Other Melodic Death Metal Bands Play, Nightrage Kills.
Last year heralded the return of At The Gates and a successor to their classic, game-changing record Slaughter Of The Soul (1995)—the highly extolled At War With Reality. However, those paying close attention to goings on within melodic death metal circles will be aware that we have been in fact blessed with a worthy follow-up to Slaughter Of The Soul since 2003, in Sweet Vengeance, the debut record from the (ex-At The Gates frontman) Tomas Lindberg-fronted Nightrage.
Nightrage followed up that release with the slightly inferior but still true-to-form Descent Into Chaos a couple of years later (2005) before parting ways with Lindberg and releasing a slew of less-than-impressive albums that shifted further and further toward the realms of the mundane. The Puritan, Nightrage’s sixth album, and the first to feature vocalist Ronnie Nyman (Always War), sees a return to the thrashier sound of Nightrage’s earlier releases (and At The Gates’ later ones), and it’s a welcome one, because, not only is The Puritan the best thing Nightrage have done since their debut, but it (quite frankly) puts the majority of modern, melodic death metal to shame.
Nightrage’s last record, 2011’s Insidious has its legion of fans but the streamlined, hyper-thrash of The Puritan makes it look positively sloppy, and—at almost half the length—rather bloated. The Puritan is chock-full of the kind of riffs you wish In Flames were still writing (you know, stuff that sounds like Clayman) and is the kind of melo-death record that can go up against any Arch Enemy album and come out a close second. Sure, the songs on The Puritan might not be as memorable you’d think they’d be, but in the moment (from riff to riff) they’re nothing short of elating and thoroughly impressive.
While Nightrage’s capacity to stay on-message provides The Puritan with its greatest strength, there’s no denying the ‘same-y-ness’ of it all. It’s only the brief, acoustic, instrumental “Lone Lake” and “When Gold Turns To Rust”, which sees the return of original Nightrage guitarist Gus G (Firewind, Ozzy Osbourne, ex-Dream Evil) that provide any real curiosity (and even then); once you’ve heard “The Pruitan” you’ve essentially heard “Kiss Of A Sycophant”. Nevertheless, the songs on The Puritan are so on point as to make it nothing less than one of the most exhilarating listens of 2015 thus far.
Have at ‘em boys.
The rebirth continues.
While a sizable portion of Kamelot fans are no doubt clamoring for a return to the regal-yet-upbeat character of the likes of Karma and the Black Halo, the band itself seem to be perfectly content to let their sound remain largely ensconced in the more progressive and goth-tinged style of Ghost Opera, with Haven ostensibly representing yet another variation on the theme established with said 2007 release. That is not to say that they have allowed this new batch of songs to languish too much in the more demure disposition of their most recent works, as Haven packs ample shimmering melodies and riffs that will burrow themselves into your subconscious, but it’s the kind of catchiness that unfurls gradually with successive listens rather than a cheap hum-it-in-the-shower-after-one-listen kind of catchiness that many of their peers seem to chase.
Having rebounded solidly with Silverthorn after the limp-wristed calamity that was Poetry for the Poisoned, Haven is clearly the work of a band imbued with renewed focus and hunger. That they sound more than comfortable in their collective post-Roy Khan skin was clear to me the second I realized that I didn’t, in fact, miss the aforementioned Khan at all whilst listening to these new songs. The cynics may snivel that Tommy Karevik is nothing more than the Ripper Owens to Khan’s Rob Halford, but he sounds positively assured and in fine fettle throughout – be it on the almost comically intense “Revolution” (featuring current Arch Enemy frontwoman Alissa White-Gluz for good measure), the soaring ballad that is “Under Grey Skies” or on the single “Veil of Elysium,” which, in spite of the increased orchestration sounds quite similar to Silverthorn’s “Solitaire” in places. The dueling effect between the riffs and the orchestral touches in this song is a pretty good indication of the densely layered and somewhat restless nature of many of the songs on here.
