Feb 09 2018

Monolithe – Nebula Septem

I was never a fan of funeral doom metal, often finding the genre a little bit too slow, and a little bit too heavy for my liking. Bands like Bell Witch and the likes were raved about both by friends and online media, yet they hardly managed to retain my attention. On the other hand, Monolithe stood to be the exception to this rule, having already encountered their brand of doom metal over the last few years.

The one thing that I always remembered about Monolithe was how their releases tended to be structured as 3 15-minute tracks, though the music of course played a huge role in retaining my memory of the band. Nebula Septem takes a slightly different structure in terms of arrangement, and the band on their seventh releases has put in 7 tracks, each 7-minute long into this album, featuring 7 members, yada yada. You get the idea. Pretty consistent in their marketing thus far, but would the quality of their music remain consistent?

The mid-paced riff of Sylvain and Benoit that greets one on Anechoic Aberration threw me a little off guard, being already used to the pace that other Monolithe tracks have taken form thus far. Yet it is rather refreshing to hear this, as the band manages to retain that groovy touch that featured so strongly in their material.  The riffs are heavy as hell, but are often pierced through by depressing, or melancholic-sounding lead guitars that seem to be a constant theme on Nebula Septem. Probably the only comparison that I can draw would be to the emotional death/doom of bands like Draconian, especially with Sebastien’s hate-drenched vocals. Monolithe also doesn’t shy away from the gratuitous incorporation of synths of Sebastien, which alternate between adding a beautiful ambient, or drenching the music with a gloomy, haunting atmosphere.

With a larger number of tracks now as well, the band has the capacity to really explore different styles with their songwriting. While the foundation of the band remains doomy and gloomy, there is certainly an increased variety of elements that the band has added into their repertoire. Engineering the Rip for instance is injected with some psychedelic elements with the keyboards of Sebastien, and the riffs that the band has written even gives off some Finnish death metal vibe a la Demilich or Adramelech.

To top off, the production is heavy as fuck. Throughout the album one is enveloped by the wall of sound that is created by the band, with the mix of each of the different instruments in a perfect balance – be it the relentless riffs of the guitars, or that air of mystery created by the synths.

I really have no idea what makes Monolithe a band that is so entrancing, yet with every listen new discoveries are made, making each new listen an entirely different experience. If there is one heavy record to start your journey into darker doom metal, Nebula Septem should definitely make it to your consideration list.

Feb 06 2018

COEN – Remnants of Yesterday

When drummer Brandon told me about his new side project, I got rather excited, having already heard his drumming prowess previously not only in his studio works, but also through his live performances with Shirlyn & the Unexpected. So here we are with the debut album of Singaporean progressive metal band CoenRemnants of Yesterday, a year-long songwriting and recording effort of some of the finest musicians from our Little Red Dot.

Melody seems to be a extremely key feature of Coen‘s music, as the band easily infuses elements of technicality into their brand of progressive metal. The band claims Dream Theater to be one of their main influences, and this is clear from the start with Island in the Sky. It is hard to say whether the music is complex or simple, as the band often indulges in odd time signatures, yet the music remains catchy as hell, with one finding himself bobbing his head to the music. Brandon executes his lines with much ease, and channels the inner Mike Portnoy into his creation. Even the backing vocals on The Craven reminds one of those of Portnoy’s on his works with Dream Theater.

The guitars of Rudy here are somewhat less technical than those of John Petrucci (in no way discounting his playing), though this is for the better good as it fits the musical style of Coen like a glove, compared to a more robotic style. Songs like Perpetual: Remnants of Yesterday shows us the other influences as well, with some of the opening riffs being reminiscent of Joe Satriani‘s Rubina.

While each of the instruments are on point, the main concern for most discerning listeners would be the vocals, but vocalist Derrick hits each of the notes with ease, and has a rather soothing quality to his voice, making it fitting especially for slower or more emotional tracks. Further reinforcing the Dream Theater comparisons, the band even got the stamp of approval via the appearance of Jordan Rudess himself on the title track, which also happens to contain some of my favourite bass sections of Kelvin and guitar solos on the album.

Songwriting-wise the band ensures that the listener is kept engaged, with a variety of styles and emotions on the album. There is that somewhat aggressive Freedom, to the emotional ballad Goodbye. Yet all the while the band maintains their sharp technicality, never once slipping up.

