Asgard – Ragnarøkkr Review

Score3/10
GenreProgressive Folk Metal
CountryItaly
Runtime
Release Date15 May 2020
Record LabelPride & Joy

I was previously unfamiliar with Italy’s progressive folk metal group, Asgard. The band released five albums between 1991 and 2000, so it’d be unsurprising if they’ve flown under a few other radars, too. But, for reasons that’re unknown to me, they’ve chosen 2020 as the year they release their comeback album! Entitled Ragnarøkkr, if this is anything to judge Asgard off, I really wasn’t missing much by never hearing them.

Ragnarøkkr‘s overall sound can be compared to a cheery, wannabe folk Blind Guardian. Aside from the simple highland melodies, the production quality and rawness are similar, and it tries to be dynamic and emotive (plus it’s clear that the vocals strive for a Hansi Kursch approach). Unfortunately, it fails time and time again. Every time a decent musical idea pops up, it changes direction for no real reason other than to change direction, with no effort at all on transition or musicality. The fucked up thing is, though, that there’s no real technicality going on to explain all of these transitions, either, so you can’t even dismiss it as a prog band doing prog things. It’s more like a bunch of amateur musicians just discovered that songs could have multiple sections and went, “Hey guys, what if instead of writing a cohesive song we crammed fifty clashing feels together, back-to-back, with no warning?” Yeah, great fucking idea, right?

Anyway, if the bad songwriting wasn’t enough, the melodies are all really weak, the vocals are uninspired, the guitarwork is subpar, and the organs are. . . good enough, I guess. If I had to pick a specific least favourite part of the album, it would have to be the end of the final track, ‘Ragnarøkkr’; the song is about to end when, as if culminating every shitty transition the album features, it fades out while at the same time the chorus fades in again. I mean, seriously. What the fuck is that? As if the album wasn’t already messy enough, they just had to go and basically say, “Yeah, we KNOW it’s messy, so let us just leave you with this sour taste in your mouth,”.

One almost-redeeming quality in Ragnarøkkr is the use of a recurring melody, which is introduced in ‘Kali Yuga’ and returns in the closer. It’s kind of a shit melody, but hey, at least they tried. Some of the drumwork is good, too, so it’s not entirely a lost cause. Aside from that, there are a couple decent solo sections, like in ‘Visions’, but there’s a really jarring halftime cut in that one that throws off the entire thing.

Like I said, before Ragnarøkkr, I had never heard of Asgard, and, in all honesty, I’d be better off if I never did. This is one album you can judge by its cover: messy, confusing, and kinda crap.

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Bioplan – Epipath & Ocular Review

Score9/10
GenreProgressive Metal (Synthwave Fusion)
CountrySweden
Runtime49:20
Release Date29 May 2020
Record LabelLayered Reality

The ever-busy multi-instrumentalist Andi Kravljaca (Aeon Zen, Thaurorod, Nibiru Ordeal) is back with another dose of nostalgia-laden shred madness in the second installment of Bioplan. Epipath & Ocular is functionally a double EP, featuring the previous EP’s (Ocular’s) tracklist, as well as five new tracks in the Epipath section. If you’re coming in never having heard of Bioplan before, expect to hear chunky djent and intense, glowing synthwave in equal measure. You can also expect to be blown away, because this shit is destructive.

I’m only gonna cover the new portion of the album, because I already wrote a review for Ocular last year, which you can read here if you’re so inclined. The biggest difference Epipath has from its predecessor is that it is way more synthy. There’s a lot more emphasis on atmosphere this time around, but there’s still no shortage to relentless neoclassical shredding or flying guitar melodies. Furthermore, the numerous background synth harmonies, melodies, and syncopated drumming are as on point as ever, so the album is an all-around blast.

The album begins with a very Flash Arnold opener in ‘Ingress’, which leans very far onto the more atmospheric side of things. There’s still a fair amount of shredding, but it’s nice to get something different right off the top. However, staying true to the core of Bioplan, the album continues into ‘Perspex Cassidy’, which offers more of that familiar Jeff-Beck-meets-Joe-Satriani-meets-modern-prog experience.

While the entire album features truly masterful guitarwork, highlights can be found in the entirety of ‘He’s a Transporter’ and my personal favourite song on the record, ‘Atomic Era Cocktails’ (which also has a mean fucking synth solo by Harri Koskela, a cool dubsteppy section, and a super trippy fade into the outro).

