Guest Post: Atli Jarl Martin – Top Ten Albums Of 2015

Eistnaflug 2016 banner

As we dash towards the holidays and the end of the year Ghost Cult is feeling good about this season of giving. So we are giving our fans a chance to get to know our partners, peers, and friends  from bands in the world of music. They will chime in with some guest blogs, end of year lists, and whatever else is on their minds as we pull the plug on 2015. Today we have Atli Jarl Martin, promoter and digital go to guy for Eistnaflug Festival, who happily lives with his 19 computers and has a huge affection for his ThinkPads, shared his list of favorite releases of this year with us.

It’s been a strange year for me personally and a bit hard to keep up with as many releases I’ve done in recent years, Nevertheless I managed to build a list of some 70 releases which I have now filtered down to my final Top 10, whereas the top 5 releases could have all ended up in my top slot. I guess that most releases that made the cut won’t come as a surprise to anyone that knows me, but I hope that there are at least a couple that you haven’t listened to yet, and might give it a spin. 2016 is looking tremendously exciting already, first and foremost with the release of Rotting Christ’s new album Rituals early in the year. But for 2015, here goes…

 

1. Thy CatafalqueSgúrr (Season Of Mist)

Thy Catafalque sgurr album cover 2015

Definitely the most delightful surprise of 2015. Following the incredible 2011 album Rengeteg, I became a huge fan of the talent and musicianship of Tamás Kátai, as this is a one-man project, and his vast and diverse musical wizardry is way above and beyond what most other musicians present. The musical direction Tamás takes on Sgúrr is hugely different than what is presented on Rengeteg and the earlier albums, one might say colder, bleaker and harsher, where ‘f.e. Jura’, a straight forward blisteringly fast black metal track made my jaw drop, as it was wholly unexpected. I can really say the same about pretty much every track on the album, which is a phenomenal roller coaster ride through amazing variety of styles and sounds. Just listen to ‘Oldódó Formák a Halál Titokzatos Birodalmáb’, a 15:21 minute ride through a sublime variety of styles and a showcase track on just how multi-talented Tamás Kátai is. A beautiful work of art.

 

2. Lost SoulAtlantis: The New Beginning (Apostasy Records)

Lost Soul Atlantis

Yes, they fucking did it again. These Polish wizards, led by mainman Jacek Grecki, pretty much blew everyone’s mind back in 2009 with their absolutely phenomenal Immerse In Infinity album, which shared the top-slot on my list back then with my favorite, and ever so lovable Finns in Amorphis (more on them later). Lost Soul are finally back after 6 long years, but the wait was so worth it. Atlantis is every bit as fast and brutal, yet Grecki and his merry men have managed to push their music further into the technical and progressive realms, bringing you one, if not THE pinnacle of technical death metal offerings of all-times. Listening to this album leaves me dumb-struck with awe, every-single-time, such is the wizardry performed here. Perfection!

 

3. MelecheshEnki (Nuclear Blast)

melechesh 2

5 years after the release of the fantastic The Epigenesis album, and after a plethora of lineup changes, Melechesh return with Enki, yet another masterpiece of an album. Uncompromising as always, adhering to their sublime Middle Eastern music influenced extreme metal concoction, Melechesh apparently can do no wrong. While The Epigenesis took a tad more progressive turn, with sublimely heavy and thundering songs, Enki returns back to the faster, more intense songwriting as presented on their earlier albums, such as Emissaries and Sphynx. I was fortunate enough to finally see the band on stage last May, and the experience was mind-blowing. Among the best musical entities on the planet. Period.

 

4. AmorphisUnder the Red Cloud (Nuclear Blast)

Amorphis, by Hillarie Jason

Amorphis, by Hillarie Jason

As a very, very long time fan of the band, their current lineup, starting with their absolute best album, Eclipse (2006), almost every album since has been a tour-de-force, showcasing the enormous capacity of the bands collective skills in songwriting and musicianship, as well as being one of the hardest working bands out there, as this is their 6th full-length album in only 9 years. Under the Red Cloud very much takes up the thread from the stellar 2013 album, Circle, but the band is in absolute top-form here, as every song on the album is outstanding. Songs like ‘The Four Wise Ones’, ‘Bad Blood’, ‘Dark Path’, and the phenomenal ‘Tree of Ages’, have made the album my most heavily rotated album from the band since 2006, and there is no letting up on how often I spin it. Masterpiece.

