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Friday 27 October 2023

Reviews: Sky Empire, Ghosts Of Atlantis, Throat, The Sound Of Origin (Reviews By Matt Bladen, Mark Young, Jeremy Silverman & Rich Piva)

Sky Empire - The Shifting Tectonic Plates Of Power: Part One (ViciSolum Productions) [Matt Bladen]

I was worried when I put on this second album by British prog metal band Sky Empire that I’d been lied too. I was promised vocals from Jeff Scott Soto, but the first song is an extended (14 minute) instrumental. All hopes started to fade but then on On The Shores Of Hallowed Haven those gruff familiar tones came in and they stick around. With the voice of JSS Sky Empire can be compared favourably to Sons Of Apollo as both groups feature virtuosos performances inspired by bands such as Dream Theater, Threshold and Fate Warning amongst others. 

Guitarist/songwriter Drazic Lecutier is heavily influenced by Dimebag Darrell which you can hear in his playing on Wayfarer. Having released their debut album in 2018 Sky Empire were on their way to be a new force in the progressive metal realm but their vocalist Yordan Ivanov passed away shortly after so they went on a hiatus. Thankfully they are now back with another prog metal epic, I assume the first part of a multiple part concept release. 

Produced by Lecutier, who plays some intense guitar throughout and mastered at Abbey Road, The Shifting Tectonic Plates Of Power – Part One contains 7 prog metal cuts that will delight any fans of the genre. With heavy riffs and widdly solos paired against the keys of Tom Hobson, there’s familiarity in what Sky Empire do but they put enough of their own spin not to breed contempt. The chunky, changing time signatures of Jon Delaines (bass) and Remi Jalabert (drums) dictate where the tracks go, with the three 10 minute plus needing several to keep the flow of the tracks going. 

In Jeff Scott Soto they’ve got an exquisite singer but his other commitments may mean touring could be difficult, though Sons Of Apollo must be on a hiatus with Mike Portnoy heading back to Dream Theater. Still without knowing about the band before. Sky Empire have impressed me with The Shifting Tectonic Plates Of Power – Part One. 8/10

Ghosts Of Atlantis - Riddles Of The Sycophants (Hammerheart Records) [Mark Young]

Sometimes a cover can really colour your opinion of an album, even before you listen to it. Ghosts Of Atlantis are here with their brand of symphonic extreme metal with a story to tell. This cover is grandiose, it conjures up an idea that the following is to be an epic aural event, and I would suggest that if you are into Hardcore, brutal death, OSDM or similar this may not float your boat.

And going in, it is exactly that. Everything about it is massive,

Starting off with March Of The Titans, they come in with some frantic riffing, drums and those keys putting in the atmospheric touches. This is anchored by the dual vocal attack they can muster, the dirt supplied by Phil Primmer that really carries it along and then their secret weapon is Colin Parks, whose cleans provide those soaring vocals that will make or break proceedings. Add in some fiery solo breaks and we are off. Lands Of Snow takes this template and pushes it further, adding in choral backing all whilst it zips along at a decent pace. This is pretty cool, coming from someone who has a nodding acquaintance with this genre. There is a lot of good stuff here, and they keep this going throughout the 50-minute runtime.

The Lycaon King, possessed of one of the spideriest opening riffs that continually builds into that symphonic break down, its heavy and smart, what more can you want? And more importantly if you like this genre, each of the songs here will come in and make your day. Each has those suitably epic moments, the build and craft on display allows for all to get a moment in the sun. My favourite is The Alkonost which has that ‘something’ that is reserved for certain songs that elicit those goosebump moments and this has it. The riff behind the clean / dirt vocals and then the one that plays out after that is perfect. It captures everything they do here in one song, and it is a stormer.