Another thing I noticed is the fact that the naming conventions for songs is entirely different this time around. Where Ocular had pretty generic modern prog titles like ‘Inclement’ and ‘Refractive’, Epipath has a little more fun with things (most of which I’ve already mentioned).

Anyway, fans of cheesy 80s synthwave, technical prog, or instrumental fusion with undoubtedly love Epipath & Ocular. It’s got all the flair, skill, and facemelting fuckery you could want, all wrapped up in a retro-yet-crystal-clear package.

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Power Metal: New Music Video From Dyscordia

Belgian progressive powerhouse Dyscordia has released a new music video for their song, ‘This House” which is from their album Delete / Rewrite, which came out in January.

Piet Overstijns on the video: “Not only should you stay in the house, you should stay in ‘This House’!!!”  

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Ivanhoe – Blood And Gold Review

Score8.5/10
GenreProgressive Metal
CountryGermany
Runtime38:33
Release Date20 March 2020
Record LabelMassacre

German prog veterans Ivanhoe have returned with another prog piece that hearkens back to the classic prog of the late 80s/early 90s. Blood and Gold is the band’s eighth full-length release in their thirty-five year career, but it holds true as one of their most essential releases ever. This compact, groove-driven style of prog will especially be a hit for fans of golden-age Queensryche and Fates Warning.

Blood and Gold does a lot of things right. First and foremost, the runtime is short and sweet (and the songs are all around the four-minute range); there’s no fat around the edges, it’s just no-bullshit prog with experimental, time-changey grooves and sick facemelters in a manageable space. As such, it’s perfect for prog fans who don’t have the attention span to be serious prog fans. Next in line are the drums, which are absolutely killer from the very first song, courtesy of the band’s brand new drummer, Bernd Heining. His fills are great and his beats are many, which is the crucial element in keeping the more laid-back tunes interesting (which is like two thirds of the album). It’s also worth mentioning that the mixing is perfect for an album like this. The guitars and drums sound closer to traditional metal than the colossal, crisp onslaught that most modern prog delivers. Don’t get me wrong, I live for clean and disgustingly heavy, but the softer, more lo-fi production quality has its place, too.

Outside of just comparing it to “early 90s prog”, the overall sound of the album is pretty melancholic, putting a greater emphasis on emotional hooks and guitar countermelodies than explosive riffs. There’s a serious level of technicality, though, most evident in the songs ‘Solace’ and ‘Perfect Tragedy’ (both of which are my favourite tracks), where the time changes are many and the rhythm section is on fucking point.

Between strong songwriting, great musicianship, and that classic feel, Blood and Gold is definitely worth checking out. Also, make sure to keep your ears open, because there’re a ton of little details in the album which I didn’t even touch on (like a sax solo in ‘Shadow Play’).

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Power Metal: Immortal Guardian Begin Recording New Album

Immortal Guardian released their widely-acclaimed debut, Age of Revolution, in 2018. They took the US power metal scene by storm with their self-branded “super metal”, which combines elements of prog, power melodeath to create an over-the-top, epic intensity.

The band recently announced that they are beginning the work on their sophomore effort.

While the details remain hidden, it is set for a Fall release.

Brazilian-born vocalist Carlos Zema on the album:
“This is a very different album from our previous releases in that there’s a wide range of emotions involved. We’ve experienced our fair share of loss since the last release and a lot of life lessons were poured into this album, giving it a very real and personal vibe. From a technical vocal aspect, this is the first album I’ve ever recorded where I’ve spanned five octaves as a singer, and I’m excited for the world to hear the message and sound we’ve created together as a group.”

Guitarist/Keyboardist Gabriel Guardian:
“The recording process has been interesting to say the least. Working with a drummer over 2,000 miles away has its obstacles, but Justin and his drum engineer Jesse Zito made the experience way smoother than we imagined. Thanks to technology, video calls and hundreds of back-and-forth messages, we pulled off something that wouldn’t have been possible years ago. We’re incredibly proud of the new material and are looking forward to wrapping up the final mix with Joshua and getting some new music out for all the Guardians to hear!”