 

5. ClutchPsychic Warfare (Weathermaker Music)

Clutch, by Evil Robb Photography

Clutch, by Evil Robb Photography

Yes indeed, here‘s another super-hard working band which has been dishing out release after release of superior quality since, well, forever. Their 2004 album Blast Tyrant is perhaps my favorite rock album of all-time, and their subsequent albums, albeit all having different qualities, none really came close to it in overall groove and fierceness, until now. Psychic Warfare absolutely hits every mark of excellence that Blast Tyrant presented. Every song is superb, the lyrics are fantastic, and the whole album pops and clicks on every beat, every groove, and infuses that good old feeling of strapping on an air-guitar and do a bit of headbanging while singing along to Neil Fallon’s often hysterically funny rants and phrases. As I write this, there are only 2 days until I see the band onstage for the first time, and the anticipation for seeing the tracks from this album presented is making me all giddy. Woohoo!

 

6. Keep of KalessinEpistemology (Indie Recordings)

 

This is an album I actually had high expectations for, specially after hearing the 2013 EP Introspection, which was the first release from the band following Arnt “Obsidian C.” Grønbech taking over the vocal duties after Thebon‘s departure earlier that year. Their first full-length album in 5 years, I was supremely happy to hear that Keep of Kalessin is very much up to the task as a three-piece outfit, and musically, the album is a healthy blend of the more commercial aspect of 2009‘s Reptilian and the earlier fierce and blazingly fast Armada (2006) and Kolossus (2008). Stand-out tracks and passages on the album are many, but the pinnacle is most certainly ‘The Grand Design’, a track that easily rivals the best of their earlier works, and was absolutely amazing to witness on stage. The band is in top-form at the moment and I can‘t wait for the successor, just hope that I won‘t have to wait 5 years for it.

 

7. George KolliasInvictus (Season of Mist)

SOM360-George-Kollias-500X500px-72dpi-RGB

This master of extreme metal drumming certainly has had a busy schedule in recent years, touring and playing with Nile, as well as releasing drum lesson videos and attending drum clinics, but there were a couple of his own songs available on YouTube, rough mixed and non-vocal demos. Very cool stuff, but nothing that really prepared me for the delicious death metal assault he put together on this first solo album of his. It is a showcase of enormous death metal talent, as Kollias plays every instrument on the album, as well as performing vocals, but the album also features guest performances from many prominent musicians, such as Karl Sanders and Dallas Toler-Wade (Nile), George Emmanuel (Rotting Christ) and Efthimis Karadimas (Nightfall), to name but a few. Overall a fantastic death metal trip, modern in technicality, speed, sound and feel, blended with a healthy dose of some old school riffing, but what really amazed me the most is Kollias‘ vocal performance, which ranks among the best I‘ve heard in a long time. Highly recommended.

 

8. HateCrvsade: Zero (Napalm Records)

HateCrusadeZero

Being a very early release this year, as it came out in late January, this album has had way more spins than many other albums on my list, but it is definitely to its credit that it ends up on my Top 10 list, as the re-playability of the album is phenomenal. Mainman Adam “ATF Sinner” Buszko and his band mates strengthen the already very impressive legacy of the band and their highly energetic style of death metal getting stronger with each subsequent album. One of my favorite bands for sure.

 

9. NileWhat Should Not Be Unearthed (Nuclear Blast)

nile

Another album I had really high expectations for in 2015, and they were not betrayed. Nile have been on a remarkably consistent roll since the release of Those Whom The Gods Detest in 2009, followed by At the Gate of Sethu (2012) which has since then bulldozed its way to being my second all-time favorite album by the band. The band pulls no left hooks here, plowing onwards and upwards with their instantly recognizable brand of death metal mastery. Super-heavy, blazing fast and tremendously well executed, track after track just thunders through and the confidence and coherence displayed by the band is absolutely why they are one of the biggest extreme metal acts in the world today.

 

10. Malevolent CreationDead Man‘s Path (Century Media)

Aaaah, like a warm blanket, listening to a new Malevolent Creation, one of my all-time favorite bands, is always a very pleasant experience. I’ve been following these old masters almost since the beginning of their career, and despite the very turbulent history of band members, they always manage to land on their feet, providing me with that deliciously violent old-school death metal that I love so much. Dead Man‘s Path is pure Malevolence, and the band and the music sound better than they have done since the magnificent Envenomed came out in 2000. No-one can destroy this Malevolent Creation.

Guest Post- Bidi Van Drongelen Top 20 Heavy Albums of 2015

bidi bookings

As we dash towards the holidays and the end of the year Ghost Cult is feeling good about this season of giving. So we are giving our fans a chance to get to know our partners, peers, and friends  from bands in the world of music. They will chime in with some guest blogs, end of year lists, and whatever else is on their minds as we pull the plug on 2015. Today we have Bidi van Drongelen, Dutch booker and manager who has worked with the likes of The Devil’s Blood, Saint Vitus, Ghost, In Solitude and many more. Every year a multitude of his bands get booked at the excellent Roadburn festival, and we have asked him what he feels were the best releases of 2015.

 

1. KloneHere Comes The Sun

klone album cover

Great songwriting, amazing vocals, and a crystal clear though heavy production blending prog and post metal.

 

2. Ghost – Meliora

Ghost has it all to become one of the leading melodic heavy rock bands in the world

 

3. BliksemGruesome Masterpiece

Bliksem-Gruesome-Masterpiece

If you like Metallica’s Master of Puppets of Death Angel’s ACT III….with the a raw female voice like Doro.

 

4. Royal ThunderCrooked Doors

royalthunder

Great atmospheric rock album with the amazing voice of Mlny Parsonsz

 

5. TribulationChildren of the Night

tribulation

Melodies of occult rock like The Devil’s Blood drenched with a satanic black voice which reminds of Satyricon.

 

6. Chelsea WolfeAbyss

Chelsea wolfe abyss album cover

Refreshing approach of doom & drone. ART with capital A!

7. Paradise LostThe Plague Within

8. Steak Number EightKosmokoma

9. MelecheshEnki

10. EnslavedIn Times

11. ClutchPsychic Warfare

12. Thy CatafalqueSgurr

13. AmorphisUnder The Red Cloud

14. RAMSvbversvm

15. BRING ME THE HORIZONThat’s The Spirit

16. MgłaExcercises In Futility

17. BaronessPurple

18. LeprousThe Congregation

19. Graveyard Innocence & Decadence

20. Hangman’s ChairThis Is Not Supposed To Be Positive

 

Bidi Bookings online

 

Amorphis – Under the Red Cloud

11392901_10155580751510276_6936271461885986015_n

With a career spanning 25 years, Amorphis are a true powerhouse in the Metal scene, and with the arrival of their twelfth album, it seems there is nothing that will stop them from going on for another 25. Under the Red Cloud (Nuclear Blast), is a testament to the skill and heart of these musicians. It is perhaps a tad heavier than most of their recent work, but it is once again filled with amazing licks, lyrics, and compositions.

The title track has an excellent intro with guitar and piano gently combined before diving face-first into the metal. Throughout the album the vocals switch the between a beautiful, crisp voice and deep grunts. There does seem to be more grunting than on the previous few albums, and this corresponds to the rest of the music. Much of the middle section of the album has a lot of elements of Black Metal, and Tomi Joutsen’s deep grunts are well suited to the style. ‘The Four Wise Ones’ is probably the blackest of the songs, while ‘The Skull’ combines Power, Progressive, and Black Metal into something heavy yet uplifting, with surprisingly sensitive twists. ‘Death of a King’ adds a delightful whistle over the grunts and heavy riffs.  

