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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Storchi – Outside Review

Score8/10
GenreProgressive Metal/Fusion
CountryIsrael
Runtime44:51
Release Date10 October 2019
Record LabelDutch Music Works

I don’t know what’s in the water over there, but Israel has pumped out some seriously good prog albums this year. The unforgettable Lotus Graveyard by Tillian is just one example, and I still listen to that record on a regular basis. The latest addition to this effort is the debut album of Storchi, entitled Outside. It brings an interesting combination of prog metal, fusion, and club jazz, finished off with a deep-rooted Middle Eastern feel. If you want to listen to something with its very own distinct sound, look no further.

Aside from the raw skill its musicians display (more on that in a minute), Storchi’s best quality is its blatant uniqueness. While, at times, Outside beckons to a sound similar to Mahavishnu Orchestra and 70s/80s fusion in general, the sound it ends up with can’t be compared too closely to these because it is simply very individual. The music is driven by the flute, courtesy of Danielle Sassi, which carries all of the melodies over top of the guitars, bass, and drums, which constantly transition between intense metal riffage and light grooves.

There’s a good ratio of metal to jazz here, with most of the songs leaning more one way than the other. For example, ‘Surroundings’, ‘Hidden Truth’, and ‘Lights Out’ are far more metal, whereas ‘Paracosm’ (after the first third of the song, anyway) and ‘Midnight’ are almost entirely ethnic jazz tunes. It becomes evident in the album’s first minutes that Outside will be a dynamic experience, but that’s a bit of an understatement.

And now we get to the musicians themselves who, strikingly, are all teenagers, which blows the shit out of my mind because I can’t play anything half as good as these guys. The guitarwork is great, with some notable soloing in ‘Paracosm’ and ‘Hidden Truth’, and the bassplaying follows in like fashion. The flute, of course, is excellent throughout the album’s entirety, but my favourite part of Outside is that fucking drumming. Noam Arbel proves himself to be quite the beast behind the kit, and he bangs the shit out of the highs and patters away on the lows with tasteful precision. Right off the get go I was impressed with this guy, but on the fifth track, ‘Midnight’, I was fucking blown away. Seriously. The five-minute drum solo constantly reminded me of drummers like Joe Morello and (to a lesser extent) Buddy Rich. Damn. Not too bad, if you ask me.

There are also a handful of guest musicians lending support on piano and string instruments, but the core of Outside‘s energy comes from its main quartet. While a couple of the arrangements could do with some trimming and touching up, this album is an all-around blast and I’m damn excited to listen to what Storchi lays down next.

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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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Yurei Announce Saudade

Yurei, the solo project of Brazilian Gabriel Castro, has their debut album on the way. Saudade will be a progressive metal/fusion/video game/ambient mashup or melodic grooves and lively arrangements.

The project’s first single, ‘Dark Matter’, was released alongside the album. Here it is in all it’s kickass glory:

Yurei’s debut features support from artists such as Michael Lessard (The Contortionist), Evan Sammons and Chris Corey (Last Chance to Reason), and Scott Carstairs (Fallujah). Make sure to check Saudade out on 4 October!

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Top Ten Metal Albums Of May

I know that saying this every month might make it lose meaning, but it was difficult to make this list. Again.

HOWEVER, that only means that metal is alive and well in 2019! We had tons of excellent prog and power metal albums to grace us this month, as well as some killer classic metal records, too. It was pretty lean on the folk metal side of things; of all the albums I heard, I would say only one or two are really worth listening to.

Carrying on to why you’re here in the first place, take a look at my Top Ten Metal Albums of May below!

As usual, you can find my full reviews of the following albums by clicking the album title in each heading.

10. TIR – Metal Shock

Surfacing from the depths of the underground for the first time in eight years, Italian classic metal legends TIR are releasing their second album, Metal Shock. Even though they formed in the 80s, the band have devoted most of their focus to live shows and building a local reputation rather than producing albums. As a result, they’re held in very high esteem in their hometown of Rome.

