Somehow Jo, Scales And Details (Inverse Records 2022)

The third album from prog rock band Somehow Jo is out this week, Scales And Details.

Formed in 2009 in Tampere, Finland, Somehow Jo is a progressive rock/metal band that brings order from the jam. Their first album, Satans Of Swing, came out in 2015 and Tusk followed in 2018. The band is Christian Sauren (vocals, guitar), Eero Aaltonen (bass), Sakari Karjalainen (guitar, keys), and Lassi Peiponen (drums).

Talking about the process of creating the music for Scales And Details, the press release tells us that the “base material of the album is largely the best ideas selected from the jamming sessions and then worked into ready songs. The lyrical ideas have been written on the basis of images from the song demos.” This certainly sounds like what we might expect from a progressing rock act: music emerging from a process of exploration and refinement.

There are nine tracks on the new album, beginning with “Fata Morgana.” The music is surging and urgent, with melodic arcs that release some of the tension but never lose the sense that you are part of a caravan that is traveling through dangerous country. It reminds me a little of the band Camel on their more energetic songs. “Friend” has a quieter start and a more mysterious posture. Disturbing warbles and straining vocals push the idea of peril to the front of your mind where it sticks. The lead guitar work is compelling; it draws you in. “Cycle” is a demonic hoedown, like if the Squirrel Nut Zippers were a prog band. It is unusual and fascinating, and these first three songs demonstrate an impressive range, building expectations for the rest of the album that are largely fulfilled.

Other tracks that I like especially include “When It Falls,” which is not like anything else in the set, and the final song, “Mirror.” That last piece is particularly encouraging in its tone and construction. I mean, you get a very positive feeling from the music in a way that is quite different from the other songs even though many of the elements are similar. You can think of this album as a journey, or a thoughtful examination, or even a walking mediation. The guitar work is great, and if you are looking for prog metal/rock on the lighter side, this one will do it for you. Recommended.

Scales And Details is out through Inverse Records on Friday, September 16th.

Links.

Bandcamp, https://somehow-jo.bandcamp.com/

Facebook, https://www.facebook.com/Somehowjoband

Inverse Records, https://www.inverse.fi/site/

© Wayne Edwards

Somehow Jo, Scales And Details (Inverse Records 2022)

Fallujah, Empyrean (Nuclear Blast 2022)

San Francisco prog metal heavyweights Fallujah are back with their fifth album, Empyrean.

Fallujah hit the ground running in 2009 by releasing a demo and their first EP, Leper Colony. There was another demo the following year and then the band’s first long-player, The Harvest Wombs, planted the flag firmly in 2011. Their early work has been regularly described as metalcore, and over the years they have moved compositionally toward progressive metal and technical death metal. The band is Scott Carstairs (guitar), Andrew Baird (drums), Kyle Schaefer (vocals), and Evan Brewer (bass).

Discussing the album, Scott Carstairs says, “Empyrean isn’t a concept album, but there are some recurring themes throughout. The first three songs (‘The Bitter Taste of Clarity,’ ‘Radiant Ascension’ and ‘Embrace Oblivion’) all deal with a process of metaphorical rebirth—overcoming personal hardships, finding the right outlook to keep moving forward, and learning to embrace change in a way that makes you stronger for it in the long run. ‘Duality of Intent’ describes the internal conflict between the two sides of your brain, simultaneously craving immediate gratification versus long-term fulfillment and the paradoxical balance that results. ‘Artifacts’ is about the universal human desire to create something that will live on beyond oneself. ‘Mindless Omnipotent Master’ takes a cynical look outward, personifying mankind’s globally-linked networks of societal and technological systems as a giant mechanical beast which has grown beyond our control and now moves of its own accord.”

Clearly, very specific ideas are at work in the writing of this album. The great thing about this kind of depth is that it’ll work for everybody because you can embrace it and attempt to inculcate it, or you can just listen to the songs and not think so much about it. It is up to you. The music is complex. It is loud and aggressive. Perhaps the best example is the opening track, “The Bitter Taste Of Clarity,” which is absolutely savage in the music and the narrative theme. There are shifts to lighter moments, but they are pretty rigorous, too. The lead guitar work is incredible. “Soulbreaker” is another track I’d like to emphasize. The music is brutal, and its execution is unswervingly precise. Languid moments in the background and along the way serve to highlight the deeper, more punishing passages.

