Artist: Andy Gillion
Album Title: Neverafter
Label: Independent Release
Date of Release: 15 November 2019
My awareness of Andy Gillion began when the guitarist and songwriter joined the ranks of Mors Principium Est in 2011. The Englishman, now based in Australia, became an integral member of the Finnish melodic death metal outfit, with the most recent outings garnering some praise from yours truly. I even awarded ‘Embers Of A Dying World’ a coveted spot in my 2017 end-of-year ‘best of’ list. Who needs the Grammys eh?!
Since connecting with Mr Gillion on social media, I have become acutely aware of his talents with the guitar but also that he is a talented songwriter of video game music amongst other things. Oh and the guy has a great sense of humour – if you doubt this, I urge you to check out his ‘sock of doom’ video, which had me in stitches for hours.
All of this is largely irrelevant to this review except that it helps to explain my mindset leading to hearing ‘Neverafter’ for the first time. Would I end up listening to some serious melodic death metal, a video game score, or would this be a more tongue-in-cheek release, with his mischievous side emerging through the record?
The answer is that ‘Neverafter’ is 100% serious and professional but from a musical standpoint, it is a blend of many things, some of which I was expecting and others I was perhaps not. However, the final product is really rather good and something of which Andy Gillion should be rightfully proud. From a selfish point of view, I am very pleased that Gillion’s music was apparently rejected for a horror film; I can’t stand horror and it was out of this rejection and the music created for that, that ‘Neverafter’ was born. For me, it’s a win-win!
The biggest compliment I believe that I can pay Andy Gillion is to say that he has a very distinctive and surprisingly unique playing style. I was always an admirer of his playing within Mors Principium Est, but I wasn’t necessarily expecting to listen to ‘Neverafter’ and say, ‘I recognise this technique’ or ‘I recognise that style’. And yet that’s exactly what has happened here. Guitarists are ten a penny these days, with undeniable shredding abilities at every turn. But, in the case of Gillion, he offers something more than just fast solos, wild runs and impressive lead breaks; he delivers musicality to supplement his technical proficiency. The song writing prowess that the guy has in spades helps to improve his six-string playing immeasurably, as does his ability to turn a solo into the sound of liquid gold. And this is the record that hammers this latter point home.
‘Neverafter’ is an album that borrows from every corner of Gillion’s influences and inspiration. As such, this record is atmospheric, multi-faceted, layered and highly engaging. I normally deride instrumental records for being boring and one-dimensional but ‘Neverafter’ feels like it is a story. One minute, we’re listening to sharp riffs and fast licks, the next we’re taken down a more dreamlike path where the mood softens and the dramatic, often cinematic symphonics increase to great effect. ‘Becoming The Nightmare’ is a prime example of this as it follows through on all this as well as offering a neoclassical bent at times too.
But, whilst this is in no way a melodic death metal album, there are shades and echoes of Gillion’s work with Mors Principium Est littered throughout ‘Neverafter’, with the exceptional ‘Black Lotus’ being one of the more pronounced examples. So despite the lack of vocals, it should appeal to fans of extreme metal too.
The quality continues with ‘Skyless’, one of my favourite tracks on the entire album. The fact that it features the talents of guest guitarist Jeff Loomis (ex-Nevermore, Arch Enemy) is just the icing on the cake. To me though, despite the powerful drumming, driving rhythms and tinkling, atmospheric symphonics, it is the strength of the melodies that shines through the most. The composition, demonstrating Gillions skills in this area, is full of light and shade, twisting and turning throughout, but we are never more than a few seconds from a beautiful melody, be it as the result of an emotive lead break or central lead line.
Having said that, there are no end to the excellent and striking melodies on ‘Neverafter’. For example, there’s the mid-section to the generally more abrasive ‘Aria’ which is so delicate and stunningly beautiful. I’m also a sucker for the incredibly delightful ‘Hiraeth’, which dials down the pace and allows the melodies and ethereal atmosphere to shine through. It is within this song that the gorgeous touch, feel and delicacy of Andy Gillion’s playing is brought right to the fore. I could happily listen to this song even if it was triple the length, it’s that good.
To be honest, the more I listen to this entire album, the better it gets and I could easily wax lyrical about any of the eleven tracks here. Andy Gillion has created a quite magical instrumental metal record that keeps my attention throughout, tells a story in three vivid dimensions, and keeps me coming back for frequent repeated listens. Not at all shabby for someone who doesn’t really like instrumental albums! Kudos, Andy, very nicely done indeed.
The Score of Much Metal: 91%
You can also check out my other reviews from previous years right here: