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Wednesday, 8 July 2020

Reviews: Ten Foot Wizard, Magenta, Osta Love, Maryann Cotton (Matt & Bob)

Ten Foot Wizard: Get Out Of Your Mind (Beard Of Zeus Records)

I've always enjoyed the fiery stoner metal of Manchester monsters Ten Foot Wizard, I've also been lucky enough to see them a couple of times as well. So when their latest album popped into our review pile I closed the blinds put on the blacklight and cranked up the volume. With the first play of the record all the hallmarks that I enjoyed were still there, the heady soup of sexy grooves, head banging riffs and elemetns of punk, metal, blues, funk and psych. Get Out Of Your Mind is Ten Foot Wizard's third album and comes off the back of their Glastonbury 2019 set, they have teamed up with Grammy Award-winning producer Nic Hard (Snarky Puppy/The Bravery/Bokante) to create this album that just ups the ante on everything the funk is funkier than a mosquito's tweeter, the riffs rock harder than Dwayne Johnson and the vocals grittier than a council yard in the Winter!

It's got both elements of Clutch and Lionize and once again features some of the best song titles music has to offer, alas none can quite reach the brilliance of Covered In Tits but King Shit Of Fuck Mountain does come very close and even features Snarky Puppy's keyboardist Justin Stanton across an 8 minute psych journey. This spaciness ends the record but the groovy Namaste Dickhead that gets grunty at the end, however things get funky once again on Broken Man with a nod to the most recent Clutch album and funk bands such as Funkadelic with the wakka wakka guitar sound before it evolves into more killer stoner riffs at the end. Carrying these riffs from Adam and Gary are the driving rhythm section of Jonny (drums) and Emlyn (bass) all four playing their arses off on the most expansive record in their catalogue.

Take for example Summer Love it's a hip shaking blues rocker that brings to mind QOTSA before full freaking out with Dick dale surf guitar in the background. This song alone gives you the feeling that Ten Foot Wizard are throwing their all at the record. Get Out Of Your Mind is the most experimental but also the most fully formed record from Ten Foot Wizard, a must have for fans of Clutch or Wales' own Lacertilia, Ten Foot Wizard have come to expand your consciousness and shake your ass! 9/10

Magenta: Masters Of Illusion (Tigermoth Records) [Matt Bladen]

Cinematic prog rockers, and worthy successors to the Yes crown (if they ever bloody retire!) Magenta return with their latest album Masters Of Illusion which sees them once again returning to their theatrical, outlandish prog rock style after the more modern and politically charged last album We Are Legend. Robert Reed put's it this way: "'After making the 'We Are Legend' album, which was more contemporary, I really wanted to make a classic PROG album. I was desperate to get back to the original musical template of what Magenta was all about." This means the prog rock level here is at it's most grandiose with "Moog, 12 strings, Mellotrons, bass pedals" they have also indulged once again in concept linking the pieces, in this case 6 of the most famous horror actors to ever grace the screen in the 1950's/60's glory days for that classic horror genre.

Lyricist Steve Reed explains: My brother and I are both huge fans of the classic Hammer and Universal horror films. (we) came up with the idea of basing the songs on some of our favourite actors. The twist is that the stories are about their private lives rather than the characters they portrayed in their films" So there will be no songs about Dracula or The Wolfman here, they leave that to the countless Doom bands that use occult movies as their entire exisitence. No Masters Of Illusion is a record that deals with the often complex, sometimes tragic personal lives of some of the most famous faces ever to terrify.

To start us off is Bela which is easily identifiable as a song about Bela Lugosi, one of the most famous men to play Dracula who's career faced a downward spiral in the 50's. With an orchestral intro and a synth drenched coda at the beginning the feeling of being on familiar ground is almost instantly, those Yes inspired backing vocals as Robert's synths intertwine with Chris Fry's fluid guitar playing. It's almost got carnival sound as Christina weaves the story of Lugosi's descent into addiction and his loss of fame. It's a bittersweet number that shows how fleeting fame can be despite Lugosi's 'legendary' status, he faded away in obscurity relatively quickly before his death in 1953. A stark way of opening the record, with a story straight off the silver screen itself, but musically a stamp that the prog is most certainly back. This idea of being overlooked and undervalued is repeated on the rockier Reach For The Moon which is about Lon Chaney Jr's struggle with constantly being cast in his father shadow and never being allowed to be his own man. Here we get some great sax playing from Pete Jones and a nifty groove from Dan Nelson (bass) and Johnathan Griffiths (drums).

A Gift From God which tells of the regret Christopher Lee had at never featuring in an opera. A self confessed opera fanatic, Lee had a strikingly powerful baritone voice, however he was never asked to record/perform in an opera. In fact the only recordings we have of his voice are on the two metal albums he made (both of which are brilliant). This song is structured like a operatic/musical number, with nods to Gabriel fronted Genesis, even featuring producer/multi-instrumentalist John Mitchell. It's a lament to the one thing thing that felt incomplete in his life. For anyone who followed the career of Lee (like me) you know that despite his immense success in films (though he grew tired of Dracula) it was opera that remained his main love. Again like with much of this album there is a sadness here fueled by wonderfully layered composition and Christina's beautiful voice.

