Category Archives: Progressive Rock

Magnum – Les Morts Dansant (Song Review)

“Gather round reluctant marksmen”

Magnum. The minute the weather starts getting cooler I reach for this veritable comfort-blanket of a band. Here’s Les Morts Dansant, the centrepiece from their excellent 1985 album On A Storyteller’s Night. Set in WWI, the song describes the execution of a British soldier who has refused to leave the trenches and go over the top. The song title translates as “the dancing dead” as it illustrates the pirouette of the dying soldier as he’s riddled with bullets from the firing squad. It’s a horrific topic but Magnum’s keen moral sense ensures the song is written and performed eloquently and compassionately. Bob Catley sings movingly with his heart on his sleeve as warm keyboards and celestial guitars gradually build to a climax of Baba O’Riley-style power chords. The album cover depicts a wizard relating a fireside tale to a bunch of captivated dwarfs and Les Morts Dansant is basically the musical equivalent. Spellbinding storytelling from a magical band.

HMO Rating: 5 Out Of 5

Voices – Frightened (Review)

Voices – Frightened (2018)

Following their 2014 masterpiece London was bound to be a daunting prospect but, despite what the title might suggest, with 2018’s Frightened Voices responded fearlessly. The UK devils cannily rising to the challenge by simultaneously taking their music in a brave new direction while retaining their core character. The viciousness of their debut and the neurotic extremity of London toned down to a dark and gothic mix of post-metal, prog and pop. Songs like Unknown, IWSYA and the wonderful closing track Footsteps have a dreamy Anathema-like quality and their music breathes like never before with a diverse range of tones and instruments. But the band’s patented blasting urbanity remains. The primal Dead Feelings and marauding Manipulator have all the nightmarish obsession, paranioa and eroticism of previous releases. The album’s experimentation brings some inevitable mis-steps: there are some hollow lyrics, occasional forays into shouty metalcore and the off-kilter Rabbit’s Curse places a hurdle in the album’s early stages. But the restless hustle and bustle of the band’s arrangements mean even the tracks that misfire have moments of wonder. Take Funeral Day‘s shift from grimy groove to shimmering mellotron beauty. Frightened is a bold and captivating new chapter in the band’s story but also feels like it’s leading somewhere… Voices investigating new and dark back-alleys that will very likely lead to another masterpiece.

HMO Rating: 4 Out Of 5

Enslaved – Return To Yggdrasill (Song Review)

“A new sound heard throughout the land”

Like Yggdrasill, the world tree at the centre of Norse mythology, black metal has branched out in all sorts of directions. Enslaved have always been a fine example of the genre’s progressive possibilities. Throughout their career the Norwegians have consistently pushed their creative longboat out into new waters. On this classic track from 2004’s Isa there are long passages of dreamy prog that bring to mind Rush, Porcupine Tree and the like. But these cosmic adventurers remain black at heart with frosty, pagan lyrics and a recurring, but captivatingly brief, riff of violent, tempestuous power.

HMO Rating: 5 Out Of 5

Rush – Ghost Rider (Song Review)

“Sunset on the road ahead”

Sad news today with the passing of Rush’s Neil Peart. On Facebook and Twitter I posted the track Afterimage as a tribute. It sprung to mind due to its themes of grief and loss… and because 80s Rush rules! But let’s have a song from another era here.

Ghost Rider is one of my favourite tunes of the band’s later work. Written as Rush were returning to action following Peart’s hiatus due to deaths in his family, it’s one of their most moving and emotive songs. The Canadians take to the open road with a breezy, motoring groove and a shifting landscape of layered guitars. Peart’s lyrics are searching and evocative and vocalist Geddy Lee responds with taste and feeling. But, as always, the engine driving the whole thing is Peart’s classy and dynamic drum performance. R.I.P Neil.

