Heir Apparent - The View From Below

Genre: Power Metal, Progressive Metal

Heir Apparent first started out way back in 1983, releasing their debut album Graceful Inheritance and following it up with One Small Voice (1989). Then the ‘90s went all ‘90s on the Seattle prog metal group, and although they’ve been active since 2000 it’s not until October 2018 that the third full length was finally released. Titled The View From Below, it showcases a definitely modern touch of progressive power metal, not intent on bringing back the days of yore but on bringing the band into a new era. Whether or not it is a worthy comeback is better left to fans of the previous two albums, but it is a decent album. There’s some new personnel on here, in vocalist Will Shaw (Athem, ex- Abodean Sky) and keyboardist Op Sakiya (Screams of Angels). Derek Peace, Terry Gorle and Ray Schwartz - on bass, guitar and drums respectively - remain from the first two albums.

Heir Apparent - The View From Below

The tempos are downsized, the musicianship on point, the sound crisp and clear, the tone of the album critical and poignant. Gorle’s guitars take a frequent lead position, but do trade off with Shaw’s distinct cleans as the melodic touch, delivering plenty of vibrant instrumentals that just as soon burst into colorful solos as they do into emotive choruses for Shaw to fill in. The burst toward the end of The Door is slow but packed to the rim with energy that Gorle releases in a slow solo that then trades off to an emotive last passage from Shaw, who makes this album his own with passion aplenty to go with the smooth riffing and the grooving bass lines.

However, there is a problem on this album, and that is the pacing. The album certainly needs more speed and intensity in some places. The slow tempo throughout makes it seem longer than it actually is - the album clocks in at a modest (well, by today’s standards anyhow) 45 minutes. The only track that speeds things up a little is Savior, in the middle of the album - and it’s only two and a half minutes long. Interweaving more speedy elements, which don’t necessarily have to be speed metal, would pick the album’s pace up and make it a smoother listen. Here We Aren’t and Synthetic Lies unfortunately drag the momentum to a near halt after the first two songs open the album on a fairly low paced, but still fresh note. The former is a slow ballad, and while it’s not necessarily a bad song, it’s way too early and undeserved after a mere twelve minutes of opening. The three closing songs fare better, however and coupled with the equally well fleshed out start, manage to make The View From Below an enjoyable, but nowhere near essential, listen.

 

Standout tracks: Man in the Sky, The Door, Further and Farther

 

    

 

Musikvideo: Heir Apparent - Man in the Sky

Salvation's End - The Divine Wrath of Existence

Genre: Power Metal, Progressive Metal

Where to begin with Salvation’s End. Their debut album, titled The Divine Wrath of Existence it’s a lengthy feature, epic in its own right and yet still feels like part of a larger scheme. Immediately we are tossed into a world of heavy riffing bordering on death metal influenced with sweet leads out of progpower, rhythmic pounding and gritty vocals in opener Death of Reason to set things off right with a catchy, yet menacing introduction to the world we enter. Expressive, dark and moody, the album portrays a man who does not age and sees the world through different stages, and how history repeats. Sometimes pessimistic, the theme is driven not only by Rob Lundgren’s (Powerdrive, Scientic) vocals, but also by TJ Richardson’s (Halloween) multi faceted guitar work.

Salvation's End - The Divine Wrath of Existence

While definitely grounded in a progressive sound, with long tracks and shifting beats and compelling hooks, there are levels of power metal in the melodic pieces as well. There is also some melodic death metal influences, showcased in blastbeats and the guitar tone of Richardson, sometimes reminiscent of the likes of Into Eternity. Lundgren, who is most famous for doing cover songs on YouTube, delivers a gritty persona to the mysterious character that wanders the ages. His voice and style here is reminiscent of something around Thomas Winkler (Gloryhammer) - whom Lundgren also replaced for a while in Chinese band Barque of Dante - and Urban breed (Serious Black, ex- Bloodbound). The vocal parts are equal parts melodic to hard edged and are never the sole focal point of the music. Perhaps a few bigger sounding choruses might have been preferential, but the subdued nature and larger build up that the album creates, makes Lundgren a perfect fit. It’s unfortunate that he’s unlikely to appear on a potential follow up.

