Yurei – Saudade Review

Score8.5/10
GenreProgressive Metal/Fusion
CountryCanada
Runtime39:52
Release Date4 October 2019
Record LabelIndependent

Yurei is the instrumental progressive metal project helmed by the Brazilian-born composer/guitarist Gabriel Castro. As you can imagine, this brand of prog is largely influenced by latin music. Their full-length debut, Saudade, is no exception to this; it brings all the rich vitality that latin jazz offers but with a massive metal bite. While this combination isn’t necessarily anything new, especially considering the recent influx of fusion-styled instrumental prog that’s almost become an expectation of modern prog at this point, the arrangements are fun, the technical skill of the musicians is through the roof, and the drumming is a fucking godsend.

One of the things I like the most about Saudade is the fact that it’s a great album whether you’re just a casual listener or a musician. Yeah, fancy jazz chords and complex rhythms are super cool, but a lot of prog artists forget that technicality isn’t everything. Fortunately, you don’t need to know dick-all about music theory to enjoy this album, but you’ll still love it if you do.

Upon the first few minutes of listening, an overtone of early/mid-00s fusion is created and remains for the entirety of the album. To paint a bit of a picture, Saudade sounds similar to Dave Weckl‘s 00s stuff combined with whatever the fuck Japan was doing with GameCube soundtracks at the time (but without all the symphonic stuff). Needless to say, Saudade is served with a pretty hefty dose of nostalgia. Nostalgia that listened to way too much funk drumming.

But don’t let all the jazz/fusion comparisons be the only thing that forms your opinion of Yurei, because these guys are just as much metal as they are fusion. Saudade‘s melodies are led by some killer lead guitar work on top of super heavy, syncopated grooves. The hefty guitar tones allow for a good amount of aggression, but the expressive lead guitar keeps the sound from becoming too dark. There’re also various synth tones scattered throughout the background, which are mainly used to create fluid atmospheres rather than to pull any attention away from the guitars and drums. All in all, the album contains a fair balance of groovy jams and floating, emotional ambiance.

Any fan of prog metal, jazz, fusion, or videogame soundtracks will dig Saudade a lot. Between fantastic metal riffage, soaring solos, reflective synths, and ridiculous drumming, there’s no reason not to check Yurei out.

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Iron Kingdom – On The Hunt Review

Score9/10
GenreTraditional Heavy Metal
CountryCanada
Runtime39:50
Release Date4 October 2019
Record LabelIndependent

I feel a bit of pride that Western Canada has produced a lot of excellent classic metal bands in the past decade. Bands like Riot City, Striker, and Traveler are just a few examples of the greatness I’m referring to. However, the best of all of them, in my opinion, is Vancouver’s own Iron Kingdom (and not because they’re so local to me – that’s just a bonus), and this is more evident than ever in their fourth album to date: On the Hunt.

Combining old school dual guitar sounds with clear, crisp vocals and some of the best drumming I’ve ever heard from a classic metal band, On the Hunt offers a bit more of a modern approach to the style of old. It’s the perfect balance, production-wise, because every part is clear and separated but there’s still an organic feel to the whole thing. There’s no lack of passion and sincerity, but there’s also just enough flare to keep me excited about it.

Now, comparing any classic metal band to Iron Maiden is a bit of a given, but one extra-Maideny thing worth mentioning about On the Hunt is how the solo sections are structured. I don’t think there’s a time where there’s rhythm guitar behind the solos, which prevents any potential messiness and allows the bass to actually come through with some super juicy lines.

But let’s take a minute to talk songs, because, holy fuck, there’re some heavy hitters here. One of my favourites has to be ‘Sign of the Gods’, in which we get some great drum solos, which seem to be a lost art these days. Actually, it was on this song that I became aware of some Neil Peart influence in drummer Joey Paul‘s style. On the side of the axes, ‘Road Warriors’ and ‘Keep it Steel’ have some noteworthy facemelters but, let’s be honest; every solo put forth by Megan Merrick and Chris Osterman is just sick. The title of most unique track, though, has to go to ‘Invaders’. It’s a bit darker than the rest and it’s more dynamic, too. The pulled back sections and builds are all done really well, and, of course, so are the solos.

Of the hundreds of heavy metal bands that have “Iron” in their name, not very many of them are deserving of it. Iron Maiden? Obviously. Iron Savior? Yup. Iron Fire? Definitely. Of course, Iron Kingdom are undoubtedly deserving of the mark, because the metal they’ve forged is strong, heavy, and true.

