Bioplan – Epipath & Ocular Review

GenreProgressive Metal (Synthwave Fusion)
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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Dynazty – The Dark Delight Review

GenreMelodic Metal
Release Date3 April 2020
Record LabelAFM

Where a lot of bands would suffer severe burnout after releasing a new album every two years for more than a decade, Dynazty are sounding fresher than ever in their seventh record, The Dark Delight. Full of electronic elements and powerful melodies, there’s far more between the lines than just modern flare. The Swedish melodic metallers have struck gold with an album that bursts with commercial accessibility and badass heavy metal in equal measure.

The uniqueness this album contains is surprising, considering frontman Nils Molin has also been busy as the new male vocalist of the Swedish pop metal group Amaranthe. Despite a similar core sound (colossal drums and guitars, bouncy synth melodies), The Dark Delight retains its individuality, even when compared to Dynazty’s own previous stuff.

Most of the tracks have identical styles, staying heavy and darker for the verses then lightening up a bit on the chorus. Although, Dynazty do an excellent job at keeping every song sounding unique while working around this idea. The melodies are strong and catchy and the beats carry serious headbangability, so it’s easy to see why The Dark Delight holds its own with other modern metal bands like Amaranthe, Delain, or The Dark Element.

The highlight for me isn’t the catchiness, or the electronic elements, or the massive guitars, or the colourful drumming. No, for me, the highlight is undoubtedly the soloing. Seriously. These guys lay down some serious shreds.

Even if you aren’t a fan of this style, The Dark Delight is commendable enough to warrant a listen. It’s not often a poppy metal album is full of so much detail, so if killer vocals, guitars, and drums aren’t good enough for you, maybe they will be.

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Навьяра – Призыв Велеса Review

GenreFolk Metal
Release Date10 February 2020
Record LabelKryrart

Belarus’ brand new folk metallers, Navyara (sorry, I’m not gonna copy and paste “Навьяра” every single time) have started their metal career on a high note. As their first offering of forest steel, Призыв Велеса is captivating, light, and expressive. Plus, unlike 90% of other new bands, there’s no filler material, but there’s still more than enough variety to keep you hooked.

While the album isn’t dreary, it’s a lot more somber than what you might expect (except the closer, which is pretty cheery). This is partially due to its groove-driven nature, as opposed to many folk metal bands who rely more on upbeat melodies. Additionally, Navyara’s black metal influences are immediately noticeable, especially in the guitar tremolo that occupies much of the album, which further adds to Призыв Велеса‘s more mystical energy.

As far as instrumentation goes, everything is pretty fucking great. The guitars are killer right from the opener and do a fantastic job at laying the foundation of the atmospheres with climbing riffs and steady chugging. Oh, and the solos are sick, especially for this style of folk metal. On the other hand, the violin, flute, and female vocal melodies effortlessly pull the music forward.

One of my favourite tracks is ‘Поруганное капище’ because it’s really just the whole album crammed into one song. It’s mostly uptempo, but the feel is constantly changing. On top of that, the flowing of the melody/countermelody over the rapid chugging of the rhythm section makes for a cool effect (although the same could be said about most of the album).

All in all, Призыв Велеса is an excellent kickoff for an excellent band. Fans of bands like Kernunna, Velesar, Tuatha de Danann, or just clean folk metal that isn’t too in-your-face will thoroughly enjoy Navyara’s pagan offerings.

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Diabulus In Musica – Euphonic Entropy Review

GenreSymphonic Power Metal
Release Date15 February 2020
Record LabelNapalm

While some people can’t seem to keep their marriage from falling the fuck apart for more than a week, husband-and-wife combo Zuberoa Aznárez and Gorka Elso have released the fifth album of their band, Diabulus In Musica. Euphonic Entropy is an absolute monster of a symphonic metal album, delivering emotion, variety, and energy in equal parts. Every song is a mixed bag, so you can be damn sure that this album will exceed expectations.

Euphonic Entropy has a little bit of everything: electronics, choirs, orchestrations, folk instruments, rough vocals, colossal guitars. What’s more, these elements are all actually tastefully integrated into a chunky metal backdrop to create epic atmospheres and massive soundscapes, with the occasional light moment. It’s lean in the solo department (entirely devoid of solos, in fact), but the heavy grooves, breakdowns, and instrumentation are rich enough that it isn’t an issue. The guitars and female vocals are both captivating enough as it is, so it’s probably for the best to be solo-free.