But not all is heavy or blackened on this album; ‘Sacrifice’ is pleasant yet dark Power Metal, while ‘Tree of Ages’ is definitely barking up the Yggdrasil of Folk Metal. There is a spacy keyboard solo in ‘Enemy at the Gates’ and even a somewhat bluesy mini guitar solo in ‘Dark Path’, which also features a stunning intro with piano and acoustic guitar.

One of the absolute highlights is the album closer ‘White Night’, with its hauntingly beautiful female vocals and well as lovely melodies in the male vocals and guitars. Of particular note is how the beats of the drums and vocals alternate in the chorus to create a very unusual yet captivating sound.

One of the most impressive elements in Amorphis’ music is the flow of the guitar licks which, unlike in many other bands, doesn’t stop as soon as the singing starts. In ‘Under the Red Cloud’, for instance, the motifs continue behind the chorus. The effect is one of great vivacity. Another winning ingredient has to be vocalist Tomi Joutsen, because of the great variety and energy he brings to his vocals.

All in all it is clear that Amorphis have once again delivered an excellent selection of music.

 

9.0/10

 

LORRAINE LYSEN

 

Gothic Tales – Esa Holopainen of Amorphis (Part II)

Amorphis2015a

Amorphis, photo credit by Ville Juurikkala

The mid-to-late 90’s bore witness to a phenomenon in underground metal. If the UK with Napalm Death et al had been the birth place of death metal, a sound that travelled the big blue to the States to be forged into the beast we know today, then the British Isles was once again the location for the conception of one of the most influential albums for a new sub-genre that, while it didn’t infect the American sound, instead traversed east rather than west and took Europe by storm, giving birth to the eponymous “Gothic” Metal.

Paradise Lost’s Gothic (Peaceville) wasn’t just a landmark, it was an album that tolled a massive bell with eager, willing and creative minds and created the landscape for the mid-to-late 90’s in underground metal. Last year saw the twentieth anniversary of AmorphisTales From The Thousand Lakes, an album that was to develop that blueprint and take it in a different direction, the Finns being one of the first to fuse death and doom with folk-inspired melodies, clean vocals and progressive 70’s influenced music. But without Gothic, and it’s ground-breaking innovation, bringing in female vocals, orchestral manoeuvres (most probably in the dark, yes) and haunting melodic leads over doomier death metal, …Thousand Lakes may not have turned out the way it did.

“It was probably one the most influential albums for Amorphis in the early days, yes” agrees Amorphis lifer, Esa Holopainen, the six-stringer responsible for creating the Finns classic early release. “Paradise Lost started the way of combining melody lines into death metal music, with a doom ensemble. That then started to influence a lot of bands.

“It’s funny, because, you see in the longer term bands, there’s a lot of bands, like Moonspell – I just heard their new album – bands start to look back at where they came from and their past”. Even Paradise Lost themselves… “Yes. Everyone is starting to walk the circle around and taking more and more influences from their roots, which is a really good thing.”
61-KWBsqDVL

When Holopainen was taking inspiration from Gothic and crafting the two albums that really put Amorphis on the map …Thousand Lakes and the follow up, Elegy (both Relapse), it was in the midst of an explosion of creative excellence that flooded through Europe.

“The period of time was when little underground labels started to grow up with their bands, and bands were releasing their classic albums. In the 90’s a lot of classic albums and a lot of albums that became milestones to those bands were made,  and that influenced other bands. It’s pretty amazing, but look back at how many great metal albums there were (at that time)!

“There hasn’t been another era after that since then that’s matched it for so many good albums. I don’t know why. 

“A lot of bands at that time, when we did those albums, proved to be a platform for the metal scene to be able to explore what we were doing, but much wider. Since then there’s been more and more new bands (influenced by the European metal albums of the 90s); heavy metal became almost trendy over here in Finland when Lordi won the Eurovision and even grandmothers were listening to metal, and those albums of the 90’s were the platform for the next wave of bands.

“You see Nuclear Blast who weren’t so big then are now probably the biggest label out there, selling as much as some major (labels);  it’s pretty amazing how it’s all grown.”