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Progressive Metal: Scardust Release Track From Upcoming Album

Israeli symphonic proggers Scardust have released a live video for the first single, ‘Tantibus II’, of their upcoming album. While there are no further details of the album, it is set to come out this Fall.

Scardust is a ferocious female-fronted prog outfit that was founded in 2015. The band released their debut album, Sands of Time, in 2017.

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Top 25 Metal Albums Of 2019

Future generations will look back on 2019 as the Year of Power Metal. With very few exceptions, every major power metal band released new material this year, most of which was nothing short of excellent.

However, power metal wasn’t the only dominating force this year. Most of the big prog, heavy, and folk players also released albums, as well as bands that I don’t give a shit about like Slipknot, TOOL, and pretty well everything on the extreme metal side of things.

Anyway, the following features twenty five of the best “melodic” metal albums of the year! The competition was steep; of the 380+ albums I listened to this year, almost seventy of them were serious contenders for this list.

Also, you might notice that, despite a few placements in my monthly Top Tens and my scoring in general, some albums listed here are higher or lower than they “should” be. The main reason here is that, surprise surprise, opinions can change with time, and so can music.

Regardless, you can be damn certain that the following 25 metal albums are the best to come out of the monster than was 2019!

25. Elvenking – Reader of the Runes – Divination

Elvenking’s tenth album, Reader of the Runes – Divination, kicks all sort of ass, pagan-style. Fans will be pleased that Divination still retains the core Elvenking sound: a primarily-pop/punk vocal style, folk melodies, proggy song structure, and a power metal energy. Conversely, though, the album is as much a breath of fresh air as it is an Elvenking album, as it takes the band in two directions that they haven’t really explored in depth before; the road of Divination is generally darker and heavier than their previous material, and it also brings a whole concept that tells of a journey into a mystical world of runes and magic. It’s not the band’s best, but it’s really fucking good.

Full Review

24. HammerFall – Dominion

Since their founding in 1993, heavy metal templars HammerFall have fought to continue the legacy of 80s heavy metal, smithing more than ten full-length records and establishing themselves as Sweden’s and Europe’s premier heavy metal masters. Their latest album, Dominion, is an epic powerhouse that easily contends with their early material in terms of quality and heart.

Full Review

23. Rhodium – Sea of the Dead

Sea of the Dead is the latest offering of Greek power metal (think Firewind, Diviner, stuff like that). Featuring an almost all-new lineup, the album drives forth with exceptional guitarwork and even more impressive vocals, which sit somewhere between the usual, coarse Greek power vocals and higher Euro power norm. This is one hell of a sophomore album and is more than strong enough to earn spot on this list.

Full Review

22. Chaos Magic – Furyborn

Caterina Nix’s second installment of Chaos Magic is, quite simply, amazing. Written alongside Chilean musician Nasson, Furyborn is a far cry from its predecessor and exchanges its typical symphonic metal sound for a more original, albeit poppy, take on melodic metal. It’s full of sick guitars, killer melodies, and boundless attitude. This “pop” metal album blows all other pop metal albums out of the water.

Full Review

21. Frozen Crown – Crowned in Frost

Frozen Crown have solidified their sound in a heavier, grittier, more diverse power metal offering than their debut. This female fronted (or should I say, “female fueled,” due to vocalist Jade Etro as well as eighteen-year-old southpaw shredder Talia Bellazecca) powerhouse has created an exceptionally refined record that blasts forth with elements from harsh death metal, traditional heavy metal, and everything in between. Pair that with elaborate guitarwork and numerous vocal styles and you have yourself one ferocious album!

Full Review

20. Finsterforst – Zerfall

Furious German folkers Finsterforst are back with a fifth backbreaking album, complete with lengthy arrangements, chanted melodies, and intense orchestrations. Zerfall is a very unique take on folk metal, combining keyboards, orchestras, and heavy guitars with elements of death metal and folk melodies (sorta like Wintersun but heavier). The choruses have a slight ring of Orden Ogan to them that amplifies already-huge atmospheres, so it’s safe to say that you’re in for a poundingly heavy ride with this one.

19. Amulet – The Inevitable War

Blasting forth with a fresh lineup, Amulet’s sophomore record is an exceptional work of classic metal. The Inevitable War takes the band to new heights and is the best classic metal album of the year.

