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Wednesday 17 September 2014

Reviews: Sólstafir, Aeon Zen, Empress AD

Sólstafir: Ótta (Seasons Of Mist)

Sólstafir are one of Iceland's premier bands, Ótta is their fifth album. Much like Swedes Katatonia or our own Anathema, Sólstafir used to deal in black/death metal but their sound has evolved into the post rock world of using noise and soundscapes to create atmosphere. What an atmosphere they create as on these 8 tracks, you are taken on an audio journey through the desolation of Iceland, the album is somewhat of a concept piece as it is taking you through a single day with Lágnætti (midnight) starting things off and Náttmál (Nighttime) ending the album. All of the tracks are performed with intense feeling and passion as well as in their native tongue, this however doesn't detract from the music rather it enhances it. The band are not just your simple guitars, drums and bass set-up they add folk instruments on the dark and brooding title track (Night) to enhance the song. Rismál (Dayrise) is a sparse, almost indie sounding track full of jangly guitar that sounds like the sun creeping into the sky. It is one of the shorter songs on the album at just over four minutes but it is excellent and leads into the driving rock of Dagmál (Morning) which has a shimmering guitar line that really brings the song to life along with Aðalbjörn Tryggvason's remorseful vocals. This album is a true post rock record drawing more from the shoegaze, ambient and post punk than it does from hard rock or metal, the dreamy Miðdegi is testament to this. I'll be honest I've never heard any Sólstafir and I am impressed, this is music that you must take in it's entirety, it's an album not a collection of songs but when the songs are as good as the Porcupine Tree style Nón (Noon) it's hard not to pick and choose. However you can't deny how good this album is when you listen to it in it's entirety. It is a marvellous album that just lets you, sit back, relax and be immersed by the sheer quality of this record. A record to play when you need a change of pace, some may be put off by the mellow sounds contained herein, even by the Icelandic vocals, but don't be put off, this album is excellent and well worth seeking out. 9/10   

Aeon Zen: Ephemera (Richard Hinks Music)

Aeon Zen are now on their fourth full length record and since their stunning debut they have gone from strength to strength, nothing is off limits to this band, they encompass many genres from rock and metal to jazz, folk and electronica. The band is the brainchild of Richard Hinks with all the songs written, arranged and produced by him, he also provides bass and vocals, on record he also contributes rhythm, additional lead guitars and keyboards on the records (while other musician's provide these roles live), he is aided in his kaleidoscope of noise by drummer Steve Burton and guitarist Alistair Bell. The band have also had a pick of vocalists on every album with the longest serving being Andi Kravljaca whose classic metal vocals suit the music well allowing Hinks to contribute to huge backing choirs and even the odd scream and grunt. I mention the massive influences this band has but they are at their heart a metal band which is shown by the frankly head crushingly heavy The Entity which has a Messugah style start stop riff, lots of electronics, but also some massive hooks coupled with a searing guitar and keyboard solo. It's a hell of a start to this album that shows off everything that makes this band great, the vocal interplay, the amazing musicianship and most importantly the supreme writing. Soul Machine starts out like a Symphony X/ Dream Theater song with a huge choral vocal, some mellifluous guitar and keys as well as a lot of orchestrations, the track slows in the middle with a post rock drone before the final part explodes into Behemoth style symphonic black metal replete with furious blast beats from Burton and synth solo finale. Life kicks off with a jazzy swing opening, which continues throughout making this one of the proggier tracks on the album and really showing off Hinks' bass work. Unite is a definite single being one of the shortest tracks on the album but distils everything the band is about in one song. This is the sound of a band that are at the top of their game, it is a wonderful time for British prog with Haken, Tesseract and of course Aeon Zen all showing that we do this kind of incredibly creative, emotive and frankly fantastic music better than anyone and Ephemera is a showcase of that! 10/10

P.S: I urge you to check out Aeon Zen start with Ephemera and then work your way through their back catalogue. You will not be disappointed!

Empress AD: Still Life Moving Fast (Roadrunner)

Empress AD are one of the new breed of aggressive, intelligent and frankly mesmerising progressive metal. Channelling bands like Mastodon, Baroness and Tesseract but also adding a lot of old school prog into the mix. Empress AD have a real groove vibe that sits somewhere between Mastodon and Opeth on Invisible Conductor which opens the album and kicks things of in aggressive style. There's fuzz driven bass, melodic guitar lines, screams and also clean vocals from Ollie Loring, there's even a drum solo from Edd Unwin in the middle of the track. The change into Delve Into The Retrospect is jarring as the song starts off with and almost King Crimson like vibe, but when the guitars come in the band dive straight into Akerfeldt territory with the fractured guitar lines and wistful quiet phases. Into the modern prog of Deeper In Disguise which starts off on fire and then goes into middle eight that sounds like a heavy metal Muse. These four men are amazing musicians they play with immense technicality or fluidity that are at their most evident on the more ambient, melodic tracks such as From Where I Cannot Reach. The song writing is in the upper echelon and the band unlike many carrying the tag are truly progressive, Urwin's drums are intensely percussive and clearly jazz influenced, Alex Loring's bass is the anchor leading the time changes, and Tom Meadon and Ollie Loring's guitars work wonders flowing between melodic noddling and heavy distorted metal battering. Back to worship at the altar of Mikael for On My Return with it's driving, grinding almost oriental riff and light and shade work building into a cacophony of noise. This album is one that is rare, it is equally full of immediacy but also many of the songs need repeated listens to develop. Usually I know what a Roadrunner album will sound like; I was presently surprised when I heard this, it was a very refreshing experince to hear a band of this talent unafraid to compromise. The album ends with Did We See which slows the pace and Consumed which does just that with its exercise in loud/quiet dynamics and euphoric finale. Still Life Moving Fast is a must for those reared on Mastodon, Neurosis and indeed Opeth, but it will also appeal to those from the background of King Crimson and Pink Floyd. An utter triumph!! 10/10 

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