After that we enter side 2 (not really, but you get the idea) and they keep that quality level high without exceeding that displayed in The Alkonost. These songs that follow are all cut from the same cloth, they have the right things going on. Sacramental channels that hymn like backing against those grand arrangements that are all over this, A Maidens Scorn and Behind The Wall both come across like Viking drinking songs, having that swing but they come out swinging on the final track Riddles Of The Sycophants which is this muscular beast of a thing, pulling out all the stops with that galloping riff / drums / symphonic arrangement jostling for your attention. Once again, the vocals are on point, with the cleans giving it that emotional heft that is required. 

Excellent stuff to close out with. So, fans of the genre should be all over this, and to be honest there is a lot to love. 7/10

Throat - We Must Leave You (Svart) [Jeremy Silverman]

Throat was a very interesting band to listen to. I have never heard of something this odd sound so good. However, I feel like many people would not like this album or band and I completely understand why.

To start, the vocals are very strange. Not just in the way that they are sung, like lyrics or vocal lines, but the actual singer himself had a strange voice. However, for fans of bands like Muse or Danzig, these vocals won’t feel that off, just different. Personally, I enjoyed them quite a bit; they aren’t metal vocals in the technical sense, but they do have strong emotions in which metal thrives in. Once you get past the vocals, you start to realize just how good the music itself is.

I usually like strange music, like Mr. Bungle and the Mars Volta, so this was right in my wheelhouse. I loved how unique each instrument sounded as well as the use of outlandish percussion, which is not necessarily common in metal. There were multiple times where the music turned into tribal, almost relaxing, motions which swept into more punky, aggressive parts.

I think you would be doing yourself a disservice by not at least listening to this album. 8/10

The Sound Of Origin - Man In The Arena (Self Released) [Rich Piva]

The Sound Of Origin are a (or claim to be) UK based stoner/desert rock band of which I also hear a ton of grunge influence from, especially on their second album, Man In The Arena. You will hear what you expect to hear when I mention the grunge influence, as you know these guys kneel at the alter of Cantrell and in parts vocally bring the low-end harmonies you expect from AIC. But these guys are heavier and bring a higher pitch scream style in parts that will take getting used to for some but the parts that are familiar to those who love 90s grunge will want more of. You also get some screamy groove metal, some old school doom, and lots of other stuff, sometimes all within one song, with mixed results.

This Ain’t Free
 has the AIC vocals and vibe, partnered with some of the screaming I mentioned. Honestly if you just did the regular vocals without the screaming parts I would have dug this a lot more. Because the parts I like I really like. It’s not that I don’t enjoy a nice high-pitched scream from time to time, I just don’t find it necessary or adding to the heavy or to the quality of these songs. I like when the low harmonies switch to a higher pitch cleaner vocal, that works great. I really dig the groove on Birthright, maybe my favorite song on the album. This is right out of the 90s grunge playbook, and I am here for it. Crown Of The Cynic goes doomy on us until that Cantrell style riff comes in and smacks you across the face. 

The vocals have a serious Layne feel to them on this track. A nice one two punch with this and the previous track. We get guest vocals from Kyle Thomas on a couple tracks. The current singer of Trouble lends his pipes to Frail Old Bones, which has American era Trouble vibes which is obviously a great thing but it’s like a Trouble combo since you also get an old school doom riff and breakdown too all in one track. Kyle seems to be channeling his old band Exhorder with some of the vocal parts as much as what he brings to Trouble. He also sings on the title track which leans again more on the slower doom side of the scales and is some pretty heavy stuff that has all sorts of vocal styles going on which jumbles the track some. Gold Drenched In White is more of what the AIC fans will dig, until the screaming starts. I think you can see where I am going here.

I feel like The Sound Of Origin doesn’t know what they want to be. I really liked Man In The Arena in some parts, was confused in others, and was turned of complete in some other spots. This is not just on the album, but within individual songs too. I think once these guys figure out their identity crisis we will see a much more focused effort, but with their debut full length I am left confused and wondering how I really felt, even after a half a dozen listens. 6/10

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