Kybalion – Black Painted Skies Review

Score9/10
GenreProgressive Metal
CountryUSA
Runtime35:17
Release Date6 September 2019
Record LabelIndependent

If you want a bit of a change from the usual 16th-based, djenty, instrumental modern prog that has recently flooded the metal world, give this EP a spin. Black Painted Skies is the first release (they call it an EP but I would consider it a full-out album, but maybe that’s just me) from America’s brand new instrumental proggers, Kybalion. This speed demon of death is super heavy and its ever-changing form will have you happily kissing the comfortability of 4/4 goodbye. With a diverse mix of highs, lows, feels, and time signatures, it’s evident that this trio doesn’t fuck around, and you’ll find that out pretty quickly in the album’s deceivingly-named opener, ‘Whisper’.

Kybalion is made up of two guitarists and a drummer, but Black Painted Skies also makes use of backing keyboards, strings, and choirs to maintain a full-sounding atmosphere. There are plenty of crazy-technical breakdowns, but there’s a good balance of solid grooving and insane showwy-offiness. In between these sections of breakneck speed and glorious shredding are soft, pulled back keyboard sections, like the beginning of ‘Portraits of a Memory’, and you’ll even find some acoustic work, such as in the beginning of ‘Marred Earth’. Another thing I love about this album are the seamless transitions between songs; honestly, I was three songs in before I realized I’d actually gotten through a song, and that’s not a bad thing in this case. With an album like this, fluidity goes a long way, and it’s best listened to all in one go (although that’s hardly necessary to enjoy the album).

Back to the topic of ‘Marred Earth’, I just really need to express the appreciation I have for this song. Among an album of constant change, it doesn’t venture far from a single groove, and it offers a short break from the relentless energy of the album so you can catch your breath for the final cascading song.

While the songwriting is all excellent and the guitars lay down some sick riffs, the drums stand as the champion of this album. God. Fucking. Damn it. They’re incredible, to say the very least. Courtesy of Garrett Haag, they go from holding powerful grooves to unleashing hellfire through ridiculous double-kicks and blast beats. If I had to pick some favourite drumming moments, I’d be torn between the ferocity found in ‘Black Painted Skies’ and the softer, pattering beats in the pulled back section of ‘Portraits of a Memory’. While the first choice is obvious, it’s not often I hear a modern prog drummer that’s capable of playing something other than ultra-mega-fortissimo all the fucking time, so the finer things stick out to me.

Get ready for the ass-blasting of a lifetime, because this EP fucking rips. Seriously. Black Painted Skies is a monster of an album and these brand new proggers show a hell of a lot of promise.

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Antonello Giliberto – The Strategy Of Chaos Review

Score8/10
GenreNeoclassical Power Metal
CountryItaly
Runtime56:17
Release Date30 April 2019
Record LabelIndependent

If you’re at all like me, you’ve been left with a bit of a void in your soul since seeing the awe-inspiring badassery of Avengers: Endgame. You’ve probably been looking to get your next colossal action fix but have had no luck in doing so. Never fear, however, because the gods (or rather, the Italians) have delivered unto us an instrumental metal soundtrack of epic, Earth-shattering proportions. As the third installment to guitarist/composer Antonello Giliberto’s solo project, The Strategy of Chaos bellows with a massive intensity from the very beginning of the opening track until the until the god damn grand finale that is ‘Odissea Veneziana’.

Accompanying Antonello on this perilous journey are bassist Dino Fiorenza, who has played with the likes of Zakk Wilde, Steve Vai, Yngwie Malmsteem, and Paul Gilbert, with Salvo Grasso (who’s a fucking musical monster, by the way) on the drums. Both are bandmates in the Christian power/prog outfit Metatrone. Delivering support for keyboard solos and piano is Gabriele Crisafulli, who lends his hand in ‘Threat and Redemption’, ‘Wrath of the Northmen’, and ‘The Depths of My Soul’. Beside these exceptional musicians are loads of booming orchestrations and chanting choirs.

Within this epic shell are many layers of variety. There are numerous intense dark songs and some more typically uplifting power metal bangers, but there are also many beautiful and mournful moments, such as the ones in ‘Forgotten Mists’, the ballad ‘Beata Beatrix the Beautiful Vision’, and ‘Alone in the Empty Space’ (in which there is some truly tasteful Spanish guitar lines). The violin takes the stage in many of these softer sections, which adds a deeper and sadder effect.

There’s not a whole lot wrong with this album considering how tricky it is to make a decent instrumental album, nonetheless one that has a central theme of such tremendous grandeur. At times, the orchestrations are too plentiful and drown out some of the other instruments, but this is rare. Additionally, some of the transitions are weak (especially between ‘Iron Shadows in the Moon’ and ‘Forgotten Mists’) and the orchestral arpeggiations are pretty predictable, but in the grand scope of the album, they don’t take away too much from the music.

If this album (and project) were previously unknown to you, do yourself a favour and check out what Antonello Giliberto is capable of. Not only can he shred like a madman, but he can fashion lively, memorable guitar melodies, as well as an incredible record. The sick drum beats, virtuoso guitar and key solos, and rich background parts create a soundtrack that is practically alive. This is a must-listen for fans of Yngwie Malmsteen, Galneryus, the soundtrack scores of Two Steps from Hell, and epic fantasy movies.

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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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