The Pineapple Thief: Your Wilderness (Kscope)
Since their formation in 1999, Somerset’s The Pineapple Thief has built a wide and loyal following, laying down solid foundations. Their tenth album, Your Wilderness continues to cement their reputation as one of progressive rock’s leading lights. Main man Bruce Soord, along with bassist John Sykes, and keyboardist Steve Kitch have delivered another superb record, which contains some of the year’s most delicate and intricate compositions.
As with 2014’s Magnolia, Your Wilderness is beautifully performed. In Exile and No Man’s Land build slowly before adding some steel to Soord’s hauntingly misery drenched vocals. Comparisons with other leading lights in the genre are impossible to ignore, but TPF are very much now leaders in the field. Although the band’s sound sits much more towards the indie and alt rock field, That Shore demonstrates that the band can still rock out. With drums provided by Porcupine Tree’s Gavin Harrison, and guest appearances from Supertramp’s John Helliwell (clarinet) and Caravan’s Geoffrey Richardson who provides a string quartet, there is no doubting the quality. Add in some superb guitar work from Godsticks’ Darren Charles and this becomes one of the must buys of the year.
That Shore and Take Your Shot are both densely layered songs which provide all the evidence needed that Sykes and Kitch are integral components of the band. Harrison’s drumming is exceptional, working brilliantly on Fend For Yourself which allows Soord’s voice to combine with Kitch’s haunting keys and Helliwell’s mournful clarinet. The masterpiece on this album is the stunning penultimate track, The Final Thing On My Mind which ebbs and flows with ethereal elegance before a storming climax to a song that clocks in at just under ten minutes but which really flies by. The album closes with another melancholic piece, Where We Stood, which brings a fantastic album to a perfect conclusion. This really is a superb piece of work. Miss it at your peril. 9/10
Witherscape: The Northern Sanctuary (Century Media)
If you like your death metal with a huge scoop of atmosphere and a side serving of progressiveness, then the latest release from Sweden’s Witherscape is going to be right up your street. With complex patterns, death and clean vocals, swathes of sweeping keyboards and a sound that fuses Opeth with early Dream Theater and some classic heavy metal, The Northern Sanctuary continues the story set in 2013’s The Inheritance.
It’s amazing when you listen to The Northern Sanctuary to realise that this is the work of just two men, multi-instrumentalist Dan Swanö and Ragnar Widberg, who provides all of the stunning guitar and bass work. Looking into the history of Swanö is exhausting; the guy has been around the metal scene for a couple of decades and is best known for his work with Edge Of Sanity, Nightingale and Bloodbath. His discography is vast.
But what about the music? Although it is a concept album which appears obvious at certain times when the effects used flesh out the atmosphere, many of the tracks stand alone. Full of hooks, intricate time changes and variation in style, it’s almost schizophrenic in approach. Swanö’s vocal approach is impressive, switching between his death growl and clean vocals with ease. I personally prefer his clean delivery as he has a powerful voice which enhances the quieter sections. Nowhere is this more clearly demonstrated than on the climatic fourteen-minute title track, which is a real epic. Huge riffs, powerful drumming and melodic keyboards all combine to produce a pretty epic conclusion to the tale, which switches from progressive to extreme metal several times. If you wanted a track that acted as a show piece to around ten genres of metal, this would be it.
As well as the clear Opeth comparisons, bands such as Amorphis and Symphony X also come to mind as you work through this release. Rapture Ballet contains a fine Opeth style stomp, whilst there are hooks galore on In The Eyes Of Idols. The quality of the musicianship is quite something; powerful drumming and 70s style keyboards from Swanö mixes brilliantly with Widerberg’s blistering guitar work. Album closer Vila I Frid changes pace completely, an emotional haunting piano solo bringing a quite unique and interesting album to a close. 8/10
Equilibrium: Armageddon (Nuclear Blast)
For those of you who like your metal with a healthy mixture of styles, get your heads around the fifth album from German outfit Equilibrium. Armageddon has to be one of the craziest albums I’ve ever heard, a fusion of folk, death, black and symphonic metal with the added flavour of a typical European style metal Eurovision Song Contest entry. Crushing drums and powerhouse riffs merge effortlessly with classical synthesisers and keys and a guttural vocal approach from vocalist Robse Dahn that brings to mind Tomi Joutsen of Amorphis. Some of the tracks as just bat shit crazy; check out the balls out Born To Be Epic if you don’t believe me. The folk element of Turisas and Eluveitie skips alongside all the chaos. It’s power metal madness with a dollop of high speed Greek dancing on Zum Horizont, which just gets the foot tapping and the body aching (more so than usual? -Ed) for a jig in the sun whilst guzzling down a cold beer. Yes, this lot should be on the main stage at Bloodstock next year for sure.
The album was solely written and composed by original member, guitarist, keyboardist and clean vocalist Rene Berthiaume and opens with the epic Sehnsucht (no, not a cover of their industrial countrymen), soaring keyboards and emotive hooks. It is the first album not to feature Andreas Völk and Sandra Van Eldik who left shortly after 2014’s Erdentempel. It’s also the first to feature some tracks performed in English. It’s a kaleidoscope of sounds and styles that has no right to work but it does so well. Erwachen, the stunningly good Heimat with the Eurovision stomp once more and the riff heavy industrial tinged Prey are just three examples. Tuval Refaeli’s drumming, Dom Crey’s guitar and Makki Solvat’s solid bass work combine with Berthiaume and Dahn magnificently to deliver some of the most insane tunes I’ve heard in a long time including the anthemic seven-minute closer Eternal Destination. Get out and pick this up now. It’s that good. 8/10