This album is excellent from front to back – it is my new favorite from Fallujah. Recommended.

Empyrean is out on Friday, September 9th through Nuclear Blast Records. Touch the links below to check it out and pick it up.

Band photo by Stephanie Cabral.

Links.

Bandcamp, https://fallujah.bandcamp.com/album/empyrean-2

Facebook, https://www.facebook.com/fallujahofficial

Nuclear Blast Records, https://shop.nuclearblast.com/en/products/sound/cd/cd/fallujah-empyrean.html

© Wayne Edwards

Fallujah, Empyrean (Nuclear Blast 2022)

King’s X, Three Sides Of One (Inside Out Music 2022)

Legendary prog metal band King’s X release their thirteenth studio album, Three Sides Of One.

King’s X is one of those bands that has had an immeasurable impact on modern music. Some of the biggest bands from the nineties have cited them as direct influences, and you can hear it in the progressive rock and metal music that has come out since then. Their discography is impressive with twelve previous studio albums and five live sets published through a variety of labels ranging from Megaforce to Atlantic to Metal Blade. They are true icons in the music industry.

It has been fourteen years since King’s X put out an album of new material, so Three Sides Of One is more than welcome and hotly anticipated. The band continues to be Doug (dUg) Pinnick (bass, vocals), Jerry Gaskill (drums, vocals), and Ty Tabor (guitar, vocals).

There are a dozen tracks on the new album, beginning with “Let It Rain,” a song that walks out on a solemn tone that is followed by a tentative strum and then solidifies with growing assurance in the percussion. Soulful vocals bring the opening bars together and set up the launch. The lead guitar break is a beautiful thing. After the rain, then there is “Flood, Pt. 1.” This one works on a decidedly heavier tone, with aggressive guitars urgently pushing the ideas forward toward a surprisingly melodic vocal. “Nothing But The Truth” is a steady piece, with thoughtful construction and a gorgeous extended guitar solo. The first three songs are all very different and they are also all very King’s X.

Other favorites from the set for me are “Give It Up,” which is a one catchy number, and “Watcher,” a song that takes me back to the early days of Chicago, in my head, anyway. And really, I could pick any song on the album and easily point to aspects of it that are exceptional and memorable. There is no question that fans of the band are going to love this new album. It is incredible that the musicians have come together after a long time gap and created such a stunning collection of new songs. Highly recommended.

Three Sides Of One drops on Friday, September 2nd through Inside Out Music in an array of formats.

Links.

King’s X website, http://kingsxrocks.com/

Facebook, https://www.facebook.com/KingsXofficial/

Inside Out Music, https://www.insideoutmusic.com/

© Wayne Edwards

King’s X, Three Sides Of One (Inside Out Music 2022)

Haunter, Discarnate Ails (Profound Lore 2022)

Texas death metal band Haunter pull out the stops on their new album, Discarnate Ails.

Centered in Austin, Haunter came together in 2013. The music they make is a fusion of black and death metal elevated by progressive percolations. Combining subgenres is not new, of course, but the level of success achieved depends on the way the mixing is done. Haunter always gets it right, and they are top-of-the-line experts if their last record, Sacramental Death Qualia (2019), is any measure. There is an arc to the band’s career that, given Discarnate Ails, appears to be heading upward. Listed musicians on the new album are Bradley Tiffin (vocals, guitar), Enrique Bonilla (guitar), and Cole Tucker (bass).

There are three long tracks on the album. “Overgrown With The Moss” opens the set with gentle discovery. It is as if you are wandering through a forest that slowly turns darkly magical as you pass through it. You notice a raised placed in the earth. You go over to investigate and, brushing aside the overgrowth, you unleash something unimaginable. The black metal is there, and the wonder of progressive ingenuity is too – that is what supports the ten-minute-plus running time and maintains your interest through all the valleys and crypts and plains.