HMO Rating: 5 Out Of 5

[Rush – Ghost Rider]

Queensrÿche – Prophecy (Song Review)

“Begotten are the fools who’ll never know”

I was first introduced to Queensrÿche’s Prophecy via the live version on the Building Empires VHS, before acquiring the studio version as the bonus track on the CD reissue of the band’s 1983 debut EP. Nowadays you’ll find it as a bonus track on the reissue of 1984’s The Warning because it was written during that era but I’ve since discovered it wasn’t actually recorded until the sessions for their 1986 album Rage For Order! Bloody hell. But it doesn’t really matter because this song holds it own anywhere. It’s got the classy Rage For Order production sheen but its traditional melodic metal style fits in nicely on The Warning and the EP. Some extremely bouncy riffing, catchy hooks, nice vocal harmonies and some nifty and memorable guitar soloing from Chris DeGarmo and Michael Wilton make Prophecy a standout favourite… wherever you hear it.

HMO Rating: 5 Out Of 5

Deep Purple – Fingers To The Bone (Song Review)

“Everything went wrong, I’m sorry boys I’ve got to let you go”

Abandon, Deep Purple’s second album with guitarist Steve Morse, didn’t quite reach the high standard set by its joyous and adventurous predecessor Purpendicular. But it did feature a batch of great, underrated tracks and Fingers To The Bone is a standout that ranks among my favourites of the Morse era. It’s the sound of a veteran band ageing gracefully: Purple depicting the harsh blow of job losses with thoughtful lyrics, beautiful guitar parts and a folky, proggy muso confidence that reminds me of 80s Tull albums like The Broadsword And The Beast. A rich and rewarding deep cut that proved Purple were far from redundant.

HMO Rating: 4 Out Of 5

Queensrÿche – Queensrÿche (Review)

Queensrÿche – Queensrÿche (2013)

Following several poorly-received albums and the acrimonious ousting of frontman Geoff Tate, the rebooted Queensrÿche returned to the fan-pleasing style of their classic era with this eponymous 2013 album. The twin guitars, hefty bass, percussive drumming and the uncanny Tate-alike vocals of new member Todd La Torre all sound the part, bringing to mind albums like Rage For Order and Empire. But this is progressive metal in sound rather than form: straightforward verse/chorus songcraft with little of the state-of-the-art sophistication of old. No thought-provoking lyrics here either, unless “take a look around in the lost and found” strikes you as high-concept. But, as modern mainstream metal goes, it’s tight and focused with great hooks. The up-tempo Don’t Look Back and Fallout are especially potent and songs like A World Without and Open Road have plenty of heart. Queensrÿche played it too safe to count as a true return-to-form but it was good enough to return much needed credibility to the beleaguered band.

HMO Rating: 3.5 Out Of 5

Live bonus tracks appear again on the box set version of their latest album ‘The Verdict’

The HMO Top Albums of 2017

Twelve whole months of your human time have passed. An entire year of metal releases that have all been building up to one thing: The HMO Top Albums of 2017!

And what a year it was. I reckon the overall standard in this year’s list is the highest since I started doing these, with albums in the lower reaches that would have ranked higher in a less competitive year. Consequently, there was also a bunch of very deserving albums that just missed the cut:

Formicarius – Black Mass Ritual, Contaminated – Final Man, Power Trip – Nightmare Logic, Full Of Hell – Trumpeting Ecstasy, Vampire – With Primeval Force, Demon Head – Thunder In The Fields, Spectral Voice – Eroded Corridors of Unbeing

All of these were favourites of mine that would very likely have made the list any other year and I’d heartily recommend all of them. But there can be only ten…

NUMBER TEN: Satyricon – Deep Calleth Upon Deep

The black metal duo returned with this powerful and deceptively simple set of cold, bleak, groovy and progressive black metal hymns. Following frontman Satyr’s recovery from illness, the album was heralded as “day one of a new chapter”. But it’s no reinvention, just the sound of a band knuckling down with fresh dedication and commitment.

