2015 Top 15 Rewind: #4 – Failure – The Heart is a Monster

failure the heart is a monster

Like the Heart, this album is a monster.  Words cannot effectively express how much I missed this band.  Fantastic Planet, released back in 96, was a big part of my musical growth as a kid.  It’s still hard to believe they were gone so long, but they are back and better than ever.  It’s unusual that bands make a sequel to their own record, and even more rare when the sequel takes 20 years to make.  They did it.  They were able to capture the brilliance of Fantastic Planet and make it better.  They had segues, distortion, and the same power as they once did.  They don’t have much in the room for filler, and it’s smooth and flows very well.  I missed you, Failure, and I’m so happy you’re back in my life.

It’s been 19 short years at the initial writing of this review, now 20 looking back at it, and boy are they are back.  Although they’re now back together, we knew they would be returning in 2014, and that they would be releasing an album.  Amazingly enough, it happens to be a direct sequel to one of my favorite albums of my childhood, Fantastic Planet.  Fantastic Planet was a quintessential space rock/alternative rock album by this criminally underrated band, and I would easily have it on my “ten 90’s albums that every person should listen to once before they die” list.  You may have heard some of their music without knowing it was them, but they have a very distinct sound.  The twangy guitar, the spacey sound, the listless yet powerful vocals…the whole experience.  They never got quite the exposure or commercial acclaim that they deserved, but they made a large impression in their three albums in the 90’s.

This is their sound.  Almost 20 years later, they have practically the same sound which is completely fine by me.  I don’t know if a band like this can “evolve” like others I talk about because where does a band go from here?  It’s a tough argument because the only way I can think of that they can expand to other subjects.  Fantastic Planet was about space, and its sequel, The Heart is a Monster, goes deep inside the human body instead of throughout the galaxy.  The human body is incredibly complicated, and the heart is indeed a monster, so I think the complexity of this album topically and I feel like I was having a Fantastic Voyage while listening to this album.  That has always been my experience with Failure – I feel like I’m going exploring through space and time and whatever else while I listen to them.

In addition to big tracks like Counterfeit Sky, which is now posted above, the segues in the album are a real highlight for me.  They break up the intensity and feel like you’re travelling through passages in the heart and mind to arrive at a new section with a new track or two.  They get it so right that it blows me away.  I can barely remember what I was doing 20 years ago, and they not only remember it all but they can recreate it and add to it.  Imagine writing a story, finishing half of it, and then coming back to it 20 years later to write the other half the same way.  They did learn new things as they’ve been away, and did play around with new techniques and have some new technology at their disposal, but at their core they have the same heart.  It’s a monster.  I feel I can get away with saying that more than once in the review based on the album title.

It doesn’t sound repetitive, and the only criticism of this album is with the track Atom City Queen.  The distorted shrill of the guitar would work for part of a song or for a solo, but for an entire four minute track, it tends grates.  It almost got to the point that I had to skip past it when I was going over this album again and again.  It is a unique sound but upon further listens, I may have to move past it even though I will lose a valuable part of the story.  I won’t go into the story, but suffice it to say love is a complicated messy nightmarish thing, and you can hear it in this album.  I don’t want to keep using the word heart in all these different contexts but it happens to be so appropriate that I can’t not.  The heartbreak is audible and readily apparent, but it doesn’t bring me down like some of the other albums I’ve written about this year.  It takes me on a journey instead.

To sum it all up, “The Heart is a Monster” is a monster.  This album is big, both personally and to the music world.  THIS is a comeback album.  I know The Magic Whip is also a big one this year, but to take 20 years off and come back to blow the doors off is huge.  This may be the year of the comeback, and I’m fine with that.  As long as it’s not the year of the remake, I’m good.   I am having a hard time putting my joy and satisfaction to words because this is like something from my childhood was revived and NOT destroyed (cough ninja turtles cough).  I’ll put it to a scale instead to quantify my feelings for you: this album deserves 14 Ratings Units out of 15.  It staves off perfection with Atom City Queen, but otherwise, the second part of the album starting from Segue 5 is just everything I hoped it would be.  It flows together smoothly, and it just felt right.  It hit all of the memory nodes I had for Failure’s Fantastic Planet and amplified them, and for that I am thankful.

