“If music be the food of love, play on…”, an immortal line from The Bard, William Shakespeare.
Now let me ask you a question, do you like music or do you love music? To be honest, if you listen to Justin Bieber, One Direction or anything of that ilk you must hate it but that’s a discussion for another time. What I’m getting at is, does music form part of your daily life? Can you not function without music in your life? Or can you just take it or leave, enjoying a song every now and then? I love music, it makes my life complete, I’m not in it for instant gratification and prefer to listen to an album or song quite a lot of times before I will make any observations as to its competency, complexity and general brilliance and whether it fits into my musical world. A lot of life changing events have been accompanied and helped by the music I listen to. You cannot garner a complete opinion of any music after just one listen, what seems fantastic after hearing it once can become generic and boring and what can appear a little complex and over the top can evolve with slight nuances and changes to become a long time favourite. When I review an album I will listen to it quite a few times before I even start thinking about what I’m going to write, you can pick up different elements and nuances that you didn’t pick up on a first, second or even third listen. I want my reviews to be as insightful and complete as possible and my opinion of a record to be what I really think about it, not what I’ve picked up from one spin.
So we come to the matter at hand, Castillion’s 2011 release, Pieces of a Shattered Me. Swedish progressive metal band Castillion were formed in 2002 and still have the original line up of Ulf Sorman (vocals, rhythm guitar), Robert Ornesved (lead guitar), Johannes Berg (drums) and Magnus Stenberg (bass). They are, as yet, unsigned but have released one demo, Demon Demon, and a previous full length album, Triumph and Tragedy, in 2007. Castillion started as a Power Metal band but, recently, have infused elements of prog metal into their sound. Pieces of a Shattered me was never intended to be a majorly progressive album but the ideas just kept flowing, they try to make it metal friendly music with a prog edge, metal with a twist if you like, that will appeal to a wider audience.
On first listen, Pieces of a Shattered Me, is a power metal album with hints of darker, progressive elements but, that would be damning the album with faint praise. After numerous further listens, the ideas and thoughts that went into this album become more and more apparent, this is not a release of instant gratification and keeps rewarding the listener, you discover subtle nuances and differing musical styles with more and more plays of this album. It cannot be pigeonholed in any specific genre and just gets better and better every time you listen to the album.
We start with the short intro Cruel Sands of Time, 38 seconds of lovely string effects that give no idea of what’s to come. When Reality Distracts is pure progressive metal, great, crashing riffs overlaid with hard but melodic vocals. The thumping drums and bass power it all along, different time signatures working well. A really powerful chorus carries the song well before we get the first hit of what I really like, a beautiful twin guitar sound which, if done really well like it is here, can really take a song to a different level. Great guitars and brilliant vocals, all in all a great start to the album. There is no break as some great guitar work kicks in Out of Reach, a hard edged, staccato guitar powering another great prog metal track. A great solo compliments Ulf’s stand out vocals as he harmonises well, the insistent chorus ever present. Another fantastic guitar runs out to the end of the track. A harder edged guitar riff followed by pared back vocals heralds Into the Lion’s Den, the staccato edge of the guitar lifting the pace again and then we have a great chorus, a stand out feature of this track. A slow, jazzy section follows before the song flies off towards another rendition of the great chorus, then you get monstered by a brilliant, screaming solo that is more power metal than prog. Another brilliantly worked ending closes out the song. Rust on the Razor is a real slice of heavy metal, heavier vocals and a pounding guitar contributing to a hell for leather blast of pure metal music. A short but sweet contribution to this increasingly confident album, the crashing riffs throughout the song have a real heavy vibe and the song is completed by the pure heaven of a twin guitar solo before a proper, hard rocking, ending, I loved it. Departure, even the song title has a hint of sadness and despair about it, you might even think it’s a ballad by the pared back introduction to the track and then……crash, a slow paced but seriously heavy riff takes over, this is heavy metal in a Metallica vein, seriously good vocals, soul searching with a hint of melancholy about them. A nice acoustic sound coming through in the slower parts, but playing second fiddle to that epically heavy riff. These guys show that they can play any type of music seriously well. A pared back guitar leads into one serious beast of a guitar solo, worth the price of entry alone. This is serious, soul searching metal at its best, the crunching guitar finally pounding you into submission at the end of the song, just epic.
If you ain’t got a ticket, you’re not coming on the ride, Whispers Turn into Cries returns Castillion to their Power Metal roots, the twin guitars firing super fast riffs and licks whilst the vocals take that higher range. It’s fast paced but thoughtful, slowing down in the middle section but keeping that staccato guitar sound we’ve heard before. Power drumming compliments the great guitars as we seem to fly through this song with no time to catch your breath, blink and the song is over. A bombastic, crashing guitar sees a seriously heavy start to House of Cards, the metal edge taking over again. This is seriously heavy with a brilliant chorus that really makes the song, complimenting that heavy guitar sound perfectly. This is a seriously addictive riff, foot tapping and head banging and shows the heavier side of Castillion perfectly whilst never taking away from the excellent vocals, that monstrous guitar sound rounding out the track perfectly. Fragments starts even heavier than the previous track whilst not being quite as catchy, another nice slab of metal from the Swedish prog metallers, huge sounding, heavy riffs and pounding drums central to this shorter track. The next song, rather than rocking up, glides serenely into your consciousness for a delightful little piece of aural enjoyment, gentle acoustic guitar overlaid by serene strings, the mournful vocals adding to the pared back, soulful feeling. Less a ballad and more a piece of musical poetry, my only criticism is its brevity. Hollow is a fantastic piece of power metal with a suitably bombastic opening, the twin guitars working in unison, attuned to another strong vocal performance from Ulf. Ballsy riffs abound helped along by the brilliant drums and strong vocals, that incessant, staccato guitar driving everything along at a relentless pace, this is some serious ass kicking metal. All too soon we are at the end of this great album, the intro to Shattered is a cool, laid back acoustic groove before we have our signature crushing riffs and we are back in serious prog metal territory. Crashing, staccato guitar overlaying Ulf’s great voice. A strong chorus and verse showcase the great songwriting shown throughout this seriously good piece of music. This is epic power prog showcased by a nice, soaring solo that fits the vibe perfectly and rounds out this excellent album perfectly before that laid back groove returns to finally close the show.
Pieces of a Shattered me is one of those albums that deserves your attention and gets better with every play, there is a real depth to the album that is not necessarily apparent on the first one or two listens, the band switching between musical genres with aplomb. Give it serious consideration and you will be rewarded with one of the best prog/power metal albums of recent times, how Castillion remain unsigned, when you consider some of the less talented bands out there that are having success, remains a mystery to me and, hopefully, one that will be solved very soon.