Now, while the album as a whole is cohesively incredible, there’s one song that I seriously can’t get enough of. ‘The Misfit’s Swing’, as you probably guessed from the title, is a metal swing track. Actually, let me clarify; ‘The Misfit’s Swing’ is the fucking epitome of metal swing and is everything I want in such a song. God damn. I want an entire genre of this shit. Yeah, there’s the odd band like Diablo Swing Orchestra that does it, but, man. This track is something else. It satisfies both the metalhead and the jazzman in me.

Fortunately, Euphonic Entropy has so much more to offer than just one killer song. There’s the ballad ‘Blurred Dreams, the Eluveitie-esque ‘Otoi’, and a flowwy symphonic-only track, plus a healthy dose of chugging, pounding, backbreaking metal. If you want modern symphonic metal done right, look no further.

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Ironflame – Blood Red Victory Review

GenreHeavy Power Metal
CountryUSA (Ohio)
Release Date7 February 2020
Record LabelDivebomb

US power metal warriors Ironflame have thundered forth with their third album in four years, Blood Red Victory. Within, you will find eight testosterone-fueled metal hymns of epic aggression. The album is grittier than their previous two works, but it retains that same centurion spirit which Ironflame command so easily.

On a side note, I think I’m throwing around the word “them” a bit too much, because Ironflame’s studio lineup is a one-man show. It’s the product of the mutitalented Andrew D’Cagna, who has proven himself to be a true metal man, through-and-through. Personally, I’m not usually a fan of one-man albums because they just seem to be lacking something (Devin Townsend would be a perfect example of this), but Blood Red Victory is such a fucking banger that I don’t even care. As far as I’m considered, D’Cagna is actually just a dude playing a dude disguised as another dude. (Tropic Thunder anyone?)

Anyway, back to the album. This is exactly what I picture when I hear the term “US power metal”. It’s got that classic metal aesthetic combined with modern power metal energy and, well, it’s fucking powerful. There’s a great mix of tracks, from fast drivers to slower, more foreboding tracks like ‘Blood Red Cross’. One of the best things about Blood Red Victory, though, if the fact that you could start with literally any track and get hooked on the album right away. Each song is fucking sick. Simple as that.

And then we get to those fucking guitars. Every track goes from sick riff to sick riff. Seriously. From the first seconds of the opener to the album’s demise, it’s a shitshow of a riffshow. And I barely need to mention how killer the solos are.

On top of the relentless shredding of the guitars, the melodies are simplistic yet memorable, which gives a bit of that Iron Maiden treatment to the songs, where you know full well the isn’t much to the melody yet you’ll happily find yourself wanting to belt them out (in my own not-so-humble opinion, these are the best types of melody). While some of my favourites are in ‘Seekers of the Blade’ and ‘On Ashen Wings’, every song is irresistibly catchy. And, the vocal layering only adds to this.

So, yeah. If you want a lion’s share of traditional metal and power metal all in one, this is as close as you’re gonna get. D’Cagna is a fucking metal genius and I pray to the gods that he won’t be finished any time soon.

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Crystal Eyes – Starbourne Traveler Review

GenreMelodic Heavy Metal
Release Date6 December 2019
Record LabelMassacre

Of all the “crystal” bands to release an album this year (Crystal Sky, Crystal Viper, Crystal Ball, I think that’s it?), Sweden’s Crystal Eyes have topped the competition. Starbourne Traveler sees the melodic heavy metallers perform a wide array of styles in ten super-melodic tracks of anthemic true metal. With influences including Judas Priest, Accept, U.D.O., and Running Wild, you can expect one hell of a ride.

The album begins with its grittiest foot forward in metal-worshipping ‘Gods of Disorder’ and continues to expand from there. There are a few tracks that are primarily hard rock, such as ‘Paradise Powerlord’ and ‘Corridors of Time’, which tread closely to classic Van Halen in terms of riffage and melody. There’s also a hefty serving of catchy, 80s hair metal to enjoy, as well as some power metal drivers in ‘Extreme Paranoia’ and the piratey closer, ‘Rage on the Sea’. In terms of variety, Crystal Eyes have held nothing back, which is impressive considering that they retain a solid core sound throughout Starbourne Traveler‘s entirety.

