Opeth – Sorceress (Moderbolaget Records / distributed by Nuclear Blast, 30 September 2016)
Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band. Abbey Road. “The White Album.” Widely considered to be hugely influential milestones in the history of recorded music. And yet the group responsible for these masterpieces began its career with mindless bubblegum-pop: stuff like “Love, love me do / You know I love you / I’ll always be true / So please love me do,” “She loves you, yeah yeah yeah / She loves you, yeah yeah yeah / She loves you, yeah yeah yeah yeah,” and “I wanna hold your hand / I wanna hold your hand / I wanna hold your hand / I wanna hold your hand.”
Certainly that’s a pretty extreme example, but the point here is that when a band experiences a seismic styistic shift, it isn’t always catastrophic, and can even be a positive thing. Naturally, when this occurs it can sometimes be unnerving to fans of the artist’s earlier work (and of course there have been plenty of moments where such a move did turn out to be a major misstep), but it never ceases to confound me, how often and how passionately hatred is spewed in the direction of Opeth for having developed a different sound over their quarter-century-plus career. This group of Swedes receives just as many nasty comments (particularly if the band is ever mentioned in the context of a metal festival or anything to do with metal music) for NOT making the same album over and over, as Six Feet Under does for essentially the exact opposite transgression.
The transition from death metal to progressive death metal occurred very early in this band’s existence, and it was the latter guise that caught most fans’ attention, gaining the ensemble a huge following. But throughout the course of a dozen full-length albums, gradually the elements of “death” had dropped away, and ultimately “metal” as well, landing Opeth squarely in the realm of “progressive” music, and leaving many earlier devotees feeling shortchanged. Nevertheless, in this reviewer’s opinion the band’s latest effort, last September’s Sorceress stands up quite well — when one judges it on its own merits, rather than attempting a side-by-side comparison with Still Life or Blackwater Park. And with that in mind, let’s jump right in.
Year of the Goat – The Key and the Gate (Napalm Records, 28 November 2014)
Year of the Goat – The Unspeakable (Napalm Records, 31 July 2015)
The year of the goat has ended: this past February, the year of the monkey was ushered in. But the previous twelve lunar months had been dominated by this horned beast — the third such year since the one in which I was born — and around this time period, Sweden’s Year of the Goat had been fairly active. Exactly twelve weeks before the commencement of the (Chinese) new year, their second EP The Key and the Gate saw the light of day via Napalm Records, who then went on to release Year of the Goat‘s second full-length album The Unspeakable once the year of the goat was actually in full-swing — in fact, right in the middle of the month of the goat.
And I’ll stop there, because that pretty much exhausts the extent of my research into Chinese astrology in preparation for writing about this band from Norrköping and their latest two releases — the latter and longer of which found its way onto my list of the best of 2015 …
Katatonia – The Fall of Hearts (Peaceville Records, 20 May 2016)
Commonly referred to as “The Peaceville Three,” British bands Paradise Lost, Anathema, and My Dying Bride each formed in the late 1980s or early ’90s, each signed with Peaceville Records soon after (even though the actual amount of time during which all three of them were on the label’s roster together was actually pretty brief), and each went on to release some major landmark albums that ended up defining the development of the gothic metal genre from its roots in melodic death and doom metal. And, just like when people talk about other bands who just as easily could have been included in lists like “The Big Four” of thrash, there’s an unofficial fourth member of “The Peaceville Three,” who have been in existence about as long as the others, who have been with the Peaceville label for nearly the past twenty years, and who have been just as instrumental in the realm of gothic metal (including the symphonic, progressive, and dark melodic elements that have been interwoven together during its decades-long evolution): their neighbors across the North Sea, Katatonia.
Four years ago, Katatonia released their ninth full-length Dead End Kings, which was subsequently described in press as the band’s “most successful to date,” having “cemented [their] position as masters of sorrowful metal [… and] marked another step in the journey towards a more progressive sound.” Following that acclaim, naturally there would be a high degree of anticipation to see what would come next — and eventually a tenth album of all-new material emerged, just a few short months ago. But before we discuss The Fall of Hearts, the journey to this release has included a look backwards and a good bit of twisting previous entries from this substantial discography into new and interesting shapes, so let’s take a quick tour of what these Swedes have been up to over the past three years, shall we?
The Order of Israfel – Wisdom (Napalm Records, 09 September 2014)
The Order of Israfel – Red Robes (Napalm Records, 27 May 2016)
Candlemass – Death thy Lover (Napalm Records, 03 June 2016)
Good afternoon. Today, let’s talk about Swedish doom. First I’d like to call your attention to a band from Gothenburg, whom some of you may not know yet, since they’ve only been around about four years now. In that time, they’ve released two albums — the first almost two years ago, and the second last Friday — both through Napalm Records. We’ll be discussing both of those.
