ANCIENT BARDS “Origine” (2019)

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It’s kind of a tradition Power and Symphonic Metal are establishing these days of writing concept albums telling fictitious stories or sagas. My fingers aren’t enough to count how many bands I’ve reviewed here which follow this path. It’s not easy, though, in practical terms to do so. One’s got to have lots of imagination because the way they do it’s just fantastic. It’s not only telling a story. It’s about creating characters, sewing alliances, so, all the elements of a real story.

That’s what Ancient Bards do here with Origine “(The Black Crystal Sword Saga Part 2)” which by its length one can tell it is complex. Musicwise, Ancient Bards are much more into Power and Speed Metal than Symphonic. Speed drumming, fast riffed songs, major chordly sequences. But they do balance these moments in Origine “(The Black Crystal Sword Saga Part 2)” and inside tracks. Sara Squadrani is a great differential into the Power Metal Ancient Bards are intended to perform. But her voice is too much to stay only with Power Metal, it needs more challenges which only Symphonic Metal can provide her.

In my humble opinion, another Ancient Bards’ differential is the voice duel between Sara’s clean voice and a harsh and gritty male one they perform in “Impious Dystopia” and “Fantasy’s Wings” – only during the chorus. It makes a lot of difference. The contrast sounds amazing. Pompous and grand are two words that work real fine to the music Ancient Bards play in Origine “(The Black Crystal Sword Saga Part 2)” most notably in tracks as “Aureum Legacy,” for instance. Anyway, Metal bands have to be extremely careful with those two words. It’s like walk on thin ice. If they are too much, the risk is to have a too sweetened album that no metaller will be able to listen to. On the opposite, if well-balanced, it makes us drool. Well, Ancient Bards were extremely careful. Origine “(The Black Crystal Sword Saga Part 2)” can be heard by any metaller with no hard effort.

8/10

Ancient Bards “Origine” (2019)
Limb Music

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CANDLEMASS “The Door To Doom” (2019)

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The reiteration of cherished classics isn’t always a effort well-executed or well-received. I feared that The Door to Doom, the newest album from legendary metal heavyweights Candlemass, would rely upon status and namesake to carry the enthusiasm of their 12th studio offering. With the unbelievable return of vocalist Johan Längquist, I cynically suspected that the move to bring back Längquist was going to be more fan service than good idea. As if the return of the Epicus Doomicus Metallicus singer wasn’t enough of a dangling carrot, a guest spot of absolute metal icon Tony Iommi had me feeling that The Door to Doom could be a hype train to ‘meh’svills.

With names so beloved and so revered, how could the anticipation of the album possibly match the product’s delivery? Boy, was I wrong. The Door to Doom, Candlemass‘s 12th studio album, is a stone-cold 10/10.

The album is supremely gratifying from a variety of perspectives. First, The Door to Doom feels timeless and satisfying. The ballad “Bridge of the Blind” is sung with straight-forward lyricism and a seasoned, not worn-out, warble that offers winsome wisdom. Each track is captivating and allures with a gripping presence that only experience can provide. Thanks to The Door to Doom, my fears of Candlemass fading into has-beens, grasping on to their heyday, have been obliterated. Shame on me, good on them. Though, to be fair, my cynicism was admittedly ill-founded. Their 2018 EP House of Doom was excellent—it was one of Metal Injection’s best albums at the midway point last year. But with only 4 songs to go on, and with the addition of such huge names for a full-length, it could have been possible the hype would oversell the final product.

Secondly, The Door to Doom shaves back the modern standard of doom experimentation to a classic, simple heaviness. Mid-tempo, chuggy songs like “Death’s Wheel” are old-school evil, brimming with slowly-crafted dark intent, and worthy of serious headbanging. The Door to Doom is a home run for Candlemass fans and doom fans alike. Candlemass fans will, of course, appreciate the return of Längquist, but will also love the marching, massive, minor-key songwriting of bassist Leif Edling.