“Spiritual Illness” clangs out brusquely, and has the feeling of an attack. “Chained At The Helm Of The Eschaton,” on the other hand, is filled with mystery and wonder in its opening melody and has a resonating cooldown that is beautiful to hear. All three tracks have their own unique postures and progressions, and they all are mesmerizing. Recommended.

Discarnate Ails is out on Friday, May 6th through Profound Lore Records. Take note also that Haunter is scheduled to perform at Fire In The Mountains this year, a unique music festival held at the Heart Six Ranch in the Tetons. If you can get there, definitely do it because it will be an experience like no other. Links to the record and the festival appear below.

Band photo by Oscar Moreno.

Links.

Bandcamp, https://hauntertx.bandcamp.com/

Facebook, https://www.facebook.com/hauntertx

Profound Lore Records, https://profoundlorerecords.com/

Fire In The Mountains Festival, https://fitmfest.com/

© Wayne Edwards

Haunter, Discarnate Ails (Profound Lore 2022)

Týr, A Night At The Nordic House (Metal Blade 2022)

Folk metal icons Týr have recorded a live album with an orchestra that exhibits an unforgettable musical symbiosis, A Night At The Nordic House.

It has been a little over twenty years since progressive folk metal band Týr was founded in the Faroe Islands. Their location is certainly a memorable aspect of the band’s character, but of course it is the music they create that sets them apart. Over the years they have released eight full-length studio albums, the most recent being Hel (2019). Their style is a progressive form of epic folk metal that overlaps Viking and death metal as well.

The new album was recorded live at The Nordic House in Tórshavn, in the Faroe Islands on February 8th, 2020, with the Symphony Orchestra of the Faroe Islands. If ever there was a metal band that could make effective and dramatic use of an accompanying orchestra, Týr fits the bill. From the press release … “Working with the Symphony Orchestra was without a doubt one of the highlights of our careers,” admits vocalist Heri Joensen. “The feeling of sheer sophisticated power behind us was extraordinarily uplifting. We were awed by how well the songs worked in a symphonic setting. ‘By The Sword In My Hand,’ for example, seems to take on a new life.”

There are eighteen tracks on the massive album, including the opening intro. “Gates of Hel” is the ideal song to hear first if you want to know what to expect from the rest of the performance. The slow build is enormously enhanced by the fullness of the orchestration. The primary instrument is still the guitar, and the voices and orchestral apparatus work a pervasive, all-encompassing effect. The gruff lead vocals match the perfectly the melodic aspects of the overall musical construction.

“By the Sword in My Hand” is another exemplary performance. The theme is an epic tale of conquest and the ideal instantiation of the narrative. Dazzling lead guitar work and soaring choruses combine into overwhelming musical power. The final track, “Álvur Kongur,” is the capstone, and you get the feeling at the end that seeing this performance would have been as amazing an experience as hearing it.

A Night At The Nordic House is out on Friday March 18th through Metal Blade Records. Highly recommended for fans of Týr, and genre fans as well – but, seriously, if you appreciate folk/Viking/epic metal then you are already a Týr fan.

Links.

Bandcamp, https://tyrband.bandcamp.com/

Facebook, https://www.facebook.com/tyrband

Týr website, https://tyr.fo/

Metal Blade Records, https://www.metalblade.com/us/

© Wayne Edwards. All rights reserved.

Týr, A Night At The Nordic House (Metal Blade 2022)

Amorphis, Halo (Atomic Fire 2022)

In their fourth decade, Finland’s Amorphis continue to flex with Halo.

Formed in the earliest part of the nineteen nineties, Amorphis began making progressive doom and death metal music with notable creativity. Over the years, they moved into a more melodic – or perhaps melancholy – range of expression. The depth of the music did not change, and neither did the ingenuity in composition. Halo is the band’s fourteenth full-length studio album, and along the way they have released multiple splits, EPs, compilations, and live albums. The sheer volume of production is enough to give you pause. In every instance, attention to detail and quality was never overlooked. The band is Tomi Joutsen (vocals), Esa Holopainen (guitar), Tomi Koivusaari (guitar), Santeri Kallio (keys), Olli-Pekka Laine (bass), and Jan Rechberger (drums).

