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Quite possibly their finest hour - 90%

MetalFRO, December 25th, 2013

Music is always evolving. Music is ever changing. Music doesn't sit still and rest on its laurels, because music is a constantly moving target, with a new generation of musicians coming up and making waves, writing music and distilling their influences in new and interesting ways. Not everyone understands this, however, and some people decry a musician (or collective thereof) for changing styles, sounds, aesthetic or production values, or even minor elements that aren't to the liking of said fan or critic. Music is, however, art, and whether or not the changes that take place are ultimately positive should not be gauged by how much fans buy a new record, but whether an artist or band sees the shift as artistically successful.

Extol is a band that has seen its fair share of complaining fans due to a shift in style or approach. Some fans didn't like the slight shift from "Burial" to "Undeceived" from a somewhat melodic black metal focus to a more progressive death metal one, even though the stylistic differences between the albums are relatively few. A bigger shift occurred from that record to "Synergy", a conscious move toward a highly technical thrash metal style with harsh vocals that mirrored the band Believer, one that Extol had long been known to be fans of. Even greater change came when guitarist Ole Børud left the band in 2004 and the sound changed again to a post-hardcore influenced alternative metal sort of vibe that, though still dark and brooding, was too much a change in sound for many fans to swallow. Less than 2 years after the album's failure to catch fire and the fan backlash surrounding the change in styles, the group went on indefinite hiatus, and the possibility of Extol regrouping became more slight with each passing year.

A glimmer of hope was offered when a teaser for a documentary about Extol (subtitled "of light and shade") appeared online, and fans began to speculate whether this was a hint that Extol was reuniting or that it was indeed just a documentary. The latter turned out to be the case, but little did most fans know that the band had actually reformed (sans a couple members) and had begun writing new music. Vocalist Peter Espevol, Drummer David Husvik and Guitarist Ole Børud were writing music together once again, and once word got out that a new album was in the works, Extol fans wondered if the album would be a continuation of the dark & broody post-hardcore rock/metal of "The Blueprint Dives", a return to the earlier technical melodic death metal of early albums, or perhaps somewhere in the middle, like what Ole and others did with the Mantric project. Thankfully, the answer is none of those, and instead, we get the eponymous "Extol" album to answer the question definitely on its own merits.

I would say that, musically, this is still Melodic Death Metal in form and scope, though it sort of rides the line between what I would call melodic death metal and what I would instead constitute as either extreme progressive metal, or some hybrid of progressive and death metal styles. There are fast double-bass sections, heavy and driving guitars, death growl vocals, and plenty of up-tempo rhythms to bang your head to, but there are more layers to this new album that make it difficult to pin down by simply calling it "melodic death metal", because that tag doesn't do the sound of this album justice. The heaviness factor is there, but the sound is so melodic, and at times so "clean" sounding that it's almost a misnomer to call it death metal at all. It reminds me of Monolith's 2 albums (especially "Voyager") or the lone In Grief album "Deserted Soul" because it successfully marries a very modern, heavy death metal sound with progressive structures and other elements in such a way that it's hardly death metal at all, yet there's no denying how heavy the record is. The interplay between heavier elements and sparser bits is part of what makes the album so exciting.

In terms of instrumentation, there's no mistaking the guitar presence of Ole Børud at the helm again, and this is a good thing. His highly melodic playing is very recognizable, and with his departure after "Synergy", it was obvious on "The Blueprint Dives" that he was absent, both due to the tone of the material, as well as the guitar sound. While the guitars on "Extol" may not be quite as brutal as the 1st 2 albums, they come pretty close, having that sound that blends the thick and meaty tone with the clarity and precision that Extol's sound had become known for. Ole's solos are also here in some quantity, and they're as melodic and tuneful as ever. Bass guitar is also present in the mix and audible as much as it can be alongside the guitar, though it's pretty deep and "boomy", in that it is less recognizable as an individual element as it is backdrop. Since Ole plays both, it makes sense that he'd want the guitar at the forefront and bass in behind a bit, and it works well here. There are times when the bass guitar does have a bit more tuneful presentation, like in some of the more nimble passages where there are more notes being played, but often during faster sections, the bass is relegated to the back. Drumming by David Husvik is excellent as always, incorporating necessary dynamics, and keeping the tempo where it needs to be to propel the music forward. The drum sound here is especially good, with very clear, yet powerful drum hits and a reasonably strong snare drum sound that isn't too high pitched but remains "punchy".

