THREEFOLD MAZE – Album Review: “Dollar of Dust”

Dollar of Dust

Threefold Maze is an indie progressive metal/hard rock band based in Fort Worth, Texas. Formed by long-time friends Doug Whittenberg and Mike Smith, who originally called their fledgling band Aura Caelestis, they released a respectable self-titled album in 2010. Moving forward, as they state in their bio: “it was decided that the next album needed more production, better gear, and a much better name.” After an exhaustive name search, they decided upon Threefold Maze, and spent several years writing and recording songs for their debut album Dollar of Dust. Regarding the album title, Mike explained that it’s “the approximate value of all the stuff in the human body – if dried up. Kinda morbid but sounded cool.” Indeed it does!

Dollar of Dust was released in July 2016, and it’s an ambitious work containing 12 tracks and running an hour in length. Both Doug and Mike played guitar and keyboards on the album and Doug also played bass and provided the lead vocals, while Mike sang backup. Doug’s son Derek Whittenberg was recruited to play drums, and Caitlin Smith provided guest vocals on some of the tracks. The album was self-produced by Threefold Maze, and mastered by Mika Jussila at Finnvox Studios in Helsinki, Finland. The band chose Mika based on his work with other bands that fall into the same genre, and the wide-open dynamic sound he delivered that they wanted for Dollar of Dust.

Threefold Maze

I’ve given the album multiple listens and discover another melody, lyric or instrumental nuance each and every time. It’s truly monumental in scope – the kind of album Styx, Boston and Dream Theater would create if they combined their talents and music styles. (In fact, to my ears, Doug’s vocals are reminiscent of Dennis DeYoung.)

From the ominous heavy sounds and eerie tinkling piano at the beginning of the opening track “Phear,” it’s clear we’re about to hear some amazing music, and Threefold Maze does not disappoint. They deliver an onslaught of blistering, razor-sharp guitar riffs, thunderous percussion and soaring harmonizing vocals. Toss in some amazing keyboards and exuberant orchestral synths, and we’ve got songs of incredible complexity and depth. This is strongly evident on “Hope,” one of the many standouts on Dollar of Dust. The guitar solo at the bridge is mind-blowing.

Many of their song lyrics address the search for meaning and purpose in life, and the challenges we face in finding our own truth. With pummeling bass and guitars blazing, the hard-hitting “To Visit the Darkness” tackles this head on:

Speculation about the world around me.
Never knowing what might be found.
I try to find my way.
Struggles of the mind are great.
Love and fear and often hate permeate my thoughts and take control.

The guys serve up more killer riffs and pulse-pounding drums on the melodic tracks “Lost My Way” and “Frozen in Time.” In fact, the brilliant “Frozen in Time” is pretty darn close to being a perfect progressive metal anthem, and is my favorite track on the album.

Next up is the beautiful instrumental interlude “Caelestial Intermission,” a nod to the band’s previous name and album. This track is loaded with magnificent guitar work and mesmerizing synths, and is another one of my favorites. The relative calm is abruptly shattered by the pummeling heavy metal sounds of “Vacant Eyes.” At 2:30, the song shifts to a soothing 30-second interlude featuring keyboards, sweeping synths, and the sublime guest vocals of Caitlin Smith, before the metal riffs return for the outro. Caitlin appears again on “If I” and the epic “What Truth,” a seven and half minute long tour de force of rhythmic shifts, chord change ups, hammering percussion, buzzing bass lines, intriguing synths, mindbending guitar work and lovely vocal harmonies. The track is so melodically and musically complex that it has the feel of a mini rock opera.

At this point, one would think the guys would begin to run out of steam, but nothing could be further from the truth. Their phenomenal musicianship continues to shine on “Beyond the Grey” and “This Moment Calling,” another standout track with jaw-dropping power riffs. The fantastic hard-driving “Neverwake” is a reworking of a track that originally appeared on Aura Caelestis, and a fitting closer to a superb album.

