Riverside – Wasteland Review

Polish Prog Metal band Riverside suffered the terrible loss of their lead guitarist Piotr Grudziński less than half a year after their superb sixth full-length studio album; Love, Fear & The Time Machine.

After the difficult decision to carry on without replacing him, their next and at time of writing newest album was released in 2018 via InsideOut Music and met with deserved acclaim (and surprisingly in this day and age, sold relatively well for a prog album, continuing their streak of gold albums in their homeland).

It can’t have been easy carrying on without such a key member of the band, who’d been there since the very start, but somehow they managed to create a beautiful, affecting, and very interesting album with no loss of quality, while also not losing their ‘sound’ or ‘spirit’. If they had understandably chosen not to continue after 2016, they would have been leaving us with a wonderful catalogue. As it stands however, on Wasteland they do a masterful job of continuing their genuinely near-flawless discography and only solidifying their legacy as absolute masters of the genre.

The actual playing and vocals are top notch. The production and mixing and have a tasteful, stripped back, classic-sounding, raw feel that perfectly suits the material and the place in the band’s discography.

The real magic of the album however, comes from the material here, which is simply wonderful from start to finish. There isn’t one track I would lose, edit or alter. Nine perfectly balanced no-fat tracks over 50 minutes and not outstaying its welcome.

Its so good all the way through it could be difficult to choose highlights, but if you like the band at their proggiest, then check out nine-and-a-half minute “The Struggle For Survival” which features a bit of a 21st Century Schizoid Man/Heart Of The Sunrise/The Necromancer vibe with a lot of instrumental muscle flexing with some brilliant bass and keyboard showing off (and Maciej Meller’s guest guitar solo is especially quite entertaining in a Fripp sort of way). If however you prefer the band just writing good songs; then the varied ‘Veil Of Tears’ and the haunting and touching semi-ballad ‘Guardian Angel’ for example are two of the best songs the band have ever released to date.

This is a record with a lot of up front charm and instantaneous gratification, but a lot of mood, atmosphere and subtle depth as well and even the tracks that don’t drop your jaw right away become favourites in time (I like “River Down Below” more every single time I hear it for example, and I do mean every single time, I can’t say that for many other bands). As with all the Riverside albums to date, I can’t recommend it enough.

Riverside – Love, Fear And The Time Machine Review.

Progressive Poles Riverside have such a fine track record when it comes to top quality, album-of-the-year level studio albums. Their fourth album Anno Dommini High Definition for example, is arguably one of my favourite albums by any band, ever.

2015’s Love, Fear And The Time Machine; their third consecutive gold album and final output with guitarist Piotr Grundizinski (before his untimely passing), is no exception.

Their early works were dark and interesting, they then hit a phase of being bombastic, colourful and Deep Purple influenced. I saw them live during this period and it was such a rocking good time, you didn’t expect such good fun from a morbid bunch of proggers who usually released concept albums about psychiatric hospitals.

This sixth full-length studio record sees yet another evolution of their sound. It is cleaner, softer, with more prominent classic-‘70s-prog moments and a bit more of an unexpected The Cure influence. (That’s not to say it doesn’t rock out when it wants to, “Saturate Me” hits a delicious Tool-influenced groove in the middle, for example).

I regret, I have been sleeping on this album for a few years, I was hoping to time buying it for just before my next Riverside live show for maximum excitement overlap, but in 2020 with all the concerts dried up, its gotten a bit “well, what are you waiting for?” so I’ve finally taken the plunge, and I’m beyond glad I did. In hindsight, I don’t know how I ever coped without “Afloat” in my life, (a chilling tune, which out -Judgements Anathema).

Its hard to chose highlights, but if I was to introduce the band to a stranger, the number one pick of introductory track would be “Discard Your Fear.” If you like my wet trousered praise of this album, that would probably be the first track you should investigate to see if you’ll like the album as much as I do. It doesn’t really sound at all like typical Riverside fare, but as a singular one-off song, it just rubs me up in all the right ways. If you already like the band but have been sleeping on their later works as I had been, try out “Time Travellers” to see just how well Mariusz’s vocals have developed.

There is rarely such a thing as a flawless album, but I feel confident in saying that this beautiful, exciting, mellow, peaceful, energetic, diverse, interesting, tasteful bag of contradictions is a completely magical masterpiece.

Ps. [If you are unfamilair with the band but like bands such as Haken, Dream Theater, Opeth, Pain Of Salvation or even The Mars Volta then I highly recommend you check them out.]

Protest The Hero – Palimpsest Review.

