Artamene, Ziggurat, 2021 Tracks: Infinite Escape (5:27), Fear of Darkness (4:11), Heavy Motion (3:55), Mayhem (3:51), Shining Black (5:24), Inshushinak (6:01), Rain of Paradise (2:56), Petrichor (5:39)
Persecution is still disgustingly widespread in the world today. There are millions of people in countries across the globe who face imprisonment, torture, and death for their religious beliefs, their ethnicity, political beliefs… the list could go on. Iran is one such country. America has experienced childish backlash against heavy metal (Tipper Gore and her Parents Music Resource Center in the 1980s as one example) in the past, but American musicians have never feared imprisonment just for making and performing metal music. This threat is real for Iranian metal musicians, and Artamene wants the rest of the world to know that awful truth.
Artamene was formed in Iran in 2017 by brothers Pedram (lead guitar) and Pooya Shitrah (drums) along with Soheil Avakh (vocals) and Ali Karimi (rhythm guitar). Their album, Ziggurat, also features Yahya Rahmani on bass. Pedram and Pooya grew up listening to and playing metal with each other, and they decided to form Artamene. The problem is the Iranian government thinks metal is inherently Satanic, and they have thrown bands in jail for making metal. Members of the bands Confess and Arsames have been sentenced to prison on charges of “Satanism,” although thankfully the musicians were able to escape the country.
I don’t hear anything Satanic on Artamene’s Ziggurat, so hopefully the band will be safe from those accusations. They are allowed to play live concerts, although the behavior of the audience is strictly regulated by the government. They actually get 200-500 people at their concerts.
The music itself is quite good. There are a lot of thrash metal elements, but there are also some more atmospheric metal moments and certainly progressive flares. Thrash metal in general often has a lot of progressive metal elements, minus the keyboards usually. On Ziggurat there are heavy distorted guitars, clean solos, and clean rhythm sections. The bass is clear, heavy, and distinct throughout. It shines in the mix. The drums are intricate and pounding with a prominent double kick, reminding me of the brilliant Gene Hoglan (Strapping Young Lad, Testament).
The vocals are heavy and distorted, but they’re not black metal vocals. Thrash tends to have its own sort of yelled distorted vocals, along with cleans. Avakh’s vocals follow that trend, and his voice works very well with the music. It helps that the lyrics are in English. At times Avakh’s voice reminds me of M. Shadows from Avenged Sevenfold.
I’ve been sitting on the promo CD for Ottawa, Ontario band The Rebel Wheel’s latest album, Simple Machines, for a while, although I’ve been listening to it a fair amount. The album has been a pleasant surprise for me. I’ve enjoyed it every time I’ve listened to it. The Canadian three-piece is comprised of Andrew Burns (bass, keyboards, vocals, producer), David Campbell (guitars, keyboards, vocals), and Alex Wickham (drums, keyboards, vocals).
While The Rebel Wheel have several albums and several decades under their belt, Simple Machines finds them making a few changes, with every band member contributing to the writing and a different band member producing it compared to past records. Their overall sound is hard to pin down, as it is rather varied. I think Primus must be a major influence for Andrew Burns, who produced the record. Skimming through their discography on Bandcamp, I definitely recognize some similar musical ideas, but a Primus influence sounds much more prominent on Simple Machines. I hear this in some of the vocals, particularly on “Inclined Plane” and “Wheelsuitewheel,” as well as in the funk-influenced brand of metal on the album. That influence is present in the music and vocals, but not in the lyrics, which are rather simple in their construction, yet still deep with meaning. Not surprisingly I also hear a Discipline-era King Crimson influence in the guitars and bass.
With those two prominent influences there is still plenty of room for innovation. Some of the music almost approaches metal, if we’re going to call what Primus does a kind of metal. But it’s probably more accurate to call The Rebel Wheel progressive rock with heavy a jazz influence. The drums are distinctly jazzy. The bass drives the songs with guitars adding the flourishes and the keyboards filling the soundscape. There are experimental moments too, such as on the eleven and a half minute-long final track.
