Saturday, 1 April 2017

Eclipse's 'Monumentum' - Album Review

Despite being around in some form or another since 1999, Sweden's Eclipse have always gone under my radar somewhat. As a follower of Italian record label Frontiers Records, it can sometimes be hard to separate the wheat from the chaff, with many gems getting lost in the sheer amount of releases that the label is involved with. Erik Mårtensson, Eclipse's singer, rhythm guitarist, and principle songwriter, is a name synonymous with Frontiers Records however and I would notice his name cropping up a lot. He has contributed songs to many of the label's studio-based fantasy projects (which the label really does over-indulge in at times!) and has also worked behind the scenes with many of the label's bands, so it is fair to say he has had a big hand in many of the new melodic rock music that is being released by Frontiers. He is also a big part of the AOR supergroup W.E.T. so Mårtensson is a big name in modern day melodic hard rock. Eclipse has always been his main band however, and the band has been around longer than his association with Frontiers Records. The first album of Eclipse's I heard was 2012's Bleed & Scream, which I probably bought not long after it's release after stumbling on one of their songs on Youtube. It has only been recently that I have really began listening to Eclipse regularly however, despite buying 2015's Armageddonize when it was new and enjoying it at the time. There is always so much new music being released that it is hard to keep up, and great music can often fall through the cracks. It is hard to believe that Eclipse's new album, Monumentum, which was released last month is the band's sixth studio effort. In fairness, the band's early releases are hard to get hold of, and it has really been only since 2008's Are You Ready to Rock that the band started to get more attention with a bigger record distribution deal. Those familiar with Eclipse, or any of Mårtensson's other endeavours, will know exactly what to expect with Monumentum, and that is well-crafted and hugely memorable modern AOR songs with a real hard rock edge. Eclipse have never been a band to pack their albums with sugary ballads, and you will find plenty of razor-sharp guitar riffs here which are the perfect foil for Mårtensson's strong vocals. Joining Mårtensson, who handles the vocals, rhythm guitars, and keyboards, on Monumentum are founding lead guitarist Magnus Henriksson, bassist Magnus Ulfstedt, and, for the first time on an Eclipse album, drummer Philip Crusner. Former keyboardist Johan Berlin, who still contributes to the band's albums in the studio, handles much of the album's keyboard duties along with Mårtensson. For fans of good quality hard rock and AOR, with strong modern production values, then Eclipse are a band should be investigated. While admittedly there is nothing here that has not been heard before, the songwriting is so strong that that does not matter.

The Swedes kick things off in style here with the hard rock of Vertigo and Henriksson's first big riff of the album. The song is a strong mid-paced slab of hard rock, but the AOR edge that permeates the band's sound is ever-present with a subtle use of keyboards and excellent vocal harmonies. Mårtensson's voice has always very strong, but his performance throughout this album seems even more urgent and dynamic than usual. The verses of this song are a perfect example of this with some impressive high notes early on that showcase his range. While the chorus is not as anthemic as it could be, the song still proves to be a memorable one and sets out Eclipse's familiar stall on this new album. Never Look Back takes things to another level however with wordless vocals to back up the simple simple, and Mårtensson's opening 'Come on!' rallying call which sets this stadium-sized song off. Crusner's explosive drumming is a big part of the tough verses, and his playing really seems to have given the band a bit of a kick in the behind to rock even harder! The song's chorus is a real winner with a big keyboard backing and a winning vocal display that really hooks you in with the strong melodies. This song is perfect example of Eclipse's sound, and would be an excellent introduction to the band. Killing Me is a bit more laid back, although the hard rocking intro riff (which sounds a bit like Kamelot's My Confession...) still rocks hard with a big keyboard melody that sits over the groovy guitars. The verses are quieter, which gives prominence to Ulfstedt's precise bass playing, and allows Mårtensson to show off a different side of his voice. The song ramps up again during the choruses however, and it is another strong moment with a surprisingly emotional vocal delivery and plenty of excellent harmonies. The album's first two songs did not overly feature Henriksson's soloing ability, but he gets to let rip here with a good-length section to himself. The Downfall of Eden is a strong mid-paced piece of rock, but the sound used here is quite different from the band's usual one. This works well however, and Mårtensson's verse vocals are sung in a much lower register than he usually does. The bass once again dominates the verses, with subtle acoustic guitar strums sitting behind to add colour. The chorus sections are more what you would expect from the band, but the melodies are less overt to fit with the more driving hard rock sound that takes over. The Thin Lizzy-inspired instrumental break is great too, and is probably the highlight of the song. Hurt is the first real slower song here, and opens with a sombre guitar melody and some vocals from Mårtensson which actually sound like they could have been lifted from a modern pop song (until he unleashes a rather big scream that is...) but it works well. As mentioned before, Eclipse have never been a band to fill their albums with lots of ballads, and it is at the hard rocking material that they excel at, but Hurt is a strong song that helps to add some diversity to the album. AOR albums always need a ballad too, so this works perfectly to tick that box. Henriksson's emotional guitar solo is great too! After the downbeat Hurt, Jaded comes along with more of an upbeat vibe to inject some energy back into proceedings. Keyboards dominate here, with lots of retro-sounding synth sounds to back up the guitar riffs. That being said, it is one of the more less-memorable songs on the album and fails to hit the spot that those that have come previously did.