If you’re looking for highlights, the axemanship is easily my favourite aspect of the album. The non-stop riffs, chugging rhythms, and tasteful solos are enough on their own to suck you into the album. Fortunately, everything else is pretty fucking solid, so there’s no need to cherry pick. Well, everything except for the ballad, ‘Empire of Saints’, which is kinda mopey and boring, but hey, the rest of the album is excellent.

Starbourne Traveler has no trouble in bringing the classic Crystal Eyes sound (in fact, the songs ‘Extreme Paranoia’ and ‘Rage on the Sea’ are rerecordings from the band’s debut, World of Black and Silver) with the clarity and weight of modern heavy metal. There’s something here for fans of old-school rock and metal as well as newer metalheads, so don’t miss the shiniest “crystal” of the year!

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Rhodium – Sea Of The Dead Review

GenreHeavy/Power Metal
Release Date3 December 2019
Record LabelSliptrick

Greek heavy/power warriors Rhodium released their debut just last year, but they’ve already thundered down with a new album. Fueled with all-new members (with the exception of guitarist/founder Loukas Antoniou) and a new record deal with Sliptrick Records, Sea of the Dead unleashes nine energetic, riff-heavy tracks that hide a few progressive surprises.

Sea of the Dead aligns stylistically with other Greek power metal bands such as Firewind and Diviner. It’s grittier, rawer, and more heavy metal-influenced than your usual Euro-power and it packs some seriously ferocious solos. However, one of the forces behind Rhodium’s individuality is the piercing and charismatic vocals of Mike Lee, who can fire everything from relentless power to careful emotion from his mighty pipes (peak performances coming in ‘Sisters of Fate’ and ‘Tapestry of Time’). In fact, the vocals are so versatile that they could be compared to bands like Running Wild and Iron Maiden at times.

As for the album itself, everything is fucking fantastic. It starts with a hard drive and sees its first change of pace in the third song, ‘First Light of Day’. After this, the album continues to diversify, delivering some more badass heavy metal hymns and dark moments, as well as two dynamic tracks that sit above the six-minute mark, and a ballad. However, the most unusual track by far is ‘Sisters of Fate’. It utilizes a lot of female choral vocals, which are unheard of in the rest of the album, and its chorus is like a mid-80s pump up anthem. It’s weird, it’s shrill, and it’s the best god damn song Sea of the Dead has to offer.

As far as favourites go, I covered some of it already. But, aside from the powerful vocals, elite guitarwork, and being blindsided by ‘Sisters of Fate’, I really enjoy the drum groves in ‘Tapestry in Time’, as well as the entirety of ‘Fight Back’, which is a no-bullshit banger with the single best solo on the album.

Front to back, Sea of the Dead is a killer ride. It’s always a gamble to release an album with a lineup that hasn’t made music together before, but Rhodium have defied the odds by releasing a record that’s fun, fresh, and ferociously addicting.

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Signum Regis – The Seal Of A New World Review

GenrePower Metal
Release Date22 November 2019
Record LabelBeyond the Storm

After more than a decade of metal mastery, it seems like Slovakia’s Signum Regis are incapable of making a bad album. The mighty power metallers never fail to deliver an exciting, heroic adventure that swings the sword of sick riffs and their six album, The Seal of a New World, sees the band return to familiar lands. Between ultra-catchy melodies and jumpy energy, you won’t know what’s gonna be thrown at you next.

A large part Signum Regis’ success comes from their mostly-steady lineup, but the band’s new vocalist, Jota Fortinho, has quickly found a comfortable place within the band. His high, deliberate voice is the perfect match to the Signum Regis sound, and he adds a fair amount of expression to the arrangements, which are already pretty dynamic.

While the vocals are on fucking point and the songwriting is unsurprisingly excellent, the real power behind the album comes from axeman Filip Kolus. Between his eccentric riffs and incredible facemelters of power metal fury, there’s no holding this guy back. The drums and bass (which actually holds a prominent place in the mixing, which is more than I can say about 80% of power metal bands) hold the sound solid around him, but he elevates the music to another level.

If I were to name favourite songs, I’d end up picking at least half the tracklist, so I won’t bother doing that (although, the best chorus would have to go to ‘Phantasmagoria’). But, you can rest assured that there is a surplus of variety and skill so, no matter which song you decide to explore first, you’ll be diving right into the rest.