Vocally, the album has 3 different styles. Primarily, you have Peter Espevoll's mid-range growl which occasionally creeps up toward the higher pitched shriek he employed early on, and sometimes it will dip a bit lower into a more low end growl, but never so high or low that it sounds like someone else. Ole Børud continues to provide the clean vocals as he did on the band's 1st 2 albums, and here it's a bit different approach. He layers the vocals here multiple times, and there's a bit of a "sheen" over top of them that gives them a very modern, processed feel. Not so much where they sound auto-tuned, but just more produced than before. This has been a complaint from some fans about the new album, but honestly, I think it sounds great, and I'm just glad to have Ole back in fine form. The 3rd, less often used vocal is more of a Kurt Bachman-esque throaty yell (ala Believer), which shows up in a couple tracks and is used to great effect. Overall, the vocals on the album are well done and definitely sound like the Extol most fans are familiar with.

The thing that makes this record so listenable is just how it's all so pristine and produced. For those that like their death metal "dirty" and "filthy" sounding, they'll need to look elsewhere, because this is nothing of the sort. Instead, like a lot of modern death metal, this has a nice polish and shine to it, to the point where the heaviness is slightly diminished, but not so much as to make the album sound "wimpy". Rather, it allows the full spectrum of elements to be heard clearly, so between the heavy guitar, thumping bass, crisp drums, layered vocals, and keyboards sprinkled about, everything is clear and present. Nothing hides in the mix, which makes the whole thing sound really big and full. The melodies are also very memorable in comparison to a lot of other bands that play a melodic death metal style. If you're going to sacrifice grit, grime, and overall heaviness for the polished sound, make sure it's memorable, and these guys do just that. Apart from the overly simplified melody of the instrumental track "Dawn of Redemption", this album has no shortage of sharp melodicism.

I don't really have any complaints of the album, other than I understand why some don't care for Ole's "super clean" processed vocal approach, and it would have been nice if the sound of the album could have been just a teensy bit heavier to match the heaviness factor of the 1st 2 records. Save for those minor wish list items, this is quite possibly Extol's finest hour. I've spun this album countless times over the last several weeks, and if I had a CD player in my car at this point, it'd still be in heavy rotation there as well. This is one of those albums that will continue to play in my head for days after I've listened to it, and that's a sign of a well written album and batch of songs. So while it may not be as heavy or blistering as either "Burial" or "Undeceived", I find myself going back to this album even more often than the previous works, and that's coming from a guy that has purchased much of their material as new releases. This is a triumphant return for Extol, and I look forward to hearing what they do next, assuming this regrouping is more than just a one-off album. Let's hope so, because this is far too good not to expound upon with future material. Highly recommended.

90/100

Originally posted on MetalFRO's Musings:
http://metalfroreview.blogspot.com/2013/12/extol-extol-2013.html

Some of the best in old and new sounds. - 92%

Ruhamah, November 2nd, 2013

Extol cemented themselves in metal history as one of the most inventive, progressive and technical groups in the industry. Not only within their sphere of Christian metal, but with regards to metal as a whole. They became a band where sound changes and the exploration of new musical territories became something predictable, and to a degree anticipated by their fans. It didn't matter what sound they decided to exhibit in an album, it was always done so well. Thus, with this album, the tradition continues...

Extol took a long break after their last album "The Blueprint Dives," which served to be a mixed bag to some, and a usual work of genius in the "Extol fashion" to others. This unpredictable shift, and a long string of years without any new material was thought to be a sign of the bands demise. No initial signs of resurgence were shown, and fans waited and waited. This is what they waited for, and I daresay that it may have been worth the wait.

The album kicks off with the technical and groovy riff of "Betrayal." For as much of a familiar sound that there is to be heard in the riff, and in the feel of the entire song, there is something new. The sound is very much polished, the technicality more exploratory and the music overall, more progressive. Heard in the chorus of the song is a voice that had not been heard for a long time, and a voice much of Extol's fan base sorely missed. Ole Borud returns in this album for some very well performed clean vocal performances. The layered harmonies of his vocals dance about in choruses of the song. The aggression of the verses in stark contrast with the major key choruses provides for a bittersweet feeling in many of the songs. This only furthers the inventiveness and intrigue that lies within the album.

