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The masterminds of progressive metal are back once again. Opeth challenges new heights on their twelfth album Sorceress, continuing their exploration of a jazz and metal fusion.
Many would have claimed that the band was approaching its doom when vocalist Mikael Åkerfeldt began to abandon his brutal screams in favor of being more melodically centered. That choice has only seemed to propel the band a step further into evolution, opening up the music to new heights and new places.
The clearest example of this new progression is the acoustic single 'Will O The Wisp' - our review of which can be found here. Åkerfeldt wanted a song with the capo up really high, placing it at the fifth fret to give the song a very glittery sound, as he explained. The simple, catchy melody is contrasted by the song's dark meaning, proven by the beautifully executed chorus that chants, "You're stuck to the failures of your life / Marred with the sorrows of your strife / And time it waits for no one / It heals them when you die / And soon you are forgotten / A whisper within a sigh." The blues solo at the end really adds a new dimension to it, resonating beautifully above the bright and somber acoustics.
The album continues with the experiments of its predecessor, 2014's Pale Communion, which dabbled in jazzy and bluesy textures. A lot of the record's creepy organ keyboards and jazzy, frantic arpeggios make a return on Sorceress. Pale Communion was bashed for these elements, but Sorceress seems to bring out the best of them. The jazzy distortion makes its return on the title track 'Sorceress', groove taking its place on the track to set the momentum of the record. There are lots of interesting guitar moments throughout the song, found between the thrilling heavy unrelenting powerchords of the choruses and their soaring, powerful vocals.
The creepy organs take a background roll in tracks like 'The Wilde Flower', the song instead capitalizing on wild guitar arpeggios to give it its niche. The jazzy grooves of the intro are soon transitioned into something darker and brooding, almost creepy and evil by its end. The quiet ending allows for a reprieve from the chaos of the track, transitioning beautifully into 'Will O The Wisp'. Jazzy textures return later on the album for 'A Fleeting Glance', in between the confident shouts of baroque-esque guitar licks.
The album prioritizes on darkness and evil themes instead of continuing an exploration of genre. The evil grumbles of the guitars in 'Chrysalis' serves as a crucial turning point for the album. Gone is the transition from Pale Communion into the present; this is where Sorceress really sets its own sense of purpose. The dark arpeggios of the song lead to a crazy solo that switches between guitars and wild organs at its core, it's seven-minute runtime proving to be a very providing track. Dark progressions continue in 'The Seventh Sojourn', a Middle Eastern-tinged instrumental track that feels like it's straight out of an Indiana Jones film. The mystery of the track provides a adventurous image, traveling the desert or jungle with a final destination in mind.
The downside of this record is its lack of a thick climax. Most songs have big moments, ultimately ending in epic, climactic moments of their own, but in those huge endings there is a certain punch missing. The doom ending of 'Strange Brew' serves as an example - there doomy guitars get across their mood, but it lacks a crunch to give it a little extra evil. Is it the fault of seeking a cleaner melodic sound? The album doesn't suffer from it in an end-all way, but it missed out having a stronger impact upon execution.
What's great about Opeth is that they can do anything, and that's what Sorceress tells us. The band can combine metal, rock, melody, doom, evil, and jazz all into one epic fusion of progressive rock greatness. Opeth is a band without expiration date - they're like a fine wine, becoming greater as time goes on. Sure, their time as a truly heavy metal band are gone, but they've become so much more than that. They're no longer bound by genre - they're free to create as they want to.
Favorite Tracks: Will O The Wisp, Chrysalis, Sorceress, Strange Brew
Least Favorite Track: Persephone (Slight Return)
Rating: 84 / 100
Without blues, there would not be rock today as we know it. There are plenty of bands who combine the roots of rock with their modern flair - Alabama Shakes being a prime example. What's rarer to see than a blues rock band is a rock band with a tenor singer singing in that raspy blues and jazz tone that was the signature of Louis Armstrong.
That rare, if not unique combination can be found in Canadian rock n' roll outfit July Talk. They've just released their sophomore album Touch, and it begs the question as to why this band doesn't get more attention. Their sound is something truly special.
Going into Touch, you don't expect to her that raspy tenor powerfully leading the tracks. The beautiful thing about July Talk is their seamless combination of blues and rock. Kicking off with the groovy 'Picturing Love', the intro number really sets the pace for a rocking record. It starts in an understated manner, a strong drum beat followed by some keys. Suddenly, the magic of Peter Dreimanis' vocals kick in and you know something brilliant is ahead. Dreimanis' voice is powerful and bassy, yet is contrasted by the sweet and strong voice of Leah Fay throughout the record, providing for lots of color. The relationship between the two vocalists' voices becomes clearer in 'Beck + Call' where the two come together in a stunning manner.
Even though it's so easy to get lost in the voices, the instrumentals cannot be ignored. The aforementioned 'Beck + Call' is pure rock n' roll with its big guitars. Some songs exhibit a punkier attitude, such as 'So Sorry' towards the end of the record, booming with Leah Fay's challenging tone and the wild guitars. It's bridge is something else - the instrumental comes to a halt as Fay and Dreimanis sing under a palm muted guitar as the song builds back up to a giant explosion. 'Lola + Joseph' also has an absolutely immense instrumental, the brass section just as influential as its guitars. The deep brass really accent each chord with a definitive presence that you can't be indifferent to. It's so good. Softer moments are also present on the record - the pianos and smooth bass lead to dreamy strings and synths in 'Strange Habits' giving it a chilled back and ethereal vibe while still remaining memorable.