There is a discernible increase in terms of heaviness and intricacy throughout the album which did cause some of the songs to come off as less hooky as they possibly should have—something that could also be attributed to the lyric-heavy nature of some of these compositions—but on the upside the songs to tend to blossom more and more with each successive listen (and the overall level of intricacy ensures that new musical layers and nuances will emerge over time). While not perfect—the interludes and songs like “Citizen Zero” and “Here’s to the Fall” are nothing to write home about—the band do enough things right for Haven to qualify as yet another great entry in their overall body of work. The pensive atmosphere that marked Poetry is still present here, albeit tempered with the progressive edge of Ghost Opera and the melodic sheen of Silverthorn. The trifecta of songs that make up “Veil of Elysium” (terse, harmonic), “Under Grey Skies” (crooning balladry that checks all the stops) and “My Therapy” (nothing but punchy and catchy power metal just the way you like it) all strike a deft balance between the three aforementioned albums, making Haven the band’s most fleshed-out, mature and downright classy album in many years.
The clan of the wilderness, aka Korpiklaani, has been one of folk metal’s most productive members in the 12 years of its existence. For five years they had this one album per year thing going, but after Manala it took them an unprecedented three years before coming out of the forest with their ninth epos Noita. And the usually so easy-going and energetic Finns show a bit of a different side on this album, a darker one that so far had not really come to the fore on a broader scale. Some of the main complaints about the Finns in the past had been their predictability and the at times almost too simplified catchiness, which often resulted in somewhat tritely lyricised drinking songs about beer, vodka and drinking in general, and over the last few albums they already had worked on all three of these points and now with Noita probably have managed to go the furthest.
Equipped with new accordionist Sami Perttula, the jolly troop around Jonne Järvelä still has not changed their very own style, which is as easily recognizable as Korpiklaani as ever, with the violin and accordion playing an important role in the band’s sound. And opener “Viinamäen mies” is as energetic and upbeat as fans of the Finns have remembered the band, with the folk instruments excellently incorporated into the rest of the sound and Jonne’s characteristic gruff voice above it. “Sahti” with its infectious melody and dynamic chorus is destined to become a live favourite and is another proof that there still is a lot of life in the Finns.
The darker side comes through in borderline brooding “Lempo” that is considerably slower and melancholic, one is almost tempted to label it as more mature, but without betraying the core of the band’s sound, which also threads through “Minä näin vedessä neidon”, which feels even more introspective. And closer “Sen verran minäkin noita” actually somehow manages to combine these two with the energy of the former and the darker hues of the latter. Outside of these two veins of folky ore there also runs “Jouni Jouni”, which not just puts the original fully through the folk metal wash, but also adds Finnish vocals and pretty much makes it a pure Korpiklaani song. Oh, what is the original? “Mony Mony”, originally from Tommy James and the Shondells, a no. 1 hit from 1968, which saw a revival through a cover by Billy Idol several years ago. Great version!
Noita is the maybe most varied album of Korpiklaani, showcasing their characteristic upbeat folk metal with accordion and violin as well as a more mature and darker side that still remains decidedly Korpiklaani. And these changes in dynamics are what make the album so interesting and one can only wonder, if maybe it did the band good to take a little more time to put a new album together rather than continuing to belt them out every year, but whatever the reason is, Korpiklaani have never sounded as variable and this could be the way to go to keep their sound and career fresh. Noita is not a reinvention of their sound, but definitely a welcome fresh breath that should boost these Finns back into the vanguard of folk metal!
Yob conquers Tucson. Neill has the lowdown on a night of heavy hitters.
Inferno Festival Day 4, April 4th 2015
Inferno Festival Day 3, April 3rd 2015
Inferno Festival Day 2, April 2nd 2015
Inferno Festival Day 1, April 1st 2015
The Carcass axeman gets stuck in to At The Gates, Avenged Sevenfold and people who don’t like Swansong.
Bigger names and a few hidden gems dominate this month’s best offerings
And Shawn goes rogue. Again.
There is a fifth dimension beyond that which is known to man. It is a dimension as vast as space and as timeless as infinity. It is the middle ground between light and shadow, between science and superstition, and it lies between the pit of man’s fears and the summit of his knowledge. This is the dimension of imagination. It is an area which we call Evan’s Favorite Records of MMXIV.