Born to Lead really helps to raise the bar again, with a big John Sykes-esque riff that shows off the talents of Henriksson and really takes the listener back to the heyday of 1980s metal. It is one of my favourite songs on the album, as it just packs so much of a punch with the excellent riff and Mårtensson's stunning vocal performance. The chorus in particular is a real winner melodies that just fill the speakers and really take hold. Henriksson is the star of the song however with his fantastic guitar playing. His solo is a real shred-fest and is the perfect companion for his main riff. Crusner's double bass drumming toward the end, mixed with the Henriksson's guitar playing, really makes this song sound like an outtake from Whitesnake's 1987 album! For Better or for Worse carries on this heavier vibe and builds on the energy of the previous song. While not quite as good as Born to Lead, this song still impresses and uses dynamics wisely to pack a lot into a short space of time. I love the little pre-chorses where everything drops out apart from the vocals and the keyboards, before the rest of the band explode into the chorus which is one of the album's most melodic. The guitar solo is lengthy too and Henriksson once again impresses with plenty of fluid runs. No Way Back is another song that just slips below the standard set by most of the songs here. Much like with Jaded, there is nothing that is particularly wrong with it, it just does not take off and soar like the rest of the material on this album. I think it is just because the melodies are not quite as good and do not stick in your head as easily as they probably should. Following two such excellent songs definitely hurts this song's chances too, and it just comes off as one of the album's weaker moments. Night Comes Crawling is much better and takes the band off in a slightly heavier direction. The murky intro really helps to set the tone, before Crusner's heavy-handed drumming kicks in which fits perfectly with the muscular riff and rumbling bassline that the rest of the band have come up with. The slightly heavier feel suits Eclipse well, but the big melodies that the band are known for are still present. The chorus is another very good one and has a lighter overall tone than the rest of the song with plenty of synths to add depth. This contrast works really well and the song is real winner with a great mix of attitude and melody. Monumentum comes to a close with Black Rain, a song which seems like it will be a ballad with a gentle intro before the main riff kicks in an it is clear that the album is going to end on a high with a deliberately-paced piece of hard rock. It is not an urgent rocker like much else of what is on display here, but instead one that is packed full of grooves and snaking riffs that have a somewhat ominous tone - especially when paired with the synths that have been employed here. Henriksson gets one more chance to show off with a great neo-classical solo towards the end that goes on for a good length and builds up towards a stunning climax with a flurry of shredded notes. Overall, Monumentum is another excellent album from Eclipse that cements their place as one of the best modern melodic hard rock bands. This album probably rocks harder than any of their previous releases, and it is great to see the band continue to push forward and gain more energy as they move through their career.

The album was released on 24th March 2017 via Frontiers Records. Below is the band's promotional video for Never Look Back.

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