Tag Archives: Opeth

Best Albums of 2016 – Part Three

Into the top five now, as we count down from five to two. It’s a reminder of just how how much great music has been released this year that’s not on the mainstream radar.

5: Crippled Black Phoenix – Bronze

crippled-black-phoenix-bronseAfter some rather turbulent times within the band, Crippled Black Phoenix bounce back very strongly with a powerful follow-up to 2014′s “White Light Generator”. Beginning with a track called “Dead Imperial Bastard”, Bronze is a dark, angry and very intense record that in places sounds like Swans jamming with Pink Floyd, filled with dense, boiling guitars and ominous electronic soundscapes. It’s the sort of record that leaves you exhausted by the time you reach the end.

4: The Pineapple Thief – Your Wilderness

the-pineapple-thief-your-wildernessThe Pineapple Thief have always represented the streamlined modern face of progressive rock, and this album is a distillation of the best elements of their sound. There are moments of fragile beauty, times when they rock out, and the whole thing flows seamlessly. The band have always drawn comparisons with Radiohead. But while “A Moon Shaped Pool” is a good album, “Your Wilderness” is a better one. But you have to wonder how many mainstream critics who put Radiohead high in their end-of-year lists have even heard “Your Wilderness”.

3: Opeth – Sorceress

Opeth SorceressMikael Åkerfeldt and his band continue to draw deep from the well of 70s underground rock and reinvents the sounds for the 21st century with his legendary mastery of rock dynamics. The result is a record that invokes the spirit of that decade while sounding like something that could only have been made today. It goes from thunderous heaviness to the sort of sinister and cinematic atmospherics that recalls his Storm Corrosion collaboration with Steven Wilson. This is their best album since “Watershed” and despite the lack of death-metal growls, their heaviest since “Ghost Reveries”.

2: Iamthemorning – Lighthouse

iamthemorning-lighthouseThe third studio album from the Russian duo comprising singer Marjana Semkina and classical pianist Gleb Kolyadin is one of those records that’s near-impossible to classify. Sometimes accompanied by a small chamber orchestra, sometimes with a rock rhythm section including Porcupine Tree’s Gavin Harrison and Colin Edwin, the result is a kaleidoscopic record of ever changing moods taking in rock, classical and even instrumental jazz. Comparisons between Marjana Semkina vocals and those of Kate Bush are entirely appropriate. This is a record that takes a few listens to fully appreciate since there’s so much to take in; you can keep hearing new things even after many listens.

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Opeth – The Wilde Flowers

Anyone else think this has the verse of “Gangsters” by The Specials and the chorus of “Unoriginal Sin” by Mostly Autumn?

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Desert Island Disks

The long-running BBC radio series “Desert Island Disks” asks the guest celebrity of the week to choose eight of their favourite records. The premise is that if you were marooned on a desert island, and you had just eight records to listen to, what would they be?

I’m treating “records” as albums, and for this exercise, I’ve imposed a rule of no compilations, and no live albums. So with no further ado…

pink-floyd-meddlePink Floyd – Meddle

The first album I ever bought was Pink Floyd’s “The Wall”. But although that album means a lot to me, there’s only room in this list for one dark angst-ridden concept album, and that’s coming up further down. And though “Dark Side of the Moon” and “Wish You Were Here” are undisputed classics. they’re so overexposed that they’ve just been worn smooth. If I’m in the mood for some Pink Floyd nowadays it’s most often either “Meddle” or “Animals” that gets played. If forced to choose, we’ll go for Meddle. It’s worth it for the extended dreamy atmospherics of “Echoes” alone, but there’s more to the album that that.

blue-oyster-cult-secret-treatiesBlue Öyster Cult – Secret Treaties

Blue Öyster Cult have been one of my top bands ever since a college friend played me the live version of “Astronomy” from Some Enchanted Evening when that live disk was still almost a current album. But since live albums are against my self-imposed rules, so we’ll go for their classic third album. Fan consensus is their Secret Treaties is their best, and fan consensus isn’t wrong. It’s the final album of the so-called “Black and White trilogy” combining richly layered music with a raw garage-like sound, with high weirdness lyrics hinting at the magical origins of World War Two. Blue Öyster Cult were always far more that just a metal band, and this album is proof of that.

