Hemina: Night Echoes (Self Released) [Matt Bladen]
Australian progressive metal is probably at the best it's ever been with bands such as Voyager, Caligula's Horse and Chaos Divide all flying the flag for musically adventurous, conceptually dense and most importantly accessible to non prog fans. Hemina are one of those bands who can be held up with their countrymen as an exemplar for the Australian progressive scene. Night Echoes is their fourth album and once again it's a concept piece building the character of a child conceived in their previous album (how meta) trying to rebuild his life 10 years after his father's suicide, so it's a hefty concept that lead into the most accomplished album of Hemina's career. One that brings together three albums and 10 years of craft into an album, that deserves to be listened too in full as all good prog albums have to be. Production wise it's very modern and pumped up making it positively burst out of your speakers allowing you to hear every nuance in the compositions.
They have never been a band afraid to experiment and here there is probably as much experimentation as there is on any Devin Townsend and like Devy they aren't afraid to get hevy, they have always had a tonne of thick grooves in their music bringing big riffs to more directly metallic tracks such as Flicker and The Only Way but also they are a band who take great care to make sure their more melodic songs like Everything Unsaid and the end of In Technicolour have a pastoral sound that takes great care to be emotive without being to maudlin. Musically Hemina are as experimental as you'd expect them to be but for every ounce of virtuosity that they possess they never sacrifice the songwriting letting the synths shimmer and buzz throughout while the dual guitars of Douglas and Mitch bring twin guitar harmonies, fluid arpeggios and crunchy riffs while the rhythm section of Jessica and Nathan are a brawny engine room, making them sound similar to the UK's Haken.
However where the Brit's have Ross Jennings it's in the vocal harmonies between Douglas, Jessica and Mitch that Hemina distance themselves from many of their peers. Night Echoes is a reflective album in a number of ways set 10 years after the concept of a previous release, it's also a chance for them to bring together everything they have been working towards on their last three releases. Progressive music when it's like this remind me why I love it so much, just press play and let Hemina get you to feel. 9/10
Deadwood Lake: Immortalised In Death (UKEM Records) [Val D'Arcy]
Immortalised In Death is the fourth release and second full length album from UK black metal band Deadwood Lake. This album harnesses the very best of its predecessors not only in terms of music but also in its raw emotion. Consistent with previous releases of the band, this album covers themes of loss, grief and passing that have become synonymous with Deadwood Lake's lyrical subject matter. They have stayed true to their sound, mixing elements of melodic and atmospheric black metal but elevating the combined finish to new heights; this is easily the bands most accomplished work so far. Although true to their past, there are elements of experimentation on this album that provide a new dimension to their profile. Melodic riffing, more solos, use of acoustic guitars and ambient synths, even groovey passages in the second and fifth tracks but not in anyway compromising on heaviness or brutality.
Bruce Powell's unmistakable vocals are the perfect vessel to deliver all the feeling of primal, frustrated melancholy that makes their sound so unique. The songs are sufficiently diverse to hold their own identity, whilst moulding together to form a beautifully flowing album that doesn't feel like it carries any unnecessary weight or filler. Alone I Fly was a personal favourite. Deadwood Lake have taken a significant stride forwards with this album in establishing their place at the fore of what is becoming an increasingly crowded UK black metal scene. With enough character and originality to set them apart from their peers, Deadwood Lake are a welcome evolutionary force in what can be a conservative sub-genre. 8/10
Dream Tröll: Second To None (Self Released) [Paul Hutchings]
Famously hitting the headlines in 2017 when long time mate and fellow metal head MP Richard Burgon added some spoken word to one of their tracks, Leeds based Dream Tröll’s second album was something of a shock. I’d been prepared for dark, NWOBHM style UK metal but this was anything but that. Carefully crafted, melodic metal with some of the cleanest vocal harmonies I’ve heard for years, Second To None is simply stunning. A strong opening duo, I Will Not Die Today preceded by Steel Winged Warrior are merely appetisers for the middle section of this album. Sandwiched between two seven-minute beauties (Chrome Skull Viper and Darkness Lies Within The Sun.)
The Art Of Death clocks in at over eight minutes long and is a progressive epic which demands your attention. It smulders and broods, slowly building in intensity, the clever lyrics weaving a tale around the spine of the song. A pumping bass line gives girth, whilst the crisp drum sound anchors everything down. It may well be one of my favourite songs of the years. Shades of The Von Hertzen Brothers, Opeth, Katatonia and Vola are all present in this magical release. At 57 minutes in length, there are some long tracks on the album, none more so than the closing ten-minute Legion which allows the band to really express themselves in epic style, as it ebbs and flows but never wanes. Second To None is an album that keeps on giving, with new finds on every listen. Quite simply, a gorgeous album that is a joy to listen to. 9/10
Northtale: Welcome To Paradise (Nuclear Blast) [Matt Bladen]
It's normally Frontiers records that bring together musicians from other bands to form a new project, but Northtale is a bit different. Welcome To Paradise is the debut album from Northtale who are made up of three world class musicians, each of whom had the urge to work with each other. The three men in question are Brazilian-American guitarist Bill Hudson (Trans-Siberian Orchestra, Savatage, U.D.O, Jon Oliva's Pain, Circle II Circle, Vital Remains, Nightrage and Power Quest), Swedish drummer Patrick Johansson (Yngwie Malmsteen and W.A.S.P.) and Swedish singer Christian Eriksson (ex-Twilight Force), they form the core of the band and wanted to bring back those glory days of 90's power metal where Hammerfall, Helloween and Stratovarius were playing some of their best material.
To flesh out the band they have brought in Mikael Planefeldt (bass) and Jimmy Pitts (keyboards) and set about recording this debut record. A debut record that opens with the kind of gallops you'd want from any 'proper' power metal band, soaring vocals, big drum beats and riffs that bring a huge smile to a man brought up on the bands mentioned previously. Higher the second song on the album is brilliant mixing Hammerfall's love of an anthem with the neo-classical sounds of Stratovarius as Hudson and Pitts dual, the Finns also loom large on Follow Me which also has a rampaging rhythm section and classical sounds, even using that traditional Strato harpsichord sound that featured on Black Diamond.
As you can appreciate if you've ever heard any power metal album, for all the bluster, hooky choruses and speedy solos there are also slower more romantic moments such as Way Of The Light which does sound a little like Manowar, for better or worse. Thankfully things go back to speed metal on Shape Your Reality, however Everyone's A Star reminds me of latter day Helloween due to its satirical nature. If power metal with an old school vibe is your bag then I suggest you seek out Welcome To Paradise as it's a blast from power metal's glorious past by musicians that treat it with reverence. 8/10