From here we have yet more songs that deal with light and shade as Rose is the tragic/romantic story about Peter Cushing's devotion to his wife, his indiscretions, his rose cultivating and his eventual remorse and longing when his wife died, all characterized by yet more classic prog rock styling and the unmistakable Uilleann Pipes of Troy Donockley, which bring a tear every time I hear them used. Snow is about the early life of Ingrid Pitt, she spent her childhood in Polish concentration camp and how these horrors influenced her portrayals in later life. It's probably the darkest song on the album with the chilling lyrics describing a little girl version in such a terrible place, juxtaposed with an almost jaunty choral styled music that manages to paint a silver lining as it progresses, making the whole song about resolve in the face of overwhelming adversity.

Finally the 16 minute title track is dedicated to the master of the hammy macabre Vincent Price and his role as Matthew Hopkins the Witchfinder General for which he was reluctantly cast as the lead. This song is as gothy and theatrical as Price himself and really ramps up the prog rock posturing as Price embodies his most impressive role. A figure that has been portrayed throughout cinematic history there are few who have done it as well as Price so to think he wasn't first choice was madness! The song itself is Magenta flexing those virtuoso muscles for a fitting finale to their 'classic prog' resurgence. As with many of their releases there is a special bonus CD that features alternate mixes and extras so you can get another 74 minutes of music to go with the 62 minutes of the main disc.

Magenta rarely put a foot wrong but for those that found We Are Legend too modern in it's prog rock style can rejoice that we a re very firmly in the 70's glory days on Masters Of Illusion. Colossal slabs of labour intensive music, an expansive vocal range and interesting subject matter make for another winner in this Welsh prog rock band's collection of albums! 9/10

Osta Love: About Time (Recordjet Records) [Bob Shoesmith]

Osta Love are a two-piece band from Heidelberg in Germany and About Time is their third full release. Having originally started out as a duo when music students they acquired two more members for their well-received sophomore album Isle Of Dogs but now seem to have returned to the original two-man format. From the decorous cover shot close-up of a pollen covered bee and their bio citing Pink Floyd and King Crimson as influences you kind of think early on that you’re in for an ambient synth and melancholic lyric Floydian atmosphere musically and given the reviews of previous releases this album could easily be passed over on the basis of them being another in a resurgent crowd of Floyd-a-likes that are heavily populating the new release pages (it is entirely possible, putting Floyd as an influence in your bio could, in the current crowded sector, might even be considered counter-productive).

What Osta Love actually provide is a collection of mostly slower and genteel prog/arty tracks that center around some pleasant piano/organ and yes, glimpses of Gilmour like slow-handed guitar parts. They occasionally dip into some ever so slightly rockier guitar-based parts such as the time signature shuffles in the jazz/funk of Amethyst Deceiver, the Rush-lite of Moth To A Flame or Desert Shuffle but there is little aggression about them, even in the more upbeat parts, they offer a warm musical friendliness. Its fair to say That the duo have yet to fully cast off all of all of the nods to early Floyd such as the Wish You Were Here echoes of The Waters Of The Nile but in the main, they have found their own style.

Floyd references aside, Osta Love have an uncanny knack of sliding gently into your subconscious and make comforting listening. It’s not without occasional issues musically but there is even a charm about those and I’m now on the third enjoyable listen in a row. While nothing about this album hits you directly in the feels or makes you sit up clapping in appreciation immediately, it really does have an insidious, difficult to pinpoint enjoyment to it. Starting with the very listenable opener We Can Do It Again’, a Beatles-esque piano accompaniment in the style of Hey Jude or a more gracious Wonderwall showing the vocals to have a light dreamy quality as well as being a little idiosyncratic rather than perfectly pitched.

The vocals are often supported by a vocal effect or layers of complimentary backing vocals, clearly to support a slight lack of range. It’s not the most perfect of vocal performances throughout which in a different setting might be a criticism as they occasionally get stretched, but that indefinable quality of the occasional vocal frailty is quite endearing and totally fits the delicate nature of the song writing. Case in point is the eponymous song About Time where the slow, acoustically backed, very catchy ballad pushes the vocalist to their outer limits of range but it doesn’t make for a negative to the song or feel like a poor performance it offers a very likeable delicacy of touch and a likeable delicacy of touch is probably a suitable analogy for the album as a whole.

Usually, my musical tastes veer on the side of the more up-tempo, the brash and the bold but I surprised myself by pleasantly drifting into Osta Love’s gentle world of calm and deftness of touch. Having seen their previous recorded work being frequently described as Floyd-esque and sporting some stock Prog comparisons it seems that on About Time they are mellowing and finding their own chilled style and direction away from the influences so many ape and their ilk cite. Ok they slip back their roots occasionally but I like where they’re heading, I like it a lot and much prefer it to stock Floyd tributing. 8/10

Night League: Night League (Skullcrack Records) [Matt Bladen]

Night League are a Norwegian duo that play NWOBHM styled hard rock, this self titled album is their debut release and features Marita Sundet Solheim on lead vocals and bass and Trygve Joahn Solheim on lead vocals, lead guitar, drums and synth. The have the grittier style of Angel Witch, Blitzkrieg and Diamond Head (early), with the punky Trashing Revolt opening the record, while Rise From The Ruins bringing more psych sounds and lilting acoustics and Viper has some choppy riffs while Fallgate To Hell is an instrumental with a twin axe attack running through it, the only song without the dual vocals. It's pretty basic but good enough for a fan of NWOBHM, the fact that it's a duo gives it another point at least. 5/10

Maryann Cotton: Hallelujah (El Puerto Records) [Bob Shoesmith]