Rainbow RisingRainbow – Rising

Hearing “Eyes of the World” on Nicky Horne’s show on Capital Radio radio changed my life. Ever since then Ritchie Blackmore’s music has been part of the soundtrack of my life, either with Deep Purple or with Rainbow. He was at the peak of his powers when he made this record along with the greatest hard rock singer of all time in the shape of the late Ronnie James Dio, and a sheer force of nature in Cozy Powell on drums. With just six tracks and a running time of less that forty minutes it’s all-killer-no-filler, with the monumental “Stargazer” as the centrepiece of the record.

220px-MarillionBraveMarillion – Brave

The three previous bands had been long-established by the time their music first appeared on my radar, but with Marillion I was there from the start. Not quite to the extent that I was seeing them play to thirty people in pubs before they were signed, but I did see them at the 1982 Reading Festival and bought their first album of the day of release. Since then they have released many great albums both with Fish and later with Steve Hogarth, but the favourite has to be their dark and intense 1994 concept album. As the sleeve notes say, play it loud with the lights out.

mostly-autumn-the-last-bright-lightMostly Autumn – The Last Bright Light

Anyone who knows me knows that Mostly Autumn are one of my favourite bands. I’ve seen them something like a hundred times live now. Which doesn’t make it easy to choose just one album, especially when their music has evolved of the years along with changes in the make-up of the band. But if forced to choose just one, it will be their third, the high point of their celtic-folk-prog era on Cyclops records. It’s now sadly out of print, though many of the best songs appear on the retrospective compilation “Pass the Clock”.

porcupine-tree-in-absentiaPorcupine Tree – In Absentia

It’s not easy to choose one Porcupine Tree record. Sometimes it seems as if their best album is whichever one I’ve just listened to. But if forced to keep just one, it would be have to be this album, because it’s sheer variety covers many of the bases of their sound. In just the first three numbers it goes from the Zepellinesque riffery of “Blackest Eyes”, the song-focused pop-rock of “Trains” and the psychedelic atmospherics of “Lips of Ashes”.

opeth-waershedOpeth – Watershed

Perhaps more than any other band, Opeth have redefined what a metal or progressive rock band can be, with deep roots in the classic rock of the 1970s on one hand and a contemporary attitude and desire to avoid repeating their own past on the other. Few other bands can match their sense of dynamics and compositional skills. All their albums are good, but Watershed is the best, seamlessly combining intense heaviness with mellow atmospherics, often in the same song, and would be the last time Mikael Åkerfeldt would use his death-metal growling vocals on record.

Panic Room - SKINPanic Room – S K I N

Along with Mostly Autumn, Panic Room are my other favourite club-level band, and I’ve seen them live almost as many times. Indeed, the two bands were joined at the hip at one point with Anne-Marie Helder and Gavin Griffiths doing double duty in both. All their albums have their fans; there are even people who think the first was the best, but for me the favourite has to be their third, which goes from hard rock to jazz-tinged adult pop to epic soaring ballads while still adding up to a coherent work. It may well be that their best is yet to come, but for now this album is their masterpiece.

Over to you. What eight records could you not live without?

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Opeth release lyric video for Sorceress

The title track of the new album, probably the heaviest thing they’ve done since their move away from death metal after “Watershed”.

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Opeth anounce the track listing for “Sorceress”

Sweden’s finest, Opeth, have announced the track listing for their 12th album, “Sorceress”.