Even though I’ve made the connections to both Primus and King Crimson, the resulting record sounds quite unique and fresh. A King Crimson influence might be common enough in the prog world (I mean, who hasn’t been influenced by them to at least some degree), but Primus not so much. With the more progressive synth sounds, the record takes on its own life. The vocal harmonies add a nice touch. There’s even some blisteringly heavy guitar at points that remind me of Rush, but I’ll leave that to you to find those moments in the album.
I highly recommend The Rebel Wheel and their latest album. It’s a welcome departure from the Neo-prog territory common amongst most straightforward “prog” bands today. It’s got a crunch and a pleasant quirkiness that doesn’t blend into a symphonic backdrop. It grabs your attention. You won’t find too many other bands making music that sounds quite like this.
Baltimore, Maryland-based progressive metal duo Intentional Trainwreck return in May with the release of the sophomore studio album “Smokestack of Souls,” a follow-up to 2014’s “The Accident.” Singer and guitarist Pete Lesko and drummer Patrick Gaffney speak for Progarchy about the new material, challenges, prog scene in 2021, and more.
You are about to launch a new full-length album with Intentional Trainwreck entitled Smokestack of Souls. How do you feel about the release?
PL: I feel great about the release. The material on it is solid and none of the tracks are filler. Everyone I’ve played it for so far has had good things to say at worst. I write material for this band which, as a fan of music, I would like to hear. And I think that comes through strongly in the compositions, production, and performances.
PG: We are definitely stoked for the release of Smokestack of Souls. We’ve made massive improvements in our musicianship, songwriting, recording and production. We’re using more online resources as a mechanism to reach a wider, more-specific audience. This is exciting because we know there are a lot of people who enjoy new and interesting music. We believe in the music, stand behind it, and endorse it passionately.
Where does the new record stand comparing to the debut album—2014’s The Accident?
PG: Frankly, Intentional Trainwreck has left the Accident in a pile of its own rubble and dust. Unfortunately, we still love playing songs such as “Lunchbox” and “Metric” so we can’t be in complete denial of the Accident’s existence. In comparison, Smokestack of Souls has a production which towers over the Accident and there are obvious improvements in the vocals, musicianship, and technicality of the songwriting. Smokestack of Souls is heavier; it’s more aggressive; the songwriting is more mature and it is a new beginning. This is certainly a professional effort and we made sure it is something that average listeners as well as those with a trained ear will get into.
PL: I think the new record blows the debut album completely out of the water. The writing and production on this record is more cohesive overall. I stopped smoking just before the Accident was released and began to focus a lot more on getting better vocals down, which it turns out is a lot easier to do when you can breathe! In general, we were able to avoid a lot of the mistakes that we made the first time around.
How much of a challenge was it to work on Smokestack of Souls?
PL: A massive challenge was avoiding the production pitfalls of the Accident while doing most of the recording and all of the mixing and mastering for the new album. There were so many points when I just wanted to throw in the towel. In particular, during the last year as the album was on the precipice of release, I was working in the healthcare industry which was not getting less busy but rather the exact opposite. My family was mostly stuck at home and, on top of this, I was doing guitar tracks and some vocal recordings for Isenmor’s Shieldbrother. So, things became rather chaotic to manage. This coupled with the challenges of writing guitar parts, lyrics, vocal melodies, and even bass parts! Because Mike was unable to record a number of bass parts, there are a few of tracks on Smokestack of Souls featuring me on every instrument except drums.
PG: Intentional Trainwreck always challenges itself to write better and more interesting music. It’s not a big deal because we are creative and constantly have new ideas to share. But we still needed to make sure that we held ourselves to a high level of songwriting. And, we know our audience likes to have expectations met and surpassed.
Another challenge was improving listenability. We know the Accident should have sounded better and we owe it to everyone to improve the production and sound quality on Smokestack of Souls. Pete spent a lot of time on his studio techniques for mixing and mastering. He ended up doing a fantastic job. Also, we never stopped rehearsing the parts, so you’ll notice better vocals, drums, and guitars all around.
