CountlessSkiesArtworkCheekily dubbed “Be’lacore” on the promo spreadsheet and with my esteemed colleague El Cuervo dissecting the upcoming Be’lakor album, I felt it my duty to ride the coattails of that anticipated release by examining the debut full length from UK melodic death outfit Countless Skies, named after a song from the Australian melodeath kingpins. Although sharing many common attributes with Be’lakor and fellow bigwigs Insomnium and Omnium Gatherum, Countless Skies inject enough personality and interesting twists to avoid the derivative pitfalls that so often plague the melodic death sub-genre. However, eking out a shred of originality within a stagnant scene does not make for a strong album. So how do these promising Englishmen fare across an album’s worth of epic gloom?

Countless Skies have established decent underground buzz via a heavy touring schedule, a well received self-titled EP and by securing a slot on the bill for last year’s Bloodstock Open Air Festival.  Not a bad build-up for their debut LP, New Dawn. Featuring all the obligatory elements to grab the attention of melodeath aficionados, from dueling guitar harmonies, gloomy atmospherics, bleak yet oddly uplifting melodies and a stirring mix of gruff death growls and stately, power-tinged clean vocals, New Dawn nails the basic aesthetics of melodic death confidently. There’s a lushness and firm structural stability to the compositions that smacks of a band that has worked tirelessly to hone their songwriting skills. Notable chinks still exist and the room for further growth is apparent, but the lads are off to a good start.

Opening instrumental “Aubade” erupts from a delicate beginning into a double bass backed feast of expressive melody and winding leads that serves as a solid precursor for the meaty, synth-laden melodic death that dominates the album. Sporting a bombastic opening, speedier forays and pulsating dynamics, the excellent “Incendium” has enough balls to offset the song’s cheesy elements and questionable guitar tone, featuring hearty nods towards Insomnium and Omnium Gatherum. Vocally, Countless Skies lean heavily on the thick, somewhat stock standard melodeath growls of Ross King and he serves the role capably enough. The twist comes with the contributions of bassist Phil Romeo, who provides dramatic clean vocals that reverberated jarringly in my ears initially, but I’ve grown to enjoy them on subsequent listens. They’re different than the typical melodic death clean style and the epic and operatic feel they provide suits the band’s triumphant gallop well. These potentially deal breaking cleans are used with tremendous impact on the thrashy and soulful energy burst of “Daybreak” and doomy, atmospheric chug of “Ethereal.” Offsetting the typical gloomy mood with anthemic, fist-pumping power plays and soaring clean vocal hooks proves one of New Dawn’s greatest strengths and endearing qualities. And refreshingly the clean vocals are used with a degree of restraint, not even making an appearance until the fourth track rolls round.

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Although a few more straight-up riffs would’ve been welcome, the guitar work of King and James Pratt is otherwise commendable, driving each song with some genuinely interesting leads and harmonies, setting the mood effectively and illustrating the emotive and melancholic Scandinavian vibe permeating the album. Throw in some progressive flourishes, sorrowful acoustic passages and brighter optimism to pierce the typically bleak tone and Countless Skies edge their sound above their prominent influences in ways that prevents them being skewered by mimicry. Onto the less rosy aspects of New Dawn, the songwriting is guilty of bloating towards the back-end (parts of “Return” & the otherwise stellar “Wanderer”) and several tracks fall a few memorable moments below the ambitious highs the band aims for. Meanwhile the production, in particular the too shiny and artificial guitar tone, could use some natural warmth, grit and dynamics.

As talented as Countless Skies surely are, there’s an uneven tilt to the songwriting on New Dawn, demonstrating the ample room for artistic growth before the band can compete with the melodeath big guns. Until then, the future looks bright for Countless Skies and New Dawn is a solid debut and often compelling listen, oozing energy, emotion and a touch of class.


Rating: Very Good!
DR: 6  | Format Reviewed: 256 kbps mp3
Label: Kolony Records
Websites: countlessskies.bandcamp.com | facebook.com/countlessskies
Releases Worldwide: June 24th, 2016

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  • Diego Molero

    I don’t know if it was the YouTube video or my bad headphones, or if it just sounds like that or if I don’t know nothing about what I’m talking about, but that song sounded horrible too me (production wise), even for a DR6, which is a shame because I liked the song a lot.

    • mtlman1990

      It is really bad.

      • Maybe this is YouTube though. I am listening to the embedded video through a Schiit Vali/Modi 2 uber stack and Audeze SINE (reviews are going to drop relatively soon) and the production comes off very lifeless indeed.

        • Diego Molero

          You always make me feel bad when you talk about headphones and stuff like that, I don’t even know what the hell is a Schiit Vali/Modi, but it sure makes your music sound kickass, while I’m here sitting at the bus with some Apple earplugs.

    • sir_c

      parts of the YT vid almost sound mono through my headphones. And those aren’t some wonky earbuds

  • This sounds pretty decent.

    • OzanCan

      Definitely excellent; a great find for me too m/

  • Juan Manuel Pinto Guerra

    Mellowdeath?

    • nullPointer

      Adult Contempor-death

      • Juan Manuel Pinto Guerra

        I always say that “Adult Contemporary” is a Marketing euphemism for “older with money”

  • Wilhelm

    All these new melo-death bands owe early 2000’s Dark Tranquillity a debt of gratitude, if they know it or not.

    • Ross King

      Oh, we do!

    • gustman17

      I do not understand the early 200’s Dark Tranquillity comparisons. They had lots of hooky electronic keyboards, short songs, punchy riffs and few acoustic guitars.
      The Gallery I understand. Belacorium bands seem to have more folkish sounds, post-rockish melodies and guitar fx.

  • mtlman1990

    Its been a little while since I listened to a new melodic death album that didn’t bore me. I think the last good one I heard was the newest Mors Principium est album.

    • Luke_22

      Great band. Their last album has become a big favourite of mine. New album due out later this year I believe.

  • Thatguy

    The embedded track sound like badly produced Omnium Gatherum. Not bad, but very derivative.

    • Luke_22

      The production is far from perfect but more than tolerable with a decent pair of headphones. I recommend checking out a couple of the songs with clean vocals. The use and style of the cleans actually works really well and separates them from the typical melodeath clones imo.

      • Thatguy

        I will listen further. I like OG so my comment wasn’t really critical.

    • Dethjesta

      I was thinking that that the production didn’t sound great on the embedded track – but it can be hard to tell from YouTube.

    • Blueberry Balls

      The new OG is leaving me dry. This is pretty good. I yearn for the days of Antti.

  • Not bad, as Be’lacore goes this is quite entertaining.

    I’ll just add the obligatory comment about the band not looking metal enough so we can all move on, m’kay?

  • Hammersmith

    Despite the name, they sound way more like Omnium. Not bad though. Digging it.

  • André Snyde Lopes

    Tempted to give this a shot, even though it sounds like ass, production-wise. I like the music itself, though. Tight writing and good melodic sense on these guys. I hope it sounds better on the real deal than on this youtube video.

  • Alex Benedict

    album cover tho

  • William Hebblewhite

    Really nice sounding Melo-death. Gotta listen to it a few more times, but really enjoying this release so far.

  • El Lado Oscuro

    This is prolly the best Melodeath no-bs record of the year, so far at least, even over OG and B’K