ELUVEITIE “Ategnatos” (2019)

Ategnatos

It’s not difficult to see why Eluveitie is a folk metal powerhouse. From humble beginnings, the band has grown into an institution that delights its legion of fans with its harmonious blending of traditional folk instruments and death metal. While it has been a few years since the band dropped their latest effort — acoustic offering Evocation II: Pantheon in 2017 — the band has revisited their heavier side and has relished the opportunity to create another heavy album and has returned in 2019 with their eighth studio album Ategnatos.

Ategnatos begins the same way as many Eluveitie albums beforehand — a spoken word introduction atop a building musical score that crescendos into the title track. At this stage of the game, it could be considered a very rote move from the band, but it still continues to work and also provides some greater context to the overall theme of the album – that being of rebirth. This theme is very strongly embedded in the music and lyrics so before going any further it is important to point out that while it might be very easy to draw parallels between this theme of rebirth and Eluveitie’s line-up changes, this does not feel like something that has been intentionally targeted or promoted by the band, and seems to be a tenuous link at best. The albums large and emotionally powerful lyrical focus on mortality and rebirth should be enough to dissuade people from drawing these parallels, but there will undoubtedly be a small cohort that will draw links between these themes and the changeover of notable band members, so it felt important to include this up front.

Ategnatos is an interesting album. For all intents and purposes, the band tries to retain a large portion of their folk metal roots but has also taken the interesting approach of experimenting with other genres. There are many songs on the album that harken back to a more traditional death metal rooted sound, similar to the one the band had on earlier albums like Everything Remains As It Never Was, but there is also some poppier sounding tracks like ‘Ambriamus’, a ballad in ‘Breathe’, and a groove-metal sounding track in ‘Deathwalker’. There’s a lot of variety here, all with Eluveitie’s touch, and while it all works, the ranging variety could have an impact on the way it is viewed in the eyes of the fans.

Figurehead and frontman Chrigel Glanzmann is again to be commended on his performance on Ategnatos. While there is no drastically big deviation from the same displays we have been getting from Glanzmann for the last decade or so now, there is a sense of refinement to his performance on this album. Even in some of the more upbeat sounding songs that you think might not accommodate his style of vocals, Glanzmann embeds himself into these songs in ways that don’t originally seem obvious. Additionally, the harsh and soft dichotomy between his fierce vocals and his gracefully beautiful counterpart Fabienne Erni Is really one of the key elements that give Ategnatos a lot of its emotive power.

While on the subject of vocals, Erni has been a surprise inclusion to the band’s ranks over the past few years. While many fans are probably still mourning the separation of Eluveitie and previous female vocalist Anna Murphy, Erni demonstrates on Ategnatos that she is more than capable of helping to elevate the band in a way that would not have been previously possible. In fact, many of the songs on Ategnatos simply wouldn’t work without the grace, passion or power that Erni puts into her vocal delivery. Tracks like ‘Ambriamus’, ‘The Slumber’ and ‘Breathe’ are carried by her performance alone, while her choral and accompanying vocals on tracks like ‘Threefold Death’ add a greater depth to their overall sound. Her use of the harp is also quite prevalent in many tracks and adds a great flourish every time it makes an appearance.

Musically, the remainder of the band performs well. There are some songs with some sections with really great guitar work from Rafael Salzmann and Jonas Wolf, particularly in tracks like ‘Breathe’ and ‘Rebirth’, and an additional stand out violin pieces from Nicole Ansperger like the upbeat solo in ‘Deathwalker’. Apart from that, there wasn’t much that stood out as being ideally unique to this album over other albums in the band’s catalog which wasn’t already tied to their new stylistic approach.

Overall the mix is as balanced as one would come to expect from an Eluveitie album. The folk elements are respectably placed, and the album never feels like a particular component of its wall of sound is outshining another. There are a few sections where the vocals and backing vocals could have been louder to really drive home their importance, but overall the band has achieved a good balance — which you would, of course, expect when mixing duties were handled by none other than Jens Bogren.

The album does suffer some engagement issues throughout its 16 song duration though. Firstly, there are a few tracks —particularly the interludes — that could quite easily be removed and the result would have had a minimal impact on the listeners overall appreciation or feel for the album. Additionally, while musically sound, the differing styles attempted from song to song on the album may take listeners by surprise, and may also take a few listens to embrace which could be a turnoff for some. But aside from these small issues, there really aren’t much to fault with the album.

