Album Title: Transcendence
Label: Lion Music
Date Of Release: 15 June 2017
I don’t think I have ever been bullied so relentlessly by a reader in the quest for me to publish a review. But I’m nothing if not willing to please my loyal followers, so here I am with some considered thoughts about ‘Transcendence’, the sophomore album from Anthriel.
Having not been aware of the debut album, ‘The Pathway’, I come at this follow-up without the baggage of expectation and without the need to compare the two. If you’re looking for a review that specifically does this, I’m afraid you’ll need to go elsewhere. From what I can glean from various sources that I tend to trust, this record might be in a heavier and darker vein to its predecessor. Indeed this is borne out by the band on the accompanying press release, as they admit exactly that.
Well, for the Man of Much Metal, darker and heavier is almost always a good thing and so it has proved here. The reason for the delay in penning this review is because, drowning under a host of new releases, I disregarded it to begin with. Then I heard a few comments about it and, resulting from the aforementioned bullying, I was browbeaten into finding a track online to listen to. Well blow me down with a feather, I rather liked it, so here I am now with my considered review.
It has been a lengthy wait for new material, some seven years. In the intervening time, the Finns have suffered problems with their rehearsal studio and then the almost inevitable line-up issues, losing both their drummer and bassist. It means now that Anthriel is comprised of Simo Silvan (lead vocals & backing vocals), Timo Niemistö (guitars & backing vocals), Antti Hakulinen (keyboards), Antti Horttana (bass & backing vocals) and Henrikki Markkula (drums).
It’s not all bad news though, because to me, this sounds like a very strong unit playing together to create a rather glorious racket. Naturally the band suggests that this is their strongest incarnation to date but that is definitely backed up by the end result. The inter-album turmoil has also led to the inspiration for the lyrical concept which follows on from the debut but is more about the time in a person’s life where there is almost no hope at all.
I’m not going to sit here and say that ‘Transcendence’ reinvents any wheels. However, what it does do, is provide a hugely enjoyable and immersive listen that gets better and better with each spin. This is bombastic and occasionally over-the-top progressive power metal but unlike other bands who proclaim to play a similar style of music, this is a really excellent blend of all of these elements.
Firstly, it is most definitely heavy enough to be accurately referred to as metal. It also has the symphonics and sprawling qualities of power metal and finally, it is definitely progressive thanks to an abundance of chops, tempo changes and intricate compositions. Two of the tracks extend beyond ten minutes, with the album closer falling just shy of the 20-minute mark. ‘Transcendence’ is also a lush and layered album where, on repeated listens, new intricacies and depth comes through.
In terms of reference points, there is more than a hint of mid-era Symphony X about some of the Anthriel output. But equally, I hear smatterings of Dream Theater, the pomp of Edguy or compatriots Sonata Arctica at their most epic and numerous other influences including a smattering of Shadow Gallery and Seventh Wonder. The opening cinematic and symphonic instrumental also has a touch of ‘Chariots of Fire’ about it thanks to the prominent keys.
I sometimes wish that bands dispensed of these instrumental intros, particularly where the entire album only consists of eight tracks. However, it is difficult to be too churlish about ‘The Calling’ as it fits the feel of ‘Transcendence’ nicely, even if it isn’t the most essential and memorable piece of music in and of itself. Get that out of the way and from there on, the remaining seven tracks that break the hour mark, rightfully rack up the positives.
‘Under Burning Skies’ is a high-octane opener that bounds along at a great pace. I love the riffs that feature as well as the pinched harmonics that dominate the opening few bars of the first major riff. The two newbies Horttana and Markkula immediately make their mark, creating a strong rhythmic spine at the centre of the track. The synths of Hakulinen bathe the song throughout and the quiet mid-section is a great touch, injecting loads of introspective atmosphere, entirely fitting with the dark tones and a great juxtaposition with the heaviness and in-your-face drama that sandwiches it. The icing on the cake is the vocal performance of Simo Silvan, who impresses me with his rich, commanding and melodious tones. This is where many bands of this ilk fall down, but not Anthriel.