Connect with Threefold Maze:  Website / Facebook / Twitter / Instagram

Stream their music on  Spotify / Soundcloud

Purchase on  iTunes / Amazon / Bandcamp / cdbaby

APOTHEON – EP Review: “Mechanically Consumed”

Mechanically Consumed EP

Hailing from the mile-high city of Denver, Colorado, indie band Apotheon plays some of the most complex and melodic death metal I’ve ever had the pleasure of hearing. Their music goes from face-melting one moment to captivating the next, sometimes within the same track. They create songs of incredible depth and intelligence, while still delivering bone-crushing riffs and brutal vocals that will satisfy the pickiest of death metal fans.

Formed in 2014, Apotheon is made up of five accomplished musicians – Reece Deeter (Vocals), Fernando del Valle (Guitar), Ian Burnside (Guitar), Ibrahim Jimenez (Bass) and Andrew Morris (Drums). All band members participate in writing the music, and the lyrics are written by Deeter. They released their debut four-track EP The Ascension in 2016, and in June of this year, dropped their second EP Mechanically Consumed.

Apotheon3

The EP is rather unconventional in that it contains four new tracks – one instrumental and three with vocals – plus instrumental versions of the three, for a total of seven tracks. But even with only four original tracks, the three with vocals are all of epic proportions, two of them running more than seven minutes in length. As a result, the EP feels more like a full album in scope.

The opening track “Premonition” is just that: a brief but powerful instrumental that serves as an introduction to the dynamic and multi-faceted music stylings of Apotheon, and sets the tone for the three monster tracks to come. A repeating circular riff is backed by shredded guitars, hammering bass and percussion. At the one and a half minute mark, the track slows down as moody synths are added that replicate a harpsichord, strings and a xylophone, among other instruments.

The track scarcely ends before we’re hit with the full-frontal assault of thunderous riffs, bass and drums of “Tyken’s Rift.” Deeter growls his way through the seven-minute track, screaming the lyrics that speak to mankind’s need to rid ourselves of all the artifice and bullshit we’ve bought into:

The human mind can only take so much.
Break the rift or be trapped.
An unnatural state, awake amongst the drained.
So strange, so restless. Wake. Repeat
.

At song’s end, he wails “To break free, there must be release” as the instrumentals rise to a blazing crescendo.

The band’s skill at combining totally different rhythmic stylings into one song is beautifully demonstrated on “Mechanically Consumed.” The track starts off with a delicate synth and foreboding violin strokes, then suddenly erupts into a cacophony of wailing guitars, staccato breakdown riffs and Deeter’s screaming and guttural vocals. At the halfway mark, the track abruptly shifts to a melodic 50-second-long interlude, where keyboards, xylophone and percussion conjure up images of a macabre carnival ride, before death metal instrumentals and vocals return for the outro.

Shredded machine-gun riffs, explosive drums and bits of harpsichord dominate on the monumental “Flesh Machine.” Deeter fires off savage death metal growls at a jaw-dropping pace, a testament to his astonishing vocal dexterity and control. He screams the vivid lyrics about a life born not from a higher power, but from our own imagination:

An amalgamation of body parts lowered into the mold
The skeleton is slowly embedded, Installed, this is your vessel
Enter the flesh machine
Assembled, built around a luminous pilot
Light drowned by wet flesh
Senses activated. Nervous system brought to life
Spasms cause convulsions, vision online
An outside light source initiates birth
This is this is your life. Enter the flesh machine. Enter reality.

At 2:45 the tempo abruptly shifts into a soothing, dreamy soundscape of gentle guitars, percussion and sweeping synths. My take is that it symbolizes the hope of living the existence of our dreams. Then, just as quickly, at 3:38 it erupts into a barrage of machine-gun riffs, swirling guitars, battering-ram drums and Deeter’s brutal vocals admonishing us to take control of our own reality and create the life we yearn to have.

