The Sea Within-The Sea Within

Here we have another prog super group thrown together by some of the heavy hitters within the genre.  This one is spearheaded by Flower Kings’ guitarist/vocalist Roine Stolt and is rounded out by Pain of Salvation vocalist Daniel Gildenlow, Flower Kings’ bassist Jonas Reingold, drummer of a multitude of various project Marco Minnemann and keyboardist Tom Brislin.  Also featured in guest spots are Yes’ vocalist Jon Anderson, Flying Colors’ Casey McPherson and Dream Theater’s keyboardist Jordan Rudess.

These kind of supergroups are always kind of hit and miss with me.  Sometimes they really come together as with Transatlantic (which also sports Stolt as a member) or Liquid Tension Experiment and sometimes they look better on paper than they actually end up being in practice.  The current project is decent, but not spectacular given the talents of some of the participants.  The first three cuts on the album are really great, but the remainder of the album doesn’t seem to capitalize on the promising beginning.  Overall, this is a fairly middle-of-the-road slab of dreamy prog pop.  They are clearly trying to craft some solid songs rather than just trying to show off as happens with some prog projects.  I like the idea and the effort.  I just wish the final product would have turned out a little more inspired than it did.

3 flip flops out of 5

Khemmis-Desolation

Khemmis feels like it is the underground metal world’s band for whom everyone is rooting.  They seem like that little band that could.  I can’t think of any negative press I’ve seen associated with them.  I tend to find myself grouping them in with fellow doomsters, Pallbearer.  Whereas Pallbearer transacts in what I’ll call “dooooooooom metal”, i.e. reeeeeaaalllly slow songs and thoroughly bleak outlook, Khemmis’ brand of doom is a little lighter.  Not in the sense that its songs about puppies and rainbows.  They are definitely a doom band, but one that seems to have a significant traditional metal influence on their sound.  I hear lots of Dio and Iron Maiden coming through in both the presentation, sound and imagery of the band.  The guitar sounds and song structures are not so much a dirge as other doom bands of our current era.  There is a liveliness to the songs that differentiates their music from the coffin-like suffocation that can inflict some doom bands.

This latest album finds the band with their third full length release.  Their previous album, Hunted, ended up very high on many year-end lists in 2016.  So, the pressure to match or surpass that album had to be high.  After a couple of listens, I feel like the latest album is in the same ballpark as their first two albums, but might be a tad behind their other releases.  It is definitely exploring the same ground that their first two albums tilled.  You’ve got six songs in total.  All lengthy and all epic in scope.

4 flip flops out of 5

Orange Goblin-The Wolf Bites Back

Orange Goblin feels blue-collar.  Like if denim were music, it would be Orange Goblin.  They’re gritty.  They belong in a dank bar filled with lowlifes and cigarette smoke.  I like to think Lemmy would dig Orange Goblin quite a bit.

By and large, you kind of know what you’re in for with the Goblin.  They have a sound and they don’t stray too far from it.  It’s that mash of doom, sludge and classic rock riffs with the gruff, world-weary vocals of Ben Ward anchoring tales of machismo and hard-edged livin’.  Seriously, if dude doesn’t have a three-pack-a-day Camel unfiltered habit, I will be seriously upset.  His voice just sounds like someone went to town with a sander on his vocal chords.  And it’s the perfect foil for this band.  Like I said, blue-collar all the way.

The current album just sounds a little more raw than some of their recent albums.  The production is gritty and it lends this album more of a bar band feel.  It’s bluesy in places.  Rockin’ out in others.  There’s even an interesting track late in the album called The Stranger than involves a bit of spoken word style vocals.  It’s different, but grew on me a bit during my second pass with the album.

All in all, this is a fairly solid outing.  I don’t think it’s going to make any year-end lists, but it will provide them with some solid new material to perform in a live setting.

3.5 flip flops out of 5

Tomb Mold-Manor of Infinite Forms

Honestly, when this band and album cover popped up on my release calendar, I was a tad hesitant.  This thing just seemed a tad too much on the nose as far as death metal clichés go.  Completely unreadable logo?  Check.  Sinister gross-out band name?  Check.  Grotesque, nightmare inducing album artwork?  Check.  I really felt like this was going to be another generic paint-by-numbers Cannibal Corpse worshiping slag amongst the great rabble of death metal noise coming from the masses.

Well, let this be a lesson to ya, dammit!  This is about as perfect a death metal album to come down the pike in quite some time in my humble opinion.  And I listen to a shitload of death metal.  These dudes from the lovely town of Toronto (Go Leafs Go!) have crafted a pristine slab of death metal as it should be performed.  Sometimes death metal bands just hit the gas and go for the jugular sonically from the opening notes.  Others tend to get bogged down in a sludgy heap where it is difficult to pull out the intricacies from the performances on the album.  Tomb Mold has found that happy medium.  Every riff is clean and articulated.  The pace is not break neck.  It stays in that perfect area where everything is heavy as shit, but the speed and sludge doesn’t overwhelm the songs.

I just can’t recommend this one enough for you death metal mavens.  It feels like I’ve been waiting for this album for a really long time without even realizing it.  I suspect there are many of you out there that will feel the same upon hearing this one.

4.5 flip flops out of 5

Zeal & Ardor-Stranger Fruit

One of the current trends weaving its way into the metal world is to blend sub-genres of metal with a completely different style of music.  Earlier this year, we’ve already been treated to a blending of black metal and bluegrass with Panopticon’s The Scars of Man Upon the Once Nameless Wilderness and the hybrid of Americana/folk with sludge metal in Huntsmen’s American Scrap.  Hell, you’ve even got the J-Pop/Metal coupling of Baby Metal out there.  On paper, these hybrid variations just don’t sound like they would work all that well.  However, the practitioners who have come up with these new stylings obviously see something that the rest of us don’t and the results have been some of the more inspired albums to come out of late.

Which leads us to today’s album review.  Zeal & Ardor is another of these blending of styles to create an entirely new sort of sound.  This project is the brainchild of a man named Manuel Gagneux.  It seems as though this whole idea took root when Gagneux solicited suggestions for genre mash-ups from people on 4chan.  Honestly, doing this on 4chan could have (and probably did) resulted in some heinous suggestions.  In the end, Zeal & Ardor became a hybrid of old black spirituals and black metal.  He has stated the idea is centered around the question of what it would have sounded like if the American slaves had turned to Satan instead of Jesus in their quest for salvation.  Yeah.  It sounds like a fucking weird idea.

But, as in many of the other explorations of combining different styles of music, this thing honestly works pretty well.  I think the bluegrass and Americana styles actually lend themselves to blending with metal a little better than the black spirituals, but it still results in some really unique and cool sounds.  In many respects, it kind of reminds me of something Jack White might come up with.  This music is really pushing the envelope as far as incorporating new ideas into the metal world.  And that’s really cool.  Sometimes metal can get a bit stagnant.  A bit paint-by-numbers.  These kind of records shake things up a bit and I think in the long run can help the metal scene grow.

3.5 flip flops out of 5

Lago-Sea of Duress

Lago is a newer death metal band out of Arizona.  They seem to be one of those bands that trades in straight ahead no-nonsense death metal.  This album seems like it would be right in line for fans of Suffocation and Immolation.  This album is very similar in sound and construction to both of those bands.  You’ve got lengthy songs that are downright leaden in their density.

The album is not bad and the players have chops, but the songs seem to be missing a bit of dynamics that might set it a bit apart from being just another death metal release.  There just wasn’t anything that made this one stand out in my mind after a couple of listens.

3 flip flops out of 5