Australia – A New Powerhouse For Heavy Music?
I hadn’t planned on writing this post but all of a sudden, I felt compelled to do so. In recent months, I have been completely blown away by the quality of music being produced by some Australian artists and I wanted to bring this to people’s attention more.
As a brief aside from an English perspective, we have an interesting relationship with our Antipodean cousins. When it comes to sport, we love to ‘hate’ each other, sworn enemies on whatever pitch or court we find ourselves on. There are also those on both sides that would welcome an Australian split from the Commonwealth. But (and it’s a big but), I firmly believe that there’s great affection between us. How else could you explain the large numbers of Brits that emigrate ‘down under’ (apart from the weather of course) and the large number of Australians that have found themselves here in Blighty, many of whom have stayed and never left? Moreover, I have had the pleasure of meeting and speaking with many Aussies and almost to a person, the experience has been extremely positive.
And for those of you wondering, I’m not for one second suggesting that Australia has always been a wilderness of heavy metal. I’m aware that several very notable bands have surfaced over the years and achieved varying levels of success. AC/DC are clearly high on the list, but over the years, the list includes the likes of Airbourne, Psycroptic and Sadistik Exekution and many more, all very worthy in their own right. It is just that in recent months, every Australian release that I have spent time with has been good enough to make me consider rewarding it with full marks upon review. In my world, Australia is now a by-word for damn great heavy music.
By now, I’m sure you’re asking me to cut the waffle and get down to business. Well, in no particular order, here goes:
Vanishing Point – ‘Distant Is The Sun’
As previous blogs have explored, my love affair with Vanishing Point stretches back nearly a decade and a half. And their brand new album ‘Distant Is The Sun’, is the best this quintet have sounded since 2000’s ‘Tangled In Dream’ and has really impressed me. To the point that the band have regained their mantle as my ‘go-to’ band when I want to listen to melodic heavy metal.
There is still an element of prog about the compositions on what is arguably Vanishing Point’s most consistent body of work since the turn of the millennium. There’s the odd interesting time signature or quirky riff but it’s not overdone and it doesn’t ever rob the music of it’s immediacy. And whilst ‘Distant Is The Sun’ is immediate thanks to some cracking huge choruses and memorable hooks, it is a heavier, darker affair with a true metal vibe that permeates through the huge riffs and the overall tempo of the music. This is melodic metal with proper bite.
Voyager – ‘V’
‘V’ is rapidly turning into one of my favourite discs of 2014. I cannot for the life of me remove it from my playlists at the moment. The album is too damn catchy, too much fun and too well produced not to be a massive hit with me and so it has proved.
Those familiar with my blog will be sick of hearing it, but in terms of production, heavy metal doesn’t get much better – ‘V’ sounds fantastic thanks to a wonderful clarity of sound that is married nicely with enough punch to give the metal element real strength.
From a musical standpoint, the compositions are a really addictive blend of quirky, progressive metal and 80s pop. Vocalist Daniel Estrin has a tone that really invites the 80s references and does divide opinion somewhat. Personally, I love his delivery and find that his singing really compliments both the heavy riffing of the verses as well as those garagantuan choruses. If you want music that’s going to make you grin from ear to ear, this is the album for you.
Aeon Of Horus – Existence
As I stated previously, Aeon Of Horus play the kind of extreme metal that I want to listen to. On the one hand, you’re handed an aural beating at the hands of a relentlessly uncompromising rhythm section, savage riffs and vocals that sound like they have been ripped straight out of hell. On the other, there’s a sensitive and nicely understated use of melody that helps to break up the brutality and offer something to entice listeners in for repeated spins. There’s even an occasional foray into more atmospheric, ambient territory which juxtaposes the extremity really nicely indeed.
And, if that wasn’t enough, the whole thing is held together by an impressive level of technicality that, in the hands of those less well-skilled and dextrous, would end up sounding messy to say the least. Not so here, as every passage of music is crisp, clear and surgically precise. Put simply, this is a killer extreme metal record.
Karnivool – Asymmetry
This album was one big surprise for me when it was released. I have it’s predecessor in my collection and I enjoy listening to it from time to time. However, Karnivool threw a bit of a curveball with ‘Asymmetry. And after an initial period of disorientation, I cannot tell you what a great curveball it has turned out to be.
The reliance on the band’s highly talented rhythm section remains on ‘Asymmetry’ and, if anything, it has been enhanced even further. This time around, there’s a demonstrable Tool vibe to much of the material in terms of the way that Karnivool seem to enjoy toying with the listener. Tracks build to the point where they threaten to open up into a giant crescendo or spiral out of control. But, at the last minute, the brakes are applied and the explosion never happens. And yet, for all the teasing and overt technicality, the compositions remain compelling and rewarding.
‘Asymmetry’ is a dark beast, full of emotion and ominous intent. Yet, it is also one hell of a groovy collection of songs and thanks to some subtle melodic sensibilities, the more you listen, the more you find yourself immersed in the music and drawn in for repeated listens.
Caligula’s Horse – The Tide, The Thief & Rivers End
If progressive music is your thing, then prepare to be very impressed with Caligula’s Horse. This album contains just about everything that I love about what I’d refer to as ‘proper’ progressive metal. On a first listen, the sheer amount of music on offer can be daunting but that’s part of the charm to be perfectly honest. Give it time though, and the fruits of your labours begin to grow.
The music may be technical, varied and quirky on occasion, but there’s no denying the honesty and warmth that accompanies the apparent complexity. Hints of classic rock and more straight-edged metal elements lurk close to the surface, to the extent that the more familiar you become with the music, the simpler and more memorable it becomes. The melodies are strong, the compositions don’t feel overworked and the entire album works as a cohesive whole. Without question, this is one of the best prog albums that 2014 has delivered.
Ne Obliviscaris – Portal Of I
This is the oldest of the albums here having been released in 2012. However, it is so good that I had to fit it into this blog post.
The first word that springs to mind when I listen to this album is ‘epic’. What Ne Obliviscaris have created is something so huge, you can’t help but get completely swept up in it. The band’s output is rooted in death metal at the more melodic end of the spectrum but they add elements of black metal, progressive technicality, a sprinkling of more modern ‘core and djent and then somehow manage to incorporate a lone violin to top it all off, thereby providing an almost folk feel to passages within the compositions.
If I could sum up this massive album in just a few words, I would say ‘epic and atmospheric; a tour de force of beautiful extreme metal’.