Amorphis2015j

Amorphis, photo credit by Ville Juurikkala

While Paradise Lost may have opened Pandora’s Box, Holopainen’s Amorphis were one of the first bands to stick their heads deep into its recesses and really find freedom in the possibilities. Their debut The Karellian Isthmus (also Relapse) had been a decent, Scandinavian death metal album, but they then took the bold step to incorporate doomier riffs, clean vocals, folk music, keyboards and take influence from Deep Purple, Rainbow and other more retrospective elements.

“At that time we were huge fans of 70’s rock bands. In Finland there were a lot of progressive rock bands who were incorporating traditional and folk music, and we were listening to things like Jethro Tull and Hawkwind, lots of hippy music we liked!

“The big thing was, we felt there were no limits when we were writing the music for …Thousand Lakes – there were some really strange arrangements in there! We had a keyboard player, Kasper, who came into the band and he’d never played in a metal band, he was totally into The Doors and playing those types of songs. He was so excited when he realized there was a mini-moog in Sunlight Studios and, naturally, he wanted to use that a lot.

“All that mixture of things, all that soup, became the Amorphis sound.”

11392901_10155580751510276_6936271461885986015_n

Happy to talk about their prestigious history, and their first landmark album, Holopainen continues. “We didn’t have a big plan, we were just doing the album how we wanted, until Tomas the producer asked “Does your record company know what you’re doing?” He was afraid they weren’t going to like it because it was so different! We just thought “OH SHIT!” but carried on.

“Then we started to get praise and good critics for it, and it was a success. It was kind of, but not by accident, but it came by following our instincts and being ambitious with what we wanted to do.”

Did you realize at time how ground-breaking it was? When did it sink in that it was a “classic”?

“It came as surprise how popular that album became. It took many many years before we realized how important an album it actually was. Even just a couple of years ago, we were only just realizing it must have been a really influential album because you read interviews from other bands that they say …Thousand Lakes was influential for them.

“At the time there was no black metal scene, it was just bubbling under, and no folk metal at all; that was many years later with bands like Ensiferum, and they say our albums were very influential for them.

“That is the greatest feedback you can get as a musician that you actually influenced other musicians to make their bands”

1000x1000 

The second Amorphis classic was to follow two years later, as the sound evolved and deathly chugs were replaced with a much more progressive and folk-tinged rock bent, power chords replaced with open strings, and the timeless Elegy was created, an album most definitely not better unborn.

2016 sees Paradise Lost bringing Gothic back to life on stage at Roadburn, and following the success of both 2014’s tour and Amorphis’ spot at Maryland Deathfest playing …Thousand Lakes’ shows, could we see a twentieth anniversary celebration for Elegy?

“It’s not an impossible idea. We had a good time doing the Tales… shows, and the good thing about production now is we know how to get these sounds and make these things work. One of the great things of Amorphis is we can do different products – we did an acoustic tour – and we like to challenge ourselves and do something different.

“Elegy, for me, is my favourite album of the earlier Amorphis times and it’s not an impossible idea that we can do an Elegy tour.”

 

Under The Red Cloud is out on September 4th via Nuclear Blast. Order here.

STEVE TOVEY

 

Red Cloud Rising – Esa Holopainen of Amorphis (Part 1)

Amorphis2015e

Amorphis, photo credit by Ville Juurikkala

It has been twenty five years since guitarist Esa Holopainen and drummer Jan Rechberger (a)morphed their thrash metal band, Violent Solution with death metal act Abhorrence (featuring guitarist Tomi Koivusaari) to begin their new band Amorphis. In that twenty five years (save for a seven year spell around the turn of the millennium when Rechberger was absent) the trio have been the heartbeat of one of Finland’s most influential and admired acts.

For 2005’s Eclipse, the bands seventh album but first of a budding and fruitful relationship with Nuclear Blast, the band integrated vocalist Tomi Joutsen to produce an album that defined their sound from that point forth before 2013’s Circle saw the band experiment with a darker, more metallic Peter Tagtren produced album that reintroduced a heavier side to the band following the poppier, more melodic (but thoroughly brilliant) The Beginning Of Times.