Canada’s Young Punk-Turned-Mature Prog act, Protest The Hero return in 2020 with their fifth full-length studio album, Palimpsest. It follow’s the creatively marketed and disturbed Pacific Myth EP from four years earlier, and is their first proper length album since 2013’s superb Volition (remember, the crowdfunded one with Chirs Adler from Lamb Of God on drums?).

PTH have been one of my favourite bands for years and years now. Their ridiculously-good debut album Kezia could well be in my top 10 albums by any band ever. I’ve seen them live a few times and utterly loved it. They haven’t released a record yet that I haven’t liked. So, you’ll have to forgive me if this review is a little biased, ok?

If you don’t know the band; they are a very techy, slightly complex, musically ambitious band focused on baffling guitar lines, awkward drum patterns, but anchored by a really emotive and varied singer who delivers their really insightful and creative lyrics with such power and personality thatI it gels into this really powerful whole that somehow seems catchy and fun despite how difficult it would be to actually play or hum along to otherwise. There’s also a sort of maturity and balance to it. It isn’t jarring mixes of styles, its all very cohesive.

As they’re such a varied band, its hard to know who to recommend them to fans of? Megadeth due to the guitar wizardry? Periphery due to the techy nature? Letlive due to the really powerful vocals and lyrics? Dream Theater due to the ambition? Killswitch Engage, as if you are the kind of person who hates anything ‘core then major aspects of the band’s sound might scare you off? All or none of the above? I don’t know.

This fifth album is both a mix of various areas they’ve tried before on other releases, and in some cases trying new things and breaking new ground.

A lot of the reviews I’ve read about this album focus on how guitar and drum parts are sort of reminiscent of the band’s first two albums, Kezia, and the ever-popular Fortress (I guess them recently touring doing Fortress in its entirety live might’ve affected their song writing – ‘Soliloquy’ and ‘Gardenias’ in particular stand out as being Fortress-like). But equally, I can hear a lot of the touches from their more recent album and EP, some of the orchestral touches like the end of ‘From The Sky’ & ‘Little Snakes’ are reminiscent of things they’ve tried on tracks like ‘Caravan’ a few years ago, and shimmering guitars from the break in ‘The Fireside’ could be on one of the deep cuts from Voltion. Most of all, some of the newer vocal styles that developed over the years wouldn’t be heard on those first two albums. There’s also parts that don’t sound anything like they’ve done before, such as the grand sweeping opening to the first track. This album is definitely more of a culmination of a whole career rather than a rehashing of the past.

My only minor flaw with the album is that it would probably be better if track eight was the closer, it has the perfect endeding with the nice little piano outro there.

Lyrically; this is a very interesting album, covering topics from the Hindenburg disaster, the plight of the Native Americans, female aeroplane pioneer Amelia Earhart and even the Make America Great Again movement from the perspective of outsiders. As always, its not even so much the topics but the balanced, intelligent and interesting ways in which they are discussed and the clever ways they’re turned into catchy lines you just want to shout out at a concert.

Highlights include the speedy ‘All Hands,’ the heavy ‘Soliloquy,’ the ambitious ‘Little Snakes’ and perhaps most of all, the feminist themed single ‘The Canary’ which is boundlessly catchy and sticks in my head for hours after every listen, (the pre-chorus is as good as the best chorus on most albums, the part where it says “7,000 miles of ocean stand between me and my destiny/Somewhere beyond it or inside it” puts chills down my spine).

Even after being out a few months, its still hard to know where to place this album ranked in the band’s discography, they’re the kind of band like Tool or Opeth that give more and more on every listen and everything they do is a grower that you don’t fully get all the nuances of on first listen, but my first impressions so far are that while it doesn’t dethrone my number one spot, it is definitely a damn fine album and in the upper half of the discography. If you aren’t a fan yet, it should be a great entry point, and if you are a fan already there’s no way you could be disappointed.

What I’m Enjoying These Days:

I haven’t had a lot of blogging time recently, with a combination of fatherhood, increased workload due to the pandemic, getting back into exercising again, no concerts available and trying to buy fewer CDs just in case… there hasn’t been as much obvious material to cover (New Releases, Concert Reviews etc) or indeed time to cover it in. Before my next review or opinion piece however, I’d like to just drop a quick blog about what I’ve been getting up to since the new year.