Mary Ann Cotton was a female English serial killer hung in 1873 for poisoning her children and several husbands and the name which this LA based (all male) four piece glam/shock rock band have taken on board for this project. The lead vocalist also, confusingly, calls himself Maryann Cotton. Not an original idea for a band identity as LA’s Lizzie Borden pipped them to it 37 years ago and originality, or lack of it, seems a recurrent theme here. Before we even hit the album, there are tropes, clichés and plagiarism written large all over Maryann Cotton. A scan over the social media provides endless narcissistic photo ops and posed by ‘Mr Cotton’ (the rest of the “band” rarely feature) permanently decked out like a guy-linered, Johnny Depp look-a-like, posing with glamour models and selfies with his hero’s backstage like Alice Cooper & Lemmy (rest his soul) who look suitably indifferent. Visually, Mr Cotton desperately begs to be Alice’s successor – more of that later - and one of the more famous faces papped regularly outside The Viper Room. He has (and I’m being kind) stylistically “borrowed” liberally from the more familiar ‘Strip’ legends and The Hollywood Vampires super group specifically, even pinching the Vampire’s demon cover art (which they stole from Black Sabbath).

So, what of the recently released, eight tracks of Hallelujah? Does it live up Maryann Cottons wannabe ambition? Well first and foremost there is no escaping the fact that Cotton’s vocals and song-writing is just straight up copy/impression of Alice Cooper – there, I said it. There’s no mention of being a tribute act but this pretty much is exactly that. Don’t believe me? Check it out on your streaming service of choice, it’s difficult to tell them apart. From the eponymous track, Hallelujah (Alice’s I’m Eighteen) to the clean vocal on My Own Way (Alice’s Only Women Bleed) through Night In California (Elected) to Take Me Home (No More Mr Nice Guy) – you get the idea? If you are a big Alice Cooper fan I’m not entirely sure whether you will be enraged or impressed with this guy’s almost perfect vocal impression of your (and clearly his) hero. Seriously, Alice just might want to check with his lawyers on his copyright contract. Apart from the obvious vocal comparison, the tracks are fairly stock, pedestrian, stompy LA riffy hair metal and certainly not worth a fraction of the attention or adulation Maryann Cotton covets via his/their pages.

If Maryann Cotton declared themselves an Alice tribute act or ‘in the style of Alice’ I’d probably be far more impressed by this album, as it would be a fair and decent product but as it is, there isn’t an original moment on Halleluja or any attempt by the band to be their own brand. 4/10

Tuesday, 7 July 2020

Reviews: Maggot Heart, Transit Method, The Dirty Denims, Imperivm (Reviews By Matt Bladen)

Maggot Heart: Mercy Machine (Rapid Eye Records)

Swedish born, Germany residing guitarist Linnéa Olsson has been a part of numerous bands the most notable being The Oath and Beastmilk/Grave Pleasures. But since 2016 her focus has been on her metallic punk project Maggot Heart a band that already have an EP and a full length in the bag, both of which have gained praise from Darkthrone's Fenriz and seen the band supporting ​Voivod and ​Earthless on a lengthy American tour. The three piece of Olsson on guitar/vocals, long term drummer Uno Bruniusson and bass player Olivia Airey, take a left field view of the world that is shrouded by darkness and that comes through on these Detroit garage rock meets British post punk anthems, that are always a little bizarre and experimental referencing Killing Joke, The Stooges, Big Black and also some classic proto-metal troupes.

The band claim that Mercy Machine is an album about sex, death and the pursuit of freedom. With that in mind I pressed play and delved into it, pressing play I was met by some discordant phrasing to kick off the vaguely threatening Second Class, choppy guitars met with a persistent bassline and Olsson's breathy delivery, Sex Breath however moves away from the post-punk darkness with some classic cut punk attitude. Each song on this record is a jarring mix of sounds, but they hark to that late early 90's of experimentation seen from bands mentioned before along with a whiff of Siouxsie & The Banshees, The Jesus Lizard and perennially metal oddities Voivod. The off-kilter psych of Roses is mesmeric, while Gutter Feeling has a dark sexuality to it and the title track brings some ringing Goth rocking similar to The Mission. You can understand from the jangly dissonant Mercy Machine, why there has been such a positive reaction to Maggot Heart from the more underground reaches of music as they channel a sound that has long been bathed in the moonlit glow depravity and cynical romanticism. Guaranteed to please your inner Goth or your latent punk. 8/10

Transit Method: The Madness (Brutal Panda Records)

Back in 2017 Paul H called Transit Method's debut release We Won't Get Out Of Here Alive and essential listen, awarding it 9/10 and also praising the quirky mix of Rush, Soundgarden and Jane's Addiction that the band conjure through their alternative edged proggy grunge riffs. So after 5 years have the trio from Austin Texas managed to stand up to these lofty kudos on their follow up, The Madness? Well on first listen there isn't any major changes of sound, Matt LoCoco (vocals/guitar), his brother Mike (drums) and Danny Borja (bass) still play a nifty, groovy driven blend of 60's psychedelia, 70's punk, classic prog, grungy metal and 90's alternative rock though this time if anything they have become much more focussed act tightening up everything they played with on their debut. Now this means that with the title track they moves from propulsive dirty sounding punk, into some post-rock moments, Matt's vocals still carrying that Perry Farrell-meets-Geddy Lee nasal quality.