For me, classic metal albums are almost always either great or crap; there is no in between. Fortunately, Metal Shock instantly takes a stand among the former, with its dual guitars and colorful drumming building a solid foundation as soon as they come in. On top of that, the raspy vocals kick ass and the bass lines are clear in the mix. Using the premium fuel that the band produces, each song is energetic, catchy, and has a high degree of headbangability behind it.

TIR – Lasciateci Fare (Gates of Hell)

9. Grimgotts – Dragons of the Ages

Grimgott’s second album to date, Dragons of the Ages is by no means a genre-shattering album. Its sound is what I like to describe as “adventure metal”, because it’s an epic, nautical-themed symphonic power metal album. While it follows most of the power metal tropes fairly closely, the band have managed to make something original, super fun, and immensely uplifting. Fans of Power Quest, Twilight Force, Alestorm, and Galderia will love this album.

Grimgotts – Ancient Waters

8. Until Rain – Season V

Until Rain is a fairly seasoned (ha ha, get it?) prog band at this point, so it should come as no surprise that their fifth effort, Season V, has made it onto this list. However, with their sound totally flipped this time around, it’s worth giving even more special attention to.

Compared to their former albums, Until Rain have dialed back their heavy energy a bit and substituted much of it for a more technical, emotional, almost laid back style of prog. There are plenty of intricacies to enjoy, with the patter-drumming being my favourite, so make sure you go give this one a serious listen!

I never got around to writing a review for this one, but check out the review from my friends over at The Metal Observer here!

Until Rain – Patti (Rock of Angels)

7. Pythia – The Solace of Ancient Earth

The Solace of Ancient Earth is the first album I’ve ever heard from Pythia. And, to be honest, I didn’t expect much from it. It’s not often that an independent female-fronted symphonic metal band has anything new to offer, but Pythia is something special. Within The Solace of Ancient Earth we encounter a powerful female lead, superb orchestrations, an excellent rhythm section, and emotional, inspired power metal.

Pythia – Spirits of the Trees

6. Power Tale – The Fiery God of Marrans

There were a few huge metal opera releases this month, but none came close to the quality and impact that the Ukrainian Power Tale’s latest record delivered. This massive double-album is power metal in the vein of Eastern European power metal, being more accurately described as heavy/power metal.

The most impressive aspects of The Fiery God of Marrans are the numerous guest vocalists, who each contribute an excellent performance, and the killer guitar solos. This album has plenty to offer in it’s ninety-plus minutes, so make sure to set some time aside for it!

Power Tale – The Anger of the Marrans

5. Step in Fluid – Back in Business

Bouncing in with the funkiest fucking metal album I’ve heard in months is Step in Fluid with their latest effort, Back in Business. As the title suggests, it’s been a little while since the band have released any new material (nearly eight years, in fact). Which, let me tell you, is an incredible disservice to both fans and to them, because they are very good at the whole music-making thing. It’s a bit disappointing that the runtime on this album is so short, but the half hour we do get is excellent.

Within the album are both serious metal grooves, laid back funky grooves, and lighter synth-backing grooves. If, like me, you’re a fan of jazz and metal, this booty-shaking prog/fusion fiasco is for you.

Step in Fluid – Booty Shake (Klonoshpere)

4. Arch / Matheos – Winter Ethereal

Former and present Fates Warning members John Arch and Jim Matheos are back with their second partnered album, Winter Ethereal. It in no way sounds like a Fates Warning knockoff, instead taking a stand as one of the best prog albums of the year so far. It hits hard and heavy but contains surprisingly fluid arrangements, which makes for quite the dynamic listen. This is matured, no-frills progressive metal.

Arch / Matheos – Straight and Narrow (Metal Blade)

3. Myrath – Shehili

Shehili kicks more ass than the Sahara on a windy day. This should really come as no surprise, though, because Myrath’s albums routinely contain nothing but quality, emotion, and a tasty Arabic spice. Huge melodies continuously take the stage and are supported by a dangerously tight rhythm section. The strings and orchestrations carry epic and mysterious melodies, combining seamlessly with the coarser metal elements to make each song ring with brilliance. On top of that, the mixing is clean, balanced, and allows each of the many parts to be appreciated.

