Monday 6 May 2024

Glass Island - Lost Media (2024)

Country: Poland
Style: Progressive Rock
Rating: 8/10
Release Date: 26 Apr 2024
Sites: Bandcamp | Facebook | Twitter | YouTube

If you asked me which country's prog rock I'm most keen to hear more of, I'd have to toss a coin to decide between Norway and Poland. Both are apparently full of excellent prog rock bands and it's always a joy to discover another one. Glass Island were founded in 2019 by Wojciech Pielużek, who occasionally collaborates with other musicians but wrote and performed everything on this album himself. It's the fourth Glass Island album, each arriving a year apart, with a prior EP from 2020. It does rather a lot within its fifty minutes, making it an album to enjoy on a first listen but dive into deeper on multiple further times through to appreciate it fully.

The sound is fascinating because it finds an elusive balance between imaginative and commercial. Almost Human opens with chimes and builds through infectious riffs, on both guitar and bass, but also drops into neat textures here and there. It's entirely instrumental and fundamentally driven by riffs for five minutes before Pielużek briefly solos on guitar and finally adds vocals. Suddenly it becomes a song and it's one with a catchy chorus. Just trust in me, I'm almost human. I'm seeing a lot of bands open albums with ten minute plus songs lately and they keep nailing them.

There are definitely different aspects to what Pielużek is doing here. The most commercial aspect is his somoth and friendly voice, which takes the fore on False Memories but gets oddly laid back on A Different Kind of Tomorrow and Credulous, almost like he's singing Britpop and Four-Letter Words is almost perky. It's an easy voice to listen to, whatever he's doing with it, and he's fluent enugh in English that I rarely caught an accent, but I'd still suggest that he thinks of himself as a multi-instrumentalist before a lead singer, not because he's lacking in the latter department but because he particularly excels at the former.

As a guitarist, he has a knack for generating catchy riffs that would often work in a hard rock band, never mind a progressive one. There are a few of those in the first half of Almost Human, a strong one to wrap up A Different Kind of Tomorrow and others dotted around the album. These riffs are bedrock for the more experimental side of what Pielużek does. They make it all accessible, even if we start to wonder about complexity and time signatures and how straightforward this isn't. He's a good soloist too, but he doesn't spend a lot of time with guitar solos, soaring with one on Almost Human, blistering with one on Past the Truth and adding a few very different ones in Stay Under Cover.

Just as we just absorb those riffs and come back later to think about how complex they are, we see the songs in a similar way. As much as I enjoy the catchy melodies and riffs, not to forget the solos, it's the textures that really pull me in. It's those chimes on Almost Human, the weird keyboards in the middle of False Memories that sound like musical steam horns and the glitchy rhythms on Past the Truth that combine with the guitar to remind of Robert Plant's Big Log at points. The song has a completely different direction, ending up almost Pink Floyd, but that texture abides. More than anything, it's especially the entire second half of Stay Under Cover, which is joyous.

This track is a worthy bookend to Almost Human, not only because it's another ten minute gem but because the first five minutes of the album and the last five unfold instrumentally, as if they were always meant to lead us in and take us home. It's the most obviously progressive song here, with a whole slew of different sounds. It opens up slow and langurous, a liquid guitar flowing through the piece, but, after the tasty guitar solo midway, it drops into a texture section with minimal piano in a fascinating battle with the unusual rhythms behind it. Eventually that builds into a fasacinating synth outro and it left me wanting to immediately play that final track again and again.

I liked this album on a first listen, which always helps with prog rock, but liked it all the more on a few repeats, enough to move it up from a 7/10 to an 8/10. And I think that may be the norm for any listeners finding Pielużek and Glass Island through this album. The immediacy of it means that it's highly accessible, while the depth of it means that it's worth exploring too. Keep these Polish prog rock bands coming and do tell me what they're putting in the water over there, because Poland is punching seriously above its weight right now in the genre, as indeed is Norway.

