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Have You Heard...?

We here at Sonic Cathedral are always looking for new ideas for articles and fun ways to find new bands and share them with our readers, so after a bit of brainstorming we came up with something a little whacky. A bit of a game, really. It goes like this:


Each participating writer chooses a female-fronted metal album that the other participants had never listened to before. Each writer must then give their honest opinion about the other writers’ picks. Of course, finding albums our colleagues haven’t already heard wasn’t easy, but we managed to come up with a few that were not only new to each other but also fairly representative of our respective tastes, diverse as they are. We hope you, dear readers, will take a listen and share in our collective discoveries! Without further ado:

Max’s pick: Animal Alpha – Pheromones

Looking through my music library, Animal Alpha was an obvious choice for this article. Not only are they not very well known, but Pheromones is easily one of my all-time favorite female-fronted metal releases. Their genre-hopping avant garde style is crazy and infectious, and singer Agnete Kjølsrud is absolutely one of the most versatile vocalists in the business. This album, the band’s debut, is a bit of a rollercoaster ride, moving seamlessly between high-energy rockers and low-tempo crooners with every note exuding a sense of limitless creativity. Unfortunately, Animal Alpha disbanded after releasing an equally excellent sophomore effort, but luckily you can still catch Agnete fronting her new band Djerv with just as much gusto.

Christopher:  I’m not giving ratings to albums in this round-up. I am however giving Max Levites 10/10 for introducing me to this startlingly good album by an exceptionally creative band. It’s so good that it makes me want to dig much more deeply into the terrain of alternative and indie rock, which I don’t visit very often. Animal Alpha does for rock what Diablo Swing Orchestra did for metal and Panzerballett did for jazz, merging individually contrasting styles into a pleasurable mélange of sound. I hear a mixture of hard rock, melodic metal, punk and even hints of rap (or maybe rapcore?). Agnete Kjølsrud is one of the most versatile vocalists I’ve heard anywhere, and also one of the most exuberantly uninhibited. It’s a terrible pity this band didn’t stay together for more than a few years.

C.:  A very alternative rock sound in the literal sense; the essence of this album’s style hearkens back to a time when the term “alternative” actually meant something. Think of all the female vocalists from that scene in the ‘90s...Bjork, PJ Harvey, Alanis Morrissette, Kathleen Hanna, Tori Amos...then take all of them, roll them together and add a little bit of Lady Gaga’s flamboyant onstage flair, and you’ve got an idea of what this album sounds like. The band’s vocalist has quite the unique approach to her style; running the gamut from sounding like a robot, a barking dog, a cutesy little girl, and a crazed mental patient! I think a lot of fans of the above-mentioned vocalists, fans of ‘90s alt-rock or avant-garde will really love this album.

Ton:  The music is hard to classify. Definitely a distinguishing approach to pop/ rock / metal. Sometimes with flavors of Icelandic (metal) sounds. Strong beat oriented songs will quite some tempo changes, different atmospheres and vocal approaches. A song that captures all the elements is “My Droogies”. The vocals vary from raw grunty to angelic, screaming to clear and vocals with technical distortion. Similar from an instrumental view; sometimes the drums dominate and then the guitar riffs. An interesting album with a lot musical variation in all levels.

Christopher’s Pick: Beyond the Bridge – The Old Man and the Spirit
The Old Man and the Spirit

One of the most welcome news snippets I’ve read this year is that Beyond the Bridge, a German band, is working on a second album. Their one and only studio album to date was seven years in the planning and preparation, and it came out three years ago. I’m hungry for more because The Old Man and the Spirit must surely be one of the underrated diamonds of progressive metal. The band members are all professionally trained musicians, and it shows in the excellence of their compositions and musicianship. The vocals, shared by Herbie Langhans and Dilenya Mar, are beautifully delivered and perfectly suited to the melodic, orchestral style of prog metal that the band plays. This album should appeal considerably to fans of Kamelot, Ayreon and similar bands.

There were many reasons I chose this album. One of them is its crossover appeal. It should please lovers of modern prog rock and symphonic metal as well as fans of what might now be called “old school” prog metal, which hasn’t embraced the harshness of some modern, technical prog metal or the often jazzy, alternative feel of prog djent. Another feature that should go down well is the concept of the album. The over-riding theme is reflection on the human condition, but without becoming morbid or depressing. The interplay and dialogue between the clean male and female vocals is sometimes operatic. When the band turns to instrumental passages, the prog rock orchestration and flavour flow deliciously from the speakers.

