Hillsphere - Florescence

Genre: Progressive Metal

I’ve been listening to this album almost constantly since I first heard it, giving it several playthroughs a day, and it’s still hard to define, to put into words. Florescence is the debut album by Dutch prog boys Hillsphere. The album is so well made, and so finely tailored that it’s hard to believe that it’s their first one. Hillsphere play a kind of mesh of progressive metal elements and post rock stylistics that was originally intended to be entirely instrumental. That’s how the album starts off; instrumental for the first few tracks, and it isn’t until Our Physical Way Of Speaking that Tim Beimer gets to shine. His vocals, firm and aggressive find a softer note to hit throughout the atmospheric, lofty parts but do well with the rumbling darkness and the grittier metal parts as well. Melodic and driving, with hints of the likes of Haken, and their well rounded fusion of progressive metal and rock, or even Beyond The Bridge and their strong, emotional pull in the instrumentals, which is also something that Hillsphere has nailed.

Hillsphere - Florescence

Then toss in the big chunks of atmospheric influences that gives a soundscape not entirely unlike those of Thence or post-rock group Aoria. Though, Hillsphere has perhaps put a bigger emphasis on the big sounding climaxes, making them something of a hallmark on Florscence. The whole style has given Hillsphere a unique sound that while reminding of other acts within the same territory, still feels like something new; fresh and invigorating. The songwriting is fine and precise and each song gets its quality time and attention to finer details that makes the album such a delight to listen to on repeat. The songs may follow similar-ish patterns, but still feel unique and interesting on their own, thanks to the diverse input from Elias Mayer on the guitars and the well seasoned keyboards, added liberally to give the tapestry a deeper sound. As the songs evolve and usually sink into some kind of glumness before the twist comes on and there is a sunburst of energy sparking through. The melodically punch packing guitars thriving in hypnotic leads and big sounding solos as the climactic energy delivers a huge swing upward for the already atmospheric soundscape in every damn song on the album.

And in a way, this breakdown of song structure works on the album as a whole as well; the calmer introduction that soon gives way to immediately ear catching instrumentals. This then followed by vocal parts so emotive you can’t help but be pulled in, with a slower ballad like passage in the middle leading to an inexorable high point in the climax, culminating in even more top of the line instrumental action with Mayer’s guitars and keys as well as second axe man Robin Waij’s guitars driving rhythms and Kevin van der Reijnst’s thick bass lines filling the scene, dancing along the densely woven tapestry. The album closes with nine minute Clairvoyance, a clear highlight, and it too, is an instrumental affair that sees the very best of the album comprised into delicate musicianship delivering all that the preceding 40 minutes had delivered; fiercely flowing melodics, great riffing, and emotion through instrumental perfection; even though Beimer’s presence on the album certainly is an important part in lifting it above “yet another instrumental prog album”, sometimes not a single word is needed.

 

Standout tracks: Our Physical Way Of Speaking, Ghost Of You, Clairvoyance

 

    

 

Musikvideo: Hillsphere - Our Physical Way Of Speaking

Nils Patrik Johansson - Evil Deluxe

Genre: Heavy Metal, Power Metal

When Nils Patrik Johansson split with Civil War via Facebook post (classy) back in 2016 that never meant he was going to sit idle. Just a few months later he released a new full length with his main band, Astral Doors, and now once again he’s turned out another album, this time under his own name for the very first time, so what we get here is a very Johansson centric piece of metal, that focuses on just that - Johansson, and metal. Johansson is a great vocalist, there’s no way around that. With his Ronnie James Dio like style he’ll always be a great fit for the style and approach delivered here, and certainly there is some variation in the material to give him a bit of a run for his money. Big epics like Estonia and How The West Was Won stand in stark contrast to trilling heavy numbers like title track Evil Deluxe and more straight forward power metal tracks Dark Evolution that infuse more keyboards to recall the three Civil War albums.

Nils Patrik Johansson - Evil Deluxe

The thing is, Johansson has been at his very best with Wuthering Heights, as the prog metal vibes and quirky twists fit his unique voice and style perfectly, but that’s not what we’re getting here. Evil Deluxe is a metal album by the numbers that feels more or less like a cash-in by alternating between songs that could well have been tossed on either a Civil War album or an Astral Doors one. It certainly has its moments and some more than ample tracks that get the whole concept of what the metal for metal’s sake thing is all about; rollicking riffage, thunderous drumming and over the top vocals about the glory of heavy metal. In that sense it’s a fun listen, but it never warrants a name of its own, since many of the tracks could have instead been worked into the Astral Doors discography. Listen up Johansson, you don’t want to sit around, you want to sing. Get Erik Ravn on the frickin’ phone and get us a sequel to Salt.

The first half of the album is good - not great, but good - brandishing the big sounding, melodic guitars that roll along with Johanssons voice. There’s certainly a likeable sound to the album, even though it sounds entirely un-new and like it could have been done by any other band within the same style. After September Black the albums kind of loses the momentum it had going. There are some thick riffs and neat melodies, but it doesn’t compare to the first half, which sounds wholly more inspired than the latter, which is more to the Astral Doors kind of Dio/Manowar inspired heavy power metal, rather than thick, epic power metal. Fans of Sabaton and Civil War style of heavy power metal or Astral Doors and their heavy metal antics alike should find a listenable tune or five among these twelve. In short, is this a bad album? No. Is it a necessary, memorable album that pushes the boundaries of what Nils Patrik Johansson is capable of? No. But it’s heavy metal, pure and simple, and at that, it certainly delivers.

