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Thursday, 14 February 2019

Reviews: Avantasia, Hexvessel, Ghost Iris, Indestructible Noise Command (Matt, Paul H & Sean)

Avantasia: Moonglow (Nuclear Blast) [Matt]

I'll get this out of the way first, Moonglow features a cover of Maniac as the final track, it's not wanted, it's not necessary and frankly it sounds exactly like the Firewind version. There I said it! let's gloss over that travesty and focus on the original material, on this, the eighth album from Tobias Sammet's rock opera project Avantasia. Moonglow is the third entry in the storyline that started with The Mystery Of Time and once again the musical part of the album is core membership of Tobias Sammet (lead vocals, additional keyboard, bass guitar), Sascha Paeth (guitar, bass guitar), Michael Rodenberg (keyboard, piano, orchestration) and Felix Bohnke (drums). There is as usual a glut of vocalists playing the different parts in the story, from the returning singers such as Ronnie Atkins (Pretty Maids), Jørn Lande (Jorn), Eric Martin (Mr. Big), Geoff Tate (Operation:Mindcrime), Michael Kiske (Helloween) and (of course) Bob Catley (Magnum). Who all reprise their roles behind the mic along with new voices such as Candice Night (Blackmore's Night), Hansi Kürsch (Blind Guardian) and Mille Petrozza (Kreator).

These final two feature on Book Of Shadows which is the heaviest/fastest track Avantasia have done since the early Metal Opera with both Kürsch and Petrozza on top form, growling and howling in equal measure as a speed metal track flies by. It's this song that shows the massive difference in styles that Avantasia have had since The Scarecrow album once again taking the rock route over the early symphonic metal sound. There's another baroque Steinman-esque opener Ghost In The Moon serves as the sequel to the Eurovision entry Mystery Of A Blood Red Rose, a romantic ballad duet with Candice Night, an atmospheric, cinematic rock epic called The Raven Child. These sit side to side with heavy metal anthems that have Atkins and Tate at their best on Starlight and Alchemy. There is also a colossal AOR streak running through Lavender which has Sammet's hero Bob Catley channeling his Magnum pomp as a backing choir sings loud. It's another hard rock symphony from Sammet who has poured his heart and soul into this record over two years. That time is well spent every Avantasia album is a superb piece of work, detailed and intricate but also broad and excessive, the London show later this year is guaranteed to be a spectacle. 8/10

Hexvessel: All Tree (Century Media) [Sean]

I like this. I REALLY like the. No lengthy preamble here, just flat out recognition for one of the strongest releases of 2019 thus far. No HM-2 worship, no blast beats, shrieking or shredding. Nothing inherently muscular or aggressive so to speak, for that is not the purpose of this act I speak of a keen ear for melody, a fine balance of delicate instrumentation and copious amounts of wholesome, enchanting atmosphere. Naturally, I speak of Hexvessel, the Finnish based psychedelic folk rockers birthed from one of the most unlikely of sources. Formed by the former Code and Dødheimsgard frontman, Kvohst (or Mat as he’s known these days), these melancholic minstrels have been spinning bittersweet tales since 2011. With 2019 still in its infancy, Hexvessel return with 13 compositions of melodious melancholy and whimsical wonderings, their 5th release to date. So come, weary travel. Set down your belongings, draw closer to the fire and let tales of natures glory soothe your aching soul……

After the charming acapella of Blessing Hexvessel immediately work on weaving folk imbued magic with 2nd track, Song Of The Sky. A sombre number, vocal harmonies working in unison, taking on a more haunting quality some halfway through. The mood takes on an icy quality, the chord progression almost blackened in nature. It must be noted how perfectly balanced the production is, allowing each instrument dynamic space and clarity. We move on to the next tale, Old Tree, a mournful elegy to where a mighty organism once stood. Heartbreaking as it is haunting, with the fiddle tugging at the heartstrings as it sings in sorrow. Changeling introduces some gorgeous flute melodies, conjuring the feeling of being led through a forest. The pace quickens in Ancient Astronaut, with it’s rhythms more pronounced and a subtle sullen air permeating throughout. After the hypnotic instrumental of Visions Of A.O.S fades into nothingness, the radiant A Sylvan Sign washes me in it’s warm, sunny rays. I’m greet by the chirping of birds, the strumming of guitars and regaled with tales of ancient deities dancing in groves of deepest green.

