An audible experience is what I wanted to do with Vehemence. With varied approaches, the songs are hopefully able to really encapsulate the listener with the mood and atmosphere. The song titles, especially with the final track, Exhaustion, I hope, personifies what I was trying to accomplish.
The goal is to ultimately have you throw on your headphones and enjoy the 35-minute excursion.
“With looming shutdowns in February 2020 due to the Coronavirus pandemic, the final few recordings for Optional’s debut LP could not be completed. Shuttered inside, Vehemence was born.
Named after the desire to produce more music, Vehemence is a teaser of things to come: ideas which could not be fully realized in the upcoming LP.
Put some headphones on, increase the bass, sit back and relax. You’re going on a journey.”
Saudi Arabia is not well-known for black metal, yet the country is a muse for what the genre is about: religion, monarchy, paganism, and suppression – just a handful of topics which black metal relates in. Tackling these topics head-on with their seventh album, Al-Namrood’s newest release, Wala’at (“Loyalties” in English) continues stoking the flames of anger and disgust the band feels towards their government and the religion that surrounds it.
The anti-Islamic and anti-fascist themes of Al-Namrood’s music is both intense and dramatic. Mixing musical styles of both Western and Middle Eastern instruments, the band brings a familiarly dissonant style of black metal with the rather sharp contrast with harmonic Middle Eastern scales and tones. The two cultures blend together and create a hauntingly different feeling and mood to the genre.
While the band members remain anonymous due to the potential of the death penalty for performing their music, the three musicians aptly show their musical competency with melodies among the chaos and the foresight on when to change arrangements in their songs.
Standing out foremost in Wala’at is singer Humbaba, who alone brings a huge energetic performance to the music. Between the grunts, screams, and cries, Humbaba’s vocals are flexible and offer an incredible range and dynamic to the music. In fact, his enthusiasm comes together as one of the biggest triumphs on the album. Confident and devastating, his and stanzas are chilling at times while encouraging and uplifting in others. Without always understanding the lyrics, one can still get a feeling for what the band wants to portray. The pain, frustration, and demands for reform are obvious to the listener: Al-Namrood wants the listener to experience what they feel – and successfully does so with each performance.
In tracks like Kail Be Mekialain, musicians Mephisto and Ostron synchronize riffs together to create hauntingly eerie tones – even more so with the reverb cranked up on the drum samples in each song. Linked with Humbaba, there’s a common chemistry between the trio that energizes the music, elevating it beyond what most bands with decades of history are unable achieve.
In another track, Aar Al Estibad, the riffs are thrash-y and come with a punk-ish feel until the Arabian instruments join in. Those instruments ultimately change the feel of the song and move expectations from “just another black metal track” to something different. While the song itself technically doesn’t set new standards or heights in black metal, it’s still a powerful song which sticks with the listener for its almost hypnotic melodies and grinding vocal hums.
With all songs staying under the five minute mark, the near-forty minute album is an intense feast on the ears. Perhaps too overwhelming at first, the second, third, and multiple spins after will continue to bring the listener back to absorb the beauty and raw power Al-Namrood offer with Wala’at.
As one of earliest heavy metal subgenres, Progressive Metal has had a lot of time to grow, expand, and become even more progressive. Spawning in the early 1980s with bands like Queensryche, Fates Warning, and King’s X, the genre has become one of the largest and most varied forms of music. However, within the past twenty years there have been plenty of the of different albums – all offering something different than the last. Here, Uncanny Metal takes a look at some of the best Progressive Metal albums that have been released from the past twenty years.
Opeth – Blackwater Park
Music for Nations, 2001
The Swedish band’s fifth studio album, Opeth’s Blackwater Park became a pivotal change of sound for the band. While 1999’s Still Life may be still considered the album with a shift in style, it’s with Porcupine Tree’s Steven Wilson mix/production on Blackwater Park that really added a sense of progressiveness to Opeth. With their following albums, Opeth style continued to evolve with its progressive and death metal tendencies. Standing back and looking upon the entire discography, Blackwater Park was ultimately considered the tonal shift for the bands future releases.