And, the global pandemic was a huge challenge which delayed everything from rehearsals to live shows. We are extremely lucky in that we still have our health, but it has made things very difficult for rehearsing and mixing the music. And we’ve missed seeing our friends and fans during live performances more than words can say.
Speaking of challenges, have you set any in the early phase of what has become the final result?
PG: The most noticeable challenge associated with the finished product has got to be the way in which music is distributed, marketed, and obtained by the listener. The traditional process of creating CDs, sending them off for review and making a lot of noise to get people to buy them is no longer the norm. The new model involves digital distribution via online submission of files and artwork which all needs to have codes assigned so that royalties can be tracked across a myriad of social media and distribution platforms. And, marketing through videos and playlists is ever more popular and unavoidable. So, in many ways it seems like we’ve gone from a band creating an album to social media entity associated with music. This isn’t necessarily a bad thing, but it increases the scope of work and schedule of an album release tenfold.
PL: That’s an interesting question, I don’t know that I had specifically or explicitly talked about it, but I certainly wanted to make sure is that the next album was going to be better than the first one. When I went into writing, I didn’t want to write songs that people say well that kind of neat, I went into the process with the intent of writing songs that hopefully would become some folks’ favorites that they slam on a loop.
Tell me about the topics you explore on these new songs.
PL: We explored a lot of dark places on Smokestack of Souls – the uglier parts of society that can crush a person into a tuna can. Inner-darkness tolls on a person. But we also explore some lighthearted subjects like the philosophical deconstruction of what quality is, and even one about playing dungeons and dragons.
PG: There are several topics presented in Smokestack of Souls, and they all come from places close to the heart. For example, the audience-friendly “Basilisk’s Gaze” is a story derived from one of Pete’s D+D games and takes the listener on an epic journey through a fantasy realm. The video for this song adds a level of surreal exploration. “Family and Friends” comes from real-life emotions and situations; some topics are based on political unrest (“Charismatic Agenda”) and some pertain to individual strife (“Kamikaze Tom”). “Phaedrus” involves metaphysical communication on the smallest levels. The subject matter of the songs usually comes about after the music has been written but the two become intricately tied together as a composition develops.
What is your opinion about the progressive rock/metal scene in 2021?
PG: The music scene in general is amazing. We are blessed to live in times when you can search for and find excellent new music in a matter of seconds. Sharing information and music is easier than it has ever been. The progressive rock/metal scene is alive and well albeit a slightly different one when compared to 20 or 30 years ago. There will always be extremely talented and innovative musicians out there; however, today you are more likely to hear music which is heavier and much faster at times than previously. Perhaps you’ll find new bands which are darker and edgier than before. And, the amount of technical shredding today seems to have surpassed that of the past prog-metal scene. But the classics won’t go away either. The founders of progressive rock and metal had something which, to this day, remains quite unique and inspiring.
PL: With the Internet these days, the number of options can be overwhelming! Lots of amazing music is being made right now and I have been trying to make a regular habit of listening to new music as much as I can. It’s a competitive field, but I’m hoping this is one that stands apart.
I’m well aware of Patrick’s involvement with Cerebus Effect, and one of my personal favorite acts in the last two decades—Deluge Grander. As someone who has been involved within the scene for a long time, would you say that the genre has progressed or did it reach its peak long time ago?
PL: Oh, that’s something I just don’t talk about, not since the accident.
PG: “Progress” can embed itself into music in many ways. And, what constitutes progress is subjective. Personally, I feel that progress lies more in whether things like your creativity, conceptual approach and efforts continue to grow and bring forth interesting results and likeable sonic passages. I feel there is an opulence of new music stretching the realms of progressive rock and metal. While certain bands and musicians may have reached their peak, in no way do I feel that progressive rock and metal are even close to stagnant. Sometimes, the distinction between music genres gets a little blurry but, in the end, there is a variety of thriving genres really close to and including prog rock/metal.
Let me know about your influences—the artists that in a way shaped and continue to shape the music of Intentional Trainwreck.