Friday 3 May 2024

Praying Mantis - Defiance (2024)

Country: UK
Style: Hard Rock
Rating: 9/10
Release Date: 19 Apr 2024
Sites: Facebook | Official Website | Twitter | Wikipedia | YouTube

I only review new rock and metal at Apocalypse Later and I've often talked about the main reason why I do that. So many of my fellow fans back in the eighties seem to have fallen prey to the belief that "all new music sucks". They're quite clearly wrong and I'd cite the fifteen hundred albums I've reviewed over the past six years as evidence for that. However, those people are also missing out on the fact that some of the bands who they use as examples of why rock music was so much better back then aren't just still going but are putting out their best material now.

Case in point: Praying Mantis. They formed way back in 1974 when I was toddling around causing a lot of heartache for my parents and they only released a sole album back in the day, Time Tells No Lies in 1981. Sure, it's a good one, but I'd suggest their most recent couple of albums are right up there with it, if not above it. That's Katharsis a couple of years ago and Defiance right now. This is a good one on a first listen, which is always a telling sign, but it grows on a second and cements its stature on a third.

The opening three songs explain why. From the Start is a solid opener, lively if not fast, there to be an attention grabber. Defiance is slower but has a majesty that builds it wonderfully, with an epic feel that makes it surprising to realise that it's over in four minutes and change, making it shorter than the opener. That majesty returns in songs like Forever in My Heart or Never Can Say Goodbye and, after a few listens, seems to pervade pretty much everything. Feelin' Lucky ups the tempo to rock out but with an elegance that reminds of the sort of thing we might expect from Demon.

They make for a strong opening, ably setting the stage for what's to come. Before I tell you that a few later songs are better still, let's dive into the acknowledgement that track four is a cover, the old Joe Lynn Turner-era Rainbow classic, I Surrender. It's an excellent version with another superb vocal performance from John Cuijpers and some sumptuous dual guitar work from Tino Troy and Andy Burgess. However, it initially seems rather redundant because it doesn't add anything to an established classic that we already know.

The point is that there's history here. It was written by Russ Ballard and its first release was on a Head East single in 1980. Praying Mantis recorded a version during the Time Tells No Lies sessions in 1981, but they didn't release it on the grounds that Rainbow had just done that. I presume that led to the selection of a Kinks song instead, All Day and All of the Night, for that album and as the second single from it. And so this is the modern day Praying Mantis re-staking their claim to it as a song that fits their style perfectly, which it does.

What's particularly telling is that other songs here, especially Give It Up, unfold in the same style of emphatic arena rock. This is an original and it's not quite as good as I Surrender, but it deserves to be in the same setlist. Forever in My Heart and One Heart would play wonderfully to arena rock fans too, both starting out like power ballads even if only the former stays there. These just ooze with the majesty I talked about earlier, the second adding an elegant acoustic guitar solo during its second half, power chords maintaining the impact behind it. There's some major sustain on the vocals of John Cuijpers on these, not that he skimps on that elsewhere.

That emphasises how he's a real boon to this band nowadays. He's the most recent arrival, joining in 2013 alongside drummer Hans in't Zandt, their decade plus with Praying Mantis cementing how this is easily the most consistent line-up they've ever had. Both simply fit here, even though both are Dutch and the band is English. The instrumental Nightswim is no less worthy an inclusion here for its lack of vocals, but when Cuijpers rips into the next song, Standing Tall, we see just how much he belongs in this band.

I mentioned that, as strong as the opening three songs are, there are better still to come. While I can't resist Forever in My Heart, even being generally put off by power ballads, but Standing Tall is my easy pick for the best song here and my personal favourite. It starts out like Rush and turns into Demon, with a dash of Survivor in the commerciality of its riffs and, as it builds, one of Golden Earring in its incessant drive. That's a catchy keyboard riff but an excellent guitar solo too and the best thing about it is that it manages to be a faster paced rocker without losing the majesty of the slower songs. But there's also Give It Up and Let's See and Never Can Say Goodbye and... let's just say that this is a damn fine album that ends even better than it begins.

What fascinates me the most is that we appear to be in a heyday of classic bands who predated my discovery of rock and metal in 1984 but who are putting out amazing material right now. It seems bizarre to suggest it, but could I come up with a theoretical tour more enticing to me in 2024 than Praying Mantis, Demon and Diamond Head, this band seeming like the missing link between the two? I don't think so, unless we add Weapon too for good measure. Let's revisit that in a few weeks when I review the new Demon album.