Tool – Lateralus
Progressive metal and the mainstream never came so close to greatness as it did with the ringing bass lines to Tool’s hit single Schism. While previous albums were also progressive, Lateralus turned progressive metal even more popular and threw the already well-established band further into the limelight. While it was years later for 10,000 Days and Fear Inoculum to eventually see the light of day, Lateralus was the pivotal moment for music fans to unite globally.
Devin Townsend – Terria
HevyDevy Records, 2001
After having worked with Steve Vai and establishing Strapping Young Lad with an outburst of extreme metal, Devin Townsend’s Terria – while probably not everyone’s favourite release, features some of the most intricate atmospheres from Devin’s signature “wall of sound.” A personal concept album and tackling mental health before the movement was in the mainstream, the ebbs and flows of Terria are astonishing with songs still resonating in relevance today.
Green Carnation – Light of Day, Dark of Darkness
The End Records, 2001
Another album with a personal story, ex-Emperor bassist Tchort founded Green Carnation in the early nineties. With their second album, LoDDoD became not only one of the longest songs in the genre of heavy metal, but is also critically acclaimed among metal fans. Crafting an hours worth of music and interlinking it together to unfold a story of both tragedy and life, Green Carnation’s epic stands out as a musical achievement for those who let themselves become encompassed by the grand scope of the song.
Ayreon – The Human Equation
After multiple science-fiction concept albums, Arjen Lucassen decided to try something a bit different and delve into the human mind. With multiple singers performing as different feelings such as Opeth’s Mikael Åkerfeldt as Fear, Mostly Autumn’s Heather Findlay as Love, and Devin Townsend as Rage, they battle within the mind of the character “Me” (by Dream Theater’s James LaBrie). The album not only tells a story, but actually features incredible twists and turns of regression, infidelity, and coming to the understanding of one’s self.
Shadow Gallery – Room V
The prog power band Shadow Gallery released their Operation: Mindcrime-esque concept album Tyranny in 1998, only to finish the cliffhanger of a story in 2005. While the concept may feel overdone now, the story and impact comes with a familiar X-Files vibe, with espionage and mystery surrounding almost every song. With impressive songwriting skills and the underrated Gary Wehrkamp on guitars, Room V stands out as a brilliant performance – especially from lead singer Mike Baker who passed away shortly after the album’s release.
Porcupine Tree – Fear of a Blank Planet
The last-great Porcupine Tree album, Fear of a Blank Planet is more progressive rock than it is metal – but it’s still hard to not find yourself headbanging along most of the tracks. With the gorgeous, near-twenty minute epic, Anesthetize, to the seductively heavy final track Sleep Together, Porcupine Tree’s theme on reflecting the exploitation and commercialization of drugs and its impact on the human mind, its deep and thought-provoking while still providing incredible music.
Symphony X – Paradise Lost
While 2002’s The Odyssey could also be on this list, it’s with Paradise Lost that Symphony X really gained their stride. After a five drought after The Odyssey – which ultimately suffers a bit from production issues – Paradise Lost comes in slamming hard and with some of the juiciest riffs from guitarist Michael Romeo. Every song features standout moments from each musician and the album just keeps hitting. Prog/power often gets a mixed reputation due to the power metal elements sometimes overtaking the progressive ones. With Paradise Lost, Symphony X nails that perfect blend with their songwriting.
Haken – The Mountain
With their breakout third album, Haken’s The Mountain brilliantly constructs the 70s progressive sound in a modern time, almost coming across like a modern day Close to the Edge from Yes. With heavy influences from bands like Dream Theater, the album never really becomes too technical to the point of becoming overbearing. It’s tame yet still manages to impress on every aspect with melodies and vocal harmonies that will forever stick in your mind.
Fates Warning – Darkness in a Different Light
After 2004’s album FWX, Fates Warning took some time off and reconstructed themselves for an impressive “debut” so to speak. With Bobby Jarzombek on drums, the album felt like a modern re-imagining of 90s albums, Perfect Symmetry or Parallels. With songs appearing straight-forward, their time-signature twists and turns from each song come across as natural, if not subtle. Ray Alder still sounding as great as ever, Fates Warning came back with a bang and have a new album coming out in the Fall of 2020.
