Draconian – Sovran

Draconian’s latest release “Sovran” is an absolutely delightful treat to celebrate, and survive, the dreadful grip of winter. It’s a relief to see that Draconian didn’t end up like many other bands that made poor choices when selecting a new female singer, in fact Heike Langhans’s vocals perfectly match every musical aspect of “Sovran” which embodies the band’s truly decadent gothic spirit.
“Heavy Lies the Crown” pays homage to that vintage gothic metal, certainly My Dying Bride, that we all still need badly in our withered lives. Loads of doom influences are perceivable in the slow & heavy guitar riffs while the lead guitar work delivers a more luminous tune, in general the instrumental breakdowns hold an extraordinarily dramatic feeling. Heike Langhans and Anders Jacobsson successfully deliver a terrific duet in Beauty & the Beast style but nothing seems dated or exaggerated as many would dare to say.
You will fall in love repeatedly with the mellifluous melancholy of “Pale Tortured Blue”. The haunting songwriting features romantically gothic super slow guitar riffing and soothing violins that create an everlasting atmospheric sadness further portrayed by Heike’ s emotionally fragile delivery and Anders’s sorrowful growls.
On “Stellar Tombs” Heike’s vocals acquire a multidimensional romanticism following a rather genuine musical layout enriched by highly harmonious chords. While Anders delivers a full array of grim vocals, the guitar riffs and the chorus hold an inner soulful catchiness in the midst of gloomy atmospheric arrangements.
“Rivers Between Us” has the unconditional sweetness of a dreamy ballad with the exquisite addition of darkly poetic melodies. Daniel Änghede from Crippled Black Phoenix provides passionately flawless clean vocals and the duet with Heike provides an overdose of enchanting romanticism while the intoxicatingly harmonious guitar solo is an effortless source of pure melancholy.
“The Marriage Of Attaris” has a magical poetic core that persistently delivers a transcendental despair even through heavier guitar riffing and deeply powerful growls. The melodic aspect of this song relies on classic gothic doom deliveries supporting Heike’s heartfelt vocals and that beloved renowned wintry gloom that elegantly, yet inevitably, engulfs every hope.
In the current chaotic metal scene it takes talent and courage to embrace art and poetry like Draconian continues to do on an honest, no special effects and pirouettes needed, work of music such as “Sovran” which all of you should relentlessly listen to and support.

Amorphis – Under The Red Cloud

Amorphis, one of the most prolific and enduring Finnish bands, comes back with a new album graciously entitled “Under The Red Cloud” that, once again, fully embraces all the beloved elements that constitute the band’s musical vision.
The title track stays true to the everlasting icy melancholy made in Scandinavia with mellow piano and guitar melodies, but there is still space for a folkish delivery that never disappoints. The soothing melodic nature of this track and the groovy memorable chorus will certainly please at the very first listening.
“The Four Wise Ones” delivers a mesmerizing gelid atmosphere where blackened primordial roots harmoniously embrace the folk melodic elegance that is a distinctive aspect of Amorphis’s legacy. Despite the towering presence of growls, the song’s main theme revolves around polished guitars and sorrowful phrases while the metal groove takes over the chorus with an unexpected energetic blast.
“Death Of A King” will easily become a favorite song as it pays homage to Amorphis original breakthrough style with that full blown folk groove that we all learned to love unconditionally. Among a soundscape of gelid darkness, you will find a tribal escapade of enticing percussions and magic flute elegantly supported by smooth melodic riffs.
You will find more magic flute dreamy extravaganza, effortlessly performed by Chrigel Glanzmann from Eluveitie, on “Tree Of Ages” where fascinating folk melodies fully embrace the traditional blackened roots embodied by Tomi Joutsen’s energetic growls.
“Sacrifice” relies on a catchy friendly melodic core borderline ballad, but the true star of the show is the guitar work, subtle yet empowering, that reaches its acme in the decadently romantic solo.
“Enemy At The Gates” evokes the mystical feelings of Nordic folklore and fairytales with captivating arpeggios, dreamy flute melodies and vintage flavored keyboards. At the same time, the sinuous song structure allows a rather primal dark soul where growls and guitars get on the heavier side.
“Under The Red Cloud” might not bring any shocking musical innovation but it certainly offers a generous musical variety that will provide a great relaxing listening for all Amorphis fans.

