AWAKE – FOREVER MORE

Released 14th October 2011 on Lion Music

Awake’s 2007 debut ‘Illumination’ was a solid debut, if a little too  Evergrey in places (but then it was produced by Tom Englund) so its with interest we see where the band is now at 4 years later with album #2 ‘Forever More’.

First thing we notice is a change in band personnel with a new guitar tag team of brothers Andy and Steven Coles and then some great cover art, and upon first listen the Evergrey edge of the debut has mostly been replaced with a more original sound and one that is still to our liking; but one that still retains the elements that made the debut enjoyable.

Heavier and more direct than many of their Lion Music label brethren such as Sun Caged, Seventh Wonder etc,  Awake are all about big heavy riffs, with atmospheric keyboard parts and dark vocals.  The band is also more intent on working a song as opposed to flawing us with their technical brilliance.  Most tracks are concise clocking in around the 4 to 5 minute mark with short solo passages but are arguably more enjoyable for this trait.

After a brief instrumental opener “Into The Storm”, the 1-2 punch of “Out Of Control” and “Release Me” are powerful dynamic numbers with some scorching guitar riffs and excellent kick drum work from Alex Townsend not to mention solid vocals from Simon Shedwell.  The more mid tempo water of “Drifting Away” is dark and oppressive and rather tasty all round and this vein is continued for “Taken”.  The piano darkness of “Closing The Doors” is gothic in nature before “Bleed From You” displays a keen commercial edge and moves at a swift pace and is a highlight.

From here on in with get more of the same as before really, but the quality level is on a par with the rest of the album with later highlights coming in “Hold On”, the multi-faceted “One Wish” and the closing title track which is home to a killer chorus and some more tasty riffery, a nice way to go out.

With “Forever More” Awake have cleared the difficult second album hurdle with no problems.  More coherent and powerful than the debut in all departments this is a progressive tinted metal band the UK can be proud of and should see the band score a wider fan base.  One to check out.

Rating – 85%

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VARGTON PROJEKT – PROGXPRIMETAL

Out now on Lion Music

Vargton Projekt are an amalgamation of some of Sweden’s finest musical talent in guitarist Mats Hedberg, drummer Morgan Agren (Frank Zappa)and vocalist Bjorn Jansson (Ride The Sky / Tears Of Anger).

The debut album ‘ProgXpriMetal’ is an eclectic collection of material that was originally based around instrumental only origins, yet the thought to have Jansson’s distinctive vocals came as an afterthought.  As the vocal tracks don’t follow a normal set song structure, but serve up something free of restraint, and more about musical expression, something the album is brimming with.

Pretty much on every track there is something to absorb on repeated spins, and this isn’t a track that will win over the casual listener right away. But, there is an element of discovery that is often more rewarding with each passing listen and fans of progressive music from across the genres many styles will find much to enjoy.

Highlights to these ears come in ‘Jaipur’, the 3 part  ‘Birka Trilogy’ (with part 3 seeing a fast fret melting solo battle between Hedberg and lion label head Lars Eric Mattsson) and the slower tempo ‘Lvorna’ which it shades of fusion and classical prog sound.

Amongst the trio of musicians there are numerous other musicians that make the whole package an earthly experience, yet it’s the core performances of Hedberg and Agren that deserve the plaudits for their work is quite phenomenal.

If you want an album to see you entertained through the coming dark Autumn and Winter months ‘ProgXpriMetal’ may just be the ticket.  Unique and gifted sums up this release – don’t let the rather bland album cover put you off.

Rating – 90%