Thursday, 29 January 2015

Sylosis' 'Dormant Heart' - Album Review

Sylosis can no longer be called rising stars and, while the band may not have quite broken through into the big time like many predicted, they continue to impress. I felt the band missed a trick after 2012's Monolith - the band's third studio album. An extensive headline tour was never really undertaken to support the album, and very little of it ever made the band's set. Sure, the plentiful support slots they undertook during the Monolith touring cycle did wonders to increase the band's popularity, but the horrific crash they were involved in during an American tour with Trivium and DevilDriver really dented any exposure they were due in the States. Sometimes luck is just not on your side. Sylosis have done well with support slots over the years, and have been on the road with a diverse range of acts, but I feel a lack of a proper headline tour supporting Monolith was a strange move. Three years on and we now have Dormant Heart, the band's fourth album. Fans of the band will immediately like what they hear. The progressive thrash metal the band have become known for is still here in swathes, and no great changes to the band's sound are present. However, this could possibly be the band's greatest achievement yet. While still grand in scope and crushingly heavy, it seems that more thought was given to melody and song structure on this album. The meandering arrangements that sometimes made Monolith and predecessor 2011's Edge of the Earth hard to follow have been trimmed back here to create a tighter, more polished overall sound. The riffs here are much more memorable, and Josh Middleton's vocals are the strongest they have ever sounded. His personal trajectory is remarkable really. He was never originally the band's vocalist - a position held by Jamie Graham (now of Heart of a Coward) on their 2008 debut Conclusion of an Age - but the way he has stepped up to the plate since Graham's departure has been great to watch. Each new album brings an improved performance from him and on Dormant Heart we see his best performance; both vocally and with the guitar. It is also worth noting that this is the band's last album with long-time drummer Rob Callard, who left the band last year. He had not played live with the band for a while following complications arising from the crash in America, and his live replacement Ali Richardson (Bleed from Within) has now joined the band full-time.

The album starts with a short, doomy track called Where the Wolves Come to Die that really sets the mood for what is to come. Like how Lamb of God started 2012's Resolution with Straight for the Sun to great effect, Sylosis have done a similar thing here. The slow burning riffs and occasional tortured leads only help to create a dark and unsettling atmosphere, that is helped by Middleton's screams. Victims and Pawns gets the album well and truly underway however with some modern thrash riffs that will be familiar with all fans of the band. Middleton uses his improved vocal range to great effect on this song, mixing low growls with higher screams to create good variety. Where the verses are fast and typically thrash, the chorus adopts a slower tempo, making great use of cleaner guitar arpeggios the sit just underneath the heavy rhythm guitars. As the song moves on, we are treated to a strange, atmospheric section that contains industrial sounds and beats, before Middleton lets rip with his first solo of the album. The album's title track follows, and it is another pacy track with a simple, yet catchy riff that stands out from the moment you hear it. Callard's drumming on this song is furious, and on his swansong with the band he shows what a talent he is. The choruses have some excellent swirling lead guitars behind the vocals, and the overall furious nature of the song means that this is sure to be an excellent live number. To Build a Tomb opens with some Eastern-sounding guitar leads, and this vibe remains subtly throughout the song. This is a much more mid-paced number, making excellent use of groove and the power of Middleton's screams to carry it. The Eastern leads make many appearances throughout, and swirling atmospherics help to enhance that mood during certain sections of the song. The song speeds up towards the end though, with a shredding solo and some neck-breaking riffs from the band. The next highlight is Leech, which really is a stunning piece of work. The melodic nature of this song helps it stand out from the pack with some really catchy lead guitar lines and a proper, sing-a-long chorus. There is something of Trivium in this song, which can only be a good thing, and this is easily the band's most accessible tune yet. Fear not though, this is not some pop song, and all the hallmarks of the band's sound are present. The guitar solo in this song is another excellent piece of work that starts of slowly and increases speed as it goes along, building to an exciting crescendo of doomy riffing.

Servitude is a slower, more laden track that has plenty of discordant moments amongst the more traditional, crushing guitar riffs. After the melodic nature of Leech, this song hits you like a hammer and takes you back in the darker world created by the earlier songs. Again, like To Build a Tomb, the song speeds up as it goes through, ditching the doom for thrash once more and supplying another face-melting solo into the mix. After a slightly haunting introduction, Indoctrinated comes along and attempts to take your head off. This is a relentless, modern thrash number that is angry, yet strangely compelling. Riff after excellent riff follow one another here and Middleton's vocals are the nastiest they have ever sounded. Moments of this song almost break into full on death metal territory, although these moments are sparse. It is over almost as quickly as it begun, and is sure to leave you in need of catching your breath. Harm is very traditional Sylosis. Both Edge of the Earth and Monolith were full of moments like this, down to the trademark arpeggiated guitar leads that Middleton is so proficient at. The end section which features multi-tracked leads and some epic, chanted clean vocals is a pleasure to listen to, and the song's bellowed chorus is another that will stick in the brain for a long time. Mercy is the album's leading single and introduced the fans to their first Dormant Heart experience. After the slightly alternative rock introduction, the thrash metal is back in full force. Middleton uses his clean vocals during the song's chorus however, something which he does from time to time - and it helps to make the song stand out. His cleans are not as strong as his harsh delivery, but it works well. The guitar solo is another memorable one, using more traditional metal phrasing and powerful note-bends to create something different for the band. The song's end is another doomy workout that uses some really slow and powerful riffs to create something heavy and atmospheric. After that, the next highlight is the album's final song Quiescent - which is something that really breaks new ground for the band. The band's progressive influences really show here, as the song is a long, acoustic-led piece that showcases Middleton's clean vocals and a much more stripped-back overall sound. Despite the fact the song mostly makes use of acoustic guitars, the dark atmosphere created throughout the album still remains, and is in fact enhanced with this song. Overall, Dormant Heart is a real triumph for the band. While I have always liked their work, I think this will be the album that really transforms me into a full-fledged fan of theirs. I had to be in the right mood for their earlier work, but this is an album I can play any time, and it is sure to get a lot of love here.