The best part of this album is definitely its vocals, but everything works together in a very amazing way. It's as if each element of the song is the support for another, in a form of musical symbiosis. The vocals are just like guitars, the higher register held onto by Fay while Dreimanis handles the low-end. The lyrics are something else, too. Single 'Push + Pull' expresses the duality of a volatile relationship, the chorus ethereally stating, "We're used to the night that leaves us unstable / We're used to the night, we take more than we're able / We're used to the night or whatever's on the table." There's also 'Jesus Said So', which is a huge bashing of modern culture. Through slamming words such as "White babies cry / On reality TV / Plastic surgery disaster / Inherit obesity" and the provocative imagery of "
The cops put men in cars / Drove them out into the snow / Find women's bodies in the rivers / But nobody seems to know", it really leaves a lot to wonder about.
The final track, the eponymous 'Touch' is a brilliant conclusion to the album. It's not an upfront track like a lot of the other big tracks were, but it instead builds into one wallowing crescendo of moody noise. The bluesy piano licks that repeat themselves from start to finish back the harmonies between Dreimanis and Fay, while the drums slowly build into the song's climax, bringing a thousand voices together for one big closure.
Touch is an album you can't really understand until you see it through. All you can tell is that it's something unique and strong. July Talk is only on their second album but sound like they've been together for decades, their sound so crisp and knowing. It's a musical astonishment. This band deserves more attention than their reputation for crazy live shows has garnered. They deserve worldwide fame
Favorite Tracks: Beck + Call, Lola + Joseph, Touch, Picturing Love
Least Favorite Track: Johnny + Mary
Rating: 86 / 100
The Warlocks have covered a lot of ground spanning their nearly two decade long career. They started off with long, drawn out jams spanning well over ten minutes. The eventually began shortening the lengths of their tracks in favor of something more confined. Their 7th album Songs From The Pale Eclipse is full of mid-tempo, condensed psychedelic rock tracks that the band has evolved to make, but none of them really amount to much.
Psychedelic rock's purpose is to take you on some sort of trip. This album doesn't feel like a psychedelic rock record as much as it does a full hour's study on the same mood. The one track on this album that feels definitively like a psych rock track is 'I Warned You' that finds itself spiraling with keyboards and harmonicas by its end. The album is otherwise a bluesier record, which in theory wouldn't be a problem.
Sadly, the problem in lies in the fact that the album pretty much sounds the same throughout its entirety. It's not until the final two tracks you can finally say "That's new." The album's opus 'Lonesome Bulldog' provides a hopeful outlook on the rest of the album, the Nirvana-esque approach to the guitar that ultimately builds to a powerful guitar solo to carry the track to its end. Everything this album wants to say is taken care of within the first songs. The opening number 'Only You' sets the dark tone of the record, and 'Lonesome Bulldog' sets the sonic scene the rest of the album wishes it could replicate.
For what it's worth, the lyrics on this album do shine at points. The main lyrical success is 'Drinking Song', a song that begins off by singing off the joys of drinking with drunkenly sung lines such as "All alcohol, he never pretends / Bet you're gonna meet a million best friends," before it relapses on itself and speaks of the horrors of it: "So many times I wanna give you up / Especially when I'm so fucked up / So many lives you've taken without regret / Won't be the first time or last to give you up." The song's bridge consists of a guitar solo that sounds as equally defeated as the vocals do, before the song somberly ends with vocalist Bobby Hecksher whimpering away as alcoholism takes him away.
The longest song on the record, 'Dance Alone' also has something interesting going on it, and that lies in the song's reminiscent composure. It clocks in at six minutes, half the length of the band's older jam songs that sound much the same. The song has multiple different pieces to it that reprise themselves throughout, including the bubbly guitar parts in the verses and reverberating guitar chords that build the choruses. It feels like a nice little moment of appreciation for their past. While it's not really a special track in the album, it does have that interesting quality going for it.
Songs From The Pale Eclipse is a chill album, but there's little incentive to listen to it after the first two or three songs. Everything pretty much sounds monotonous. You start at the beginning and tune out until the end, where 'I Warned You' brings real psychedelic rock to the table and 'The Arp Made Me Cry' takes the album out on a somber note. You can tell The Warlocks tried here, but they really didn't find much ground. The same general idea is used throughout most every song and for that, this album ends up feeling dull. The band's definitely capable of bigger and better things; let's hope this isn't the start of a downfall.
Favorite Tracks: Lonesome Bulldog, Drinking Song
Least Favorite Tracks: We Took All The Acid, Easy To Forget, Special Today
Rating: 64 / 100
Progressive rock isn't the first genre that comes to mind when trumpets are in question. This doesn't seem to phase German prog-rockers Dark Suns, though. Their new record Everchild is a brilliant fusion of jazz and blues with all the positive flavors of progressive rock in between.
