Epic Song of the Week!

#28 – 17 February 2017

The Day That The World Breaks Down” by Ayreon

Goodness gracious me.

It’s very rare that a song makes me actually smile, utter “wow”, and even chuckle within its duration. Any song with a 13-minute duration has far more leeway to do so, granted – even so, I don’t think I was quite braced for the joy I would feel listening to this, even knowing many of Arjen Anthony Lucassen’s previous works with Ayreon and Star One (I featured the latter here in January last year). And let me be clear – this is not a happy song by any stretch of the imagination – far from it, being about a machine uprising gone horribly awry – but the utterly palpable amount of sheer bliss that I was experiencing was largely down to the familiarity of the numerous talents on show, and it was unlike anything I’ve felt in a long time.

The video, incidentally, is rather unlike any I’ve seen from an official upload. Dispensing with the formalities of a full-on music video or lyric video, the visuals here are rather like a slideshow of designer art and various pre-recorded shots of the myriad performers – seemingly all recorded in different countries or states altogether – complete with color commentary from the man himself, Arjen, in the form of captions at the bottom of the screen. Rarely do you see such in-depth commentary from an official upload. It’s distinctly jocular and informal too, going as far as to use internetisms like “WTF” and winky text emotes. It is still extremely well put together at a professional standard and absolutely lifts the experience of listening, however. The background artwork shown offers a unique sense of foreboding and bizarre, morbid mystery that intrigues me about the concept of this album.

To the music itself, then. There are more performers here just doing vocals alone than I can count on my two hands (not that my hands have an abnormal number of digits), and all who appear on the album are featured on this, the opening track. An atmospheric beginning builds into an expertly-performed flute solo, with a violin laying out the song’s prime melody in a beautiful fusion with the heavy drums and guitars. The song remains pretty heavy, if not exceptionally engaging and energetic, for its entire duration.

I immediately recognise James LaBrie (Dream Theater)’s silky tones during the intro verse, whose performance is definitely quality, though nothing immediately super-special to me personally. However, the moment Tommy Karevik (Seventh Wonder, Kamelot) enters, the song is lifted up several notches. His pinpoint-precision command of the human voice is astonishing to behold – a top-notch performance, and I can’t wait to hear more from him. Tommy Rogers (Between the Buried and Me) and Simone Simons (Epica) join forces for the next segment, offering passionate alternating multi-layered vocals. Nils K Rue (Pagan’s Mind) offers a handful of impressively forceful, aggressive lines of doomsaying before the lengthy and powerful solo section that leads into the central part of the song.

More characters such as Tobias Sammet (Avantasia, Edguy), Hansi Kursch (Blind Guardian) and Michael Mills (Toehider) join in, their vocals offering every register that the male voice seems capable of. Tobias’s scheming mid-lows and impassioned highs are very impressive, and Hansi’s performance is aptly likened to a cry from a mountain by Arjen’s subtitles. The short vocal interlude provided by Mills, with its tight and intense soaring harmonies, and its lyrics sung in binary (yes, individual zeroes and ones) would have to be the highlight of the entire song for me, personally. Never before have eight relatively straightforward chords sounded so perfectly connected.

The song gets better. A bluesy bass-driven solo leads into the appearance of Russell Allen (Symphony X, Adrenaline Mob) who I just love to hear in any context, and his gruff but well-felt performance makes for a perfect introduction to his character. Half a minute later the familiarly soulful tones of Michael Eriksen (Circus Maximus) enter the fore, and I distinctly remember the moment I recognised his voice, and it was literally an “oh crap” moment. In the best way possible.

Floor Jansen (Nightwish) enters for the very last verse, calling back to the one sung by Rue (five and a half minutes ago). Her performance shines as bright as all the others’ easily, her power and passion marking a fitting climax to this thirteen-minute monster.

Don’t just take my word for it, Arjen himself praises the performances of every musician on show here, especially those of the instrumentalists, very succinctly in his commentary throughout this video. I urge anyone and everyone who digs heavy metal – plain or progressive – to check this one out. I still can’t stop smiling.


New Epic Song of the Week every Friday that I remember.

#27 – 3 February 2017: “Feed the Machine” by Nickelback »

Feed the Machine” by Nickelback

So Nickelback came out with a new song, the title track off their still-to-come latest record, and, well, everyone’s massively surprised that it’s a really good song. I guess I’m featuring it here not because it blew my mind, but that it certainly subverted expectation. It seems to mark a bit of a change in the Nickelback that is infamous amongst many listeners and lovers of rock and metal, and the reception of this one has been overwhelmingly positive.

