The Stranger, Self Titled, 2018

The Stranger - The StrangerAlas I have not received any info on who the Stranger is. All I know is that he or she (probably he) is from Burbank California and wrote all the melodies and handled the drums and synths on this release. Tim Lawrence added guitars and bass and mixed and mastered the album. Or maybe it is an extended EP, with 8 tracks clocking in at  35 minutes.

Anyway, what we have here is a modern metal album. The modern aspect being that part of the singing is of the aggressive type. A bit metalcore or screamo I think (sorry, you should know by now that genre tagging isn’t my forte). But don’t let that prevent you from listening in, overall this is a melodic metal album with some progressive accents and 2 piano pieces too!
Opening is the track Enough, high energy drumming with keyboards adding light to the dark riffs on guitar. Good introduction! While You Can continues in the same vein. Scarlet Moon is one of the longer tracks (almost 5 minutes) with again a by now familiar synth sound. Track 5 is called The Difference and is just piano and voice. Actually nice to have a break here, after 4 full on songs. The piano sound is rich and full but with the right dynamics to support the emotional vocal delivery. From the last 3 songs the first 2 are again heavy yet melodic and closer Ghost is another piano and voice song.

Overall a nice effort to welcome The Stranger into the world of music. For me a little more variation in synth sounds would be good, and I think the lead voice is good enough to have a little more presence in the mix.

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Cryptic Nature, Pandor, 2017

cryptic nature - pandorTalking about a labour of love; apparently it took Koos Thönissen (the full name of the project is Koos J. Thönissen’s Cryptic Nature) some 8 years to finish this double album! From writing the story (a fantasy tale about dragons, unicorns and other creatures), to translating that into 14 songs and finding the right people to add to his creations. So with guests like Huw Lloyd Jones, Sascha Burchardt, Emmelie van Deurzen, Jacqueline van Elsbergen and Cathy van der Valk on vocals, Jeroen van den Biggelaar on a guitar solo or Ron van Rhee on flutes, Koos set out to make his dreams come true. All this meaning he performed all the other instruments himself! Or as he puts it himself, it was a steep learning curve, but so worth it.

For this album it is important to know the context of a song. Thankfully we have a storyteller (Ian Jillings) to guide us. So from the opening sequences of A Dragon’s Tale, the grandeur of Aenoor, the playfull and catchy Glynyd, to the much more extreme Gol Matoo / Meteor Impact or Ael Hathor / Nebuccor Captured, all songs serve a purpose and are shaped to recreate the vision. And it has to be said, a lot of time must have gone into creating the soundscapes used throughout the album. Be it horses, the evil Molgar, or other elements, the music and all around it somehow seem very visual.
This also means the diversity on the album is enormous. From soft, almost folky, to melodic progressive metal to ambient like parts to extreme vocals. In that respect one could compare this to for instance the work of Ayreon!

The culmination of all that hard work was that the album was chosen as one of the best concept albums of 2017 by Dutch radio show Progressive X Grooves, literally on its release day. One to check for sure, for instance via this video:

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TDW, The Antithetic Affiliation, 2017

tdw - the anthithetic affiliationAnd here we have Tom de Wit, a.k.a. TDW returning. With a double disc no less. And there is also a special edition with an added bonus acoustic live DVD. Another change is the inclusion of a band, Dreamwalkers Inc., making this an octet (yes, that is 8 people). Besides probably making every stage seem crowded, I guess there are many benefits for having a band perform your songs. More instruments (violin!) and diversity, more vocals and perhaps even more ideas to enrich your musical concepts.

So where does this leave us? Well disc 1 is called The Idealist, or the light disc. Disc 2 is The Cynic, so the dark side. Every CD holds 4 songs, with one of those being of epic (22 minutes+) proportion. Total play time is over 80 minutes, so you are definitely in for a ride! It’s been a couple of years since his previous release, but if memory serves me right, this sounds a couple of notches better. I also think Tom sounds more confident with his singing now, but that might be imagining on my part.
Since this falls into prog metal territory, y’all know what the genre standards are. And all the boxes are ticked. While this music always requires repeated plays to show its true colours, I think Tom and band deliver in spades. From big, almost operatic parts, to thrashy speed metal, to fragile fragments and everything you could imagine in between. Solo’s in abundance of course, we do want them to show off a bit now don’t we?