Pigeons Playing Ping Pong - Day in Time (2024)

Country: USA
Style: Funk Rock
Rating: 8/10
Release Date: 26 Apr 2024
Sites: Facebook | Instagram | Official Website | Twitter | Wikipedia | YouTube

It seems strange, given such a memorable band name, that I haven't heard of Pigeons Playing Ping Pong before, but they've been around since 2009 and this is their seventh album. Clearly I've been missing out. By the way, that name was taken from the description of a scientific experiment in a textbook, but that doesn't mean this is math rock. The Pigeons play funk rock that's almost always driven by the bass of Ben Carrey. The vocals of Greg Ormont are very clean and the sound is often poppy—the earworm chorus in The Town, the obvious single which opens up the album, reminds of Bruno Mars's Uptown Funk—but they also love to jam and I fell into a lot of these guitar solos.

Let's get The Town out of the way quickly, because it's the sort of song that's so infectious that it's easy to just slap that one on repeat and forget that it's actually opening up an album. There are a further ten songs on Day in Time, plus a thirty second outro that sounds like it was ripped from an old and warped cassette. I can't say that any approach The Town on the infectious front, but a few of these songs come close to being as perky, such as the title track and Fall in Place. I had a concert to attend tonight and I had The Town and Day in Time playing in my head all the way there.

Funk rock is usually driven by the bass and Ben Carrey is a thoroughly impressive bedrock for the band to build on. He's there on The Town and Day in Time, of course, but it's impossible to ignore him on Beneath the Surface and Sorcerer, let alone when he's stealing the spotlight with bass solos on tracks like Alright Tonight and Overtime. There are moments dotted here and there on the album, often in the intros to songs, when he doesn't do anything at all and it feels acutely like something's been lost. Fortunately he soon shows up and all is right with the world again.

Once Carrey has set down a bass line, many of these songs are tasked with a pretty basic question as to whether they want to be pop or rock. The more Greg Ormont's vocals nail a melody, the more pop it becomes, whether it's the funk of The Town, the disco of Let the Boogie Out or the reggae of My Own Way. The more Ormont focuses on his guitar and Jeremy Schon joins him—I don't see a credit to divvy up lead and rhythm duties, so I presume they swap them—, the more it turns into a rock album. Just check out Skinner, which doesn't just have the best guitar solo on the album; it's seriously extended because this is a five minute instrumental.

It's how they put those two approaches together to create one sound that makes this band work so well. The clean lines, whether we're talking vocals or guitar, suggest that this is what we might hear if Lenny Kravitz handed his guitar to Eric Clapton and his microphone to Robert Cray. Late in Feelin' Fine, there's a jam that's absolutely glorious but, prior to that, the song is so clean that we'd perhaps be forgiven for assuming that they're aiming for the blandest audience possible—like people who think the sun shines out of Jimmy Buffett's margarita glass—but just can't resist rocking out anyway.

And they rock out a lot here. The Town ought to be too commercial to do that but there's a tasty guitar solo in the second half; Alright Tonight boasts another one; and Day in Time has one more that comes right after a keyboard solo. That's three in three songs and there are a bunch more to enjoy before we get to that instrumental workout on Feelin' Fine eleven tracks in. Add to that an array of extra little touches, like the keyboard flurry late in Day in Time that reminded me of early Marillion; the reggae jangle of the guitars in My Own Way and Fall in Place; or the funky horns in Let the Boogie Out that elevate the whole thing.

It all made me recall a gig review in Kerrang! way back in the late eighties that sent someone to an Allman Brothers gig who clearly had no idea who they were. They fully expected granddad rock and were prepared to sit through it, but they got a blistering jam show instead that utterly blew their mind. That's how I imagine Pigeons Playing Ping Pong gigs to be, with grandmas showing up because they just sound so nice in the background of Murder She Wrote or some such show and hearing tight rocking jams instead that make them question what they've missed over decades.

