(Epic Heavy/Doom, Germany)
Atlantean Kodex is fairly new to the metal scene, but compared to it, the band made its way to many year-end list in 2010 with their debut album The Golden Bough. Three years later these Bavarian metal gods return to the scene with their sophomore album The White Goddess. The second album in a band's career always creates a lot of pressure as they need to prove the debut album's success was no one-time wonder and that the band are more than capable to expanding its sound and writing even better songs. Some bands nail it, some fail miserably. Fortunately Atlantean Kodex belongs to the first category: they absolutely nail it with The White Goddess.
I have been hooked to Last.Fm since 2010 ever since my friend introduced me to it. How in the hell I could have even lived in the past without this marvelous website? I am all about tracking my doings and loved creating year-end lists or playlists and always eager to find new bands I may have missed before. Enter Last.Fm and three and a half years later I have now totally little over 2,500 metal bands checked out. The road is endless tho as according to Metal-Archives.com there are more than 90,000 metal bands including the entire metal scene and all the countries in the world. One thing I have noticed in the songs' shoutboxes are the comments from the users, which I read very often. One comments seems to dominate it nowadays, "Epic". I know the word is overused and has thus lost some of its meaning, but the first thing that comes to mind with The White Goddess is epic. There are eight songs altogether, but three of them are interludes so you get only five songs. That may sound too little, but the quality of the songs sends many band's entire discographies from here to kingdom come.
From the first time you hear the chorus of Sol Invictus, you have two choices: you either yield, put on your fighting spirit t-shirt and go crazy. The other option is just to shake your shoulders and go: what's this? Another epic classic heavy metal band singing about swords, steel, battles and victory? Been there, done that and bought the t-shirt. Atlantean Kodex sounds intentionally cheesy and overdone. The massive choruses, epic build-ups, warrior-like spoken parts or Manowar-like guitar tone fools you into thinking "Hasn't this been done already?" The soundscape has been done, yes many years ago already but the the songwriting and atmosphere on this level is something extraordinary.
Take whichever of the five songs with vocals and you will find parts that will stuck into your head like glue. It could be chorus or Sol Invictus or Heresiarch or Twelve Stars and an Azure Gown: all of these songs have extremely well-written choruses that you will find yourself singing them while taking a shower or waking up to another working day. If that doesn't still convince you, take Enthroned in Clouds and Fire or the closer White Goddess Unveiled and you'll be compelled to sit still and embrace the awesomeness and emotional atmosphere of the songs. When the piano-driven outro in the last song fades out, somehow you feel complete and pure at heart.
One last thing needs to mentioned here: Markus Becker has improved since the debut by a mile. It's not that we was weak or under underachiever before, it's just that now the vocal delivery is less cheesy, more believable and most of all the dude can sing. My absolute favorite moment on the album currently is Twelve Stars and an Azure Gown: Mr. Becker is simply on fire on this track and it is one of the finest heavy metal anthems you'll hear 2013. This album is a must-have for all fans of traditional and melodic heavy metal.
Listen to the entire masterpiece here:
Orphaned Land: All Is One
(Middle Eastern Metal, Israel)
Orphaned Land is an odd bird in the field of metal: they hail from Israel, incorporate middle Eastern melodies into their songs and the lyrics deal with Abrahamic religions, unity and peace. They have been active for more than twenty years already, but my first encounter with them was about three years ago when I first heard their 2004 album Mabool - The Story of the Three Sons of Seven when a trusted friend of mine recommended the band to me. I was blown away, how come I hadn't heard of this guys before? Unfortunately I am not familiar with Israeli metal scene, so please accept my apologies if I am missing some groundbreaking metal acts from this country.