C.:  Progressive metal at its finest, with just a touch of symphonic metal to give it a little pomp and circumstance. Think the heavier side of the prog-metal bands; Dream Theater, Symphony X, and so on. The male singer is reminiscent of Marco Hietala (especially when he tries his hand at “rap-rock” on the track “The Struggle”), and tends to overpower the female vocal at times. It almost pains me to say it, but his voice is so strong that the band almost doesn’t really need a female vocalist if they didn’t want one; but she doesn’t sound out of place at all and adds more to the dynamic. The interplay between the two voices is quite good, however; and the parts where she stands alone makes it apparent that her role is not just as a background singer. There isn’t a singer on the scene that I can think of to compare her to, but she has a nice, clear, strong voice. Musically, the music is chock-full of proficient guitar solos, cosmic keyboards, and sophisticated drumming. As prog-metal albums tend to sometimes do in the first few listens, the songs all seem to bleed into each other, not really knowing where one ends and one begins, but that’s part of the genre’s appeal; to take the listener on a journey and to allow yourself to be lost in the music. A solid piece of work and a must for any fan not just of femme-metal, but of progressive metal in particular. The crown jewel of this album, for me, is the album's penultimate track, “Where the Earth and Sky Meet”; a perfect embodiment of the melody and intricacy that makes prog-metal such a fascinating genre.

Ton:  The eleven songs, together over sixty-seven minutes, convince the full time. The music is complex, is full of variety and tempo changes and contains beautiful instrumental passages, particularly the very elaborate guitar and keyboard parties are a feast for the ear. Furthermore, the band has two excellent singers, Herbie Langhans and Dilenya Mar, who provide the necessary vocal fireworks. All the ingredients for an excellent progressive metal album are so available and that is The Old Man and The Spirit. It’s hard to indicate a favorite however the opening song “The Call” has all the mentioned elements. The album is a musical adventure from beginning to end that with every listen it reveals more of its secrets.

Max:  I remember Beyond the Bridge causing quite a buzz with a few SC writers a couple years ago, but I never got around to taking a proper listen. Well, Chris, I’m glad you chose this album for this article and gave me an excuse to finally sit down and hear it in full! This is progressive metal at its finest, for sure, and even though that particular genre isn’t always my cup of tea, I have immense respect for the musicians here and the amount of talent and creativity that went into this release. It’s actually quite enjoyable, and it doesn’t get too “proggy” as many bands in this genre are wont to do. It takes a few listens to really penetrate this release, but it’s definitely worth it.

C.’s pick: Kranken Welpen – Vengeance und Vanity
Vengeance und Vanity

Since the nature of this project was to choose an album for the other writers to listen to that they'd never heard before, I figured the best bet was to go with something locally-grown. Enter California-based “Oktoberfest metal” band Kranken Welpen. When I first heard them, they were nothing like I had ever heard before, so I figured that maybe this was the best chance I had at giving my colleagues something they’d never heard before. One thing I have always loved about the femme-metal scene is that they seem to be bigger risk-takers than their male-fronted counterparts when it comes to experimenting with certain styles and creating so many of the hybrid subgenres that exist on the scene today. To the average metalhead, most would not think that polka and metal would mix well together, but Kranken Welpen would be proving them wrong! Chaos’ vocal delivery is just so unique; you’re never really sure where she’s going to go, and then Professor Slaughter offers some pretty wicked grunts alongside the jaunty sounds of accordion and powerful guitar riffs. Although the music is clearly a nod to their German and Hungarian roots, they never take themselves too seriously; the lyrics are tongue-in-cheek and downright silly in some places. Metal can always use a little comedy every now and then, as I think as a scene, we tend to take ourselves too seriously, and have lost sight of the good-time feel that the scene had back in the ‘80s. So if you’re one of those who think that music should be about enjoying life, having a good time and letting your hair down, then do a keg stand and blast Kranken Welpen at your next house party!