But as with all records, not everything here is perfect. For instance the sudden inclusion of the child’s spoken part of Goodbye felt a little bit jarring and out of place, with the sudden switching from a pretty neutral accent in the singing to one that leans closer to a Singaporean one on the spoken parts. That said, it does expose the air of innocence meant to be on the track. Production-wise, the guitars could be mixed slightly higher, as they sound rather veiled compared to the rest of the band at times. And this is obvious from the start as the guitars made a rather unimpressive entrance due to it’s low presence in the mix.

Coen has broken new ground (at least locally) with their debut, with the excellent musicianship and songwriting prowess evident on Remnants of Yesterday. So if you’re a fan of melodic progressive metal or Images and Words-era Dream Theater, be sure to not miss this album.

Feb 05 2018

HMT Interviews: Orphaned Land

Orphaned Land made a name of themselves with their messages of peace into their folk/Middle-Eastern-infused brand of progressive metal, something that is rarely seen in the genre. They release their brand new album, Unsung Prophets & Dead Messiahs this year, and we got the opportunity to talk to them to learn more about their inspirations.

Greetings, thank you for giving us this opportunity to talk to you. Before we begin the interview proper, let’s talk about your upcoming new album, Unsung Prophets & Dead Messiahs, which will be released worldwide on January 26 2018. What can fans expect from this release?

I guess you can expect to get Orphaned Land. Each song sounds different from another but still it has the Orphaned spirit. This album will have more grunts than the last one and probably will be more progressive.

The cover art for the upcoming album looks unique compared to your last release All is One. The middle artwork resembles the Eye of Providence. Are there any significant meanings behind the artwork?

This album is a concept album and probably the most political one we have done. It talks about revolutionary figures that tried to make a change but failed. It talks about the corruption among politics and about the people led by them blindly without resistance. The cover is pretty much using all the symbols that can define the concept.

In 2017, Steve Hackett from Genesis called Kobi because he was looking for artist that promotes peace, and eventually he chose Orphaned Land for the collaboration. How was it like working with Steve?

It was a great honor. If you told me couple of years ago that the guitar player and mastermind of Genesis will play a solo on our album I would have probably said “keep on dreaming.”  First time I heard the solo I said to myself, “Ok, this is such an amazing one but didn’t quite see how it fit in the song”, but after a couple of listens I think it can’t be better. Because it has such a different vibe it makes it so smart and so emotional.
Now, I can’t think of a different option.

Aside from Steven as one of the guest guitarists, there are 3 more notable guest musicians on the record – Tomas Lindberg from At the Gates, Hansi Kursch from Blind Guardian, and Shlomit Levi. How did these collaborations come about?

We’ve always been a big fan of At the Gates. When we were kids, Tomas was our favorite death metal singer, and after writing Only the Dead have Seen the End of War we knew that we had to record his vocals on this one. It’s like this song was written for his type of singing.

Similarly in Orpheus , in my opinion Hansi has one of the most amazing voices in the metal scene today. After writing Orpheus he was the perfect match for delivering the message of this song. Having those amazing guests with us, working with Shlomit again was a very exciting moment for us. Shlomit is our main female vocalist for many years, and now having her again makes this album whole.

The band has recorded two albums with Fascination Street Studio, which is renowned for recording bands such as Opeth, Dimmu Borgir, and Paradise Lost. How was it like working with Jens Bogren?

After recording All is One it was obvious that working with Jens is the best option that we have. The guy cares about every note and every part on the album. It’s an experience that we didn’t have in the past while working on previous albums. This guy simply knows the job and how all instruments sound no less than perfect.

Orphaned Land has been a band for almost 25 years now. Looking back, what is the band proudest moment over the span of 25 years?

Wow, it’s so hard to find that specific moment after you’ve gone through so much. Our opening show for Metallica , the first time you see your new album on physical format, touring with such amazing bands as Amorphis who now are completely our brothers or joining our brothers from Blind Guardian. It’s such an honor knowing that Marcus is a fan. Now we are 100% family. There are so many of them so it will be a sin pointing only at one.

Looking the global political climate in today’s context, with conflicts around the worlds, how has it affected you as a musician, especially being in a band that spreads the message of peace and harmony?

We’re not blinded by the fact that it’s a risky area and that some people are not really into that message but it was the main subject since the beginning so we’re trying not the take a side and just bring the situation to the table. I guess heavy metal is one of the only genres that really touches a political message in the music so this is our story.

The band will be embarking on a Europe tour from February 2018 onwards. Will the band be touring the Asia region anytime soon?

After releasing the album our goal is to visit every part of the world. It will be truly amazing touring Asia!! I really hope that someone will take that project and will bring us there.

Are there any parting words for your fans in Singapore?