The new album is big, with eleven songs landing in the four-to-five-minute range. Across tracks, the musicians take the opportunity to explore divergent tonal and stylistic approaches to composition. Alternating medium-coarse and clean vocals is common, and the use of keyboards to expand the sound is typical. Esa Holopainen describes the album this way: “It is thoroughly recognizable Amorphis from beginning to end but the general atmosphere is a little bit heavier and more progressive and also organic compared to its predecessor.” Extra heaviness is always welcome, as far as I am concerned.

“Windmane” stands out to me especially for the lead guitar and keys work. It is also a good example overall of the album with its many movements and changes. “War” is a great track as well, with persistent heaviness recurring throughout, and “The Wolf” is a wonderful opportunity to escape to another state of being. The album will surely please fans of Amorphis and it will have broad appeal to aficionados of many heavy music subgenres. Recommended.

Halo is out on Friday, February 11th through Atomic Fire Records in a plethora of formats, bundles, and versions, along with tie-in merch.

Band photo by Sam Jansen.

Links.

Amorphis website, https://amorphis.net/

Facebook, https://www.facebook.com/amorphis

Atomic Fire website, https://visionmerch.com/atomicfire/

Amorphis, Halo (Atomic Fire 2022)

Mastodon, Blue Ridge Rock Festival, Danville, Virginia, September 12, 2021

I have been enamored with the music of Mastodon since Crack the Skye. Somehow, I never saw them live until 2021, and I caught them three times this year. Never miss a chance to see their show – it is incredible.

All photos by Wayne Edwards.

Links.

Website, https://www.mastodonrocks.com/

Facebook, https://www.facebook.com/Mastodon

YouTube, https://www.youtube.com/user/MastodonMusic

Blue Ridge Rock Festival coverage at Ryze-Up magazinehttps://www.ryze-up.com/music-2/blue-ridge-rock-festival-2021/

Mastodon, Blue Ridge Rock Festival, Danville, Virginia, September 12, 2021

Mastodon, Hushed and Grim (Reprise Records 2021)

Progressive metal band Mastodon cap a big year with a new full-length album, Hushed and Grim.

Since 2000, the band has been Troy Sanders (bass and vocals), Brann Dailor (drums and vocals), Brent Hinds (guitar and vocals), and Bill Kelliher (guitar and vocals). I remember exactly when I started listening to Mastodon. I did not hear their first long-player, Remission, when it came out in 2002, but I did hear Leviathan two years later. I liked, I recall, but for some reason it didn’t land with me the first time the way it ultimately would. Time passed and then I heard Crack The Skye (2009) – there was no turning back from that. I immediately went back through the entire catalogue and since have waited less-than-patiently for every new release. Mastodon is one of my absolute favorite metal bands.

In 2021, Mastodon has been showing up more regularly than most bands at festivals, sometimes stepping in at the last minute to replace bands that were sidelined by covid-19, as they did at Psycho Las Vegas, and in a headline spot, too. I have seen them several times live this year and always to my amazement. Each and every performance is masterful.

The new album is another exceptional set the band has added to their already galactic catalogue. Early singles were “Pushing the Tides” and “Teardrinker,” both of which have more than a million spins on Spotify by now. The more recently released “Sickle and Peace” already has half a million plays. Their fans are legion.

Mastodon’s music has evolved over the years, and now it in the complex and leans toward the progressive end of the metal spectrum. It has a haunting quality, and hypnotizing nature that draws you quickly in and holds you as the enchantment unfolds. The new album is almost an hour and a half long and it seems exactly right in its construction. Not extended or stretched; just precisely as it should be.

I am not going to pick favorites because every song has its necessary place, from the reflective “Skeleton of Splendor” to the forceful “Pain with an Anchor” to the overwhelming closer “Gigantium.” I will say this album goes toward the top of the list of the work the band has released. I found it to be captivating. Highly recommended.

Hushed and Grim is out now on all streaming platforms and in the expected physicals. Look to the links below.

Band photo by Wayne Edwards at Blue Ridge Rock Festival 2021.

Links.