PG: This is a loaded question because I am continuously inspired. As mentioned, I believe the world of music is constantly presenting amazing works. None the less, when I was 11 or 12 years old, my older brother’s friend played Jeff Beck’s Blow by Blow, Dixie Dregs’ Freefall and Yes’ Fragile albums for me. That was the first time I’d heard anything outside of pop and classical music. I knew right away that my musical direction had changed forever. Since then, I am thankful for and motivated by so many. To name just a few drummers – Carl Palmer, Dave Kerman and Trilok Gurtu each took me to new levels of inspiration. I can’t say that my performances on Smokestack of Souls sound overtly like any other drummer; yet, without my influences I’m sure my drumming would sound less inspired.
PL: I draw in influences from bands like Mastodon, Gojira, and Devon Townsend Project, and the sound I try to go for is a cross between a few different guiding principles. I mean, it must be, if not heavy, something dark or scary or something like that. I want riffs that bring you time signatures, keys, and scales that you wouldn’t expect, but I like to find a solid grounding element in each song, a hook if you will. I like growly vocals sometimes, but only if they are decipherable? That’s important to me; I don’t want to be just another cookie monster sounding band, and most of the vocals on this album are melodic anyway. I like songs with a complex groove that follows something catchy enough that you could sing it around a campfire. That’s not to say that indecipherable vocals don’t have their place in the right context, but I think that’s not us for the most part. I have these bands that I listen to and I’d say that’s the kind of goal I’m going for, but I am all about pretty much every kind of music. My taste is eclectic in that I like pop, classical, metal, jazz, country, electronic, indie, soundtrack stuff, and more obscure outsider music. I try to do my best to pull from those influences and build that into what kind of strange, but digestible, heavy metal kind of music we do, because I want music that is… mmm, without boundaries, but still with boundaries? Quantum metal, if you may.
What are your top 5 records of all time?
Megadeth – Rust in Peace
Archspire – Relentless Mutation
Meshuggah – Destroy Erase Improve
System of a Down – Mezmerize
Alice In Chains – Dirt
Allan Holdsworth – Secrets
Univers Zero – Uzed
Watchtower – Control and Resistance
Jeff Beck – Blow by Blow
John McLaughlin with Shakti – Natural Elements
Besides the release of the album, are there any other plans for the future?
PG: Playing gigs is a huge future goal. We really have a connection to our audiences and want to get back in front of people. I love to play live because it gives me an opportunity to give back to all the musicians who have inspired me.
We have a ton of music just waiting to be formed into songs. So, technically, there is already an album in the works.
And, thanks to the hope of successful COVID-19 vaccinations, we will most likely be rehearsing and writing together…in the same room! There is a true element of brotherhood and comradery when we work together. It is indeed a friendship that also rocks out pretty hard.
PL: We’re hoping to eventually get back out and start playing some shows. But right this second, I’d like to reach into the riff box and start putting some new material together. The ideas have been sort of piling up. I just they just need some time to arrange them into songs instead of a heap of disorganized noodlings.
Any words for the potential new fans?
PL: Thanks for listening! I know that it’s not easy for everybody to find the time to listen to new things, and I appreciate them spending the time to check us out. We’ll be releasing some music videos, and I’ll be putting together some play through videos for social media once the album is released. Make sure to follow us on Instagram and subscribe to the Youtube channel!
PG: Please don’t judge us on our past so much as the present. We have come a long way and Smokestack of Souls is a perfect place for new listeners of Intentional Trainwreck to start. Write us an email or hit us up on a social media to let us know who and where you are. It’s nice to know your fan base and it gives us a good idea to where we might want to travel and perform. Also, if there are people reading this article who are unfamiliar with our Top 5 albums, listen to that stuff, too. Finally, be safe and take care of yourself.
“Smokestack of Souls” is out on May 15th. Follow Intentional Trainwreck on Facebook for future updates.