Ategnatos is a great return to heavier music from Eluveitie, but it is going to be interesting to see what happens from here. The album challenges the way that people should view their own mortality, but the stylistic change means it will also challenge the way that fans will view Eluveitie moving forward. While the band has had no difficulty on Ategnatos in finding a way for the listeners to embrace the raw emotional power of their lyrics, it will be interesting to see how the fans approach the varied direction of their music. While many might perceive this album as struggling with some identity issues, in particular around its pacing and it’s varied genres, it is still an enjoyable, but it just may take some time to really resonate with listeners. Make no mistakes Ategnatos is a good album and is one that will show listeners that spend time with it exactly why the band continues to be a torchbearer for modern-day folk metal now and into the future.

8/10

Eluveitie “Ategnatos” (Nuclear Blast)

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DELAIN “Hunter’s Moon” (2019)

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In anticipation of their next studio album Symphonic Metalers ​Delain​ have released a special gift for their fans. In the form of a second live album and accompanying DVD, there are also 4 brand new tracks to prepare for their new album later in the year. As a prelude ​Hunter’s Moon​ allows fans to get a sneak peek at what is yet to come from this band.

The first 4 tracks from the album are those new tracks which have seen the bands guitarists step forward with their writing abilities. The band have clearly been busy and this is the proof. With the fast paced, energetic riffs that drive through each of the tracks and the steady beat pushing them forward, the band still has a lot to show for themselves. ​Charlotte Wessels ​vocals are as hauntingly beautiful as always, providing that soft contrast to the heaviness of the band and creating a stunning sound. If this is the prelude to the next album, fans are certainly on for a treat!

The live part of the album also holds something special as ​Nightwish’s Marco Hietala ​guest stars. Hietala joined Delain on their ​Danse Macabre ​live tour last year and seemed to certainly make an impact with fans as heard on the album. He fits into the bands style with ease and his harmonies with Wessel on “Your Body Is A Battleground” are near perfect as though he belongs. This live portion of the album, does what all really good live recordings do, and make you wish you’d been apart of the audience.

Delain ​really know how to treat their fans with this latest offering. With a peek into what could be coming from their next album and a look back at their last tour, what more could you ask for. With a DVD added for bonus, there is enough to satisfy the need for more from the band for now.

8/10
Delain – Hunter’s Moon (2029)
Napam Records

CHILDREN OF BODOM “Hexed” (2019)

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For any band, recording and releasing ten studio albums is an accomplishment–Children of Bodom has been at it for over twenty years now, and their career has taken a clear but divisive arc. Musically, it can be divided almost cleanly in half; they rose to fame with the style they realized on their first five albums, one of blisteringly fast guitar, melodic keys, and ambitious, harmonically constructed compositions. Signs of their newer sound started to show as early as 2003’s Hate Crew Deathroll and increased much further in 2005’s Are You Dead Yet? The five albums since, including Hexed, have all shared a similar approach, focusing more on riffs, usually with discordant constructions and unstable tonal centers. Whether you like one or the other or both, Children of Bodom’s commitment to heaviness and high-speed energy is one thing that’s remained constant over the years. Hexed is very much at home in the latter half of COB’s discography, and fans should know that this is in no way a “return to roots” for the band–it is, however, a decent metal album, and probably the best of the second half of the Bodom catalogue.