All kidding aside, I say hats off to TDW and Dreamwalkers Inc.. Impressive from start to finish and something anyone serious about the genre needs to digest.

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Leprous, Malina, 2017

leprous - malinaThis is the third time Leprous are featured here. And reading back to what I wrote about 2013 album Coal, (and yes, I did listen to The Congregation from 2015 as well, just never got around to write about it) it seems that I could state about the same thing here. But, to avoid that people think this is “just a repeat exercise”, that is not the way to go. Because then I would really be selling another magnificent prog metal album short.

Because make no mistake, the ingredients might be the same, but Leprous are just too damn good to write the same song twice. They still manage to deliver highly addictive melodies over intricate arrangements that have more twists and turns than your average Sicilian mountain trip. The rhythmic details in their music are still unpredictable. The album still rocks without sounding over the top heavy.
Maybe they have become even more focused on the song and thus manage to create an even bigger impact. And I do think there are some new experiments here and there. Yet I do not think that it is of much use to over analyse. My only criticism being that the beautiful booklet does not mention any contact info for the band itself…

For me another clear winner from an band that still manages to excite. A damn good prog metal album that needs to be heard by anyone serious about the genre. No looking back to the greats of the Seventies, but a band boldly moving forward. Love it!

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Ayreon, The Source, 2017

ayreon - the sourceThe beauty of every release of Ayreon is that they are fairly simple to review.  I mean; on one hand you know what you are going to get. And on the other hand, every album is as fresh and exciting as the one before.

So you expect nothing less than fantastic guest vocalists. On this double album from for instance Tommy Karevik, James LaBrie, Michael Mills, Simone Simons, Nils K. Rue and many more. You rely on the killer drums from Ed Warby. You look forward to some flashing guest spots with exquisite solos from in this case Guthrie Govan, Marcel Coenen or Paul Gilbert. You slightly hope for additions on less obvious instruments like violin or flutes. And of course, the man himself writing another bunch of killer songs with over the top lyrics wrapped in memorable melodies and infectious riffs. There will always be light and dark in the music from Arjen and there will always be quality control before any note is made public. Also the artwork is always top notch.

So no, I cannot imagine that anyone who is into melodic metal with a lot of progressive overtones can turn away from an Ayreon release. In my mind it is not necessary to discuss songs. Just put the album on and hit play. And repeat. And repeat. And… Enjoy the maestro at work…

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Matheus Manente, Illusions Dimension, 2017

matheus manente - illusions dimensionThis is the debut from Matheus Manente, a Brazilian multi instrumentalist and one man band. To be honest, when I started listening to this album I wasn’t all too sure about it. Sure, great shredding, a lot of stuff happening in a short time, but missing a bit of hooks and melody. And then track 4, Inner Peace comes on…. Mind blown! What a feel in this song. Absolutely fabulous in delivery, melody and all. So that really peaked my interest in what was to follow. Symmetry Of Evil proved to have plenty of hooks, or had I started listening properly? Then again, any song that plays way past 9 minutes needs positives to keep the listener interested. So it managed to kept the momentum going. Market Garden has quickly become a fan favourite. It is complex and rich in structure, and it’s rhythmic and harmonic changes fulfil the genres standards. Keyboards have a more prominent role as well, so that makes for a nice change.

By this time is was clear to me that Manente is a very impressive player. Maybe the drums need a bit more work to sound less mechanical, but the rest of his playing is without doubt classy. He is not shy of using light and dark in his compositions, so as a whole the album delivers. Because of the sometimes almost serene parts, he avoids flooding you with a wall of sound.

Great debut, job well done!

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Seventh Station, Between Life And Dreams, 2016

seventh station - between life and dreamsAlas I have little information about this album. I think someone contacted me about it, but cannot find a bio or anything. Except what it says on the website: that it deals with the concept of being caught between two stools, having different secret signs showing different ways and choices. Key musician is Slovenian guitarist Dmitri Alperovich, and guesting are Turkish pianist and conductor Eren Basbug and Israeli singer Davidavi Dolev. So the music will have to do a lot of the talking.

