Ivanhoe – Blood And Gold Review

GenreProgressive Metal
Release Date20 March 2020
Record LabelMassacre

German prog veterans Ivanhoe have returned with another prog piece that hearkens back to the classic prog of the late 80s/early 90s. Blood and Gold is the band’s eighth full-length release in their thirty-five year career, but it holds true as one of their most essential releases ever. This compact, groove-driven style of prog will especially be a hit for fans of golden-age Queensryche and Fates Warning.

Blood and Gold does a lot of things right. First and foremost, the runtime is short and sweet (and the songs are all around the four-minute range); there’s no fat around the edges, it’s just no-bullshit prog with experimental, time-changey grooves and sick facemelters in a manageable space. As such, it’s perfect for prog fans who don’t have the attention span to be serious prog fans. Next in line are the drums, which are absolutely killer from the very first song, courtesy of the band’s brand new drummer, Bernd Heining. His fills are great and his beats are many, which is the crucial element in keeping the more laid-back tunes interesting (which is like two thirds of the album). It’s also worth mentioning that the mixing is perfect for an album like this. The guitars and drums sound closer to traditional metal than the colossal, crisp onslaught that most modern prog delivers. Don’t get me wrong, I live for clean and disgustingly heavy, but the softer, more lo-fi production quality has its place, too.

Outside of just comparing it to “early 90s prog”, the overall sound of the album is pretty melancholic, putting a greater emphasis on emotional hooks and guitar countermelodies than explosive riffs. There’s a serious level of technicality, though, most evident in the songs ‘Solace’ and ‘Perfect Tragedy’ (both of which are my favourite tracks), where the time changes are many and the rhythm section is on fucking point.

Between strong songwriting, great musicianship, and that classic feel, Blood and Gold is definitely worth checking out. Also, make sure to keep your ears open, because there’re a ton of little details in the album which I didn’t even touch on (like a sax solo in ‘Shadow Play’).

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Sonus Corona – Time Is Not On Your Side Review

GenreProgressive Metal
Release Date22 November 2019
Record LabelInverse

Along with a healthy dose of jazz influences, Finnish proggers Sonus Corona have resurfaced in their sophomore album, Time Is Not on Your Side. Stylistically, the album’s instrumentals often tread closely to Dream Theater, but the overall sound is more indie prog due to the prevalence of piano and the floating vocal style.

Unfortunately, these vocals are the low point of the album. They’re not poorly done, but they’re generally too soft. On top of that, the melancholic melodies (which are sometimes reminiscent of Muse’s melodies, although out-of-place) are so weak compared to the excitement of the surrounding instrumentation that I spent a most of the album waiting for them to be over so I could focus more on the heavy grooves and jazz breaks.

However, every time these grooves take the stage, everything is right with the world. They’re expressive, technical, and heavy, and, when combined with the piano, they produce a truly unique sound. There’s also a wide array of songs with different musical elements, such as club jazz, swing, pop, and metal, so there’s plenty to keep you engaged.

All in all, Time Is Not on Your Side is worth checking out at least once. While the vocals would be a much better fit in, maybe, an underground alternative rock band than a prog band, they’re still commendable and they’re certainly not enough to render the album unlistenable.

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Progressive Metal: Sons Of Apollo Releasing Album In January

Prog supergroup Sons of Apollo was founded in 2017. The band consists of various virtuoso musicians such as Dream Theater’s former drummer and past keyboardist Mike Portnoy and Derek Sherinian.

They released their debut, Psychotic Symphony, that same year and met generally favourable reception.

The group have now announced the details for their second album, which will be called MMXX (pronounced “2020”).

01. Goodbye Divinity
02. Wither To Black
03. Asphyxiation
04. Desolate July
05. King Of Delusion
06. Fall To Ascend
07. Resurrection Day
08. New World Today

MMXX will be released on 17 January 2020 under InsideOut Music.

Sons of Apollo have also announced their 2020 headline tour dates.

