Saturday, December 28, 2013

#1 of my Top 12 Albums of 2013: The Nexus

Amaranthe's The Nexus

Release Date: March 13th, 2013
Label: Spinefarm Records
Genre: Power/Symphnoic Metal/Melodeath

     If you know me at all, this number one pick should not be a surprise, I have been talking about this band non-stop for almost a year now.  Last winter break, I started looking for new music to listen to, anything near my three favorite genres of music, Power Metal, Symphonic Metal and Melodic Death Metal.  I had recently seen Nightwish and Kamelot in concert and though I had mainly gone to see Nightwish (they still had Annette at the time), Kamelot blew me away particularly since their stage show included Alissa White-Gluz of The Agonist, a band I listen to a great deal, and another woman taking care of most of the clean pretty vocals.  I had seen these two in Kamelot's music video for "Sacrimony (Angel of Afterlife)" but I did not recognize the female vocalist so after the concert I started researcher her and found she is in a band named Amaranthe.  From the name alone, I assumed it is going to be another Symphonic Metal band because those bands are really a dime a dozen and it is sometimes difficult to find uniquely different ones in the genre.  However, I knew that I liked the song "Amaranth" by Nightwish so I figured they got their name from there (I was wrong) and checked them out simply because I liked the name and they had gotten pretty good reviews with their only album released at the time, their self-titled debut.  What followed was my mind literally exploding as I listened to "Leave Everything Behind", the first track on the self-titled album: They combined everything I love about metal and fused it seamlessly to the point that I could not believe it had not been done like this prior.  Sure, Epica and Nightwish had gotten close to doing this but they had always missed the genuine Power Metal vocals.  I could not stop raving about this band and I continued to show it to everyone I know, metal fans liked it, rock fans liked it, even pop fans liked it because lead singer Elize Ryd lends a little pop-tone to the project.  I then learned that they had another album in the making and I pre-ordered it the DAY I found out that I could.  Obviously, I was not disappointed and it is an album and a band that I listen to almost daily now, they are in my Top 10 bands list and their self-titled release is also in my Top 10 albums list.  These guys skyrocketed in favor for me and I have never liked a band as instantaneously as I have Amaranthe.  Let's look more into how this amazing project came to be.  Note, I will post more songs by this band in this review simply because I want to drive home how great this band is.

"Afterlife"

     Amaranthe should really be considered a super-group, because nearly every member has an extensive dialogue of music behind him/her.  Elize Ryd is an incredible vocalist that has done a respectable amount of guest vocal work for bands like Kamelot, Dragonland, and Falconer, all bands I like a lot, as well as Timo Tolkki's Avalon, and if Tolkki thinks you are good enough to be a guest on his albums, you're doing something right.  Jake E, the clean vocalist, is the singer of the band Dreamland, which he is still a part of, a power metal band from Sweden that I honestly thought was about average, they played good music but nothing incredibly astounding for me.  The last vocalist, yes there are three, was originally Andreas Solvestrom of the very good and underrated Melodic Death Metal band Within Y, but he left not long ago (after the release of The Nexus, and has been replaced by Henrik Englund of Scarpoint fame, a band I don't listen to as much but from what I've heard, they are even more harsh than Within Y, which should be interesting for Amaranthe's future albums.  The band really got its start though by Jake E and Olof Morck, probably the genius behind most of the band's success, he is the lead guitarist for power metal outfit Dragonland, which I already stated I like, and was also the guitarist for the melodeath band Nightrage, which is probably why Amaranthe can mix the genres so well.  Drummer Morten Sorensen has probably the most experience with other bands, having been on having been on 10 full-length releases with power metal bands and melodic death/thrash bands.  Bassist Johan Andreassen has the least experience but for being relatively new to the music scene, he does a great job.  Together, these six masters came together in 2009 and formed Amaranthe (originally Avalanche), with their first full length album coming out in 2011, to generally mixed reviews of either love or hate.  I tend to be on the love side but I understand those on the other, they create a fusion that Elize herself describes as dance-meta;, which is pretty accurate.  Many say that because of this distinction, they are not really metal so they simply dismiss the band, but I would call these guys "Fun Metal", its all generally uplifting and positive songs that are great for making you feel good, which comes from the Power Metal side of the band, I wager.  Whatever the case, they had received a lot of attention for this mixed reaction released The Nexus in March of 2013, to better reviews and even more attention, particularly in the United States, where The Nexus reached the Heatseekers charts.

