Subgenres(s): Progressive Rock, Soft Rock
Length: 43 minutes
Label(s): Music for Nations, Koch Records
02. In My Time of Need
03. Death Whispered a Lullaby
05. Hope Leaves
06. To Rid the Disease
07. Ending Credits
Damnation is the seventh studio album by Swedish band Opeth. Unlike all of their previous albums, Damnation sees the band shedding themselves of their renowned death metal, progressive metal, folk and acoustic music blend for a hybrid of progressive and soft rock. The album is soft to the point that at times it can be seen as pushing the boundaries of what can be considered rock music, progressive influences or not.
Windowpane sets the tone perfectly with a sound crafted around a central clean-sounding guitar melody that interplays with an acoustic guitar and a steady rock drum beat devoid of metal tempos that give room for the prevailing melancholic mood to take hold. This is further enhanced by the keyboards and is indicative of what Damnation is about. Fans hearing this for the first time, and being familiar with their previous output, will be anticipating the sudden transition to Opeth’s metal sound but that moment will never come. On top of this, vocalist and guitarist Mikael Akerfeldt has also left his death growls in favour of a restrained singing voice that sounds fragile at times. While some fans will have undoubtedly being disappointed by these drastic changes, it would have also been impossible to fit that aggressive vocal style into Damnation and make it work.
The melancholic mood is a central theme to Damnation and in some ways this helps to paint the album as a by the numbers effort. This is due to the songs, at times, blurring together and losing their distinctive nature when listening from start to finish. Two of the biggest standouts are the minimalist Weakness, which is centred on a subtle keyboard arrangement and is entirely devoid of percussion. Closure, the only song that shakes of the passive sound thoroughly, actively engages the listener in a different way. The tempo picks up as the song progresses and Opeth pushes it even further towards the end to create a total cacophony when put next to the rest of the album. This abruptly cuts out and if you had downloaded this song through one of the illegal file sharing services around at the time Damnation was released you would have thought that the song had been corrupted or was incomplete. This leads directly into Hope Leaves and makes these songs contrast in a way that can be seen an intentional throwback to their previous albums where the acoustic and metal parts can come right after each other. This way of integrating that aspect of Opeth’s character into Damnation is not as well executed as desired, if that is the case, since it is more disjointed than fluid in its delivery.
It’s difficult for any band to break away from their established sound to explore new ideas but Opeth embrace their progressive rock influences honestly and passionately. This combined with the efforts of co-producer Steven Wilson (Porcupine Tree) on the keyboard and piano rounds off their sound and helped them to realise their vision. Damnation is an important milestone in Opeth’s history and is recommendable to anyone wanting to experience the softer side of rock music.
Mikael Akerfeldt: Vocals and lead guitar
Peter Lingren: Rhythm guitar
Martin Mendez: Bass guitar
Martin Lopez: Drums
Steven Wilson: Keyboards, piano, Mellotron, backing vocals
Genre(s): Folk, Jazz
Subgenres(s): Chanson, Gypsy Jazz
Length: 39 minutes
Label(s): Play On, Sony
01. Les Passants
02. Je Veux
03. Le Long de la Route
04. La Fée
05. Trop Sensible
06. Prends Garde à ta Langue
07. Ni Oui Ni Non
08. Port Coton
09. J’aime à Nouveau
10. Dans Ma Rue
11. Éblouie Par la Nuit
Zaz is the debut album and stage name of French singer Isabelle Geffroy. The first thing that the listener will pick up on over the course of this album is the many different directions that are taken. Starting with a series of four acoustic-driven songs, including the jaunty single Je Veux, the sound is then stripped back to a quiet acoustic guitar and even subtler harmonium to fill in the silence on Trop Sensible, the only song written solely by Zaz.
This song does have the advantage of letting her voice stand out although it is somewhat awkwardly followed by Prends Garde à Ta Langue and then Ni Oui Ni Non. The latter retains the jaunty attitude of Je Veux and the former is much the same after being moulded into a jazzy temperament that is accompanied by a brass section consisting of a trumpet, trombone and saxophone.
Aside from writing Trop Sensible herself, Zaz shares credit for five other song (Les Passants, Le Long de a Loute, Prends Garde à Ta Langue, Ni Out Ni Non and J’aime à Nouveau) while the other six were written by other composers. None of the songs on Zaz are inherently weak but it is apparent that some of the other composers have a different flair to that of Zaz.