I once heard that classical music can make your child smarter, and while scientific studies eventually disproved this, it is still a nice idea. Now, being a dyed in the wool rock fan who hasn’t willingly listened to classical music since a particularly annoying music teacher killed my love of it at age 15/16, I don’t have a lot of classic music to play to my child. What I do have though, is a nice little collection of progressive rock albums with lots of Jazz, Folk and Classical influences. Hey, my username is Kingcrimsonprog after all.

I’ve decided for a) child bonding b) getting my money’s worth from current CDs instead of buying new ones (remember Getting Into What You Paid For, my blog series of that nature from a few years ago?) and c) listening to some beloved records that I’ve been ignoring lately to focus on newer acquisitions, that I would initiate a new family tradition. Prog For The Sprog. I play my child a new prog record every day. So far he’s listened to Yes, Genesis, Gentle Giant, ELP, Jethro Tull, Camel, Caravan, King Crimson, Pink Floyd, Roger Waters, Van Der Graaf Generator, early Rush, early Queen and early Marillion.  Out of all of them so far, I think, as far as I can tell with a baby, that he enjoyed Gentle Giant the most… I think the xylophone reminds him of Peppa Pig.

During reacquainting myself with some of my favourite prog (or prog-ish albums, if you want to be strict about some of them) I realised that I had another little nerdy project I could resume…

Several years ago I decided that LastFM, the website which I love for making statistics about what I’m listening to, always makes it look like I don’t listen to these bands as much. I mean, you can listen to about 13 Punk songs for every one prog song. To that end, I decided that a few of my favourite side-long or album-long songs, including ‘Atom Heart Mother’ by Pink Floyd and ‘A Passion Play’ by Jethro Tull, should be counted as several different songs rather than one huge song. That way, If I listen to a whole Prog album, and then a whole Stoner Rock album, it doesn’t look like I listen to the Stoner band 10 times as much as the Prog band. Dorky right? But it made me happy and kept me entertained.

During the lockdown but after work and after the baby is in bed, I’ve decided to expand this. ELP’s ‘Tarkus’ for example, and Caravan’s ‘Nine Feet Underground’ as well as Pink Floyd’s ‘Shine On You Crazy Diamond’ all have parts. The track listing actually lists them with either titled sections (eg. Nine Feet Underground is split into: I. “Nigel Blows a Tune”   II. “Love’s a Friend”  “Make It 76”   IV. “Dance of the Seven Paper Hankies”  V. “Hold Grandad by the Nose”  VI. “Honest I Did!”   VII. “Disassociation”   VIII. “100% Proof,  and ‘Shine On You Crazy Diamond’ is split into parts I-X).

So I have decided to do similar things using the magic of iTunes:

So that’s part of how I’ve been spending my time. Another thing I’ve been doing, which is equally dorky, is trying to keep some of my favourite bands higher up in the LastFM stats. For example, I’ve been listening to an absolute boatload of Sepultura recently, but I saw them overtake or threaten to overtake bands I consider absolute favourites that I want to listen to most often. To that end, I’ve started listening to much more of my real favourite bands like Manowar, Pantera C.O.C and Helloween, and doing so a heck of a lot more often again, just like I used to when I first got into them.

Now again, as I have said; this is driven by a very nerdy reason, but in fairness, I benefit completely, as I am listening to only the best music. I had embarassingly put on a lot of weight when my wife was pregnant, but a nice fortnight-long norovirus infection (full on pant-shitting, can’t stomach dinner stuff) that I picked up taking the kid home from nursery one day made me lose some weight again, and so when I recovered I decided to jump back on the exercise train with a long term view of eventually getting back in shape.

Anyway, let me tell you, there is no more fun feeling than working out at home with Pantera or Manowar in your ears, or going for you daily government-permitted exercise and walking in the sun with a fat groovy C.O.C playlist keeping your pace up. It sure beats some obscure D-list band I’m checking out just for educational/historical reasons. Its nice to just crank out your favourites.

With that being said, here’s a brief screengrab of the artists I’ve listened to most since joining the site back in 2011, just after my first decade into being a rock fan:

Prior to cottoning on to the fact that Sepultura were getting very high up my listening charts and then chosing to overplay my favourites in response, I was doing something else equally nerdy anyway.

I had decided before the Slipknot concert that some of the bands included on my Patch Jacket maybe weren’t being listened to as much as others. I started feeling weird about maybe not listening to Obituary, Morbid Angel, Deicide and Death as much as other bands that made it onto the jacket, and was really heavily playing those bands at the start of year. Usually at night. Going to bed? Spiritual Healing. Bed the next night? Once Upon The Cross. Bed at the weekend? Cause Of Death and Covenant!

