Seventh Wonder: Tiara (Frontiers Records) [Matt]
Ok I'm going to say something controversial and probably a little snobby. The snobby bit: I have liked Seventh Wonder since the Swedish band put out their debut record, they have always been near the top of the prog metal list for me, now the controversial bit I prefer Tommy Karevik's vocals when he's singing for SW than when he's fronting Kamelot. Here he sounds like himself, able to put every ounce of talent he has into his performance, not having to emulate anyone else's style. He always seems more comfortable at the helm of SW than in Kamelot, so it's fantastic to hear new music from Seventh Wonder especially as their last release was 2010's The Great Escape, while that was a good album their masterpiece is Mercy Falls and I have to say Tiara is nearing that level of brilliance.
It's got the conceptual emotional complexity of Mercy Falls but the straightforward prog/power pomp of The Great Escape and their debut. The album, that has been in production for a long time, opens with a stirring orchestral setting the cinematic scene to this record it's up to The Everones to start the album properly with some punchy prog metal mastery, direct and to the point it's a distilled version of everything that makes Seventh Wonder so good, Johan Liefvendahl's guitar, Andreas Blomqvist's bass, Tommy Karevik's vocals, Andreas Söderin's keyboard and Stefan Norgren's drums bringing back everything I've ever loved about this band. A good start then and it gets better with the euphoric Dream Machine which has a pop streak at odds with the technical musical backing and leads into the brilliant Against The Grain which is progressive and melodic starting with delicate acoustics before bursting to glorious life.
The conceptual element starts with the power metal of Victorious then is taken up by the Farewell trilogy beginning with the synth heavy Tiara's Song, as the piano driven Goodnight takes the middle and it ends with the epic Beyond Today where Tommy is backed by his sister Jenny. This middle suite is classic Seventh Wonder expertly performed, with melodic swathes merging with metallic riffs and strong sentiment at it's core. Founder member Andreas Blomqvist put's it like so "Tiara is everything you have come to expect from Seventh Wonder, but I also hope there are some new flavors in there to keep it interesting" He's got it spot on, you can hear the time this has taken to make and it means the band can be at their most creative, ti's everything you could want from a Seventh Wonder album and while it's not quite got the emotional resonance of Mercy Falls it's certainly their most accomplished record. 9/10
Beyond Creation: Algorythm (Season Of Mist) [Paul H]
The third release from Quebec’s technical death metal maestros Beyond Creation opens with a two-minute intro which builds classically and creates genuine tension and expectation such is the grandeur of the piece. The band then explodes into Entre Suffrage Et Mirage, polyrhythmic patterns, arpeggios dropping all over the place and some brutally tribal drumming all converging into a progressively technical fest of brutality. And that’s pretty much the next 44 minutes described. For those who say that death metal is just a wall of noise, then the demands that Beyond Creation set for themselves on Algorythm should dispel the doubter within minutes.
Hugo Doyon-Karout’s fretless bass riffs take centre stage on Surface’s Echoes, which continues to confuse and delight in equal measure. Blast beats, Simon Girad’s screaming gruff vocals and riffs all combine in a punctuated staccato journey which scorches the earth, such is the heat it produces. The title track is a monstrous beast, the elaborate patterns and time changes demanding the listener pay close attention to appreciate the subtle nuances and some stunningly delicate guitar work in the centre of the track. Intricate, progressive passages expand and develop as each track evolves. With subtle melodies woven into the very fabric of everything that Beyond Creation deliver, there is much to enjoy and discover on an album that is quite simply, brilliant. 8/10
Ramage Inc: Under The Skin (Self Released) [Matt]
Let's get this straight Ramage Inc are not a Metallica tribute, in fact they bare no resemblance to the Californian thrash titans at all. No Scottish act Ramage Inc were formed by singer, guitarist, producer Bryan Ramage who has taken the road less traveled since forming the band in 2015. Under The Skin is their third album and it's yet another experimental metal juggernaut that pays massive debts to Devin Townsend (when he's Hevy Devy) mainly due to Bryan's expressive vocals and the use of down-tuned heavy riffs to bolster the soaring vocal melodies. Blood Is Burning Red segues into Under The Sky which is a powerful start to the record as the thick riffs from Ramage, Hef (guitar) and Marcin (bass) who bring the thunder on tracks such as the Gojira-like Overload which actually is the showcase for the insane drumming of Hammy. The classic fret sliding of the French metal titans appears on the rumbling Rhino as well. This third album is challenging and probably the bands most complex with a defiant prog ethos throughout, however it's one that is filtered through some ambient textures that sit in conjunction with the extreme metal hostility, it's nearly an hour of intricate but hefty music that will appeal to those that like to think while having their skull shattered. 8/10
Warrel Dane: Shadow Work (Century Media) [Matt]
This is the final act of a great man. Shadow Work is the album former Nevermore/Sanctuary vocalist Warrel Dane was working on in São Paulo when he passed away in 2017, it was supposed to be the follow up to his 2008 solo record Praises To The War Machine, all the instrumentation to this record was recorded for what was supposed to be an 80 minute opus however the vocals were never completed fully. So what we have here is a 41 minute tribute album that features fully formed musical backing, from his Brazilian band that ranges from blistering thrash The Hanging Garden, to huge balladry on Rain as well as the progressive heaviness he was known for in Nevermore, shown on the finale of Mother Is The Word For God.
However obviously the vocals are not as good as they should be because Warrel’s vocals were tracked during pre-production and the actual recording sessions but you can hear the intensity and emotional depth of Dane's vocals albeit without the shine of a production. Shadow Work had the potential to be a brilliant release, musically at least it's exactly the sort of thing you'd want from Dane, dark, atmospheric, technical and heavy, it's a tremendous shame he never finished the record and a real tragedy that someone as talented passed away while still at the height of his powers. A fitting tribute as strong as the rest of his body of work. 7/10