Moonspell – Extinct

For those who are “always under the spell”, the release of “Extinct” by Portuguese long standing act Moonspell can’t come soon enough. Some of the most alluring features of Moonspell’s music are the omnipresent passionate delivery and the rare courageous desire to cross those boundaries that should have never been set in the free realm of arts. So, in terms of songwriting style and artistic vision, what you will find on “Extinct” definitely feels like another spontaneous milestone in the evolutionary scale.
“Breathe (Until We Are No More)” holds a subtle strength that devours from within rather than your standard “right in your face” metal approach. The whole song structure and Fernando Ribeiro’s somber cleans remind me of that enthralling artistic thirst that made “The Butterfly Effect” a groundbreaking work of music. The powerful smooth tempo changes dwelling between fast drumming and slower crystalline guitar riffs render this song very interesting. The elegant addition of the Turkish based orchestra Mumin Sesler string group brings a magical atmosphere that cannot be missed (7 violins, 3 violas and 1 cello is just an irresistible combination).
It might require multiple listening to fully comprehend and appreciate the musical concept of the title track, but it is safe to say that the highlight that will immediately conquer your heart is the extremely feverish and technically excellent guitar solo. Overall, the quite energetic luminous rhythm can be easily associated with a strong spiritual force while Fernando’s vocals hold an intense everlasting darkness.
“Medusalem” delivers a monumental spiritual complexity with an unexpected mix of straight forward gothic rock rhythm and Middle Eastern phrases that might not be easy to digest for the average listener. The orchestra work here adds a majestic and heartwarming atmosphere that is considerably escalated in the semi acoustic breakdown and guitar solo.
“Domina” has guitar driven composition with a seductively softer and darker vibe. Fernando’s clean vocals are particularly emotional and insightful as are the lyrics and the keyboards arrangement further enhances the melancholy, the unspeakable feeling of loss and that whole overpowering darkness that surrounds us all. The poignant value of this song is perfectly expressed and interpreted by the outstanding lead guitar work which features a fervent memorable solo.
I couldn’t agree more with the lyrics and the title of “The Future Is Dark” and, in general, the concept of extinction expressed on the album. This might be a slow track with a hint of ballad style here and there, nevertheless the overwhelming emotional dark flame and sorrowful delivery perfectly portrayed by the soothing vocals and guitar solo will inevitably capture your senses.
“La Baphomette” is one those hidden gems that will be misunderstood by many but addictively worshipped by few. This is the one song that holds a truly unique strength with the vintage piano melodies, the charming whisperings, it all feels like a long lost enchantment that comes from the ancient Lusitanian folklore or like a love potion with surprising side effects.
Considering that the metal scene keeps on facing a dark time of stagnation due to the obnoxious sets of rules and schemes that every band seems to be forced to follow to avoid tasteless criticism an hopefully reach some sort of general consensus, I truly hope that a niche of listeners void of any unconstructive prejudice still endure. At the same time, I can’t help but wondering how being able to freely express your feelings and follow you creative force has become a flaw. Do yourself a favor and just listen to “Extinct” without over analyzing and rationalizing each and every song because, after all, music is out there to be enjoyed irresponsibly and to the fullest extent.

Paradise Lost – The Plague Within

Paradise Lost is undoubtedly one of the few long lasting bands with an extraordinary influential career that overcomes the common boundaries of time and space. With the release of the fourteenth album gracefully entitled “The Plague Within”, the band has proudly reached another milestone and is still embracing the eternal darkness that has always been its symbolic signature.
“No Hope In Sight” will immediately conquer all with an intoxicating array of groovy guitar riffs that embody an overwhelming sadness. Nick Holmes elegantly delivers melancholic clean vocals and bitter growls while the rhythm section generates a claustrophobic feeling that devours from within. Despite the pitch black mojo that permeates every stylistic feature, this song bears a healthy dose of energy.
“Terminal” has a blackened primordial core that brings together raging elements of death metal and the depth of doom metal. Here the main attraction is symbolized by the synergy between the feverish rhythm and the dynamic guitar riffs.
“An Eternity Of Lies” shines for its fragile poetic atmosphere floating through a softer yet doomy rhythm. In the midst of an intense darkened melancholy, Greg Mackintosh’s persuasive smooth guitar solo introduces some enlightened uplifting sensations.
“Punishment Through Time” is excitingly filled with addictively catchy guitar riffs that recall the unforgettable glory of “Pity The Sadness”. Holmes’s vocals evoke a glowing energy that perfectly fits the wild rhythmic momentum.
“Sacrifice The Flame” features a rather classic, still generously attractive, approach where doom and true gothic embrace spontaneously. There is a cathartic mood, particularly enhanced by clean vocals and highly melancholic guitar phrases, that feeds off the slower and colder atmospheric layers.
Starting with ominous chants, “Return To The Sun” features the sonic intensity of the starving artist. While Mackintosh excellently concocts a deadly cycle of decadent guitar riffs that literally bleed emotions throughout the song, Holmes channels all his heartfelt vocal strength.
“The Plague Within” is a tremendous work of music in which Paradise Lost revisits and reinvents the gothic metal style that earned the band the status of pioneers of a genre which, contrary to popular belief, was never meant to fade away.

