Soilwork – A Whisp of the Atlantic (Nuclear Blast)
While Sweden has an incredibly active metal scene, Soilwork stands out (at least to me) because of their unique take on melody. They typically have just as much in common with American groove metal, like Pantera, as they do with Scandinavian death metal.
Metalcore synth elements are more prevalent on this EP, as well as deep thought and reflective moments, brought out by piano interludes. There is even a trumpet solo at the 8 minute(ish) mark of the title track, as well as the outro starting at the 15 minute mark.
Oh, right! I forgot to mention that the opening song and album namesake, “A Whisp of the Atlantic”, is a 16 minute opus that fully encapsulates what this band is capable of. Almost an homage to Dream Theater, it moves through a range of emotions and styles. It tells a story of ending the “lies of sanity” to “feel eternity’s breath” and leave the world behind. Soaring, operatic vocals punctuated with guttural growls dominate the track and usher in musical shifts from death metal to metalcore, but all with a progressive metal flare.
The rest of the EP follows closely the example set at the start, but dotted with the elements that were used to seeing from Soilwork. “Feverish” in particular represents the best of what they offer here, packaged in a bite-sized 6 minutes and filled with blast beats, catchy chorus melodies, and progressive guitar work. “Desperado” is equally satisfying, and is the only track that doesn’t end with a pensive instrumental outro. The closing track, “Death Diviner”, has my favorite guitar riff on the release, repeated throughout its verses.
I found this album to be their most impressive and listenable recording since Figure Number Five in 2002.
FFO: Dream Theater, In Flames, Nevermore
Gone is Gone – If Everything Happens For a Reason…Then Nothing Really Matters At All (Clouds HIll)
I used to get so down on supergroups. The sum of the parts never seemed to be up to expectations. Damn Yankees and Zwan come immediately to mind. But in the wake of Them Crooked Vultures, Probot, and Sinsaenum, I felt comfortable giving Gone is Gone a try.
Featuring members of At the Drive-In, Queens of the Stone Age, and Mastodon, this outfit is equal parts atmosphere and substance. Nothing here is experimental in a truly original way. These gentlemen are standing on the shoulders of…
Wait. Are they standing on their own shoulders? Is that possible? Like, the Cirque du Soleil of music?
The drums and electronics are every bit as you would expect from ATDI. There is a clear nod to the theatricality and mood of the progressive stoner giant, Mastodon. And the song structures and production follow with the genius who worked with both QOTSA and A Perfect Circle.
The result is a racket. A glorious cacophony. Darkness abounds, echoing off the barren, gritty walls of an isolated mindscape. Entropy calls from the “Wonderfall” where nothing makes sense, because nothing has to. Meaning is meaningless. “If I could stay this high / I wouldn’t have to love you…/ On a mission I fly / far from any terror / I don’t have to try / I’m free from human error” (“Wings of Hope”).
The entire record is an open portal to a world of enlightened existence, removed from the disgrace and tumult of reality.
Dumb it down? Okay.
This world sucks. Do drugs.
Start with: “Everything is Wonderfall”, “No One Ever Walked On Water”
FFO: Tomahawk, Flaming Lips, A Perfect Circle
Cryptodira – The Angel of History (Good Fight)
Oh My Everloving Metal Hipster Goddess! What in the bowels of the Tesseract did I just listen to?
Acacia Strain? Between the Buried and Me? Blood Brothers? Zappa? Move over! With a near incomprehensible blend of death, prog, metalcore, and hardcore, Cryptodira has an intensity that made my head almost hit the table. The exact moment was while I was rocking out to “Dante’s Inspiration”, a chaotic enough track out of the gate, and it broke into an unprompted mathcore spasm. This prompted a wide-eyed arm flail that landed me on my ass. As I sat, dumbfounded and impressed, the song resumed its regularly scheduled chaos.
The constantly shifting musical landscape is plenty to keep a listener glued and stupefied. But if that’s not enough, there’s more. The vocal approach is layered and woven throughout every track. The dueling growls and screams of “Self-(Affect/Efface)” are counterbalanced by the dark sweetness of the cleaner vocals of “The Blame for Being Alive”.
“A Tendency to Fall” is probably the most consumer-ready track on the record, keeping the chaos hidden in favor of a more straightforward metalcore brutality.
This is a juggernaut.
Start with: “Dante’s Inspiration”, “The Blame for Being Alive”, “What Can’t Be Taken Back”
FFO: Dillinger Escape Plan, Between the Buried and Me
The Network – Money Money 2020 Pt II: We Told Ya So! (Joe Robot Records)
The Network is a new-wave outfit, out of California, made up of six members, including The Snoo, Van Gough, and Fink. You might know them better as Tré Cool, Mike Dirnt, and Billie Joe Armstrong. Yep, this is a Green Day side project, basically an excuse to explore their more electronica-laden desires, I guess?
Here’s the thing, Dear Reader: I enjoy a group that decides to step out of their comfort zone. I appreciate it when an artist tries something new, and it’s doubly-impressive when it works. But this just… doesn’t work. It’s a very early-to-mid-80s new wave sound, but honestly I don’t think it would have even been good back then. In 2020, it sounds less nostalgic and more tired. And even more tired than that, considering there are 25 tracks(!!!) to slog through.
None of it is bad, necessarily… just most of it is meh. The few good tracks – “Fentanyl” and “Threat Level Midnight”, and maybe one or two others? – could just be regular-ass Green Day songs on a regular-ass Green Day album. Also, “Threat Level Midnight” is a great name, but I digress. The takeaway here is that I tip my cap for them throwing this at the wall, but it just didn’t stick for me.