There are some brilliant trumpet performances on this record, perhaps the albums best quality. They blare proudly on intro track 'The Only Young Ones Left', showing up as surprisingly as you may expect. The rest of the track is a strong driven buildup of riffs and 80s prog-rock vibes and their best. Following it up is another trumpet-baring track, 'Spiders', the track this time beginning on a moody jazz scene before powerchords kick in to accentuate the punchy brass. The height of jazz touches on the record is 'Monster', a very unique song on the record. Beginning with doom jazz aesthetic complete with cavernous pianos and sweet basslines, the song is the only one to feature female vocals on the record, another unexpected surprise leaving for brilliant flashes of creativity. To top it all off, the band boldly ends the album on a cover of Tori Amos' 'Yes, Anastasia', luckily doing the song some justice, moodily beginning and ending it epically, as it should.
On top of the unique qualities of this record are classic, powerful rocking moments. 'Escape With The Sun' is deceptively quiet in its atmospheric intro as gentle blues guitar chords carry a haunting melody throughout the track. This song builds up epically, harmonies increasing as intensity of the instrumental also curves upwards. By the end of the track you have angry guitars powerfully galloping to the climax and high orchestras sounding strongly above a chilling melody. Orchestras are the subtle highlight of 'The Fountain Garden' as well, beautifully shimmering with wonderful chords, inspiring amazing imagery. Perhaps the album's magnum opus is title track 'Everchild', which takes in every quality the band has exhibited in the album and crafts a whole new beast. Starting off with the signature moody piano before turning to dark guitars and brooding drums, the subtle waves of guitars and building noise brings this track to a huge state. The bridge of the song is perhaps the biggest moment on the album, extremes of high and low guitars slamming down with quartered crashes while orchestra back the beautifully haunting words, "I am the everchild" to conclude the song on an incredibly striking moment.
You can never go quite wrong with prog rock, especially when you take it to a grandiose level and add bits of originality to it. Dark Suns brought forth jazz and blues while still maintaining the integrity of progressive rock, all to amazing discord. Not many of the tracks standout as masterpieces, but gems are found throughout an album that doesn't have a dull moment. Being in this game for nearly two decades hasn't faltered Dark Suns - if this is any indication, their sound will only keep going up from here.
Favorite Tracks: Everchild, Escape With The Sun, The Only Young Ones Left
Least Favorite Track: Torn Wings
The Queen is back and bigger than ever. Dropping LEMONADE out of nowhere, Beyoncé has yet again set another mark in music. While this effort may not be flawless throughout, but it holds its ground as one of the strongest pop albums this year has seen yet.
Beginning with the ominous synth and vocal intro of ‘PRAY YOU CATCH ME’, the album begins gently with a sweet and sensual track led by orchestra and harmonies. Things pick up with ‘HOLD UP’, a funky track that has a sense of fun (though unfortunately sampling the god-awful airhorn sound). The synth reminds me of the game Undertale, specifically the legendary ‘Dogsong’. In the song, Beyoncé sings about being the girl who loves a guy the most, fairly cliché but in execution, it’s a pretty sweet song. The good girl vibes are erased in the following song, ‘DON’T HURT YOURSELF’ featuring Jack White. This song has the rock drive of The White Stripes with a taste of hip-hop, building up epically. Beyoncé sounds huge and grand in her vocal delivery, embodying a badass old-school blues vibe. It’s quite a turn from the sweet vibes the first two songs of the album set up, with the first verse proudly declaring: “Bad motherfucker, God complex / Motivate your ass, call me Malcom X.” ‘SORRY’ isn’t too noteworthy - it’s something you’ve heard before; it’s basically a more confident version of Bieber’s song with a hip-hop flair. ‘6 INCH’ with The Weeknd is sensual as you’d expect, with a massive brooding soundscape backing it. ‘DADDY LESSONS’ starts with a New Orleans jazz style (as if to link with the lead single’s video) and kicks into a folky pop-rock track. This one was surprisingly groovy and infectious, definitely has a deep-South folk song vibe going on. The album goes back to a sweeter sound, ‘SANDCASTLES’ notably being a sweet, ballady track. The track ‘FORWARD’ feels like nothing more than a filler, and is truly forgettable in the grand scheme, especially before the epic ‘FREEDOM’ which features a characteristically destructive verse delivered by none other than Kendrick Lamar. ‘ALL NIGHT’ brings back some punchy brass in the verse (the opening line in the chorus feels like it came straight out of the sample from Jack Garratt’s ‘The Love You’re Given‘, though). The album ends with it’s lead single ‘FORMATION’ that feels overconfident and cocky, but in the right ways with Beyoncé.
LEMONADE is confident and strong, with sweet moments dispersed within. It feels like a story, in a way. Out of order, but all of the pieces are there. It draws from the past and the present, and looks out for the future. Beyoncé proved again she knows her power in the world of pop, blending jazz, folk, and rock into one cohesive pop record that is full of color.
Favorite Tracks: DADDY LESSONS, DON’T HURT YOURSELF, FREEDOM
Least Favorite Track: FORWARD