It was surprising to find a new version of their song “House of Doom” as a track on The Door to Doom. The song was originally released on Candlemass‘s last EP and it featured singer Mats Levén. Längquist’s version, The Door to Doom version, is by far the best. His voice is deeper and carries the atmosphere of the song better. Songs like “Black Trinity” and “The Omega Circle” are direct and frill-free, OG doomy goodness.

The Door to Doom feels important. Live tracked drums and bright, full basslines structure album stand-out “Astorolus – The Great Octopus.” Featuring a non-tortured vocal performance—and Iommi’s sickeningly appropriate guitar chops—the track with the most bizarre name on the album owns some of the most memorable moments and heaviest riffs.

Eight carefully-crafted tracks easily earn a 10/10. With great attention to detail, The Door to Doom manages to escape trying too hard on every front it could have readily been over-done. The lyrics are “dreadful” without being too heavy-handed. The vocal performance holds back on vibrato variance and grit when it could’ve understandably been drawn out. The variety of intro riffs aren’t too varied for the sake of being ‘different’, and backbone song riffs aren’t too catchy or lazily arranged. Balanced, classic, heavy doom arises again with one of it’s very originators, Candlemass, in The Door to Doom.

10/10

Candlemass “The Door To Doom” (2019)
Napalm Records

Within Temptation “Resist” (2019)

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Dutch metal powerhouse Within Temptation is back with their seventh studio album, Resist. The new release, its first since 2014’s Hydra, comes after a four-year hiatus that surprisingly almost led to the band’s breakup. After collectively deciding that it had reached the limits of its traditional orchestral sound and classic metal riffs, the band needed a new direction. Resist is the result of that: a rough yet polished futuristic album that is still chock-full of the deeply resonate and powerfully anthemic tracks that Within Temptation fans love.

Resist is a call to arms and a battle cry against government powers. These 10 powerful and beautifully-crafted tracks fit perfectly into Within Temptation’s discography. The classic orchestral sound may be gone, but there are hints of apocalyptic choir verses, and lead singer Sharon den Adel’s signature operatic voice still soars to hit ethereal high notes in “Raise Your Banner”. Adel’s voice, paired with backing vocals from Anders Fridén of In Flames, makes this song a definite standout.

Within Temptation are wise in selecting “The Reckoning”, featuring Jacoby Shaddix from Papa Roach, as the album’s opening track. With the unique intro, which bares resemblance to a horn call, the band immediately grabs the listener’s attention, and holds it for the course of this well-crafted song with a highly infectious hook.

Another standout on Resist, and a hidden gem at that, is the demure and understated “Firelight”, featuring Jasper Steverlinck of Arid. The tune behind this dark and haunting ballad is pulsating; its repetitive nature lingers long after the song is over. The lyrics here are also beautifully poetic and rich in imagery. Together, Adel and Steverlinck’s voices are pure magic.

With this new direction, Within Temptation has crafted its strongest album to date, far surpassing the majesty of Hydra. “Resist” is richly nuanced and incredibly powerful, and will surely make for an impressive live show.

8/10

Within Temptation – Resist (2019)
Spinefarm Records

Flotsam & Jetsam “The End Of Chaos” (2019)

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The first track on the album, “Prisoner of Time”, accurately sets out the significance and prominence of Flotsam & Jetsam’s hybrid of thrash instrumentation and NWOBHM-influenced vocals on the part of frontman Eric “A.K.” Knutson. Without stating the obvious, it is fairly difficult to not listen to this and think Iron Maiden. “Control” immediately follows next, and definitely steps up the thrash as far as the drumming proficiency of F&J newcomer and ex- Alice Cooper drummer Ken Mary and the riffs and melodies of dual guitarists Steve Conley and Michael Gilbert.

“Recover” and “Prepare for Chaos” move things along nicely, and so far the idea for the order of tracks on ‘The End of Chaos’ appears to be to have a NWOBHM-influenced track, a thrash-influenced track, another NWBOHM-influenced track, and so on and so forth as Flotsam & Jetsam bounces back and forward between the two musical styles.

Since thrash can be interpreted by some as being a style of metal that at times is difficult musically when it comes to branching out and adopting new creative ideas and being able to successfully weave them properly into the already established framework of what it is that makes thrash metal thrash metal, Flotsam & Jetsam have throughout this album been able to achieve some sort of creative targets in terms of releasing a record so far into their career that accomplishes the feat of being more than just a bulk standard thrash album in which every song sounds no different to the others.