Simply beautiful, both vocally and lyrically, with both violin and flute working in wonderful union. My body is filled with warmth, casting me to my earliest memories of frolicking free in the woods of my younger years. Simply magical. Wilderness Spirit is a jaunty ditty, jig like in nature and flaunting Hexvessel’s more playful nature. Sláinte! Ahem, Otherworld is a doomy instrumental, its grinding bass driving it until it surrenders to morose title track, All Tree. By far the most straightforward track on the album thus far, though fits neatly into the overall narrative of things. Another instrumental, Journey To Carnac, brings to mind a sodden stroll in a dreary town centre (*cough Bridgend*cough*). Liminal Light is a pensive piece that rises and fall, akin to the embers of a burning hearth and the thoughts that were given form in it’s flames. Closing Circles brings All Tree to a close, both a eulogy and a fitting end to our journey.

Though my word count is limited, such is Hexvessel’s charm and allure, it became utterly essential in illustrating how good All Tree is. Each song has its own distinctive essence, delivered with great compositional care and passion. The moods shift and shimmer, the sounds and songs, matching them effortlessly as Hexvessel weave their wondrous stories. You will feel joy, you will feel sadness but above all? After All Tree has faded into silence? You will feel elation and will immediately want to experience All Tree all over again. Buy it, listen to it and cherish it, for Hexvessel’s folk infused magic is impossible to resist. 10/10

Ghost Iris: Apple Of Discord (Long Branch Records) [Matt]

Long Branch Records is becoming the leader in progressive metalcore releases so you can kind of assume what Danish band Ghost Iris are going to sound like, technical riffs, melodic passages, heavy grooves and a wide vocal range. It's the sort of sound Monuments, Periphery and Northlane have been playing across the world for a long time and you could probably add Ghost Iris to that list as well as Apple Of Discord is their third record, so they've come a long way from being a Youtube sensation in 2015.

So what about their third album? I have to say it sounds brilliant production wise it's very clean and almost surgical at times, the same can be said about the laser focussed riffs and grooves, it's a bigger step forward musically from their two previous albums with a much more varied approach and some downright amazing vocals that growl and soar often in the same verse. A band who are going to make their mark on the progressive metalcore world this year. 7/10

Indestructible Noise Command: Terrible Things (Rock ‘N’ Growl Records) [Paul H]

Flawless thrash at 110mph kicks off the latest album but the legendary Indestructible Noise Command, Fist Go Rek demanding you stomp around the room thrashing like a manic. This is the follow up to 2014’s Black Hearse Serenade, an album which saw the Connecticut outfit continue on their path to crush all in their path since their return in 2010. A band whose roots sit back in 1985 when they first emerged spitting with anger, frustration and violence at the world around them, Indestructible Noise Command have grasped their second chance with both hands and with Terrible Things they return once more. It is frantic stuff, with the duel guitar work of Erik Barath and Anthony Fabrizi reaching insane proportions at times, such as on Identifier and the stomping groove of Declaration. Dennis Gergely’s vocals are spot on, screaming and expelling words with real venom. 

With Dave Campo on bass and Kyle Shepard on drums anchoring the whole beast in place, this is one snarly, gritty piece of work which presents no hiding place. What their live shows must be like frightens me because this is one angry fist to the face. The band hit hard with Pledge Of Legions, a rampant runaway horse which shows no intention of slowing down from start to finish; enjoy the chainsaw guitar work of the delightful Bone Saw Ballet, a thrash classic in the making with its visceral edge and chugging undercurrent of Exodus and Overkill. With so much mediocre thrash around these days, this is a welcome change. Fully embrace Terrible Things. Life will be better if you do. 8/10

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