2015 Top 15 Rewind: #5 – Riverside – Love, Fear and the Time Machine

riverside love fear and the time machine

This album is called Love, Fear and the Time Machine, and on first listen, sounded like a delightful combination of Steven Wilson (especially his most recent work that I wrote about, Hand.Cannot.Erase.), Opeth, early Pink Floyd, and Emerson, Lake and Palmer.  Put those all together and you get a great album.  Before going any further, I will add a 2016 update to this review: Founding member and guitarist Piotr Grudzinski passed away on February 21, 2016, sadly and unexpectedly from cardiac arrest.  In his memory, the remaining members of the band announced that they would release a new album.  This album would be dedicated to him and included tracks that he had worked on prior to his passing, and that it would be primarily an ambient and instrumental album.  The album has not yet been released, and there is no slated release date, but there is no rush.  The band should take all the time it needs to process this.  Before the music starts, I have posted an interview he did about this album in 2015.  May he rest in peace.

This album was once put up by the band or record label in its entirety on youtube, and has since been removed.  As it is no longer available, I’ll post their “single” below.  I say single because I don’t know if that’s the word for it in the prog rock sphere, although a huge development has come to progressive rock/metal as of late: there will be a CHART of prog music sales!  This may come about 40 years too late, but like every other bloody kind of music out there, albums will be ranked based on their sales, which is strange but kind of spectacular.  The genre, as compiled by OCC or Billboard or whomever, still needs a little work, as bands like Tame Impala and Sigur Ros are considered progressive in this category.  I guess it’s better than nothing, but it’s still amazing to see.  Yes, I am amazed, because it seemed to random and bizarre to have a chart, but great to see this genre finally appreciated in this manner.  It seems minor, and it probably is, but it’s another feather in the cap of bands releasing albums.  Also, it’s great to see Faith No More and Symphony X on that first list.  You can see the first list here:

http://www.bbc.com/news/entertainment-arts-34127025

9/21 note: I see that link was broken and sent you through a redirect, so I apologize for that.  I have fixed the link today.  Back to the review.

No, Riverside isn’t on that list yet, so it seems strange to go off on this tangent in this review when it’s not entirely related to this band, but it’s pretty significant for the genre nonetheless.  Jeff Wayne’s War of the Worlds on the all-time top list is pretty impressive, as I recently discovered this gem last year.

Ok, back to the task at hand: Riverside.  No need for a sleek transition, just a clean break from the previous discussion and on to more of this very complicated band.  This track above may be the only one you’ll get to hear if the full album above gets removed.  What I notice immediately is that in each track, I hear influences from certain bands.  For instance, listen to the track Saturate Me and tell me that you don’t hear Dream Theater in at least the first minute of it.  With Discard Your Fear, there’s a massive amount of The Cure in the track (that intro, oh my god), and it practically screams its presence on the track.  In Under the Pillow, there’s some definite Steven Wilson in there, and in Lost (Why Should I Be Frightened By A Hat?) there’s some serious Opeth mixed in.  Yes, Lost (Why Should I Be Frightened By A Hat?) is the name of the first track.  The final track’s name is Found (The Unexpected Flaw of Searching).  Lost and found, that’s an appropriate description of this album, and I’ll explain why.  This album draws a lot of inspiration from the first Riverside album, Out of Myself, and even sounds like it to an extent.  Granted, Love, Fear and the Time Machine is a much more polished and clean and well-made album, but the general tone comes from Out of Myself.  Over the years, Riverside has evolved their sound from light to heavy to incredibly complicated to smooth and simple, and the sound they lost from Out of Myself is absolutely found again on this album.

What I enjoyed a lot about this album was its subtlety.  It doesn’t have many aggressive tracks, choosing instead to remain calm and composed for most of its length, but it is hardly monotone and each song distinguishes itself from the others.  The subtlety I mentioned is highlighted in how some of these tracks seem very simple, especially compared to to their previous albums of Shrine of New Generation Slaves (SoNGS) and Anno Domini High Definition (ADHD, yes, both are intentional…they have SLS and REM too).  Mariusz Duda, the vocalist, doesn’t use any significant voice altering effects in this album, and instead sings with his voice untainted.  On their last album, I mentioned that the additional effects on his voice were distracting and hit-or-miss, but he discards those this time which proves to be a total success.  He doesn’t need to change his voice at all, and although he tries a few other vocal stylings in this album including a falsetto, they don’t get in the way and never seem to be a problem.  His voice really shines on tracks like Towards the Blue Horizon and Found, where he can let it free (which in itself is a strange concept, letting your voice free, but go with me on this one).

