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Wednesday 30 November 2022

Reviews: Docker's Guild, Grimner, Steve Hill, Asa's Mezzanine (Reviews By Matt Bladen)

Docker’s Guild - The Mystic Technocracy - Season 2: The Age of Entropy (Elevate Records)

Douglas R Docker returns to his main storyline with this third album The Mystic Technocracy - Season 2: The Age of Entropy. Originally forming Docker’s Guild in 2012 with The Mystic Technocracy - Season 1: The Age of Ignorance, Docker began what will hopefully be a fully-fledged ‘space opera’ consisting of 5 "seasons" and 4 "books" for a total of 9 albums. Much like Ayreon or Avantasia, Docker has many performers on these records, the debut being compared to both of these other projects for its cinematic scale and concept driven approach (it also helps that they’re proggy as hell), that has been almost entirely crowdfunded. 

The second album The Heisenberg Diaries – Book A: Sounds of Future Past is the first part of 4 transitional albums placed between the 5 main “seasons” exploring the history of one of the main characters from “The Mystic Technocracy”, it was an all-female affair and continued sci-fi themes reworked by Docker to explain the characters love of vintage sci-fi and his marriage. With this expansive background we now head back to the main story with The Mystic Technocracy - Season 2: The Age of Entropy, the continuing storyline of a “silicon-based techno-organic alien race attempting to wipe out all life on Earth through organized religion, while a tormented scientist makes his life's mission to save humanity”. 

Every single minute detail has been worked out by Docker and as such each record has its own sound, its own feel, and the guest contributors all bringing their styles to the album to propel the intensely complex narrative. Season 2 features guests such as: Helly, Anna Portalupi, Joel Hoekstra, Nita Strauss, Sascha Paeth, Amanda Somerville and Anneke Van Giersbergen (those last three having been part of many Metal Operas). It is also the inaugural step in the “Black Swan Universe” where Dockers Guild will link to The Chronomaster Project (which Docker is also part of) and The Vivaldi Metal Project to make a metal opera equivalent of the MCU. A lofty ambition but really it’s about the music and Dockers Guild are a treat for any metal opera fan also any Ghost fan as Docker’s vocals sound very similar to Mr Forge on tracks such as Lucy, though he has an adaptable style on the reggae sway of Le Chemin amongst others. 

Unlike Ayreon or Avantasia, this record/project has much more eclectic musical output, bringing in artists such as Mike Oldfield, Jean-Michel Jarre, Vangelis and classic prog bands like Yes and Genesis as influences. At 17 tracks long it could be difficult to listen to it all in one go, but much like with an opera or a musical, each track defines another part of the storyline, so you need to experience it as a whole. While Lucassen and Sammet are considered the two pillars of the metal opera genre, Douglas R Docker is creating not just a musical world but an entire universe, not following any musical limits or rules. 9/10

Grimner - Urfader (Despotz Records)

Ah folk/Viking metal one of the last true hybrid genres, the Scandinavian extreme metal style meeting folk instrumentation, it’s also one of the few popular styles of metal where singing in anything but English is encouraged. Swedes Grimner have been actively laying siege to stages with their Nordic inspired metal since 2008 and with their fourth album Urfader (The Ancient Father) they emerge from the mists of the pandemic era with more battle hymns that pay tribute to their heritage and the Norse myths and legends. 

Since their previous album Grimner have gotten heavier, the use of Johan Rydberg flutes and mandolin still a key factor in their sound as are the keys of Kristoffer Kullberg but Grimner have gotten heavier with this album. Moving towards the heavier sound of melodic death metal and muscular power metal favoured by genre leaders Amon Amarth as well as the folkier realms of bands such as Falconer and Blind Guardian. Där Fröet Skall Spira (Where The Seed Shall Sprout) gives a focal point for this new heaviness as the blast beats of Henry Persson are joined by the flutes and the death metal riffs of bassist David Fransson with guitarists Ted Sjulmark and Martin Boe trading both riffs and vocals, crooning cleans and death roars the main delivery. 

Sung in Swedish, you don’t have to understand the lyrics to feel the narrative of the songs, from the crusading Västerled (Westbound), the thrashy Ulvhednars Natt (Night Of The Ulfheðinn), the outright blasting twin harmony attack of Elftevisan (Eleventh Tune) and the dramatic Tiundaland (Tiundaland), Urfader is a great Viking/folk metal album from a band you may not have been too familiar with. Certainly their best album so far, the balance between metal and folk is just right here, raise the shield wall, launch the longships and get ready for battle. 8/10

Steve Hill - Dear Illusion (No Label Records)

A mainstay of the Canadian blue scene Steve Hill celebrates his 25th year with his new record Dear Illusion. It’s an album that boosts what Hill does on an audio level, this multi-instrumentalist collaborating with drummer Wayne Proctor (Oli Brown, King King), who not only gives the rhythms but also the rich, warm production job that enhances this record. 

Hill has also made a concise effort to highlight the horn section on this record. The Devil Horns are an integral part to this album, on tracks such as rocking Don’t Let The Truth Get In The Way and the bouncy opener All About The Love. There’s been a three year wait fro this record, Hill having finished it before the pandemic hit but due to the delay, he was able to go back and make this a much bigger, bolder listening experience an album worthy of his 25th year as a recording artist. 

I have to agree as this record marries a positive attitude with lots of brilliant brass, swanky guitar solos and soulful vocals, varying the style from Texas, to New Orleans to good ol’ Mississippi swamp playing, it’s got a few similarities to Joe Bonamassa especially on She Give Lessons In Blues but Hill manages to maintain his own identity throughout Dear Illusion. 7/10

Asa's Mezzanine - When She Met Herself (AsasRecords)

Italian prog metal band Asa’s Mezzanine, release their debut album When She Met Herself. They say prog, I would also say post rock as this instrumental four piece delve into ambiance and mood, the instruments all having their own voice in substitution for the lack of a human one. This record is a concept album, dealing with the birth of contradiction and the bridge between what hear and what we imagine, the middle area between what is below and above, thus mezzanine, it’s a meditative journey thorough several planes of existence and will be joined by a novel written by Paolo Sirio as a companion piece to further the story established by the music. 

To the music and there’s plenty of it, from the jazzy moments of Lady Lilith driven by Virginia Lisi’s keys and Filippo Nassi’s drums, to the darker aspects explored on the tribal And She Met Herself, the choppy chug of guitarist Antonio Mugnaioli and bassist Lorenzo Morellini counterpointing the keys, while they add a Tool-like groove to Onibaba (Kijo). The musicianship is of a very high level, as is the scope of the ideas presented here. 

My favourite track is Amalie’s Principle which has all of the presence of a Pink Floyd instrumental such as Echoes, clocking in at 8 minutes, it ebbs and flows with a repeating guitar line that moves it between the different movements. An interesting record that perhaps needs to be digested with the accompanying book, however it’s an involving enough listen by itself. 7/10

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