We are in progressive metal territory here. Although it has to be said that there a several moments of classical or clean guitar playing, embellished by orchestrations. And for me those moments are amongst the best on offer. That is mainly due to the fact that the singing voice of Dolev is an acquired taste. He tends to ‘metallize’ his performances a lot, adding sharp edges to it.
As we have come to expect in the genre, most of the songs clock in between 5 to 10 minutes, so the end result is 65 minutes for 8 songs. A lot of ideas are used, so there is much going on. While this is also a genre thing, it also means that it takes time to get familiar with the structures and some melodies take time to discover.

There is no doubt that fans of the genre will find this to their liking. Personally I would like to suggest to take more time to develop ideas and add more melody, take Morning’s Silence as example.

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X-Panda, Reflections, 2016

X_Panda_Reflections_2016Second X-Panda CD that made it into my player. And like first time around, I find myself pretty impressed by the album. But since it has been 5 years since that album, a few things have changed. Bass player Tamar Nugis now functions as the full time vocalist and Roland Jairus is added to take over on the low end. Not sure about all the other guys, although I am fairly sure that Kaarel Tamra on keys was around first time as well.

Style wise this another slab of prog that ventures into metal and a dash of fusion. But what has stayed are songs and melodies that are impossible to resist and make it once again easy to connect to the album. Nugis has a pleasant voice so I don’t mind him taking centre stage. Especially since Jairus isn’t a slouch either. Opener The Game will conquer you in a heartbeat. What a great opener and addictive song. Denial is a great epic (12+ minutes) that never tires. On The Way is full of great playing and a prime example of intricate fusion arrangements. Several songs are graced with the company of the Tartu University Symphony Orchestra. Thus creating an even more impressive audio palette.

So I guess it is fair to say that the 5 years have been worth it. Fans of the genre should not hesitate and buy it on sight.

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BlurryCloud, Far From The Sea, 2016

blurry-cloud-far-from-the-seaSometimes out of the blue, you are grabbed by a song. In this case it was because of the message of Jack DeMaio pointing me to the track Currents from his new release Far From The Sea. After listening to that I just had to hear the whole album.

It seems BlurryCloud is another one man band, and one operating in the instrumental progressive metal genre. Think the musical madness of Devin Townsend, mixed with the rhythmic riffing and off the scale soloing of Caligula’s Horses’ Sam Vallen, add a dash of Vai and cross that with the female choirs of Therion, and you will have an idea of what is on offer here. Jack wrote the music, recorded all of it, mixed it and even made the (beautiful) art!
So when I say instrumental, because of the choirs, there are voices throughout the album. The music is powerful, at times heavy, but also very dynamic and partly almost ambient peaceful. Just listen to the intriguing track Of Hollow!

Very talented musician and a fresh and impressive album, up for grabs for a few dollar on bandcamp. Do it!

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Alarion, Waves Of Destruction, 2016

alarion - waves of destructionAlarion is a project from Dutch guitar player (and a lot of other instruments) Bas Willemsen. He invited a bunch of guests to shape the sound in his head and amongst them are known names as Damian Wilson (Threshold, Headspace) and Irene Jansen (Star One, Ayreon) as well as a load of friends.

The album contains 11 tracks and almost an hour of music. From short to epic, from furious to serene and everything in between. Opener Chains Of The Collective will give you an idea of what to expect. Heavy riffing paired with the mighty voice of Wilson, and then  a chorus that reaches  out and grabs your attention with a keen melody. It is a good thing that melodies prove to be important in his music as often they serve as a thread to hold on to, between the madness or the grandiose. Because another influence is classical music, so big is a word that applies here.

So while sometimes a lot is happening, creating a somewhat nervous surrounding, before you know it you are hit by another beautiful piece or fragment. Over time your relation with this album will deepen, a feature we have come to expect from the genre. By all means an attractive album, especially for a debut.

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