When Winterfylleth, arguably the UK’s most advanced and technically excellent black metal outfit released their masterpiece The Divinity Of Antiquity in 2014, few would have complained if the band had followed in the steps of Bolt Thrower with Those Once Loyal and never recorded another album, such was the quality of that release. Fortunately, the English Heritage metallers moved forward and The Dark Hereafter incredibly tops their previous release. With the usual power and might, the band pursue more anthems focusing on nature, the English countryside and the folly of man’s approach to the natural world. The title track opens the album with incredible pace and gusto, the sheer technicality of the band immediately noticeable. In fact, the technical skills of an already brilliantly competent outfit have improved even more.
Dan Capp and Christopher Naughton’s guitar work is exceptional throughout, with the subtle nuances demanding repeated plays for full appreciation. There are two massive tunes on this album. Green Cathedral, a 13 minute epic which considers the relationship of nature and the rural world as a more enriching source of spirituality than any religion. Based on a concept by author Ben Myers, it is a powerful moving piece which demonstrates that whilst the band can slow the pace without losing the charge and it also highlights the impressive changes that Winterfylleth have made to their sound in recent years. Closing track Led Astray In The Forest Dark is the other beast, a faithful cover of Ulver's I Troldskog Faren Vild. The chanting vocals gives the band an almost monastic quality, with the slower pace losing none of the heaviness we associate with the band, thunderous drums from Simon Lucas anchoring the band solidly with Nick Wallwork’s bass lines running riot. The Dark Hereafter is stunning in every aspect. An underrated band who continue to surprise. 10/10
Sonata Arctica: The Ninth Hour (Nuclear Blast)
Sonata Arctica's ninth album (thus the title) continues to reintroduce the wolf theme that seemed to disappear on Unia but has re-emerged since The Days Of The Grays and was especially prevalent on Pariah's Child. The Ninth Hour also deals with the well worn tropes of nature, spirit and also politics the band are seen at their most politically aware on Fairytale which is a damming indictment of the current political culture especially one haystack-haired individual. Musically the band are possibly the grandiose they have ever been, all of the tracks are multi-layered to hell and back taking from Nightwish's and Epica's current mindset of more is more this does mean that sometimes the nuances of the music are lost a little, something not helped by the slightly flat production.
However as ever the songwriting and lyricism of frontman and band talisman Tony Kakko is the bands saviour, the lyrics are striking, stirring and passionate conjuring the emotion to the songs. Elias Viljanen (guitar), Henrik Klingenberg (keys) Pasi Kauppinen (bass) and Tommy Portimo (drums) are the musical backing that moves effortlessly between the progressive power metal sound Sonata have cultivated (Rise A Night) and delves deeper into the classically influenced bombast that they are now more comfortable with. Klingenberg's piano /keys/synths are the key part of this adding the multiple layers to the songs.
As I've said many of the songs deal with human beings being the shepherds of the earth and explicitly pro-nature and talks at length about the humans predisposition to ignore things on We Are What We Are as well as our care for our furry brethren (especially wolves) on Animals and it's slight return On The Faultline (Closer To The Animal). Don't fret though it's not all doom and gloom and neither is it overly preachy, these are informed opinion set to music told in Kakko's unique way with a wry smile and a big heart. Moving away from the thematic tracks we have Among The Shooting Stars, Fly, Navigate, Communicate both of which deal with other issues, Werewolves and flying respectively meanwhile White Pearl, Black Oceans (Part II: By The Grace Of The Ocean) continues the story theme established on Reckoning Night.
The Ninth Hour is probably the strongest album of the post Unia period, it is the culmination of the bands metamorphosis from power metal purveyors to classically influenced dramatic rockers. Sonata Arctica have always been one of my favourite bands and Tony remains one of the most unique voices in metal but with a few tweaks the band could break out of the prog/power scene infect the mainstream charts too. 8/10
Giraffe Tongue Orchestra: Broken Lines (Cooking Vinyl) [Review By Paul]
Supergroups. Pah! Ten a penny these days as artists look for alternative paths to creativity or perhaps the cynical would say look to earn an extra penny or two. On occasion though the collaboration just comes together magnificently to provide something different and exciting, piquing the interest. Killer Be Killed certainly did this and now we have Broken Lines, the maiden release from Giraffe Tongue Orchestra. With the double shred of Brent Hinds of Mastodon and Ben Weinman (Dillinger Escape Plan), William Duvall of Alice In Chains, Thomas Pridgen (The Mars Volta) and drummer Pete Griffin (Dethlok), GTO deliver 40 minutes of jazz fused, biker styled hard rock which constantly changes, intrigues and roars. Blood Moon with its bat shit crazy gore filled video and the politically charged themes of Crucifixion provide plenty of interest. and the metal stomp of Back To The Light with its intricate guitar work scurrying away like rodents is how the Manics would sound if they had the balls to really rock out. The funk flavour tastes delicious. Duvall in particular has really been allowed to unleash, his voice the perfect fit to the massive riffs and cross shredding. This is a fantastic release. Can we have a UK tour please? 9/10