 

Standout tracks: Estonia, September Black

 

    

 

Lyrikvideo: Nils Patrik Johansson - Evil Deluxe

Live: Iron Maiden - Legacy Of The Beast, Stockholm 18-06-01

Genre: Heavy Metal, Live

Very few experiences compare to seeing the almighty Iron Maiden live in concert. It’s something everyone, regardless of where on the metal spectrum they belong, needs to do at least once. The giants’ current tour, Legacy of the Beast promises to be one of the biggest and baddest ever in the more than 40 year career. On June 1, Iron Maiden took Stockholm by the throat and tore out its jugulars in front of 38’000 mad Swedes. Now, this won’t be a review with some pre-written clichés written by some paid to write what fans want to read journalist, but one from memory, as lived in the middle of the crowd. Let’s start with the boring part. The opener. Latter day Maiden have made a trend of bringing shite or even more shite bands on tour to open for them. The Legacy of the Beast tour is no exception; Killswitch Engage might be big, but they don’t deserve to open for Maiden. Every song is the same and it seems to go on and on for ages. It says heaps of a band that needs to finish their set with a cover to get any form of audience response, and that’s just what Killswitch Engage did, of whom there should be little recollection once Doctor, Doctor starts playing over the speakers.

Live: Iron Maiden - Legacy Of The Beast, Stockholm 18-06-01

The set starts off covered with barb wire and green camo, which is later stripped away for a cathedral like feel with chandeliers and stained glass windows. Various iterations of the iconic Eddie don the backdrop throughout the show. The entire set and how it plays out gives the sense of a very well rehearsed show where nothing can deviate from plan - it gives a big feel of a well planned rock orchestra. The setlist, brandishing old favorites, new favorites and one or two more obscure tracks is a more or less perfect blend of the Live After Death and Rock In Rio live albums. It starts off in high fashion with Aces High, complete with Churchill’s Speech for the intro, bringing all the might and splendor that furious, riveting classic brings out in the audience. Tele2 Arena’s roof seems to lift off as the Spitfire hovers over the stage as the band fires away on all cylinders. The next few tracks, and indeed most of the tracks, in some way deal with war and the mythology thereabout, of which Maiden have plenty. During the rollicking The Trooper Dickinson, carrying a saber, tosses a piece of the camo over Dave Murray’s head for everyone’s amusement, and Murray, being able to nail every piece of the set in his sleep plays it off smiling and laughing. Dickinson also battles a giant Eddie, who seems to have let go of his quarrel with Janick Gers, who usually plays the trickster when the mascot comes on stage.

Live: Iron Maiden - Legacy Of The Beast, Stockholm 18-06-01

The band is in top form, never seizing to deliver the barrage of metal classics and anthems they’ve blessed the world with for the past 40 years. Steve Harris shines with the glow of genuine love for the art, shooting his bass at the audience and delivering with all the fury of his awesomeness. The guitarists three also deliver their trademark solo dueling, great riffing and up close stage personality; Gers swinging his guitar wildly in the air, Adrian Smith delivering toxic riff fests such as classic 2 Minutes To Midnight and The Wickerman with a dexterity not seen on the band’s last full length, while Dave Murray is the steady calm in the storm, never missing a note and tossing great soloing our way in as good as every piece of the setlist. Then of course, Dickinson. While retaining all the vigor and splendor, running crisscross around the stage for the near two hour set, he doesn’t partake in his usual between song banter but instead spends the short time in between songs changing his outfit and getting ready for his next role. At one point near the end of The Wickerman he seems to point out some funny maker in the audience and inquire of “showing ones arsehole”, but no more comes of it. I wanted a conclusion to that story, damnit.

Live: Iron Maiden - Legacy Of The Beast, Stockholm 18-06-01

He carries an eerie lantern for live staple Fear of the Dark - which does its usual trick of tearing the roof off - and dons a black cloak and a glowing cross for Sig of the Cross. The latter might just be the highlight of the evening and the setlist, as Dickinson truly makes the song his own without taking away from Bayley’s original input. The entire band seems to deliver the lengthy track with arduous fury, same as with For the Greater Good of God, which surely raised an eyebrow or two among the crowd. Not a fan pleaser, but damn it, the progressive beast delivers mightily as Murray crushes the solo with might. The best part of Dickinson’s antics however, might just have been the dual flame throwers he wields, shooting pillars of flame into the air during Flight Of Icarus, which has been dug up for the setlist for the first time since 1986, while a giant Icarus soars towards the sun in the backdrop only to melt toward the climax.

With the Legacy of the Beast tour you get exactly what you expect from Maiden, albeit a little bit tweaked. The classics delivered in great form and with true love for the music have us banging our heads and the deeper, darker tone of the lengthier tracks and the all time fan favorites like Fear of the Dark and Hallowed be Thy Name won’t let go without 38’000 souls screaming along with them. And say what you want about Run to the Hills, it’s a damn fine closer to an already larger than life evening. True enough, the lack of between song banter doesn’t bring Maiden just as up close and personal as usual, but the way it’s delivered and of course those spine chilling “Scream for me Sweden” moments, those are the ones that will be remembered. A legacy to behold, do not miss out!

 

Standout moments: Aces High, 2 Minutes To Midnight, Sign Of The Cross, Hallowed Be Thy Name, Run To The Hills

 

    

 

Livevideo: Iron Maiden - Fear Of The Dark