I also have an Iced Earth patch. No death metal, but still, although I love their work with Tim ‘Ripper’ Owens and Matt Barlow, I decided that it was weird I hadn’t kept up with their new releases, so decided I needed to get the Stu Block era albums. So the most recent CDs I bought, the only ones I dared to buy during all the Covid stuff (just in case…), was Iced Earth’s Plagues Of Babylon (appros pos these days, given that half the record is a concept piece about mankind being destroyed by a plague) and its follow up, Incorruptible. Damn that Stu can sing! I tried to make the baby listen to Iced Earth too, but clearly they don’t use enough Xylophones. Something to think about for the next album maybe?

Also, since I’m on the subject of what I’ve been listening to lately anyway, and its about a quarter of the way through the year already (I’m only a few weeks early) so this is about a good point to do a LastFM screengrab for this part of the year:

Baroness – Gold & Grey Review

I remember when Baroness first broke out, they were quite sludgy and while not inaccessible, certainly not quite radio-friendly either. Early albums like Red Album and Blue Record mixed Thin Lizzy clean guitar with thick stoner-sludge and swampy vocals. I remember also, when they dropped their double album ‘Yellow And Green’ and they went from a band I liked a bit due to a slight Mastodon similarity, to a band I really cared about and actively followed.

To date, I still think of Yellow & Green as an utter masterpiece and that it was one of the best albums by anyone I care about to be released that year. Its when the band really stepped out of any other band’s shadows or any one subgenre’s constraints and just went everywhere they wanted all at once…. The follow up Purple was near as good, trying (and succeeding) to condense the sprawling mix of styles, tempos and timbres of the very diverse double album into one single straight-up rock record with flavours from everything the band had done before but a focus on being succinct and accessible (without sounding too far from their more metallic roots of course).

With their new album, Gold & Grey, the band are leaning a bit back more into Yellow & Green’s experimental territories. There is a focus on diversity here. Succinct is not a word I’d use to describe this. This album seems to be reveling in the freedom to do everything and anything. ‘Seasons’ for example has spidery guitar lines that wouldn’t feel out of place on a King Crimson album, mixed with a strange lo-fi noisy production job that makes it sound like some Sonic Youth style art rock piece, but then there are also blast-beats in their briefly to bring back the metal. Sometimes it goes full prog, with ‘Sevens’ sounding like mid period Camel. ‘Broken Halo’ has some lovely bridges that I can see crowds loving when this material is toured live, but goes a bit Yes during the solo.  

There are also quite a few brief quiet, sombre, slow numbers across the album’s 17-track duration. ‘Blankets of Ash’ for example is a nice sounding acoustic guitar interlude over some creepy foreboding soundscape. ‘Crooked Mile’ is a jangly acoustic number that sounds more like an intro than a full blown tune of its own. ‘Assault On East Falls’ sounds like the music from a dream sequence in a Japanse videogame.

You can hear a bit more Radiohead and a bit less Red Fang in the DNA at times I guess (the intro to ‘Tourniquet’ or for example), but that being said there are still enough big fat choruses and catchy hooks to keep the sing-along feel of Purple. The album opener ‘Front Toward Enemy’ for example is just a foot down melodic rocker to get the blood pumping. The chorus to the single ‘Throw Me An Anchor’ is almost as catchy as something like ‘Take My Bones Away’ or ‘Shock Me’ from previous albums. ‘I’ll Do Anything’ sounds like it could be used to advertise the Olympics. Its like if Bon Iver took happy pills and wanted to inspire people to action.

Singer John Dyer Baizley’s rich voice really sets this band apart from the crowd, and when he really leans into the big melodies, it is proper 360 degree helicopter shots on a cliffside stuff. He has such a powerful and evocative voice that can make any line sound immensely meaningful and majestic.  

Considering the line-up change between albums, it still sounds totally like Baroness. You may not have had female backing vocals back on Blue Record but the way John and Gina’s vocals blend and mesh together just sound right.

The album isn’t without its flaws however. The production seems to be quite controversial based on all people I’ve seen complaining on social media. It is also a bit tough to swallow in one go, sitting somewhere between standard and double album length. (Its only an hour, but with 17 tracks there is a lot of different moods, directions and sounds to digest and so it takes up more brainpower than your typical 10-14 track album. If you just wanted an album of ‘Shock Me’ clones, something like ‘Can Oscura’ might be a bit off-putting for example). You couldn’t just slap this on in the background once and love it forever, it’s a grower that you’ve got to give a lot of attention to. That being said, these are minor flaws at the most. I didn’t really consider the production notable until it was pointed out to me by others, and usually an album being a grower at the start leads to an album you’re still loving years later rather than an album that would lose its flavour as fast as chewing gum if it popped right away.

Maybe if you were only into the band for the heaviness of the early days, this album won’t suit you. If you liked the last two albums though, this album is very much going to be right up your street. Its softer, proggier and more considered than it is bludgeoning and meaty. It’s a bit more ponderous than direct and rocking. But it is definitely worth checking out, sticking on repeat and loosing yourself in. It’s an odyssey of new worlds to glimpse, it’s a journey to get lost on. You might not want to head-bang, but you’ll never be bored.

Arctic Monkeys – Tranquillity Base Hotel And Casino Review

I have been an Arctic Monkeys fan for a fairly long time. Basically, since the same month the debut album dropped. I have bought all their early singles and like all the B-Sides and deep cuts as much as the fan favourite stuff. I still liked the more controversial moments like their Humbug album and the trippy B-sides from the Suck It And See era singles.

Basically; I am not some casual fan who just cares about the big hits. Coming into this record, the band have basically done no wrong.

…And then we come to this album. To the moon. The Tranquillity Base to be specific. Now, I am not a fan of negative reviews. You may have noticed reading this blog, there are ‘its good’ and ‘its average’ reviews in abundance, but not many, if any ‘what a pile of shit’ reviews. I am very much of the ‘’If you can’t say anything nice then don’t say anything at all’’ approach to reviews. That being said, this album is very possibly the single worst album I have heard by a good band in a long time.

Don’t take this for me just not liking the band’s change of direction. This album is a bit progressive, a bit psychedelic, a bit dreamy, and very low key. As I said though, I like the band doing all sorts of things. Its not like ‘’Your So Dark’’ from the last album’s B-Sides or ‘’Fire Side’’ from the last album didn’t work with the band being low key. Its not as if ‘’Pretty Visitors’’ and ‘’The Jeweller’s Hands’’ from Humbug didn’t work with the band being a bit Psychedelic. Its not as if I don’t like me a bit of prog now and again or the general sound of this album (sometimes I can pick up little flavours of Caravan here and there).

Its not even as if the theme of a hotel and casino on the moon, and songs from the perspective of different staff and visitors is too confusing or off-putting.  Just look at how many Mastodon, Dream Theater, Pink Floyd, Queensryche or Coheed & Cambria albums I own to know I am a big fan of concept albums.

No; the problem with this album isn’t the direction or the concept. Its not that it is a departure from previous styles. Its not that it is for serious fans only. The fan is that the songs are uniformly boring. The material uninspiring. The whole album is one-paced, uninteresting and forgettable. It is a samey sludge of un-music that is so dreadfully dull it may as well not exist. If you don’t have laser-beam focus on it you can’t tell when one song ends and the other begins (my wife has been heard to remark ‘’Is this still the same song?!’’ three songs later).

Okay, in fairness; When you do focus as hard as you can, its not all bad… You can hear some flashes of attempted hooks. For example, in ‘Star Treatment’ there is a line that goes ‘’who you gonna call, the Martini-police?’’ that is musically catchy (even if the lyric itself is a bit smug and pretentious). The bit on the title track where he says the title of the album is also good. The single ‘Four Out Of Five’ is kind of decent all the way through and is somewhat reminiscent of their better single from Humbug, ‘Cornerstone.’

But really; you shouldn’t have to dig so deep to apologetically try and find some small sliver of likeability. Compare that to their debut album, where it is literally as difficult to find something NOT to like as it is to name great moments from here, and you can see by just how far this once great band has missed the mark.

How do we explain this terrible dirge of an album? Maybe this album was a response to the huge success of the previous album AM. Maybe the band were sick of playing bangers like ‘Arabella’ for years on end and wanted to do something deeper. Maybe the band have always wanted to make this album and are only now in a position to risk it with near universal acclaim for a decade to buoy their confidence. Maybe they just took a bunch of drugs after hanging around Josh Homme too long and decided to get trippy. Who knows?

All I know is I have listened to this album so many more times than it deserved, constantly trying to get it to ‘click.’ Constantly trying to discovery its hidden depths. Constantly trying to find the good in it. I have tried across several months, in different contexts, with different kinds of music before and after, just wanting something good to happen.

The only thing that happened is that I finally felt allowed to give up on it. This is not a deep a profound work. This is not a slow burn. This is not a grower. This is not even one for hardcore fans only. This is, unfortunately, as much as it goes against my instincts to say so… a pile of shit.

