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Category: Reviews (Page 1 of 2)

Review: Epica – The Solace System (EP)

Release date: September 1, 2017
Rating: average (3)

Line-up:
Simone Simons – vocals
Mark Jansen – guitar, vocals
Isaac Delahaye – guitar
Rob van der Loo – bass
Coen Janssen – keyboard
Ariën van Weesenbeek – drums

Epica, to me, is the best example of a band that steadily climbed towards success. Nightwish may be the better known band in the genre, but Epica make up for that with hard work – they seem to have been working harder than their Finnish counterpart have for the past five years. Just look at how well they have been developing. They aren’t just another symphonic metal band anymore; Epica have become a symphonic metal powerhouse with all the bells and whistles. Not only do they collaborate with highly acclaimed orchestras and choirs for their very well-frequented shows and studio albums, they also release well-produced videos and have one of the biggest metal labels at their side since ten years.

Epica have even been working so hard that they wrote enough material for their latest full length record “The Holographic Principle” to release an EP called “The Solace System” with the songs that didn’t make it to the album, and this EP is more than overdue to be reviewed. So my first question here is: Why would a band do that? If the material isn’t good enough to make it to a full length album, then it probably isn’t good enough for an EP either. Yes, that is a harsh statement, but these days, I don’t believe that any band can afford releasing mediocre material when everybody knows they can do better. (In this case, though, I do have to add that there are a couple of tracks on “The Holographic Principle” that sound like garbage.) Also, if Mark Jansen and co. are so eager to put out all the material they have been writing, I’d rather have a new Mayan album, as I always liked their quasi Epica-side project more.
Of course, this EP doesn’t sound bad: Take tracks like “Architect Of Light” and “Decoded Poetry” or the heart-warming ballad “Immortal Melancholy” (Epica are great at ballads in general) – beautiful tracks that could have easily made it to “The Holographic Principle” in my opinion. But the rest, and even the aforementioned tracks, sounds so typical of Epica it’s almost ironic. This doesn’t have to be a negative point – if that’s what you want, be my guest. For me, it’s just not enough.
Also, what in the name of God is Simone doing on this EP? Her voice lacks any kind of warmth and emotion. Yes, everyone who knows me also knows that I had a hard time getting used to her vocals until I finally had to admit that she does a pretty good job – sometimes at least. Most of the time, her vocals sound like charivari to me. Additionally, beginning with the last full-length record “The Holographic Principle”, her voice has increasingly been sounding way too autotuned and quite bland most of the time. I much preferred the vocals in Epica ten years ago – just listen to “The Divine Conspiracy” and you will understand what I am talking about. Back then, Simons’ long notes had power and grip to them. Now she is doing … whatever she is doing. I am not attempting to understand what that exactly is, but she is definitely struggling.

The main problem, however, is that Epica are getting predictable: Choirs, epic melodies, heavy riffs and confusing vocals, we know the drill by now. The purpose of this EP probably wasn’t pushing boundaries, I will admit that, so for what this is, it’s solid. I just can’t help but think that Epica have released much better material before. “The Solace System” is average – not more and not less.

Tracks:
01. The Solace System
02. Fight Your Demons
03. Architect Of Light
04. Wheel Of Destiny
05. Immortal Melancholy
06. Decoded Poetry

Review: The Contortionist – “Clairvoyant”

Release date: September 15, 2017
Rating: outstanding (4)

Line-up:

Michael Lessard – vocals
Robby Baca – guitar
Cameron Maynard – guitar
Joey Baca – percussion
Jordan Eberhardt – bass
Eric Guenther – keyboards

I am the type of person who listens to black metal while studying. I am also the type of person who falls asleep to Swallow The Sun. But from time to time, I am like everyone else: I’m craving calm, balanced music, and that’s the kind of music The Contortionist, one of the greatest prog bands on the market, have been offering for the last couple of years. If you aren’t familiar with The Contortionist, note that this band’s style pretty much went from a quite balanced mix of prog rock, djent and deathcore to almost meditative post-rock and fusion in less than ten years. Someone even commented on one of The Contortionist’s music videos saying that their new material feels very soothing for people who struggle with anxiety.

The Contortionist still play progressive music of course, but ever since their third record “Language” released in 2014, it seems as if they have found a niche they enjoy and to which they will probably stick for the future. While there still were some djent and deathcore elements to be found on that album, things have changed a little with “Clairvoyant” – the harsh vocals have completely disappeared and even though there are some heavier parts, they can’t really be compared to The Contortionist’s djent/deathcore past.
One thing I often dislike about progressive bands is how they try to include every single idea they might have had during songwriting without considering if those different elements are in tune with each other. The Contortionist, on the contrary, have been establishing a more simplified approach to songwriting, and have perfected the art of writing songs that flow perfectly from beginning to end and into each other from the first to the last track. That is why discussing every track individually wouldn’t make any sense – you really have to listen to the whole record to understand it. Some beautiful songs, however, are “Godspeed”, “Reimagined” and “Absolve”.
Additionally, I can’t stress enough what great of a vocalist Michael Lessard is. It is not only his ability to change from soft head voice singing to pig squeals that makes him special, but also the fact that he sounds absolutely flawless live. He really has full control over his voice and I particularly enjoy how he incorporates his r’n’b influences into his vocals. On “Clairvoyant”, he dispenses with harsh vocals, though, and to be honest, I do believe that giving up the harsh vocals wasn’t the best idea. I see, however, where The Contortionist wanted to go with this record and that such vocals just wouldn’t fit into the musical concept of “Clairvoyant”.
Another aspect that could be seen as a downside to this record in general is the fact that it flows to the point where it lacks a certain surprise effect. Or, in other words, you could be listening to “Clairvoyant” and there probably wouldn’t be any kind of “WTF!” moment. Of course, a record shouldn’t be solely based on those moments, but a little surprise here and there would be welcome on this particular one. Having Lessard’s whole vocal spectrum would probably enable a more extreme sound dimension to the record and make it even more interesting and enjoyable.

Other than that, I can’t think of anything negative. Just keep in mind that if you are looking for tech metal and djent, The Contortionist isn’t the band to offer you that kind of style of music anymore. Apart from that, I believe that this album can make you happy: It is great at calming you down, and to top it all, it will satisfy any progressive music freak’s need for extraordinary music.

Tracks:
01. Monochrome (Passive)
02. Godspeed
03. Reimagined
04. Clairvoyant
05. The Center
06. Absolve
07. Relapse
08. Return To Earth
09. Monochrome (Pensive)

Review: Arch Enemy – “Will To Power”

Release date: September 8, 2017
Rating: average (3)

Line-up:

Alissa White-Gluz – vocals
Michael Amott – guitars
Jeff Loomis – guitars
Sharlee D’Angelo – bass
Daniel Erlandsson – drums

How do you introduce a band like Arch Enemy? It’s actually really easy: You don’t have to. They are on nearly every rock and metal magazine cover right now. If you haven’t heard of this band to this day, please allow me one question: Have you been living under a rock for the last three years?

Arch Enemy are truly known and loved for what they do. Their new album Will To Power has been really successful so far, but the release of this record hasn’t turned the world upside down. Alright, sarcasm aside: I won’t complain about a more than solid new record by Arch Enemy just because they haven’t drastically changed since their last record. No one is expecting any kind of major shift in style from this band. At this point, I am happy if their songs stay consistently high-quality.
So as I mentioned, the essence of Arch Enemy stays the same and probably will for the years to come – however, adding different elements into their music allows them to move with the times and to offer their loyal fans new and exciting music without changing their style completely. And that’s exactly what they intended with Will To Power. I will, though, complain about the fact that this album could have turned out better than it actually did.
The intro “Set Flame To The Night” sounds pretty mediocre to me. The next song, “The Race”, a quite fast and straight-forward song, seems to be doing the job as the first “real” track on the record, not more and not less. “Blood In The Water” just isn’t memorable. It is quite likely that you will forget this song very quickly, as it is way too packed with quite unimpressive riffs and unnecessary guitar tootling.
From this point on, the record starts to become enjoyable. “The World Is Yours” is the first track on this record that finally stands out. It isn’t nearly as catchy as “War Eternal” was, but it is really solid, quite dynamic for an Arch Enemy track and the bass sounds really cool. Next up is “The Eagle Flies Alone”, aka “You Will Know My Name 2.0”. I mean, the song is really good. I assume that at least one medium paced, epic track is part of every Arch Enemy record now. But the interesting thing about Will To Power is that they decided to put another slower, “ballad”-like song right after an already relatively slow track like “The Eagle Flies Alone” – it’s called “Reason To Believe”, and this really is the kind of song that gives you strength and hope. I really enjoy it. It is definitely something completely different for Arch Enemy, but oh, is it splendid! Thank God Alissa got to use her full vocal spectrum on this album, particularly on this track and also on some other songs to come. It seems that she has a lot more saying in the songwriting process now, as some melodies and singing styles are very reminiscent of older The Agonist material, which makes absolute sense. I have been a fan of The Agonist with White-Gluz, so I really don’t mind hearing some parallels to her old band. On the same note, Arch Enemy’s frontwoman is starting to form a personality of her own and, luckily, is not trying to copy her predecessor Angela Gossow. People can say whatever they want about Alissa White-Gluz, but thanks to her talent and hard work, she has risen to the very top of the metal scene, and rightfully so.
The album continues with “Murder Scene”, a quite classically structured heavy metal song that also sounds quite personal if you listen to the lyrics. “First Day In Hell” and “Dreams Of Retribution” are surprisingly dark, but well-done. In general, the following tracks stand out in comparison with other Arch Enemy tracks in the sense that they are less epic and more straight-forward and higher-paced, which is nice to hear for a change. “My Shadow And I” highlights my last point, as well as the cover “City Baby Attacked By Rats” originally performed by GBH. “A Fight I Must Win”, technically the last track off Will To Power, on the contrary, sounds like a classic Arch Enemy song again. The lyrics sound kind of unspectacular, but that’s nothing new about Arch Enemy either. I also see what they did with the violins at the end, which I find really unnecessary. Write an epic guitar riff, Amott. God damn it, it’s your final track!

Despite this record being solid, I can’t change the fact that to me, it is “only” solid. I can’t rate it as “outstanding” as it isn’t to me. What is presented on Will To Power is the least you would expect from Arch Enemy. I think it’s great that they are experimenting a little bit with different sounds, but I’m missing true hits on this record other than “Reason To Believe” and “The World Is Yours”. Fans will like it. But Will To Power will most definitely not blow anyone away who knows what Arch Enemy are capable of.

Tracks:
01. Set Flame To The Night
02. The Race
03. Blood In The Water
04. The World Is Yours
05. The Eagle Flies Alone
06. Reason To Believe
07. Murder Scene
08. First Day In Hell
09. Saturnine
10. Dreams Of Retribution
11. My Shadow And I
12. A Fight I Must Win
13. City Baby Attacked By Rats

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