And I'll shut up now, except to make a note for my future self to figure out what that phrasing is in Overtime that I absolutely recognise but somehow can't place. I listened to a couple of tracks late one evening to see if this was something I'd be up for reviewing. Obviously I was, but what I got on an eleven track album was so much more than I heard in that pair of openers, even though anyone listening to this would have to include The Town as a highlight. I'm one of those, though Skinner is my top pick and Day in Time and Feelin' Fine aren't far behind.

So I may be a little late, but I've caught up with Pigeons Playing Ping Pong and now have six prior albums to seek out. Have you caught up with them yet? You should. Your day will feel better for it.

Thursday 2 May 2024

Leaves' Eyes - Myths of Fate (2024)

Country: Germany
Style: Symphonic Metal
Rating: 7/10
Release Date: 22 Mar 2024
Sites: Bandcamp | Facebook | Instagram | Metal Archives | Official Website | Twitter | Wikipedia | YouTube

It's becoming increasingly difficult to list a country for Leaves' Eyes, who return here with a ninth studio album to follow 2020's The Last Viking. They were formed by Norwegian vocalist Liv Kristine and the line-up of Germany's Atrocity, but there are no longer any Norwegians in the band and, of six members, only three hail from Germany. The lead vocals are handled this time, as last, by Elina Siirala, a Finn; Joris Nijenhuis is a Dutch drummer; and the two replacements for Thorsten Bauer are an Italian, Andre Nasso on bass, and a German, Luc Gebhardt on guitars.

Wherever they're from, they sound excellent on this album. The songs feel a little heavier than on its predecessor but that's not because of any change in songwriting, more because the back end is beefed up a little in the production. It all sounds like it has a little more oomph to it, but what we hear on top of that is the same heavy symphonic metal. Well, mostly, because I'm hearing a little change in the approach too, not least all the folky touches on The Last Viking being restricted to a single track, Einherjar.

For one, even though the production makes this feel a little heavier than last time out, there are fewer harsh vocals from Alexander Krull, now the sole remaining founding member, after Bauer's departure in 2021. There are some on the opener, Forged by Fire, but he focuses on keyboards for Realm of Dark Waves and Who Wants to Live Forever, which become the baseline for this album. I was almost shocked when he leads out Hammer of the Gods, on which he has a lot more to do with his vocals. The same happens with Sons of Triglav, easily his most dominant vocal performance on this album. He's still there, of course, decorating other songs like Fear the Serpent, just less often.

For another, there's less of a choral sound in play this time. Again it's there and indeed it's there on the opener, which features some of the most memorable choral vocals here. There's more still to come in Fear the Serpent, Einherjar and especially Sail with the Dead, but the latter two close out the album and so it's missing far more often than I expected. In Eternity, which boasts a highly prominent woah woah chorus isn't bolstered by other voices the way it could easily have been. It was clearly a deliberate decision to relegate choral vocals deep below Siirala's clean but powerful lead, as well as Krull's occasional harsh vocal.

Now, that doesn't mean that Leaves' Eyes are moving away from symphonic metal. This is clearly symphonic metal through and through. Siirala may not soar all the time but she soars plenty and I'm very happy about how she breaks down when she wants to set a mood and when she wants to show off a little. She's a wonderful lead singer for this band and it's hardly surprising that she's even more of a focus than she was last time. Goddess of the Night is a showcase for her, covering both nuance and power, but my favourite moment is the very first word in Fear the Serpent which she delivers with impeccable relish.

It's probably not coincidental that Goddess of the Night is also the most orchestrated track, with delicate violins to match Siirala's delicate sections and more powerful ones to match her powerful ones. While I'd call out Hammer of the Gods and Forged by Fire as my favourite songs, along with the Viking metal infused Sons of Triglav, Goddess of the Night can't be ignored as a real highlight of the album. It's the softest, subtlist and quietest song here, however much it builds, but it's also perhaps the one we can least ignore. We can fall into the grooves of many of these songs and let them carry us along, most obviously Sons of Triglav and In Eternity, but Goddess of the Night has real demands on our attention. We are commanded to listen.