Coheed And Cambria – Unheavenly Creatures Review

2018’s Unheavenly Creatures, (or to give it its full title ‘Vaxis – Act I: The Unheavenly Creatures’) is modern prog masters Coheed And Cambria’s  9th full-length studio album. It follows up from their 2015 record The Color Before The Sun, which departed from their Amory Wars concept album series, and Unheavenly Creatures sees the band return once more to their sci-fi comic book concept.

Don’t worry if you haven’t been following the story, which is already out of order with various prequels and side stories, as the songs are that catchy anyway you don’t have to follow the story as closely as some other concept albums. It’s a nice touch if you are paying attention, but the band have always been more than just a story, they aren’t a gimmick band and the music, vocals and sound have always been just as noteworthy as the concept.

Musically; The Color Before The Sun was also a bit of an evolution which saw some new territories covered, with big stadium rock riffs and bubblegum melodies. Unheavenly Creatures incorporates parts of that, while also leaning more on the style the band were going for on the two Good Apollo albums from 2005 and 2007.

The vocals, the production and lead guitars are all superb and continue the long tradition of interesting and memorable songs that are easy on the ear, but come across as progressive when you look at them more closely. The band have all the hooks of the catchiest pop punk bands, all the solos of the catchiest NWOBHM guitar masters and an ear for production that always makes them sound humongous. This album is no exception. Just listen to the powerful opener ‘The Dark Sentencer,’ when Claudio sings ‘‘Kiss your lover with that filthy mouth you fucking monster’’ you just want to scream along with it like you’re on top of a cliff in the November Rain video.

That being said, its not an instant album, in fact it is 79 minutes long, so there is quite a lot to get through and it can take a lot of spins to really sink your teeth in to, but there is a lot to love if you are willing to give it the time.

For a band who, in my opinion, haven’t released a bad album yet, it can be quite hard to make a recommendation to an outsider. That being said, the general public would seem to suggest Year Of The Black Rainbow and The Afterman Descension from 2010 and 2013 respectively are the band’s least impactful works, whereas the public would advise In Keeping Secrets Of Silent Earth 3 and the lengthily titled Good Apollo, Tonight I’m Burning Star IV, Volume One: From Fear Through The Eyes Of Madness (commonly just called ‘4’ or ‘Good Apollo’ for ease)  are the ones to check out first… at this point I can’t really imagine not loving a Coheed album, but just in case, I would say don’t pick this as your first one. Pick up 3, 4 and Afterman Ascension at a minimum before getting this one.    

Once you are an established fan though; this is not an album you want to miss. Some of these choruses will bounce around your head for days. Some of the guitar lines are as memorable as the average band’s choruses. The first four songs alone have more memorable moments than most albums.  In fact, take any four songs in a row, the first four, the last four, any four in between. Even the slower moments like ‘Queen Of The Dark’ pop on this. If you want to dip your toes in, some of the highlights include ‘True Ugly,’ ‘All On Fire,’ ‘Toys,’ and ‘Unheavenly Creatures.’

Queensrÿche – The Verdict Review

Queensrÿche have been on a hell of a hot streak since they got former Crimson Glory frontman Todd La Torre in and started a band called Rising West, playing material from Queensrÿche’s first EP and first 4 albums, following the departure of their long time legendary singer Geoff Tate.

When they changed their name from Rising West back to Queensrÿche, and released their self-titled album in 2013, (with great tracks like ‘Where Dreams Go To Die,’ ‘Redemption’ and ‘Vindication’), it was an utterly excellent batch of material and the ensuing live shows saw the band energised and revitalised in one of the best late-career renaissances in the history of Metal (up there with the likes of Kreator and Accept for later-year triumphs). The following album Condition Human was a strong follow-up that kept up the quality.

As you can imagine, their third album since this revitalisation, 2019’s The Verdict, is my most anticipated album of this year. When they dropped the pre-release tracks, such as ‘Man The Machine,’ ‘Dark Revierie’ and ‘Blood Of The Levant’ it was every bit as good, if not better, than Condition Human’s pre-release tracks like the excellent ‘Arrow Of Time’ and ‘Hellfire.’

With all these expectations I had built up in my head, I was fearful I had built it up too much and set myself up for disappointment.

After having listened to it both via streaming while I waited for the postman, and on CD repeatedly after delivery, I am happy to inform you that not only is it not a disappointment, but rather it is the best Toddryche album to date. Arguably the band’s best album in a very long time at all, Todd or no Todd.