North America 2020:
Fri 1/24 Pomona, CA The Glass House
Sat 1/25 Los Angeles, CA The Roxy
Sun 1/26 San Francisco, CA The Fillmore
Tue 1/28 Salt Lake City, UT The State Room
Wed 1/29 Denver, CO The Oriental Theater
Fri 1/31 St. Charles, IL Arcada Theater
Sat 2/1 Battle Creek, MI The Music Factory
Sun 2/2 Toronto, ONT. Mod Club
Mon 2/3 Montreal QUE. Corona Theater
Wed 2/5 Boston, MA Paradise Rock Club
Thu 2/6 New York, NY Gramercy Theater
Fri 2/7 Jim Thorpe, PA Penn’s Peak
Sat 2/8 Englewood, NJ Bergen PAC

Europe 2020:
Sat 2/29 Germany TBA
Mon 3/2 Drammen, Norway Union Scene
Tue 3/3 Gothenburg, Sweden Traedgarn
Thu 3/5 Kyiv, Ukraine N.A.U Theatre
Sat 3/7 Moscow, Russia RED
Sun 3/8 St Petersburg, Russia Aurora
Tue 3/10 Pratteln, Switzerland Z7
Wed 3/11 Milan, Italy Live Club
Fri 3/13 Bilbao, Spain Santana 27
Sat 3/14 Barcelona, Spain Razzmatazz 2
Sun 3/15 Madrid, Spain La Riviera
Tue 3/17 France TBA
Wed 3/18 France TBA
Thu 3/19 London, U.K. Islington Assembly Hall
Fri 3/20 Eindhoven, Netherlands Prognosis Festival
Sun 3/22 Show Brno, Czech Republic Sono
Tue 3/24 Kosice, Slovakia Colosseum
Wed 3/25 Budapest, Hungary Barba Negra

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Vanden Plas – The Ghost Xperiment – Awakening Review

GenreProgressive Metal
Release Date11 October 2019
Record LabelFrontiers

Germany’s Vanden Plas is the only veteran band I can think of off the top of my head that’s had the exact same lineup since their beginning. For more than thirty years, the band’s five members have delivered great progressive metal albums without fail, all the while never getting sick enough of each other to split up. If that doesn’t scream musical commitment, then I don’t know what does. That’s a damn impressive feat in and of itself, so the fact that their ninth album, The Ghost Xperiment – Awakening, is yet another solid piece of prog is just icing.

Stylistically, The Ghost Xperiment treads pretty closely to the albums of bands like Fates Warning (and especially Arch/Matheos) and mid-Queensryche. As is common in prog, the album only consists of six songs, but each clocks in at close to ten minutes, so it actually feels a lot longer than its 46-minute runtime. There’re a few parts that could probably be condensed a bit, but the tracks are dynamic enough that it really isn’t necessary.

Everything about The Ghost Xperiment is really good; the melodies are strong, the riffs are great, and the grooves are heavy. The only real downside is that nothing really jumps out. Sure, there are a couple notable melodies throughout the album (such as in the closer, ‘the Ghost Xperiment’), but the album as a whole is pretty homogeneous. If I had to pick a highlight, it’d be the solos. They’re super sick, although, since the backing parts are pretty straightforward, they don’t deliver a huge impact.

For a band that’s been around for more than three decades, The Ghost Xperiment – Awakening is worlds more than I’d expect. However, for Vanden Plas, this album is exactly what I’d expect. The whole band is on point, the arrangements are genuine, and there’s enough energy and passion in the music that, while it doesn’t throw any showstoppers, the album delivers a commendable prog metal performance.

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Noveria – Aequilibrium Review

GenreProgressive Power Metal
Release Date25 October 2019
Record LabelScarlet

Rising above the ocean of Italian progressive power metal are Noveria in their third full-length, Aequilibrium. Where other bands shy away with uninspired riffs and lazy songwriting, Noveria unleash hell with their strongest, heaviest foot forward. The grooves? Vigourous. The riffs? Insane. The solos? Ho. Ly. Fuck.

These guys don’t fuck around when it comes to metal. As soon as it starts, Aequilibrium explodes into high-intensity with a death metal atmosphere and epic choirs. Through the rest of the album, we encounter sick riff after sick riff (not the least of which can be found in ‘Awakening’ and ‘Broken’) in all their beefy, syncopated glory, as well as beautiful interludes and pulled back sections. Another aspect that makes Aequilibrium stand out is the fact that, while there’s a dark tone to most of the album, it’s never depressing and it’s always energetic.

To match the weight of their sound, Noveria have also built an emotional concept over their album; Aequilibrium tells of a psychological journey after a massive earthquake strikes, and it does so without coming off as pretentious or jaded. While the guitars, drums, bass, and keys all perform how you’d expect a high-level prog band to, the biggest reason behind the album’s emotionality are the versatile vocals of Francesco Corigliano, who can project powerfully with the might of the gods as well as craft a masterful light melody.

Despite my excitement for this album, there is one track that it could probably do without. ‘Losing You’ would probably do just fine on its own, but, since it’s tucked toward the end of the album, it ends up being pretty forgettable compared to the raw badassery that ensues in the songs around it.

But there are so many good songs here. One of my favourites is ‘Darkest Days’, which is super dynamic. It’s also the perfect way to end the album, if you ask me. My second (and most) favourite track, though, is the spine-splitting speed demon ‘Broken’, which throws aggression, a killer chorus, and a stupid ridiculous solo section at you with limitless power. I’m serious; this track is fucking awesome. And the neoclassical part of the solo is extra awesome.

It should be pretty clear why this is a must-listen album. It’s got all the fancy virtuoso playing you could want and the production is crystal clear (courtesy of Simone Mularoni, who never seems to not be involved with an Italian power metal project). In Aequilibrium, Noveria deliver a sound similar to DGM, Dream Theater, and a bit of Firewind, but it’s way heavier and darker. If you aren’t amped to check this album out, then you probably hate metal and fun in general.

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Silent Call – Windows Review

GenreProgressive Metal
Release Date11 October 2019
Record LabelRockshots

Swedish prog outfit Silent Call have been around since the mid-2000s. Since then, they’ve put out only a handful of albums, with their latest, Windows, being their fourth. Even though this is the final album of the band’s career, they’ve enlisted Göran Nyström (Sarpedon, Twinspirits) as their new vocalist, whose style gives the album a very Greek power metal feel, similar to Firewind or Diviner.

For the most part, Windows is a really solid prog metal album. The riffs are heavy, the drums and vocals are expressive, and there are numerous synth parts in the background and foreground. Additionally, the intros to pretty much every song are very well done. The album’s only real downfall is its amount of excess. With an hour-long runtime, it’s a bit long, which would be ok if every song got the care it deserved, but that, unfortunately, isn’t the case. Songs like ‘Imprisoned in Flesh’, ‘Shifting Shape’, and ‘Clouded Horizon’ (among others) don’t offer much past your typical Queensryche-y or power metaly progressive metal song. It’s not like they’re awful songs, but they’re forgettable and come across as mainly filler.

But that isn’t to say there aren’t any awesome tracks; tucked far into the album’s end, the final three, ‘Invisible’, ‘Bleeding Me Dry’, and ‘Eye of Destruction’, all blow the rest of the tracklist out of the fucking water. Between excellent synthwork, great guitar soloing, strong arrangements, and the best riffs on the entire album, it makes me wonder why they’d be stuck on the tail end of such a long album. Upon consecutive listens, the album has a sort of sagging feeling after the second track because, aside from a few cool moments, there’s not a whole lot to see in between the main good songs.

It’s often a shame when a band announces its end, but sometimes, as is the case here, it’s better to make a clean exit than to be remembered for falling apart in the latter portion of your career (I’m looking at you, Sonata Arctica. Fuckers.). Despite having some issues with it, Windows is still a very enjoyable album, and its highlights deliver some seriously killer performances.

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Noveria Release New Single

Italy’s power prog outfit Noveria have released an energetic new track, ‘Broken’, taken from their upcoming third album.

Based on how sick the solo section is, I’m super excited to listen to the album! Aequilibrium will be released on 25 October under Scarlet Records.

Follow Noveria on Facebook!

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Kybalion – Black Painted Skies Review

GenreProgressive Metal
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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Circus Maximus – Isolated Chapters Review

GenreProgressive Metal
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

GenreHeavy Progressive Metal
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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