Christopher:  Krautrock I know and like. It’s a branch of progressive rock and psychedelic/space rock I’ve loved since about 1971, when it began. But polka metal? And “polka metal” combined with Krautrock? I thought this album and band would be a curiosity. They are indeed, but from the first track they totally won me over. Do metal and accordions go together? Damn right! Just listen to some of the best folk metal being recorded nowadays. Apart from bands like Alestorm and Dalriada, most folk metal bands take themselves quite seriously at times. I’d guess Kranken Welpen don’t take anything very seriously except getting the music just right. They accomplish that in a charming and captivating way. Vengeance und Vanity is, above all, darned good listening fun. I don’t believe it would be possible to keep still while this album is on. It demands jiggling of various bodily parts. Thanks for this choice, Christiana Skÿe, you’ve definitely won a new fan for Kranken Welpen.

Ton:  This crazy mix of Metal and Polka makes you smile. The album shows the skills of the members for sure and that makes it more than just digestible. The vocals could have had a little more power in the mixing. It’s an interesting exercise with in all songs something that makes it special. The variety of (metal) styles is well chosen and keeps your attention. Favorites are “Hungarian Pizza Polka”, and “Vengeance Und Vanity”. All in all not an album that I will play often but when they are around I definitely I will use that opportunity. I expect it will be an amazing party live.

Max:  This album was a lot of fun. I really enjoy Kranken Welpen’s sense of humor and the energy that they put into their music. It reminds me a bit of Kontrust in the way they approach their music and don’t take themselves too seriously. To be honest though, this isn’t the type of release I would listen to through headphones on my own time. I feel Kranken Welpen needs to be experienced live to fully appreciate what they’re about, and I can imagine they put on a kickass show! I can absolutely see myself rocking out to this and dancing like a maniac in a live setting, and if they ever come through town I would absolutely go see them.

Ton’s Pick: Dyonisis – Intoxicated

The first encounter with Dyonisis was at Dames of Darkness 2014. The slow metal / industrial pop does not completely fit in the scene there but they intoxicated the audience with their atmospheric and kind of hypnotizing songs. There for the title Intoxicated is very well chosen. For me, every time I listen I get impressed by the soft and at same time strong voice of Nel Cave that brings in the emotional part. The combination with the angelic voice of Louisa Welsby gives creates the overwhelming intimate sound. The music supports the overall feeling. One of my favorites is “Inside Out” where all comes together.

Christopher:  Warning: Do not attempt to engage in heated arguments or think bad thoughts while Dyonisis is playing. If the band affects you anything like the way it worked for me, it will ease you into a state of blissful serenity. The most appropriate word I can find for this music is “beautiful”. No wonder Ton Dekkers looks so calm and laid-back in his photos. This sort of music is better than meditation for soothing the mind. Every song generates enormous quantities of dopamine in my brain. It floods the same pleasure centre that purring cats and chocolate reach. Ah, and those voices! They’ve inspired me to invent a new hypothesis of effect-and-cause that reverses time. I hereby posit that the two singers in Dyonisis, Nel Cave and Louisa Welsby, caused opera to be invented a few centuries ago so that voices of immaculate quality would be able to sing 21st century ethereal art-rock.

C.:  Ethereal and full of ambiance, this is another album to “get lost in”. There appears to be two female voices here, one in a lower register, the other more soprano or operatic. Think of Enya meets Kate Bush meets The Cure: dark, atmospheric, haunting, and breathtaking. This is one of those albums I would probably listen to when I need total relaxation, because the music completely makes you unwind and immerses you completely as it unfolds. The two female voices complement each other so well, weaving an intricate web of harmony. One song I am particular fond of is “Smart Mouth”, which probably comes as no surprise to anyone who knows me! I really like this album, but I see this more as something I would listen to only in a particular mood; not necessarily a band I would have in regular rotation on my playlist. But this is just from a couple of listens, and I have been known to change my mind after a band has grown on me!

Max:  Dyonisis is another band I remember hearing about a few years ago but never got around to giving a listen. Clearly that was a missed opportunity! Of all the albums my fellow writers picked for this article, this is my favorite and probably the only one I’ll come back to. I really enjoy its ethereal vibe and darkwave influences, hearkening back to a late-90s/early-00s electronic gothic style. The songs are well-crafted and layered, yet the complexity doesn’t detract from the atmosphere. Not to mention the dual vocals of Nel Cave and Louisa Welsby are absolutely beautiful, overlapping and complimenting one another flawlessly. Yeah, I’m definitely kicking myself for not giving them a proper chance earlier.

There you have it folks, our first “Have you Heard…?” article. If you have any ideas for future collaborative articles, let us know on our facebook page. Meanwhile, all of the participating writers agree this was a rather fun exercise, and are eager to do it again, so keep your eyes out for the next installment!

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