Atravan, The Grey Line, 2021 Tracks: The Pendulum (2:35), The Perfect Stranger (6:45), My Wrecked House (6:05), Vertigo (5:09), Dancing on a Wire (6:01), The Grey Line (9:12), Uncertain Future (3:35) Line-up: Masoud Alishahi – Vocals Shayan Dianati – Guitars Arwin Iranpour – Bass Marjan Modarres – Piano, Keyboards Shahin Fadaei – Drums Pedram Niknafs – backing vocals (tracks 2, 4)
There’s a first time for everything, folks, and I think today’s Metal Mondays review is the first time we at Progarchy have ever reviewed an album from an Iranian band. I know it’s the first time I have. Tehran’s Atravan released their latest album, The Grey Line, about a month ago, and it has quickly become my favorite new release of 2021. It’s absolutely phenomenal.
Atravan can be best described as a progressive metal band with atmospheric elements. The songs are incredibly well-written, with the instruments all played expertly. The bass plays a prominent role – arguably more prominent than the guitars. The Grey Line isn’t particularly heavy, although it has its heavier moments. “Dancing on a Wire” for instance leans on a synth sound with acoustic guitars and soaring vocals. “My Wrecked House” has the same elements, but it has a much heavier sound with heavier drums and electric guitars. By the end of “The Perfect Stranger,” the band is pounding away in full-blown metal.
All of those elements remind me most of Riverside, especially on the aforementioned track. The bass and keyboards also play a central role in Riverside, with spacey guitars layered over the top. There are also moments that remind me of the atmospheric aspects of Porcupine Tree or even Devin Townsend (think “Deadhead”), but Atravan strike me as being rather unique at the same time. Maybe it’s the warmth and depth of Masoud Alishahi’s vocals (yes, the lyrics are in English). Maybe it’s the stunning Floydian keyboards. Maybe it’s the way the band builds a song gently but gradually through the combination of guitars, bass, drums, keyboards, and vocals. The drums are intricate throughout. Shahin Fadaei always plays to whatever the song requires in the moment. Sometimes that requires rapid-fire double-bass pounding, and sometimes it requires a more sedate Nick Mason-style beat. Careful with that axe, Atravan.
The keyboards provide unique sounds throughout the album that set a melancholic and contemplative mood. The opening of the nine-minute title track is all keyboards. The song slowly builds with added vocals before a loud but simultaneously gentle bass takes center stage. The song continues to build with additional instruments picking up. It takes about five minutes before they return to a really heavy sound, but everything works so perfectly that you end up appreciating whatever and however the band plays. None of the songs feel rushed, which is rather surprising in an album that’s only forty minutes long.
The electric guitars on the opening of the final track, “Uncertain Future,” have a spacey Gilmour-esque sound to them. They’re used sparingly as the bass, drums, and keyboards begin to take over. It’s a three and a half minute-long track, yet it still doesn’t hurry. It asks the listener to slow down with it and just enjoy the moment. It’s an instrumental track to help you unwind at the end, even though the album is on the short side. In closing it out this way, Atravan bookend the album, since the opening track was also a spacey instrumental piece that served to warm up the listener for the rest of the record.
Definitely give The Grey Line a listen. I’m so glad the band reached out to us, because I probably wouldn’t have come across this album otherwise. I certainly wasn’t expecting it to become my favorite album of the year thus far. There’s a lot of 2021 left to go, but Atravan have set a very high bar for everyone else in the prog world to hurdle. Every track on this album is fantastic. I look forward to more from the band in the future.
SomeWhereOut – Deep In The Old Forest, January 15, 2021
Tracks: 1. Prelude – The Stories (1:40), 2. Blood, Bones and Fear (5:08), 3. Mara (3:38), 4. Someone With No Name (6:55), 5. Our Promise (4:07), 6. Interlude I – Covenant (1:07), 7. The Fallen One (8:33), 8. You and I (6:00), 9. The Midnight Bell (5:21), 10. The Crystal Mountain (4:29), 11. Interlude II – Winter (1:14), 12. The Old Forest (14:49)
Classically-trained Spanish guitarist, composer, and music teacher Raúl Lupiañez has long held a love for rock and metal. His formal training in both guitar and composition is immediately clear on his latest SomeWhereOut album, Deep in the Old Forest. He is the primary musician for the group, handling guitar, all of the keyboards, and most of the bass. Francisco Garoz plays all of the drums, and there are a few other players who contribute guitar and bass solos as well as violin and other string work. There are also eight vocalists featured on the album.