Metal Allegiance – Metal Allegiance

A fantastic all-star musical collective featuring Alex Skolnick, Dave Ellefson, Mike Portnoy, founder Mark Menghi and a generous number of renowned guest vocalists, cannot certainly go unnoticed. Even if in the past many supergroups full of talented musicians didn’t leave a mark on this world, Metal Allegiance’s self-titled debut album deserves a thorough listening.
“Let Darkness Fall”, featuring Troy Sanders from Mastodon, starts with straight heavy guitar riffs but it truly holds a dark side rather palpable in the chorus style and instrumental breakdown. When the rhythm slows down, a smoothly languid guitar solo and flamenco style acoustic guitars create a sharp style change that surprisingly never clashes with the song’s main metal theme.
“Dying Song” features beloved icon Phil Anselmo who delivers a sincerely passionate raspy performance. This song has a quite melodic core filled with melancholic arpeggios that evoke a solemn gloomy atmosphere. Portnoy’s impeccable drumming and fierce lead guitars swiftly & intensely build a faster classic thrash metal vibe.
“Can’t Kill The Devil” featuring legendary Testament’s frontman Chuck Billy has the expected thrash old school catchiness that triggers immediate headbanging. Besides the energetic vocal performance, the guitar solos, also featuring Phil Demmel & Andreas Kisser, deliver a feverish dose of vibrant techniques that increase the powerful groovy core.
Devoted prog fans will be more than pleased listening to “Triangulum (I. Creation II. Evolution III. Destruction)”. This song is a triumphant instrumental orgasm where Skolnick truly performs all kinds of wonders on guitar going full blown virtuoso borderline neoclassical style. The whole song is simply outstanding featuring a classic metal oriented beginning with polished mellow lead guitar that smoothly evolves into gracefully dynamic tempo changes. As the rhythm gains speed in recognizable Portnoy’s style, a series of painfully technical, almost avant-garde, guitar solos (featuring additional lead guitarists: Misha Mansoor, Ben Weinman, Charlie Benante, Phil Demmel, Matthew K. Heafy & Ron “Bumblefoot” Thal) bring the listeners into a reckless sound vortex.
“Pledge Of Allegiance”, featuring Mark Osegueda from Death Angel, feels like an exciting anthem with an everlasting metallic groove that will immediately attract the listeners. While Osegueda delivers his signature powerful screams, lead guitars work relentlessly to create inspiring music evolutions to make everything more appealing than your classic metal tune.
With an intriguing variety of styles and the obvious high level musicianship, Metal Allegiance’s debut album is a delightfully entertaining piece of music.

