Archive for May, 2019

Album of the Week 21-2019: Arch/Matheos – Winter Ethereal


With Arch/Matheos being active, there are essentially two Fates Warnings, the one actually called Fates Warning being fronted by Ray Alder. Neither are very prolific; they have a combined grand total of four albums this decade. However, all four are excellent, so that should not be a reason to complain. Jim Matheos found a niche for himself that works, but at the same time provides him with enough opportunities to experiment without straying too far from his core sound. ‘Winter Ethereal’ fits that niche. It’s slightly more streamlined than ‘Sympathetic Resonance’, but similar enough to appeal to the same audience.

Not unlike on their debut album, or even the two-track ‘Twist Of Fate’ EP released under John Arch’s name, ‘Winter Ethereal’ sounds like twenty-first century Fates Warning tailored to Arch’s vocals. For those of you who have never heard them, imagine an esotheric Bruce Dickinson and you’d be close. Unlike their debut, however, Arch and Matheos rotate the cast of backing musicians on the record with several Fates Warning alumni (Frank Aresti, Mark Zonder, Bobby Jarzombek, Joey Vera, Joe DiBiase) and a couple of respected names in the field of progressive rock and metal (Sean Malone, Steve DiGiorgio, Thomas Lang, Matt Lynch).

Maybe it is the close connection that all these musicians have to the history of Arch and Matheos, but ‘Winter Ethereal’ eludes the musical posturing and lack of cohesion that most of these super line-ups have. The men whose names are on the cover are in control here, that much is never in doubt. And despite a couple of fantastic guitar solos on ‘Vermillion Moons’ and ‘Solitary Man’, Matheos is more concerned with getting the riffs and the atmosphere right. He certainly does here. Despite the heaviness and complexity, ‘Winter Ethereal’ always remains a pleasant listen, which has been Matheos’ trademark for all of his recent material.

Easily the most metallic track on here is ‘Wrath Of The Universe’. It’s wild and Matheos enhances the rhythmic violence of Jarzombek and DiGiorgio by often layering two contrasting guitar parts; one aggressive, one creating breathing room. Clever writing. The brilliantly atmospheric ‘Pitch Black Process’ is a more contemporary progressive rock track, though with distinct heavy riffing, somewehere along the lines of a more metallic Porcupine Tree. Closer ‘Kindred Spirits’ is the only 10+ minute song this time around and it is a strong, dynamic track that highlights all that Arch/Matheos has to offer in a surprisingly fluent fashion. The other large epic is the powerful opening track ‘Vermillion Moons’, which “only” clocks nine minutes.

Though ‘Winter Ethereal’ is not perfect – ‘Never In Your Hands’ is a little plain and the ballad ‘Tethered’ is good, but drags a little at several points in the song – it is simply a no-brainer for anyone who loved the debut and even the last two Fates Warning albums. The album is dynamic, powerful and intricate, but never too complex. Such listenable progressive metal is hard enough to come by these days, but Arch and Matheos certainly give a few young bands – as well as a few burnt-out old ones – a lesson or two in prog songwriting here. Highly recommended.

Recommended tracks: ‘Wrath Of The Universe’, ‘Pitch Black Process’, ‘Kindred Spirits’, ‘Vermillion Moons’

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Album of the Week 20-2019: Amorphis – Elegy


Perfection is hard to come by in music. More often than not, I refer to a certain aspect of an album being as close to perfection as it gets. In case of Amorphis’ third album ‘Elegy’, its atmosphere is just about as perfect as it gets. ‘Elegy’ was the second album on which Amorphis showed a massive stylistic change and it would not be the last, but it does say something that the signature sound they currently have is not too far removed from what can be heard on ‘Elegy’. It is simply an excellent work of melancholic Finnish metal.