1. Persephone
2. Sorceress
3. The Wilde Flowers
4. Will O The Wisp
5. Chrysalis
6. Sorceress 2
7. The Seventh Sojourn
8. Strange Brew
9. A Fleeting Glance
10. Era
11. Persephone (Slight Return)

The album is released on the 30th of September, and given the quality of their recent output this is going to be an eagerly-awaited record.

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2014 Albums of the Year, Part Four

And so we approach the end of the albums-of-the-year list. There are numbers 2 to 5, which means there is just the Album of the Year itself to go.

Again they’re listed alphabetically, because it’s too hard to rank them. In truth, any of these records would be worthy albums of the year, as would several others just outside the top five. It really has been that sort of the year.

Crippled Black PhoenixWhite Light Generator

Crippled Black Phoenix  - White Light Generator

A remarkable combination of progressive and alternative rock that sometimes sounds like Swans collaborating with Pink Floyd, with diversions via the pastoral folk-prog of The Decemberists and the high-octane space-rock of prime-time Hawkwind. Loud and dirty guitar riffs alternate with atmospheric soundscapes and spoken word pieces, such that you never quite know what’s coming next. It all makes for an intense and exhilarating listen, thought its depth and scope mean it’s a record that takes many listens to fully appreciate. It’s precisely the sort of record that proves post-70s progressive rock has evolved far beyond the template of 80s neo-prog.

OpethPale Communion

Opeth Pale CommunionMikhael Akerfeld and his men will disappoint anyone still hoping 2011′s “Heritage” might have been a one-off, for Pale Communion is not a return to their death-metal roots. Instead it develops its predecessor’s contemporary take on classic and more obscure 70s sounds, and if anything it’s “Meddle” to Heritage’s “Atom Heart Mother”. There are no cookie monsters, but the record does retain all of Opeth’s mastery of dynamics, and its dark intensity shows there can be other forms of heaviness than bludgeoning riffs. The dense and atmospheric record has a similar mood to Gazpacho’s “Demon”; while the execution is quite different both have a mood that suggests shadowy things in Scandinavian forests.

Panic RoomIncarnate

IncarnateWith a new guitarist in Adam O’Sullivan Panic Room’s fourth album feels like the start of a new chapter for the band, and shows that sometimes a change of lead guitarist can be as big a change as a new lead singer. It’s a step away from the rich wall of sound that characterised their last couple of albums in favour of a lighter, more pared-back feel, with a stronger emphasis on Anne-Marie Helder’s songwriting. O’Sullivan has quite a different style as a guitarist, with jazz and blues flourishes, though he demonstrates that he can still rock out when it’s needed. But it’s still unmistakably Panic Room, with that combination of rock, pop, jazz, folk and prog focussed on strong songwriting and Anne-Marie’s award-winning vocals.

The Pineapple ThiefMagnolia

Pineapple Thief - MagnoliaThe Pineapple Thief are one of those bands generally considered part of the progressive rock scene, but take a modern, streamlined approach to their music. Magnolia sees them combine many of the best elements of their previous three records to result in their most accessible album to date. There are touches of dance/electronica rhythms and of hard rock riffing, but the emphasis is on big soaring melodies. They’re another band who are worthy of mainstream crossover success.

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Opeth – Pale Communion

Opeth Pale CommunionOpeth’s eleventh studio album, “Pale Communion” has been one of the most anticipated releases of the year. Their last album, 2011′s “Heritage” ended up strongly dividing opinion. For every fan who applauded their exploration of new sonic territories there seemed to be another who bemoaned their move away from the metal roots.

If there is still anyone hoping for a return to the growly death metal of Deliverance, they are probably going to disappointed. For Pale Communion is a development and refinement of the direction expressed on Heritage. Only it is a far stronger album.

Like Heritage, it’s a swirling maelstrom of classic 70s sounds given a modern sensibility, Åkerfeldt’s evocative lead guitar style shares space with Mellotron and Hammond organ; there are bits of hard rock, jazz, pastoral folk-prog and what sounds like horror-movie soundtrack, sometimes in the same song. There is even one brief moment that evokes a darker and more sinister version of The Eagles.