NUMBER NINE: The Obsessed – Sacred

Doom icon Wino returns with a new lineup of his old band The Obsessed and an album that lives up to their classics of old. Hefty biker doom riffs with ace songwriting, soulful maturity and vintage musicianship. Wino’s voice and guitar slinging are as badass as ever. He sings “I was born with my heart on my sleeve” and, 56 years later, he’s still wearing it well.

NUMBER EIGHT: Artificial Brain – Infrared Horizon

No AOTY list would be complete without some death metal in space and this year’s guttural cosmic travellers are Long Island’s Artificial Brain. Post-humanity, cyborgs ponder life and their predecessors and the wonderfully ambient blend of tech death, beautiful dissonance and filthy vocals suits the theme perfectly. Also… might be the only album in my collection that features the word “urinals”.

NUMBER SEVEN: The King Is Blind – We Are The Parasite, We Are The Cancer

The King Is Blind make the HMO Top Ten for the second year in a row. No mean feat. This sequel to their debut album Our Father, brings that album’s biblical tale into the modern day with harrowing results. The UK headbangers bash out an intelligent, raging and monolithic slab of metal that fuses a whole bunch of styles into a crushing, grooving whole that grows in stature with each listen.

NUMBER SIX: Immolation – Atonement

No big back-story, concept or narrative to talk about here. Just straight-up quality death metal from a veteran act that’s still hungry. As with other releases this year, it’s definitely got a whiff of the end-times about it. But instead of dishing out the political rage, Immolation deal out a restrained, ominous and dark indictment of our times. Crushing, twisted, authoritative and destructive from beginning to end.

NUMBER FIVE: Midnight – Sweet Death And Ecstasy

Hooded demon Athenar returns with his third full-length album of black thrash hooliganism. No zeitgeist-y vibes here: just Satan, shagging and Venom-worship. But there’s a lot of creativity crammed into this album’s short running time and its bookended by two epics that push the band’s stylistic (long)boat out: swashbuckling, scything mid-tempo metal that invokes the legends of old… the legends of Ye Olde Bathory and Manowar. It’s that good.

NUMBER FOUR: Cradle Of Filth – Cryptoriana: The Seductiveness Of Decay

The loved-or-loathed British institution continues a late-career renaissance that finds them tipping the balance firmly in the loved direction. Themed around the Victorian obsession with death, Cryptoriana… is a darkly fabulous romp of hard-hitting gothic metal delivered with expertise and passion. It’s atmospheric, cinematic, galloptastic and just tons of fun with a vocal turn from Dani Filth that cements his place as the veritable metal legend that he is.

NUMBER THREE: Memoriam – For The Fallen

Featuring ex-members of Bolt Thrower and Benediction, Memoriam were formed as a tribute to Bolt Thrower’s late drummer Martin ‘Kiddie’ Kearns and what a tribute it is: crusty, primitive old-school death metal with a sense of tragedy and loss. But it’s not a total downer, there’s enough carnage here to please Bolt Thrower fans. Vocalist Karl Willetts performs with charisma and heart while the band unleashes the kind of filthy, strafing riffage that’s guaranteed to have you running for cover.

NUMBER TWO: Paradise Lost – Medusa

2015’s The Plague Within was a welcome return to growlier death/doom fare but I don’t think anyone could have expected Paradise Lost to dredge the depths of misery like they have with this near-flawless album of gothic gloom. Anthemic hooks, crusty riffing, mournful harmonies and a fearless vocal performance from Nick Holmes put Medusa right up there with the band’s best work. No small feat, considering the number of innovative and essential albums that make up this legendary band’s discography.

NUMBER ONE: Akercocke – Renaissance In Extremis

The great comeback of 2017 was the return of these much-missed British Satanists with their most progressive, personal and accessible album to date. But the blackened malevolence of old remains and the fact that this album could well lure fans of more classic fare into a more extreme musical realm suggests these suave Londoners are still doing the devil’s work. The eclectic variety, complex structures and dreamy introspection make for a fascinating, rewarding listen and the intense, dynamic, neck-snapping skill of the band’s performance is the stuff of metal gods.