All that said, it shouldn't surprise that I like this album rather a lot. It's more immediate than its predecessor and it's more consistent, in addition to having that extra boost from the production. However, it's also not taking any risks. Decreasing those harsh vocals and choral backdrops feels like a backward step. Symphonic metal is a genre that's particularly easy to identify because the bands who forged it are so similar that they can sound interchangeable. Leaves' Eyes have always been a little different, obviously compatible and similar but never the same, perhaps inevitably given their origins in a gothic singer and a grindcore band. However, these changes feel like they may be moving them closer to the norm and that may be a mistake.

Grains - Grains (2024)

Country: New Zealand
Style: Electronic/Space Rock
Rating: 7/10
Release Date: 12 Apr 2024
Sites: Bandcamp | Facebook | Instagram | YouTube

Here's something interesting from down under. Grains, who hail from Wellington, which marks as far south as you can go and remain in a capital city, apparently started out as a duo playing synth ambience but they bulked up 2021 to a five piece band. They're primarily electronic, but they run quite the gamut within that. How? opens up as almost new wave, like Tangerine Dream with some welcome throat singing. I am loving how that's travelling far from Mongolia nowadays. Then Ever adds a beat and starts to explore the potential of what five guys playing these instruments can do.

I like Ever, which is over in fewer than five minutes but still moves from pop music into space rock and on into something more esoteric. Sometimes this feels acutely poppy, especially early in Unco and Flying Saucer, which appears to be an old piece of music condensed a little for this, their debut album. There's disco on Unco and there's new wave on Flying Saucer, but both evolve elsewhere. In the former, electric guitars float around deep underneath the synths and gradually surface as the piece runs on. That's quite a tasty solo building towards the two minute mark and a neatly delicate section just after four.

The latter is one of the two epics the album has to offer, L.O.T.A.F! being the other one. Any track here could easily have been extended far past its actual running time, but Grains only allow some extended exploration on these two. They do think about it on Unco too, which almost reaches the seven minute mark, but they haul it back in well before it can sprawl out of control. Flying Saucer starts out poppier than usual, a very old school lead synth backed by far more modern synths, but it also gets heavier than usual late in its first half and again during its second.

If it wasn't for the overt guitars midway through L.O.T.A.F!, then Flying Saucer would feature the poppiest and heaviest moments of the album, which ought to give a good idea of how far it shifts over its eight and a half minutes. And that's a good thing. Anything that trawls in space rock even as a component really ought to take the listener on a journey and I got that the most here on this one highly versatile track. L.O.T.A.F! took me on a journey too but a much darker one that isn't to out there but to in here, which gets experimental and claustrophobic.

It's the longer pieces that connect with me the most, the two epics but also Unco and, after them, the closer, Succession II, which is pure electronic rock in the seventies tradition but introduced to space rock and with layers of extra electronic chirps. It's like walking into a maximalist spaceship control room with ADHD. This one's only five and a half minutes long, which isn't sprawling for the fourth longest piece on an instrumental electrona album. I say instrumental, by the way, because not one of these pieces involves the delivery of lyrics but there are vocals here, whether they're recorded or sampled, just occasional vocalisations and that throat singing on How?

That's not to say that the shorter pieces don't work, but they're far less ambitious. How? sets the scene and Ever is an introduction to where we might be going. Pans is more than a pleasant interlude, but for half its running time it seems to be exactly that. It does get more interesting in its second half but I don't think it quite figures out what it wants to be. And Succession I is evocative from its very first moments, as if it's dumped us into a rainforest and we have to figure out which one. However, it's easily the shortest piece here and it never answers the questions it asks. Succession II seems a lot more confident about shifting to answers within a couple of seconds.

I like this a lot and it's easy to get completely subsumed by it, but how substantial it really is may depend on many further listens. Grains have been around for a few years now, with their earliest recordings issued in 2019 on a single called ζ, the Greek letter zeta. Back then, they were the duo of Calum Turner and Peregrin Hyde. Nowadays, there are five of them, with additional cello from a couple of guests. However, I'm expecting that Turner and Hyde still provide the bulk of this on a selection of synthesisers and sequencers. The rest flesh out the sound into something more. Lets see where they go from here, because I have a feeling that they're going to keep evolving.