My comparison of this album to other artists is not a takeaway from Love, Fear and the Time Machine.  In fact, it’s actually very high praise, because the musicians and bands that Riverside channels are some of the best around.  They don’t draw from something like 2015 Muse, and instead pull from bands and musicians with established sounds and grow on them with a Riverside flair.  I always like bands drawing from their influences and enhancing them, and this album did just that.  The most significant influence without question has to be Steven Wilson, who I can’t praise enough, and he is a fantastic person to draw inspiration from.  I enjoyed Riverside’s Love, Fear and the Time Machine from the first time I heard Discard Your Fear a month ago, and when I finally heard the entire album, it caught me under its spell.  It isn’t flawless, and of note the track #Addicted (that’s really the track name, I didn’t put the pound sign in by accident) falls a bit flat.  Otherwise, I don’t have much negative to say about this album, so I gladly give it 14 RUs out of 15.

2015 Top 15 Rewind: #6 – Spock’s Beard – The Oblivion Particle

Spocksbeard_theoblivionparticle

Today, I want to spread the gospel of Spock’s Beard.  Like my review for Ghost, you may also recall Spock’s Beard from my 2013 list of greatness.  Their album, Brief Nocturnes and Dreamless sleep, was featured on that list, and a few years later, Spock’s Beard is lighting up my day once again.  While Ghost was progressive focusing more on Metal, Spock’s beard is progressive focusing more on the prog.  They have always used unique melodies and structures to make intriguing music, and this album, The Oblivion Particle, is no different.  It’s clever, inventive, and diverse.  I don’t run into a problem where any song sounds like another, and each track has a life of its own.  You can probably tell already that I really enjoyed this album…you’re right, I did.

I can’t help but enjoy true prog rock.  It speaks to me in a way that most music can’t, but it could be because it’s so complicated, I can keep up with it and understand and appreciate what they’re getting at.  If I can’t, then I can make it up and never know the difference.  Some of you Spock’s Beard purists reading this may have given up on the band after Neal Morse left, but I think that Ted as the frontman has done a great job filling the void.  Sure, it’s different, but unless you’re AC/DC getting Brian Johnson after Bon Scott died (but don’t get me started on Axl Rose), or the dude that took over Journey’s vocals that sounds just like Steve Perry, you’re going to have a different sound with a new vocalist.  Despite the change in vocals, the heart and soul of Spock’s Beard hasn’t gone anywhere.  You can hear the essence of the band with this track, Minion, which is posted below.  They have one foot in classic rock and the other in prog rock, and it sounds wonderful.

I can hear influences of other bands in the tracks, like Tides of Time has some Dream Theater floating around in there, and Minion has Yes flowing through its veins (or whatever songs have for circulatory systems).  It takes a good musician to use someone else’s sound, but it takes a great musician to use that sound and transform it into their own.  I could keep pointing out that X song sounds like this or Y chorus reminds me of that, but Spock’s Beard is its own band capable of taking what it’s made so far as well as the music around it, and evolving it into something great.  That may sound confusing, but what I mean is that they clearly are big fans of the progressive rock genre of music because they are paying attention to what other bands are doing.  Listen to A Better Way to Fly.  It’s a deep and complex nine minute track that starts slow and builds into something massive, and has the kind of power that can match other big bands of the genre with their long songs.  It’s one of those “we can make multiple long songs on an album and sound great too, you know” situations.  There are layers upon layers in the music, and that makes it even more impressive when you can get to the bottom of the music.

That being said, this is definitely a multi-listen album.  The first time, I didn’t get the whole experience.  It’s the kind of album you need to sit and listen to without doing anything else, and just pay attention to the music and the pictures the band is trying to paint.  Everything on this album has been done for a reason, and there are no wasted sounds anywhere on it.  It’s smart music, plain and simple.  That isn’t to say that if you are not a fan (ugh, double negative) of this music, you are not intelligent.  Not at all.  You can like whatever you want, except for Coldplay, and I won’t judge you for it.  There’s no excuse for enjoying Coldplay, though.  That’s where I draw the line.