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Unleash The Archers Announce New EP

Two years after the critically-acclaimed Apex, Canadian melodeathers Unleash the Archers have announced a new EP. Explorers will be released on 11 October 2019 under Napalm Records.

The EP (which is really a single) will consist of two tracks, both of which are covers of Canadian songs.

01: Northwest Passage
02: Heartless World

Here’s what the band has to say about the first track, ‘Northwest Passage’:
“This song means a lot to us as a band, we like to put it on during those long drives on tour and it always brings us right back home. We originally recorded it to be a bonus track for our last full length album Apex, but we loved the track so much we knew it needed special treatment. We held on to it for a bit and eventually decided to release it as its own 7″ vinyl EP with another Canadian cover song as the B side. The song ‘Northwest Passage’ is all about touring through Canada, which Stan Rogers did a lot, and how it equates to being an explorer looking for the passage all those years ago. It really hits home with us, we’ve toured through Canada too many times to count, so we know just how Stan was feeling. That’s where the name of the EP came from too; every time we hit the road on tour it’s like we too become Explorers, with the great big unknown stretching out before us.”

Along with the EP announcement, the band have also announced their participation in Full Metal Cruise 2020, which starts in Kiel, Germany, on 23rd September 2020, alongside Sonata Arctica and label colleagues Legion Of The Damned.

Follow Unleash the Archers on Facebook!

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Shades of Sorrow – Paradox Review

Score7/10
GenreMelodic Heavy Metal
CountryCanada
Runtime30:09
Release Date3 September 2019
Record LabelSliptrick

It’s always nice to hear great metal coming out of my home country. It’s not like there aren’t any awesome Canadian metal bands, but, since I listen mostly to power metal and folk metal, it’s not very often I have one cross my path compared to countries like, say, Sweden. The female-fronted Shades of Sorrow are one such band whom I had never heard of before listening to their latest record, Paradox, which is actually their third album to date.

Stylistically, Shades of Sorrow contains a lot of that cool attitude that you would find in bands like Paramore (you know, before they started pumping out absolute fucking garbage circa 2010) with a melodic heavy metal spin. There’s nothing in Paradox to make you piss your pants or anything, but it’s a pretty fun listen regardless.

Unfortunately, Paradox begins at its lowest point. It’s pretty laid back and basic compared to the rest of the album, but ‘Follow Me Down to Hell’ is watered down and sells the rest of the album short. While we’re on the topic of shortcomings, I might as well get the rest out of the way. My biggest issue with Paradox is simply that I find myself wanting more from it a lot of the time. Take the lead vocals for example. It’d be a lie to say Monise Ouelette isn’t a good vocalist, because she definitely is. However, there isn’t enough expression to highlight the choruses or climaxes. She clearly shows in ‘Notorious’ and ‘Facade’ that she’s capable of bringing the oomph and attitude, so it’s not like she’s incapable of pounding out better hooks.

That isn’t to say that this is a bad album, though. As I mentioned before, it’s fucking cool. Like, leather-jacket-cigarette-guy-walking-away-from-an-explosion cool. The super chunky rhythm guitar crafts some beefy riffs, and the mastering allows for a raw, gritty sound. The melodies are also killer, and it’s great to hear melodies that swing with decent meter. Additionally, for a borderline-EP, there’s a good deal of variety. While a lot of the tracks are super heavy, they’re all dynamic in their own rite. Although, ‘Paradox’ changes it up, as it’s driven mostly by lighter acoustic work. For me, ‘Fractured’ makes it as my personal favourite, largely due to the jazzy melodies alongside such rough rhythm parts and the fact that the entire band is on fucking point.

If you’re looking to expand your musical horizons a bit by giving an underground band some love, check out these guys. While it’s definitely not perfect, it’s a unique album with emotion as raw as its production.

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Scimitar – Shadows Of Man Review

Score8/10
GenrePagan Metal
CountryCanada
Runtime48:57
Release Date23 August 2019
Record LabelIndependent

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.

Scimitar’s strength lies in their ability to craft a massive sound as a whole. The band mostly moves together in one direction at a time, which allows for a lot of power to be propelled at once. Additionally, melody is far down on the list of priorities, and what melody there is is driven only by the lead guitar, which is responsible for most of the emotion that comes out of whatever atmosphere the rest of the band is holding.