Connect with Apotheon:  Facebook / Twitter / Instagram

Stream their music:  Spotify / Soundcloud

Purchase:  Bandcamp / iTunes / Amazon

SERPERUS – EP Review: “Infernal Seasons”

I can’t seem to pull myself away from the UK, as here I am featuring yet another band from that island nation. There’s such a tremendous amount of musical talent based there, I could devote my blog entirely to UK artists. This time I shine my spotlight on Serperus, a Liverpool five-piece that plays aggressive and melodic heavy metal. Formed in 2014, the band consists of Joey Farrell (Vocals), Mark Coogan (Lead Guitar), Jono Walters (Rhythm Guitar), Mikey Smith (Bass) and Aaron May (Drums).

Serperus performing

They released their debut EP …with Pestilence in December 2016 to wide acclaim, and followed up with their sophomore EP Infernal Seasons this past May. Offering up six tracks of brutal, unrelenting thrash metal that address themes of authoritarian oppression, Infernal Seasons serves to further cement the solid reputation Serperus has established for themselves, and demonstrates the progression of their songwriting skills and technical experimentation.

Infernal Seasons

The title track “Infernal Seasons” sets the tone with an onslaught of wailing guitars and Smith’s buzz-saw bass lines, propelled by thunderous percussion, courtesy of May’s relentless attack on his drum kit. Coogan delivers blistering riffs while Farrell snarls the searing and topically relevant lyrics that speak of the destruction and cruelty perpetrated upon society by ruthless leaders: “A charade, a means to construct the plague. The infernal seasons, the results of tyranny. Mother nature, down to her last legs. Deliverance, for us as the non-believers. Twisting tongues of the prophet, forcing catastrophic opinions.”

Serperus dials up the speed setting on the frenetic “Divulge,” the first single released from the EP.  As the band explained to online magazine Pure Grain Audio, “‘Divulge’ is one of the fastest and most intricate songs, featuring lots of twists and turns throughout. It is our personal favourite to play live and it is perfect to showcase what [we’re] all about.” And they’re not exaggerating about the song being fast and intricate – this beast kicks ass! The scorching, rapid-fire riffs blast through the speakers from start to finish with no letup, calling to mind the epic Metallica song “Hardwired.”

Into Ruin” opens with a mysterious intro of violin, xylophone, and piano before an assault of shredded guitars, hammering drums and crushing bass rain down like thunderbolts. This track’s a real head-banger, and once again our ears are treated to killer guitar solos, which continue unabated with “Deliverance Has Come.”  The song’s lyrics assert that mankind’s suffering will only be relieved by death. “Our fate is sealed. So choke on your last breath, as you sit and wait for the sweet release of death. Light begins to fade, humanity has failed, blinded by deceit, history repeats.

Perhaps the most melodically complex track on the EP is “No Vindication,” a six and a half minute-long tour-de-force. The song starts off slowly, with strummed electric guitar and heavy bass, then a hypnotic drum beat enters the scene, accompanied by Farrell’s calm, echoed vocals. The intensity ramps up with aggressive, shredded guitars and pounding drums,  Farrell’s vocals rising in ferocity to match the brutal instrumentals. We’re then thrust headlong into the hard-hitting closing track “Spirit in Black.” Unrelenting riffs of distorted & shredded guitars are driven by jack-hammer percussion, making this track an adrenaline rush on steroids. When the guitars fade out with a final crash of the cymbal, all you can do is catch your breath.

Even though it contains only six tracks, Infernal Seasons runs over 30 minutes, as they’re all fairly long. That fact, combined with the high level of intensity throughout its entirety, make it feel more like an album than an EP. A minor criticism I have is that some of the tracks sound quite similar to one another, however, the quality of the instrumentals and compelling lyrics more than make up for it. Overall, it’s a great EP that delivers the thrash metal goods.