Peter Espevoll performs his vocals in the album with anger, aggression and ferocity. It is a fantastic vocal performance on his part, and such a performance can be likened to some of his former acts in albums like "Undeceived" and "Synergy." He proves to be much more varied in this album however. Throughout the songs, he screams highs lows and everything in between. This adds to the variety of the guitar work, drumming, as well as Ole's clean vocals. It works out well.

The guitar work in this album is fantastic, and technically speaking, perhaps their finest performance. Solo's are intertwined with odd and progressive chord patterns. Unexpected chord shifts and technical soloing seems to be the name of the game in this album. It is not nearly as predictable as "The Blueprint Dives," and even rivals "Synergy" with regards to chord progression and overall technicality. The guitar tone is in my opinion most likened to "Undeceived" when it comes to the low chords, and "Burial" when it comes to higher guitar parts and solos. A lot of variety is exhibited, not only in tonality, but also in technicality.

The drumming is impeccable in the usual Dave Husvik fashion. His performance is extremely technical, without the excessive blast beats and overblown sound of typical drum performances in this type of metal. Dave has yet to have a disappointing drum performance.

Overall, what Extol did with this album is put the variety of sounds from their discography into one album, this one. Literally, in all regards, this album can be likened to and compared to another album in their discography. No band I've come across has been able to put the sounds of a discography into one album as well as Extol has done with this album. Being a long time fan, this album has been a refreshing one. With such a combination of the new and old, it has brought about a completely new Extol and a very good one at that! I thoroughly recommend this album for fans of the band, as well as for people who enjoy inventive, technical and well crafted metal. Great album!

Highlight tracks; "Betrayal," "Open the Gates," "A Gift Beyond Human Reach" and "Unveiling the Obscure

Extolling the Past - 75%

IceSage, October 30th, 2013

Comeback albums rarely live up to the expectations laid upon them. Years of unrequited fan anticipation is often insurmountable and destined to be met with disappointment. The reasons for this are not hard to grasp; Band members settle down and start families or participate in other projects during the interim. In other words, they move on with their lives. The years of separation rarely leave band members in the same place creatively they were in during their most beloved and revered periods.

So here we have the Mighty Extol breaking eight years of silence with this, their fifth full-length album and their first as a 3-piece unit. Promotional material suggested the album would pay tribute to the band's history, mixing the varied sounds of their diverse catalog, and for the most part this is true. The thick, deathy vocals of the past are back in force for sure as are the brutal rhythms and uniquely beautiful melodies for which the band was always revered. There is no perceptible contribution from the Blueprint era sound, however, but that is not at all surprising when you consider that Ole Børud didn’t participate in that 2005 recording (and I seriously doubt many fans with lament the omission).

That brings me to another thing worth mentioning: Ole Børud is back!!!!

That fact more than anything else got me excited about this recording. His melodious guitar weaving contributed heavily to the band’s unique sound and his clean singing always added a brilliant counterpoint to Peter Espevoll’s gurgling emanations, transforming songs like ‘Storms of Disillusions’, ‘Ember’, and ‘Reflections of a Broken Soul’ from merely enjoyable into something truly magical and unique. So it is perhaps the height of irony that my biggest gripe with this album are the clean vocals... well, some of them anyway. All three members are given vocal credits in the liner notes, so I can only assume that all three contribute to the clean vocal harmonies used frequently on the album, perhaps even in multiple layers. OK, for the most part the harmonies work as well as they ever did in the past, even if it takes a few listens to get used to their squeaky clean finish. I mean... they are SUPER clean and way overproduced if you ask me. At their most extreme moments ('Behold the Sun', for example) the harmonies sound like some barbershop quartet, or a maybe even a boy band... not the Mighty Extol. Hey, never let it be said that the band is afraid to stretch outside the traditional boundaries of metal. It is after all one of the reasons their music has always been interesting and hard to categorize, much like their fellow Scandinavians in Opeth. But in this case the experiment did not pay off.