Deep in the Old Forest transcends progressive and atmospheric elements while remaining a thoroughly metal album. At points the verses on songs will be more sedate before pounding into a more straight-forward metal or prog metal chorus. There are symphonic elements as well, but I wouldn’t label SomeWhereOut a symphonic metal band because the strings are used more in the way Steve Hackett uses them on his albums. They add atmosphere when needed, but they aren’t the driving force in the music. I think a symphonic metal band places almost equal importance on the symphonic elements and the metal elements.
The album is full of musical surprises. For instance the light accent of Spanish-style acoustic guitar strumming behind the wall of metal guitars on parts of “Bloods, Bones and Fear” is a nice touch. The solo violin parts add a calmer reflective touch. The violin on “Our Promise” even reminds me of Rachel Hall’s work with Big Big Train. There are many moments across the album, particularly in the keyboards, bass, and some of the guitar solos, that remind me of Steven Wilson’s more progressive solo albums. Apart from the vocals, which sound nothing like Wilson, the track “The Fallen One” could have come off Hand. Cannot. Erase.
Lucid Planet, II, November 2020 Tracks: Anamnesis (12:25), Entrancement (5:33), Organic Hard Drive (9:39), Offer (4:15), On The Way (9:38), Digital Ritual (4:57), Face The Sun (11:49), Zenith (9:56)
Perhaps I’m going out on a limb in calling Lucid Planet’s new album “metal,” but I’ve always had a pretty broad understanding of what metal can include. For instance I’ve long considered much of Rush’s output to be metal. But be not deceived. Lucid Planet’s sophomore album, II, released five years after their debut, is not Dream Theater progressive metal. Rather they remind me of Tool in many ways, especially in the rhythm sections on “Anamnesis,” “Organic Hard Drive,” and “Zenith.”
Maybe “heavy prog” is a better term. The Melbourne, Australia-based band uses the terms “progressive,” “tribal,” and “psychedelic” on their website, and those are all good descriptors for what they do. They travel in and out of various styles and influences seamlessly. No one track limits itself to any particular style. The primal elements are particularly strong on “Entrancement,” which creates a psychedelic atmosphere through droning vocals and simple acoustic instrumentation. The song is a bit unexpected after the first track, but it works well in expanding the horizon of what the band does. Right away we know that this group plans to cover a lot of ground. The female vocals in parts of that track add a pleasant touch to what would otherwise be a rather dark song. The primal elements mesh well with their album artwork as well.
Los Angeles, CA’s melodic metal one-man band The Crown Remnant, formed by singer and multi-instrumentalist Will Ash, is launching a music video for “The Fall,” taken from the upcoming studio album “The End of Days.” Watch it below.
Speaking about the upcoming full-length release Ash said: “This record was written with extreme expedition, I think due to how seamless the themes came together. For me, writing isn’t forced – I don’t start a project unless I have a really good idea, or a good collection of musical ideas to begin with. ‘The End of Days‘ was no exception. Musically, I’m constantly experimenting. Ideas that started even after writing the previous record ‘The Wicked King’ in 2017 came into play. I had been working on chunks of songs since then, little inspirations and outlines of a melancholic, vintage inspired something.
“That expanded into the major theme of the new album – endings (and innately, beginnings),“Ash continues. “With 2020 bringing real senses of loss to millions of people through the global pandemic, endings were on my mind. The world in chaos, and a shift in political mandates worldwide made a theoretical end of the world interesting to postulate about. As the ideas developed, I ended up writing the album in a way that observed a 3 act ‘story arc’ – with each act bringing a new piece of the story of the world ending, and each with its own theme and musical direction.“
The underlying message of “The End of Days” is a sense of hope, but also warning. Ash goes on saying, “Continuing down the path of extreme nationalism, exclusion, and selfishness will bring about a certain type of apocalypse – whether ideologically, economically, or literally. This whole big rock that we have to live on only functions when we realize that we all have to live together. When we do that, we achieve great things. But when we promote isolation, or tribalism, we end up tearing each other – and the world we live in – apart.“
Watch a music video for the new single “The Fall” below.
Vultress, Hypnopompia, 2020 Tracks: 1. Hypnopompia (0:35), 2. Cmdr Hall and wherewithal (4:56), 3. Tether (5:57), 4. Fall Into Then (4:13), 5. L’appel Du Vide (5:07), 6. New Sun (9:51)
It isn’t everyday that I get to feature a band from America’s great Midwest – much less a prog metal band from the Midwest. They hail from Valparaiso, Indiana, a mid-sized town on the far southeastern edge of what could be considered the greater Chicagoland area. The band is comprised of Jordan Gaboian (guitar), Paul Uhrina (drums) and Anthony Capuano(vocals/keys). Hypnopompia is their second album, following 2014’s Distance.
At just over a half-hour long, perhaps Hypnopompia would have been better billed as an EP rather than an album, especially since the album is rather inconsistent. “Tether” and “L’appel Du Vide” are from completely different genres, and “Tether” alone has multiple genres intermingling – some of which work and some which don’t. I also noticed a strong Dream Theater influence on their first album that I don’t notice in their new album.
Someone commented on Bandcamp that Capuano’s voice is reminiscent of both Claudio Sanchez (Coheed and Cambria) and Serj Tankian (System of a Down). This is a pretty fair assessment. Sanchez’s influence is most prevalent on “L’appel du Vide,” while the latter influence can be heard on “Tether.” There is a moment on their first album where it’s clear that he is channeling James Labrie circa 1994 – specifically the distortion Labrie used on “6:00.” Capuano doesn’t do that at all on this album, preferring instead more of a death metal growl in the brief moments when he does decide to use distortion. Most of his singing is clean, and it is pretty good, although it might take a few listens to adjust to it. However I think the music would be best served if he added the warmth from “L’appel du Vide” to their metal moments, like Claudio Sanchez does, and he should go with the mid-90s Labrie-style distortion rather than the growling, since it matches the music better.
I really wanted “Tether” to be my favorite track because it had a unique playfulness and heaviness that fits well with today’s prog-metal scene. It opens with heavy acoustic strumming before pounding into a deep metal riff. All good so far. Capuano mixes up the vocal styling a bit, which works when it’s the Tankian-style high-pitched notes, but it doesn’t work as well with the growls. The middle of the song does a hard shift into a traditional jazz section with saxophone, which the band performs extremely well. This brief section was one of my favorite parts on the album, in fact. However after that they go back into a really heavy drop-tuned section that includes saxophone playing in a less-orderly way than it was during the jazz section. To my ear this doesn’t work as well.
The fifth track, “L’appel du Vide,” is a bit of a surprise. It’s a ballad, which feels out of place on the album. However, Capuano’s voice shines. It has a warmth that could help on the metal tracks. Perhaps if the song morphed into a heavier chorus it wouldn’t feel so out of place, but it’s really a pop ballad without the rock that Dream Theater usually infuse into their ballads. The chorus could shine with electric guitar and drums, kind of like Dream Theater’s “Wither” or Coheed and Cambria’s “Here To Mars.” The song even builds up to that kind of moment, so it is a bit of a letdown when the calm acoustic guitar remains. About 2:45 in we get an electric guitar playing clean highs in the background, but the drums and bass are still playing as if it is a quiet ballad. Yes what I’m proposing is formulaic, but it is a formula that works for prog-metal ballads (see the aforementioned DT and C&C tracks). With a build up to a heavier wall of sound the song would fit a lot better in the album.
“Fall Into Then” is the most consistent song on the album musically and vocally. The style stays the same, and it keeps a heavy tone throughout. It has a really strong driving guitar groove, with some Hammond-style organ highlights thrown in for good measure. Turn this one up – you won’t be disappointed. There is some really good bass drum pedaling along with a thundering bassline.