Connect with Serperus:  Facebook / Twitter / Instagram

Stream their music on Spotify and download for free on Bandcamp 

UNDER AEGIS – EP Review: “[Extinct]”

Under Aegis is a Progressive Djent Metalcore band with a lot to say. Their brutal in-your-face sound, born from generous amounts of crushing bass, explosive guitars, speaker-blowing drums and ferocious vocals, bulldozes a path of sonic destruction. At the same time, they launch a frontal assault on societal evil, hypocrisy and bullshit with their violent but compelling lyrics.

The Milwaukee, Wisconsin based foursome includes Nik Dennee on vocals, Bao Vo on guitar, and brothers Avery Gaitens on bass and Parker Gaitens on drums. In December 2016, they released their hard-hitting EP [Extinct] (two years after their debut EP The Narcissist). We’ve followed each other on Twitter for more than a year, and I’m finally getting around to featuring them on this blog.

Under Aegis 2

[Extinct] confronts a dystopian world where violence, corruption and despair reign. The opening track “Apex Predator” sets the tone with a full-blown attack on every one of our senses. Avery lays down a bass line so intense you can feel it pounding against your chest, while Bao shreds and distorts his guitar nearly to the breaking point. With his jackhammer drums working in tandem with the crushing bass, Parker seems intent on blowing out the speakers – or our eardrums! Nik growls and screams the lyrics like a rampaging T-Rex: “I am a savage fucking beast at the prime of my killing spree. Brutal. Savage. Controlled by instinct. I always wondered what fed this thirst. Pull yourself together. You won’t feel a god damn thing.”

Unbelievably, the band somehow manages to dial up the intensity on “Born Sick.” The drums and bass are even heavier, and by now I’m certain my head’s gonna explode. The lyrics seem to be about the belief that man is born cursed with original sin, and in a continuous struggle to make it through life in one piece. Nik unleashes his fury as he screams “It’s never safe to say that tomorrow is another day. Live and learn and love and respect, because every breath you take is just another fucking side effect. I’m lost, an empty shell, living in fear.” 

Invective” speaks to someone contemplating taking their own life as a way out from dealing with their problems. “You said you’d give anything for a good night’s sleep. Now you have found a solution not so temporary. You’re a fucking coward taking the easy road to eternity. Listen close, no need to be nervous. Just relax it’s only self disposal. Every tragedy begins with a simple idea. You fucking coward. You worthless waste of fucking flesh. Why don’t you close the door. Roll up your fucking window. And just fucking give up.” The track has some seriously good guitar work, and Nik comes close to tearing his vocals chords to shreds as he whips himself into a vocal frenzy.

There’s no letup to the sonic onslaught on “Total Void,” a depressing song about the futility of life in a dystopian society: “We’re all born with broken bones. Suspended, hanging from a rope. So just lose all fucking hope! The ground is breaking beneath us. Sanity controls us. The ground is breaking behind us. Be free and follow me into nothing. Losing your mind could be the end of your struggle.

Nomad” is the most melodic and, at nearly five minutes, longest of the tracks on the EP.  It starts off with a mysterious guitar riff, then heavy percussion and bass ensue, accompanied by layers of shredded and distorted guitars. Nik passionately screams the lyrics that speak to man’s eternal search for meaning and purpose on an earth that’s increasingly being degraded by his own selfish actions:  “All the lines that we used to know they have all been crossed. In this world nothing is fair. No one belongs anywhere, We are all thieves. Searching for our piece of this rotten world long that has been long deceased. Overgrown cities, self absorbed drones. I’m not a miracle, I’m a walking crime scene. Outline me in chalk. Write my obituary.

Under Aegis demonstrate with [Extinct] that they are not only amazing musicians, they’re also adept at writing deeply powerful, relevant lyrics that speak to social and personal upheaval. Bao told me they’re now working on new songs that will address political and governmental issues, and I can’t wait to hear them.

Follow Under Aegis:  Facebook /  Twitter /  Instagram

Stream their music:  YouTube /  Spotify

Purchase:  Bandcamp /  iTunes