In a way, it is odd that ‘Elegy’ is my favorite Amorphis album, as the band would become much better later on. Current singer Tomi Joutsen is vastly superior to both the throaty grunts of rhythm guitarist Tomi Koivusaari and the Hetfield-esque cleans of Pasi Koskinen, Santeri Kallio has a significantly more melodic style than ‘Elegy’ keyboard player Kim Rantala… Basically the only band member who is already close to the massive heights he would soon reach is lead guitarist Esa Holopainen, one of the most tasteful guitarists in rock and metal. And yet, everything on ‘Elegy’ is as it should be.

First off, the lack of vocal prowess does not hurt the music at all. Koskinen is the right fit for the melancholy expressed in the lyrics – all English translations of the poems in the ‘Kanteletar’, a collection of traditional Finnish songs and poems – and Koivusaari is buried in the mix. Besides, if I had to estimate, less than 25 percent of the album actually has vocals. ‘Elegy’ is the record that most clearly displays the influence that their fellow countrymen Kingston Wall had on Amorphis: it’s extremely jam-heavy, giving Holopainen plenty of room to excel, and the band opts to let the ideas unfold slowly rather than cramming their songs full of them.

Additionally, the eastern mysticism in Kingston Wall’s music is prominent on some of the Holopainen-penned songs, the incredible opener ‘Better Unborn’ in particular. That song deserves an award anyway. It’s easy to come up with something self-pitying for that set of lyrics, but Amorphis made something extremely powerful out of it, kind of like a Scandinavian metal interpretation of Led Zeppelin’s later works. ‘Song Of The Troubled One’ has a similar vibe, though notably more northern European. The twin guitar harmony laden ‘Against Widows’ is more propulsive, as is ‘On Rich And Poor’, which contains some incredible rhythm guitar work. The surprisingly good instrumental ‘Relief’ brings all the elements together.

Even when the band adopts a more laid-back approach, it sounds amazing. The climactic title track and the unbelievably gorgeous album highlight ‘My Kantele’ have some prominent Pink Floyd-isms, albeit with much more powerful rhythm guitar work. But really, only those who prefer Amorphis as a full-on death metal band might not find anything to like on ‘Elegy’, but I sincerely doubt if they ever were. The consistently melancholic tone is what largely makes ‘Elegy’ so amazing, but the unusually large amount of jamming helps too, plus the fact that Holopainen and Koivusaari hardly ever play in unison. A fairly unique album, even within Amorphis’ discography, that still sounds as fresh today as when I first heard it.

Recommended tracks: ‘Better Unborn’, ‘My Kantele’, ‘On Rich And Poor’, ‘Relief’

My douze points for 2019


Finally. The return of the big, sweeping power ballad in the Eurovision canon. Also, the return of the song that is so bad that it’s entertaining. That doesn’t mean that there was nothing to complain about this year. My favorite song of the semi-final – Ester Peony’s dark electropop song ‘On A Sunday’ (Romania) – got stuck in the semi-finals and I actually think that the folkish but not quite ‘Sul Tsin Iare’ by Georgia’s Oto Nemsadze deserved to have qualified as well. In addition, the idea of “message over music” is really getting on my nerves.

However, let’s focus on the positives. There were actually a couple of good songs this year and Serhat’s ‘Say Na Na Na’ (San Marino) was welcome for multiple reasons. First of all, Serhat being Turkish, this is the closest we’re probably going to get to a Turkish Eurovision entry for a while. But more importantly, the entertainment value is significantly higher than the musical content. Just perfect. We have been needing that for years.

Spain: Miki – La Venda

Is the song order of the Eurovision Song Contest really as random as people claim? Because Miki’s ‘La Venda’ was as good a finale as possible. An energetic, upbeat, sunny pop song that fits the country it’s representing really well. In all honesty, I think Miki may have been better off aiming for this year’s summer hit rather than Eurovision, but I would be surprised if Miki did not gain a massive audience for ‘La Venda’ through his enthusiastic performance. The song is more South American in tone than Spanish, but that should not be any problem. Definitely the perfect way to get the adrenalin pumping one more time before going into the (too) extended voting break.

Concerning that very last bit of the final sentence: in deed, I can’t stand Madonna.