Pain of Salvation – In the Passing Light of Day
Given the lineup changes over the years, Pain of Salvation’s sound had evolved slightly while still keeping their operatic and Andrew Lloyd Weber influence. With new blood in Icelandic songwriter Ragnar Zolberg, In The Passing Light of Day took the album to new heights which the band had never achieved in their 20+ year lifespan. The autobiographical album by singer/songwriter Daniel Gildenlow goes through his near-death experience with an illness and really drives the emotion home in the title track.
Dream Theater – Distance Over Time
Although 2003’s Train of Thought could have also made this list, 2019’s Distance Over Time does instead. With songwriting similar to Train of Thought, Distance Over Time became a bit of an anomaly in Dream Theater’s discography with it being the first album without a song over ten minutes (not including The Astonishing which arguably wasn’t so much an ‘album’). The crisp songs are to-the-point for the band which can win over new fans while still providing enough technical excitement to impress old ones. A surprise to be sure and easily one of the band’s strongest releases in 20 years.
2020 has been one helluva year so far with new releases (not to mention other global issues). We wanted to go back and look at what really impressed us over the past five years – reminding us of easier, pre-COVID times. Given the vast nature of the death metal genre, we wanted to highlight some of what we felt were stand-out releases from 2015-2019. If you feel we missed anything, let us know in the comments below!
Outre-Tomb – Répurgation
HSP Productions, 2015
From Quebec, Canada, Outre-Tomb slam you down in their first track, L’antre de l’horreur and keep the pace up all the way to the end. Crisp production with an old-school vibe, Outre-Tombe’s debut establishes the band as a brutal force to be reckoned with. With incredible tempo-changing tracks like Psychose Toxique and thrash-influenced tunes like Mutation, Répurgation stands out as not only a solid debut but a must-listen to. Their 2018 album, Nécrovortex, should also be looked at (and spun regularly).
Aborted – Retrogore
Century Media, 2016
Seasoned musicians Aborted came out with a refreshing, almost up-beat album in Retrogore. With lyrical content based on the vibes the album cover gives, Retrogore is filled with blast beats, filth, and ripping guitars that makes us want to go back and listen to it again and again. Sven de Caluwé’s vocal versatility gives the impression there’s more than one singer on the album – and truly livens up the music. With its technical prowess and often-catchy hooks, Retrogore is hands-down one of Aborted’s best albums.
Gorguts – Pleiades’ Dust
Season of Mist, 2016
Our second band from Quebec, Gorguts’ follow up from 2013’s Colored Sands is vastly different than anything the band has released before. This 33-minute behemoth speaks about the fall of the House of Wisdom. While both historical and introspective in narrative, the music is beyond outstanding. With ebbs and flows, peaks and falls, each movement in the song speaks for itself. This is also the first album where Gorguts leader Luc Lemay allowed creative input from the rest of the band. The song speaks for itself.
Rude – Remnants…
F.D.A. Rekotz, 2017
The second album from the California death heads, Rude’s Remnants… is a reminder of what got us here regarding death metal in the first place. With production strongly resembling early-Morbid Angel, the songs are fresh and the riffs are heavy. Songs like Blood Sucker and Sanctuary are real bangers, while Fracturing the Gates of Truth really encompasses everything the band has to offer. Their 2014 album Soul Recall may have established the band to many, but it’s with Remnants… that Rude really blew us away.
The more this album is listened to the more there is to take away. Using technology to their advantage, there is always something that feels different on an Artificial Brain album. Bright, clean guitar tones mixed with a treble-laden bass guitar gives the band a truly unique feel. Their dissonant, diminished chords and song structures add a brilliant sense of drama to their music that is rarely encapsulated in the death metal genre. The beautifully sinister chorus from Estranged in Orbit is a testament to that. This is an album you must check out.
Ulthar – Cosmovore
20 Buck Spin, 2018
While we have just reviewed their 2020 release Providence, Ulthar’s debut Cosmovore is really something else. Ulthar manages to merge different genres together seamlessly on Cosmovore. The second track, Solitarian blends both screams and guttural vocals to give a wild impression to the music. The cool pacing of Infinite Cold Distance gives a plethora of different riffs and many crazy moments that absolutely impress. A debut album you definitely do not want to miss.