"Invincible"

     I really don't have a song on this album that I do not like or even one that I skip at all, every song on this album is fantastic through and through.  Let's look at the first video for instance, which is a parkour and free running video set to the song (not official video for the band), the reason the parkour and free running works so well for the song is because it is really a get-up-and-go track, it is a song that gets your blood pumping and your heart racing.  Listen to the keyboard and guitar unison in the beginning there that reminds me of The Unguided's songs on Hell Frost,  the song switches between each vocalist that gives them individual parts so no one gets overshadowed.  Generally, the formula is to have each vocalist sing separately until the chorus, where Elize and Jake E tend to sing together which Andreas will take over the breakdown sections or throw in a harsh-sung sentence or two in the middle of the chorus.  This formula is repeated often but you really have to look for it to notice it and I think it works quite well, its hard to mix a harsh and clean voice together so it makes sense to let Andreas do his own thing and Elize and Jake E's choruses fly so magnificently due to the harmony of their voices that makes it seem like they've been mixing their vocals together for many more years than it has been.  Some people will complain that it also sounds way too produced to be metal, to which I say hogwash.  People say the same about the Misfits' new release, that it sounded too refined and not enough like crap to really be "Punk".  That is a terrible argument, all they are doing is mixing everything together and balancing everything to give a good product, would you want something that sounds like crap or would you want something that sounds incredible?  Plus, if you look at their live videos, they can play all of this music easily in concert and it sounds great, if it was over-produced, it wouldn't sound that good and would  come off as fake in concert, but it does not.

"The Nexus"

     Anyway, the song is incredibly fun and energetic and provides heavy electronic sections that sound a little like Drop from Sybreed paid a visit and the chorus...OHHH the chorus!  How can you not feel like a GOD when you hear that chorus? It is so happy and uplifting and soaring and triumphant and everything that is good and wonderful.  Usually the best part of Amaranthe songs for me are the choruses and for most bands that should be the case, it is the hook that gets the fans invested into the songs and helps the fans remember the songs by creating memorable and singable hooks.  In this way, it is a bit pop, but really, most bands do that, unless they specifically go against convention like punk or progressive music.  "Afterlife" is one of my favorite songs from the album and I said all of the above simply about that one song, the first one on the album!  "Invincible" and "The Nexus" follow right after and they are two songs that became single and music videos for the band, which is part of the reason why I included them here, to show you the band themselves in action, per say.  The other reason is kind of obvious if you've read this far, they are great songs!  "Invincible" probably has my favorite chorus on the entire album in terms of lyrics, which is some of the best feel-good lines you will find on the album, which says a lot considering most of the album is designed to make you feel like a star:

Can't you see who I am, I'm invincible
Like a force that is out of control
It's the key to achieving my goals
Unbreakable
(One More Time!)
Can't you hear what I say, it's a miracle
Now you're scared that you're losing it all
But This power runs deep in my soul
Invincible!

     Seriously, how amazing is that? It is also delivered so clear and crisp that you couldn't possibly mistake a single word for another, which is difficult to do when also singing with such intensity.  Oh and by the way, Elize's vocal range is astounding, but all three vocalists do very well and are some of the best singers I have heard working together in quite a long time.  Usually you will have one singer obviously overshadowing the other, or others in this case, but here every singer is very good, my favorites being either Elize or Andreas, it is close.  "The Nexus" follows the similar formula but has more of a keyboard influence to it and gives more time to Andreas to sing a good portion of the song than usual.  Honestly, most of the songs by the band are focused on Elize and Jake E but with The Nexus, they mixed the three together much better and it all seems much more even now.  I haven't said it before since I usually focus on the singers, but the keys and guitar hooks/solos by Olof are fantastic in every song and the drummer is probably the best instrumentalist in the band in my opinion, he is constantly pounding out great beats and interesting rolls and it all just sounds so good.  Since I am not a drummer myself I do not know too much about drumming, but I think he is very good and in line to be one of the best I've ever heard.

"Transhuman"

     As I said before, there is not a single song on the album that I dislike and for that reason, the obvious skill of every single musician, and the constant uplifting happy nature Amaranthe presents, this is my favorite album of the year.  The later half of the album mixes up the formula i stated previously, particularly "Transhuman" and "Infinity" and they even have a ballad song on the album "Burn With Me", which is very emotional and lets Jake E have a lot more time to the song by himself, which I am happy to hear.  There are some heavily-Elize songs, some heavily-Jake E songs and some heavily-Andreas songs on the album so fans of every type of music should be able to find something here they like.  This is where I would suggest other songs to listen to on the album but really, I would suggest every single song, so I will simply just tell you to go and support the band, buy the album, buy the t-shirt, see them in concert if you can, whatever.  This band is the genuine article and there is no limit to what this band can accomplish and succeed at in the future, pay attention to these guys, because they have gotten huge in just a few years and will become legendary in the next few.

"Razorblade"

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