We encounter the album's strongest material at the front end with 'Betrayal'. It has all the fury of Undeceived combined with the thrashy precision of Synergy. Ole Børud's clean vocals are a welcome addition here. It is followed by 'Open the Gates' which is a very pleasant blend of old and new. Those super clean vocal harmonies did take a minute to get used to though. 'Wastelands' is the most Burial-esque song on this offering for sure and wouldn't have been out of place on that album. The simple yet catchy hook on 'A Gift Beyond Human Reach' made it the obvious choice for a music video. Instrumental track 'Faltering Moves' reminds me quite a bit of 'Where Sleep is Rest', perhaps a little too much. It precedes the album's weakest moment, 'Behold the Sun', where the barbershop harmonies are more than I can tolerate without hitting the skip button. That is followed by 'Dawn of Redemption', a tranquil acoustic piece that lulls you into a gentle trance before you are pummeled in the face by 'Minsters', which is an apparent tribute to the band's early (demo) era, both lyrically and stylistically. The remaining tracks tilt the pendulum solidly back toward Undeceived again and are enjoyable enough, if a bit predictable at this point.

In conclusion, what you've got here could have been the logical follow up to Undeceived. But is this the album that old... er, long-time Extol fans (like me) have been pining away for? Hmm, well... yes and no. The familiar elements of the past are back in spades; the death metal vocals, the brutal riffing juxtaposed with beautifully melodies, and the meaningful, sometimes worshipful lyrics are all present. Unfortunately, some of the song's just aren't very memorable and on others the vocal harmonies are so polished they are just annoying. Because of the backward leaning 'tribute' aspect of this album, some of the elements come off a bit derivative and the songs lack an identity of their own. This is a welcome celebration of the band's history with a handful of enjoyable songs, but it falls a bit short of past glories, and you know what? That's OK. If nothing else it provides the fans with some much needed closure. Personally I don't expect to hear anything more from these family guys. I'm certainly not going to hold my breath another eight years.

The return of the christian veterans - 88%

lordazmolozmodial, July 2nd, 2013

As the christian metal bands are collapsing in the global metal scene, many excellent bands strive to present something memorable and unique to the world, one of these excellent bands is the Norwegian group Extol. After about eight years of deadly waiting, the band has returned with the self titled album "Extol", with mighty performance and highly memorable melodies, to give the christian metal scene a brand new start for the upcoming years. "Extol" is the fifth full-length album for the band, and its the first album for the band to be released by Indie Recordings, after releasing the albums "The Blueprint Dives" and "Synergy" by Century Media.

As we can clearly hear in this record, the band has dropped a lot of guttural vocals that have been used in the previous album and used more crispy and cold black metal vocals that have reminded me of the album "Burial" (that I really admire). The clean vocals that have been tainted by the progressive spirit are very excellent here, the combination of vocal ranges and aggression are merged together in this album to impress all the listeners of progressive metal and death metal. The grand level of professionalism and technicality of the members have helped them to make this record one hell of a record, the fast drumming and the alternative tempos can catch your attention in moments, and the tasty breakdowns are very highlighted. Most of the tracks have the same complex progressive and death metal structure, and tracks like "Open the Gates" and "A Gift Beyond Human Reach" can reach inside the deepest part of the listener's mind with these angry drumming and well composed riffs. Tracks like "Wastelands" and "Betrayal" are the perfect way to start diving into this record, this dangerous dive would take hours, so make sure you'll stay alive through the whole album.

I consider this album a very intelligent release, because the efforts that have been given to design such a complex and technical fabric of christian death metal is not something that can happen every year in the christian metal scene, with magnificent compositions and genius performance and crystal production, nothing can go wrong. The guitar solos and the progressive moments of riffing and vocaling are excellent here, the fans of Opeth and The Faceless will like every single moment here, though the harsh vocals have gone toward the black metal ranges rather than the death metal direction. I met a lot of people that refuse to give such albums a listen just because of the christian lyrical theme, I am gladly asking these people now to go to hell, and listening to the tracks of this album on their way there, because this is one of the best progressive death metal releases of the year, and it sums the discography of Extol into one mighty record, give this album a shot and you'll never forget it.

The huge range of influences are obvious in this record, and the resultant created a never-ending journey of progressive and extreme music, with veteran sound and matured production, nothing in the world can force you not to like the cleverness of the sound that has been created in this record. The fans of old school death metal may not like this record, because it doesn't have any old school death metal riffing, but a modern sound of death metal and progressive metal are presented here, so try not to get into the wrong door and start whining about it. This album is highly recommended and I will be waiting more success for this group of veterans.

Originally written for:
www.jorzine.com