Their previous effort The Never Ending Way of ORWarriOR is one of the finest metal albums of 21th century, so if you haven't heard it yet make sure you do so after this. To my surprise, All Is One takes their sound into a new territory with having only one song with harsh vocals, which was a letdown for me at first. In addition there are numerous midpaced and melodic songs incorporated with traditional middle Eastern folk music melodies, which makes it less heavy and aggressive. However, I found myself returning to the album one play after another. There is just something extremely addictive in this album: the melodies are very catchy and the addition of female vocals and orchestration add texture to it. You will hear some of the most emotional singing and lyrics (like in Brother), the overall quality of the songs is impressive and the guitar work and vocals are outstanding. You know that music should take you to places, don't you? The overall atmosphere transported me amongst the pillars of old Arabic temple ruins in the middle of the desert. I was staring at the half naked and veiled dancers in front of the roaring fire surrounded by mystique. The high priests were wearing long white gowns topped with golden jewelry and a long, curvy dagger. Too many Indiana Jones movies, you say? Could be, but this is why I love this album, it disconnects me from reality every time I need a break.
Orphaned Land has convinced me once again they are one of the most professional and versatile bands out there currently. I cannot wait to see what these guys come up next.
Watch the official video for Brother here:
Witherscape: The Inheritance
(Progressive metal, Sweden)
The great vocalist/multi-instrumentalist/producer Dan Swanö is back! Actually he has never really been gone, but once again shows that everything he touches turns into gold. If I would list all bands he's been active with or the albums he has helped to produce, the list would be too long for me to type or for you to read but luckily the homework is done and you can check it out here.
Witherscape may look superficially a brand-new name to the scene, but this isn't the case. According to Swanö, Witherscape had been in planning for a long time and spawned as a result of his working relationship with Ragnar Widerberg (guitars and bass), which began at a Swedish music store. In spite of being five years older than Widerberg, Swanö (vocals, drums and keyboards) discovered they had so much in common musically that brainstorming for a full-on metal project of their own was the next logical step. "The Inheritance" is a pretty thick concept album split into different episodes and very briefly, the Witherscape story takes place in a remote village in northern Sweden in the late 1800's. The central character lives in Stockholm and comes from wealth, and upon the death of his family he's informed by the family lawyer that he has inherited a large estate up north. Having been oblivious to the estate's existence, he decides to investigate, and once he's there "all kinds of weird shit happens…", according to Swanö. (taken from www.witherscape.com)
Witherscape could be categorized as progressive metal having death metal elements when Mr. Swanö uses his harsh vocal register. One thing that strikes me the most are his clean vocals, which sound strongest and most powerful to date resembling the mighty Russell Allen, who is one of my favorite metal singers. The biggest strong point in the album is the versatile song material: some melodies remind me of Symphony X (probably due to the similarities in vocal technique) and some Opeth (guitar sound and harsh vocals). There is little to complain about The Inheritance: the songwriting is great, the atmosphere is airy, flow of the songs is consistent, the production thick and musicianship topnotch. My favorite cuts from the album are Astrid Falls and Dead For A Day.
The Inheritance is a worthy addition to progressive metal fan's collection. Hopefully this fruitful collaboration will continue as this super group is clearly right on the mark.
Watch the lyric video for Dead For A Day below:
Cult Of Luna: Vertikal
(Progressive metal/Post-Hardcore, Sweden)
Cult Of Luna blew me away with Somewhere Along the Highway (2006). Especially songs like Finland and Dark City, Dead Man almost broke my neck and I virtually trashed at least six airguitars! I have been following their career ever since and after their show in Finland in March 2013 I have finally completed owning their full-length discography.
I ain't gonna lie: I had enormous hopes for Vertikal, because I knew what these guys are capable of. When the first song, I: The Weapon, was aired I was jumping for joy: this is how I like my CoL. First spin after the entire album I was pleased and happy. There were still elements in the new direction which left me a bit uneasy. Especially that dubstep sounding part in Vicarious Redemption starting at 11-minute mark, almost had me choking: what the hell is going on? It's not that I was not able to tolerate it, it just took me by surprise. Later reading back the fans' comments about it on Last.Fm, most of them accepted the twist with open arms while others were in denial. Vertikal takes Cult Of Luna's sound into a new territory and there was a long, five-year break between the previous album Eternal Kingdom and Vertikal. Obviously it was clear for the guys, that they wanted their sound to evolve and embrace new territories. During the recording break, the band also moved from Earache Records to Indie Recordings.