Wednesday 1 May 2024

Týr - Battle Ballads (2024)

Country: Faroe Islands
Style: Folk Metal
Rating: 7/10
Release Date: 12 Apr 2024
Sites: Bandcamp | Facebook | Instagram | Metal Archives | Official Website | Twitter | YouTube

It's been five years since a Týr album and they're touring again. My son got to see them recently in Mesa and he thought they were solid, even though he was personally there to see Trollfest again, who were one of their support bands. Now, five years may not seem like a long time but that's the beforetimes on the other side of COVID, so it's a long time indeed. The only time they've taken as long between albums before was the previous gap, between 2013's Valkyrja and 2019's Hel, which was twice as long as any gap before it, so this may be the new normal.

If so, then material needs to be pretty strong and, while this is certainly a reliable and enjoyable album, it rarely seems to ache to knock my socks off, unlike Hel, which was infused with energy to do precisely that. This feels a little more relaxed to me, but it's slowly building on me. Hammered is a decent opener, but Unwandered Ways is better still, nailing the melody and the bounce, and Dragons Never Die almost matches it. Row has a tasty rhythm, which it really ought to have given that it's a rowing song. Given that, I'm not sure that it should speed up at the end, but maybe this is competitive rowing rather than raiding foreign shores.

And that's the first chunk of the album, because this doesn't break naturally into two sides. These first four songs are all sung in English and they all do much the same thing in different ways with varying degrees of success. Later on, skipping over two tracks for now, the third chunk features a set of three more of these. These seven tracks comprise the core of this album, even if they fall on either side of its heart.

After them is the closer, Causa Latronum Normannorum, which stands pretty much on its own. It's an interesting song, because it's slower than those seven default mode tracks, the fast drumming of Tadeusz Rieckmann aside. It's initially sung in what I presume is Faroese, then shifts to Latin, so it definitely takes a different approach there. And it flaunts itself, building more sedately with an effortless ease, as if it's impressing on us how powerful it is so that we don't try anything. I like it.

However, I like the two tracks in the very middle of the album even more. They're notably different from each other but they sit well together because they're both sung in Faroese (or is it Icelandic, as Google Translate seems to think?) and, maybe in part because of that, they feel more authentic. However, I have a feeling that they'd feel more authentic even if they weren't. The other songs are new, of course, and they feel like they're new songs. I don't know for a fact that these are new too, but I have no reason to believe that they aren't, other than they feel timeless, like they could be a pair of five hundred year old classics given a modern day Týr treatment.

Torkils døtur (Torkil's Daughter) is a ballad, though it does bulk up late on, but there's a real power to it. The guitars are acoustic for the longest time and they're delightfully delicate in comparison to to the rest of the album. However, the vocals quickly take over and everything feels naturally harmonised, like it's not one voice but thirty singing so closely in unison that it becomes a single enhanced one. It's also orchestrated, in ways it certainly wouldn't be in a Faroese inn, but the approach works. I find it an impossible song to resist, even if I have no idea what they're telling me.

Vælkomnir føroyingar isn't a ballad, but it carries the same sort of heritage to it, just translated a lot deeper into modern day folk metal. Maybe Torkils døtur is an actual Faroese folk song whereas Vælkomnir føroyingar is merely the most successful new song here at tapping into that tradition. It's easily my favourite track, that harmonised vocal approach continuing but with a more obvious merger of clean voice over harsh voice, singing the same words. The melodies are more effortless than even Unwandered Ways and the whole thing is always over far too quickly for me. I feel like I could be carried along by this one forever. Given that it translates to Welcome Guests, that seems rather appropriate.

Where this leaves me is that my favourite two songs are the ones not sung in English. Lead singer Heri Joensen is clearly fluent and he delivers very well indeed in English, but there's an element here in the Faroese songs that simply isn't there in the English language ones, one that's typical for folk metal, of course. If there's a subgenre of metal that values native language more, then I don't know what it is. I like everything on this album, but I like some of it a lot more than the rest and the rest means the majority.

Are Týr trying too hard to find a more mainstream sound and losing a little of themselves in the process? Let's see how the next album turns out in what I'm now guessing will be five or six years from now.

