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Thursday 24 November 2022

Reviews: Elder, High Command, Virtual Symmetry, The Riven (Reviews By Matt Bladen)

Elder - Innate Passage (Stickman Records)
Six full albums into their career and the mostly Berlin based progressive, psychedelic doom band are still in a league of their own. Heavy as anything you want in the doom sphere but with plenty of ethereal, astral journeys to shift the tone and pace their songs, keeping you enthralled even when they play elongated instrumental sections, Elder are a band who have built themselves a loyal fanbase, through numerous albums, EP's and collaborative efforts such as their Eldovar project with Berlin psych stoners Kadavar. 

Elder are still led by founding member Nick DiSalvo's soulful vocals and intricate lead guitar playing he locks in with Mike Risberg who also fleshes out the melodies with some keys/synths, they Gilmour/Wright/White in this foursome, the guitars in harmonic union as the synths are understated but don't let you forget they are there becoming integral to transitions and tonal shifts. 

Their 2020 album Omens brought some more classic rock and prog influence to their music, evolving from their fuzzing doom beginnings into a more versatile and agreeable listen to those who don't necessarily like crushing doom riffs. With Innate Passage this sonic journey continues comprehensively adapting Elder's sound for good. Jack Donovan's hypnotic bass is underlined by 'new' drummer Georg Edert who features on his second Elder record, this bottom end shepherds you into through the audio journey that is an Elder album. They are one of the best bands in their genre pool, however I'd have to admit they are also in a school of one, their experimental and impressive music an outstanding specimen spanning multiple genres but amalgamating into their songwriting. 

DiSalvo has been working his way to this album for 15 years, so Innate Passage can be listened to as the culmination of their career so far. Every musical twist and turn they have made on the five sprawling songs that feature on Innate Passage, has been diligently scrutinised and distilled to give the ultimate Elder record. Catharsis starts the album well the repeating, throbbing riff and spectral flights combing for some classic Elder brilliance. DiSalvo and guest Behrang Alavi (a first on an Elder album) in some great interplay. 

Undulating and vivid there's flashes of bands like Yes on Catharsis as we shift into the colourful Endless Return which has some Pink Floyd and Baroness themes the fluidity of the guitar playing a real treat as some mellotron unnerving beneath the riffs before the soaring solo section comes in. Just two tracks in and Elder already prove that they are in a league all of their own, in terms of composition and performance. More mellotron flows beneath the shimmering cleans of Coalescence, ambient and jazzy, it's an intriguing third song that has that arty approach of Porcupine Tree and Opeth, moving into the forceful Merged In Dreams - Ne Plus Ultra, a driving rocker with lots of twin guitar harmonies like a progressive Thin Lizzy. 

Closing with the beautiful The Purpose, Innate Passage defines Elder's legacy so far, they are not the band from their debut album, they are older, wiser and dare I say more gentrified, emerging from the well of fuzz and slow, heavy riffs into a band who are aiming to be the next Pink Floyd or King Crimson, musical mavens that let the music do the work and gain followers like the Pied Piper. Innate Passage will become a fixed point in your mind after a few listening, the latest episode in this bands story. 10/10 

High Command - Eclipse Of The Dual Moons (Southern Lord)

Eclipse Of The Dual Moons, sees High Command a trad/thrash/crossover band inspired by the writing of Robert E. Howard, Michel Moorcock and Jack Vance return with their swords drawn in the air, ready for battle once again. With so many thrash/crossover bands focusing on partying, the occult and feelings etc to have one that just plays songs about barbarians, fantasy battles and epic storytelling, the band inspired by Ennio Morricone as much as they are Metallica on this second record. While they retain the Bay Area sound, the nods to traditional metal bands such as Dio, the NWOBHM and the extreme styles of Venom or Celtic Frost are more fully explored on Eclipse Of The Dual Moons

Having garnered critical acclaim on their 2019 debut, they spread their wings a bit more with this follow up writing more songs about their fantasy world of Secartha, they are the narrators of this world, telling tales of battles on the thrashy Siege Warfare, while conjuring a full cinematic experience on the final progressive track Spires Of Secrtha, which has spoken word intro and a swelling orchestral outro. This final track is more ambitious than anything they've attempted before but the ambition can be heard throughout the album even on the grinding thrash of the title track the drumming is explorative. 