Step forward Under The Red Cloud, the bands twelfth full length, and an undeniable return to form… and then some… with rising producer Jens Bogren (Soilwork, Moonspell) helping the band to find the ultimate, classic third era Amorphis sound. Taking a heavier turn, it is packed with powerful riffs and sweeping, epic melodies. “Yeah, …Red Cloud definitely follows where we were going with Circle, but production wise it’s way more dynamic” begins founding member Holopainen, expounding on the importance of working with a producer who is not only good at his craft, but also knows exactly what elements to draw out of a band.

“It’s the first album we’ve done with Jens as a producer and he wanted to take all the elements he likes about Amorphis and translate them into this album, and I’m so happy with the results. It’s got more growling vocals than any other album with Tomi, but not too much – it’s a good balance with the clean vocals.

“I think it’s the best one we have done with Tomi on vocals. I have a really, really positive feeling about this album.”

Amorphis2015d Photos by Ville Juurikkala

Amorphis, photo credit Ville Juurikkala

For a band with several distinct epochs, there has been a consistency of sound and style since Joutsen’s integration; a stronger, more uptempo metal presence than was evident in the Pasi Koskinen era. The appointment of Joutsen, and the carving out of their newer style, is seen as reinvigorating, and perhaps even saving Amorphis; a band whose critical star had shined so brightly on the legendary pairing of Tales From The Thousand Lakes (1994) and Elegy (1996), but who had strayed from the elements (uptempo, folk-infused melodic death metal) that many associated with them.

“He’s made a huge impact for us”, agrees Esa. “It was very, very motivating for the whole band when Tomi joined Amorphis. All that reflects in the music as well, and it’s been great fun writing music with him; a really talented guy and when you’re writing it gives us some extra things to the music as you know what he can do.” A multi-talented vocalist, Joutsen restored a mix of growled vocals, along with his hugely impressive, strong and distinctive cleans, to the Amorphis sound. “It was an easy switch when he joined, and he fit from the beginning. It’s a different era – you can easily compare the two, it’s like totally another band”, the mild mannered guitarist continues.

“The funny thing about Tomi is that he always surprises and feels like he’s gone one louder on this album with the vocals! He uses almost like a black metal vocal sometimes on this one, and he’s developed the contrasts with his growling stuff; it’s really strong.”

Had, by the time the band were releasing Far From The Sun (the bands last for Relapse) and Koskinen’s own motivation had waned, Amorphis strayed too far into progressive and rockier territories?

“In the past, after Elegy we did a couple of albums which were moving quite far away from the metal sound. But at that time, those albums were very important to do and from those albums we still have a lot of those elements in our sound with the more open guitars and more ambient sort of sound that we like to flavour our music with.

“With Jens coming in, he said he wanted to take everything that’s good about all of Amorphis, and I guess we are more influenced by the older sounds of the band again now than we were.”

 11392901_10155580751510276_6936271461885986015_n

Holopainen’s enthusiasm for …Red Cloud is apparent, and he is clearly feeling fired up by this albums’ amalgam of past and present. “This album doesn’t have any fillers, all of the songs on the album earned their place. It’s a very, very natural progression from Circle, where we started to allow the extreme influences back into the album, and I think this album takes that on, but stronger. Also we felt that nobody would be surprised if we went in a heavier direction after doing the Tales From The Thousand Lakes (20th anniversary) tour.”

Under The Red Cloud has a feeling of being a culmination of everything Amorphis has been before. While it was the previous album that was titled Circle, it is this one feels like the “circle” being closed, because it pulls together everything that is and has been Amorphis. In the accompanying press release Esa had stated that he sees Red Cloud in the top three Amorphis albums… and it’s easy to see that this is an album that can stand up to an impressive legacy.

“I surely hope so. It was a great feeling to get the final product in my hand and listen to the album through and I have a really good feeling about these songs.

“I do love Eclipse a lot because I have good memories of starting to work with Tomi, and it’s a strong album, and Elegy, for me, is my favourite album of the earlier Amorphis times, but when you do a good job you know it, and this is the best album we’ve done with Tomi.”

 

Under The Red Cloud is out on September 4th via Nuclear Blast. Order here. 

STEVE TOVEY