You can find the rest of the album elsewhere, I have given you three tracks officially released by the band, I have faith in you.  It’s worth a listen, mostly because of how far down the rabbit hole they can go.  I am grateful that I have a decent stereo system with multiple speakers arranged around me (that’s what we in the industry call Surround Sound) so I can hear the keyboards on my left, the percussion in front of me, and the guitars on the right.  I can also hear them shift back and forth, and it lets me imagine how much fun it was to record and mix this album.  When I listen to this album, it makes me smile.  The song that made me the most glad was The Center Line, which started with a beautiful piano intro that obviously turned it something grand.  You may have seen a pattern here, but that is progressive rock.  Start with something simple, and explode it into something engrossing and beautiful.  Yeah, go ahead, make the flower comparison, I don’t mind.

You won’t regret listening to The Oblivion Particle.  It’s a beast of an album that isn’t bookended with strong songs at the beginning and end with nothing in the middle.  It’s consistent and solid, and clocks in at just over an hour so it’s an excellent journey you can take.  The shortest track is just under five minutes, so you should know what you’re getting yourself into.  No three minute little tracks or short interludes, they’re all contained in tracks.  You could probably break To Be Free Again up into different sections, but I prefer it all together because it tells quite a story.  I have to admit, I had a little bias coming into this album, because I had heard a track or two a month before the album’s release and knew that The Oblivion Particle would be really something special.  I was right.  When you do listen to this album, pay attention to Bennett Built a Time Machine (which was sung by drummer Jimmy Keegan), The Center Line, and Get Out While You Can.  Great stuff all around.  I proudly give this album 14 Ratings Units out of 15, and the only thing that I found that took away from the album is that some of the choruses grew repetitive and weren’t always needed.  Don’t be alarmed if the ratings for particular albums are lower than the ones higher up on the “Top Albums of 2015” list, it’s all relative and subjective.  Speaking of relative and subjective, this is prog rock, we don’t need traditional or “objectively good” song structures here.  Oh yeah, one last note – watch out for the violin in Disappear, it comes out of nowhere, and boy is it a welcome addition to the music.

2015 Top 15 Rewind: #7 – Symphony X – Underworld

SymphonyX Underworld

I’ve been waiting for this album for years now, and I’d like to welcome back Symphony X to the top of the prog metal ladder.  We missed you.  The members of Symphony X have been very busy since their last album, making solo albums, working with different bands, and melting faces.  Plenty of faces were melted during the making of this album, as well.  In fact, listening to this album again, I needed a cold drink to maintain the balance of…ah whatever, you get it.  This album is called Underworld, and it packs a wallop.  In its basest form, you can call this metal.  It’s not your daddy’s metal, it’s more like your granddaddy’s metal, and here’s why.  Symphony X, like several other major prog metal bands, perform music based on classical music and use symphonies to add to the ambiance that is their music.  It’s extravagant, it’s over the top, and it’s brilliant.  Sometimes, it can get cheesy, because a chorus of angels backing up the lead singer can sound strange, but Symphony X has all of the power and none of the cheese.  Ok, fine, there’s a little cheese, but it’s spicy…it’s habanero jack.

This is their first single off the album, called Nevermore, and it hits hard and fast and doesn’t let up until it’s all over.  When some of you think metal, you think screaming and cookie monsters and rage and mosh pits with kids flipping around, but this is not that metal.  I’ve been to several Symphony X shows, and the only mosh pits formed were made by a bunch of kids and the rest of the fans looked on wondering what the hell those kids were doing.  This is complicated stuff with heavy thematic elements and deep melodies that tell a story.  This album isn’t a full-on concept album like some of their earlier works, including The Odyssey and The Divine Wings of Tragedy, but there’s a common core that holds this album together.  Michael Romeo, the lead guitarist and songwriter, is a brilliant lyricist, and he and Michael Lepond, the bassist, put together some deep tracks basically about (literally) going to hell and back to find something or someone.  At this point, I guess I should mention that there are three Michaels in the band: Romeo the guitarist, Lepond the bassist, and Pinnella the keyboardist.  The lineup of the band has remained the same since 2000, which means that they have developed incredible chemistry after being together as a unit for 15 years.  It’s amazing that I’ve been a fan for that long.

