September’s Triple Feature presents three great bands somewhere within the progressive metal genre. These albums might not inspire many words, but they are still worth your time.
Colonist, one of Finland’s many progressive metal bands, gives us a unique sound which draws from various corners of hard rock and metal on their second album, “Songs of the Machine”. There are elements of stoner or sludge metal, along with bits of NWOBHM throwback and power metal. The arrangements are solid and there are dynamic shifts throughout the album – from quiet to heavy, and from fast playing to slower groovy riffs.
While the playing and writing is solid throughout the album, what makes them stand out is a sound which would typically be matched with harsh vocals, or an old-school Hetfield-esque monotone, but instead they rise above the typical. The arrangements are somewhat reminiscent of “Ghost Reveries” or “Watershed” era Opeth, but the vocals remain clean throughout (with a couple quick obligatory visits from the Cookie Monster), rather than vacillating between harsh and clean.
I’m not entirely sure whether or not I would describe it as a weak point of the album or not, but the production quality is good, but not great. Generally it fits with the overall aesthetic – do you really want your old school, sometimes sludgy metal to have a perfect crisp production? Should every drum hit be quantized and every vocal quiver autotuned? A quick listen to some old Black Sabbath and Iron Maiden albums tells me “no.”
Overall it’s a solid album for fans of heavy, dark, progressive metal who want their guitars thick and their vocals clean.
Lion Shepherd established the tone of HEAT, their sophomore release, with their 2015 debut, Hiraeth. This style of blending ethnic world motifs and modern metal creates a type of music that is restless, organic, and soul-searching. Released 26 May, HEAT is a rousing collection of richly orchestrated world music, rife with tribal energy, strong guitar work, and layered vocals. Comparable to the works of Yossi Sassi, Tool, and fellow Polish band Votum, Lion Shepherd’s music captures the essence of something both earthly and otherworldly: a connection to the spirit of humanity that transcends body, touches earth, and reaches for the stars.
The band attributes work on the album to six individuals: Kamil Haidar (vocals) and Mateusz Owczarek (guitars, Irish bouzouki) – the band’s founding members – together with Łukasz Adamczyk (bass), Kasia Rościńska (backing vocals), Wojtek Olszak (keys), and Sławek Berny (drums, percussion), who also collaborated with Kamil and Mateusz on Hiraeth. HEAT’s powerful blend of metal-influenced guitar riffs with hand percussion and the drone of the bouzouki’s open tunings lends itself to dynamic variation and layers of musical tension. Growing from the less focused approach of their debut, Lion Shepherd have produced a much more cohesive record for this second release, showcasing their development and ambitious scope in songwriting.
There are a number of standout tracks on the record that I’ll mention, though all are worthy of special attention. The opening tune, “On the Road Again,” musically conveys attitudes of motion and transition via guitars and hand percussion. “Code of Life,” probably my favorite overall track on the record, moves through several rhythmic feel changes: droning through verses, exploding into the refrains, emphasizing themes of personal morality and life’s sanctity. “Dream On” grooves in 7/8, breaks down into a tribal rhythm section overlaid with a screaming guitar solo, and concludes with chanting vocals.
“Fail” is dark, composed as a number for a metal trio, and features strong collaboration between bass and electric guitars. The explosive refrains in “Dazed by Glory” soar over its pensive verses and instrumental breaks, preceding its ethereal conclusion of harmonized guitars. The cyclical 5/4 time of “Farewell” supports its thematic sense of endings that are really beginnings. “Swamp Song,” HEAT’s final track, consists of reduced orchestration until the song explodes into a powerful guitar solo at the 4:30-minute mark, bringing the album to a striking conclusion.
HEAT is a great record. There are just a handful of textures at play here, all of which feel at once so familiar and yet so diverse. What I find so satisfying is that the band writes so well within their defined “sound,” without all of their songs sounding identical, and without repeating themselves. Lion Shepherd will be touring Europe with Riverside through the end of October, and HEAT isn’t an album you should skip!
Horror-themed instrumental music? I was instantly intrigued by that description of Upcdownc’s new album, “I, Awake”. It’s been some time since I’ve received an album that seeks to bring horror, macabre, and gothic themes to music. This might be the first time that it is a purely instrumental album, though.
The band hails from the UK, and they’ve been making music for quite a long time now. Their style is somewhat all over the place, with elements of sludge, noise rock, progressive metal, indie rock, alternative rock, shoegaze, and other subgenres present. They most obviously are influenced by Black Sabbath, as the same dark, ominous riffing is present throughout the album.
Being horror-themed, the music has lots of keys, ambient gooey noises, heavy breathing, distant chimes, distorted guitar licks, and a strange amount of funk to it. The music is crafted very well with lots of space, great jamming portions, and frequent use of a trudging, dense guitar lick that feels very, I don’t know, horrific. It’s almost like Frankenstein’s monster is slowly marching towards you. Through all this, you do get a sense that the band really knows how to compose well, as the music reflects states of consciousness, such as suspense and tension, by building the music slowly and ominously.
“I, Awake” is definitely an album you must hear straight through from beginning to end. This is partly because of the flow of the music, but also because there are five multi-track songs, some with four parts to them. My favorite is probably “Looming” with its funkiness and high strung guitar musings, but I find that I enjoy each and every track on the album.
Upcdownc really sounds pretty unique and almost epic at points, although I don’t find it all that “horrific” outside of a few moments. “I, Awake” is a fun listen, though, that doesn’t outstay its welcome or overdo its theme. Is this something I’d want to hear often? Honestly, not really. However, it is still a great listen, especially if you want something a little different.
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