“New Sun” follows along a similar track, but it includes some weird electronic vocal distortions in the middle that don’t really work. The heavy synth section in the middle works well, even though it slows the pace, but the electronic vocals are really jarring. Apart from that it is an excellent longer-form prog metal song with some nice guitar moments. The keyboard work on this one is a nice touch as well.
Overall I’d have to say I enjoyed the track “A Chord From Heaven” off their first album a lot more than anything off Hypnopompia. Looking at both albums it is abundantly clear that all the pieces are here for something truly special. I think this album detoured a bit from the trajectory the band created with their first album. They could take elements from Hypnopompia and apply it to new music made more in the vein of their first album, and they’d be in great shape. With that said I still recommend you give this a listen.
Pain of Salvation, Panther, Inside Out Music, August 28, 2020.
Tracks: 1. Accelerator (05:31), 2. Unfuture (06:46), 3. Restless Boy (03:34), 4. Wait (07:04), 5. Keen to a Fault (06:01), 6. Fur (01:34), 7. Panther (04:11), 8. Species (05:18), 9. Icon (13:30)
Members: Daniel Gildenlöw – lead vocals and lots of stuff; Johan Hallgren – guitar and vocals; Léo Margarit – drums and vocals; Daniel Karlsson – keyboards, guitars, and vocals; Gustaf Hielm – bass and vocals
Apparently I’m about two and a half decades late to the Pain of Salvation game. Better late than never, I suppose. I know I’ve listened to some of their more recent work when it came out, but at the time it didn’t grab me. Panther grabbed me, and now listening to a bit of their back catalog I’m starting to get it. Pain of Salvation have their own unique corner of the progressive metal market. No one else sounds quite like they do, at least on this new album. Pain of Salvation is just more proof that Scandinavia has the best bands.
Panther deals with tensions between those who fit into society and those who don’t. As someone who probably fits with the latter (and I imagine many progressive rock fans and musicians also would), the overarching concept certainly appeals. There are also dystopic overtones throughout, especially on “Unfuture.”
Welcome to the new world… a better and improved world for our mankind. – “Unfuture”
On the concept, Daniel Gildenlöw comments, “Because we live in a time where we’re more aware of people not fitting the norm and we’re doing everything we can as a society to acknowledge all of these individuals, but at the same time, they’re more disowned than ever, more medicated than ever. The album is painting pictures of a world, I guess. If this was a movie it would be scenes from a city. It’s set in one city, and it’s populated by dogs and the panthers, the so-called normal people and the spectrum people. That’s the setting for the entire album.”
Conceptually this is an album that will stand the test of time. It deals with timeless issues, in a similar way to Steven Wilson’s lyrics from both his Porcupine Tree and solo careers.
Haken, Virus, Inside Out Music, 2020 Tracks: 1. Prosthetic (05:58) 2. Invasion (06:40) 3. Carousel (10:30) 4. The Strain (05:35) 5. Canary Yellow (04:10) 6. Messiah Complex i: Ivory Tower (03:59) 7. Messiah Complex ii: A Glutton for Punishment (03:38) 8. Messiah Complex iii: Marigold (02:25) 9. Messiah Complex iv: The Sect (02:02) 10. Messiah Complex v: Ectobius Rex (04:51) 11. Only Stars (02:05)
I originally planned on writing about Haken’s new album, Virus, months ago, but then the release date was delayed by the actual virus. It kept getting pushed further and further back, and then real life got in the way and here we are a day before official release. Excuses excuses.
I’ll admit this one took a few listens to sink in for me, but looking back I think I can say that about all of Haken’s albums. There is so much depth to their music and lyrics that it always takes a few listens just to scratch the surface. I’ve found it also takes multiple kinds of listens to help it sink in. There’s the cursory playing over the stereo, there’s the blasting it in the car with the windows down, and (most importantly) the headphones. An album has to be good with the third method to be worthy of the second. Virus is worthy.