In Psalm 59, David continues to sing praises to God, despite facing adversity. He concludes, “You are my strength, I sing praise to you; you, God, are my fortress, my God on whom I can rely.” (Ps. 59:17). Hilastherion’s “Psalm 59” is a mighty EP, with “Psalm 59” sounding as much like a song of praise as it does a battle cry. Hilastherion hails from Finland, the land of the midnight sun, which is home to many great prog and extreme metal bands. There’s something stark in the sound, like the icy beauty of a forest in winter time. “Psalm 59” is sung in Swedish (if I am correct), and you can hear the light and melodic contrast with the dark and dissonant. The band describe their sound as melodic death metal, but it is unlike the Gothenburg, Sweden sound. For me, it draws more on the progressive metal side of things and maybe it’s the symphonic elements that push it into that sphere. “When Sorrow Dies” is epic. It is cold and unblack, from the guttural rumbles to the blast beats and buzzing guitars, but finds redemption in the face of God. “Hymn to the Creations of God” celebrates God as Creator, and points to our responsibility as stewards of His Creation – a responsibility we often neglect. “Psalm 59” releases on Good Friday, and if the EP is a taste of what’s to come, a great album is in the making.
The tragic tale of Cain and Abel is vividly told on XIII Minutes’ “Sibling Rivalry”, off their April 5th debut release, “Obsessed”. It’s a modern sound that reminds me of Soilwork, a great melodeath band from Gothenburg, Sweden. Prepare yourself for an aural onslaught, as the band are quick out the gates on “Victim-Less”. A dual vocal attack is sometimes a gamble in this genre, but here it works well. Mike Rowley does well to pull off both the growl in the verses, as well as singing in the choruses. The guitars are gravelly and aggressive, and the overall impression is of precision. The bass rattles in the middle of the mix, and I’m impressed by its presence. Wait a minute! The bio lists Aaron Smith on guitars – no mention of bass. Is it that he plays all the guitars (incl. bass guitar), or are they like alt rockers The Early Years who ditched the bass altogether?
An off-kilter “Self Portrait” is a nod to the peculiar Mr. Bungle, and here it sounds like they double-tracked Michael Rowley’s deep growl, the bottom register an ominous presence on this track. In their biography, they make mention of several dichotomies that include darkness/light, evil/good and sin/redemption. The voice embodies these opposites very effectively. The title track is killer. The guitar is strident, and Jamie Kucinski’s drumming injects the song with manic energy. Ah, and now there is no question! The bass is definitely present and accounted for. So, another question. With one vocalist, how do they do the trading off of screams in the climax? In my view, it’s testament to quality production work in the studio.
S91 is a Christian progressive metal band from Tuscany, and with the release of “Along the Sacred Path” continue documenting the history of humanity through the lens of Christian theology, a study started on “Behold the Mankind” (2016).
“Constantine the Great” starts in such a moody way. The bass guitar riff makes you sway, and the time signature points to prog rock complexity. This complexity remains when vocal duties change hands – at first manly and gruff, and then melodic and feminine. Along the Sacred Path makes for a gripping journey.
Just when you think you have the genre pinned down, the blistering guitar riff that opens “Saint Patrick” makes me think of speed metal à la Cacophony (Marty Friedman & Jason Becker). I like how the voice also gets a hardcore treatment that fits this song particularly well. You’ll have to hold on tight, because S91 change rhythmic tac often. Here now is a beautiful soaring keyboard that carries female vocals singing, “Oh my Lord, thanks my Lord”.
When the guitar chimes in and the kick reverberates in your ears you know you’re hearing sweet, sweet rock and roll music. “Rock and Roll” kicks off with Jordan Cutajar’s call to arm: “Let’s rock and roll!!” He’s got that Brian Johnson quality to his voice, and immediately lends credence to their brand of hard rock. The production is clear as crystal, and delivers a satisfying punch. I was immediately eager to hear more.
I love how Benjamin Mann rides the high hat in the verses on “In Good Hands”. The rhythm guitar, punctuated with the tick-tick-tick of tightly picked strings makes for a dynamic groove, and when the solo pops out it is tastefully executed. Andy La Morte, you have a new fan! The overall impression is that these musicians are like the master craftsman who distils the best broth from hand-picked ingredients.
Darkwater make such a strong impression with “A New Beginning” off their much-anticipated third album for Ulterium Records. There is a hint of unease woven into the piano melody, carried forward into the synthesizer lead that plays over distorted guitars and an urgent rhythm. I agree with Mike Portnoy’s assessment that progressive metal can at times be so self-indulgent that it’s more fun for the band than the audience. I think Darkwater strikes a fine balance between being technical, and being emotional with the music.
Rather than reaching backward to prog rock past, the tone is modern and there is a considered restraint in the way songs are performed. In “In Front Of You” Henrik Båth’s voice shines through, as well as how the guitars and synths share lead melodies. There is a moment where bass and drums share the spotlight, but not indulge in it, and further proof that the shared perspective is that the sum total is greater than the individual players.
What is it to be alive in 2019? One in 7.7 billion, or one of 7.7 billion? The crowning glory of Creation, or a mist that appears only briefly? Not only do the lyrics take a “bigger picture” view of life, but like in “Reflection Of A Mind”, the qualities of the soul are also examined. Life is a struggle for who we are: the lone voice that rises above the chorus.