I will just say thank you so much for the support and I really hope we will have the chance to play for you and see your amazing country. Peace and stay metal.

Jan 25 2018

Vexovoid – Call of the Starforger

Vexovoid hails from Italy, where bands tend to either be of the brutal/technical death metal variety, or the neoclassical power metal types. Yet the band is, and has been intent on playing sci-fi-themed progressive thrash metal since the start of their career. After 4 years of grinding, the band finally drops their debut full length album, Call of the Starforger. But the question remains – would they be able to come close to the high bar set by legends like Coroner or, more recently, Vektor?

The opening moments of Omega Virus quickly sets the mood and atmosphere of the record, but it is the first riffs that the band unleashes that brings one back to familiar territory. Right from the get-go, I am quickly reminded of the feelings that I had the first time chancing upon Vektor‘s Black Future – still my favourite Vektor record of all time. The entire build up on Omega Virus, which slowly reaches a climax, the riffing style, the guitar tone, are all so reminiscent of the style of Vektor.

Each of the members in the band easily prove their worth, dishing out riff after riff and showing off their songwriting and technical skills with flair. For the most part, Call of the Starforger is a high-octane experience, yet the band never once loses their precision, executing their portions effortlessly. Danny’s shouty/screamy vocals is also rather reminiscent of those on Havok and the likes, giving that aggressive, angry edge to Vexovoid‘s music.

The Vektor comparisons will not end with Vexovoid, and the influences are very clear throughout the record – something that I’m not, and will not complain about. Songs like Galaxy’s Echoes where the band goes into a quiet, reflective mood before letting all hell break loose all point towards Vektor. Heck, even the production quality on the album is rather similar to those of Vektor.

That said, the band does put their own unique touch in the music though with the inclusion of sound effects to emphasise that recurring sci-fi theme in their music, as well as the influence it has had on their songwriting and playing. There are moments like on Quantic Rapture or Galaxy’s Echoes where there are haunting, erm, cosmic (?), sound effects that do provide an added atmospheric element.

Vektor‘s last release Terminal Redux may have shown the growth of the band, but nothing would have beaten the material on Black Future. It is with great joy then to discover Vexovoid, and Call of the Starforger acts as a good throwback to my early discover of progressive thrash. Certainly an early favourite of the year.

Jan 20 2018

VOJD – The Outer Ocean

When I first heard the first single of VOJDBehind the Frame, I wondered why the band’s sound felt so familiar. It was not only until reading the press release of their full length, The Outer Ocean, that I found out that this is the new incarnation of Black Trip – whose last full length Shadowline was one of my favourite releases in 2015. The main giveaway though, should have been vocalist Joseph Tholl’s signature singing style – one that so closely resembles Paul Di’Anno’s works with Maiden.

But the question remains for fans of Black Trip – how would this compare to the works of Black Trip, and does the name change mark a shift in the musical style of VOJD? Yes, and no. The entire feel and sound of The Outer Ocean remains rather similar for those already familiar with the works of Black Trip. I remember drawing comparisons between Black Trip and the Paul Di’Anno-era Iron Maiden because of Tholl’s vocals, and also that punkish vibe that they had on Goin’ Under. Yet unlike Goin’ Under and Shadowline, there is a marked decrease in heavy metal elements as the band indulges in a more hard rock-oriented sound this time.

The first obvious hint is the mid-pace that the band adopts on The Outer Ocean, with a less aggressive edge compared to their works on Black Trip. Guitarists Peter and Linus infuse lots of bluesy, and melodic elements into their lead guitar playing, where one is reminded of the works of bands like Deep Purple on songs like Dream Machine. This especially so on songs like the title track, where that dreamy soundscape resembles a cross between Led Zeppelin and Pink Floyd. The layering of the vocals of Joseph is also a nice touch, like on Secular Wire that further emphasises that old school touch of their music.

Through the production quality as well, VOJD manages to retain that classic hard rock sound of the album, and The Outer Ocean sounds nicely balanced between raw and polished. The one thing though that I particularly liked is the tone of the guitars on The Outer Ocean, as the solos often have a sound that is oh-so-creamy, contrasted by that overdriven rhythm tone.

Too many bands have taken the route of becoming faster, heavier, or more extreme with each record that they release. VOJD has taken a rather different approach throughout their career, and every new release presents a more melodic side of their music. The overall feel-good vibe of The Outer Ocean is certainly a breath of fresh air. The Outer Ocean would have fit perfectly in the 70s and 80s, and with the excellent quality of the material here, it is hard to believe that this is a 2018 release.

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