There’s really nothing to dislike. The mixing is flawless, the band is exceptionally talented, and the music simply bleeds energy. Each anthemic chorus hits with a similar impact as classic Manowar, and the galloping rhythm section chugs away with the likeness of Iron Maiden. Get your fix of the classics with this very new release.

Full Review

18. Control the Storm – Forevermore

This album is incredible: female-fronted power metal at its finest. The overall atmosphere is bright and energetic, and it’s fueled by symphonic components, folk elements, and rich vocal harmonies. Plus, the arrangements are dynamic and exceptionally written. If you haven’t heard of them before, this album is all you need to get excited about Control the Storm.

Full Review

17. Manegarm – Fornaldarsagor

In their best album in probably a decade, Manegarm have something grand in Fornaldarsagor. While primarily a coarser folk metal work, there’s the usual inclusion of impending black metal elements, as well as some female and clean male vocals. While the formula of Fornaldarsagor is typical of Manegarm, far more care has been taken regarding the songwriting that the past three albums.

16. ShadowStrike – Legends of Human Spirit

Legends of Human Spirit is probably the strongest power metal debut of the entire year. It’s insanely fast, vibrant, true power metal to the core. It’s really as simple as that. ShadowStrike, hailing from New York, have busted out of the gate with a DragonForce-influenced sound that manages to steer clear of being too derivative, delivering a unique, shredtastic album.

Part of the driving force of this individuality is the band’s tasteful use of symphonic elements (I would never consider this album “symphonic metal”, though) as well as sophisticated song arrangements. With nothing short of excellent on the record, ShadowStrike have quickly become one of my favourite power metal bands, ever.

Full Review

15. Noveria – Aequilibrium

Italian proggers Noveria don’t fuck around. As soon as it starts, Aequilibrium explodes into high-intensity with a death metal atmosphere and epic choirs. Through the rest of the album, we encounter sick riff after sick riff (not the least of which can be found in ‘Awakening’ and ‘Broken’) in all their beefy, syncopated glory, as well as beautiful interludes and pulled back sections. Another aspect that makes Aequilibrium stand out is the fact that, while there’s a dark tone to most of the album, it’s never depressing and it’s always energetic.

Full Review

14. Scimitar – Shadows of Man

Canadian pagan metal warriors Scimitar have been around for just over a decade. Early on in their career, they released their debut album, Black Waters, but the band took a bit of a break soon after. Now, nine years later, the band have finally unleashed their sophomore album. Shadows of Man is gritty, furious, and packs way more variety into it than I would have ever expected. With a sound that’s in the realm of Ensiferum and Vanir (although far less refined, production-wise), Scimitar’s combination of death, black, and folk elements will be welcome with any fan of the dark side of folk metal.

(Yeah, I know this is, like, the third melodeath/folk metal album on a “melodic metal” list. Deal with it. This is MY house.)

Full Review

13. Brymir – Wings of Fire

Brymir is extreme metal for the power metal fan and Wings of Fire is no exception. If it weren’t for the rough vocals, it’d be epic symphonic power metal through-and-through.No, I shouldn’t say that. It’s way too epic to be just that. It’s the kind of epic that’ll make you believe that you can crush mountains and fly through the sky as the bringer of life or death, sole judge of the universe, with all of the power of the gods in your hands, under your hands, through your hands, about your hands (but not over your hands). It’s that. Fucking. Epic.

Full Review

12. Sabaton – The Great War

This year saw the release of Sabaton’s ninth record: The Great War. Despite a lengthy career of two decades, the Swedish metal heroes are showing no signs of slowing down, and they prove that they’re here to stay by delivering their biggest, boldest, most bombastic blast of metal in years. Other than slamming the epic pedal down to the fucking floor, The Great War separates itself from Sabaton’s prior works by hanging a darker atmosphere over the music, as well as putting more emphasis on classical scales, especially in its guitar solos.

Full Review

11. Majestica – Above the Sky

After six years of hiatus, power metal cheeseballs Majestica (formerly ReinXeed) are back with their seventh album, Above the Sky. Aside from a drastic name change, Majestica’s sound has grown more mature, despite their lyrical content becoming more juvenile than ever. Of course, these are perfect qualities to have in a power metal album: bullshit, nonsensical lyrics over technically impressive music.

