Monuments: Phronesis (Century Media)
We're into the teenage years of djent now and the bands who have been at the forefront of this style have had to adapt their sound and mature if they have any hope of surviving as a band. Phronesis is the third album from international prog metal act Monuments after a two-year global tour they returned home with the space to write a new album. It was approached with a "clean slate" especially to the lyrics, but as primary songwriter/guitarist John Browne explains “I find that I’ve always thrived when writing about subjects that trouble me” in fact he goes on to explain this album deals with a lot of issues the band had following their extensive tour.
Stygian Blue is probably the darkest song on the record which Browne states "This song came to be while I was in the darkest place I’ve ever been in my 32 years" which explain's it's refrain of "LEave me the fuck alone". It's probably one of the strongest songs on the record but you could say that about the majority of the album with the bludgeoning Hollow King giving thick riffs and screams along with a big clean backing vocal, it's where Chris Barretto has his most vicious vocal as for the majority of the record he alternates between metalcore screams and clean crooning (Celeste) vocalising the intelligent lyrics that have links to emotions, self repair and of course the bands obsession with Greek linguistics.
Pop inflections come in on Mirror Image, the remaining record has polyrhythms in abundance, palm muted brilliance, electronics buzzing underneath with piano and synths cutting in at times. Phronesis is a brilliant album that takes the next evolutionary leap in Monuments. 9/10
Outloud: Virtual Hero Society (Rock Of Angels Records)
Something has happened to Outloud, the Greek melodic party rockers seem to have grown up on their fourth full length. Virtual Hero Society (or V.H.S to coincide with the 80's vibe of this record) sees them tackling deeper subject matter, Virtual Hero is the lynchpin for this as it deals with the use of and dangers of technology in today's society. Outloud is where vocalist Chandler Mogel has always been at is very best and once again his vocal is brilliant with the soulful fusion of Steve Perry and David Coverdale, he's got a passion and range for days making him the ideal musical partner for Bob Katsionis who is the riff machine and ivory tinkler for Outloud as well as it's main writer.
He's clearly got the 80's style of music down as My Promise and I Am The One both have huge pumping synths and slick crystal clear guitar lines, that show the bands AOR past is still alive and well with a few little changes to their signature sound, I Am The One is more in the vein of Dynazty or Amaranthe, but it's all still richly melodic just with a bit more attitude and an adjustment to the subject matter changing. Yes the romance is still there with Share My Dreams and World-Go-Round but on Virtual Society and the strutting anthemic We Got Tonite there's a harder edge with some seriously good guitar work.
Polished and glossy Virtual Hero Society is the sound of 1984 with themes bang up to date, it'll be great on MP3 but it would be an album perfect on Cassette playing out of the speakers of a (white) Lamborghini Countach. 8/10
Sky Empire: The Dark Tower (Rock Company NL)
Formed out of the collaboration between alt metal band Gun Metal and prog rockers Core Project, Sky Empire are a progressive metal based in London. They say they're redefining the entire genre which is big white lie but what are doing is making some pretty solid prog metal that's diversified by the use of chunky alt grooves and the distinct vocals of Yordan Ivanov. Made of five tracks the longest of which is the 20 minute title track The Dark Tower which closes the out the record in epic style with the most versatile vocal performance on the album as the album becoming more like James LaBrie by the minute. The Dark Tower gets more progressive as it carries on, behind the hyperbole it;s fairly impressive chunk of prog that will certainly entertain fans of the genre. 7/10
Costas Varras: Neon Classical (Symmetric Records)
Produced by Bob Katsionis (yep him again), released on his record label, the third album of guitarist Costas Varras is (on which Katsionis also plays keys) seriously good neo-classical power metal that ranges from instrumental guitar workouts to tracks with an array of guest vocalists. The chugging Burning Bridges features Henning Basse and sound a bit like Firewind because of it, Rise is rampaging with Chity Somapala giving us a blast of his in demand chords. Varras was born in Athens but moved to Hollywood to study at the Musicians Institute he recorded with Chris Tsangarides, however tragedy and illness brought him back to Athens and he abandoned the recordings for his third release.
Prompted by Bob he set about re-recording those songs for his debut on Symmetric Records and has produced a record that really flies by there is a lot of guitar prowess here Varras' hero is Malmsteen but it's not a shredfest like Malmsteen at his best Varras has actually written songs that will appeal to more than just guitar nerds. Hollywood After Midnight is an AOR styled instrumental with slick riffs and big use of synths, but Revenge is more classically influenced heavy rocker while the title track pulls a neat trick of mixing pumping electro with arpeggios. He's got proper fist pumping metal on Mighty Warrior which has Witherfall, White Wizzard and Omicida vocalist James Michael giving the air raid siren wail over on the top and more pumping hard rock on Fallen Hero. Neon Classical is collection of great songs from a guitar-player and writer who has triumphed over adversity in fine style. 8/10