FFO: Kraftwerk and Kavinsky, which I did not expect to ever be the FFOs for a Green Day album (pseudonym’d or otherwise), but here we are
Ad Infinitum – Chapter I Revisited (Napalm Records)
I’m gonna break one of my rules. Surprise.
So, Ad Infinitum is a symphonic metal group out of Switzerland, with a strong historical emphasis – for instance, their track “Marching On Versailles” on their debut album, Chapter I: Monarchy, is seemingly inspired by the French Revolution (shout-out to Genius for that tidbit). That debut came out in April of 2020.
However, they released a follow-up, Chapter I Revisited, this week, consisting of acoustic versions of all of the songs off of their debut album. If you recall, I took Kelsea Ballerini to task a few months ago for doing the same thing. And that’s where the rule is gonna be broken: I was not okay with it then, but I am now.
Does that make me a hypocrite, Dear Reader? Um, yeah, it sure does. But let me state my case for the jury here.
First, there’s a pretty wide chasm between already-pretty-minimalist country and rich, meaty symphonic rock. So an acoustic version of Ad Infinitum’s “I Am the Storm”, or “Demons”, for example, will sound far different than their full-band counterparts – and for different reasons.
Second, these versions still rock! It’s not just guitar + stool + lead singer Melissa Bonny; rather, you have some unique instruments and percussion floating about, matching up perfectly with Bonny’s powerful-yet-gentle vocals. It’s not just a different dimension to the original album; rather, it’s a whole new entity all its own.
I’d recommend listening to the original album all the way through, and then the covers album all the way through – that seems to be the optimal listen.
I still stand behind my thoughts on Kelsea Ballerini though.
FFO: Within Temptation, After Forever
Gabe Goodman – New Things (Monotone)
This dude’s bio is just 2 words: “sensitive-ass music”. Before I hit play, I was wondering if that hyphen was misplaced, completely changing the meaning.
Happily, they got it right.
New Things is the epitome of sad-bastard slow pop. His songs are easy to listen to, even though they sound like he’s wallowing in a pit of self-loathing, using music as a way of taming the beast, so to speak.
There are 7 tracks; 3 of them are sweet, happy tunes. Only one of them sounds like it (“The Villain”). His voice and sense of melody are what keep the whole thing afloat. He has a lazy, easy voice that draws you in close enough to cry into your ear. I really want to make fun of it more, but I actually quite like it. The eccentric but simple acoustic guitars, sparse drums, and reserved production give New Things a quality that make me listen to it twice in a row.
Start with: “It Will Come Back”, “The Villain”
FFO: Elliott Smith, Air Supply
Goldfinger – Never Look Back (Big Noise Music Group, LLC)
It’s nice to know the greats don’t change. After watching them in neverending series of quarantine performances via social media, I was somehow caught off guard by an actual album release. But here we are.
Ska-punk with a sense of fun and melody for days. There is nothing surprising here: upstrokes, horn section, a fast pace, and lyrics about being in love or being out of your mind. That pretty much sums up all of Goldfinger.
If that vibe is missing from your day, this is a great listen (except “California On My Mind”, which sounds like a Jason Mraz cut…eesh).
Start with: “Wallflower”, “Infinite”, “Nothing to Me”
FFO: Mighty Mighty Bosstones, Aquabats, Mad Caddies
Nicholas Lens and Nick Cave – L.I.T.A.N.I.E.S. (Deutsche Grammophon GmbH)
I learned two things from this album:
1) Australian all-around mad genius Nick Cave (of rock outfit Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds, and a shit-ton of soundtracks), wrote a liberetto for an opera. And it’s not his first one! He wrote the liberetto for the opera Shell Shock in 2014, and L.I.T.A.N.I.E.S. marks his second.
2) If you, like me, are poorly educated, with your fingers far from the pulse of the community, you may not have any clue what tf a “libretto” is. Fear not, Dear Reader, for I wield the power of Wikipedia!
A libretto is the text used in an extended musical work, like our L.I.T.A.N.I.E.S. dealio here. This makes Cave a “librettist”, to add to his varied resume – which he’s been compiling for nearly 50 years now.
3) As I’ve been writing this review, L.I.T.A.N.I.E.S. has been playing in the background – and not once did I feel the desire to turn it off. It’s an opera, for goodness sakes! But it’s pretty damn entertaining too. You may hate it, but I think it’s accessible and solid enough for anyone to give it a try.
Perhaps next review I’ll learn how to count.
FFO: Operas, duh
Vanden Plas – The Ghost Xperiment – Illumination (Frontiers Records)
Hows about one more European metal album for the road, huh? I believe that makes three for the week. Some weeks it be like that, Dear Reader. But don’t fret! This one will be quick.
German band Vanden Plas’s latest album, The Ghost Xperiment – Illumination, rocks. I suspect their previous albums – ten total, spanning back to 1994 – do as well, and I will be finding that out firsthand very shortly. This is the most straightforward of the European metal releases that we reviewed this week, and arguably the hardest. It’s a very solid sound that you can sink your teeth into – al dente, without being crunchy. I’m hungry, apparently.
It has a prog feel to it too; you can hear that in some of the lyrics, for example from “Under the Horizon” (“Three souls go-betweens waiting for their ghost king / Tell me your name spectral heliosphere / Gideon Grace I beseech you to appear”) and “Fatal Arcadia” (“It’s said the eternal river out of tears from paradise / Can save the entire universe of humankind”).
I like that The Ghost Xperiment – Illumination, along with Soilwork’s A Whisp of the Atlantic and Ad Infinitum’s Chapter I Revisited, showcased three different sides of a genre that is all too often pigeonholed. It’s just like anything: there’s nuance to be found throughout. It’s up to you to find it.
(Or just leave it to us. We’d never lead you astray.)
FFO: Dio, Queensryche, Threshold