I ought to promise to avoid repeating featuring a track here based largely upon what other people think of it, but to catch everyone off-guard with a song like this is pretty epic on NB’s part, I gotta say.

The song is a catchy, mid-tempo number, heavily political and self-reflective in its lyrics and highly relevant to our world’s current goings-on. There are some really neat melodic moments, like the major harmonics that intersperse the otherwise bluesy/minor guitar riff. The digital effects processing is subtle and nuanced, rather than being in your face (I feel like I detect a hint of auto-tune on the lead vocals, though), and the mix is exceptionally well-balanced, with the multiple guitar parts all having time and space to flourish.

So yeah, give this one a listen, it’ll almost definitely be worth your time.

#26 – 14 October 2016: “Ghost Ship” by Theocracy »

Ghost Ship” by Theocracy

This band blows my mind and I kind of just stumbled on them like… half an hour ago?

Everything in this song screams energy, the constantly sky-high vocal lines, the mesmerising rhythmic switch-up in the chorus, the twisted solos and machinegun drumming.  The lyrics also are commanding, poetic, and imperative, and all too keen to get sailing on the adventure of a lifetime. It’s got a serious kick to it not unlike Affector‘s powerfully melodious music – it’s power metal, but though the track title might lead to believe otherwise, not exactly folk/pirate metal – it’s got smatterings of epic symphonic arrangements fitting for a high seas escapade, but it rhythmically hammers away without relent and throws unexpected minor and diminished chords your way to impart its urgency. That said, it sounds a bit pop-infused too – just a smidge, not offensively so. Heck, that gets it firmly ingrained in my brain, and that’s kind of one of the criteria for this feature. And the best part is I know this isn’t gonna be the only epic this band have crafted. I’m gonna start surfing the seas of the web on a quest to unearth everything they’ve done that is relevant to my interests – which I don’t hesitate to estimate is all of it.

Can’t wait to blast this out of my speakers again in the morning once the folks around me are actually awake. Christian metal’s damn great, y’know.

#25 – 23 September 2016: “Three Lives” by Octavision »

Three Lives” by Octavision

Instrumental metal is so fuckin’ good, man. Just… yeah.

#24 – 19 August 2016: “Dear Dead Days” by Frost* »

Dear Dead Days” by Frost*

I am close to the end of my third year at uni – the finale of which is a recital I myself have to put on, all featuring music I have written and arranged. A daunting task, but if there’s one very positive takeaway from it, it’s that I have the support of an incredibly like-minded tutor who has very generously pointed me towards a huge assortment of music to draw inspiration from. There is a lot of music out there that I am simply not listening to even though it’s so entirely my thing.

Frost* are a UK neo-progressive rock group I’ve only heard in passing beforehand after I randomly clicked on their video for “Heartstrings” which is a single off their forthcoming album. For some reason I kinda forgot about it, even though I did enjoy the music. Something was a bit distinctly “poppy” about the sound of it, which may have colored it in a certain way for me. It wasn’t until I listened to their sophomore album Experiments in Mass Appeal that I realised the unreal musicianship of this band.

There’s so much going on here. It’s almost an overwhelming barrage of musical ideas. The ups and downs of it are erratic and unexpected. Placid sections of almost complete silence save for gentle piano and vocals transition abruptly into alarming, chaotic synth-driven passages in unusual time signatures. Arpeggiated chords scatter high and low over the rock-band background track like machinegun fire. The keyboard textures go to utterly crazy places in blistering solos and explosive bridges. This is all coming from a progressive rock group whose frontman specialises in pop production, so the resulting sound is absolutely out of this world. Crazy good.

Excuse me while I go listen to the rest of their stuff immediately.

#23 – 18 June 2016: “Animal” by DGM »

Animal” by DGM

I was talking to a friend of mine the other day that with some bands that take say 3 or 4 years between albums, the wait feels like an eternity. And others not so much, perhaps. I suppose it’s dependent on how great the anticipation is. I can say that my anticipation for another album from Italian power-prog metal behemoths DGM is borderline explosive.

