Epica: The Solace System (Nuclear Blast)
On the back of their sublime album The Holographic Principle from last year 2016, Epica have returned with an EP that has been released just in time for their US tour with Lacuna Coil and their upcoming UK tour early next year. The six songs on this record were written during the sessions for the last album and they retain the intensely technical, cinematic, epochal nature of their last full length. The record kicks off with the title track which has glorious choirs before the main riff kicks in and Simon Simmons lets those golden pipes loose.
What I've always loved about Epica is that they have become more grandiose as the years have worn on, they are the epitome of symphonic metal with a huge classical edge to their music but there is never a hint of it being throwaway, every element is meticulously plotted and planned, from the swathes of classical instrumentation (Coen Jansen), to the shredding riffs (Mark Jansen & Issac Dehaye), the explosive drumming (Ariën van Weesenbeek) and of course Simone's vocals interweaving with the harsh vocals from Mark, Ariën and Issac used to great effect on the powerful Wheel Of Destiny, the rest of the record features the excellent Architect Of Light and the superior ballad Immortal Melancholy. Epica have been on a roll since their fourth record and there seems to be no signs of stopping them. 8/10
Arch Enemy: Will To Power (Century Media)
The last Arch Enemy record was released in 2014, it was typical Arch Enemy fayre but was notable for the introduction of Alissa White-Gluz on vocals after long term vocalist Angela Gossow stepped down from behind the mic. Since then they have toured pretty much non stop and have gained the membership of Jeff Loomis who was the six stringer of Nevermore. His wizardry creeps in on opening instrumental Set Flame To The Night which is nothing more than a guitar lead harmony that bleeds into The Race an accurately named song as it does seem like a race to the finish breaking in the middle for a heaving groove and fiery solo. From the first track you can hear that the 'new' Arch Enemy line up have really gelled after Gossow's departure, there is no trepidation here just balls the wall melodic death metal with lead guitar mastery that adds a new edge, honed by the arduous touring schedule the band have come out of the other side with enough material for a new record that shakes up their melodic death metal approach.
Founder member Michael Ammott has found the ideal sparring partner in Loomis, every song has a blazing solo as part of it without sacrificing the wall of riffs Arch Enemy have always made their own, The World Is Yours gallops along at fair pace and has some tasty lead breaks, it stands as one of the best tracks on the record, although it should have been a closer on the other hand if it was the finale then you wouldn't get the climactic A Fight I Must Win. After The World Is Yours they change tact with a stomping The Eagle Flies Alone it's what you could consider a 'lighter' song it has a melodic feel and a grand piano and after this it gets yet more delicate a Alissa displays her clean vocals over the top of classical guitars and synths before Reason To Believe builds into the hard rock hook.
Behind the mic the touring and various guest spots have clearly given Alissa more confidence as she has developed her own style of vocal, yes she still has the rawness of Gossow but she is distinctly different, her vocals are clearer and more defined than her predecessor. On their tenth album Arch Enemy take risks and for a band in their 21st year that's not something to take lightly, the do pay dividends, Arch Enemy sound revitalised, they have held on to their melo-death sound but they now have a classic metal vein running through them, it all gets me excited for their shows in February next year. 8/10
Seven Spires: Solveig (Black Ray Music)
According to the press release, "Seven Spires’ album Solveig is a theatrical metal concept album in two acts, It is the story of a lost soul and his journey through a Demon’s sunless Neo-Victorian underworld. Despite small glimmers of hope, it is a grim tale with a heavy focus on escapism, death, and decadence" to me that translates to a Steampunk retelling of Dante's Inferno, but it sets the listener up for what is a mind bending trip through a cinematic story-line where the band change styles as often as they change notes, its a mish-mash of power, black, death and symphonic metal with jazz, classical and even operatic touches, tracks such as The Cabaret Of Dreams sounds like Diablo Swing Orchestra, Closure has Maiden-esque guitar breaks and a huge death metal breakdown, that leads into the outright Romanticism of 100 Days while later on The Paradox is pure black metal filth.
This is just the tip of a very deep Berkeley College Of Music Trained iceberg, all four members of the band trained their which is immediately obvious from the technical playing of all the instrumental players who effortlessly move from style to style. Led by Jack Kosto's incredible six string mastery and Adrienne Cowan's impressive vocal range, one minute it's high opera the next brutal death growls and after that black metal screeching. Many may balk at the records 15 track playlist but when you consider a couple of these tracks are instrumental that link the elements of the story together it means you are left with about 12 well structured and formed metal tracks that should see every metal fan find at least one song they can rock out to. Solveig is theatrical metal in it's best form it grabs you by the collar and drags you into the story-line with a flurry of musical dexterity. It's a record that needs repeated plays as it can be overwhelming in one sitting but it is very pleasurable experience if you want something that's more than just a metal record. 9/10
Oraton: Concentric Circles (Self Released)
Th UK has a real pedigree when it comes to progressive metal/rock bands with female singers, there's Mostly Autumn, Magenta, Panic Room, The Reasoning, Touchstone and the list goes on. With UK being the leaders of this style it makes sense why Leighton Buzzard's Oraton would want a piece of that action, however many of the bands mentioned have had years or experience perfecting their craft while Oraton are only on their debut release, so they haven't got a hope of reaching those lofty ambitions?
Well consider yourself wrong on all counts Concentric Circles is very mature professional record, the band (on record at least) are a three piece of Joe Parrish-James (guitar), his sister Rhian (vocals) and friend Mikey Ciancio (drums), they have pooled their influences very well on this record with Rhian's keening clear vocals sitting on top of the punchy drumming of Mikey as Joe display's a virtuosity of someone far more experienced, you can hear Iron Maiden in his solos and also the atmosphere's they create especially on the gargantuan title track.
They are a band who weave their influences well you get some nods to Epica on Erato Lives, Tool style rhythms on Late Love, Devin style riffs on Condemned To Life and the angular Astral Park and big melodic power from Accept The Circle. The production is crisp and allows the instruments space to be heard while Rhian's vocals are particularly enjoyable especially with the male vocals supporting the harmonies ala Touchstone and Mostly Autumn. If you like your progressive rock with a metallic edge and huge amount of talent Oraton are worth checking out, an impressive debut. 7/10