Tag Archives: Secrets of the Sky

2015 Albums of the Year – Part One

It’s that time of year again, when us music bloggers write our end-of-year lists of the albums that have impressed us over the past twelve months.

Usual caveats apply, of course, there are no doubt plenty of superb albums from 2015 I have yet to hear, and won’t be on my radar screen until I see them on other people’s end-of-year lists. Which, in a nutshell, is really the whole point of these things. I still think lists compiled by committees for general music publications are largely a waste of time. But this is not one of those lists.

There are 25 in my list this year, and here’s part one, going from 25 down to 18. They’re not in any particular order, consider them all 18-equal.

Caligula’s Horse – Bloom

Caligulas Horse - BloomState of the art twin-guitar prog-metal from Australia, filled with serpentine riffs, memorable vocal melodies and some spectacular soloing. It combines the dynamics of mid-period Opeth with the modern jazz-metal experimentation of Haken and Maschine with the atmospherics of Riverside, while managing to avoid sounding remotely derivaive.

Kamchatka – A Long Road Made of Gold

Long Road Made Of GoldThe Swedish power-trio deliver some classy blues-based hard rock. There’s an emphasis on tight arrangements, with punchy songs and short but effective blasts of shredding lead guitar, with a superb production that makes it sound as though the band are playing in your living room.
 

Muse – Drones

Muse DronesTeignmouth’s finest take a step back from the Queen-with-kitchen-sinks approach of their last couple of albums in favour of something of stripped-down guitar-driven power trio approach of their early albums. But when you’ve got Mutt Lange of AC/DC fame as producer, “stripped-down” is still a relative thing. There’s still a big expansive sounds that goes from hard rock boogie to a nod to spaghetti western soundtracks. This is still a Muse album, after all.

Pope Francis – Wake Up

Pope Fancis Wake UoNot many people would have put “The Pope releases bonkers prog-rock album” in their musical predictions for 2015. One of the years strangest releases mixes excepts from sermons with a blend of traditional church music and progressive rock with a nod to world music. The combination of spoken word with big minor-key choral crescendos and the occasional blast of full-on rock guitar is worth a listen for anyone who appreciates things like Mostly Autumn’s “The Gap Is Too Wide”. It certainly makes evangelical protestant worship music look tame by comparison.

Praying Mantis – Legacy

Praying Mantis - LegacyThe tenth album by one-time NWOBHM heroes is polished twin-guitar hard rock, more AOR than metal, with echoes of Uriah Heep and Journey. Remarkable in its consistency, there is no filler and every track has something to like about it. Just occasionally it skirts on the edge of cheese, but most of the time this is a classy piece of work.

Queensrÿche – Condition: Hüman

Queensryche Condition HumanWith new vocalist Todd Le Torre the prog-metal pioneers recover some of their mojo, with a record that evokes the spirit of the 1980s heyday, with soaring vocals and razor-sharp riffs. It doesn’t quite reach the heights of their peerless 80s masterpieces, but it’s still the best thing they’ve done for many years, and certainly blows Geoff Tate’s lacklustre album “The Key” clean out of the water.

Secrets of the Sky – Pathway

Secrets of the Sky - PathwayThis Californian band brew up a monstrous wall of sound. With no choruses or solos the songs take the form of dense soundscapes of layered guitars, doom-laden drums and washes of keys. With evil-sounding growls for the heavy parts and clean vocals for the reflective, atmospheric moments, the end result is an intense and in places very heavy record where even the lighter parts can sound truly menacing.

Spock’s Beard – The Oblivion Particle

Spocks Beard The Oblivion ParticleTheir twelfth album has verything we’ve come to expect from a Spock’s Beard record; swirling Mellotron and Hammond organ, blasts of hard rock guitar, rich layered vocal harmonies, and a strong sense of melody. Spock’s Beard again succeed by having one foot in the past and one in the present; creating a delightfully retro sound with a modern sensibility.

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This Month’s Metal Roundup

A roundup of some recent metal releases that there hasn’t been time to review in full. We have both kinds of music here, heavy and metal.

Ecnephias

Ecnephias coverItalian occult metallers Ecnephias are a band with one foot in the metal camp and one foot in the gothic rock camp. Their self-titled album has echoes of The Sisters of Mercy as well as more metal sounds, the overall effect recalling mid-period Paradise Lost. Instrumentally it’s a great record, with strong dynamics, plenty of light and shade, and some impressively fluid guitar work. But it’s the vocals that let it down. They’re not good at judging when to use death-style growls and when to use clean vocals, frequently using growls on the parts which aren’t especially heavy, which doesn’t quite work. You’re left with a feeling that this would have been a stronger record had they used clean vocals more extensively. Still, when it all comes together, it can be excellent, as evidenced by the spiralling gothic “Nyctophilia” and “Vipra Negra” towards the end of the album.

Secrets of the Sky – Pathway

Secrets of the Sky - PathwayCalifornia’s Secrets of the Sky brew up a monstrous wall of sound with the album “Pathway”. The eleven-track album contains six actual songs interspersed with brief snippets of sound effects that go from crashing waves and thunderstorms to ominous footsteps. With no choruses or solos the songs instead take the form of dense soundscapes of layered guitars, doom-laden drums and washes of keys. Unlike Ecnephias they get the vocals dead right, evil-sounding growls for the heavy parts and clean vocals for the reflective, atmospheric moments. The end result is an intense and in places very heavy record where even the lighter parts can sound truly menacing.

Crest of Darkness – Evil Messiah

Crest Of Darkness coverNorwegian black metallers Crest of Darkness pull absolutely no punches on this four track EP, consisting of three originals plus one cover. The three original numbers, “Evil Messiah”, “Armageddon” and “Abandoned by God” are all piledrivingly heavy; in-your-face screamed vocals married to monstrous old-school metal guitars, often more than one great riff in one song, and the cover of Alice Cooper’s “Sick Things” is splendidly demented.

Nekrogoblikon – Heavy Meta

Nekrogoblikon-HeavyMeta-AlbumArtWe’ve had Viking Metal and Pirate Metal, now Goblin Metal is a thing. With song titles like “Snax & Violence”, “We Need A Gimmick” and “Full Body Xplosion” and a guest appearance from Andrew WK this is a band who don’t take themselves too seriously. Although vocalist Scorpion’s goblin-style vocals do wear a bit thin after a while, the varied, inventive and sometimes off-the wall instrumentation suggests they’re something more than a one-joke band, and they clearly sound as though their having great fun.

Angra – Secret Garden

0210096EMU_Angra_Secret-Garden_Cover_600x600And finally, something for those who can’t abide contemporary cookie monsters and insist on proper singing. veteran Brazilian power-metallers are back with an album filled with galloping hard rockers and epic power ballads, with big riffs, soaring melodies, jaw-dropping guitar soloing and occasional prog atmospherics. Former Rhapsody of Fire frontman Fabio Lione is on fine form on vocals, and the album also features guest appearances from Doro Pesch and Epica’s Simone Simons. It’s all very old-school, but very well done, with a polished production and enough solid songwriting that there’s no room for any filler.

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