This Tunisian troupe commands a staggering amount of skill, but perhaps the most impressive is frontman Zaher Zorgati and his ludicrously proficient vocals (which can go from soaring ululatuon to a powerful belt on the drop of a dime). Pump this energy into lively arrangements, and you get a vivid, dance-inducing Eastern brand of power metal.

Myrath – No Holding Back (earMUSIC)

2. 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 offers what is sure to be a contender for 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.

Amulet – Burning Hammer (Dissonance)

1. 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 heard from a power metal, 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, 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).

Gloryhammer – Hootsforce (Napalm)

Did your favourite May albums make the list? Leave a comment or send a message if you think revisions are in order!

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Step In Fluid – Back In Business Review

Score8.5/10
GenreProgressive Metal/Fusion (Funk Metal)
CountryFrance
Runtime30:18
Release Date17 May 2019
Record Label Klonosphère

Bouncing in with the funkiest fucking metal album I’ve heard in months is Step in Fluid with their latest effort, Back in Business. As the title suggests, it’s been a little while since the band have released any new material (nearly eight years, in fact). Which, let me tell you, is an incredible disservice to both fans and to them, because they are very good at the whole music-making thing. It’s a bit disappointing that the runtime on this album is so short, but the half hour we do get is so good that it’s a nonissue.

I’ve always thought that prog and fusion go hand-in-hand. When you look at what goes into either genre, you get two lists that look nearly identical: experimentation, improvisation, intricate songwriting, incredible technical proficiency, a whole bunch of shit thrown together in hopes that it works. The biggest differences between the two are the moods and that one utilizes metal instruments while the other uses jazz instruments. What we get when Step in Fluid steps in are plenty of bouncy grooves played by some of the meanest synth tones known to man, a pounding rhythm section, and a crunchy guitar to top it all off. It’s a funk album played by a metal band.

Or maybe not. The way that the bass, keys, and guitar move around the grooves is done with such proficiency that you can only really see them as jazz musicians. There are some exceptionally beefy basslines in ‘Streets of San Francisco’ and the guitar riffs and chunky keyboards make for some really great progressions. And don’t even get me started on these juicy fucking solos, because, whether it’s the guitar or the keys, they’re simply phenomenal.

The one instrument that could use a tweak or two would be the drums. Don’t get me wrong; the drumming on this album is fantastic. But, as it goes with metal, the drums are way too stiff with their grooves. The reason that jazz and funk drummers will almost always be a bit better than metal drummers is that they can float around within a verse very naturally without upsetting the grove, whereas metal drummers tend to get more locked in. It’s not like I think that the band’s drummer, Florent Marcadet, isn’t capable of playing like this, because there are moments when he hits some seriously impressive grooves and his fills are super jazzy, he just doesn’t. That all being said, his shots are sharp and he is undoubtedly an excellent drummer.

Back in Business is short but has plenty of sweet to offer. There are some booty-shaking tunes (like the opener, ‘Booty Shake’), laid back tracks, slow-goers, and a constant feel-good energy that’s present throughout the album’s entirety. The songs are mostly built around a single progression or groove, as is standard in funk, but the band does more than enough with each one. A fun album like this should be enjoyed by all.

Step in Fluid – Booty Shake (Klonoshpere)

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Valence – Cognitive Dissidents Review

Score8/10
GenreProgressive Metal/Fusion
CountryU.S.A.
Runtime50:11
Release Date12 April 2019
Record LabelIndependent

Prog is a tricky thing. On one hand, being all over the map with regard to time signature, riffs, or melody tends to be a typical trait at this point. However, unless there’s some cohesive force or technically skilled execution, bands are doomed to fall into the abyss of the commotion that they created for themselves, never to be discovered in the ocean that is progressive metal. This is especially a problem for instrumental bands (and this goes for fusion and prog rock, too) who think that just because they play in weird modes or stick a flat seven on a chord they’re hot shit.