Much like this track, really. As with any DGM song, it keeps pounding along and barely relents all throughout its five minute duration, every bar seemingly jam-packed with fiery riffs, crazy harmonics, admirable vocal technique and insane drumming. These guys time and time again prove to be masters of their craft and I’m so happy they’re coming out with a new record – one that would seem to be a much more highly-evolved, refined piece of art that has come from all members of the band giving it their all. And that’s certainly not to say there’s an evident dearth of effort on their previous works, no sir – with such records as FrAme (2009) and Momentum (2013) already under their belt, they are a seriously formidable force. I can only imagine what mindblowing musicianship awaits on this disc.

The album’s due out later this year on August 26th. In the meantime, check out this friendly little promo video they’ve done on it. And get hyped.

#22 – 14 May 2016: “Gone Tomorrow (Here Today)” by Keith Urban »

Gone Tomorrow (Here Today)” by Keith Urban

Not big on country music myself, but when a song opens with such a cool banjo line like that, I know I’m in for a journey.

I enjoy when a song kind of eschews the apparently enforced pigeon-holing of genres to focus on pure musicianship. Certainly this guy can write songs, and he doesn’t care if he pairs a banjo playing a kind of metal-fueled lead melody along with electronic pop backing. The end result is still a very positively structured song that puts all the actual notes in a rightful place, to create a powerful overall tune, and a highly memorable and catchy album opener. I want to keep listening to the rest of the record (and that I very much did).

What really sticks out to me in this song, as a music geek, is the interplay between the majors and minors. Things that keep a song interesting, especially one that is otherwise built like a “pop” song, are when the music subverts expectation, excites the mind, keeps the listener guessing. And if there’s one genre that makes every effort to keep things completely and totally predictable, it’s pop, so hearing a song like this one is very refreshing.

It also helps that the guy has a damn good voice. He flawlessly reaches those unpredictable intervals in the music, and it packs a lot of punch, particularly in the chorus. Though I have to say I can’t really get enough of those major-minor verses. Beautiful compositional work there.

By the way, if you’re okay with country/pop, I recommend listening to all 13 tracks on the full album. It’s worth your time.

#21 – 6 May 2016: “Vanishing Rites” by Caligula’s Horse »

Vanishing Rites” by Caligula’s Horse

Is this djents?

Some time ago I was introduced to the band Arcane (and it’s somewhat criminal that I haven’t featured them on this page before now, I need to get on that). Jim Grey is a fantastic lead vocalist and songwriter, so it was great to discover him in another band. Doubly so to find that Caligula’s Horse are a Perth act, also specialising in prog metal. Well that sells it for me.

This song starts out moody and swung, but quickly becomes aggressive and unpredictable, bouncing to and fro between different rhythms and harmonic content, and then unleashes pure melodic insanity during the breakdown in the middle. The chorus is only played twice, with a complex chordal progression repeated several times instead towards the end of the song, this “B section” interspersed with a bunch of progressive and funky solos. There’s some really interesting and admirable rhythmic work going on in particular, with the drummer having many hoops to jump through, yet interplaying perfectly with the guitar.

Will definitely be checking out more of their stuff. Very clever compositional work going on here, and from the small amount of their work I’ve sampled so far, that seems to be their approach.

#20 – 15 Apr 2016: “The Endless Knot” by Haken »

The Endless Knot” by Haken asdfasdsadfasffafsfaf *foaming at the mouth* PROG METAL IS GOOD THIS IS GOOD THIS IS REALLY REALLY GOOD I AM GOING TO DIE

#19 – 25 Mar 2016: “Weakness” by Opeth »

Weakness” by Opeth Opeth are an interesting band for sure. I confess to not being such a fan of their own heavy/progressive death metal approach that many are religiously fond of, and inversely being a serious fan of their latest two albums Heritage and Pale Communion, so for that opinion I might well be branded a heretic. These two albums take 70’s prog rock worship to the nth degree, creating unearthly soundscapes and having masterfully-crafted jazzy and folkish melodies that take you on a hallucination-like journey through dark, baleful worlds. Echoes of what they would do on those albums are present here on Damnation, their 2003 release which saw a radical departure from the aggressive style that originally thrust them into popularity with the death metal crowd. This album is slightly less of an homage to the progressive and psychedelic rock of decades gone (though the band are still not above using mellotrons!), and more of a mellowed-out approach to their own compositional style – chilled, or perhaps chilling. The rampant aggression of the band’s earlier works is utterly absent here – but it’s no less heavy or hard-hitting. So what’s cool about this song? Well, admittedly it’s perhaps the most minimal composition on the album, and it is the album closer, so maybe it’s a bit of an odd choice. There aren’t even any drums, it’s just bass, keyboards and vocals, and a pinch of actual lead guitar. But the peculiarly dissonant melody and low, minimal vocals working together are nothing short of spellbinding.  I know the key of E minor is buried in there somewhere in those haunting, jarring notes, but I’m buggered if I can play the melody myself by ear. That doesn’t happen often, where a song truly bumfuzzles me, but I have to admire it deeply. For what it’s worth, I had a tough time not mentioning any of the other songs on this album here, because there’s simply too much positive stuff to say about it. It’s great from start to finish – here’s the playlist for your enjoyment, and heck, maybe it’s better if you listen to the album’s finale track in its intended context, i.e. after everything else. Go on, it’s not even three-quarters of an hour, and it goes by quick because of how much has been crammed into the tracks. Opeth knew what they wanted when they wrote this album, and like all great artists, they were able to visualise something very powerful, complex as it was, and create it in a masterful manner – and that’s exemplified by “Weakness”. Lovely stuff.