Everything in Children of Bodom runs, creatively, through frontman Alexi Laiho–he writes almost all of the music and lyrics, plays lead guitars, and performs vocals. His work as a young shredder twenty years ago earned him (rightfully) industry status as a guitar hero. Laiho has a lot of intrinsic strengths as a musician, and Hexed is most effective when it plays to those strengths. In their youth, Alexi and his friend/bandmate, keyboardist Janne Wirman, were passionate fans of the 1984 film Amadeus, based loosely on the life of the eponymous Mozart–the 1999 album Hatebreeder opened with a clip from the film and contained adaptations of several Mozart passages that appeared in it. It was appropriate. Laiho was, in many ways, similar to the young Wolfgang: ambitious, unique, wildly talented, but also reckless, irreverent, hedonistic, and as likely to be found raising Hell as composing. That album was a masterpiece, an impossible blend of complimentary styles, including NWOBHM, classical, and even black metal, all processed through unrestrained virtuosity and savage energy. Laiho’s natural aptitude for harmony and melody were splashed all over it. Not only is that what makes Children of Bodom’s music great, it’s what sets it apart from all other metal. Over the years their material has manifested Laiho’s distinct musical voice in various ways–what’s interesting is that although his inherent talent for harmonic music will seemingly vanish at times, it always reappears again. The variables are how often and for how long, because everything in between does little to separate Children of Bodom from the pack. The best thing about Hexed is that almost every song features at least one moment of harmonic coherence–and each is thrilling and deeply satisfying. The bad thing about Hexed is that these moments can be fleeting and infrequent, and they’re separated by interchangeable, low-open string riffs and confusing, frustrating chord progressions. Consequently, Laiho’s genius struggles to fully manifest itself.

It’s hard to attribute this to anything other than complacency–what Hexed lacks is ambition, and a little bit of arrogance. Children of Bodom have shown us that they’re capable of pushing the envelope with how fast, how melodic, how technical, how musically functional each song could be. Without that drive, a lot of the material on Hexed is still good, but it’s not quite special. It’s saturated with riffs that are angry, brutal and punchy but sometimes inconsequential. Half of the choruses are drab and lacking of exuberance. They play like a very talented band that has already done what they set out to and are now simply passing the time. Too many of the musical passages on the album wander randomly, following perplexing chord changes that imply no tonal center and therefore deny the listener of a sense of tension and resolution. Even occasional melodic fills and nicely-shaped phrases will occur completely out of key from their context, so the effect they would normally have is diminished. As a result, Laiho begins to resemble Mozart less and Salieri, his woeful antagonist, more.

Fortunately, this is not always the case, and when it comes to crafting impactful music, Hexed is a vast improvement over its predecessor, 2015’s I Worship Chaos, and probably the previous few records as well. There are many redeeming moments where Laiho’s genius gets to shine. The opening track, “This Road,” has a rousing energy and beautiful melodic pre-chorus riff. “Under Grass and Clover” uses enjoyable diatonic harmony throughout. The title track features an absolutely delicious melody with guitars and keyboard playing in unison, loaded front to back with intense, melodic content. “Glass Houses” and “Soon Departed” feature plenty of compelling material as well. But the star of the show is “Platitudes and Barren Words,” a forceful and hard-hitting track that features the album’s finest musical statement: a gorgeous key melody that opens the piece and recurs as the song’s chorus material. The sequence works because it has strong tonality and is harmonically stable as well as driving and energetic. It’s the same idea that makes the end of the main riff in “Knuckleduster” so effective, as the keyboards and guitars dance together and climb towards a powerful climax. Those moments of triumphant melody and musical completion are the epitome of what makes COB unique and interesting. If such moments made up the bulk of the musical content in Hexed, it would be a masterpiece, but when used sparingly, they simply embellish an otherwise decent metal album.

Everything else works. Laiho’s vocals are as strong as ever; he has a style of harsh vocals that you really don’t hear in any other band. The production is top-notch and as a result the record is sonically robust, with powerful drums, thick, crunchy guitars, and glassy keys all woven together in tight balance. The keyboard and guitar solos are tasteful and impressive. Even the bass gets significant focus and it really brings a depth and heaviness to the riffs. The cover art and visual design are probably Children Of Bodom’s best ever, as well. All the ingredients for a truly outstanding album are here, which makes it all the more tragic that there’s mediocre content corrupting it, but it is the band’s best release in almost 15 years, and that’s impressive for a group with such an extensive discography. It also shows that Children Of Bodom still have plenty left in the tank, and that they remain sovereigns of melodic death metal.

Rating: 8.5/10

Tracklist:
1. This Road
2. Under Grass and Clover
3. Glass Houses
4. Hecate’s Nightmare
5. Kick in the Spleen
6. Platitudes and Barren Words
7. Hexed
8. Relapse (The Nature of My Crime)
9. Say Never Look Back
10. Soon Departed
11. Knuckleduster

Children Of Bodom “Hexed” (2019)
Nuclear Blast

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

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)