction. Kotzen is easily the star there, with his raw-edged soulful power taking on most of the climactic moments, but Smith’s lower, heartfelt blues delivery is perfect for many of the album’s verses. In fact, when Smith takes on the main lead vocal on more subdued tracks like the rootsy ‘Glory Road’, Kotzen’s more flamboyant style is not missed for a second. And when they sing together, their voices appear to be made to harmonize with each other.

Interestingly, a similar distribution of work appears in the lead guitar work. While Smith is allowed to stretch out and improvise a little more than in Maiden, his focus seems to be on memorable melodies injected with bluesy bands, whereas Kotzen’s leads are a little wilder, though not without trying to wring all the bluesy soul out of every note. Especially in slower tracks, such as the fantastically dynamic ‘Scars’, the benefits of this interaction really shine through. Neither of the musicians is trying to play the other one off the record. Instead, Smith and Kotzen choose to let the excellent songs speak for themselves.

While ‘Smith/Kotzen’ might offer nothing particularly new in terms of stylistic choices, it is rare to hear experienced musicians sound this fresh and inspired this long into their careers. Honestly, I hope Smith/Kotzen is not a one-off project, because these guys obviously bring out something good in each other. Something generally more subdued than the bands they are mainly known for, but that is a major strength of the album. The current rock music landscape simply needs songs like ‘Scars’ and the powerful closer ”Til Tomorrow’. An amazing debut with hopefully more to come.

Recommended tracks: ‘Scars’, ”Til Tomorrow’, ‘Taking My Chances’

Album of the Week 11-2021: Cryptosis – Bionic Swarm


Until not so long ago, Cryptosis was known as Distillator and they made tight, somewhat technical thrash metal that was energetic, but not too unique. ‘Bionic Swarm’ is their first album under their new name Cryptosis and immediately proves why the name change was necessary. While parallels can be drawn to Vektor, Voivod and Havok’s more technical work, the music on ‘Bionic Swarm’ is a unique blend of science-fiction inspired thrash metal, more extreme metal and subtle symphonic and atmospheric touches that don’t detract from the aggression. ‘Bionic Swarm’ is already a contender for the best debut album of the year.

While the tight, busy riffing and whirling lead guitar work on ‘Bionic Swarm’ puts the Dutch trio firmly within the technical thrash metal realm, the plentiful dissonant chords, tremolo picking and bassist Frank de Riet’s characteristic synth arrangements bring to mind some of the more adventurous black metal bands. However, Cryptosis does tend to keep their songs blunt and to the point, no matter how atmospheric they are. Song structures are very interesting as well, with tracks like the slower ‘Prospect Of Immortality’ reminding me of how a band like Suffocation often don’t have a clear verse-chorus structure, but still moves the song forward in a completely comprehensible fashion.

Thrash metal albums that take you on a journey are quite uncommon these days, but that is exactly what Cryptosis’ debut album does. The music on ‘Bionic Swarm’ is clearly sci-fi-themed, but not with the usual spacey synth sounds. Instead, Cryptosis takes an almost psychedelic approach here. That may be an odd term to describe such fast music with so much precision in the drum and guitar work, as well as the harsh, almost hardcore-ish bark of guitarist Laurens Houvast, but there is just something otherworldly about the sonic tapestry here.

Additionally, ‘Bionic Swarm’ has a very pleasant flow. Every song is exactly where it should be on the album in order to retain the listeners’ attention. Because of this, ‘Bionic Swarm’ is best listened to in one sitting, but there definitely are some highlights. My favorite moments of the album are mainly characterized by high-quality riffs that find the middle ground between Coroner and the technical melodeath of bands like Revocation. ‘Transcendence’ leans towards the technical death metal side of things, while ‘Conjuring The Egoist’ proves that the trio can still thrash like the best of the genre. ‘Mindscape’ and the aforementioned ‘Prospect Of Immortality’, on the other hand, stand out due to their more proggy approach.