Even from myself, who doesn’t dislike any Queensrÿche album, (even the controversial ones), this ranks easily in the top half of their discography, top quarter even! I hate statements like “it’s the band’s best album since…’’ but in this case, it really feels true.

The production, (once again by ‘Zeuss’) is brilliant. All instruments are clear and distinct, you can hear the bass at all times, you can separate each guitar from each-other and the drums sound fat and powerful. Speaking of drums; Now that singer Todd La Torre is also playing drums this time around as well as his singing duties while classic drummer Scott Rockenfield is on paternity leave, you also get some drum styles you don’t usually hear on a Queensrÿche album. (Have a quick listen to ‘Launder The Conscience’ and ‘Light Years’ and listen to the beats to see what I mean).

The press prior to this saw Whip telling everyone that this was their heaviest and most progressive album in a while. Usually statements like that are always wrong. Strangely though, again, in this case, it really feels true.

There are some nice heavy moments on here; such as the aforementioned pre-released tracks, ‘Man The Machine and ‘Blood Of The Levant’ as well the very crunchy ‘Inner Unrest’ amonst others, and furthermore, there are some great proggy moments; such as ‘Bent,’ ‘Portrait’ and ‘Inside Out.’ There’s moments that recall the middle-eastern vibes of their American Soldier and Tribe albums, there’s some of the bass-driven textured stuff like their underrated Operation Mindcrime 2 album, and there’s some of the trippy expansive stuff reminiscent of their Promised Land album.

As well as the heavy and proggy stuff, there is just loads of great, catchy, accessible Hard Rock meets Heavy Metal material that has been the core thing tying all of the band’s albums together to date. You can hear bits that sound like the last two albums, like calssic material such as Rage For Order and all sorts of new things as well.

There’s so much great bass guitar parts and lots of space for Todd to show off his impressive vocal range. Album upon album he pushes it further, showing off more and more styles and becoming more of his own thing and moving away from the Geoff Tate style, but still staying close enough that it always sounds quintessentially Queensrÿche. (Take that vocal style and mix it with those really distinctive guitar leads, and you’ve got Queensrÿche in a bottle.)

Overall; its yet another strong Queensrÿche album, but more than that, it is an interesting album, with a strong production, a great range of material, and some of their honestly best material in years, even if they have already been on a very strong run.

Periphery – Periphery III Select Difficulty Review

s-l300Of all the Djent bands, Periphery are undoubtedly the biggest and most well known. Since 2005 they have been innovators boldly carving their own path through progressive and tech Metal styles, inspiring many in their wake.

Taking influences from mathy bands like Dillinger Escape Plan and Sikth, harder bands like the ferocious Messugah, the crushing parts from Iowa-era Slipknot, as well as taking the flowing guitar solo techniques from the likes of Dream Theater and mashing it together with the general sounds and clean/heavy dynamics of modern metalcore bands, putting that over the top of the bounce from the heavier Nu Metal bands and even peppering it with electronic and ambient bits that wouldn’t feel out of place on a Nine Inch Nails record, the band manage to meld all these disparate styles into one cohesive and entertaining whole.

I know some people get uppity about anyone using the word ‘Djent’ and argue its either not a real subgenre and its just Prog Metal or else its just a lot of people copying Messugah but both of those sentiments are reductive and inaccurate and time has shown this to be a legitimate and true subgenre (just look at the number of bands who do it now, or the amount a websites devoted to it). You know; In the same way Doom is a real subgenre and not just a load of people copying Black Sabbath and that Power Metal is not just Traditional Heavy Metal.

If you like bands like Tesseract and want something heavier, if you like bands like Monuments and want something catchier, if you like bands like Uneven Structure and want something bouncier, you also really need to check out Periphery. If you like Periphery, this is a particualrly must-have album and not one to pass over or miss out on.

Periphery III Select Difficulty, is, confusingly, Periphery’s fifth studio album (due to the Juggernaut Alpha & Omega albums which preceded it not being numbered). It was self produced and released in 2016. The music is a great mix of complicated awkward rhythms, soaring commercial choruses and spicing it up with shimmering guitar lines and the odd bits of electronics here and there. You get some great moments like clean singing over blast beats. There’s violins and trumpets and choirs too. Its probably their most diverse album overall.