The imposing Hammers Of Cold Sorcery they start out with melody and then kick into more familiar thrash roots. Like their debut full length Eclipse Of The Dual Moons is a brilliant metal record from a band that are becoming one of my favourites. 9/10

Virtual Symmetry - Virtual Symmetry (Sensory)

Released after their triumphant tour with Evergrey, this is the fourth album from Swiss/Italian prog/power metal band Virtual Symmetry. The self titled record is founding guitarist Valerio Æsir Villa spreading his wings with his band that features vocalist Marco Pastorino, keyboardist Marco “Mark” Bravi, bassist Alessandro Poppale, and drummer Alfonso Mocerino. 

Here they raise their game and move into the upper echelons of prog/power metal pack. On the back of 2020's Exoverse, which features numerous guests from the big boys of prog metal, Virtual Symmetry stake their claim to being just as good as any of the musicians they had there. This self titled album is a dynamic, technically impressive and wonderfully emotional record, with influences of Evergrey, Seventh Wonder, Circus Maximus and others. 

The way they merge long instrumental sections with hook-driven choruses and a ear for melody, there's so much too love here it's hard to pick out individual moments. However starting things off with a 20 minute song is a big gamble but Virtual Symmetry have the chops to immediately draw you in as the guitars and keys in glorious unison, the rhythms shifting multiple times through the three parts to bring a cinematic feel. 

The rest of the songs all give you facets of just how good Virtual Symmetry are as a band, from the introspective Insomnia, to the more power metal sound of The Paradise Of Lies, Virtual Symmetry is an album that cherry picks from their last three records to give you the best experience possible, neo-classical progressive power metal that is virtuoso one minute and straightforward the next. 

With a track like Come Alive or Fantasie Di Verita, Virtual Symmetry take aim at the style of Dream Theater and nail it perfectly, the song sounding as if it could have come off an early DT record. Virtual Symmetry is one of the best prog/power albums of the year no question, simply stunning. 9/10

The Riven - Peace and Conflict (The Sign Records)

Featuring singer Totta Ekebergh, guitarists Arnau Diaz and Joakim Sandegård, bass player Max Ternebring and drummer Jussi Kalla, The Riven originally formed in London but recorded this second album in Spain. The debut came in 2019, the band bringing together multiple genres, meshing classic 70's rock with NWOBHM, psych and blues, since then they added a second guitarist to bring a bolder sound on this follow up. 

With an extra guitarist it means they can use that tried and tested twin guitar harmonies of Thin Lizzy and Wishbone Ash, on driving opener On Time, the pulsating bass leading into some trade offs/solos in the middle section. It feels really old school like it should only released on vinyl but that's sort of the point isn't it. From On Time we go into The Taker a bouncy classic rocker, the more psychedelic style of their debut album and EP, perhaps lessened a little letting the NWOBHM take hold. 

However the title track feels otherworldly, with the intergalactic throb of Hawkwind, the epic Sorceress Of The Sky following the acoustic intro of La Puerta Del Tiempo. After the soaring epic sound of Sorceress Of The Sky, the bubbling, doom grooves of On Top Of Evil adds a dose of Sabbath, the stop and then speed up from the Iommi spellbook. 

At just nine tracks Peace And Conflict is very retro sounding record, on a track like the rocking Fly Free or the fireside wonderment of Sundown, The Riven display abundant talent on this second album, I loved their debut and rightly so I love this album too. Do yourself a favour and enter the world of The Riven. 9/10

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