About Us - Take a Piece (2024)

Country: India
Style: Melodic/Hard Rock
Rating: 7/10
Release Date: 12 Apr 2024
Sites: Facebook | Instagram

I reviewed the self-titled debut album from About Us in 2022 and pretty much everything I said in that review holds true here. Most notably, they have a truly bizarre mix of styles that sometimes works really well and sometimes leaves me wondering why. This sort of mix simply isn't done and for good reasons, because the fanbases for some of the different styles on offer here tend to hate the other styles. However, they've doubled down on this sort of thing since that debut, so it must be working for them.

They start us in relatively easy, with an opener in Come to You that's half heavy/power metal and half melodic rock. Their base style remains melodic rock, which is why they're on Frontiers, but it's fair to say that I doubt anyone else on Frontiers sounds like this. There are plenty of bands on that label who play melodic rock and plenty more who play power metal and perhaps a few that sound like both put together. However, I can't name another one who adds nu and alt metal into the mix, as About Us promptly do on Endure.

Come to You is fundamentally a melodic rock song with the sort of melodies we expect built on the sort of structure we expect, but it's bulked up with beefier guitars and notably fast drumming. I'm pretty sure Yanni Ennie is using a double bass approach here, which I don't believe I've ever heard in a melodic rock band before. Sochan Kikon takes on an escalating metal vocal at the very end of the song too. Endure, though, is melodic rock with a Hot Topic filter laid prominently over it like a blanket. Renlamo Lotha and Pona Kikon shift their guitars to rhythmic monotone riffs and djenty chords and both Sochan Kikon and whoever's adding backing vocals go trendy harsh. However, the solos are back to power metal again.

Legion mixes those approaches, building from an elegant power metal intro to djenty verses and back into power metal choruses, the melodic rock not as clear but still there in the structure, and the majority of these tracks continue to mix these approaches in different amounts. Fire with Fire is more melodic rock but with grungier guitars and Sochan Kikon singing clean but with more grit and, at the very end, another metal scream. EVH is bouncy hard rock with much more prominent keyboards from Renbomo Yanthan, so it's AOR with a little crunch. This one could easily be heavy Journey. Beautiful Misery is melodic rock that ramps up to power metal but with those alt metal touches when that sort of middle finger attitude is warranted.

About Us hail from Wokha, which is so far to the northeast of India that it's far closer to Myanmar than the majority of India, so I wonder what their local music scene sounds like. It's not the usual home for a rock band of any description, so maybe rock fans there are more accepting of this sort of wild mix. If Journey and Blind Guardian and Avenged Sevenfold are all simply rock bands there and a notable change from Bollywood soundtracks and traditional Indian music, then a band like About Us makes total sense. Here in the west, where trad metal and alt metal have two separate fanbases, especially outside the US, About Us make us wonder a lot more.

What I can say is that they're highly capable. Sochan Kikon sounds effective whatever style he's adopting at any particular moment. Check out the guitar solos in Reels for Eternity and Hope to see what a double act like Lotha and Pona Kikon can do. Ennie impresses throughout, even if it sometimes feels as if he'd be more comfortable in an extreme metal band. Yanthan rarely takes the spotlight, which holds true for bassist Soren Kikon, a third Kikon in this band, but they both deliver exactly what they need to do to support these songs.

I'm going with another 7/10 here, as I did with the About Us debut. This feels a little heavier over a forty minute stretch but it hasn't lost its melodic rock roots, especially with a thoroughly melodic song like Fortitude wrapping things up, even if Sochan Kikon gets edgy at points and there's a nice slow and heavy section early in the second half. My least favourite songs are the ones that venture deepest into the nu metal approach, Endure and Legion among them, but they stay varied too, so I'm not desperately upset. Later songs, like Hope and Beautiful Misery, strike a better balance for me, mostly unfolding in traditional melodic fashion but with the occasional edgy texture.

What I don't hear yet is something new coming out of this merger. It still sounds like a merger of two very different sounds coexisting on the same album. Maybe, if About Us keep knocking these albums out, they'll find a way to make the two sounds feel like one, at which point they'll certainly have staked out a very new claim within the genre. Best of luck to them!