Insomnium

Review: Sylosis – Dormant Heart

Location: Reading, England, UK
Released: January 12, 2015
Genre: Melodic Death Metal
Format Reviewed: FLAC
Feature: Global Conquest – Recent Releases

By: Kris Kotlarik

Sylosis is a band I have heard a lot of good things about, but not from. Their fourth album, Dormant Heart, doesn’t do much to change that perception for me.

That sounds harsher than it actually should be taken; I don’t think Sylosis sucks. But they sound too much like Machine HeadArch Enemy, and Insomnium, among other bands that I don’t particularly like. These bands’ footprints are all over this record, and because of that, the good parts are only in bits and pieces. The titular track has a great intro to it, while “Victims and Pawns” and “To Build A Tomb” each have some nice riffs and guitar work that don’t last nearly as long as they should. Most of the other songs don’t develop into anything special and are entirely unremarkable; “Leech,” “Harm,” and “Mercy” come to mind as tracks to avoid.

All that said, the nine-minute “Quiescent” is an all-around good track that is more experimental than anything else on this album, yet still accessible for most metal audiences. It explores the more melodic aspects of their sound and is fairly light in comparison to what the rest of this disc puts in front of it, but reaches a nice fever pitch close to the end on a nice, lengthy crescendo. “Callous Souls” and “Indoctrinated” are also good tracks that sustain a more uptempo, aggressive energy throughout the song.

There are two bonus tracks; “Pillars Erode” is so Machine Head that it’s uncanny, and “Zero” is a cover of Smashing Pumpkins’ original hit. It’s not a good cover, although it did give me inspiration for another death metal karaoke rendition.

Overall: Very average, although “Quiescent” is one of the better tracks to be released recently.

Rating: 2.0*

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ATF Review: Stam1na – Nocebo

Location: Lemi, Finland
Genre: Progressive/Thrash Metal
Released: February 8, 2012
Format Reviewed: FLAC
Feature: All-Time Favorites

By: Kris Kotlarik

My first exposure to Stam1na, one of the most popular metal bands in Finland (most Americans and other countries don’t know who they are, although that could change on their upcoming tour through Europe), came in 2012 during the Finnish Metal Meeting, in which they played a headlining set. They were quite entertaining, but their greatness didn’t sink in further for a couple years. Their most recent effort, SLK, is another likely ATF nominee, and most of their previous works would also rate very highly. But this particular album has kept me captivated in many ways.

It starts rather unassumingly with “Pirunpaska,” roughly translated as “damn shit.” The first few seconds sounds like the beeping sound of a microwave, but it quickly turns into a track with many different riffs and a chromatically lyricized chorus. This is one of the more upbeat tracks on Nocebo, and the best example of this is the bridge that occupies a large section from about 2:10 to 3:00.

“Valtiaan Uudet Vaateet” has a main riff that would have perfectly blended into an early Mastodon album. The chorus is also extremely catchy, capturing the essence of “scream singing,” with the emphasis on the clean aspect of the vocals. There’s also a nice guitar lead that isn’t overly showoff-ish but is extremely effective in crafting a melody. The shortest and thrashiest track on this album is “Tavastia Palamaan,” except for its catchy chorus, which is a common theme for this band. The same goes for crafting innovative bridge sections.

“Puolikas Ihminen” is slightly less thrashy than the previous track, although it has its aggressive moments. Even in its thrash sections, it still carries an upbeat sound. There’s even elements of classic country in this track’s bridge section, because…why not? It all flows so well that it really doesn’t make a difference. “Aivohalvus” is another thrashing track with another utterly fantastic bridge section. They have the elements of songwriting down to a T, and it only gets better from here.

The second half starts with “Rabies,” which contains another quasi-Mastodon riff, and I swear that I’m hearing a metalized version of an oldies song in the pre-chorus, if it can even be called that since it only shows up once. This track has the proggiest structure on here and is a highly recommended listen. The next track, “Lepositeet,” has an intro that resembles the Finnish Santana talking sensually to you while playing a beautiful riff (which comes back later) before turning into a midtempo number. Even as one of the weaker tracks on this album, it’s still solid by all metrics.

The last three tracks are among the album’s best, and would compare favorably to any consecutive three tracks on most albums. First is “Nomad,” which is the only Stam1na track across their six albums to be sung entirely in English. This sounds like it started as a creative reworking of Metallica’s “Wherever I May Roam,” which I am quite fond of in comparison to other post-Master of Puppets tracks, but “Nomad” goes far beyond the latter and morphs into a track similar to “Rabies” in structure, but is more engaging and has a great solo.

“Ei Encorea,” or “No Encore,” is another fun listen that I can’t really put my finger on in terms of describing it. It’s thrashy, while not being thrash metal, and proggy, while still carrying a relatively traditional structure. The ending, which takes the galloping chugga riff with its clean, melodic vocals, is one of the more unique features of this already creative effort. Lastly, “Arveton on Arvoton,” or “Scarless is Worthless,” has the best damn chorus on this album, and the bridge is simply stellar. Guided by a grooving bass, it unexpectedly takes a left turn into Breakdownland. For those who are trying to figure out how to make breakdowns work, this is how it’s fucking done. The chorus changes key signatures for the last go-around before fading out gracefully.

There seems to be an argument in the metal community (what? Metalheads arguing with each other? I’m shocked!) about the existence of modern thrash metal, and why it still exists. There’s one group saying “Screw that; Slayer did it 30 years ago and these new guys are posers.” The other side says “Hey man, these new thrash bands are different.” With respect to bands like Warbringer and Havok, both of whom I like, they’re not as innovative as I’d like them to be and would probably score a 3.5 or so on review (although Warbringer’s debut might be worthy of a 4.0). Stam1na, on the other hand, is way out there in terms of reinventing thrash metal. It doesn’t even feel like you’re listening to a thrash metal album, and frankly, based on what I can make of their lyrics, I don’t think the members of Stam1na really care about any of this nonsense.

