Category Archives: Progressive Rock

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. It 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

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UPCOMING ALBUMS: Cradle Of Filth, Enslaved, Samael and more

It’s time for another nosey through the release schedule. Here’s a selection of some upcoming albums that are taking my fancy.

Cradle Of Filth – Cryptoriana: The Seductiveness Of Decay

I’m properly out of touch with Cradle Of Filth’s career but their newer material has been getting a lot of praise and I’m in a Filth-y mood lately so it’s about time I got bally well caught up. Good timing too as their latest album is due on September 22nd 2017 and their new track Heartbreak And Séance is an insanely likeable taster. I wasn’t expecting to be looking forward to this one so much.

Enslaved – E

New Enslaved albums are always noteable but I’ve not been totally diverted by any of their albums since Vertebrae (which I totally love). I’ve bought all the subsequent releases but I tend not to get much more out of them than a couple of good tracks. I hope that Es are indeed good and this album bucks that trend but, on the basis of new track Storm Son, I’m not expecting much.

Samael – Hegemony

I’m new to this band and I’ve only heard their (superb) earlier material. I gather their style has come a long way since then so wasn’t sure what to expect from their current stuff. The new track Angel Of Wrath has got me right onboard though. A bit like modern Satyricon, it seems uninteresting initially and then BAM. I’m hooked. And the more I hear it the more I like it.

Fleurety – The White Death

The avant-garde Norweirdos return with their first album in an age. Fleurety feature former members of Mayhem and Dødheimsgard while Czral-Michael Eide of Virus/Aura Noir is now in the band too. If that’s not enough to get your attention, check out new song Lament Of The Optimist. Compelling, eccentric, addictive stuff. Release date: 27th October.

Spectral Voice – Eroded Corridors Of Unbeing

Unfamiliar with this band’s music but know their name from their connection with Blood Incantation, whose album Starspawn made my Top 10 last year. And it seems like Spectral Voice’s debut album (released on 13th October) might be this year’s equivalent: filthy, guttural, otherworldy death metal. My kind of thing.

Europe – Walk The Earth

The Swedes are one of a dwindling number of classic rock acts that I still give a fuck about. The last album War Of Kings was a pretty sterling effort with a few monster tunes. And the new single has the epic feel of that album’s best stuff so I’m up for this. It’s out on 20th October and the digibook features a bonus documentary on DVD.

And that’s quite enough for one post. There are other exciting albums due but I’ll hold off on those until there are songs available to sample.

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

Scorpions – In Trance (Review)

Original cover image – with boob!

In Trance was the Scorpions’ third album, their first of many with producer Dieter Dierks and their first proper hard rocker. But we’re still back in the Uli Roth years here so there’s a strange mix of styles and moods. There are real driving, hard-hitters like Dark Lady and Top Of The Bill but there are also many songs like Life’s Like A River and Living And Dying that are mystical, almost-psychedelic and loaded with melancholy. Two different kinds of heavy, basically. Scorpions’ circa 1975 show off a complex mix of styles and influences: Uli Roth’s post-Hendrix, pre-Malmsteen guitar mastery; the mellow wistfulness of UFO’s Phenomenon; the epic scope, bludgeon and layered vocal harmonies of Uriah Heep and Queen and a distinctly European/power metal vibe. The combination of Rudolf Schenker’s granite riffs and Uli Roth’s scorching leads create real sparks and edge that never appeared in other incarnations of the band. There’s so just so much to love here and tracks like the bombastic pomp-rocker In Trance and the bonkers cyber-metaller Robot Man just never get old. The Scorpions would score big later with a simpler, streamlined metal style so this strange and formative early effort isn’t in the hallmark Scorps style but it is one of their best and the album, and era, I return to the most. By a long way. And that’s why it’s the first of the Germans’ albums to make it into the HMO Hall Of Fame.

HMO Rating: 4.5 out of 5

[Scorpions – Robot Man]

My copy – paired with the also-incredible Virgin Killer

Rainbow – Live at Glasgow Hydro 2017

I finally made the sacred pilgrimage to see The World’s Greatest Guitarist®. My expectations had been lowered after seeing the enjoyable but sluggish Memories In Rock footage and then hearing the banal single released a few weeks back but… Ritchie F. Blackmore! It was incredibly exciting to know I was finally going to, not just see him play live, but see him play rock.

The band’s recent recording of Land Of Hope And Glory played over the PA before the “we must be over the rainbow” sample heralded the band’s arrival on stage. Opening with HMO fave Spotlight Kid rather than Highway Star was a good move. Blackmore played tentatively and awkwardly but come the closing outro of the next song I Surrender he was warming up. He was taking some shortcuts in his lead and rhythm playing throughout the night but given his age (and arthritis?) it’s unfair to expect the intensity of his youth. He still played well and had that mercurial, unique quality. It was great to hear his instantly recognisable guitar voice in person.

Sorry, didn’t take any photos but this YouTube still from the O2 show is similar to the view I had.

The band was good too. A definite improvement on the 2016 footage/recordings with a much more convincing performance from the rhythm section in particular. Ronnie Romero was in superb voice and an entertaining, personable frontman. He suits some songs more than others but he was impressive all night. He’s a huge talent and a great find.

My only quibbles were an interminably long keyboard solo and some overly shrill shrieking in Child In Time, a song I can’t be arsed with at the best of times anyway. And, although it’s good to hear Blackmore playing them, I wasn’t too fussed about hearing other Purple stuff like Black Night and Smoke On The Water either. That said, some of the sets best moments came from the Purple albums: a stunning version of Burn and a very moving Soldier Of Fortune. The Rainbow selections were similar to previous shows with the welcome addition of I Surrender, All Night Long and a hugely unexpected and wonderful Temple Of The King. But the mighty Stargazer remains the absolute standout track of the set: epic metal bliss delivered with deadly conviction by Romero. Goosebumps.

Ultimately, I went to see a guitarist whose music and playing I have obsessed over for years. And I was not disappointed. In fact, I was often thrilled and excited. That’s pretty good going. Age and arthritis be damned, Blackmore is still the man.

Luckily, my friend Jo is better at taking photos than I am

New Akercocke Album Renaissance In Extremis Due In August

The return of eccentric extremists Akercocke in 2016 had me praising Satan like nobody’s business. Their new song Inner Sanctum was wonderful and I had a great time finally catching them live in Manchester.

Now they’ve announced the details of their upcoming new album Renaissance In Extremis and revealed the song Disappear that will open the highly-anticipated comebAK album.

It’s great stuff. Not as immediate as Inner Sanctum but it’s a tantalising taster for the album and proves that the band still has the knack for twisty-turny progressive death metal madness. Better yet, the pre-orders are up at Peaceville Records and the album will be available in a 3CD deluxe 60-page hardback with two bonus discs of rare recordings, demos, live tracks, cover versions and more!

Exciting news. The album is out on 25th August and promises to be a musical highlight of 2017. Hail Lucifer!