#18 – 19 Mar 2016: “Tomorrow Never Knows” by The Beatles »

Tomorrow Never Knows” by The Beatles Well, here’s a song , and a group, that couldn’t really be any less widely-regarded already. The Beatles are immortal, basically, and it’s still a crime against music that I haven’t taken in as much of their music. Truth is they’ve always been a bit… daunting to me. Like, there’s just so much music by them written over generations – where do I begin? And what if I don’t… like it? Or get it? What would be thought of me? Would I lose my music license? Would I not be allowed to listen to things anymore? At the end of the day, the Beatles is just great music. Not worth overthinking – but so worth just listening to, however seriously or casually you want to take that. Luckily I’ve had the good fortune to get involved in a Beatles/Beach Boys tribute concert at my university, for which I will be writing and hopefully performing in a piece with a small ensemble based on this song off The Beatles’ Revolver, an album which was released on 5th August 1966 – exactly 50 years ago. Twice as long ago as that fateful November evening I was thrust into this world. This is a song as old as me again. And here I am listening to it on a website-based streaming service, beamed to my lap-sized computing device via electronic waves at unthinkable speed (adjusting for Australian download speeds, of course). Technology, ain’t it a thing. Where was I. Oh yes, song. “Tomorrow Never Knows” is a trip, for sure. Psychedelic, psychological and I daresay psychotherapeutic. Something tranquilising is embedded deeply in the notes and the textures here. Something from another world. It’s either the ethereal feel of Ringo’s cymbals washing over you like an electrical storm, or the distorted mewlings of Lennon and the lyrics pertaining to the condition of being, or the crazy assault of trumpets that occur midway through. It’s a song that sticks in the mind – perhaps because it is of the mind. Or something. Normally I can write more coherently than this. I might be high off this song right now, honestly.

#17 – 12 Mar 2016: “Hit Me” by Dirty Loops »

Hit Me” by Dirty Loops Occasionally I hit upon a song that I just know is a shoo-in for ESOTW. In this case it’s only been 5 minutes since I hit “play” on this thing and now here I am typing up the obligatory blurb on this here blog. For real. I’m sort of hoping you’ve tapped that play button by now as well. Only took me like 5 seconds to decide that that video was getting included here. Because god damn, there are some excellent musicians out there, and their works are just sitting here on YouTube for the uninformed to stumble across! It’s a testament to how worth the time it is to just browse YouTube or Spotify or your music platform of choice with no definite objective – only to pick up as many new artists as possible – because every now and then you’re going to come across an act or artist or band that, well, hits all the right notes with you. So yeah, these guys. I know very little about them as it stands, but I know I’m gonna check out more of their stuff now because this song had me positively hypnotised. It’s not only the incredibly tight musicianship on display from all four of the band members (they’re a three-piece singer/keyboardist-drummer-bassist group), but the astonishing compositional quality of the song. There’s so much going on – not just every note, but every rest, every break in the song, every subtle variation in dynamics and timbre, is masterfully positioned. I can’t decide whether my favorite aspect of it all is the bassist’s ridiculous thrumming rolls, or the singer’s utterly crazy vocal licks,  or the drummer’s ruthlessly impeccable timing and underpinning of everything. I might have bias, but the keyboards in this are utterly enthralling to listen to and might be the thing that separates this out from the crowd for me. Style-wise, they’re a bit different to what I usually listen to, as they have a bit of an R&B/pop feel to them while maintaining a firm footing in the universe of jazz and funk, ground which is still unfamiliar to me (though not at all unpleasant) – and honestly it works so well. It’s like the marriage of sounds and genres here was specifically chosen to create a type of music that is meant to be a pure or perfect blend of everything conceivable in the world of popular music – lovingly crafted and embellished with as many melodic and rhythmic change-ups as the mind can be expected to appreciate, and honestly it hits that sweet spot right on the noggin. So yeah, listen to this. Multiple times, in fact.

#16 – 26 Feb 2016: “The Pattern” by Jolly »

The Pattern” by Jolly (skip to 1:23 for song start) More proggy metal. I am both apologetic, and the diametric opposite of that. Jolly are an intriguing band. They have a strangely laissez-faire attitude about both their songs and videos, and seem to be insanely creative individuals, doing all their videos themselves as well. Their music , even on the same albums, veers from jaunty, upbeat pop rock that one could easily dance to, to seriously balls-heavy djent. It’s hard to pin down the aesthetic they’re going for, but I guess “jolly” sums it up quite succinctly. Child-like. Carefree. Comedic. They know they’re prog and proud of it. This track in particular is one of their more serious ventures. An introspective lyrical subject matter accompanied by heavy guitars hammering out constant semiquavers high and low, and the keyboard backing providing a certain edge and atmosphere to this track, evoking a deep sense of unsurety and weakness, though that may have something to do with the disturbingly eventless video that goes along with it. Chord changes, especially those in the chorus, amplify the everpresent and morose tension. The guitars rarely go to places you’d rightfully expect them to. The intervals that appear throughout the verses and the after-breakdown are placed strategically to mess with the listener’s mind, as if to fuel disbelief in them, or possibly to hint at auditory hallucinations. The breakdown that creeps in in the middle is masterfully done, with the main melody schizophrenically jumping and falling over itself into a chaotic, doom-metal, djenty crunch-up. The fact that everything stays fervently in time and common meter while this ceaseless sonic chaos is unfolding only adds to the rampant unease pervading the entirety of this track. It’s unruly and disquieting, particularly with the video, but a thoroughly great listen, as are all of Jolly’s other songs currently on YouTube, many of which hit hard in more ways than one. Jolly loves me, and I love Jolly too.

#15 – 5 Feb 2016: “Welcome to Mercy Falls” by Seventh Wonder »

Welcome to Mercy Falls” by Seventh Wonder Back to somewhat familiar ground here. Anyone who knows me knows that this kind of thing is basically all I listen to. Mercy Falls is the third album, and so far the first concept album, by this Swedish progressive metal band Seventh Wonder. It’s a really seriously solid album but for a few cheesy quirks, mostly in terms of a few tiny and excusable moments of dubious lyrics and voice-acting. The story the album follows is quite a powerful and emotionally-involved one, revolving around the experiences of a man dreaming while he lies comatose in hospital, and the trials of his family and doctors who are unable to wake him even after severe surgical procedures. While dreaming, he finds peace in the fictional town of Mercy Falls, where people in such a state allegedly reside before either awakening or transgressing to the afterlife. Musically, the album is a fantastic showcase of talent, with the incredible Tommy Karevik possessing a voice I immediately fell in love with. This song is perhaps one of the more impressive performances by him on the album – a shame, then, that it’s only the first song on the album with his vocals (the track is preceded by two prelude/overture tracks, which in my own opinion are mostly superfluous), leading to potentially overlifted expectations for the rest of this very intense and virtually unrelenting 74-minute prog metal album. Lyrically there are some occasional wincy moments, mainly because Tommy just seems to be on high gear for almost the entire time and belts everything to the heavens, so the message is left a little jarring when the lyrics are grammatically flawed or the wording is cheesy as all get-out. This song doesn’t suffer from that, though, and Tommy’s voice is free to soar and dive as gracefully as it does. The melismatic runs he’s able to do are frankly astounding, and his range, particularly in the belting area, is seriously formidable. The vocals aren’t exactly the only strong part of this song, however. Guitarist Johan Liefvendahl and keyboardist Andreas “Kyrt” Söderin make this track a forceful, hyperstimulating experience of heavy, rhythmic guitar riffs coupled with delicate pianos and soaring strings. Right from the get-go, Johan’s guitar growls out a melody that just exudes power from every angle. And that’s to say nothing of Johnny Sandin’s drumming, which truly makes everything gel together. The chorus is probably the most impressive part of this song, and everything that bookends it, in fact – with Johnny’s solo drumming always seeming wildly complex just as it leads into the refrain, and Tommy putting on a stellar show as he makes short work of the demanding high notes and runs. Every chord in this song appears to have been masterfully chosen and placed, and is perhaps never quite the one you’d expect, particularly during the key changes near the beginning and towards the end. Still, the whole song is terribly good, and sets high expectations for the rest of the album – which you may be pleased to know that after having listened several times, it really does not wholly disappoint. Emotionally charged, hectic, and technically astonishing from start to finish. Great stuff, Seventh Wonder.