Full Review

10. Galneryus – Into the Purgatory

The finest neoclassical power metal band east of the Silk Road have unleashed yet another album of facemelting ferocity. Into the Purgatory is the twelfth album to come from the mighty Galneryus and, despite such a long career, it lives up to the band’s glory, and then some. A slice of Galneryus’ neoclassical edge has been swapped for a bit more of a progressive influence this time around so, while you can still expect a melodic work of shred insanity, it’s different enough from their other albums to keep things feeling new.

Full Review

09. Moonlight Haze – De Rerum Natura

Formed by ex-Temperance members Chiara Tricarico and Giulio Capone 2018, Moonlight Haze is a symphonic metal project that combines the talents of musicians from Elvenking, Sound Storm, and Epica to create a melodic, emotionally dynamic, technically-pleasing work of female fronted metal that stands high above your typical Delain or Nightwish ripoff. Complete with countless folk and world music elements, De Rerum Natura is as unique as a symphonic debut could be.

Full Review

08. Wind Rose – Wintersaga

Dwarf metallers Wind Rose are back with a rugged sound in their fourth album, Wintersaga. As usual, the Tolkien themes are strong, as is evident in half of the song titles. Additionally, the album is split into two sections; the first contains the fun, catchy party tunes, and the second, which encompasses the final three songs, features a more power prog approach that hearkens to the band’s earlier works. However, the core sound of Wind Rose has shifted as a whole from their progressive power metal roots to settle upon a more bombastic, anthemic sound.

Full Review

07. Twilight Force – Dawn of the Dragonstar

As you can expect from Twilight Force, Dawn of the Dragonstar is full of unlimited, overblown storybook energy. With the exception of maybe two moments, the album is consistently happy and heroic from the very first seconds of the galloping ‘Dawn of the Dragonstar’ into its final piano notes. This hyper-melodic, smile-demanding work isn’t just sheen and shine, though; there’s an absolutely staggering degree of talent and proficiency to behold in every track.

Full Review

06. NorthTale – Welcome to Paradise

NorthTale was born of vocalist Christian Eriksson (ex-Twilight Force), drummer Patrick Johansson (ex-Yngwie Malmsteem) and guitar maestro Bill Hudson with the dream of bringing back the glory of late 90s/early 00s power metal. Whether you’re in the mood for that golden-age power metal, anthemic stadium metal, or even a vegan happy meal, Welcome to Paradise delivers all that and more, complete with facemelting solos, exciting diversity, and catchy melodies. This is one of the year’s best power metal albums and is as technically impressive as it is fun.

Full Review

05. Eluveitie – Ategnatos

Eluveitie have hit their peak in their eighth record, Ategnatos. It’s fantastically fluid for such a diverse folk metal album, and, while it retains the trademark Eluveitie sound, it’s a distinct experience from their other releases.

The songs range from huge melodeath blast beats with rough vocals to softer, mournful tracks like ‘Eclipse’. There’s even a bouncy tune in ‘Ambiramus’ that’ll be stuck in your head for weeks (but don’t worry, you’ll welcome it). The broad instrumentation of this Swiss septet includes traditional instruments and shamelessly skilled drums, as well as three different vocal styles, my favourite of which are the versatile pipes of Fabienne Erni. The control she displays is insane and honestly, without her, the album wouldn’t have made it as one of my top picks.

Full Review

04. Wilderun – Veil of Imagination

Not many bands can pull off an exceptional atmospheric album so, when one does, I always get excited. One of the few (and latest) this year to accomplish such a feat are Boston’s Wilderun with their third album, Veil of Imagination. The album combines elements of death, symphonic, progressive, and folk metal to make a sound that bands like Wintersun have been trying so desperately to embody. It expertly conjures deep feelings of wonder, determination, aggression, hate, fear, reflection, and everything in between. With rich orchestrations supporting it, Veil of Imagination is almost impossible colourful.

Full Review

03. Gloryhammer – Legends From Beyond the Galactic Terrorvortex

Epic, cheesy, heroic. These are words I often use when describing my favourite albums, but make no mistake; I only use these words if I mean it. So, if I were to say that Gloryhammer’s third and latest album, Legends from Beyond the Galactic Terrorvortex, was one of the most ridiculously epic tales of heroism that I’ve ever heard from a power metal album, you can be damn sure it’s true.