The best part of the album might just be the beginning; starting off with the aforementioned Death of Reason, the album’s hard hitter immediately follows. Languorem is an intelligent piece driven by fury and mad guitars from Richardson, as well as melodic leads and a heavy, driving chorus. The melody will get stuck in your brain. Toward the album’s latter half, there are a few less interesting tracks. Translucent Memory, which borders on balladry in parts, is the least compelling song on the album; Lundgren doesn’t hold the emotional weight he might should have needed and the overly slow tempo does no favors to the whole, whereas Climb the Cross drags on uninterestingly. They do not affect the whole album overmuch however as it is filled with great tracks such as Crimson Sunrise, evil and brooding with electrifying guitars from Richardson, and the title track closing off on a 10 minute high point.

The Divine Wrath of Existence bridges the worlds of melodeath and progpower, and does so with an innate sense of purpose. As such it should likely appease fans of both genres, as well as sate the needs of power metal fans thanks to Lundgren’s appealing vocals. It’s definitely a hard album to get into – this review has taken longer than I want to admit to get through – but a rewarding one that not only warrants, but requires, multiple listens to fully sink in and let the weight with which it will ultimately loom over the edge sink in.

 

Standout tracks: Death of Reason, Languorem, Awakening, The Divine Wrath of Existence

 

    

 

Lyrikvideo: Salvation's End - Death of Reason

Poets Of The Fall - Ultraviolet

Genre: Rock/Metal

Right. So, what Poets of the Fall have done here is a bastardization of their own sound; so as not to save it for the final twist of the review - the final part of selling out. What once was passionate, heavy, laden with distress and born of true love in equal measure is turned into a simplistic drivel, aimed for radio play and little else. Once upon a time there was a band that was so overly passionate and melodramatic timing, and while the melodics and rhythmic sense is still in core what Poets always were, the over simplification (so as not to call it dumbing down) leaves it nothing more than a husk of the passion that colored everything from their debut, Signs of Life (2005), until Twilight Theater (2010) and was still heavily present on Temple of Thought (2012), and felt on Jealous Gods (2014). Then came Clearview (2016), showing the devolution in their evolution, even with its one or two decent tracks and a single good one (Children of the Sun). So, even though the hope was still there, their eighth full length Ultraviolet didn’t really have good odds to begin with.

Poets Of The Fall - Ultraviolet

It starts of melodic and catchy enough with Dancing on Broken Glass, an ovious single hit that manages all fine and well to get its work done. Marko Saaresto is one of modern rocks finest vocalists, and while that never really comes to light on Ultraviolet, he has his high points here, one of them being Dancing on Broken Glass. It’s catchy and melodic, but no part of it feels innovative and it’s over before it ever starts. Thing is, a lot of the stuff on here is not even rock music at all, let alone the alternative rock borderline metal Poets did so incredibly well back in the day. It’s a techno kind of rock that showcases Saaresto and saccharine melodics and radio rhythms over any musical direction. While starting off on a fairly strong note, the album also closes pretty strong with Choir of Cicadas. While a ballad, it at least consists of actual music and not technological drivel. The drumming from Jari Salminen is base but heavy, while the underlying keyboards deliver a bigger scope to the music.

One thing Poets always did incredibly well was buildup; songs like The Poet and the Muse, Show Me this Life and Hounds to Hamartia from ages past are examples of this. Built from slow beginnings and turned into guitar forward extravaganzas culminating in controllably frenzied solos from Olli Tukiainen were the highlights of their respective albums, not only musically excellent but emotionally grappling. You can tell Moment Before the Storm is the try here to do something similar, but it’s utterly forgettable and there is little in the way of actual guitar work to  stand out. That also goes for the entire album; it’s driven by pop rhythms and artificial instrumentals, short segments without standout points. Tukiainen has no solos to speak of, and even Saaresto isn’t as good as he has been and should be. You thought Clearview was lacking, Ultraviolet is the nail in the coffin. A track or two is enjoyable, but never close to the intensity; the passion and the love, broken pieces and turned cheeks that Poets once brought. There is very little left.

 

Standout tracks: Dancing on Broken Glass, My Dark Disquiet

 

    

 

Musikvideo: Poets Of The Fall - Dancing On Broken Glass