Speaking of long times, it has been four long years since their last album, Iconoclast.  Over that time, for example, Sir Russell Allen (yeah, Sir) has made three albums with two different bands in Adrenaline Mob and Allen/Lande, and been a guest on seven other albums playing alongside other major prog metal names like Iced Earth and Timo Tolkki.  Are you kidding me?  That’s so busy, and that doesn’t count having written and recorded this album in 14 and 15, plus all the tours he’s done with Adrenaline Mob and Symphony X during that time.  That’s just the vocalist, by the way.  The whole band is that talented and active, and that’s what makes me so glad that Symphony X “reunited” so to speak to release this new album.  I look forward to catching it on tour when I get the chance.

This next track is Without You, which is quite different from Nevermore.  It’s a ballad.  Yes, it’s a ballad.  No, there’s nothing wrong with ballads.  Ballads are wonderful, knock it off.  You have to have something to break up the energy of the album, because there’s no denying that it’s fast and furious through most of it.  It’s heavier than some of their earlier work, and is a headbanger’s delight.  The interesting thing about the creation of this album is that Michael Romeo himself admitted that concept albums aren’t as big of a thing as they used to be, but as he is so attached to them, he wanted to make an album that still consisted of individual songs but had something link them together.  At parts, it’s aggressive and in-your-face, but then it pulls back and gets emotional.  I look to the longest track on the album for perfect evidence of that, with To Hell and Back.  Yeah, looks like I wasn’t crazy when I said that this album was about going to hell and back for someone or something.  Anyways, the heaviness and aggression hold on long enough throughout the track and let up  every so often, and the track flows very well and you don’t even realize that almost ten minutes has passed since you turned the track on.

Symphony X, as I mentioned, went heavier with this album, but they have a few tracks that go back to their core as a band.  First of all, the album started off with an overture, appropriately titled Overture.  Any album that has an actual overture is a good album by my standards.  The overture flows straight into Nevermore, which is posted above.  Further down in the album, a few tracks stand out as having some very significant influencing sounds about them.  For example, Run With the Devil sounds like the beautiful merger of Dream Theater and Symphony X.  Legend, their final track, does as well to an extent, but if I were to send you one track that represents everything that Symphony X, it would unquestionably be Legend.  It contains everything that Symphony X is and ever has been, but not necessarily everything that will be.  They took some chances in this album, with actual ballads in this album instead of a power ballad like they had used before, but they nailed it in every sense of the term.

This album is incredibly solid from start to finish.  I can’t sing enough praises about Underworld.  Despite how much I love this album, my mind goes back to something a teacher told me many years ago.  This teacher never gave anyone a 100%, because there’s always room for improvement even if the execution is flawless.  I don’t know why it stuck with it, but maybe it was because I was always chasing that perfect score in his classes, and a 98% wasn’t good enough for me.  That being said, I give Underworld 14.5 Ratings Units out of 15.  I don’t know if I can give a 15 to any band or musician in good faith, because where do I go when someone else comes out with something that is better?  Steven Wilson came out with Grace for Drowning, a 5 star album by all regards, but when he came out with his next and superior album, how can you make the ranking matter?  A 5 star plus?  I’m not entire sure, but this album is practically flawless.  Well done, Symphony X.

2015 Top 15 Rewind: #8 – Beardfish – +4626-Comfortzone

Beardfish - 4626-COMFORTZONE

In this inaugural review in 2015, I’d like to tell you all about a band called Beardfish.  I first wrote about this band back in 2012, when my fledgling reviews were just brief paragraphs and not book-length digressions and ramblings.  Beardfish is a Swedish progressive rock band that has always flown under the radar.  They sound like they would be plucked right from the 1970s, especially with their Hammond B3 organ.  If you’re unfamiliar with that particular instrument, or other organs used in rock music, chances are you’ve heard a musician use one.  Have you listened to Procol Harum’s Whiter Shade of Pale?  How about Deep Purple’s Hush?  What about the song Light My Fire by the Doors?  There was also a review this year in 2016 that I wrote about the band Perihelion Ship, who love the Hammond B3. If you haven’t heard any of those songs, stop reading this and go listen to them all right now.  I strongly advise it so you know what I’m referencing.