With Flotsam & Jetsam’s new album ‘The End of Chaos’, the band have again constructed a fresh batch of songs that in honesty don’t stray too far from the band’s established NWOBHM-influenced thrash pallet, but at the same time will definitely be enough to satisfy long time fans of F&J. This has all the hallmarks of a band proudly wearing their stylistic influences on their sleeve, but sometimes that isn’t a bad thing. If you’re into thrash and want something to kick off the new year, give this album a listen to start 2019 well.

8/10

Flotsam & Jetsam “The End Of Chaos” (2019)

JINJER “Micro” (2019)

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Ukrainian metal act Jinjer has been making waves in the metal scene in recent times ever since they gained prominence by winning the Best Ukrainian Metal act award of 2013 and the award-winning music video of, I Speak Astonomy from 2016’s King of Everything. Fronted by vocalist Tatiana Shmailyuk along with guitarist Roman Ibramkhalilov, bassist Eugene Abdiukhanov and Vladislav Ulasevich behind the kit this group started out as a metalcore act and gained a reputation for making some great music infused with progressive and groovy elements producing a unique sound with 2014’s Cloud Factory. However, the departure Dmitriy Oksen resulted in a tilt in musical influences, thus leading its successor album to a lukewarm reception. Earlier in the year the band revealed that they were working on new material and we’re here to talk about the new Extended Play titled ‘Micro’.

I am all for artwork, but had a tough time interpreting what this one represents. However, going by what I hear I can tell you that this EP is fuelled with a combination of rage and emotion, discussing various topics ranging from evolution to some gritty truths in the fabric of mankind.Ape’ talks of evolution in perspective of what makes mankind god’s mistake, and makes for interesting music that stems from the fusion of groove and progressive elements together with an impressive marriage between rhythm guitar and drums. ‘Dreadful Moments’ discusses child abuse and neglect in a melody that is stunningly so good to listen to, it makes you uncomfortable for enjoying it considering how dark the subject is.

Tatiana has got some impressive pipes and adds a lot of emotion to this track with both clean and scream vocals thus bringing out the pain of this ghastly issue. ‘Teacher, Teacher’ sounds like a hybrid of djent and nu metal with its breakdowns and rap style verses. Depending on how you perceive it, it’s either a mockery of the education system or an all-out assault against the prejudice of the system we call society and by the time you’re done listening, part of you might just agree with it. ‘Perennial’ starts off frantic but progress’ to become the most melodic track among the lot. It has a frosty touch to it and some great bass licks in the third quarter onwards. Things come to close with the self-titled and final track ‘Micro’. A short and sweet instrumental with some amazing guitar playing and personally my favourite instrumental of the year.

The production quality is top notch (got to love the snare’s sound!) and the EP comes out on the 11th of January 2019. But with two out of five songs already out on YouTube if you’re wondering whether is worth actually buying this EP? I would say go for it! At 22 minutes this album is of decent length and musically sits somewhere between Cloud Factory and King of Everything. It tips toward the melodic side without losing its raw edge and aggression and is well structured when compared to their last full-length album. In terms of composition and content this is lyrically a very deep record and musically I pleasantly enjoy the uniqueness of their sound rather than trying to classify it, and I reckon that’s the best way to go about it.

‘Micro’ is evidence that Jinjer’s music is not a flash in the pan. It’s the by-product of a solid effort by talented musicians who judiciously use their skills to produce a unique record and perhaps even forge the sound of next generation metal music.

9/10
JINJER “Micro”

BLOOD RED SOUL announces new singer

German/UK-based symphonic/gothic metal band BLOOD RED SOUL have announced their new main lead singer to be FIONA CREABY from APPARITION and FALLEN ARISE.
CREABY had already been guesting on the band’s debut record in 2017. Their first album included quite a number of guests among who were notable names like said FIONA CREABY, MICKI RICHTER (Leaves Eyes, Liv Kristine, Krayenzeit) and others. It was ELLIE KAMPHUIS who took the main vocal chores back then. KAMPHUIS is now pursuing other musical projects. In early 2018 FIONA CREABY brought out the album “The Awakening” with british veteran rockers APPARITION which we reviewed at the time.