HMO TOP ALBUMS BY YEAR

2017: Akercocke – Renaissance In Extremis

2016: Darkthrone – Arctic Thunder

2015: My Dying Bride – Feel the Misery

2014: Voices – London

Akercocke – Renaissance In Extremis (Review)

It’s been ten long years since Akercocke’s reign of progressive death metal terror reached a thrilling and diabolical climax with Antichrist. Although the band has lain dormant for much of the intervening decade, a vibrant scene has grown in their wake: superb “ex-Akercocke” bands like Voices, The Antichrist Imperium and Shrines forming a growing family tree that has been the source of much of my favourite music of recent years. But despite my huge love of the related bands, I’ve had a growing longing for an Ak comeback and here they are with their new album Renaissance In Extremis, the most highly-anticipated and exciting release of 2017.

Given that they reached peak Satan-worship on Antichrist, it is unsurprising that the ever-evolving British band has taken up new themes. This is a more personal and emotional Akercocke that combines topics of depression, grief and suicide with rampaging positivity and self-improvement. Complex structures and varied moods evoke the subject matter. The shimmering and colourful guitar textures would make Queensrÿche and Rush proud and it’s all given an energetic kick up the arse with an array of wonderful tech thrash riffing in tracks like Disappear and Insentience. And tracks like Unbound By Sin and First To Leave The Funeral find the band’s black/death malevolence of old is still intact.

Band photos by Tina Korhonen © 2017, all rights reserved.

The whole band performs with distinction, sounding sophisticated and polished but also raw and live. The riffs and guitar solos are sublime throughout: the guitar duo of Jason Mendonça and Paul Scanlan combine old and new metal styles with wonderful flair. It’s also especially good to hear Mendonça’s uniquely charismatic and varied vocals again. A couple of wobbly-pitched moments only add to the crazed, natural feel and Jason leads from the front like few extreme metal frontmen can.

There’s very little to quibble about here and this is a superb comeback album overflowing with originality and creativity. Progressive in the proper sense of the word, Akercocke have created another unique album to add to their discography. And one that has enough variety and maturity that many fans of classic metal fare may find it a gateway into a more extreme musical world. For those of us that already reside in that world, Akercocke’s Renaissance In Extremis is a joyous and welcome return, wholly deserving of the most diabolical and infernal praise.

HMO Rating – 4.5 out of 5

Avatarium – Hurricanes And Halos (Review)

Avatarium – Hurricanes And Halos (2017)

Avatarium were originally devised as a combination of crushing doom and 70s prog. But on their third album Hurricanes and Halos there’s very little doom left at all; the focus is now firmly on retro rock stylings of swirling Hammond organ and sultry psychedelia.

Into The Fire/Into The Storm is a bold opener that makes full use of Jennie-Ann Smith’s forceful, dramatic lung power and The Starless Sleep is a wonderful mix of dark fable and summery 60s pop. But there’s a sense of diminishing returns on album number three. Although it’s one of the doomier tracks, Medusa Child is overlong with cheesy child vocals. And the breezy, bluesy When Breath Turns To Air and the closing instrumental parp of the title track barely register. The album’s uneven second half is saved by the stomping Uriah Heep worship of The Sky At The Bottom Of The Sea and the ominous beauty of A Kiss (From The End Of The World), one of the band’s best tunes to date.

It’s another strong effort from the Swedes but it finds them veering away from my own taste. As the band dial down the doom I find myself less engaged. But the band’s charismatic and summery take on classic 70s rock will win them more fans and appreciation than they lose. And those listeners may well find this the band’s most accessible and enjoyable album so far.

HMO Rating: 3.5 out of 5