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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Unprocessed Release New Single

Prog newcomers Unprocessed have released the third single for their upcoming sophomore album, Artificial Void. Juxtaposing their previous singles, ‘Prototype’ is harsher, more dissonant, and less, well, jammy. Nonetheless, it’s great to see that Artificial Void will be musically rounded, as we’ve seen influences ranging from jazz to metalcore with just two songs.

01. Prototype 
02. Artificial Void 
03. Ruins 
04. Fear 
05. Abandoned 
06. House Of Waters 
07. Avatar 
08. Antler’s Decay 
09. Down The Spine 
10. Another Sky 
11. The Movements, Their Echoes 
12. Closure

Artificial Void will be released on 9 August under Long Branch Records.

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Mind Key – MkIII – Aliens In Wonderland Review

Score8.5/10
GenreProgressive Metal
CountryItaly
Runtime57:43
Release Date12 July 2019
Record LabelFrontiers

For the first time in a decade, Italian prog outfit Mind Key have released a new album. MkIII – Aliens in Wonderland is, as the name suggests, the band’s third record to date, and it’s full of choppy riffs, Phil Collinsy melodies, and 80s pop metal elements. Needless to say, Aliens in Wonderland delivers a widely varied experience that’ll please metalheads both old and new.

Along with the cheesy synths and arpeggiations that are so common in 80s music, the album is full of organs and strings that mend incredibly well with the more electronic synth parts to create a more modern sound. And, thanks to the crystal-clear mixing, every different part is distinguishable from the other, even among the excitement of the choruses. Whether behind the raspy hair metal vocals or the stylish guitar solos, the backing tracks maintain a rich and fluid energy.

Furthermore, Mind Key’s musicianship is nothing to laugh at. They make it apparent early on that the band is very much a team effort, relying more on synced syncopation and creating soundscapes than breaking off with many show-stealing fills or riffs. For an album like this, the approach works well, but it wouldn’t be a bad thing to have some crazy thrown out here and there. Yeah, the soloing is really good, but for an entertaining 80s album like this, there’s plenty of space for extra spice.

One thing I find strange about Aliens in Wonderland is that every song on the record could be played in the end credits of a late 80s/early 90s movie. There’s a consistent air of bittersweet reflection that’s present in the entire album, which is probably why Phil Collins is in the front of my mind when I listen to it.

That is, when I listen to every song except for ‘Psycho World’, which unleashes Mind Key’s burning heart to ignite into a training montage of Beast in Black proportions. The synths are relentless, the guitars are heavy, and the chorus rides with the harmonic power of hair metal’s greatest. It’s the best song on the album without regard to soloing (because that trophy is awarded to ‘Pure He/art’ and that mean fucking solo section of synthesizer fury) so make sure to at least listen to this one.

To say the least, Mind Key’s comeback album is a massive success. And what a weird success it is. Mixing 80s synthpop elements into metal is nothing new, but the way it’s done in Aliens in Wonderland is unusual; it’s natural enough that it sounds like it actually came into the future through a time machine yet its contemporary enough that it fits comfortable among modern melodic metal. No matter where it ends up being categorized, it’s undoubtedly unique and a ton of fun.

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First track begins like an 80s sci-fi movie
Second track Dream Theatery, some vocal harmonies. Pulled back section has some nice patter drums.
Hate at First Sight: Kind of symphonic. Cool solo.
Angry Men: starts with heavy riffage, a bit darker. Sick solo section, key solo is mean.
Hands off Cain is a bit of a miss. Ballad.
Be Polar: super synthy. cool scifi fx in the background, cheesy synth in background.
Oblivion: laid back, piano.
Psycho World: pump up tune.

Great riffs and proggy runs,
Melodies are very 80s, kind of Phil Collinsy.
Very full sound with strings, synths, techno sfx, organs.

New Single From Italian Proggers Mind Key

Taken from their upcoming album, Mk III – Aliens in Wonderland, Mind Key have released ‘Hank (Burning Eyes)’. The melodic, riff-heavy album will be available on 12 July via Frontiers Music.

Mind Key – Hank (The Blazing Eyes) (Frontiers)

After ten years of inactivity, Mind Key are ready to deliver an addictive power prog comeback that’s just as eccentric as Aliens in Wonderland‘s cover art.

01. Alien in Wonderland
02. Hank (The Blazing Eyes)
03. Hate at First Sight
04. Angry Men
05. Hands Off Cain
06. Be-Polar
07. Oblivion
08. Psycho World
09. Vertigo (Where the Cold Wind Blows)
10. Pure He/Art
11. Non-Existence

Go follow Mind Key on Facebook!

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Vanden Plas Announce New Album

Today has been busy for Frontiers Music! Along with The Ferrymen’s new album announcement, German prog veterans Vanden Plas have also announced a new album for 11 October.

Entitled The Ghost Xperiment: Awakening, the album will be the first of a two-part concept. There’s no single to revel in just yet, but get a load of that album artwork. Holy shit.

01. Cold December Night
02. The Phantoms Of Prends-Toi-Garde
03. Three Ghosts
04. Devils’ Poetry
05. Fall From The Skies
06. The Ghost Xperiment

Vanden Plas have been around the metal scene since the mid-80s, but their lineup has remained unchanged for its entirety (which, for a metal band, is a pretty fucking stellar achievement). As such, the band’s sound has only gotten better over time, so expect big things from Awakening!

While the album is unavailable for preorder as of yet, you can check out their store for a special box set, called ‘The Epic Works: 1991-2015’, as well as other special releases, here.
And, as always, go give them a follow on Facebook!

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Unprocessed Release Second Single From Upcoming Album

The fresh, young, and talanted prog outfit Unprocessed have released the second single to their upcoming Artificial Void, which is set to release on 9 August. These guys are by far my favourite new prog group right now, and if you’ve heard any of their material, you’ll instantly see why.

As usual, ‘Abandoned’ contains all of Unprocessed’s contagious, groovy energy, and, if I’m not mistaken, there’s a Chinese Erhu in background.

Unprocessed – Abandoned (Long Branch)
01. Prototype 
02. Artificial Void 
03. Ruins 
04. Fear 
05. Abandoned 
06. House Of Waters 
07. Avatar 
08. Antler’s Decay 
09. Down The Spine 
10. Another Sky 
11. The Movements, Their Echoes 
12. Closure

Every prog (and jazz) fan should have these guys on their radar, so make sure to follow the band on Facebook!

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Sweet Oblivion – Sweet Oblivion Review

Score5.5/10
GenreMelodic Metal
CountryInternational/Italy
Runtime50:33
Release Date14 June 2019
Record LabelFrontiers

Simone Mularoni has returned with yet another new project in Sweet Oblivion featuring Geoff Tate (ex-Queensryche, Operation Mindcrime). This guy seems to be everywhere these days; he’s played in recent releases of Ancient Bards, Lione/Conti, and his own prog band, DGM, he’s lent session support to countless other projects including Elvenking and Hell in the Club, and he’s also been busy taking care of the mixing and mastering for some new releases, such as the upcoming Moonlight Haze album. Of course, his involvement in numerous projects doesn’t mean anything on its own, but when his involvement is in so many excellent bands, that definitely means something.

So, it’s needless to say that I was fairly excited to hear what his latest brainchild, Sweet Oblivion, would have to offer. After all, as a fan of most everything Mularoni’s done, I know that he is a very capable and accomplished musician. And, along with fellow-DGM member Emanuele Casali on keys and session drummer Paolo Caridi, I thought that the talent pool would be deep enough to pull something great out of.

But, as if carrying on some sort of curse that started in the mid-00s, letting Geoff Tate anywhere near this project has made it suffer nearly to the point of no redemption. Rather than paying homage to the golden years of Queensryche, as Mularoni hoped to accomplish with Sweet Oblivion, the product has instead tread more closely to the doomed footprints of Operation: Mindcrime. Almost the entire record comes off as uninspired, monotonous, and ultimately a chore to listen to all at once. It has a couple minor moments of hope, but most are found so late in the album that it’s already a lost cause by the time they arrive.

If there’s one thing that’s good in the album, it’s the guitarwork. Though few and far between, there are some great riffs to be found, especially in ‘Behind Your Eyes’, ‘The Deceiver’, and the intro of ‘True Colors’. Additionally, both the background parts and solos in most of the songs are well done, so that’s a bonus. The rest of the performances are less-than-memorable. The drums and melodies are simplistic and, like many of the tracks themselves (‘Hide Away’, ‘My Last Story’, ‘Sweet Oblivion’), ultimately forgettable. I’m not a huge fan of Tate’s voice, but that’s more a personal issue of preference than an issue with his performance, which is about what you’d expect.

This album is decent, but that’s as far as it gets. The best part of the album isn’t found until ‘The Deceiver’, which is the second-to-last track, in which there’s actually a sense of excitement, which leaves me wondering: where in the fuck was this energy in the rest of the album? While the tempo is partially responsible for this boost, I’m more talking about the fact that this song seems to have had more work put into it than all of the others combined, except maybe ‘True Colors’. It’s dynamic, interesting, and has something new to offer.

When all things are considered, Sweet Oblivion’s debut is pretty disappointing. Despite all of the tools being present for a great album, it doesn’t quite make the cut that it strove for. With a little less desire to keep it Queensryche-y and a little more drive to make something special, the band could surely come up with something noteworthy. But, until then, I’m gonna leave this album in my past, where it belongs.

Sweet Oblivion – True Colours (Frontiers)

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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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Valis Ablaze Release New Single

With their sophomore album less than two months away, prog outfit Valis Ablaze have released a new single.

Valis Ablaze – Hollow Heart (Long Branch)

‘Hollow Heart’ is taken from the upcoming album Render, which is set to release on 19 July. Valis Ablaze state that Render will please fans of their previous work as well as appeal to those interested in a more modern, alternative sound.

If catchy grooves, intricate rhythms, and soaring vocals are what you seek, keep your eye out for this album to drop.

01. Neon Dreaming
02. Hollow Heart
03. The Convincer
04. Keyframes
05. Ascent feat Sam Bell
06. Saturation
07. Proxy
08. States Of Decay
09. Infinite World
10. Elevation feat White Dove

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