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Scarleth – Vortex Review

GenreMelodic Metal
Release Date15 November 2019
Record LabelRockshots

The past weeks haven’t skimped out on great melodic metal one bit and Scarleth have carried this momentum in their latest effort, Vortex. It’s bright, it’s melodic, and it offers a wide variety while still hanging onto a distinct, recognizable sound. Aside from guitarist and founder, Viktor Morozov, the album has an all-new lineup. Fronted by Ekaterina Kapshuk‘s expressive vocals, each riff-heavy track belts a considerable amount of energy and badassery.

Vortex combines elements of heavy, power, symphonic, and gothic metal, synthpop, and even Middle Eastern and folk music. On top of that, the album is full of colourful rhythm section parts and some sick guitar solos. Seriously. They suddenly explode into existence and demand your attention with shredtastic, sweep-picked mystery. The result of this well-balance mixture is a memorable melodic metal album that’s sure to be a favourite among fans of the genre.

One thing worth mentioning is the fact that, though the album is super melodic, I wouldn’t necessarily call most of the choruses catchy. Sure, there are a few, like ‘Feel the Heat’ and ‘Break the Chains’, but the tunes don’t do much to make you want to sing along, like so many pop metal albums do (or try to do, at least). This isn’t a bad quality, as the melodies are still strong, it’s just something that separates it from the norm in the space.

As far as my favourite tracks go, I think ‘Escape from Your Embrace’ wins it. It’s crazy dynamic and features excellent piano parts all the way through, plus it has one of the best facemelters. It also ramps up the whole Middle Eastern thing and unleashes some fucking ferocious growls. Additionally, ‘Ostannya Zorya’, as the folkiest tune on the album, is worth mentioning, as well as ‘Final Curtain’, which, expectedly, has a gothic/circussy feel, similar to Amberian Dawn’s Circus Black.

Despite having a new lineup, Scarleth maintain a tight, experienced sound. From beginning to end, there’s no telling what Vortex will lay down next. The whole album is pleasant surprise after pleasant surprise. Even if you go into this album with high expectations, I bet you’ll still be impressed with this shiny piece of modern metal.

*Also, bonus points for actually having fucking FIRE in the music video.*

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The Dark Element – Songs The Night Sings Review

GenreSymphonic Melodic Metal
Release Date8 November 2019
Record LabelFrontiers

The Dark Element was formed in 2016 by former Nightwish vocalist Anette Olzon and former Sonata Arctica guitarist Jani Liimatainen. Their self-titled debut combined elements of symphonic metal and pop to deliver a strong, synth-heavy melodic metal album. While that debut was pretty good, their sophomore effort, Songs the Night Sings blows it out of the fucking water. The sound is fuller, the arrangements are more diverse, and everything else has gotten a serious upgrade.

All of the aspects of The Dark Element that were good still remain. Anette’s vocals (while a bit more chesty and less sharp this time around) are as good as ever and belt out some excellent melodies. On top of that, the electronic and synth elements are lively, and a powerful energy is carried through the whole album. However, the synth stuff is now supported by orchestrations and the guitarwork is way more intricate. Combine this with a beefier production and you quickly see why this could be the best melodic metal album of the year.

Another area in which Songs the Night Sings excels in is variety. There’s not a whole lot you won’t find in this album; there are lighter songs in ‘I Have to Go’ and ‘To Whatever End’, intense, riff-heavy tracks like ‘The Pallbearer Walks Alone’ and ‘Not Your Monster’, and everything in between. The album also flows really smoothly, with well-constructed ups-and-downs, allowing for the emotionality to run organically.

Aside from all this, the biggest improvement is in the little things. While I really enjoyed The Dark Element, my primary complaint was the lack of detail. Fortunately, this is the farthest thing from being an issue here because it’s full to the brim with expertly-placed touches. Some of my favourites include the synthwork in ‘The Pallbearer Walks Alone’, the 7/4 section in ‘Pills on my Pillow’, the killer guitar solos, and the funky instrumental in ‘Get Out of My Head’, but that’s just scratching the surface of what this album has to offer.

If you’re looking for an electronic/metal crossover that works, look no further than Songs the Night Sings. It brings all the weight and emotion of metal and tops it off with a shiny, melodic finish without losing any musical integrity.

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