Secret Chapter – Chapter One Review

Score8.5/10
GenreHeavy Metal
CountryNorway
Runtime43:15
Release Date18 October 2019
Record LabelCrime

Sit down and strap the fuck in because Secret Chapter are going to take you on a nostalgic ride back to the 80s with their hyper-melodic, solo-rific debut, Chapter One. While the title isn’t all that creative, you can be damn sure that the music will impress. The vocals are high and full of layers, the rhythm section is tight, and the album offers an array of songs from glam to power metal.

While Chapter One treads a similar sound he likes of Skid Row, TNT, Europe, and 80s hair metal in general, it keeps things interesting by maintaining a modern heavy metal undertone. The production, layered instrumentation, and driving riffs combined with undoubtedly 80s choruses allow for the best of both worlds, and there’s no shortage of passion or aggression. A lot of 80s metal bands just sound like refined metal from the era (if that), but Secret Chapter manage to maintain individuality by putting their own musical spin on things.

And don’t even get me started on the solos because guitarist Jon Aarseth and keymaster Magnus Johansen lay down some serious facemelters. ‘Human Centipede’ (weird theme for a song, right?) delivers synth excellence, and notable guitar solos can be found in ‘Baptized in Ecstasy’, ‘The Great Escape’ and ‘One Night Aint Enough’. That being said, there’s not a solo on the album that doesn’t get my blood flowing.

The only thing preventing Chapter One from scoring higher is the fact that there are a couple tracks that seem like filler. ‘Sin City’ and the ballad, ‘Heavy Metal Love Affair’, while still good songs, don’t carry the same charm and flare that the rest of the tracks do. Their foundations are solid, but they’re considerably weaker than the rest.

Seeing as Secret Chapter shove 80s heavy metal in your face as shamelessly hard as possible, it’d be safe to assume that I harbour a deep love them. Not only that, but the sheer skill every bandmate possesses plays a key part in the unique sound they’ve achieved with Chapter One. Hopefully, there will be more chapters to enjoy in the near future.

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Circus Maximus – Isolated Chapters Review

Score7.5/10
GenreProgressive Metal
CountryNorway
Runtime17:59
Release Date6 September 2019
Record LabelFrontiers

Circus Maximus are a progressive metal outfit hailing from Norway. While they’ve been around for nearly two decades (and they’ve maintained a steady lineup for almost as long), they’ve only released four full-length albums. Their latest EP, Isolated Chapters, is their first new-music release in three years, following two live albums. The EP offers two very different experiences and packs a whole lot of variety into its short runtime.

Since there are only two tracks on Isolated Chapters, this review will pretty much be a track-by-track (which I like to avoid doing). But that’s just fine, because it gives me a chance to elaborate a bit on the band’s song choice; for the first, we hear a darker, heavier, more dissonant side of Circus Maximus, and get a feel for their technical skill as well as their solid songwriting, but the second delivers a far lighter, more commercial impression. As such, the band’s strengths and weaknesses are exposed and right in the open for everyone to see.

Upon the first minutes of ‘Phasing Mirrors’, images of mid-Dream Theater immediately come to mind. In fact, every time I finish the song, the most prominent thought I have is how much it reminds me of ‘A Nightmare to Remember’ from their album, Black Clouds and Silver Linings. Yeah, this song is a few notches down with regard to impact and staggering technicality, but the song structure and looming atmosphere are enough for me to make the connection. Anyway, references aside, ‘Phasing Mirrors’ has a sick proggy break about four minutes in, and there’s also a great pulled back section which sounds like a spooky Tim Burton sequence. Topped off with a few killer guitar solos, key solos, and an exceptional wraparound structure, ‘Phasing Mirrors’ is one of the best single prog songs I’ve heard in months.

But then we get to the second and final track: ‘Endgame’. It begins like a fluffy 90s power ballad, and remains pretty tasteless until about the four minute mark. I’m not gonna say it’s one-dimensional until then or anything like that, it’s just a weak beginning section, especially considering the excellence that precedes it. The song finally goes somewhere after a transition of uplifting shots, and yet another facemelter lifts off. But then, the song continues steadily until it exits with a soft piano line. I wouldn’t call ‘Endgame’ a bad song, but it’s way watered down compared to what Circus Maximus shows off in that first one.

I don’t really have any complaints beyond the difference of quality between Isolated Chapters‘ two songs. The rhythm section is great and very tight, the solos are awesome, and the vocals, harmonies, and melodies guide the music masterfully. I strongly encourage giving this EP a listen. It’s short, sweet, and you’ll probably come back for seconds.

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Divided Multitude – Faceless Aggressor Review

Score8.5/10
GenreHeavy Progressive Metal
CountryNorway
Runtime57:20
Release Date6 September 2019
Record LabelRam It Down

Divided Multitude is no stranger to the prog metal scene. Since their founding in the mid-90s, they’ve released six albums of mixed quality. Their seventh and latest effort, Faceless Aggressor, is colossal and riff-driven yet very melodic. It wouldn’t be entirely wrong to compare it to something along the lines of Symphony X or even classic-Queensryche crossed with late-80s heavy/glam metal. It’s a combination of music that I haven’t heard done this well before, and I fucking love it.

Before we get to the many things I find great about Faceless Aggressor, there are a couple issues to get out of the way. To begin, the lowest point of the album would have to be ‘Uninvited’. It’s the slowest, most “ballady” (though it’s not really a ballad) on the album, but it’s pretty weak and underwhelming. It has a couple crescendos and decrescendos, but I find the whole track relatively uninspired, especially considering what surrounds it. It seems like Divided Multitude are much more comfortable playing heavily and aggressively, but there’s not a whole lot else that they show on this album until the closer. As a result, there’s a fairly limited amount of variety here.

But, variety doesn’t matter as much if each song, while based around a similar musical theme, fucking nails it, like they pretty much do on this album. Right from the start, I noticed that both the drums and vocals are dynamic and expressive. The time and feel changes are also done really well, despite such an huge sound. They’re always fluid and the band does a masterful job at avoiding making the songs choppy. ‘Prosperity Divine (The Machine of Mammon)’ is an excellent example of this, where there are some extra bars thrown in between sections and some well-executed time changes, as well as the emotional closer, ‘Psalm of a Soldier’, which features guest musicians Gary Wehrkamp (Shadow Gallery) and Ida Haukland (Triosphere).

One of my favourite aspects of Faceless Aggressor is the fact that the choruses sound like glam metal hooks on fucking steroids. The melodies and vocal layering never fail to take me back to the late-80s (well, not really back, because I wasn’t there, but you know what I mean) but the delivery and surrounding instrumentation is just massive. Another high point of the album is the guitarwork. I don’t think there’s a single song that doesn’t have absolutely sick riffs, especially in the intros. They’re energetic, beefy, and they’re ultimately what brings the album to be as good as it is. Additionally, the solos aren’t super flashy but they are tasteful.

While this album was actually my first taste of Divided Multitude’s long career, it’s safe to say that they’ve gained at least one new fan with Faceless Aggressor, and I’m curious to see how their previous material stacks up against this one. While it isn’t without a couple shortcomings, it’s a damn-awesome brand of prog and I would love to hear more music like this.

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