Amorphis - Queen Of Time

Genre: Progressive Metal

Amorphis is one of those constellatory equations that have always stayed peripheral to my auditory vision. Despite tens of albums over the past (almost) three decades there has been little staying power to me in their admittedly well crafted style of progressive death/doom turned more accessible melodic heavy metal. Latest outing Under The Red Cloud (2015) sported a few decent selections, as have all of their efforts that I’ve given the time of day. At first glance Queen Of Time, the band’s thirteenth studio effort, seems like it might be able to break that spell. Epic melodies soaring over distinct progressive anthems and a majestic blend of coarse death metal vibes envelop this release in a dark veil pierced by what is undoubtedly great songwriting and musicianship equal to that. Jumping in at the deep end with Amorphis’s discography might not be the greatest way to go about it, however, as Queen Of Time proves a lot to swallow.

Amorphis - Queen Of Time

Amorphis is one of those constellatory equations that have always stayed peripheral to my auditory vision. Despite tens of albums over the past (almost) three decades there has been little staying power to me in their admittedly well crafted style of progressive death/doom turned more accessible melodic heavy metal. Latest outing Under The Red Cloud (2015) sported a few decent selections, as have all of their efforts that I’ve given the time of day. At first glance Queen Of Time, the band’s thirteenth studio effort, seems like it might be able to break that spell. Epic melodies soaring over distinct progressive anthems and a majestic blend of coarse death metal vibes envelop this release in a dark veil pierced by what is undoubtedly great songwriting and musicianship equal to that. Jumping in at the deep end with Amorphis’s discography might not be the greatest way to go about it, however, as Queen Of Time proves a lot to swallow.

Still, as strong as the album starts out, with the behemoth of a catchy, mountainous track that is lead single The Bee, it also gradually loses momentum. Each song sees less of the great qualities from the previous one, and by the end it’s devolved into something that carries semblance to the awe striking beginning, but not reaching its heights. However, the album is ambitious and delivered with a great potency and a big dose of confidence, and it does retain a high quality throughout, with great delivery from all the members, each having their own standout moment and being an integral part of the whole. While there are a few tracks that don’t quite fully engage, the album never seizes to be and feel exactly how it needs to be. In that, Amorphis has done it once more; their quality as songwriters and builders of their own world, based on that of Finnish mythology has never been in question, even to an outlier, and as such, Queen Of Time does not fail.

 

Standout tracks: The Bee, Daughter Of Hate, The Golden Elk

 

    

 

Musikvideo: Amorphis - Wrong Direction

The World Is Quiet Here - Prologue

Genre: Progressive Metal

Who are The World Is Quiet Here? Just five Wisconsinites who at first glance could be mistaken for your local nerds? Yes, that too, but also the new upstarts who just put out their first album, Prologue; at times a study and exploration of life and the meaning thereof, and at times an indulgence into original and sometimes breath taking musical direction. The tinges of David Lamb’s flawless drums interchange in instants, beating the steady rhythm of a heavy metal romper one moment while skillfully intermixing death metal fury in a moment, while the entire thing is dense with shifting tempos in the rhythm section and driving hooks from guitarists Ethan Felhofer and Isaac Stolzer-Gary; the two flow with rhythmic strokes and beastly melodic pieces through the unfolding tapestry in vivid colors that is Prologue. 

The World Is Quiet Here - Prologue

Taking influence from everywhere in the progressive metal spectrum, from the more extreme ends to the prog rock stylistic flairs, Prologue is not an easy album to grasp. It’ll take several listens to get to appreciate the little details and finer moments that are strewn throughout the runtime. Even though it clocks in at just over fifty minutes the scope is colossal, as the roster includes big epics like The Benign Author: Construct and See The Sun. It feels grander and longer than it actually is, but manages the feat without getting bloated. The World Is Quiet Here pulls it off with accuracy thanks to proficient musicianship and no small amount of talent in the songwriting department that sees every track take on interesting new approaches and twists. And even with the big scope, much of the beauty comes from the attention to detail and the shifting emotive states of vocalist Tyler Koltz. Blending the darkest growls and their innate awe striking auras with soulful cleans he takes the listener along on the musical journey.