#14 – 29 Jan 2016: “Planet Earth 1993 (Blue)” by Cosmic Baby »

Planet Earth 1993 (Blue)” by Cosmic Baby

God I’m a sucker for marimbas, or really any kind of classical percussion, especially when it’s fused with electronic music.

Cosmic Baby, aka Harald Blüchel, has created a masterfully-blended piece of techno trance with this tune. It doesn’t exactly overload the listener with complex musical ideas, or ever stray too far from the territories it establishes early on, but that’s far from the intention here. There’s still a great deal going on – mellow guitars tucked away in the background, bouncy synths occupying both the higher and lower registers, and probably the best damn electronic toms I’ve heard in a long time. A wailing female vocal hovers into view on occasion, lending a strange tribal feel to this otherwise heavily synthetic universe of sound. The occasional key changes are somewhat magical, too. The whole thing takes the mind away for six stellar but seemingly short-lived minutes – one is back in the real world all too soon.

I highly recommend listening to the whole album, which incidentally is Blüchel’s musical debut, released in 1992. It’s blissful spacey trance, and there’s heavy Kraftwerk and Tangerine Dream influence detectable, and that can’t ever be a bad thing, surely.

#13 – 22 Jan 2016: “California Dreamin’” cover by The Beach Boys »

California Dreamin’” cover by The Beach Boys Continuing on the Californian theme from last week. 😛 This track appeared on the Beach Boys’ Made in U.S.A. compilation album, which is required listening for anyone (such as myself) wanting to acquaint themselves with their work. Featured as the very last track (out of 35!), it closes the album with this melancholy, religious song that still lifts the spirits. This is a song that has been recorded to death. Perhaps the most well-known version of the song is the original by The Mamas & the Papas, having been composed by John and Michelle Phillips of the group. Their version is the timeless classic that would go on to be recorded by a whole heap of other artists, but I have to say, The Beach Boys’ version seems to be neater – the vocals are just so unmistakably Beach Boys, with their incredibly tight harmonies and fantastic emotive tones all around. The twelve-string guitar in the intro is positively pristine as well, plus that alto sax solo is a killer addition – I think I prefer it to the alto flute solo in TMATP’s version.  The whole song just seems more uptempo and together in the cover. Not to decry the Phillips’ songwriting abilities, of course, as it was they that gave us this song in the first place. The song is a relatively simple, midtempo guitar-centric piece in C# minor, its frequent use of the major chord V producing beautifully-layered vocal harmonies from the singers, which, as to be expected, the Boys pull off brilliantly. The song is only 3 minutes long but it packs quite a lot of simply great stuff into that time frame. Very happy to have found this song, it’s just way up my street.

#12 – 15 Jan 2016: “San Narciso” by Faded Paper Figures »