Luckily, that isn’t a problem for Valence, and they’ve proven that once again in their second record: Cognitive Dissidents. There’s not a moment when their musical ideas sound jumbled, despite the explosive riffage that ensues as soon as the record starts in ‘Damnit, Lana!’ and relentlessly carries through the rest. The whole album has a fun, bouncy feel to it and is stylistically closer to jam/jazz fusion in the breath of early Snarky Puppy, but obviously much heavier. Regardless of genre, you can tell that these guys absolutely love what they’re doing.

There’s no doubt that this is an incredible group of musicians. The fat guitars shred like there’s no tomorrow and Michael Buonanno (guitar) and Wilhelmus Sapanaro (bass) even pick up the violin, viola, cello, and double bass parts rather than resort to samples. The drumming is some of the best I’ve heard in a band like this and, to top it all off, the hugely dynamic songs manage to master immense ferocity, found in ‘Walrus’, and laid back, inquisitive moments as in ‘Prelude: Parlance of Our Time’.

The only thing keeping Cognitive Dissidents from scoring higher is the shortage of any truly exceptional moments. This is a great album and there’s really nothing I dislike about it, but I was, after every listen I gave it, still a bit hungry. From a band who so easily conveys a synergistic joy through their music, I wanted something to smack me in the face and make me wonder what the fuck just hit me. Some parts come close, like the end section of ‘Red Sky at Morning’, which builds and builds into a climax of holy choirs and rushing cymbals, but there needs to be just a bit more. Valence is clearly a team effort, but that extra push would have been all the album needed to become glorious.

(Also, I don’t really know what’s up with the Archer and Big Lebowski references in the titles, so maybe I’m missing out on some musical secret, but that’s a risk I’m willing to take.)

Valence – Damnit, Lana!

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Torben Enevoldsen – 5.1 Review

Score8/10
GenreShred/Fusion
CountryDenmark
Runtime51:50
Release Date11 Jan 2019
Record LabelPerris

Having had a fairly successful solo career and a handful of side projects, Danish guitarist Torben Enevoldsen has released a fifth addition to his solo project: 5.1. 5.1 is all instrumental, like the rest of Enevoldsen’s solo releases, and often sounds like he just ripped off Jeff Beck’s arms and used those (which is especially apparent in the funky ‘Say What’).

Guitar feature albums are always a difficult endeavour. Oftentimes the record ends up being nothing but a big guitar solo, with endless shredding and a lack of melody or tasteful phrasing. It’s also tough to strike a balance between the lead guitar and rhythm section; the guitarist could be the most talented musician on the planet, but, if the rhythm section is weak, it could kill the entire setup.

Enevoldsen’s playing is exquisite. His melodies are smooth and lively and his phrases flow like water. His playing style is far closer to jazz fusion than metal. On the flip-side, his fast, chugging solos would give many metal guitarists a run for their money. The balance of the guitar playing couldn’t be better.

One issue I have with the album, however, is the rhythm section in the first and last thirds of the album. In the first four tracks, there isn’t much going on besides the straight beat. There is a clear pickup in ‘Inside Out’ (which is also the most metal-sounding track on the album) that carries on through the next four songs and into ‘Hangar 84’. ‘Hangar 84’ is undoubtedly the best song on the album. The proggy staccato intro is remarkable and the rest of the song is full of energy from the entire band. The rhythm section then simmers back down in the final four tracks.

That may seem like a nitpicky complaint for a feature album, but for a release from an artist of such caliber as Torben Enevoldsen, I don’t think it’s too much to expect a bit more colour in the background.

The only other aspect I don’t like about 5.1 is that half the songs conclude by fading out. That drives me insane. I think it’s just lazy songwriting, but maybe I’m missing something. Write a damn ending; it won’t kill you.

It’s safe to say that Torben Enevoldsen’s 5.1 is a phenomenal display of guitar shredding. Despite it’s flaws, the album is quite enjoyable and will likely have you coming back for another taste.

Torben Enevoldsen – Hangar 84 (Perris Records)

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