North Macedonia: Tamara Todevska – Proud

Usually, I am of opinion that a good singer cannot save a lesser song. Not that ‘Proud’ is bad, just a little plain, even though it has a bit of an old school Eurovision vibe, with only piano and strings backing Tamara Todevska. I just like the intensity of Todevska’s delivery. She definitely shows some serious range here, both emotionally and musically. There’s some multiple octave work going on and it’s great how Todevska moves from extremely intimate to big and powerful. One thing I find clever is that Todevska and her production team found a way to make the song’s grand message of female empowerment much more personal. Decent song, excellent performance.

Serbia: Nevena Božović – Kruna

Sure, the song is a little messy in the sense that the transitions could have been a little smoother – the pre-chorus in particular is slightly anti-climactic – but Nena Božović’ vocal performance on this is so incredible that it’s easy to ignore that. Not unlike Tamara Todevska, but ‘Kruna’ is slightly better both in terms of performance and songwriting. Bonus points to Božović for writing the song on her own, by the way. Like I said in the beginning, the big sweeping Eurovision power ballad was more prominent this year and ‘Kruna’ is the best example. Božović is a powerhouse singer and her emotional performance really sells the song. She does a lot of dance pop as well, but I think she would do well to focus on stuff where she can really stretch her vocal cords.

Albania: Jonida Maliqi – Ktheju Tokës

After having easily the best singer of the contest in the shape of Eugent Bushpepa last year, Albania once again enters the contest with a great singer and a surprisingly good song. Upon hearing it for the first time, I knew it was not going to win – too dark, too ethnic – but that is exactly why I liked it so much. Jonida Maliqi’s vocal performance deserves all the praise it can get. Some of the notes may sound a little alien to western European ears, but it’s powerful, intense and highly atmospheric. Personally, I love it when Eurovision acts use their country’s folk music as the basis for their song. Especially when it’s translated to a more contemporary environment as well as this. By the way, is this the second time in a row Albania is my top pick?

Album of the Week 19-2019: Rammstein – Reise, Reise


Rammstein is probably the most popular rock band that doesn’t sing in English. And yet, they are also one of the most misunderstood bands in the world. Not alone is the at times hilarious word play in their lyrics lost on people who don’t speak German, but their music is also often perceived as much more aggressive than it actually is. Sure, subtlety was never the band’s strongest feat – something which is even more evident in their massive live shows – but albums like ‘Reise, Reise’ should not be taken at face value. There is more to this record than one might first assume.

In a way, ‘Reise, Reise’ is a logical follow-up to the band’s definitive international breakthrough album ‘Mutter’, which saw the band improving their arrangements significantly. There is still very little complexity in Rammstein’s songwriting, as two or three riffs are the norm for the band, but the productions and orchestrations became notably more sophisticated on those records. In addition, Till Lindemann’s voice really came into its own on ‘Mutter’, and his operatic vocals in particular. These are featured prominently alongside his rawer performances on ‘Reise, Reise’. Put those two together and you end up with a brutally effective album.

Also not unlike ‘Mutter’ is the fact that Rammstein kicks off ‘Reise, Reise’ with a relatively adventurous track in the shape of its title track. The riffs are massive, the chorus larger than live and the nautical theme of the song is captured perfectly by the almost symphonic quality of the arrangement. The fact that I love how the accordion, an instrument I hate with every fiber of my being, is incorporated into the apotheosis says enough. ‘Morgenstern’ employs a similar sound with a particularly dramatic chorus and some delightfully aggressive start-stop riffing, while the brilliantly constructed and particularly intense ‘Keine Lust’ is probably my favorite single of the band to date.

That may just be why ‘Reise, Reise’ is my favorite Rammstein album. It is not radically different from earlier work, the highlights are just a tad better than on every album. Especially ‘Dalai Lama’, which is probably their most flawlessly crafted song to date. The modern interpretation of Goethe’s ‘Erlkönig’ is perfectly expressed by Lindemann’s vocal delivery and Christian ‘Flake’ Lorenz’ keyboards form a perfect melodic contrast with the palm muted precision of guitarists Richard Z. Kruspe and Paul Landers. ‘Amour’ and especially ‘Ohne Dich’ are the band’s first successful attempts at honest power ballads, which makes them the perfect follow-ups to the gruesome moodswings of the excellent ‘Stein Um Stein’.

