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Saturday, 1 October 2016

Reviews: Insomnium, The Sword, Operation Mindcrime (Reviews By Paul)

Insomnium: Winter’s Gate (Century Media)

Shut the gates! Bolt the doors! Lock up the children and prepare the mead. Winter's Gate, the seventh album from Finnish melodic death metallers has arrived and it is an absolute beast. Consisting of one epic forty minute track split into seven parts which tells the story of a group of Vikings who follow a quest to find a fabled land through treacherous weather, Winter's Gate is without doubt the finest album Insomnium have ever made. 2014's Shadows Of The Dying Sun was fantastic, but this is just stunning. The album builds from part 1 to part 7, with the climax combining some of the heaviest and delicate elements.

Pounding guitars, crashing drums, death growls mix with soaring harmonies and gentle melodies. All are fully in the mix before part 7 delivers the mightiest of assaults on the senses. It is magnificent. The band are tight as a gnat’s chuff throughout, Markus Hirvonen’s drumming astonishing, the acoustic guitar work of Ville Friman and Markus Vanhala intricate and gentle whilst their electric work is just brutal. Niilo Sevanen’s bass work solid whilst the vocal performance is exceptional. Winter may well be coming. In fact, it may well have already arrived. Light the fires and enjoy one of the best albums of the year. 10/10

The Sword: Low Country (Razor & Tie)

Just over a year ago we reviewed The Sword’s fifth studio album, High Country, which moved massively away from their Sabbath tinged doom/stoner feel and introduced all kinds of crazy shit including jazz and electronica. It grew on me massively through the year and hit my top 10 of 2015. Low Country is not a new album in the purest sense, containing ten stripped down acoustic versions of tracks from High Country. It was recorded before High Country was released and produced by bassist Bryan Richie.

What Low Country does so well is allow John D Cronise to flex his vocals, with a number of the tracks well suited to the acoustic approach. After opener Unicorn Farm, Empty Temples provides the first real feel to the album, country fused with Americana acoustic. With added harmonies throughout, The Sword have produced a worthy piece of music which stands alone as a main or as a very tasty side dish to High Country. Kyle Shult’s guitar work is excellent and when the band add in additional musicians to enhance the tracks, it becomes even better.

High Country, Seriously Mysterious and The Dream Thieves benefit from the backing female vocals of Jazz Mills whilst the Aerosmith stomp of Early Snow has the additional enhancement of trombone (Mark Gonzales), saxophone (Josh Levy) and trumpet (Gilbert Elorreagab). Buzzards introduces a simple synth, drum pattern and some haunting electric guitar to stunning effect and closing track The Bees Of Spring is a perfect gentle conclusion to an album that compliments the previous release. This one will grow and grow. 8/10

Operation Mindcrime: Resurrection (Frontiers)

2015’s The Key saw the first in the trilogy of albums from Geoff Tate's post Queensryche outfit. The fall out has been well documented and was covered in the review of The Key so let's move away from that straight away. Tate has always possessed one of the greatest voices in progressive metal so it’s good to have him back doing what he does best. Resurrection contains the same stellar assembly as The Key with the core writing team once again Tate and, guitarists Kelly Gray and Scott Moughton. Gray and Tate have also produced this album and have done a decent job. 

The first thing you notice about Resurrection is the change in tone. It is much more progressive than the first album, the songs in general more restrained and contextually deeper. The Fight is almost a ballad, with some cracking acoustic work and harmonies on the vocals. Piano, synths and keyboards all feature heavily with credit to Randy Gane's skills on the ivories. Gray and Moughton add depth with their guitar work, whether it is on the power riffs on Healing My Wounds and the powerful first single Taking On The World which features fellow bearded baldies Blaze Bayley and Tim “Ripper” Owens. Avoid the video though, it's dreadful.

Of course, being a concept album, the tracks sit tightly in formation, although they generally would stand alone too. Invincible is a seven minute smouldering beast, allowing Tate’s epic vocal to build slowly along with the track which gains momentum splendidly along with some superb guitar work. With the bass of Megadeth’s Dave Ellefson and Disturbed’s John Moyer laying the foundations in conjunction with drummers Simon Wright (ex AC/DC), Scott Mercado and Brian Tichy (The Dead Daisies), there is no doubt that this is a house built with solid shoring's. 

At over an hour in length it's a piece of work that requires commitment. A Smear Campaign is one of the heavier tracks on the album with some chunky riffs combining sweetly with Gane’s sweeping synthesisers. In fact the album gets longer as it progresses, with the final five tracks all clocking in at six minutes or more. Which Side You're On sits with Dream Theater in its grandiose sound, keyboards once again leading the groove of the guitar riffs as the track builds impressively. Into The Hands Of The World is the second longest track on the album at seven minutes long, some interesting tempo changes and styles providing a real progressive feel to the track, with more than a passing glance in parts to the late David Bowie before the industrial tinged Live From My Machine brings this intriguing album to a close. 7/10

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