The other band we’re going to cover today, from Stockholm, is likely to already be familiar to every single person reading this: their debut album was released thirty years ago this month, and it literally defined the “Epic Doom Metal” genre. Celebrating that milestone, the band will be releasing a brand-new EP this Friday — which we’ll also talk about today.
Moloken – All is Left to See (Temple of Torturous, 23 October 2015 [EU] / 13 November 2015 [NA] / 04 April 2016 [vinyl])
Recently — like within the past few months — I stumbled across this new album by Swedish progressive-post-sludge metal band Moloken (which translates to “dejected”), which came out this past November here in North America. It was their third album (fourth release overall) since forming in 2007, but it was my first introduction to the band. In any case, the material sounded really good, so I added it to my “to do” list, which currently contains hundreds (no exaggeration) of albums I intend to write about eventually. I’m not sure if I’ll ever get caught up with that list, because it feels like stuff keeps getting added to it at a slightly higher rate than it gets crossed off.
But today I’ll get to cross this one off, because I saw an announcement that this week Moloken are embarking on a tour across Europe (including their first-ever performances in France and the UK, plus an appearance at Roadburn) alongside Cult of Luna, who happen to come from the same city, Umeå — in the northern part of the country, situated on the Gulf of Bothnia between Sweden and Finland, and just slightly below the Arctic Circle. In light of this news, I’ve decided to write about the album All is Left to See to let you folks know you should check it out!
In the press announcement for the joint European tour, Cult of Luna frontman Johannes Persson said, “It is not easy to be in a band that comes from a small town in the north of Sweden. The physical distance forces you to do the 8+ hour drive to Stockholm (a drive we’ve done more times than I can count) before you can do anything. The distance to everything relevant is a disadvantage for a band with the ambition to grow. Moloken is one of these bands that needs to get more recognition. They are hailing from our hometown of Umeå and it feels great to be able to present them to our audience in Europe. So for the love of Odin, don’t miss them.”
Sounds like good advice to me. The full list of scheduled dates (most with both bands, but there are a few extras with just Moloken) will be in the comments section after you’re finished reading here …
Amon Amarth – Jomsviking (Metal Blade, 25 March 2016)
Well, it seems like this really turned into a week filled with black metal (or some form or variant of blackened-whatever), didn’t it? That wasn’t on purpose or anything, there just happened to be a few interesting things within that realm that I had wanted to share with you. But today we’ll be turning in a completely different direction: Viking metal!
(That was a little joke to piss off the Internet Metal Nerds, because the subject of whether Viking metal is really a thing, and if it is, how it should be classified, has been discussed endlessly, without ever really reaching a conclusion except for the fact that, as typified by bands like Enslaved and Bathory, it’s [somewhat] widely accepted as a subset of the black metal genre.)
But that’s not what we’re here to talk about at all — today’s topic is more along the lines of melodic/epic/anthemic metal. But I mean, look at that album cover (above)! Listen to the music (there will be previews near the end of the article)! Look at that photo of this band’s incredible stage setup from when I saw them a few years ago (below)! Despite their name (which means “Mount Doom,” a reference to the volcano from the Lord of the Rings books and movies), everything about Amon Amarth just screams “Viking metal”! What else would you call them?
In any case, this bunch of Swedes have a brand new album (their tenth) coming out tomorrow, so we’re going to take a look at that. Also, they’re coming back to the U.S. and Canada in about two weeks, marauding their way across the continent throughout April and May, so be sure to take a peek down at the comment section below where I’ll include the full list of those tour dates…
My Brother the Wind –
Once There Was a Time When Time and Space Were One (Free Electric Sound / The Laser’s Edge, 14 October 2014)
Hey there, folks! How’s your day going? Hopefully better than mine. Normally Tuesday mornings have me feeling like I’m sleepwalking anyway, and when you add in the fact that I’m basically trying to do the work of three people right now instead of the usual two (at no point this month will my department at work be fully staffed — they’ve all scheduled weeklong vacations over the next several weeks — but on top of that, we’ve also had people call in sick the past couple days). So my mind is racing in countless different directions all at once, nonstop all day long. And just when it seemed like it couldn’t get any worse, our network goes down for nearly two hours, leaving me without access to my e-mail, phone, or most of the files and programs I need to use to do my job. Sometimes it’s enough to make you just want to throw your hands up in defeat, and just scream.
But whatever, there’s shit to be done and I’m getting it done. And plus, a little bit of downtime gave me the opportunity to throw together a few words about some music I’ve been listening to. This will be a pretty brief essay, but a few days ago I discovered a cool album that I think a lot of people out there might enjoy, so I wanted to pass it along…