Mastodon, https://www.mastodonrocks.com/

Facebook, https://www.facebook.com/Mastodon

YouTube, https://www.youtube.com/user/MastodonMusic

Mastodon, Hushed and Grim (Reprise Records 2021)

At The Gates, The Nightmare Of Being (Century Media 2021)

The seventh studio album from At The Gates is a progressive take on the condition of existence.

For more than thirty years the Melodic Death Metal band from Sweden, At The Gates, has been a consistent creator of heavy music. From The Red in the Sky Is Ours (1994) to 2018’s To Drink from the Night Itself, you could always count on them for compelling new metal that rang out in ways you’d never heard before. And here we see that again on the new album, The Nightmare Of Being.

The band – Tomas Lindberg (vocals), Martin Larsson (guitar), Jonas Björler (bass), Adrian Erlandsson (drums), and Jonas Stålhammar (guitar) – expertly executes an expanded palette of composition that embraces progressive metal elements more extensively than fans might have anticipated. An outlying example is “Garden of Cyrus” which features a saxophone – not an instrument you hear on a lot of death metal albums, but one that fits perfectly in this song, complementing gruff vocals and lyrical guitars. Still, it was a surprise to hear it

Not every song is an oddity. Long-time fans and newcomers looking for heavy, crushing metal are going to find it here, too. In most cases, the songs have more than one movement that is reached through effluence or stark shift, each standing in seeming, if not actual, juxtaposition to its neighboring fellows. The complexity of the music is one of its most attractive features.

The new album does sound different in many ways compared to early work of the band. For me it is a fitting addition to the canon of At The Gates and it is a strong sign of the continuing vibrancy of the musicians. Recommended.

The Nightmare Of Being is out now from Century Media in a plethora of versions. You can get it all over.

Links.

Website, http://atthegates.se/

Facebook, https://www.facebook.com/AtTheGatesOfficial

Century Media, https://www.centurymedia.com/artist.aspx?IdArtist=729

At The Gates, The Nightmare Of Being (Century Media 2021)

Midhaven, Of the Lotus and the Thunderbolt (2021)

Midhaven bring forth a new concept album on their sophomore long-player Of the Lotus and the Thunderbolt.

The Mumbai heavy music trio Midhaven is made up of musicians Aditya Mohanan (guitar and vocals), Aviraj Kumar (drums), and Karan Kaul (vocals and guitar). They released an EP in 2013, Tales From The Tide, and followed it up the very next year with Spellbound. The music they create can be broadly described as heavy metal and it runs a wide spectrum from death metal to progressive, often incorporating fusion elements.

Of the Lotus and the Thunderbolt is a concept album that deals with ideas of time and rebirth. The band describes the ideas that they incorporate into the compositions well: “We follow the single but universal soul on its journey to realization, with symbolisms that are deeply rooted in the collective Indian subconscious. They are curated in a manner wherein each song appears as though it’s a chapter in a book, conveying individual meanings that when heard together form a holistic understanding of the universe.”

“Para Brahman” starts the set off and has a talk-in segment beginning near the front that establishes the narrative over a mid-tempo, mild prog base. Next we hear exceptional lead guitar work on “Primal Song” – this song flat out slaps and so it is no wonder it was chosen as a single.

“Codeman” is proggy, poppy, energetic, and again features some great guitar work. The tempo changes on “The Immanent Effervescence of Sorrow” which opens with storm effects and is quiet and beautiful. “Zhitro” is ten minutes long and is very doom-like for the first few minutes then it rolls into a death metal posture before transforming into hypno-prog. It is my favorite song on the album.

The last two songs are “Mahakaal,” which is grungy and also very ritual-music-like, and “Bhairav,” a more ethereal and understated piece. As a concept album, this new Midhaven release delivers what it promises. Even without connecting one song to the next thematically, it is an impressive heavy music achievement. Recommended.

Of the Lotus and the Thunderbolt is out now. You can find it at the Bandcamp link below.

Links.

Bandcamp, https://midhaven.bandcamp.com/

Facebook, https://www.facebook.com/midhaven.ind/

Midhaven, Of the Lotus and the Thunderbolt (2021)