While best ingested as an entirety, giving the whole a vibrant energy as each song flow and progress into each other, each individual song still keeps an integrity of its own. Opening track Some Call Me Cynical has a trilling middle part that just bursts with color into a striking guitar solo that impresses not because of speed or musicianship but how it embeds the emotive strokes of Koltz’s growls and little by little grows into gritty a riff part that is once more followed by an intricate solo. Perhaps the biggest moment on the album is 13 minute behemoth See The Sun, a beast in its own right as it brings out every moment of the entire album leading to its penultimate crescendo - the album is neatly closed with stylistic Aperture, but See The Sun remains the zenith - with its grandeur and epic setting that makes it a contender for 2018’s song of the year. All in all, Prologue is a damn fine album that may likely prove to grow even further with enough time, and it’s been done with accuracy and striking grasp of what it needs to be. A beast in constant turmoil, but controlled.

 

Standout tracks: Some Call Me Cynical, The Benign Author: Construct, See The Sun

 

    

 

The World Is Quiet Here - The Benign Author: Construct

Beyond The Bridge - The Old Man And The Spirit

Genre: Progressive Metal

How can a single drop perceive the whole surrounding sea? Better buckle your britches, this is a big one. Released in 2012, The Old Man And The Spirit is the debut and so far only album by German prog metal group Beyond The Bridge, led by lead guitarist and songwriter Peter Degenfeld-Schonburg. I only rediscovered this album fairly recently - having heard it previously, but apparently not thought much of it then - when going through some of Herbie Langhans works. And make no mistake; The Old Man And The Spirit is quite possibly the greatest progressive metal album of all time, and one of the most mindblowingly awesome albums in metal, period. Likely it needs to be heard multiple times, because even as I rediscovered it, it took me a few spins to fully grasp the album and how ultimately moving it is. It tells the tale of a man (Herbie Langhans) who seeks understanding and knowledge, and comes across a spirit (Dilenya Mar) with whom he starts to interact. The story is told through their shared vocal duties and through emotive musical numbers that lend from the likes of Haken, Dream Theater and Threshold, while also outshining them all in terms of emotional pull and outstanding musicianship.

Beyond The Bridge - The Old Man And The Spirit

While they mostly share vocal duties through the album, Langhans and Mar fit marvelous together, both being able to tap into exactly what is needed when it is needed. The Struggle sees them arguing and shouting while The Appartion conjures up their first, wondrous meeting. There are two ballads on the album, each devoted to one of the vocalists. World Of Wonders is Mar’s moment of glory, as she divines with a heavenly voice of the beauty to be found in the world. The song has some reminiscence of Dream Theater's Hollow Years, in melodies and vocal lines, but outshines the latter greatly, containing sweet guitar harmonies and trilling keys to go along with Mar’s performance. The second is the far gloomier Where The Earth And Sky Meet, which is likely the finest moment in Langhans' career yet, with its weighty tone and feels-laden guitars. It touches upon the meaning of life, what it means to be human and to feel, but ultimately gives no clear answers because that’s never the point.

If possible, Degenfeld-Schonburg shows just as much emotive and dynamic range in his guitars, as Langhans and Mar show off in their duets. From the aggressive pull and furious soloing, found in tracks like Doorway To Salvation and opener The Call, to the slow, hauntingly beautiful melodics of the aforementioned World Of Wonders or the gritty riff parts going hand in hand with Simon Oberender’s keys that are strewn like progressive sprinkles all across the runtime of the album. He shines perhaps strongest in (almost) instrumental Triumph Of Irreality with those epic tunes conjuring the gleaming skies and streaming rivers; a reason to wonder. The album features some of the last work of Simon Oberender, who passed away a few months after its release, and his input is simply magical. His keyboards never take the upper hand over the fresh delivery of Degenfeld-Schonburg’s guitars, but always delivering that extra emotion with subtle melodies and building background pieces.

To pick a single highlight or even a few out of the eleven tracks would be a mission impossible; they all deliver a certain irreplaceable magic and air. There is no song that does not contribute massively to the whole in terms of musical flow, direction, storytelling or even emotion. They all fit in their space, and with Degenfeld-Schonburg’s songwriting always stay interesting, even after the 100th listen; the album ranges from the tranquil and serene to the furious and to the melancholically dark and to the hopeful. The progressive build that sees every song flow seamlessly into the next is crafted with precision and delicacy and it pays off in the end, where it’s impossible to listen to just one song - you need them all! There has, as of 2018, been given no news with regards to a potential follow up, sequel or even a new output by Beyond The Bridge, and perhaps that is just as well. This album is perfect and needs not be touched or expanded upon; finally peace and silence all around my grave. The Old Man And The Spirit is, quite simply, perfect.

 

Standout tracks: Uhm… all of them?

 

    

 

Beyond The Bridge - The Call