Augury – Illusive Golden Age
The Artisan Era, 2018
Yet another Quebecois metal band (believe us, the amount of bands from Quebec was unintentional), Augury returned from their nine year hiatus and did not disappoint. Incredibly brutal at times while still operatic during others, Augury provides a little bit of everything in their third album. Ripping scales and tempo changes galore, Augury still remind us on what Atheist would sound like if they upped the ante. With their mechanical prowess as strong as ever, The Illusive Golden Age is a triumph in technical death metal.
Ares Kingdom – By the Light of Their Destruction
Nuclear War Now! Productions, 2019
Intense and thrashing, Ares Kingdom’s fourth album hits the mark with their blazing solos and thudding percussion. It’s a rough sounding album which offers the raw feeling you’d want in a death metal album. The Hydra Void kicks off a brilliant start to the album with the pounding drums on the low toms and double-kick. Burn, Antares (Scorpius Diadem) comes with incredibly catchy riffs, while The Bones of All Men is just a magnificent ride into what death metal has to offer as a genre with its ungodly chugging. Ares Kingdom proves that four albums in, bands can still release their best material (see Aborted – Retrogore).
While Manor of Infinite Forms put them on the map, Planetary Clairvoyance, Tomb Mold’s third album, is just brutally enjoyable. The horror from their previous two albums bleeds into the science-fiction and alien-filled world of this release. The real charm from the band was arguably how simple everything sounds, yet comes together cohesively as a technical achievement. While songs like Beg For Life and Heat Death may only offer a handful of riffs, vocalist/drummer Max Klebanoff keeps things fresh with his variations in percussion. The old school death metal sound with modern production doesn’t get any better than it does with Tomb Mold.
Blood Incantation – Hidden History of the Human Race
Dark Descent, 2019
As most bands honor the legacies of the bands who came before them, Blood Incantation celebrates them. From Death and Gorguts to Pink Floyd and King Crimson – Hidden History of the Human Race comes with a plethora of new ideas and an unfathomably brilliant atmosphere to make an outstanding record to end 2019 with. The band’s thought provoking and technically savvy songs are intense, ambient, and most importantly, heavy as all hell. Unlike many death metal albums, there’s groove and feel that comes with many of the songs, such as the stoner-riffic Inner Paths (to Outer Space). There’s many incredible moments on this album. It’s not only a must-listen, but a must-own.
John Petrucci – Terminal Velocity Sound Mind Music
by Derek J. Smith
With the lockdown of COVID-19, Dream Theater guitarist John Petrucci finally began work following up his 2005 debut solo album, Suspended Animation. In 2020, Terminal Velocity features a bit of everything you’d expect from Petrucci. Surprisingly, however, there’s a lot more throughout the albums various nooks and crannies that makes Terminal Velocity one of the best things John Petrucci has ever produced – including his prior solo effort and most Dream Theater albums. With the title track as an impactful first song on the album, the listener may feel overloaded: “What else is there could Petrucci have to offer? Did I just hear everything he could do?” The other big question asked: “That was just one song – will Petrucci and former bandmate Mike Portnoy recapture the feeling of working together?”
Put it this way: There were no expectations which could prepare you for the incredible song-writing and musicianship encountered on Terminal Velocity.
The technical versatility may feel daunting but is not at all over-stated. Petrucci said he had a lot of time to write this album over the lockdown from COVID and it absolutely shows. Terminal Velocity is not the technical showcase which one would come to expect from Dream Theater albums. Petrucci’s songs feel well-plotted out all the while produced and written with feeling and emotions in mind. While Terminal Velocity feels as if it crams ideas together similar to Devin Townsend’s opening track on his 2019 album Empath – everything works together and establishes tidbits of what the album will be presenting as the listener gets into it.
The familiar intro to The Oddfather is rather tongue-in-cheek and may put a smile on the face of the listener. The Oddfather features so many delicious riffs in the song, making it feel like an early Dream Theater song with styles somewhat mixed in-between Dream Theater albums Awake and Systematic Chaos. Bassist Dave LaRue is simply brilliant, laying foundation across the track and adding a solid level of depth to the song.