For example, fellow French musician Raphaël Haroche is the sole composer of the piano-focused La Fée as well as the earnest Port Coton and Éblouie Par la Nuit. The latter two are more downbeat and are in the second half of the album, where this mood is more dominant, whereas the first half is livelier so when looking at the album as a whole it can come across as a bit of a “too many cooks in the kitchen” scenario. The theme is broken up by the cheerful J’aime à Nouveau but Zaz ultimately finishes in a very different place to where it starts.
In spite of having some uneven moment in terms of the overall mood of the album, it is highly enjoyable and the optimistic parts of it will certainly keep your attention irrespective of being able to understand the lyrics or not, some of which are positive when translated (Je Veux) whereas others tell more sombre tales (Dans Ma Rue).
Zaz (Isabelle Geffroy): Lead Vocals (1-11)
Bruce Cherbit: Drums (1, 2, 3, 6, 7, 9), Tambourine (2)
Toby Dammit: Drums (4, 8)
Manuel Marches: Double Bass (1, 3, 9)
Antoine Reininger: Double Bass (2, 6, 7)
Mathieu Verlot: Double Bass (4, 8, 11)
Germain Guyot: Piano (1, 3, 10)
Fred Lafarge: Acoustic Guitar (1, 2, 3, 7, 9), Piano (4, 8, 11), Harmonium (5, 8)
Alban Sautour: Electric Guitar (1, 3), Programming (1)
Raphaël Haroche: Acoustic Guitar (8)
Subgenres(s): Hard Rock, Punk Rock
Length: 47 minutes
01. Dendrofil for Yggdrasil
06. Ondskapens Galakse
Nattesferd is the third studio album by Norwegian rock band Kvelertak. While they have been referred to as a black metal/rock hybrid in the past it is hardly relevant to Nattesferd because Dendrofil for Yggdrasil is the only black metal song, along with part of Berserkr, on the entire album. Almost everything else is broadly hard rock or punk rock filtered through the lo-fi aesthetic of black metal with a vomitus vocal style spraying all over the music. The lyrics all happen to be in Norwegian and given how they’re delivered it is questionable how intelligible they are, even to a native speaker.
After opening with a black metal song, Kvelertak immediately shifts to hard rock and then alternates between that and punk rock up to and including Ondskapens Galakse. The fusion and alternation of all these different elements is novel but in practice comes across as disjointed (and arguably unfocused) despite the sincerity and passion that the band clearly possesses. The vocal style doesn’t suit any of the hard rock songs and they detract from the experience since songs in this subgenre tend to sound powerful and spirited, whereas this leaves you lacklustre and wanting an actual singer that could have really made the songs into something special.
Berserkr, as the name implies, goes all out with the aggression and wild experimentation in which they blend all three styles into a single song. The majority of the song is black metal meets punk rock and from the bridge onwards the hard rock influences seep back in. To Kvelertak’s credit this is pulled of remarkably well and is certainly a highlight of Nattesferd, as is Bronsegud, a short and punchy hardcore punk flavoured song where the vocal style seems to fit almost naturally.
The last two songs on the album, Heksebrann and Nekrodamus, are almost yin and yang to each other. Heksebrann is a curveball at 9 minutes long while drawing on progressive rock and having a large instrumental section lasting about 4 minutes at the beginning. This contrasts with Nekrodamus, which continues the Kvelertak tradition of having “Nekro” in a song title, and is the complete antithesis of Heksebrann. This song sees hard rock stripped back to the basics and is much slower compared to the other songs, which once again take the listener in an unexpected direction, but is a bit longer than it needs to be.
It’s always good to hear a band perform in their native language and for anyone to embrace the spirit of rock wholeheartedly to the same extent that Kvelertak does. However, the scattershot approach to writing for several subgenres is often inconsistent and they seem to rely on the unpolished aesthetics and consistent use of harsh vocals to add a cohesive thread to the album.
Erlend Hjelvik: Vocals
Vidar Landa: Guitar
Bjarte Lund Rolland: Guitar, Piano
Maciek Ofstad: Guitar, Vocals
Marvin Nygaard: Bass
Kjetil Gjermundrød: Drums