San Narciso” by Faded Paper Figures Now some catchy indie pop, if the iron-like taste of space metal is still lingering in your ears from last week. Faded Paper Figures are a trio from L.A., California. I’d describe their music as “colorful” above all else. It paints imagery, all the textures and sounds and words coming together to form a cohesive image that fills the head with swirls of ink and blotches of paint like a child’s first work. It’s playful, heartfelt, occasionally melancholy, and you could probably spend hours trying to work out the underlying meaning beneath it all. Of course, I might have just described it that way because I also checked out this video of their song “Breathing”, which might be the most colorful thing I’ve seen on YouTube. I can see they have an aesthetic they like to adhere to both visually and aurally, though. But back to “San Narciso”. I won’t lie, I’m too addicted to metal and its various subgenres and I need to listen to more of this kind of stuff, bottom line. It’s really the kind of thing I think I should be writing myself – technical, yet familiar and “hooky”. Not a huge amount going on, no crazy melodies or solos, just cool, mellow music. The minor-sounding opening chords are seemingly present throughout the whole song, and the electronic backing is rich and full, keeping active and steady but still with a lot on show. Every listenthrough unveils something hidden shyly beneath the surface, like the occasional 7th chord, or a crystalline arpeggio glimmering in the distant background, or the pitter-patter of a subtle electronic tom roll. I love when music keeps serving up subtle little surprises like this. The lyrics are interesting and unique with lines like “falling into vorticist dreams” and “circuits installing these silicone dreams” describing, in my mind, some kind of super-future of neon and robots, where happiness is synthesized, just as the music itself is doing. Two singers make an appearance here, with R. John Williams, and Heather Alden offering soft, downplayed vocals in both the male and female varieties which are still crisp and clear. Williams hums thoughtfully to himself after the chorus, while synths prance and pirouette in the background. A pleasant experience from start to finish, and while the song is perhaps rather short to be considered a “journey”, it certainly has provided a sensation of movement into some other world and time. This is, of course, the opening track of “The Matter” (the pictured album), so excuse me while I go listen to the track again and then the rest of the album, to resume and conclude my journey.

#11 – 8 Jan 2016: “Victim of the Modern Age” by Star One »

Victim of the Modern Age” by Star One We kick off this year with a good bit of heavy prog/space metal. Star One is a supergroup organised by Arjen Anthony Lucassen, which gathers four well-known vocalists from four other heavy metal projects. Lucassen is a ridiculously talented musician, able to seemingly handle every single instrument in the heavy metal music cabinet. His works are always heavily guitar-driven though quite keyboard-centric, and epic in terms of subject matter, with every track mattering as part of an overarching theme. Star One’s two albums make heavy references to sci-fi and film culture, each track separately being inspired by different movies like Blade Runner, Planet of the Apes, The Matrix and in this track’s case, A Clockwork Orange. I have to say that my love for Symphony X maestro Russell Allen‘s vocal work is what drew me to this particular track – he handles the verses very well, especially with the “hell yeah” he belts out at 3:02. Additionally we have Floor Jansen, the current soprano for Nightwish, also making a stellar performance on this track, with some high female vocals to lift the epic choir-like feel of the group to otherwise unattainable places. Damian Wilson of Threshold and Headspace fame – as well as Dan-Erland Swanö, a vocalist with an apparently innumerable amount of projects under his belt judging from his Wikipedia page – also make an appearance in this group, and respectively deliver high, melodramatic clean vocals, and heavy growls and screamed vocals that lift the music to new angelic (and demonic) heights. “Victim of the Modern Age” is heavy and lengthy, but paces itself very well. Better get used to the opening riff because you’re gonna be hearing it in just about every key imaginable. Starting in E, it takes the phrygian mode and spices it up with major-sounding leading tones and mediants, which gives it an almost “Baroque” essence. During the minimal verses, Allen sings over the top of this riff in unconventional but excellent harmony. Once the choruses kick in, we’re back on familiar ground with relatively simple Aeolian chords, and all four vocalists make an appearance, overlapping one another, sonically crowding around the protagonist (our fellow Alex) and assuring him that they “know what’s right for you!”. Once the second chorus is done, the song transitions key through an explosive high harmony provided by Jansen, into a repetition of the main riff which goes down and down and down, switching key in steps consistent with B minor, backed by Lucassen’s keyboards all the way. It’s a really interesting musical idea despite its rampant repetitive nature – the guitar riff only uses three notes but each key change sounds so wholly different from the last. At the end of this sequence, the music screeches to a stop, and Swanö enters, proclaiming “violence makes violence”, each repetition of the line adding another harmony onto his vocal, culminating in a heavy dominant major chord before he casts all of the build-up aside and screams the line from the very bowel of his lungs. His style to me seems highly reminiscent of Allen’s cleanish-growled vocals, but here it’s a turning of those up to 11. Great job, guys. All the vocals on this album are magnificent – these are four of what I would definitely class among the best in the business all sing on these tracks, creating beautiful harmonies and incredibly powerful moments. I highly recommend listening to this album’s track “Digital Rain“, too – if anything Swanö and Allen’s vocals are even more impressive here, with Jansen, Wilson, and Swanö all accompanying one another sans any backing whatsoever to lead beautifully into Allen’s belted high C# in conclusion. Definitely check out this whole album, and the album “Space Metal” by the same group, released 7 years prior. It even has a song about shitting in space. So that’s fun.

Go to this page for all Epic Song entries pre-2016.