Trillium - Tectonic

Genre: Power Metal, Symphonic Metal

Amanda Somerville is a versatile vocalist, able to fit into a wide variety of styles, as evident from her stints in Avantasia and other groupings with bigger names above hers on the roster. Her own project, titled Amanda Somerville’s Trillium (because we’re not talking about Aina) released their first album in 2011, not exactly to rave reviews, and has been quiet since while Somerville has been plenty busy elsewhere. The follow up, Tectonic, was a long time coming, and finally hit in mid 2018. And it’s supposed to be her time to shine, and show she doesn’t need no Sammet or Kiske to deliver the goods. But what always seems to have been sort of glossed over is the fairly ill fit, musically, that is Somerville and husband Sander Gommans. The man has a background in decidedly more extreme styles of metal, as evident from HDK, whereas Somerville’s very Simone Simmons like vocal style goes much better with a loftier hard rock kind of guitar style, like that of Magnus Karlsson in the surprisingly well fitting Kiske/Somerville project, or the more grandiose symphonic style of Avantasia. 

Trillium - Tectonic

While far from a perfect album, Alloy still did lots of stuff right, including the right personnel in Sascha Paeth, Michael Rodenberg and Simon Oberender. From there, the songwriting style felt like a complementing mix of power metal, symphonic and gothic elements. Not so much on Tectonic, which tries to be grittier and more hard-edged than is needed. Gommans is a fine guitarist - in fact, he’s darn good, and he puts out some hella sweet solos and some high quality riffs strewn like sprinkles on the Trillium icing - but the gritty mindset does Somerville few favors, and Erik van Ittersum’s keyboards should need a higher place in the mix as well as a more prominent role in defining the melodic output, rather than playing background and adding the token symphonic backdrop to Gommans’ guitars. Gommans handles the bass as well on the album, and here there are some liberties taken which certainly do work; tiny little twists and turns in the bass lines that elevate them beyond just following the guitars add a quirky touch that works well.

Problem is, every song here sounds the same. They just plod along doing the same things over and over. Gritty riffs to start off, quickly followed by Somerville entering the state in a high, symphonic flair, but then quickly devolving into the more standardized power metal cruiser that just do things by the numbers. Opening track Time To Shine is likely the best track on here, perhaps because the rest of the album just seems like variations of the same. (Damn, they should have brought back Jørn Lande for a follow up to Scream It.) You’d expect a track named Nocturna to give a dark impression of the night, or Cliché Freak Show to try and stick out in terms of oddity or quirkiness, but nope, they’re more or less the same. Other than that, you’ve got song titles like Stand Up, Hit Me and Fighting Fate; just your every day inoffensive power metal. Not bad, but in no way deserving of more than a single play through, and not the comeback that Trillium would have deserved. Damn, Somerville can do so much better.

 

Standout tracks: Time To Shine, Shards

 

    

 

Lyrikvideo: Trillium - Shards

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