I apologize in advance if this youtube link is improper, but I searched for an official Beardfish channel or their record label’s, but they had nothing about this album.  Therefore, I was able to find the entire album uploaded by someone named marianoisis.  If need be, let me know and I can take it down on this review.  Until then, let’s talk about this album.  It’s called +4626-Comfortzone.  No, really, that’s its title.  I’m not sure what the number exactly is for, but Comfortzone actually represents the fact that the band wants to reach outside of their comfort zone and they do just that in this album.  Despite this album being very dark in areas, both lyrically and tonally, this album is very accessible especially compared to some of their other material like The Void or Sleeping in Traffic.  The topics of the songs are not very uplifting, but they’re emotionally quite powerful.

There were a few tracks that stood out, even though the album did not have many weak spots.  As you may have gathered by now, I’m a huge fan of unusually long tracks, and the track Ode to the Rock’n’Roller is 15 and a half minutes.  It truly is just that, and very clearly pays homage to the classic rock gods like Led Zeppelin, Deep Purple and The Who.  If you disagree about Deep Purple being in the “god” category, they were incredibly influential on rock music and are one of the pioneers of the great music that I listen to today, like this album!  Otherwise, the track Comfort Zone was much shorter but almost as complex and really made me think.  I actually sat down last year and listened to this song four times in a row while focusing on a different part each time, and I pulled a lot from it.

Beardfish’s complexity was in full form for +4626-Comfortzone.  On the fringe of the popular prog metal acts of Dream Theater, Iron Maiden and Mastodon lie bands like Beardfish.  They’re right on the cusp of stardom, and even though they have critical acclaim and a cultlike fanbase, for some reason they don’t garner headliner status.  I would put Beardfish along some of the other big prog metal bands in terms of talent, but instead they appear to be in the second-tier domain with other great bands like Haken, Pain of Salvation and Animals as Leaders.  If they’re second best, the best certainly need to step up their game because Beardfish is nipping at their heels with albums like Comfort Zone.

The previous rating for this album was only out of five stars, in which I gave it a 4/5.  Updating this to the 2016 ratings unit standards, it has been bumped up to an amazingly solid 14/15.  This is the type of album that requires multiple albums to really get into it, and after a years and a half of digesting, this album may have deserved to be higher up than 8.   It’s so complicated and deep, and there are things I picked up on listening to it in the car one time 16 months after the release.  That’s Beardfish for you…always complicated.

2015 Top 15 Rewind: #9 – The Gentle Storm – The Diary

thegentlestormdiarycd

This is quite a unique album.  I’ve never really found anything quite like it.  The Gentle Storm, before I go into it further, is made up of Arjen Lucassen and Anneke van Giersbergen.  That may have sounded like a bunch of strange words with too many N’s, but Lucassen is the brains behind the group Ayreon, Star One, his own solo project, and a ton of more music that I have written about.  Anneke, on the other hand, you could know from Devin Townsend albums as the female vocalist in albums like Addicted, Epicloud and Z2.  She previously worked with Lucassen on the Ayreon album, 01011001.  So, that backstory out of the way, if you’ve read any of my reviews from the past few years, you would have at least tangentially heard of what either of these two artists can do.  Why is this significant, you may find yourself asking?  Because this album, a special double album, consists of two drastically different recordings of the same songs.  The first album is termed the Gentle version, and the second is the Storm version.  So, if a listener liked a particular song but didn’t like how light or heavy it was, they could switch and listen to it in a totally different way.

 

So I’ll start this review off right by giving you both versions of the first song on the album, Endless Sea.  In a nutshell, this album (a concept album, as you would expect) is about a sailor in the 1600’s that gets separated from his wife, and chronicles their journey back to each other.  According to interviews I’ve listened to and read, the story is actually fairly accurate and the two worked with a historian to write the lyrics for this album.  So, this album gets the famous “based on a true story” tag, and along with it, one heck of a musical journey.  I am one of those strange listeners who enjoyed both versions of the album, and from what I have gathered so far, other listeners will pick one album that they feel is significantly superior to the other.

I personally prefer the storm version a little just because it is bombastic and orchestral compared to the folksy and celtic sound of the gentle version.  The selling point of this album, of course, is that if you want to switch to the other album, you can easily.  Some albums, like the new Death Grips album that just dropped, are albums that you can only listen to in a certain mood, but The Diary transcends that by making an album that on its face sounds more sad, and has a partner album of the same music that is more upbeat, depending on the song.  I think you get what I’m trying to explain now.