The 11-minute ‘Oath Of Darkness’ is even better in my opinion. This is ‘proper’ full-on, no holes barred classic-style progressive metal with a plethora of twists and turns, from dark and brooding atmospheres to triumphant euphoria led by lead guitar solos and rousing keys. Starting with a Mike Oldfield-esque melody, it then lurches forward, building in intensity whilst experimenting with many keyboard-soaked aural textures along its journey. The angry, quasi-gruff vocals add to the aggression but then in come some great melodies to transform the song into something quite excellent, deceptively catchy and thoroughly satisfying.
Tinkling piano, choppy riffs and strong melodies dominate the excellent, slightly more balladic ‘Siren’s Song’, alongside duelling keyboard and guitar solos for which I’ll admit to having a soft spot occasionally. ‘Painted Shadows’ and the angrier follow-up ‘Rhapsody Of Fire’ both revisit those Symphony X influences thanks to strong riffs, layers of key, flamboyant guitar work and plenty of neo-classical affectations, particularly within the former.
‘My Morning Star’ in contrast blasts forth with the kind of symphonic bombast that Nightwish would be proud of, before reining things in to create something altogether more slow-burning and poignant whilst retaining much of the heaviness and catchiness witnessed elsewhere on this record.
It falls to ‘Fallen Souls’ to complete the album. At 19 minutes long, it is the very definition of ‘epic’ but crucially for a track so long, the time most certainly does not drag. There’s simply too much going on for my mind to wander, beginning with an enormously dramatic and cinematic introduction. Extended instrumental passages, tempo changes, virtuosic instrumentalism and symphonic bombast come together in a surprisingly cohesive manner to make this final act a memorable one, with a tiny Haken hint in places. If I’m being picky, I’d have liked a few more memorable melodies within it, similar to those earlier on the album but otherwise it’s a very powerful closing piece of music.
I must admit that I have been left more impressed with ‘Transcendence’ than I thought I would be at the beginning. This is so good in fact, that it might muscle its way into my end-of-year top 30 at this rate. Vibrant, complex, nuanced…this is progressive power metal of a very high standard indeed.
The Score Of Much Metal: 9.0
If you’ve enjoyed this review, you can check out my others from previous years and for 2017 right here:
Decapitated – Anticult
Cosmograf – The Hay-Man Dreams
Orden Ogan – Gunmen
Iced Earth – Incorruptible
Anathema – The Optimist
Solstafir – Berdreyminn
Dream Evil – Six
Avatarium – Hurricanes And Halos
Ayreon – The Source
Until Rain – Inure
MindMaze – Resolve
God Dethroned – The World Ablaze
Bjorn Riis – Forever Comes To An End
Voyager – Ghost Mile
Big Big Train – Grimspound
Lonely Robot – The Big Dream
Firespawn – The Reprobate
Pyramaze – Contingent
Shores Of Null – Black Drapes For Tomorrow
Asira – Efference
Hologram Earth – Black Cell Program
Damnations Day – A World Awakens
Memoriam – For The Fallen
Pallbearer – Heartless
Sleepmakeswaves – Made of Breath Only
Ghost Ship Octavius – Ghost Ship Octavius
Vangough – Warpaint
Telepathy – Tempest
Obituary – Obituary
Fen – Winter
Havok – Conformicide
Wolfheart – Tyhjyys
Svart Crown – Abreaction
Nova Collective – The Further Side
Immolation – Atonement
The Mute Gods – Tardigrades Will Inherit The Earth
Ex Deo – The Immortal Wars
Pyogenesis – A Kingdom To Disappear
My Soliloquy – Engines of Gravity
Nailed To Obscurity – King Delusion
Helion Prime – Helion Prime
Battle Beast – Bringer Of Pain
Persefone – Aathma
Soen – Lykaia
Exquirla – Para Quienes Aun Viven
Odd Logic – Effigy
Mors Principium Est – Embers Of A Dying World
Firewind – Immortals
Slyde – Back Again EP
Sepultura – Machine Messiah
Deserted Fear – Dead Shores Rising
Kreator – Gods Of Violence
Borealis – World of Silence MMXVII
Pain of Salvation – In The Passing Light of Day