For me as a journalist, it can be frustrating to review albums like ‘Bionic Swarm’. While all above descriptions of the band’s music are somewhat accurate, none of them paints a complete picture of what Cryptosis actually sounds like. This frustration is quickly nullified by how excellent the music on ‘Bionic Swarm’ is. It is truly the first debut album of the year that completely blows me away and the fact that it comes from the Dutch thrash metal scene – which I used to be a part of myself – makes the surprise all the more pleasant. If you like any of the bands mentioned in this review, give Cryptosis a chance. They don’t sound exactly like any of them, but that might just be what makes them so great.

Recommended tracks: ‘Conjuring the Egoist’, ‘Flux Divergence’, ‘Transcendence’

Album of the Week 10-2021: Thunder – All The Right Noises


Despite breaking up twice over the course of three decades, Thunder is still around and more miraculously, they continue to release material that is comparable in quality to what is considered their classic material. On ‘All The Right Noises’, guitarist Luke Morley continues to be one of the greatest post-seventies songwriters in British hardrock while the musicianship on the album is nearly impeccable. The pop metal sensibilities Thunder once had have completely vanished, but as long as they keep on making rock ‘n’ roll this energetic with hooks that refuse to leave your memory, that should be no problem.

Some Thunder albums stand out due to their tight songwriting and lean heavily on their strong melodies as a result. ‘The Magnificent Seventh’ and their excellent comeback ‘Wonder Days’ are prime examples of this. ‘All The Right Noises’ is not one of those albums, but it is an album that is lifted to a significantly higher level by its spirited performances and its near-perfect production. Danny Bowes is simply a force of nature. His voice has not deteriorated one iota since the band’s earliest releases and he convinces with his powerful chest voice once again here.

The soul influences that became quite prominent on ‘Rip It Up’ are further expanded upon on ‘All The Right Noises’. The bluesy British rock is still front and center, but you can practically hear the imaginary horn arrangements on the likes of ‘You’re Gonna Be My Girl’, ‘Young Man’ and the powerful opener ‘Last One Out Turn Off The Lights’ without even trying, while the female backing vocals contribute greatly to the soulful exuberance of the choruses. Where ‘Rip It Up’ failed to capture that energy all the way through, however, ‘All The Right Noises’ succeeds. This is enhanced by the rhythms, which appear to be ever so slightly more playful this time around.

Having said that, the highlights on ‘All The Right Noises’ are the songs that are slightly different from the formula. The fantastically titled ‘Don’t Forget To Live Before You Die’ is carried by a really cool groove and has a great tension build-up, climaxing in a pounding riff that brings Whitesnake’s ‘Judgement Day’ to mind. ‘The Smoking Gun’ is one of those folky, yet still kind of rocking songs that Thunder truly excels at, while ‘Destruction’ is made a stand-out by its exciting sense of darkness. It’s a dynamic track in which tense verses and a suprisingly heavy riff enhance each other.

Not unlike ‘Wonder Days’, ‘All The Right Noises’ is another piece of evidence that Thunder is still a relevant band with excellent songs in an era during which many of their peers are solely driven by nostalgia. They don’t quite transcend themselves as much on the songwriting front as on ‘Wonder Days’, but Thunder hardly ever sounds this powerful on studio recordings. Normally, one would have to put on one of their many live releases to capture the full energy that Thunder harbors, but it’s fully present on ‘All The Right Noises’, therefore justifying its title.

Recommended tracks: ‘Don’t Forget To Live before You Die’, ‘Destruction’, ‘The Smoking Gun’

Album of the Week 09-2021: Witherfall – Curse Of Autumn


Witherfall drew my attention with their sophomore album ‘A Prelude To Sorrow’, which to this day I consider a masterpiece of dark progressive power metal. At the time, my hope was that the other activities of vocalist Joseph Michael and guitarist Jake Dreyer did not go at the expense of Witherfall and fortunately, it only took them two and a half years to come up with a fine follow-up in the shape of ‘Curse Of Autumn’. It is slightly less dark and oppressive than ‘A Prelude To Sorrow’, which I prefer as a result, but ‘Curse Of Autumn’ is another excellent work that blends traditional and contemporary heavy metal.