There are a few awesome heavier tracks like ‘The Price Is Wrong,’ ‘Motormouth’ and ‘Habitual Line-Stepper.’ The band also try stretching their wings a little bit. There are a few newer ideas and more quiet moments, like the superb closer ‘Lune’ with its beautiful backing vocals, or the catchy and commercial ‘Flatline’ which could be on the radio as well as the Faith No More influenced ‘Reamain Indoors.’ There’s some great lyrics too. I’ve worked a lot in hospital and held a lot of people’s hands as they die in front of me, and the lyrics to Flat Line are pretty affecting. I particularly like the hook ‘He says send an angel to pull me from the hell below. This weight is far too much to own and this body doesn’t feel like home.’

I feel like maybe Periphery II This Time Its Personal is probably their best album overall for sheer impact and creativity at the time, and for how it broke them to a bigger audience, but for me this is a damn close second and their most cohesive and listen-to-on-repeat album to date. I like to leave this album on in the car and just play it end to end, over and over again. There isn’t one song on this I wouldn’t want to hear live and there are a lot on here that demands to be in compilations and play lists.

I also feel like this is also a great introduction point for people who don’t know the band or the subgenre. If you like A Perfect Circle or Cog or Rishloo ‘Lune’ is really likely to hit you. If you like Slipknot when they go a bit Morbid Angel influenced ‘Habitual Line Stepper’ is worth checking out. I  even feel like fans of Nu Metal and Rap Metal bands like Incubus and P.O.D and (Hed) PE might even get in on the bouncy bass driven ‘Catch Fire.’

Overall, this album is pretty superb and deserves to be heard by more people. If you like any of the bands or ideas I’ve mentioned above, take a shot and give it a listen. I doubt you’ll regret it.

Ghost – Ceremony & Devotion (Live) Review

ghost-ceremony-and-devotion.jpgIt took me a very long time to get into Ghost, I was really late to the party. For me, I couldn’t get over my expectations, I saw pictures of them and expected to hear something extreme like Darkthrone or something. Then I saw them being lauded as the next big thing and expected them to be catchy and industrial-lite like Rammstein or Marilyn Manson, and I heard them get called Doom Metal and expected them to sound, well, anything at all like Doom Metal. Also, for a band so heavily featured in the Metal press, you’d expect them to be generally heavier and more guitar driven.

Instead of hearing Ghost for what they were, with all the classic Prog leanings and Gothic theatrics, I was just hearing all these expectations, and the dissonance between what I got and thought I’d get was off putting. One day I just took a punt on them, and bought Meliora on a whim with no planning. The guy at the counter even tried to talk me out of it and said he didn’t like Ghost and couldn’t get into them and tried to get me to buy Iron Maiden’s newest live album instead. Needless to say, if I’m writing this review I obviously went with Ghost.

Over the past year, I’ve been getting more and more into the band, checking out all the different albums and EPs, hearing their evolution from quite straight-forward, to more diverse, to their newer more commercial direction, Everything they’ve put out so far has been worth hearing.

In 2017 it was time for a live album, and Ceremony & Devotion was released, with recording from the USA that year. At first I thought it was odd that this was audio only and not video, but actually it is quite clever as releasing a live album this damn good just goes to prove that although the band have a very visual nature, they are excellent musicians and songwriters and not just a gimmick band.

The live album features material from all their first three albums and the Popestar EP and kicks off with their skyscraper of a single, ‘Square Hammer.’ There is a nice range of tracks, from the harder stuff like ‘Con Clavi Con Dio’ and ‘From The Pinnacle To The Pit’ to the more diverse and interesting material from when they were temporarily Ghost BC, like ‘Ghuleh / Zombie Queen’ and ‘Year Zero’ and even the gorgeous Trick Of The Tail era Genesis sounding ballad ‘He Is,’ and the brief instrumental ‘Devil Church’ which sounds like it came right off one of the first two King Crimson albums.

Tobias is a pretty entertaining front man, with unique stage patter (‘do you like drinking blooood?’ ) and the track-listing is great, but the best thing about this album is the sound. The recording quality and mix are brilliant. Talk about crystal clear. Everything sounds amazing. The crowd are enthusiastic and the band are firing on all cylinders, and you can hear every cymbal, every riff, every bass line. You can hear those Camel-sounding lines, you can hear the creepy pervy vocals, which hold up really well live.

This album reminds me a bit of Kiss’ Alive album. It shows off a very visual band’s great live audio, it has serves as a best-of of the band’s first three albums, some of the live versions outshine their studio counterparts and its full of memorable on stage banter. This is a live album you can really get in to. Its a live album you can swear by (right here, right now, before the devil!). If you like the band this is a damn fine addition to your collection. If you are new to Ghost, this is absolutely the first album you should pick up. It is the band at their absolute best and there is nothing skip-able here at all.