Vertikal features heavier use of electronics than before and some industrial sounding samples. Their sound is still heavy and aggressive, but they are able to bring something new to the mix. Especially the bass or the low electronic end brings good balance to the sound and the production on the album is fitting and powerful. One minor complaint is the vocals, which sound a bit too monotonous at times and could have had more variation to my taste. The original singer Klas Rydberg left the band in 2012 and the vocals are performed by Johannes Persson and Fredrik Kihlberg. Both vocalists still deliver and do an amazing job, especially the closer Passing Through took me by surprise delivering haunting vocals and beautifully fragile atmosphere.
Another thing I have to add is the flow of the songs: Cult Of Luna has always had the ability to write interesting, long and epic songs which grab the listener immediately. They don't fail this time either and I am pretty sure the album will please old and new fans of the band. Finally I have to urge each and every metal fan out there to go and see them performing live: the sound, the visuals and the musicianship is stellar. You won't be disappointed.
Watch the official video for Passing Through below:
Cathedral: The Last Spire
(Stoner/Doom Metal, UK)
Altar Of Plagues is not the only metal band this year that called quits. One of the great doom bands from UK, Cathedral, announced that once The Last Spire is out that will be the end of the band. This makes it yet another cult band I failed to catch live. I did have my chance in 2011 when they played in Jalometalli festival in Oulu, but the logistics and the finance were not on my side that year. Luckily my friend was able to witness it and naturally the gig was awesome (as expected).
My history with the band is short and there are times when their obscurity makes me think they are one of the greatest bands ever and there are times when they make me question their cult-like reputation. The Last Spire is made of all the traditional trademarks of the band: stunning and weird vocals of Lee Dorrian and thick, heavy guitar riffs by Gaz Jennings along with throbbing bass and powerful drumming. Basically the dominant flow of the song is slow or midtempo, but when you least expect the tempo changes or they throw in some weird 70's sounding hammond and moog samples. Lee Dorrian's vocal delivery is yet one of the strong points in this album: his distinctive, weary and high-pitched sound makes the band unique and stand out from the mass. Another cool fact I found out while I was doing my homework is that Mr. Dorrian was the first lead vocalist in grindcore legend Napalm Death (1987-1989). Bloody hell, I had absolutely no clue about this (note to self: you still have a lot to learn dude).
It's hard to pick a standout track as the entire album is meant to listen as a whole experience, but if you listen to the video clip of Tower Of Silence, it pretty much encapsulates what the band is all about. In addition Pallbearer is a great example of Cathedral's sound: just when you think the entire 12-minute song is heard, everything changes as they pick up the pace. If you crave for great, unique and versatile doom, I strongly urge to pick up The Last Spire. Thank you for the music Cathedral, your legacy will live on and I'll follow where the members' musical road shall take them next.
Watch Tower Of Silence below:
Officium Triste: Mors Viri
(Death Doom Metal, The Netherlands)
Rotterdam's Officium Triste is celebrating their 20th anniversary in 2014. I was introduced to this band probably four years ago after their previous album Giving Yourself Away (2007) had been released. At that point of time I had (and still have) enormous hunger for well-made death doom metal and I was scouting for bands I had probably missed.
Officium Triste play melodic doom along with wailing guitars and dominating keyboards. Their guitar sound is light and airy, but the vocals are absolutely crushing and chilling to the bone. To me the biggest brother-in-arms is Saturnus, probably due to the similarity in vocal style (spoken parts vs. deep, powerful growls of Pim Blankenstein). Mr. Blankenstein also contributed vocals to The 11th Hour's sophomore album Lacrima Mortis, a great doom album which I strongly urge you to check out!
Stream the entire album here and support the band: