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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

Gems of last year: annisokay – “Devil May Care”

My first encounter with annisokay goes back a couple of years. When I got to know them, they were just about to release their second album “Enigmatic Smile” and nobody really knew about them except people who listen to this specific genre… and reviewers. At the time, I was working for powerofmetal.dk and was constantly in need for new music. Now, annisokay is Saxony-Anhalt’s most successful rock act, and rightfully so.

I remember liking annisokay more than I intended to. I kept listening, and last year, they released their third record “Devil May Care” and toured extensively to support it. I then went to see annisokay live twice this year, chatted with Christoph and Norbert, the founding members of the band, and discoverd a band I will probably love for a very long time. Unlike many bands I got to know as a reviewer, annisokay is one of the very few acts that still excite me to this day.
I really can’t explain my fascination for this band. They don’t play the most innovative, technically challenging music. Their lyrics aren’t very poetic. But what I can tell for sure is that these guys know what they are doing. They know how great songwriting works, and somehow, they know how to write highly addictive songs. I am constantly finding myself listening to their music on repeat – particularly tracks from their latest record “Devil May Care”. “Loud” and “Thumbs Up, Thumbs Down” are songs that really give me energy for the day ahead, and “Blind Lane” is a track that goes right into the heart, as well as “Smile” and “Hourglass”.
The fact that the vocals in annisokay really are the best aspect about this band is quite unusual for a metalcore band. This is something I noticed right away: Harsh vocalist Dave Grunewald does a more than decent job, but I do have a little soft spot for Christoph Wieczorek’s cristal clear, high vocals. He is a very powerful singer who carries loads of emotion in his vocals. Once again, I can’t actually explain why his performance fascinates me so much – you will probably have to listen for yourself.
Now, everybody who knows me a little better will say that it makes perfect sense that I like this band. Their music has about the right amount of cheesiness and heartache-curing properties for me to fall for it. However, let me tell you that my best friend – who wholeheartedly loves thrash metal, punk and hardcore – enjoys annisokay, too. This proves that they are able to write music that is addictive and enjoyable for people outside the melodic hardcore genre.

I don’t believe in guilty pleasures, and this site is proof for that. If I like something, I will tell everyone about it. And I am not afraid to say that “Devil May Care” – a melodic hardcore/metalcore record with electronic influences – is among my top favorite releases of 2016.


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)

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