Asgard – Ragnarøkkr Review

Score3/10
GenreProgressive Folk Metal
CountryItaly
Runtime
Release Date15 May 2020
Record LabelPride & Joy

I was previously unfamiliar with Italy’s progressive folk metal group, Asgard. The band released five albums between 1991 and 2000, so it’d be unsurprising if they’ve flown under a few other radars, too. But, for reasons that’re unknown to me, they’ve chosen 2020 as the year they release their comeback album! Entitled Ragnarøkkr, if this is anything to judge Asgard off, I really wasn’t missing much by never hearing them.

Ragnarøkkr‘s overall sound can be compared to a cheery, wannabe folk Blind Guardian. Aside from the simple highland melodies, the production quality and rawness are similar, and it tries to be dynamic and emotive (plus it’s clear that the vocals strive for a Hansi Kursch approach). Unfortunately, it fails time and time again. Every time a decent musical idea pops up, it changes direction for no real reason other than to change direction, with no effort at all on transition or musicality. The fucked up thing is, though, that there’s no real technicality going on to explain all of these transitions, either, so you can’t even dismiss it as a prog band doing prog things. It’s more like a bunch of amateur musicians just discovered that songs could have multiple sections and went, “Hey guys, what if instead of writing a cohesive song we crammed fifty clashing feels together, back-to-back, with no warning?” Yeah, great fucking idea, right?

Anyway, if the bad songwriting wasn’t enough, the melodies are all really weak, the vocals are uninspired, the guitarwork is subpar, and the organs are. . . good enough, I guess. If I had to pick a specific least favourite part of the album, it would have to be the end of the final track, ‘Ragnarøkkr’; the song is about to end when, as if culminating every shitty transition the album features, it fades out while at the same time the chorus fades in again. I mean, seriously. What the fuck is that? As if the album wasn’t already messy enough, they just had to go and basically say, “Yeah, we KNOW it’s messy, so let us just leave you with this sour taste in your mouth,”.

One almost-redeeming quality in Ragnarøkkr is the use of a recurring melody, which is introduced in ‘Kali Yuga’ and returns in the closer. It’s kind of a shit melody, but hey, at least they tried. Some of the drumwork is good, too, so it’s not entirely a lost cause. Aside from that, there are a couple decent solo sections, like in ‘Visions’, but there’s a really jarring halftime cut in that one that throws off the entire thing.

Like I said, before Ragnarøkkr, I had never heard of Asgard, and, in all honesty, I’d be better off if I never did. This is one album you can judge by its cover: messy, confusing, and kinda crap.

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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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Power Metal: New Music Video From Dyscordia

Belgian progressive powerhouse Dyscordia has released a new music video for their song, ‘This House” which is from their album Delete / Rewrite, which came out in January.

Piet Overstijns on the video: “Not only should you stay in the house, you should stay in ‘This House’!!!”  

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Ivanhoe – Blood And Gold Review

Score8.5/10
GenreProgressive Metal
CountryGermany
Runtime38:33
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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Progressive Metal: Scardust Release Track From Upcoming Album

Israeli symphonic proggers Scardust have released a live video for the first single, ‘Tantibus II’, of their upcoming album. While there are no further details of the album, it is set to come out this Fall.

Scardust is a ferocious female-fronted prog outfit that was founded in 2015. The band released their debut album, Sands of Time, in 2017.

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Sonus Corona – Time Is Not On Your Side Review

Score7/10
GenreProgressive Metal
CountryFinland
Runtime57:25
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: New Single From Freaky Jelly

Brazilian proggers Freaky Jelly have released their first single since their debut album in 2017. The band also has a new album on the way for 2020, although no more details have been released yet.

Singer Ricardo De Stefano on ‘When Hope Dies’:
“We tried a different approach in terms of production, getting closer to the sound of modern prog metal bands. Guitars are heavier, keyboards delivers futuristic atmospheres, and there is some tribal elements which gives dynamics to the song. The mood is dark and melancholic.”

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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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Wilderun – Veil Of Imagination Review

Score9.5/10
GenreProgressive Folk Metal
CountryUSA (Boston)
Runtime01:06:12
Release Date1 November 2019
Record LabelIndependent

Not many bands can pull off an exceptional atmospheric album so, when one does, it always gets me excited about it. One of the few (and latest) this year to accomplish such a feat are Boston’s Wilderun with their third album, Veil of Imagination. It expertly conjures deep feelings like wonder, determination, aggression, hate, fear, reflection, and everything in between. With rich orchestrations supporting it, Veil of Imagination is as colourful as its album cover would have you believe.

One of the amazing things about Veils of Imagination is how it hangs between so many genres yet doesn’t quite fit definitively into any of them. This album has been the topic of a few of my conversations lately, and everyone I talk to has a different take on what they’d consider it as. Personally, I think it fits well enough under the banner of “progressive folk”, but friends of mine have fought me on this, instead calling it things like “epic progressive death”, “progressive symphonic”, or even “atmospheric death”. The thing I find fascinating isn’t the label itself (I hardly ever get hung up on metal subgenres because they’re not absolute), it’s the fact that everyone I’ve talked to seems to have had a different experience with the album, driving them to pick out different defining characteristics about it.

The truth is, there is no right and wrong, especially when it comes to Veils of Imagination. It’ll be flowing with a light, carefree melody over bright orchestrations or acoustic guitar one second then it’ll explode into insanely harsh blast beats and gutteral vocals the next. There’s a steady, haunting undertone to the album, but it’s more apparent at some times than others.

If there’s one downside to the album, it’s that it only really works if you listen to it all at once. Each song is dynamic and holds it own, sure, but to get that special, full impact, listening to the entire thing is a necessity.

So, if you want to hear one of the best metal albums of the entire year, make damn sure to give Veil of Imagination a spin. This is my first experience with Wilderun but, after this, I’m ready to dive into their previous work.

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Vanden Plas – The Ghost Xperiment – Awakening Review

Score7/10
GenreProgressive Metal
CountryGermany
Runtime46:36
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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