TERRA ODIUM – Ne Plus Ultra

Formed from the ashes of Spiral Architect, Terra Odium is a prog metal band from Norway. Their debut album features some strong technical playing displayed across seven lengthy arrangements. For the more forgiving fans of the style, this will be enough for ‘Ne Plus Ultra’ to be reasonably entertaining. For other listeners who expect flashy solos and other indulgences to be balanced out by memorable songs and important things like actual melodies, the near-hour of relentless riffing will wear thin rather quickly.

Unfortunately, despite very obviously being able to play, Terra Odium also seem painfully unaware of most of the genre’s developments in the twenty first century. This album shows no obvious knowledge of the dark riffs of Awooga, the technical mechanics of Tool or even the complexities of a newer breed such as TesseracT. There are a few fantastically heavy moments that show a modicum of bravery – especially for a band signed to a melodic rock label – but approximately half of the material merely beavers away relentlessly, as if played by men with beards and leather trousers who still consider Symphony X’s ‘The Odyssey’ – at this point almost twenty years old – to be ground breaking.

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FALSE MEMORIES – The Last Night Of Fall

A new arrival at the Frontiers Records label for 2021, Italy’s False Memories were promoted in their pre-release materials as leaning towards “a gothic, doom metal vibe”. Although the band’s darker tones are something of an interesting move for a label that predominantly deals with melodic metal and a wealth of old school AOR, massive hair and the occasionally misjudged leather trouser, it soon becomes clear that nobody at the label has a clear idea of what “doom metal” actually entails. You won’t find any eight minute epics on this band’s third release ‘The Last Night of Fall’, nor will you find anything dominated by deep, booming voices, or any riffs that could be considered oppressively slow. Occasionally, the band unleash something of an unexpected heaviness – as is the case with album highlight ‘Deep Breath’ – but, in the main, False Memories have a strong relationship with a melody and something of a “safe” feel. In short, for all of the hard sell with a focus on darkness and heaviness, the label have signed their own Nightwish. False Memories can be a little more intense and often more interesting, but they definitely sit more within that musical sphere. For the more adventurous melodic rock fan, such a familiar Euro-goth sound should be enough to warrant a purchase, but this in no way should be considered “doom metal”. Luckily, despite an over familiar sound and the possibility of finding themselves in something of an over saturated market in terms of style, False Memories come armed with some decent songs, and in Rossella Moscalletto they have a very self-assured vocalist.

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Check out the new video from Phantom Elite

Phantom Elite’s second album ‘Titanium’ – released via Frontiers Records in January 2021 – showed a huge leap in quality from their earlier ‘Wastleland’ release. In songs like ‘The Race’ they demonstrated a gift for a much bigger chorus hook and in terms of musicianship, some of the more complex elements seemed so much tighter than before. More importantly, an increased budget afforded the album a superior production job. Joeri Wamerdam’s drums finally came with a decent punch, and combined with a few heavy riffs, Phantom Elite finally sounded like a band with a lot of muscle.

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VANDEN PLAS – The Ghost Xperiment – Illumination

When it comes to prog metal, Dream Theater always seem to take the bulk of the praise. It could say something about how unadventurous a core of prog/metal fans appear to be, especially since – perhaps with the exception of 2009’s ‘Black Clouds & Silver Linings’ – James Labrie and co. haven’t recorded a truly decent album since 1994’s ‘Awake’. There are other, much better practitioners of proggy metal fare out there. Symphony X are in possession of a far better vocalist than Labrie will ever be and the UK’s own Threshold are genuine masters when it comes to an actual tune.

One of prog metal’s most well-rounded acts, Germany’s Vanden Plas have it all. Their core sound revolves around fairly traditional Dream Theater/Fate’s Warning-ish fare, but as a band, they have never been afraid of experimenting with a Euro power metal stance and certainly haven’t been shy of an AOR inflected hook from time to time. Within their extensive back catalogue, you’ll find riffs and complexities aplenty; even a concept album or two. More importantly, you’ll discover a band with keen ear for a good melody. Somehow, though, the European band doesn’t get talked about anywhere near as much as you’d think.

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