Happy Song delivers just what the title suggests – upbeat progressions with bright and cheery lead solos. Meanwhile, Gemini kicks off with heavy riffs and a hefty dirty bass tone from LaRue, reminiscent of heavy grooves from Liquid Tension Experiment. Yet the song continues its various fluxes with Spanish influences-turned-shuffle, and powers through with a wider mix of different genres in its six-minute existence.
Out of the Blue is a nice, mid-paced song which was unexpectedly needed in the middle of the album, giving the listener a breather and soothing them down from the intensity before it. The song does a slow and progressive build up at the end, making the mid-tempo intro riff to the next song, Glass-Eyed Zombies even that more appreciated. In Glass-Eyed Zombies, the gradual build up of from its introduction is a brilliant way to get the listener up to the speed that marked the first half of the album with a ripping solo and chugging thrash metal rhythms.
The bright, almost operatic The Way Things Fall, lets LaRue shine in a handful of moments while still showcasing Petrucci’s solos. Meanwhile, Snake in My Boot portrays a rocking country-metal hybrid anthem we didn’t know we needed.
In the final track, Temple of Circadia, it’s easy to compare to introductions of Dream Theater’s Bridges in the Sky or The Shattered Fortress, yet much like the entirety of the album, there’s lots for the listener to chew over – from the odd time signatures to the intense polyrhythms Portnoy throws upon the song.
Although it definitely feels like a John Petrucci album – and that Mike Portnoy is certainly a big-name draw – there’s a history between these two musicians which cannot be replicated. One can really tell how the two musicians have bonded together. Despite it being over ten years apart from writing music with one another, the melding of their two minds works brilliantly. The emotional impact of two old friends working together is something which literally cannot be replicated if one tried.
The brilliance the two musicians achieve between one another is not hyperbolic if one reminisces of their halcyon days together. Petrucci and Portnoy are musicians who understand one another and are on the same wavelength when it comes to performance and song writing. Terminal Velocity, even unconsciously, comes together as an album celebrating both music and friendship. It may not have been intentional while writing the album, but it certainly feels that way when listening to it.
If we could only get more honest albums like this from musicians, the world of music would most certainly be a better.
Havukruunu – Uinuos Syömein Sota Naturmacht Productions
With the release of their third album, the Finnish band Havukruunu prove once again why all eyes are on them on the forefront of pagan black metal.
Blasting right out of the gates, the self titled track feels like it throws everything you’d expect from the genre in one song – but it’s only the beginning. The triumphant melodies and searing guitar tones feel fresh and unique. The riffs are intense and dark, yet they are coloured with triumphant undertones. Enchanting vocal harmonies are intertwined with guitar melodies creating a brilliant, epic feeling.
The wonder of these moments can be heard in songs like Ja Vimein On Yö – where beyond the battery of the percussion, the uplifting darkness is built up during the chorus and then continues throughout. Among the call and response vocals in the song, guitar melodies shape the background and create a powerful ambiance ultimately transitioning into a impressive and moving solo. All of these efforts appear easy and natural but are certainly well thought out to achieve the presented effect.
The percussion intensity continues with Pohjolan Tytär – which is arguably the most straight-forward song on the album. Yet the beating of the drums vary enough, along with the haunting solos, and epic vocal harmonies, to create a wonderfully crafted feat. While the band may often be compared to others in the scene such as Moonsorrow and Mgła, Havukruunu manages to generate a particular feel and soundscape in their music which certainly makes them stand away from such comparisons.
In fact, Havukruunu almost makes themselves uniquely virtuoso with their guitar work. Varying guitar solos midway in the song Vähiin Päivät Käy stand out as some of the most pinnacle moments on the album. Transitions between the different solos are flawless and as the song goes back to its main riff, one cannot help but feel the chills go up their spine.
Meanwhile, the closing track features so much variation, fresh ideas, and feelings which seem somewhat unusual to pagan black metal. Havukruunu bring and transition modern concepts and technology to the genre to create an interesting final piece to the album that almost acts like a cliff hanger for their next release.
The dichotomy between Havukruunu’s pagan roots and modern concepts seam together flawlessly to create an absolute feat of an album. Uinuos Syömein Sota may be not only one of the best black metal releases this year, but one of the best albums released in 2020.