The tracks here have comparatively shorter run times than on their previous record making them a bit more direct, from the grooving Scarred And Petrified which relies on explorative space rock-esque bass playing, Reincarnivore ramps up the Jane's Addiction choppy funk rock, Cannibals builds into a heavy rocker. There does seem to be much more pronounced punk sound on this sophomore in comparison to their debut with a stack for songs having that spiky, although much better played, punk aggression. They certainly have adapted things a little here, the more streamlined songs will mean that fans of the Rush influences on the debut will have to look a little harder, though Mutiny has it in spades, but they have clearly embraced their more alternative rock influences. Will it get (nearly) top marks this time around? No, but it is still a great rock album with a mix of styles that from a trio of great musicians, worth checking out! 7/10

The Dirty Denims: Ready Steady Go! (Handclap Records)

No I listened to this record directly after absorbing the A.A. Williams album and I can see why this Eindhoven foursome call themselves 'Happy Hard Rock'. They successfully bring a smile to the face with their glammy,  rocking that successfully sits somewhere between AC/DC pub rock, hell Thunder From Down Under is actually a tribute to the antipodean legends (also I'm in love with the Dutch pronunciation of 'Thunder') and Joan Jett styled powerpop. So expect simplistic, clap along hard rock music, with a blues backbeat from Marc Eijkhout (bass) and Suzanne Driessen (drums) while the the walking riffs of Mirjam Sieben and Jeroen Teunis get tracks such as Last Call For Alcohol nodding your head. Mirjam also gives this album it's punk vocal sound that is backed by the rest of the band with gang choruses on the title track and the pop-organ styled Too Much Information (which is a song about people having loud NSFW conversations on the bus/train). Yes it's all very simplistic but when done right this kind of music can be very rewarding and having a few drinks to Ready Steady Go! would be a heck of good time. 6/10  

Imperivm: Holy War (Revalve Records)

Formed apparently in Ancient Rome Imperivm are from the Italian capital and their whole ethos is that of the glorious notion of Imperium Sine Fine. This record keeps that with both the first and second Triumvirates covered on 3-Headed Monster and Second Triumvirate, Roman soldiers duty on Brothers Of Legion, the eruption of Vesuvius on Rain Of Ash but they also move into the beginnings of the Holy Roman Empire with In A Holy War about the 1095AD expedition to Jerusalem that became the First Crusade and Sign Of The Cross. Now what you have here is pretty much power metal 101 with the historical lyrics of Sabaton mixing with the more folky/triumphal strains of Blind Guardian/Hammerfall. They even turn their attention to a massive ballad duet on Quo Vadis Domine? (Where Are You Marching). I've listened to Imperivm's albums before and there does seem to be much more of a Christian overtone to this record than previously, now that could be due to the title but for me there are millions of stories that could be told from the Republic/Empire that would seem less preachy. But that's just the classicist in me, musically this album is ok if a little cheesy, but the vocals let it down a little in places. If you've ever fancied Grave Digger doing Stryper covers then this may interest you however if you want the real blood and guts of Ancient Rome then Ex Deo should still be your go to. 5/10

Reviews: Inerrant, Soul Grinder, Meridian Dawn, Virtual Symmetry (Matt, Rich, Paul H & Bob)

Inerrant: Incarceraging (Self Released) [Matt Bladen]

In the time of the virus, the genesis of Welsh-based band/project Inerrant was born out necessity. Paul Fortescue (Ex-Hogslayer) and Gareth Rowley (NIL) had been trying for a few years to get another project together but various things had stopped them. However with Covid-19 running wild both managed to find a way to create music and write an entire album while the whole country was in lockdown. This album has been written as a statement of intent, a rallying cry against the stupidity of governments during this period and as a symbol of hope to the numerous bands that are struggling in this time. They are doing this by spreading their music on a pay what you want basis on bandcamp. Starting what is essentially an anti-establishment, anti-government, anti-fascist multi-genre band who break the boundaries that surrounded it's creation.

The remaining membership of Inerrant reads as a who's who of the Welsh metal/punk/alt underground scene with guitars coming from Rowley and James Britton (ex the much missed Anterior), Marc Real (Die Chihuahua Die) on bass, Lewis Green (Not Since The Accident/ex-Gung Ho) on drums and obviously the abusive vocal delivery of Paul Fortescue, they've also lined up a special guest performances from Tommy Andrews (Chains Of Hate), James Joseph (Holding Absence), Theodore Logan (Pizzatramp), Aaron Roberts (I Am Gravity), Rachel Kate (Devilcry), Thoby Davis (Akb'al), Carin Stenbeck and some artistic collaboration effort for Richey Beckett creating a multimedia format for this album.

The album itself is wrapped in artwork by Dai Yung and the 10 songs contained within is rooted in the hardcore/punk sound, the opening aggression on Anti-Social displays this rapid sound well as does Reason For The Treason but they also have some post-metal and doom influences especially on the hypnotic final song Don't Fall. There's no quarter given on Incarceraging the assault doesn't dampen on Try Not To Hate or brutal battery of The Shepard's Glock, the guitars bite, tear and scratch while the rhythm section work on overdrive throughout rounded off with the uncompromising roar and obstinate, defiant lyrics. With the promise of more material on the way, it looks like Inerrant won't be a one hit wonder, fuelled by the frustration and fear of lockdown Inerrant have come to fight back at the bullshit that has been unravelling because of it. Join the fight! 8/10

Soul Grinder: Chronicles Of Decay (Black Sunset/MDD) [Rich Oliver]

Chronicles Of Decay is the debut full length album by German death metallers Soul Grinder and is the follow up to the debut EP Sadistic Parasite which was released by the band in 2018. Soul Grinder hail from the city of Bremen and feature members of other Bremen-based bands such as Ctulu and Asenblut.