The fact that they have reached as much acclaim as they have in their home country is either nothing short of a miracle, or a testament to how awesome Finland is as a country. Because when was the last time a truly innovative American band won a Grammy for hard rock/metal song or album? And for that matter, when was the last time anyone in the United States gave a crap about that particular category?

Anywho, this album rules. Stam1na rules. Listen to them.

Overall: This is right up there with Anathema’s Weather Systems for “Best Album of 2012.” 

Rating: 4.5*

Review: Edge Of Haze – Illumine

Location: Espoo, Finland
Genre: Progressive/Symphonic Doom Metal
Release: August 21, 2014
Format: MP3 (192 kbps)
Feature: Global Conquest – Upcoming Releases

By: Kris Kotlarik

I know I’m not alone in saying that there are albums that start out deceptively strong and have some innovative qualities to them, but then come away disappointed in the final outcome. Unfortunately, Edge Of Haze’s second album fits that description, but with a couple of caveats. 

“Drawn” opens off Illumine on a fantastic note; there are signs of progressive instrumentation, much in the vein of Haken. The vocals sound like they could have been delivered from Soen’s front man, which I consider to be a high compliment. It takes a while to build into it, but the payoff is quite rewarding. There’s also a section of this track that almost takes on a lounge feel to it, further pointing the needle towards Haken and their over-the-top instrumental breaks. So far, we’re off to a promising start.

Most of the tracks that follow, however, sound way too much like their fellow countryman Insomnium, who I already wrote a mixed review of earlier this year. With that said, there are some nice touches of synth, especially in “Unlearn,” and the intro to “Into The Red Sun” sounds like A Natural Disaster-era Anathema, which was a nice change of pace. 

The final two tracks return to the vibe that “Drawn” started. They don’t sound similar by a long shot; in fact, one could hear some djent or -core influences put in. It’s done in a tasteful way that makes a unique contribution to this album’s sound. The ending to “Newfound Horizon” is another unexpectedly pleasant twist.

Illumine is based loosely off of the plot from Escape From Camp 14. Those who have read the book may appreciate the lyrical content, which is already good by this genre’s generally standards, more. 

Overall: Very uneven. There’s parts of this that make me want to come back for more, while other parts are merely just tagging along for the ride.

Rating: 3.0*

 

Review: Insomnium – Shadows of the Dying Sun

Location: Joensuu, Finland
Genre: Melodic Death Metal
Released: April 25, 2014
Format reviewed: FLAC
Feature: Global Conquest – Recent Releases

By: Kris Kotlarik

Anyone who has talked to me for five minutes probably knows that Finland is my home away from home. I love it there; it’s a place where education actually makes sense, and it’s possible to get highs in the 60’s in the summer. Add Finland’s love of heavy metal (particularly its folk metal bands) to the mix, and it makes me wonder why I haven’t simply just moved there already.

During the summer of 2012, following my semester in Tampere, I went to Tuska in Helsinki. Insomnium played the smaller tent stage to a packed house and had a great set. While their newest release, Shadows of the Dying Sun, brought back some of those moments, many parts of Shadows didn’t resonate with me as much as I would’ve liked. The parts that did resonate with me, however, represent a big step forward for the band.

The bottom line is that this album sounds a little bit too much like a less anarchic/angry version of Arch Enemy. Depending on how you feel about Arch Enemy, this might be a good thing.

The main offenders are the ballad tracks and occasionally repetitive lyrics. Take these lyrics from “While We Sleep,” for example:

“When your heart gives out and your love collapses
When the hand that never lets go is there no more
When you reap and sow only throe and resentment
When there’s no one else but you to blame it for

When all you ever wish for is to go back once more
When all you ever wish for is to change it all
When all you feel is remorse, pain and regret
When you dwell in the past unable to move on”

The lyrics are relatable, but they don’t really go anywhere. With that said, there is a lovely guitar break towards the end that I’ll probably revisit several times.

“Lose To Night” and “The Promethean Song” are two balladesque tracks that feature minimal progression lyrically and are the two most skippable songs on this album. “Ephemeral” is rather poppy in its structure, which I can somewhat understand given the chorus:

“Dying doesn’t make this world dead to us
Breathing doesn’t keep the flame alive in us
Dreaming doesn’t make time less real for us
One life
One chance
All ephemeral”

Ephemeral means “lasting for a very short time.” Given the sound, I interpret the lyrics as making the most of what little relative time we have, which again comes across as very poppy. That’s not inherently a bad thing; it just doesn’t feel right in this song.

My favorite songs on Shadows are “Revelation,” “Black Heart Rebellion,” and “The River.” The latter two tracks sound like they could have been paired with Die Apokalylptischen Reiter’s “Auferstehen Soll In Herrlichkeit” from Licht. Both tracks contain some pummeling blast beats, and “The River” in particular has a fantastic layered vocal bridge.

“Revelation” is another uptempo song to a lesser extent that features some of the best all-around drumming on Shadows and also features some fantastic use of vocal dynamics. Other strong moments include a nice guitar melody in the back half of “Primeval Dark,” and the title track is a solid ending to this record.

The production here is well done and in addition to the multiple examples of vocal dynamics, the musicianship is also excellent and is surprisingly diverse as far as melodic death metal albums are concerned.

Overall: Although large chunks of this album are at least somewhat forgettable, “Black Heart Rebellion” and “The River” are more than enough to salvage it. “Revelation” and the title track further bolster Insomnium’s sixth album. 

Rating: 3.0*