The upcoming BLOOD RED SOUL album is said to be entitled “River Of Melancholia” and will be out approx. mid-2019. Definitely something we can look forward to.

SG (2019)

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WINDHAND “Eternal Return” (2018)

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There’s a difference between releasing music as a band and perfecting a sonic signature to a point where a band’s name means something. Over the course of the past three albums, Windhand swirled about in its haze to reveal various facets of their capabilities. They never quite managed to unveil their true range though. Now after three years between full-lengths, Windhand returns (eternally) to lift the fog, clear the mist, and define their own obscurities through a fantastic album that properly carves out their identity.

Eternal Return nails what’s been missing in Windhand‘s sound for the previous three albums: a solid flow that keeps the music interesting. Just look at what the first half has to offer and how it offers it. The record kicks off with “Halcyon” and “Grey Garden,” both of which adhere to the band’s usual fuzz-heavy cloudiness with the added bonus of the former bringing forth a stoner breakdown riff that Elon Musk would approve of right at the end. There’s the clean-toned ballad “Pilgrim’s Rest” and the suffocating smoke of “First To Die,” which quietly passes away into the noisy interlude “Light Into Dark,” and into the deafening darkness of the second half.

In the past, Windhand launched the world’s slowest assault without any real reprieve or change of pace. It always felt like a detriment to their work. The songs were good, but when the tempo hardly shifts and there’s no discernible variation, the listening experience turns into something akin to highway hypnosis. Especially at the end of both Soma and Grief’s Infernal Flower. The former ends on two tracks that combined were 43 minutes long. The latter meanwhile pairs two 14 minute stoner epics back-to-back before the closer. In contrast, Eternal Return‘s final four tracks pack songs clocking in at 11 minutes and 13 minutes. They are also broken up by shorter ones that purposefully stray in mood from their lengthy counterparts.

The songs on Eternal Return brandish a very strong sense of identity to go along with the album’s intelligent layout. It is easy to hum the riffs after a few listens and to anticipate the choruses Dorthia Cottrell chose perfectly memorable words for. In addition, Windhand also carefully considers song tempos and how to best serve the riffs.

“Eyeshine” needs to be as slow as it is to properly allow the notes birth certain feelings of menace. On the other hand, “Red Cloud” and “Grey Garden” benefit from their head-nodding mid-tempo stomp. Occasionally, Windhand experiments a little with tempo change within a track, like in the monolithic ending to the closer “Feather.” There’s no other way to describe the closing five minutes of that track as anything other than a fifty-foot tall steamroller driving through wet tar toward a very trapped you, on a planet where gravity is increased by two-hundred percent.

Eternal Return‘s ultimate success lies in the fact that one instantly knows it’s a Windhand record. There are no massive, head-scratching departures in sound that’ll make you look up who quit the band or who produced it. Instead, Eternal Return takes their murky, swampy brand of doom and throws a little color and detail at it. The haunting vocal harmonies on “Red Cloud” are prominent. Garrett Morris’ spacey guitar effects and distant feedback on “Grey Gardens” transport you to another dimension.

The odd, almost muted lead guitar work on “Feathers” is reassuring with just a fleeting smirk of hinted danger. All of “Light Into Dark” comes and goes as if it isn’t a beautifully rambling freakout of an interlude. Though as always, bassist Parker Chandler and drummer Ryan Wolfe ground Windhand to allow notable experimentation. I’d argue they’re one of the most interesting, solid, and criminally underrated rhythm sections in the genre.

Four records and 10 years into their career, Windhand could not be anymore themselves than they are on Eternal Return. It’s an album that you can listen to straight through, get to the fade out at the end, and loop right back into the beginning without wondering what else you should be listening to today. Simply put, Eternal Return is the record by which all future Windhand albums will be judged.

8/10

Windhand – Eternal Return (2018)
Relapse Records