What we have on Chronicles Of Decay is no nonsense death metal from the school of bands such as Vader being blast beat riddled assaults of speed and aggression with the opening duo of Infernal Suffering and Flesh Defiler being two absolutely relentless songs. Soul Grinder do mix things up throughout the album with Ruins Of Existence and March Of The Dead being heavily influenced by thrash especially in the riffing style whilst The Delusionist and Signs Of Decline have moments that are heavy with that sick old school death metal groove. The band also move into slightly experimental territory with the more melodic and atmospheric The Sun And The Serpent being a highlight with its interesting use of choirs and The Withering with use of some baritone clean vocals. My personal favourite was the bludgeoning Morbid Masquerade which has some wonderfully filthy riffs and an almost punky rhythm to it.

Soul Grinder whilst not a name I was familiar with previously have impressed me with their debut album. It pulls no punches and it is a very solid and enjoyable of death metal which whilst for the majority sticks to the confines of the genre also takes some experimental meanderings. This is old school death metal with a contemporary gleam. 8/10

Meridian Dawn: The Fever Syndrome (Seeing Red Records) [Paul Hutchings]

Meridian Dawn was founded in 2012 as a side project by vocalist Antony Hämäläinen (Nightrage, Armageddon, Crystal Tears) and guitarist/bassist Nick Ziros (Into The Moat, Remembering Never), with drummer Johan Nunez (Kamelot, Nightrage, Firewind, Marty Friedman), guitarist Brandon Johnson, and guitarist Christopher "CJ" Cussell. Their debut EP, The Mixtape EP arrived in 2014 and covered the musical grounds between Death and Melodic Metal. Although the group is now a much slimmer outfit, with only Hämäläinen and Ziros full-time members, the band has finally been able to release their debut The Fever Syndrome. Drummer Nunez remains on the stool as a session player for the album.

Nunez’s drumming is one of the highlights on an album that is ferocious and powerful, utilising the contrasting clean and gruff vocals so beloved of the melodic death metal scene to good effect, there is plenty to get stuck into here. I find this genre one of the most challenging to review, such is the generic nature of much of the music. The Fever Syndrome does meld into one at times, but the frantic guitar work over the powerhouse drumming at least allows this release to climb out of the general pool and stand closer to the top. There’s melody in the likes of Luminescent whilst the more intensive fire of the title track and Involuntary Seclusion add real steel. At times reminiscent of In Flames at their best [i.e. many years ago], these united nations of a group clearly know their stuff well. The tracks are solid, well performed with enough to linger in the memory. Not my favourite album of the year but certainly worth a listen if you like this sort of thing. 7/10

Virtual Symmetry: Exoverse (Self Released) [Bob Shoesmith]

Virtual Symmetry are a Swiss-Metal prog-metal outfit who have just unleashed their second studio album since their inception in 2009 (with a live release in between). They have already rubbed shoulders live with Dream Theater and new prog metallers on the block Evergrey. The five piece have also to co-opted from their shared experiences, ‘special guests’ to play alongside them such as drummer Thomas Lang, Dream Theater’s keyboardist Jordan Rudess (who seems to be popping up everywhere at the minute), saxophonist Ruben Paganelli and the services of the symphonic orchestra Sinfonietta Consonus.

For only their second studio outing Virtual Symmetry don’t lack for huge ambition, in fact what we have here is not only the kitchen sink but the entire kitchen thrown at the album, Exoverse. The album looks and feels like a grandiose, cinematic Ridley Scott sci-fi soundtrack from the cover art down to the eight-track, seventy-five-minute cornucopia of symphonic metal in the style of Kamelot or Nightwish meeting Dream Theater’s prog metal in a dark alley. There are literally hundreds of ideas going on here with guests, riffs, solos, grand orchestral and choral twists and turns during every track. It begins with Entropia a six-minute instrumental opener that features climactic synths, progressive noodling, dramatic solos, big organs, neo classical choral voices. It feels like its three songs broken up and stitched back together. 

That’s not to say the tracks aren’t magnificently played, because they are, and I’ve mentioned before but the latest kids on the Prog block, just don’t DO or like linear song structures, which is part of its appeal. But often, songs feel like they’ve ended several minutes before they actually have (Exodus, Safe), and the twenty-three minute closer (Exoverse) could easily be four stand-alone songs mixed into one very long track. Ok, the ballad tracks (Odyssey and Remember), are fairly stock but during the main tracks like, Exodus, Vortex and, specifically, the leviathan Exoverse, Virtual Symmetry attempt to pack EVERY musical idea they have ever thought of into them; guest keyboards, guest sax, guest vocals, orchestral segments, choral accompaniment, metal riffs come & go and to be honest, if you stick with it and listen right to the end it’s not always easy to take it all in first time. I am also pretty sure that the introduction and contribution of the well-known “guests” probably has more to do with marketing than being pivotal to the musical composition.

I should make one thing clear at this point, Virtual Symmetry (as with their guests) are clearly incredibly adept musicians for such a young band and there are several passages of play throughout, when taken in isolation, are fantastic slabs of high end, neo classic and prog-metal (such as the second half of XI) but my slight problem with Virtual Symmetry as a neutral is not their ability to play long complex pieces of music really well (they do that in spades), but the fact that it seems that their ambitions have overridden the overall creative process. In places, there’s almost TOO much style mixing going on. There are times when I have returned to the playlist and thought “Wait, which track is this now?” and on closer inspection is still the same one from five minutes ago but has just gone somewhere completely different. In too many sections, too much is often attempted within each track which, and unless you’re a long-term fan that can deal with the layers and undiluted musical complexity, it can become unnecessarily hard work. Don’t get me wrong, the album is in no way chaotic or unstructured but fantastically produced and brilliantly performed but maybe, if it had been spread out over two albums with a little less of the ‘everything-all-at-once’ methodology it would probably be less so.

