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Thursday 9 July 2020

Reviews: Ensiferum, Voyager, Sleepsculptor, Malsten (Rich, Simon, Liam Matt)

Ensiferum: Thalassic (Metal Blade Records) [Rich Oliver]

I’ve been a fan of Ensiferum for a good few years and am of the firm opinion that they peaked with 2009’s From Afar album. The albums that followed aren’t bad per say but they just paled in comparison to previous releases although previous album Two Paths was a definite step in the right direction. That brings us to present day and the eighth full length from these Finnish folk metallers entitled Thalassic.

There has been one lineup change since Two Paths and that is the introduction of Pekka Montin on keyboards. One thing that Pekka does bring to the band as well as his skills with the keyboard are his fantastic clean vocals with a voice very much suited to power metal and one that fits in nicely with Ensiferum’s cinematic folk metal sound. The band sound very much inspired and energised throughout Thalassic with the performances and songwriting at a very high standard not seen since the aforementioned From Afar album. The songs range from the fast and catchy such as the urgent Run From The Crushing Tide, the folky jig of Midsummer Magic and the fun lead single Rum, Women, Victory to the slower, epic and grandiose songs like Andromeda, The Defence Of The Sampo and the lengthy closer Cold Northland (Väinämöinen Part III). The harsh vocals of frontman Petri Lindroos counteract nicely with the soaring cleans from Pekka Montin, the guitar work is precise, nifty and playful whilst the keyboards are utilised well providing folk instrument sounds as well as bombastic symphonic sounds.

Thalassic is an album that definitely sees Ensiferum firing on all cylinders. The band sound more invigorated and driven than they have for a while and it’s definitely the best album they have put out for many years. Folk metal can be an acquired taste and this album will offer nothing to people who turn their nose up at the genre but folk metal fans will find plenty to love from this new release from one of the big names in the genre. It is an album that is gloriously epic and wonderfully silly both in equal measure. 8/10

Voyager: Ghost Mile Re-Released (Season Of Mist) [Simon Black]

Australian Prog Metaller’s have re-release 2017’s Ghost Mile, seemingly for no other reason than to allow fans to purchase a vinyl edition for the first time (although there’s also 3 bonus live tracks on other formats), but in my case it’s always nice to find a new band you like, even if this one’s been around for a while. This self-produced piece sometimes suffers from slightly lower production values than one might expect from the Prog corner of the universe after 6 albums, but musically I cannot fault them despite the absence of a fatter sound. There’s a big chunk of Devin Townsend feel in the mix here, but with a really haunting overlay and a really distinctive vocal style that makes this band stand out in their own right for all the right reasons.

Opener Ascension is the perfect summary of what they’re about and a fine introduction to the band. Technically tight sounds, complex instrumental interplay and a varied vocal style that works perfectly (although the more extreme vocal touches don’t appear too often, which is a shame as the contrast works well). Misery Is Only Company takes the pace up a notch and starts to show the technical brilliance lurking under the surface. To The Riverside is slow moody, with a hauntingly powerful piano melody that reminds me of Coldplay when they are at their best, but actually serves as an introduction to the more in your face and speedy title track. Between them, they are one of the strongest moments on the album – an album where it’s quite hard to pick a favourite track, because I can tell that to really appreciate this album I’m going to have to give this disk many spins before I’ve finished picking up the subtleties at play here. That’s a sign that I’ve found a band I’m likely to follow long term and that’s a promising start as it appears their back catalogue has much stronger stuff.

What A Wonderful Day has live highlight written over it – it’s short, accessible and you can boogie to it, so although not the strongest song, I can see it working well with a festival crowd. That said there’s some blisteringly tight rhythm work going on here, so don’t write the track off just because it’s radio friendly. It also showcases the haunting subtlety in Daniel Estrin’s voice, which sometimes is deep in the mix and buried in reverb. I guess because he is handling keyboard duties as well this explains why the two elements are so tightly interlinked, but it gives an unusual layering to the more traditional Prog Metal tropes. Studio closer As The City Takes The Night is complex, epic and worth hanging on for, taking all the elements that work elsewhere into a beast of a closure, leaving me wanting more, which is just as well that there’s 3 live extras to give a flavour of what they can do in your face.

Don’t be fooled by the 80’s synth comparisons - technically this is tighter than a gnat’s backside, with an effective pop-synth back sound, but a Metal backbone first and foremost. This works because although you can hear the elements in the mix, the end result is a sound all of Voyager’s own. Overall this is an absolutely cracking piece of Prog Metal and if you missed it first time round, then now would appear to be your moment to go shopping. 8/10

Sleepsculptor: S/T (Silent Pendulum Records) [Liam True]

I don’t know what I was expecting with Sleepsculptor, but the noises and feral growls that came out were nowhere near what I was expecting. I was expecting heavy. I was expecting fast. What I didn’t expect was The Dillinger Escape Plan on fucking crack. Sleepsculptor have taken the Mathcore genre, fused it with Deathcore and created the most unique sounding album of 2020. The riffs blend together seamlessly. It’s the bastard son of Anaal Nathrakh & Dillinger and there’s nothing like it at all. It’s best to listen to the album back to front in one sitting rather than picking out random tracks here and there. Because it’s impossible. It’s almost as if it was made to be one huge song, which it does well. I was genuinely lost for words when the album came to a halt. With 14 songs spanning only 32 minutes and creating a lot of noise it’s an impressive feat of ambition and ingenuity to cut genres together. If you love your heavy over the top Metal that infuses other genres to make a baby, then Sleepsculptor are for you. It’s chaotic. It’s a controlled explosion of rage and fire. It’s perfect. 9/10

Malsten: The Haunting Of Silvåkra Mill (Interstellar Smoke Records) [Matt Bladen]

Malmö, Sweden's Malsten have emerged from the cave they obviously dwell in, made their way down the mountain and collected their cavernous riffs into their debut album The Haunting Of Silvåkra Mill. This is a mixture of epic doom (ala Candlemass) and occult heaviness (think Electric Wizard) a bottom end that can loosen the bolts of a submarine and riffs so fuzzy you'd need a combine harvester to shave them. Lyrically they are a dark as they are musically as this debut is the story of " (a) mysterious disappearances in a rural parish in the deep south of Sweden at the dawn of the 20th century. (Taking place) in larger mills in the parish, the story is one of malice, hunger, fury, and sadness." Four tracks that deal with murder, possession and crisis of faith this conceptual record lets the music do the talking with long run times and slow riffs that unravel as the songs progress Joen (drums) and Andreas (bass) leading the funeral march of Immolation as Fredrik (guitar) cuts in with colossal riffage. This is a trick repeated a number of times as Manne's soulful drone lets this mystery speak for itself over the heavy doom rocking. Mystical and heavy as a lead lined Blue Whale The Haunting Of Silvåkra Mill is a pretty decent debut from these Swedish doomsters. 6/10

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