The album was released on 12th January 2015 via Nuclear Blast Records. Below is the band's promotional video for Mercy.

Thursday, 1 January 2015

Music of 2014 - Part 2

Yesterday, I wrote a blog that talked about some great albums that I had not had chance to review throughout the year. This was all in aid of building up to this post, my Top 10 albums of 2014! Every music blogger feels obliged to try and rank some of the best music that they have heard over the past year, and I am no different. I enjoy trying to decide which albums I have enjoyed the most, but it is never easy. Ask me in a week's time and this list could be quite different I imagine but I think, objectively, these are the albums I have been playing the most throughout 2014. As usual, only studio albums of new material count; so compilations, live albums, and EPs do not count for the purposes of this list. For more information on each of the albums featured here, click on the album's title to see my original review of it. Without any further ado, here they are:

10) NeonFly - Strangers in Paradise
Despite only having this album for a month or so, it has really clicked with me and I am playing it a lot. NeonFly are rising stars in the British melodic metal scene, having supported bands like Magnum, Sonata Arctica, and DragonForce - and this album is sure to help them on their quest for greatness. All the songs present here are catchy, heavy and full of excellent lead guitar work - all hallmarks of the genre. For a 'small' band, this album sounds massive and the band has clearly put a lot of work into making this sound as good as is possible. A real gem in the British metal scene!
Listen to: Whispered Dreams, Heart of the Sun & Falling Star

9) Slash - World on Fire
For an album I was not originally going to get, this has impressed me a lot and still enjoys many repeated plays. Slash and his band, that features the great vocalist Myles Kennedy, have really delivered here and this is easily Slash's best work for quite some years. I still feel that it is too long, but there are so many great songs here that it barely seems to matter anymore. Anyone familiar with Slash's work will know what to expect here, as his formula has not changed at all - yet he seems to be more inspired and 'on fire' than he has for a while.
Listen to: World on Fire, 30 Years to Life & Bent to Fly

8) Iced Earth - Plagues of Babylon
The oldest album in my list being released way back in January, but it continues to see regular plays on my iPod. While I do not think it is as strong as 2011's Dystopia, this is a dark, murky album that hits you over the head and fails to let you go until it is over. Stu Block has really grown as a vocalist and steals the show here with his versatile vocal performance. This is also much more of a 'band' album that sees all four official members contributing to the songwriting throughout. There is a lot of take in here, but enter Jon Schaffer's world and you are sure to find plenty to enjoy!
Listen to: Plagues of Babylon, If I Could See You & Cthulhu

7) Delain - The Human Contradiction
Time for some symphonic now as the Dutch stars roll out their fourth studio album. Not as powerful as We are the Others, but The Human Contradiction has a mood of it's own and really showcases the best sides of this band. Not worried about having the biggest arrangements or the most over-the-top string sections; Delain instead just focus on writing tight, heavy, and catchy metal songs that are designed to be sung loudly and just enjoyed. A few well-picked guest vocalists including Nightwish's Marco Hietala really are the icing on the cake, and add a bit of diversity to the album. This is polished and catchy, and that is what Delain do best.
Listen to: Here Come the Vultures, Your Body is a Battleground & Tell Me, Mechanist

6) DragonForce - Maximum Overload
After showing on 2011's The Power Within that they could survive a singer change with ease, Maximum Overload shows the band branching out and pushing the boundaries of their established sound to the limit. This is easily the most diverse album the band has done yet, and there even some hints of progressive metal in some of the songs here. The lightning fast power metal is still the main ingredient however (as it should be), but this album shows that the band are not content to only be one thing anymore. Frédéric Leclercq's full integration into the songwriting process has certainly helped, and this is a watershed piece of work for the band.
Listen to: No More, Symphony of the Night & The Sun is Dead