I would thoroughly recommend Exoverse to experienced Prog/Gothic/Neo Classical -metal fans but it's possibly a little overpowering for the casual browser. 8/10

Monday, 6 July 2020

Reviews: New Device, Enshadowed, Greybeard, Ganzi Gun (Reviews By Matt Bladen)

New Device: Karöshi (Self Released)

Originally coming to progress through their demos on MySpace (remember that?) they were signed to Classic Rock magazine's important but short-lived record label Powerage. Their stomping debut Takin' Over was very much based around the excellent melodic vocals of frontman Daniel Leigh. Now Leigh has basically been the only constant since then announcing a new line up in 2012 for second album Here We Stand which moved them away from the classic rock vein of Skid Row and Aerosmith on their debut to a more mature, heavier modern rock delivery of bands such as Alter Bridge. Since then they have slimmed down to a four piece releasing an EP (Devil's On The Run) to which Karöshi is the follow up. 6 tracks that feature that oh so modern rock sound New Device. With punchy numbers such as Kingdom Of The Damned and the gutsy Hell To Pay having a great mix of thick riffage and massive hooks similar to bands such as Shinedown.

The songs here are built for singing along, being chanted back by a crowd (remember them). Burn Out The Sun is big ballsy way to open the record with some choppy riffs and that Alter Bridge chug before Wake Up and Open Your Arms show the band's more melodic and tender side though they never fall into mega-ballad territory as they have on previous albums, Wake Up is closest shifting into Daughtry realms. New Device are Daniel Leigh (vocals), Roz Ison (drums), Matt Mallery (guitar) and Lzi Hayes (bass) this line up seems to be one of the most consistent so it bodes well for the future of a band with an often turbulent history, they still manage to tour with some of rocks biggest names and have delivered a set of recordings that are strong and brimming with professionalism. Karöshi is no different. Check out their Facebook page for Daniel doing various cover song streams while everything is still locked down as well as picking up this great little EP. 7/10

Enshadowed: Stare Into The Abyss (Odium Records)

Ah Hellenic Black Metal, there seems to be soemthing about the Eastern Orthodox church that really seems to inspire Greeks (and those who subscribe to the Russian/Eastern European version) to rebel against it forging their careers down the left hand path. I've noted numerous times that Rotting Christ and Varathron were the pioneers of this sound, as were Necromantia, so any band who follows in this vein of anti-dogmatic metal will owe a debt to these bands, and Enshadowed do. Their sounds takes liberally from the sinister/aggressive but big sounding delivery of Rotting Christ, with some battering blast beats of guest drummer George Trakas, forging a maelstrom on The Great Animal as the guitars of N.e.c.r.o and Golgotha tremolo pick away at light speed, rumbling like a rabid animal over the relentless assault from the drumming.

Serpent's vocals are raw and croaked, he spits out the misanthropic/nihilist lyrics to these song. As well as the obvious reverence to the Hellenic scene Enshadowed owe a lot to the Scandi style of black metal too with Mayhem and Dark Funeral the major corrupters. Stare Into The Abyss is the band's fourth album since 1998 so they are definitely no young bucks, confidently delivering their black metal battery across this records 7 tracks without ever dipping below absolute chaos, though you do get some chances to breathe on Divided You Fall. Furious and forged from the fires of distrust, Stare Into The Abyss is another solid entry into the Enshadowed cannon. 7/10

Greybeard: Oracle (Self Released)

From the northern shores of Canada, Greybeard's latest record Oracle comes at you with big slab of heavy metal. Fusing the old school sound of Bolt Thrower with the classic metal sound favoured by bands such as Grand Magus, Oracle is a concept record telling the tale of "A village oracle makes a deal with a dark, supernatural power and when he can't keep up his end of the bargain, the dark power seeks him out" so full of fantasy elements, where every song tells the next part. Opening with the crunching Vision you get a taste of what to expect as the rumbling low end and growled vocals are counterpointed by the proggier solo section and cleaner backing wails. It reminds me of Huntsmen who also balance the more traditional sound with more extreme soundscapes.

Vision flows seamlessly into Unspeakable (after a little horse riding sample) where we get some more death/black influences from the explosive drums of Casey Rogers as it evolves into some fist pumping galloping, Amanda Bourdon's bass the foundation for Guy Onreat and Ross Andersen's guitar playing. Once again Craven brings the black metal sounds but doesn't really go anywhere while Truth has a more epic, death/doom feel bringing in Amanda's vocals more as a counterpoint to Ross' roars. As the story progresses the instrumental Solitude moves into the bouncy Eternal before Vengeance really gives you a left turn as a semi-acoustic ballad duet from Ross and Amanda, it's the odd song out but more of this sort of variation is required for this album to linger after anything more than 1 or 2 listens. 6/10

Ganzi Gun: Time Is Now (Self Released)