The Gentle Storm – The Diary

The Gentle Storm, featuring the lovely and talented Dutch singer Anneke van Giersbergen and renowned Ayreon’s mastermind Arjen Lucassen, must be the most exciting music project of the year and certainly a very ambitious one. The Gentle Storm’s debut release entitled “The Diary” is a concept double album comprising of a Storm side progressive metal oriented and a Gentle side where the songs are re-interpreted in folk acoustic fashion.
With a melancholic and romantic concept revolving around the tale of two lovers in the Dutch Golden Age of the 17th century, “The Diary” intensely delivers a grandiose mix of elegant melodies and inner creativity.
“Endless Sea” can be easily labeled as a masterpiece where symphonic metal meets exquisitely graceful melodies. The Storm version has a bittersweet majestic feeling, never exaggeratedly overpowering, where Anneke’s passionate delivery is perfectly adorned by violins and polished guitars. The Gentle version shines for the delicate and precise strings arrangement floating into an ethereal dreamy mood.
“The Greatest Love” features an epic orchestration and a powerful rhythm. On the Storm version the rock vibe smoothly accompanies and enhances an exquisite neo-classical arrangement. The Gentle version has a stronger folk attitude beautifully carried on by violins and Anneke’s emotional performance.
“Shores Of India” will become easily a hit with the super catchy exotic harmonized melodies and the soothing chorus. On the Storm version prog-symphonic guitars have a more dominant presence that will certainly attract the attention of a metal fanbase. The Gentle version shines for higher complexity in terms of arrangements and the presence of different charming instruments, such as sitar and flutes, which brings additional harmonic variations and texture.
On “Cape Of Storms” the epic orchestration returns triumphantly to evoke the compelling feelings of a perilous journey while Anneke’s melancholic delivery adds a subtle dose of romanticism. While the Storm version features highly dramatic strong notes, the Gentle has a classical approach focused on the gracious purity of the strings arrangement.
“The Moment” has a deeply dramatic vibe genuinely reflected on Anneke’s multifaceted and flawless vocals. Both the Storm and the Gentle versions are filled with heartbreaking melodies effortlessly combined with rather exotic tunes. Also the acoustic arrangement of the Gentle version, featuring a fascinating array of instruments, will certainly conquer the heart of any listener.
“The Storm” is one of the most mesmerizing songs filled with slightly dark emotions and an irresistible crescendo of rich dynamic rhythms. The Storm version is particularly addictive because Anneke’s captivating vocals’ layers, combined with a solemn operatic choir, create incredibly strong harmonies well supported by prog-oriented guitar riffs. The Gentle version still holds a surreal strength created by exquisitely alluring piano and violin melodies.
In the end, it will be very easy to fall in love with both aspects of “The Diary” which truly is an eclectic work of art not to be missed.

Soulfly – Archangel

We do not need to investigate and analyze the reasons why Max Cavalera comes back full of anger and darkness with Soulfly’s latest release entitled “Archangel”. At the very first listening, “Archangel” seems to endorse an old fashioned death metal brutality and to lack a fancy dose of tribal allegory but you could get used to all this.
“We Sold Our Souls To Metal” is all fast and furious with thundering drums and old school guitar riffs building a breathless rhythm. Only later on, you will notice some artistic details and real emotions emerging through the chaos.
On the title track, you can easily perceive the dark soul of this album in Cavalera’s performance with scorned powerful growls layered over a dizzy murky rhythm where the occasional technical guitar solo finds its time to shine.
“Ishtar Rising” has a distinguishable groove easier to follow without suffocating or enraging side effects. The guitar riffs are all about building the right exasperating wall of sound that will trigger a proper headbanging in the occasional listener.
In the midst of the ever-growing anger against all that is uselessly violent and relentlessly unjust, on “Shamash” the lead guitar works to create a transcendental atmosphere that could mitigate the rough brutality of the rhythmic section.
On “Mother Of Dragons” every bit of passionate wrath or mystical deluge is concentrated in a delusional fast groove where the creative guitar solo smoothly brings an adequate sense of solace.
Overall, “Archangel” delivers a compact musical narrative that often pays homage to the most primordial thrash metal elements but lacks the enticing variety that could attract a wider range of listeners.

Fear Factory – Genexus

With the latest release “Genexus”, Fear Factory attempts to carve a contemporary personal identity in the overcrowded metal scene and continues to explore a sort of cyber/technological evolution through a maze of industrial metal and artificially cold deliveries.
“Autonomous Combat System” features a promising foundation with a robotic atmosphere that grows into a faster rhythmic ensemble. As expected the chorus gains a melodic momentum with Burton C. Bell’s clean & catchy delivery supported by a metallic synth/keyboards arrangement.
“Anodized” follows the same musical pathway filled of sound effects that recall a crowded dance floor or a sci-fi movie. As a whole, the song structure is quite repetitive with android style drumming and riffs that diverge only for Bell’s clean chorus.
“Dielectric” acquires an almost epic feeling that gives way to death metal style tight riffing and raging growls. Even if everything has a certain catchy value, it feels like every instrument performs under strict control following the exact artificial blueprint of the other songs.
The titletrack feels like a polished machine internally regulated to produce a specific array of asphyxiating sounds that seems to leave no space for a blast of genuine creativity. The industrial vibe is quite strong in the programming and in the mechanically precise guitar riffing that relentlessly supports verses and chorus.
“Expiration Date” breaks the spell with a surprising change of scenario that leaves behind the anxiously tight guitar riffing and the extreme metal roots to produce a particularly atmospheric song. While Bell focuses on drama-free luminous clean vocals in poetic fashion, the artistic programming and arrangements effortlessly mix some classic industrial elements with an electrically generated melancholy that recall movies soundtracks.
On “Genexus” Fear Factory intensely pursues a modern/futuristic metal recipe that could grant them new followers, but the songs often struggle to deliver that consistently variegated structure needed to fully involve the listeners.