5) Sabaton - Heroes
After Carolus Rex, Sabaton get back to doing what they do best - pure power metal - on their seventh studio album Heroes. It is their first album since the big line-up overhaul that happened a couple of years ago, and the new members really have fit into the band well and this album sounds brilliant. I would say that the band have written some of their best songs for this album, and the lead guitar work has improved hugely with the inclusion of Chris Rörland and Thobbe Englund into the line-up. Joakim Brodén steals the show as always though with his commanding vocal performance, and this is an album that I never tire of hearing.
Listen to: Night Witches, To Hell and Back & Solider of 3 Armies

4) The Quireboys - Black Eyed Sons
Coming less than a year after the hugely successful Beautiful Curse was released, The Quireboys were clearly on a roll. For a band that is constantly on the road somewhere, they had not released an album since 2008, so having two in two years really was a treat. Black Eyed Sons is not quite as good as it's predecessor, but in many ways it rocks harder with plenty of raw, riff-driven tracks with a few ballads thrown in for good measure. Spike is in fine voice, and the loose guitar interplay between Guy Griffin and Paul Guerin is a magical as ever. Plus, included in a package that includes two full live shows (one on CD and one on DVD), this is an album that every rock fan needs!
Listen to: Troublemaker (Black Eyed Son), Double Dealin' & Monte Cassino (Lady Lane)

3) Edguy - Space Police: Defenders of the Crown
As I have said many times on this blog, Tobias Sammet is probably the most consistent and prolific songwriter in metal today. Either Edguy or his project Avantasia always have an album on way, and they are usually always good. Space Police: Defenders of the Crown is the best Edguy album in quite some time, probably since 2004's Hellfire Club! Sammet is in fine voice, and lead guitarist Jens Ludwig is on top form with plenty of tasty riffs and solos. In a year that has been good for power metal, this is an album that really stands out, and keeps calling me back again and again. The song Space Police probably has the best chorus of the year too!
Listen to: Space Police, Defenders of the Crown & The Eternal Wayfarer

2) Threshold - For the Journey
Over the past few years, Threshold have become one of my favourite bands. Their brand of highly melodic and polished progressive metal might be too safe for some, but their albums are always chock full of soaring tunes that you cannot help but get into. Damian Wilson puts in the vocal performance of the lifetime on this album, and you can tell he really feels at home back in the band now. This line-up of the band might be their best ever, with guitarist Pete Morton contributing another stunning song Siren Sky and the usual writing duo of Karl Groom and Richard West churning out yet more irresistible choruses.
Listen to: The Box, Autumn Red & Siren Sky

1) Mostly Autumn - Dressed in Voices
People who know me well could probably have guessed what my album of the year would be! I have been a Mostly Autumn fan for ages now and while I have always enjoyed their new releases, I was not prepared for just how good this was going to be. It is the band's first concept album, and Bryan Josh and Olivia Sparnenn's lyrics really draw you into the story, and the album becomes a thoroughly engrossing listen. My words cannot do it justice, so do yourself a favour and get a copy. While the band have better individual songs on other albums, as a whole piece of work, the band have never done better!
Listen to: Skin on Skin, The Last Day & Dressed in Voices

So, there you go! I doubt many of these choices will come as a surprise to those who know the type of music I am into. However, there are some albums that came very close to being included. One that missed out by a whisker was Epica's The Quantum Enigma that was not included because I just do not feel I am even halfway to really understanding all that is going on with it, more time is needed! Other excellent albums that need mentioning are Scar Symmetry's highly melodic The Singularity (Phase I - Neohumanity), Arch Enemy's excellent post-singer change War Eternal and the fourth album from progressive rockers Panic Room Incarnate that just suffers from not being as memorable as the previous two. Anyway, here's to 2015 and much more great music to come!

Top 3 gigs of 2014:

3) Dream Theater, Wembley Arena, 14/02/2014
Supporting last year's excellent self-titled release, Dream Theater came to town and blew everyone away with their two and a half hour show that contained fan favourites and deeper album cuts. Lots of the new album was played, along with the whole second half of 1994's Awake which was a real treat for the long-time fans. The whole band was on top form, with James LaBrie's vocals really standing out and showing that seasoned professionals can always improve and break new ground. A stunning evening of music from some of the best in the business.

2) Mostly Autumn, The Wharf, 25/07/2014
I always enjoy Mostly Autumn shows, but this one was the best I have seen them play in ages. Having Chris Johnson back in the band really helped give them a bit of a kick up the backside, and the second half the show where they played the whole of Dressed in Voices was something special to behold. I was really hoping that they would do this, but with their setlists becoming slightly stagnant recently I was worried that they would not do it. I am so glad they did though, as this is an album that needs to be heard in full, and it worked very well in the live setting.

1) The Quireboys, Rescue Rooms, 28/11/2014
While their show in Calstock in August was stunning, there was something about this Anniversary show in Nottingham that just took it to another level. The band were so tight, and it was so loud that while they were playing you could not think about anything else other than what song was currently being played. With a career-spanning setlist, including some from Black Eyed Sons, and a large crowd of die-hard fans that sung every word - it just created an atmosphere that was one of the best I have ever experienced at a concert.