Shadows of Man begins with a dynamic instrumental (which, by the way, is an actual song, and not just minute-long bullshittery) before changing pace with ‘Knights Collapse’, which is pretty laid back. The growled vocals are almost rapped, which is cool, and the overall feel in this one is distinctly different from everything else the album offers. As the album progresses there are plenty of changes but its raw, rhythmic, aggressive energy remains fully consistent.

One thing you’ll notice about Shadows of Man is that it gets heavier as it goes on. While the earlier tracks are lighter and more melodic in comparison, the album ramps the intensity way the fuck up upon entering ‘Shadows of Man II: Cataclysm’: a melodic death metal landscape where dissonant chords and harshness take dominance.

There isn’t much that I don’t like about this album, but there are a few favourites for me. The solos are great, with the solo section in ‘Imperium’ being my favourite. Also, while the whole album is very dynamic, this reaches a peak in ‘Where Ancient Spectres Lie’, where we’re bombarded with time changes and feel changes, from its immensely depressive intro to the brighter end section. My favourite aspect about Shadows of Man, however, is the bass; you can hear it well and the lines are awesome. That probably seems like a weird favourite to pick in a record like this, but, fuck it. I love it.

In a departure from their original sound, Shadows of Man elevates Scimitar to a higher, more mature level. Back with their first effort (and a solid effort it is!) in years, Scimitar have sliced their way back onto the scene.

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Empyria – Divided Review

Review Written by Musicgirl

Score9/10
GenreProgressive Metal
CountryCanada
Runtime17:10
Release Date16 July 2019
Record LabelScrape

Empyria are a progressive metal band from one of the world hubs of the subgenre, Vancouver, BC. They have been around almost 30 years. In their catchy melodies and playing skill, it’s easy to see why they have had staying power. Divided, while only EP length, is a significant part of the Empyria catalog. It features two new songs, the title track and ‘Dark Skies’. Divided is the larger work to pick up the band’s single from a few years ago, ‘Beyond the Doors’. That single’s B-side, a cover of ‘Green Manalishi’ (Fleetwood Mac/ Judas Priest) is also included on Divided. The new EP also delivers rerecorded versions of band staples, this time around with the moving voice of Phil Leite, the band’s vocalist not even 20 years. I did not relisten to the original versions of the rerecorded songs, ‘Behind Closed Doors’ and ‘The Test of Time’, for the reason of not wanting to favor one version over another. Thus, this review gives impressions of the songs as if heard the first time. (I did recently listen to Empyria’s epic 1999 EP The Legacy, just to get an idea of the heights this band reaches.)

Mike Kischnick is the only original member of the band. It is quite clear he is the tour de force here. Both his versatility and virtuosity on his instrument are top shelf. Divided actually features a two-guitar attack, which  gets pretty Sabbath doomy. Steve Bifford has been playing guitar in Empyria since 2010. If you just want to rock out, I would recommend playing Divided full blast on a powerful system. If you want to appreciate the intricate instrumental riffing, I would suggest a lower power, less bass-heavy system. Empyria, unlike many progressive metal bands, lacks keyboards. Kischnick’s ensemble is indeed a very heavy group. Yet the detailed percussive and instrumental work one would expect from progressive metal are certainly present. This particular combination of heaviness and complexity parallels Empyria’s inspiration in early Rush, an influence they thankfully don’t copy. Originality is one of Empyria’s trademarks.

One of Divided‘s strengths is the memorable songwriting. After you give a few spins to the well-crafted masterpieces on the EP, you are going to be singing right along. I believe these deep songs will only grow on the listener over time unlike your typical attention-grabbing but fairly superficial melodic hooks. Be on guard for whiplash! My two favorite tracks are the rerecorded ones, ‘Test of Time’ and ‘Behind Closed Doors’. Both weave in and out of the Phrygian mode, taking the listener on an emotional journey through darkness, light and beyond. ‘Dark Skies’ alternates between Phrygian passages and more conventional keys, as well. This song is a close runner up to my Divided favorites. I just find that ‘Dark Skies’ lags a little behind the other two in subtlety and overall development. 

Lyrically Divided is timely. ‘Beyond the Doors’ touches on moving beyond the abuse and pain in the rerecorded older song ‘Behind Closed Doors’. ‘Dark Skies’ perhaps echoes the prominent darkness theme from The Legacy.  The Divided title track, for which  an excellent video exists, urges society to bridge racial divisions and overcome bigotry, a theme reflecting alarming recent events.

Review Written by Musicgirl

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