Helloween – My God Given Right

With thirty years of career and fifteen studio albums, Helloween doesn’t need any formal introduction. The latest release “My God Given Right” certainly doesn’t bring anything innovative to the renowned poppy power metal recipe fully embraced by the band, but if they don’t feel awkward about it why should we?
The title track surely sounds as catchy as you would expect with all the traditional power metal riffs but at the same time the overall structure and style feels weakened and monochromatic. Also, the pop style breakdown doesn’t bring a necessary dose of joyful excitement.
“Stay Crazy” might have a promising soothing arpeggio but the rest of the song relies too much on an average array of guitar riffs that create a standard frame for a very poppy chorus. The guitar solo features some lovely shreds but not enough to save the day.
“Russian Roulè” is a mid paced ensemble of power metal crunchy riffs and a much needed heavier attitude featuring less simplistic musical variations. This is probably the only compelling song you will find here and even the catchy chorus, as well as the energetic guitar solo, has a more serious straight forward attitude.
The attractive element on “The Swing Of The Fallen World” is undoubtedly the somber atmosphere which feels like a breath of fresh air erasing the overwhelming happiness that lingers throughout the album. Also, the harsh vocal delivery and the textured guitar solo seem to blend well with the main musical theme.
“Like Everybody Else” features a ballad style melancholy that creates an introspective mood. There is nothing extravagant or extremely creative here, but there are plenty of enjoyable peaceful harmonies.
“Claws” feeds off blasting rock energy with very dominant guitar and faster rhythm. The overall songwriting and style focuses on a heavier high impact metal approach while the vocals still lean toward a happier mood.
“You, Still Of War” starts with a dramatic atmosphere that gradually flows into heavier guitar riffs. The chorus fits the classic power metal structure while the melodic core relies on layers of epic keyboards and polished prog influenced guitar work.
Once again, it’s really hard to take Helloween’s music seriously but we can’t forget that this cheesy/kitsch style is what really symbolizes the band’s successful career. Therefore, “My God Given Right” is a safe collection of songs truly dedicated to Helloween’s fans who will probably find something to love and hold dear in every song.

Sigh – Graveward

With the brand new full length “Graveward”, a humble homage to Italian zombie flick classics, Japanese extreme metal act Sigh continues to embrace a controversial, or just bizarre, musical experimentation that seems to defeat any boundary.
The title track channels some ominous elements of black metal and an old school muddy production. Every instrument gets entangled in a chaotic wave of sound where epic arrangements and a melodic guitar solo manage to stand out.
On “The Tombfiller” there seem to be a clearer music vision when symphonic atmospheric keyboards naturally meet theatrical choirs stolen from classical operetta. Somewhere in the middle of all this, you can still find odd and confusing tempo/style changes.
“The Forlorn” appears to possess a range of melodies and rhythm easier to follow. The overall mood recalls the old school horror music scores with haunting keyboards effects and sinister, somewhat black metal, growls.
“The Molesters Of My Soul” sounds like the creepy decrepit carillon that might evoke unnerving paranormal presences, just like in horror movies. Again, the rhythm follows an odd cacophonic scheme but there is a hidden melody that sheds some light.
“The Casketburner” will grab your attention for the strong jazz incursion that truly brings a delightful dose of necessary melodic catchiness. The rest is all dark and brutal but it gets contaminated by clean guitar solos and the occasional trumpets.
“A Messenger From Tomorrow” showcases the decadently gothic aspect of Sigh’s strange musical pathway. The overall atmosphere is tinged of poetic melancholy that delivers a softer array of classical melodies with vintage keyboards, clean guitar solos and symphonic orchestrations.
Experimentation in all arts is always important but Sigh seems to exasperate and exaggerate this thirst for innovation that often results in a predictable form of chaos. For those who are familiar with Sigh’s work of music, “Graveward” might be another sweet treat but the average listener might not be ready to fully understand, and appreciate, this album.