But ultimately it still sounds quintessentially Opeth; Åkerfeldt’s very distinctive approach to melody and harmony shines through even though the instrumentation has a different emphasis compared to their metal past; more keys and layered vocals and less emphasis on guitar. There is a heaviness there, but it’s not so much the heaviness of walls of guitars as it is a kind of dark intensity. And it’s balanced by moments of delicate beauty; Åkerfeldt is still an absolute master of dynamics.

Pale Communion is best described as combination of the best elements of Heritage and their previous non-metal Damnation with a bit of Storm Corrosion thrown in for good measure. There is certainly something of the same feel as Steve Wilson’s recent solo work; since Steve Wilson’s and Mikael Åkerfeldt’s careers have been joined at the hip for well over a decade this shouldn’t really be any surprise. If Heritage was something of an experimental album, then Pale Communion is the results of those experiments. In some ways it is to Heritage what Pink Floyd’s “Meddle” was to the earlier “Atom Heart Mother”.

This is not only one of the best albums of 2014, but is every bit as good as anything Opeth have released in their career.

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The opening track of Opeth’s “Pale Communion”, released today, is called “Eternal Rains Will Come”. So we can blame them from today’s awful bank holiday weather.

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Opeth – Cusp of Eternity

The lead track from the much-awaited new Opeth album “Pale Communion”.

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Storm Corrosion

Storm Corrosion is the much anticipated Anglo-Swedish collaborative project between two of the biggest names in the contemporary progressive rock world, Opeth mainman Mikael Åkerfeldt and Steven Wilson of Porcupine Tree and myriad side-projects. While initial expectations might have been that they were going to do something along the lines of the prog-metal of their respective bands’ recent work, they soon made it clear it was going to be something altogether different.

The lengthy, atmospheric and sinister-sounding opener “Drag Ropes” sets the tone. With dominant sounds of acoustic guitar and mellotron plus piano, strings and woodwind it comes over as a soundtrack of a particularly spooky film, probably shot in grainy black-and-white. The film probably has subtitles, and everyone dies at the end.

It’s a record that owes as much to classical and folk music as it does to rock, and manages to combine a stripped-down minimalism with an ambitious cinematic scope. Save for one clattering outburst on “Hag”, accompanied by the only powerchords on the entire album, there is very little in the way of conventional rock drumming. But despite those dissonant strings and even the odd outbreak of pure white noise, it’s by no means an impenetrable record. It does need a few listens to fully appreciate it’s subtleties, which means it’s something you can listen to many times and keep discovering something new. It’s a work filled with moments of delicate beauty, whether it’s vocal harmonies or the sparse acoustic and electric guitar work.

There are elements of both musician’s other work, from Steve Wilson’s solo work to Opeth’s “Heritage” and “Damnation”. Parts of the instrumental “Lock Howl”, built around a rhythm loop and swirling keyboards recalls mid-period Tangerine Dream before giving way to percussion loops and disturbing discordant strings. There is also something of Talk Talk’s classic “Spirit of Eden” in it’s eschewing of conventional song structures in favour of soundscapes and textures, and that comparison is especially apparent on the dreamy closing track “Ljudet Innen”. There is also a bit of the spirit of Radiohead’s “Kid A” in it’s refusal to make any compromise towards commerciality or pander to audience expectations. In the unlikely event that you were still expecting Blackwater Park meets In Absentia, this is not the record you were looking for.

What we have is the sound of two of the progressive rock world’s most talented individuals following their combined muses wherever it takes them. It takes them and their listeners through some strange and exotic sonic landscapes, and it’s a more than worthwhile journey for anyone who chooses to follow. Bold and experimental, but still remaining accessible, it’s a genuinely progressive record in the true sense of the word.

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