The main difference between ‘A Prelude To Sorrow’ and ‘Curse Of Autumn’ is that the latter feels far more chorus-oriented and that is an important part of why ‘Curse Of Autumn’ feels slightly more predictable. Witherfall is perfectly capable of writing an excellent, memorable chorus, but I do feel like choruses are repeated far too often occasionally. ‘As I Lie Awake’ is a particularly prominent offender here. While it is a cool song with excellent melodies, it would have been a lot better if it was a minute shorter by sacrificing a few repeats of its chorus.

Fortunately, the good outweighs the bad by far on ‘Curse Of Autumn’. The uptempo power thrash of opener ‘The Last Scar’ caught me a little off-guard, as its immediacy was not exactly what I was expecting. However, it is a great opener that to me sounds like a more clever Cage. ‘Another Face’ is an excellent power ballad that appears to follow the template for such a song closely initially, but quickly evolves into something more interesting, while the title track and the instrumental ‘The Unyielding Grip Of Each Passing Day’ form an excellent, highly dynamic diptych.

Highlighting the album, however, are its two lengthy tracks. ‘Tempest’ is one of the most interesting metal epics I have heard in recent years structurally, as it goes through apreggiated acoustic chords, pounding riffs and fast palm-muted sixteenth notes without ever losing its melancholic character, which is mainly carried by Michael’s fantastic vocals. Closer ‘…And They All Blew Away’ is another story entirely. So much happens within its fifteen and a half minutes of playing time that it would be difficult to do it justice in written words, but it is admirable how Witherfall keeps the song dynamic and comprehensive even when the musicians’ virtuosity is on full display.

Although I prefer the overall sound of ‘A Prelude To Sorrow’, ‘Curse Of Autumn’ is another piece of evidence that Witherfall is one of the finest bands in the contemporary metal landscape. They have a passionate singer, great compositions and virtuosic musicians who know when to take a back seat to the music. Also, ‘Curse Of Autumn’ has possibly the best drum sound I heard come out of the Morrisound Studios in decades, though I suspect Marco Minnemann may just own a fantastic-sounding kit. Here’s to hoping Witherfall will stick around long enough to treat us to a few more great albums like this.

Recommended tracks: ‘…And They All Blew Away’, ‘Tempest’, ‘The Last Scar’

Album of the Week 08-2021: Epica – Omega


While many bands that are often mentioned in the same breath as them tend to settle into a routine of simple songs of heavy-light contrasts that allow their singers – often female, but the likes of Kamelot are in the same category – to shine, Epica keeps reinventing itself and pushing itself forward. Sure, they have a signature sound: bombastic symphonic elements, heavy riffs and the contrasting voices of Simone Simons and Mark Jansen, but it does not take a profound sense of musical knowledge to notice that Epica’s music is far more complex and ambitious now than in their early days.

‘Omega’, their eighth full-length album and the first in nearly five years, is the next step in that musical progression. Compared to 2016’s ‘The Holographic Principle’, ‘Omega’ sounds a bit more open and organic as a whole and slightly more geared towards Simons, who easily delivers her best recorded vocal performance to date here. For many similar bands, this would mean that they simplified their sound to accommodate the lead singer, but somehow, ‘Omega’ manages to be more adventurous and more accessible at the same time. Epica does this by letting melodicism and complexity work in unison, often within the same song.

The change is subtle enough to not alienate anyone who enjoyed Epica’s music before. After all, ‘Abyss Of Time -Countdown To Singularity-‘ is immediately recognizable as an opener for an Epica album in how it breaks the heaviness – though not too heavy yet – with a hypermelodic chorus. In addition, ‘Freedom -The Wolves Within-‘ is one of those powerful upper mid-tempo tracks the band attempted before, though rarely quite as impactful as here. ‘Kingdom Of Heaven ~ Part III -The Antediluvian Universe-‘ is another excellent massive epic with loads of cool dynamic shifts. As a fan of the combination of metal and Arabic melodies, ‘Seal Of Solomon’ and especially ‘Code Of Life’ were very pleasant listening experiences as well.