Sure, ‘Reise, Reise’ is full of simple, metallic downtuned guitar riffs and Christoph Schneider’s at times drum computer-like rhythms never go overboard on tempo and virtuosity, but the music is very clevery and carefully crafted. That was always what lifted Rammstein above their followers in the Neue Deutsche Härte scene and other types of industrial rock music. They have always made their own rules as they went along. How else could you explain something like ‘Los’, which sounds as heavy as the average Rammstein song, only acoustically? ‘Reise, Reise’ is equal amounts recognizable and experimental, which is better than what most successful bands can hope for.

Recommended tracks: ‘Dalai Lama’, ‘Keine Lust’, ‘Morgenstern’, ‘Reise, Reise’

Album of the Week 18-2019: Korol I Shut – Bunt Na Korable


Korol I Shut is widely recognized as one of Russia’s best punk bands. And yet, labelling them punk is seriously selling them short. Sure, the songs are generally short and very energetic, but Korol I Shut’s music is too experimental and melodic to be considered “just” punk. Taking their inspiration from horror punk, but replacing zombies by monsters from Slavic mythology and folklore, they took their music into every possible direction, from folky touches to borderline metal. ‘Bunt Na Korable’ is closer to the latter in its hardcore approach, but Korol I Shut refuses to give up its melodic memorability in the process.

Since Korol I Shut adopts a different approach on just about every album, their records may differ in appeal, but they are hardly effer short of interesting. ‘Bunt Na Korable’ takes two parts hardcore, two parts alternative rock, one part metal and lead guitar melodies that have a strong vibe and combines that into a admirably lumpless blend. Combined with the surprisingly theatrical vocal duo – Andrey Knyazev and the sometimes semi-gothic sounding Mikhail Gorshenyov – and some really strong riff work, ‘Bunt Na Korable’ rates as one of the band’s most consistent releases, along with its considerably more melodic follow-up ‘Prodavets Koshmarov’.

‘Hardkor Po-Russki’ serves as a bit if a mission statement for ‘Bunt Na Korable’. It’s not just the title of this opening track, the hard-hitting riffs and the measured aggression of Aleksandr Tsigolev’s drumming also show that this is going to be a relatively propulsive album immediately. The track that best embodies this philosophy, however, is ‘Ispoved Vampira’, which has the fastest palm-muted riffs on the record. Guitarists Aleksandr Leontyev and Yakov Tsvirkunov have an enviable precision that almost pushes the song into thrash metal territory. ‘Inkvisitor’ is even further into it and highly recommended to fans of that particular genre.

When the band goes into a more melodic direction, they are just as convincing. ‘Mest Garri’ was wisely chosen as the single for the album, as it is no less driven than the other tracks, but carried by a handful of strong, slightly melancholic melodies and the rhythms of Tsigolev and bassist Aleksandr Balunov are definitely more roomy than on the faster tracks. ‘Idol’ mixes the two approaches together, while ‘Zvonok’ is almost the Slavic forest version of Kyuss’ more straightforward songs. ‘Severny Flot’, on the other hand, is a downright excellent alternative rock track with reverberating clean guitars and massive chord and melody structures.

A couple of weeks ago, I wrote about the issues of mislabeling a band. Korol I Shut sort of fell victim to that as well. That’s not too say that they are not a punk band at the core, but they have so much more to offer than that. Even ‘Bunt Na Korable’, that not unlike their self-titled album stays relatively close to that punk core, displays some of the most inventive songwriting I have ever heard within the context of a band whose songwriting is not all that complicated.

Recommended tracks: ‘Severny Flot’, ‘Ispoved Vampira’, ‘Mest Garri’, ‘Inkvisitor’

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