A swelling intro that builds into a towering riff backed by some strings is the way Athenian band Ganzi Gun start Time Is Now and it leads into the meaty rocking of the title track, a track that aims at the American post-grunge style from the early 2000's that produced bands such as Seether, Shinedown and Three Days Grace. Choppy stop start riffs from Dionyssis and Thanassis get things moving while Manolis (bass) and George (drums) get the groove into gear for heavy hitters such as Jump In The Pit and My New Friend which reminds this writer of post-Black Album period Metallica due to its hook and heavy/light sound (you can hear the Hetfield riff machine at work here). Rounding out Ganzi Gun are the massive vocal delivery of Loukas, who has a gritty European delivery that close to that of Planet Of Zeus frontman Babis Papanikolaou adding some grungy overtones of Alice In Chains though the provocatively titled Fist My Way Through You has the Southern aggression of Pantera. I will say that the latter part of the album does get much weaker as they move into more misogynistic territory adding some Sunset Strip hard rocking, but the first half is full of ballsy riffs so I'd say in future they should really stick to this. Still a good drinking album for the sunshine. 6/10

Reviews: A.A Williams, Lighthammer, Voivod, Angeles (Matt & Bob)

A.A Williams: Forever Blue (Bella Union) [Matt Bladen]

Forever Blue I'm sure there are huge amount of people feeling that this could be a setting for their life during this lockdown/pandemic period, with the never-ending sense of unfinished business and, for those of us that don't think life begins or ends with Wetherspoons, no real sign of life returning to how it was due to neglect and stupidity from all angles. The general feeling is of a 'frustrated meh' about most things. A feeling that death-gospel pioneer (along with Chelsea Wolfe and Louise Lemon) captures on her latest introspective debut full length opus Forever Blue and album that has been forged off the back of Williams mesmerising debut live show at Roadburn Festival and supports/collaborations with some of the 'rock' spheres most atmospheric and musically dextrous acts such as Mono, Russian Circles and Cult Of Luna, whose Johannes Persson gives his growl to the mountain moving of Fearless and Fredrik Kihlberg duets on the yearning Glimmer.

The music on offer is not rock, or indeed metal but gorgeously emotional darkness that is both bleak and europhric at the same time, if you don't feel a lump in your throat during the glorious arrangement for Melt then you can't feel. Melt also moves William's away from the more sparse sound she has had previously, though this doom folk reappears on Dirt with her rich, deep, mournful voice hauntingly floating over just a reverbed and acoustic guitar as the deep baritone of ex-Wild Beasts bassist Tom Fleming just adds that edge and actually makes me thing that Williams collaborating with Madrugada's Sivert Høyem would be thing of beauty. William's is not just the luscious affecting voice, she is also a multi-instrumentalist playing piano, guitar and cello here while Geoff Holroyde provides the sparse use of drums/percussion and Williams; husband Thomas plays bass.

William's states that she uses her music as therapy and you can hear the emotion, worry, joy, fear all pouring out of this record. With music this emotionally charged, there has to be massive amount of care in the heart of the woman that produced it and since she cannot support this album by playing live she has endeavoured to make things just a little better with the‘Songs From Isolation’ video project, which sees her playing solo renditions of songs suggested by her fans. Of which some include Radiohead’s Creep, Gordon Lightfoot’s If You Could Read My Mind and Nick Cave’s Into Your Arms. With these brief flutters of joy coming out of such bleakness, hearing an entire of this pessimistic optimism will help you reconcile the current events but also allow you to focus on the future that shines a little brighter every day. Forever Blue? Perhaps it seems like that now but the colours are mounting and will be bright again, meanwhile Williams' debut full length, is a perfect way of letting out that built up frustration in a constructive way. 10/10

Lighthammer: Galaxy (Self Released) [Matt Bladen]

Cardiff based rocker Lighthammer made an impression when I saw them last year with Lacertilia in a small pub. Their take on 90's alternative rock was infused with some desert rock/stoner and dose of punk. Imagine the jangly guitars of The Pixies with the thrust of early Foos (I'm talking first two albums) and the experimental brain of Hüsker Dü. They come apparently from Perseus arm of the Milky Way Galaxy (that's where Earth is fact fans) and they describe their sound as spreading strength, courage, hope and riffs, which is a hell of a motto to have, but it rings true as this three piece create music that is joyful and emotional. The final two tracks 4 Million Stellar Masses and Exiting The Exosphere really giving you that feel of The Pixies-like euphoria.

In fact the whole record has flow to it that moves from lift off on Entering The Atmosphere which straddles grunge and post rock, as the album then unfolds like a journey through space and time each song the next part of the story. As the drums and bass work from the rhythm section give you plenty of groove to get your head around, locking in to grungy heaviness but also giving space rock dreaminess when needed. JT's guitar meanwhile rings out with echoed clean but also gets a little dirtier on tracks such as Galaxy Rise. His vocals to carry weight too moving from a rapid punky snarl into some crooning on the slow burners. As I said there is a real sense of storyline on these tracks with the longing instrumental Esperanza setting up the for the more progressively influenced last part of the record, as some synths creep in like 90's Rush. Galaxy is a record brimming with hope and blissful melodies underpinned by cavernous riffing, a great debut full length record from these space adventurers. 8/10

Voivod: The End Of Dormancy - 7 Inch Special Release (Century Media Records) [Bob Shoesmith]

Normally, reviews will feed the reader a bit of background information about the artist they are reviewing by way of illumination, but while I am aware of their existence, they are a band that has never appeared  on my playlists, but after 14 albums, more personnel ins and outs than your average cabinet office and various style changes since their 1982 inception, unlike me,  most self-respecting metal fans (and there’s 167,000 of them on Facebook) will be aware of the name, if not necessarily their entire back catalogue. By their own admission, they have been through various metamorphosis from thrashers in the 80’s through Prog-Metal to 2018’s eclectic experimental fusion of styles on their last full release, the award winning The Wake. Their own press release sums their current status perfectly, both musically and physically; “The one predictable thing about Voivod is their unpredictability”.

