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Metal/Prog Metal CD Reviews

Lunaris

Cyclic

Review by Mike Korn

I won't mince words here. Right off the bat, I will say that this record will almost certainly be my top pick for metal album of 2004, barring the release of something truly massive. I was unfamiliar with Lunaris before hearing "Cyclic" and thought they would just be another symphonic Norwegian metal band in the vein of Dimmu Borgir. How wrong I was! Lunaris are incredible, innovative musicians who have pushed the technical excellence of extreme music to a very lofty apex. I am absolutely blown away by the quality of playing, songwriting and sound on this album.

Making guest appearances on "Cyclic" are bass wizard Steve DiGiorgio (Testament, Death, Sadus), Eric Peterson of Testament, Asgeir of Borknagar and Sverd of Arcturus. It says something about Lunaris right off the bat that the guest performances don't stand out as being better than Lunaris' own. What we have on "Cyclic" is a collection of metal tunes mixing the ferocity of both death and black metal and injecting some highly progressive, original ideas into the mix. Make no mistake, Lunaris is not some avant-garde band with pretentious ideas, they know what it takes to make killer extreme metal. The tracks incorporate a lot of interesting ideas, but somehow they do it without turning things into a mish-mash. The record flows well and it's one of the few I've heard where every song is a keeper. There is no filler here. Even label-mates Akercocke, whose "Choronzon" was one of the best records I heard in 2003, can't say as much.

I really urge every fan of great metal to pick "Cyclic" up. It's proof that Earache Records has an eye (and ear) for top-notch talent!

This review is available in book format (hardcover and paperback) in Music Street Journal: 2004 Year Book Volume 2 at lulu.com/strangesound.

Track by Track Review
Mendacities of a Corporate Messiah
This makes a great introduction to the band. Extremely fast and blasting black metal starts this off, with gnarly vocals. Though the music is raging, every note is precisely placed. The middle gives us a kind of a spacey but driving section where the keyboards take over before giving way to a more death metal approach. A killer song, this is a perfect fusion of death and black metal elements!
I.A.D.
The main change here is in the vocals. In contrast to the growls and rasps of the first track, this one features clean, almost operatic vocals in the tradition of a Bruce Dickinson or a Geoff Tate. The riffing is cleaner as well, but still very aggressive. Avant-garde speed metal is a good description. The vocals seem deliberately off kilter at times, but they make more of an impression that way. Quite an interesting musical journey here.
Lessons In Futility
Speed is king here, with a nervous sounding track that frantically races along, switching from riff to riff with great ease. This is really progressive, advanced songwriting and the drumming is absolutely amazing. I love the galloping, powerful feel of the song's mid-section and the keyboards help give it a huge, symphonic feel. It's a really incredible track, but by this time, we should expect no less.
Cyclic
The title track begins with a slower, pounding feel kind of like slowed down death metal. Extremely hoarse and guttural vocals complete the equation, but there's some great jamming guitar solos. It gradually speeds up quite a bit with some morbid speedy riffing that still manages to be really catchy. The quality of riffing here is just superb.
Slaves of Opinion
This begins with a relaxing mellow guitar bit before ripping your head right off with a black metal explosion. Dimmu Borgir and Cradle of Filth couldn't hold a candle to this! There's a jerky, almost Voi Vod-ian quality to some of the music here and the section where a balalaika solos wildly over some crushing guitar is
jaw-dropping! I've never heard a band throw so many interesting and different elements into a relatively short song without sounding like a complete mess!
When It Ends
Believe it or not, this one almost sounds funky! It's a super catchy tune where the keyboards perfectly accent the underlying power of the guitars. The vocals run the gamut from an angry muttering to the standard rasps. When the term "progressive metal" is used, it should refer to stuff like this rather than the usual Queensryche or Dream Theater rip-off.
Casualties of Peace
On an album where just about every song is a classic, this is the best of the lot. So you can imagine how good it is. It starts with a mournful, melodic theme and sad, clean vocals and then totally blasts into 1000 mph metal. I don't know if it's black metal or death metal, I just know it rips! To describe all the changes this song goes through would take a page, but it all sounds magnificent, heavy and melodic. I have never heard any band pull off this kind of stuff before.
Existence Unveiled
This is a simpler and more direct song than most of those on the album but still excellent. It's very angry and brutal death metal with eerie keyboard flourishes. It does slow down and become more atmospheric in the second half.
Altruismens Gravol
This is the longest and most "different" song on the record, sung entirely in Norwegian. The first couple of minutes are laid back psychedelic rock with organ and acoustic guitar, gradually giving away to a totally "rock" lead guitar solo. In the background, we can hear a speech in Norwegian by Norse philosopher Ole Hallesby, a speech which the band rebuts in the rest of the song. At a little over the two-minute mark, the tune heavies up considerably with a very doomy riff. The pace picks up with some morbid guitar. Again, this is a track that defies an easy description, but it typifies the brilliant combination of elements that makes Lunaris so innovative. The tune finally ends as it began, with a return to the "psychedelic" theme.
In Nothing
Like "Existence Unveiled", this is a bit more direct than the lengthy song that preceded it. It's mostly death metal in feel, but still managing to jump from theme to theme. The clean melodic vocals appear again and provide a welcome contrast to the gruesome grumbling in the rest of the song.
Mot Natt
Again sung in Norwegian, this brief tune caps off the album with a mysterious, slower paced cut that has an icy cold feel to it. It summons up a kind of ancient feeling and the gargling vocals are black metal in the extreme. After the song ends, hang on for another minute or two and you will hear an eerie collection of synthesizer tones combined with some haunting mellow guitar work. An unexpected ending to one of the most incredible albums it has ever been my privilege to hear.
 
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