When the songs that I posted above came out a few months ago, I listened to them back to back, and felt a whole lot of things with each listen.  I was so impressed how different emotions were stirred from the two albums that were lyrically and temporally identical (oh, did I not mention that?  The albums are practically the same length, with just ten or so total seconds of difference between the two).  On the gentle version, you have an emotional folk/celtic rock sound which focuses more on Anneke’s vocals, while on the storm version, her voice is just another instrument in an endless sea of music.  See what I did there?  Good.  Glad you’re still paying attention.  Some people can find her voice to be a little droning at times, but I think it was utilized beautifully on this double album.  If I haven’t sold you yet on this album, the storm version uses a choir, and it’s an intense choir surrounded by an orchestra and a lot of music going on at once.  They really encompass the musical “storm” that they intended to create with this album in certain songs.  If you want a huge song that swirls into a maelstrom of great music, look no further than the storm version of the track The Storm.  Yeah, I’m aware that it is The Storm (Storm version) but it doesn’t matter.  It sounds great.

This album is nothing short of a home run.  Since this review was posted in 2015, more tracks have been released by this band so I was able to give you Shores of India as well as a live version of The Storm.  As a huge fan of the two artists (and most of the supporting musicians like Ed Warby returning to work with Arjen on the drums again) you could consider me biased, although I know great music when I listen to it.  There’s a reason that Arjen Lucassen is known as one of the greatest progressive rock/metal artists for the past 20 years or now, and The Diary once again affirms his status among the elite musicians of our day.  How many instruments did he play on this album?  He played all of the electric and acoustic guitars, most of the electric and acoustic bass guitars, all of the keyboards, and even the dulcimer, because why not?  I strongly recommend this album to any fans of prog or folk music, as many of you most likely are because you read these reviews.  It’s a real eye-opener.  To update the previous ranking system to what we have now, the previous rating of 12/13 has been updated to 14 Ratings Units out of 15.  This album is a beast.  As a bonus, try to play both the gentle and storm version of the endless sea that I posted above at the same time.  They sync up perfectly, and that combination may be one most interesting musical experiences I’ve ever had.

2015 Top 15 Rewind: #10 – Leprous – The Congregation

leprous the congregation

Softer or more poppy music fans need not read any further.  This is metal.  This is heavy stuff, fairly aggressive, and in your face.  It’s not screamy…well, there are a few parts of light screaming but it goes away pretty quickly.  Leprous, for those of you who remember, were on my 2013 best album list with their album Coal.  I am generally not fond of the screaming vocals, and these are no exception, but they do play into the aggressiveness that is The Congregation.  The only thing I can say positive about those few abrasive vocals is that they help show where Leprous came from and what they have transformed into.  Like Opeth, I’m kind of glad they left their screaming/death days behind them.  They’re so much more now.  I’m sure death metal purists may disagree, and that’s fine, but I prefer understanding my vocalists say actual words instead of angry cookie monsters.  But without further dudes, here’s Leprous’s single from their new album, Rewind.  I can’t provide a whole stream from the album so I’ll just post this song, and maybe the other single of theirs.

This is the kind of music I love.  It starts slow, in its beginning phase, and grows as the song progresses.  It hits a good pace a few minutes in, and then by the five minute mark, it’s a powerhouse.  I won’t do what I normally do and bog you down with technical information and prowess of this album and I’ll simply say that The Congregation is loud and powerful.  This review had to be much shorter given the circumstances, and honestly this album speaks for itself.

One such person unfamiliar with Leprous, after listening to Rewind, said the track was “incredible.”  Anecdotal evidence with selection bias at its best, but it slightly helps demonstrate that I think you’d be surprised by this album.  I wish I could write more but my computer is having a total revolution against me so I want to get this done with and I’ll definitely have to come back to this album later this year.  I don’t think this album was a concept album but I have only listened to this album two and a half times since picking it up.  I apologize for the brevity but I will have to let you be the judge of this album.  I give The Congregation 13 RU’s out of 15.  It’s incredibly solid, loud, aggressive, and just what I needed to get through the week.

This was a heavy one, and deserves to be a top 10 album without question.  It’s intense from start to finish, and apart from the angry vocals, it was a hit.  It was never too heavy for too long to push people away, but this certainly isn’t for the faint of heart.  I appreciate it for its structure, in that it doesn’t always have one.  It may have a framework to guide the album along, but as good prog metal, it evolves into a raging beast and you’ll have to hear it to believe (or enjoy) it.