Perihelion Ship play progressive death metal augmented by some deliciously old school sounds and songwriting choices. Their debut LP A Rare Thunderstorm In Spring takes some of the most iconic sounds of 70’s prog rock- namely the mellotron and Hammond organ- and affixes them to the dark, heavy world of 21st century extreme metal. We’re very much in Opeth, Cynic and Be’lakor territory here, with all the huge riffs, melodic leads and juxtaposed heavy/brooding segments that entails. If you want a shorthand for Perihelion Ship’s sound then “Ghost Reveries with Pink Floyd style keyboard solos” isn’t a bad place to start, with a lengthy detour via the Court of the Crimson King. The resulting sound won’t exactly reinvent the genre (any of them) but it’s still pretty cool and a worthy entry in the prog-death pantheon.
RELEASE DATE: 20 January 2016 LABEL: Self-released
As soon as you hear the haunting mellotron intro to “Misplaced Rainfall” -that unmistakable whistly, tinny, sad sound like a broken fairground carousel- you know that Perihelion Ship are serious about recreating the sounds of The Moody Blues, Anekdoten and 70’s era King Crimson. The song builds brilliantly through riff after galloping riff, periodically breaking down into tense acoustic interludes and then exploding into life again. Vocalist/guitarist Andreas Hammer adds to the sonic variety by ably switching between crooning cleans and raspy Dark Tranquillity style growls, but however heavy and aggressive things get Jani Knottinen’s spacey Hammond organ counterpoints and cheesy solos are there to lend things a shimmering psychedelic edge, giving the music heaps of character. The track concludes with an astonishing coda comprised of nothing but eerie organ chimes and Hammer’s whisper-in-your-ear vocals, making for a startling and incredibly effective close to a kick-ass opening tune.
Plenty of Thunderstorm In Spring’s fifty minute run time is devoted to these quiet, keyboard and clean guitar led moments and the biggest problem with the album is that the “metal” segments aren’t always as strong. “The Emperor Idea” rocks ferociously with some appropriately nasty riffs and chaotic drumming but there are whole minutes at a time that aren’t particularly memorable. Follow Up “Fool Of White Antlers” builds from Damnation era Opeth atmospherics into a violent storm of distortion, double bass drumming and screams but the most effective moments are the menacingly quiet guitar passages or spidery bass lines that rise out of the smoky mist of organ chords.
It’s the anticipation of death metal rock-outs that’s the best part of Perihelion Ship’s sound, not the rock-outs themselves. Part of the issue might be the production, which is always crisp and clear but never lets the loud moments really blow up your headphones the way they should. This is compounded by a lack of many really killer guitar melodies to stick in your head. Wilderun were playing a very similar kind of metal last year but with banjos instead of mellotrons and each of their songs was rammed with infectious melodies and memorable choruses, but here they are somewhat lacking.
Don’t get me wrong- there’s some great riffs on display here, throwing up some quality Red-era KC meets Of Breath And Bone guitar workouts, and the slightly fuzzed guitar tone and sci-fi themed lyrics lend things a great retro-prog vibe that’s lots of fun to hear. Nearly all of Thunderstorm In Spring’s best moments come in the final song, the epic 21 minute title track. This mammoth song opens with the strongest, most urgent riffing and organ shredding on the album and buried within its sprawling confines are some searing guitar melodies, a couple of rousing acoustic sections, some bombastic pseudo-orchestral mellotron noodling and a whole lot of campy sci-fi nonsense about the end of time and universe-sized monsters. It’s a thrilling rollercoaster ride of different sounds and ideas, beautifully paced and a testament to the fact that really long songs can still work if you find that fine line between epic and exhausting. If you were into ‘Floyd and Yes and Genesis first time around then you’ll love this, and even if like me you’re way to young for the 70’s to be “nostalgic” then you can still appreciate it for what it is- really good metal.
The two flaws mentioned above are by no means fatal (look at the score I’m giving) but together they do limit the impact of what is otherwise a stellar effort from this young Finnish band. The riffs and licks might take a few listens to really stick but Thunderstorm in Spring is definitely worth the investment. Perihelion Ship have demonstrated that they can take the sounds of their influences and make something powerful and thoroughly enjoyable with them. If you’re a fan of pretty much any prog or metal band from the last four decades you’re gonna want to hear this.