Between the powerful cries of Angus McFife and the cosmic colours created by the rest of band, there’s no room to criticize the skill of these galactic warriors. Additionally, while the core sound is true, pure power metal (with a healthy dose of symphonic backing tracks), the songwriting is pleasingly dynamic. So, bust out your most enchanted headphones and get a load of this ultra-melodic cheesefest and see for yourself why this just might be the greatest power metal album of the year (or of all fucking time).

Full Review

02. Dream Theater – Distance over Time

Dream Theater are legendary. There’s no question about it. These guys are some of the best musicians metal has to offer, and they’ve given rise to more than a few prog masterpieces. While it’s true that their material has lost a bit of steam over the last decade, Distance over Time recaptures all of their former velocity as their best album since Black Clouds and Silver Linings. There’s a perfect mix of mathematical intricacies, solid melodies, and headbangable grooves, and, despite having a sound that’s closer to their earlier works, this is the freshest they’ve sounded in years.

Full Review

01. Beast in Black – From Hell with Love

Insane solos? Check. The best vocal performance in modern heavy metal? Check. Synthetic fanfares that demand the construction of a training montage? Check. Pack it up, every other band ever. Beast in Black have achieved the pinnacle of music. It’s all downhill from here. Go home. Show’s over. Nothing else will ever excite you as much as this album will.

Just kidding. Well, kind of. From Hell with Love is what every 80s revival album strives to be: catchy, fun, and technically impressive. Between the limitless voice of Yannis Papadopoulos and the songwriting gold of Anton Kabanen, this album holds nothing back. It’s intense. It’s fucking doused in cheese. It’s the pump up record to end all pump up records.

What a year! January is just around the corner, and that means that PowerThorn’s One Year Anniversary is close, too. It was reassuring to watch the viewership increase from a few tens a day all the way up to a few hundred. Between successful weeks of six reviews and desolate weeks of one, it’s been fun so far! Whether this is your first visit or you’re a regular reader, I deeply thank you for your support.

Look forward to more power metal content in 2020!

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Power Metal: Serenity Release New Single

Ahead of their upcoming album, The Last Night, progressive power metallers Serenity have released another single, ‘Souls and Sins’.

The Last Knight, due on 31 January 2020, will be Serenity’s seventh album. This concept album will follow the deeds of Holy Roman Emperor Maximilian I with epic, modern, symphonic metal.

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Sonus Corona – Time Is Not On Your Side Review

Score7/10
GenreProgressive Metal
CountryFinland
Runtime57:25
Release Date22 November 2019
Record LabelInverse

Along with a healthy dose of jazz influences, Finnish proggers Sonus Corona have resurfaced in their sophomore album, Time Is Not on Your Side. Stylistically, the album’s instrumentals often tread closely to Dream Theater, but the overall sound is more indie prog due to the prevalence of piano and the floating vocal style.

Unfortunately, these vocals are the low point of the album. They’re not poorly done, but they’re generally too soft. On top of that, the melancholic melodies (which are sometimes reminiscent of Muse’s melodies, although out-of-place) are so weak compared to the excitement of the surrounding instrumentation that I spent a most of the album waiting for them to be over so I could focus more on the heavy grooves and jazz breaks.

However, every time these grooves take the stage, everything is right with the world. They’re expressive, technical, and heavy, and, when combined with the piano, they produce a truly unique sound. There’s also a wide array of songs with different musical elements, such as club jazz, swing, pop, and metal, so there’s plenty to keep you engaged.

All in all, Time Is Not on Your Side is worth checking out at least once. While the vocals would be a much better fit in, maybe, an underground alternative rock band than a prog band, they’re still commendable and they’re certainly not enough to render the album unlistenable.

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Progressive Metal: New Single From Freaky Jelly

Brazilian proggers Freaky Jelly have released their first single since their debut album in 2017. The band also has a new album on the way for 2020, although no more details have been released yet.

Singer Ricardo De Stefano on ‘When Hope Dies’:
“We tried a different approach in terms of production, getting closer to the sound of modern prog metal bands. Guitars are heavier, keyboards delivers futuristic atmospheres, and there is some tribal elements which gives dynamics to the song. The mood is dark and melancholic.”

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