However, Epica’s best albums always contain a few surprises and ‘Omega’ is no different. ‘Rivers’ is by far my favorite Epica ballad thus far. It’s a dark, sparse track that brings to mind Nick Cave’s more subdued tracks, but Simons’ vocals lend the song a completely different atmosphere. Miraculously – keep in mind that I absolutely hate childrens’ voices – the childrens’ choir adds an interesting layer to the finale. ‘The Skeleton Key’ is another song that took me by surprise in how extreme the dynamic contrasts are, which does wonders for my attention span. The pre-chorus to ‘Synergize -Manic Manifest-‘ is another nifty sudden shift I can appreciate, while it also contains Isaac Delahaye’s coolest guitar solo on the record.

Given the fact that I really liked the darker, heavier sound of ‘The Holographic Principle’, I will admit that album has the slight edge over ‘Omega’ for me. That sound is still there – ‘Gaia’ and the fantastic closer ‘Omega – Sovereign Of The Sun Spheres-‘ most prominently – but ‘Omega’ is certainly a bit lighter, owing much of that to its greater dynamic range. However, that is also one of the album’s greatest strengths, along with Simons’ stronger than usual performance and the far better sonic choices than its predecessor. Any fan of symphonic metal will find something to enjoy here, but there are enough interesting riffs to have potential appeal to “regular” metal fans as well.

Recommended tracks: ‘Omega -Sovereign Of The Sun Spheres-‘, ‘Kingdom Of Heaven ~ Part III -The Antediluvian Universe-‘, ‘Code Of Life’

Album of the Week 07-2021: Blessed By Perversion – Remnants Of Existence


On this weblog, I have lamented the state of modern death metal before. Bands that go the atmospheric route sacrifice the necessary aggression, the aggressive ones quickly descend into exhausting hyper blasting and the ones that do slow down often get stuck in a dull groovy rut. Even the bands with a more old school approach often end up with something that doesn’t quite impress as much as the works they are emulating. Because of this, it is good to have bands like Greece’s Blessed By Perversion, who do a highly admirable job of making old school death metal ready for this century.

Please don’t worry if that makes it seem like Blessed By Perversion is modernizing death metal, because they wear their early nineties death metal influences on their sleeves. The Floridian scene appears to be of particular influence, but despite clearly taking influence from the likes of Morbid Angel and some of the other early death metal bands that did not have much of a thrash metal influence anymore, they also work some nifty progressive features into their music without being too ham-fisted about it. The production on ‘Remnants Of Existence’ is also clear and contemporary in a way that truly emphasizes the music.

What Blessed By Perversion does particularly well is weaving the horror atmosphere that was so prominent when death metal was slowly turning into its own thing into their compositions. This is emphasized by the use of subtle keyboards in tracks like ‘Caverns Of Torture’, an arrangement trick that brings ‘Chapel Of Ghouls’ to mind, but the haunting guitar melodies of Kostas Foutris and Manolis Kouelo are ominous enough to achieve that effect by themselves. Vocalist Andreas Moschopoulos has the perfect grunt for this type of death metal as well, as it is deep and grimy, but still decipherable.

Another revelation on ‘Remnants Of Existence’ is drummer Vasilis Nanos. He resists the temptation of cramming all the space he has full with hard hits and constructs parts that really sound like a part of the composition. The doomy closing track ‘Within Monumental Chaos’ in particular truly shows what a musical drummer he is. Near the end of the track, bassist Vaggelis Nanos also injects some cool little bass fills, which made me realize how deep and powerful his bass sound is. Another highlight is ‘Among The Tombs Of Absent Gods’, which has a few almost Suffocation-esque technical riffs and a cool unpredictably timed middle section, but still retains its aggression.

If there is an issue with ‘Remnants Of Existence’, it would be its length. Blessed By Perversion presents the album as a full length, but it’s not even 25 minutes long. I could easily have listened to double the length of this music. And that is a compliment, because many death metal albums exhaust me after less than this album’s length. The Greeks deserve all the praise they can get for striking a perfect balance between aggression, atmosphere and slight technicality, proving that neither of those elements have to go at the cost of good songwriting.

Recommended tracks: ‘Within Monumental Chaos’, ‘Caverns Of Torture’