What we have here is a three track E.P which is a remix of the opening 8 minutes from their last album, The Wake; with The End Of Dormancy (Studio Version), The End Of Dormancy – (Live At The Montreux Jazz Festival) and The Unknown Knows –  also Live at The Montreux Jazz Festival. Like me, I can hear you ask, what on earth are proto 80’s thrashers doing at the Montreux Jazz Festival of all places, but when you hear these latest tracks it kind of makes a lot of sense. They have moved SO far into a fusion of styles and experimentation since those days you might struggle to recognise them if you haven’t kept up. It’s a bitch to describe where they are now, but I can tell you that both the studio and live version of The End Of Dormancy have large slabs of a brass section blowing a riff at the start that gives the track a kind of Roman fanfare feel. The track breaks at various points, interchanging between some more recognisable, lumbering metal guitar (echoing the aforementioned riff) and some alt rock vocals.

The brass section stays with it throughout and, despite an initial ‘wtf is this’ moment or two, it actually does gel well together. It breaks down again about 4 minutes in to a Holst’s Planet Suite style march (Darth Vader’s theme for Millennial types) and then again off into a 15/4 time signature jaunt, and a doomy spoken section. (you see, I told you it was difficult to describe). This track mixes up elements of classical composition, experimental jazz, avant-guard prog metal, and yet still, in small parts, you can still detect their 80’s metal roots. The live versions are, for obvious reasons, slightly less experimental, although the brass section are still there, and the third track,
The Unknown Knows, is a more straight ahead thrash/prog crossover.

I was uninitiated in the ways of Voivod prior to this review and it’s safe to say that their latest style and mash up of ideas is probably an acquired taste, as it incorporates a whole raft of previously untested elements which can catch you off your guard. After repeated listens I am left with a feeling of admiration for their bravery of experimentation within their form. It’s often said that it’s a very thin, creative line between genius and madness. Voivod walk this line without a care and show that metal can be so much more than just blast beats and shredding. Left-field but infectious. 8/10

Angeles: Hell On High Heels (Dark Star Records) [Bob Shoesmith]

Originally formed as far back as 1977 by original member Dale Lytle in (unsurprisingly) Los Angeles they released their debut album in 1984. They are and were a classic LA ‘strip’ band and in their time have rubbed shoulders with all the faces of the 80’s, even playing alongside Motley Crue in their early days. According to their history they have also ‘shared a stage’ with Quiet Riot, Ratt, Guns N’ Roses, Metallica, and Ronnie James Dio, Jefferson Starship, Great White, The Tubes, Foghat, Y&T, Michael Schenker, Dokken and more. So, basically if you played in LA in the 80’s there’s a fair chance Angeles could have opened for you. Since then they have been on a journey of epic Spinal Tap proportions, twelve albums later with no less than 24 ex members, including 10 vocalists, 6 bass players and 5 drummers! Even founder member Lytle was out of the band at one time. The latest in a long line of vocalists, Louis Collins, was only recruited this year and, judging by the promo photos is possibly the grandson of one of the band. The promo photos show that the main cast of the band have a LOT of mileage on their clock, but they’re an LA metal band so there’s still shaggy hair – check (albeit with a little coloring assistance), headbands – check, shades – check, leather pants – check, the leggy blond in lingerie & stilettos with a muscle car on the front cover – check, bus passes – probably.

It’s fair to say I am a sucker for a hair metal band, they are totally of my time and my CD collection is awash with lacquered poodle perms and stick twirling drummers but I do have to recognise that this shtick is forty years old now and, while I still love it, it’s only really killing it on the nostalgia circuits. Angeles say they’re a platinum selling band yet this is my first encounter of them so, what of Hell On High Heels? Is there still life in the old dogs, does the format still hold up? Truth be told, like its members, LA hair metal is starting to show its age and if you’re not a fan of the era & style, your cliché-o-meter will jam firmly in the red with these guys. I AM a fan of the era and I’m struggling with them. Angeles obviously nailed their chops in the 80’s but unfortunately it seems, they never it. The title track, Hell On High Heels is point in question, a pedestrian riff-fest that takes ages to get going and never really sticks in the memory other than the unnecessary, of-its-time cowbell and the pinch-harmonic’d guitar solo that grates like nails down a chalkboard (and like several other awkward screechy solo’s which do similar throughout) and, why oh why are guys of this vintage still turning out songs about partying with the band drinking with the boys and long-legged blonds like they’re still at The Whiskey in 1985 with not a hint of irony.

Latest vocalist Louis Collins has a decent voice and I can see why they’d bring him in, his sound sits perfectly between Vince Neil and close to Jon Bon Jovi which works perfectly for their purposes like in the Wanted Dead Or Alive-a-like Heal The Wounds and the decently performed Run, his contribution is probably one of the few highlights of the album. Rolling Thunder riffs around cars on the LA strip and by the end of the album you can see why Angeles were always the bridesmaids and never the brides back in the day, it ticks all the boxes sure, but it is all very obvious and very dated. If Crue’s Girls, Girls, Girls is the sort of track that floats your boat, you will probably enjoy songs like Start Living and the oddly named, standout track, the hooky rocker Holly Fenton where Collins does his best Vince Neil impression and they get somewhere near to a smile from me. I can understand and still enjoy bands on the nostalgia circuit doing their original thing for their fans of the day but Angeles, well into their dotage, are still trying to be those headliners and still recycling the same old formula. 6/10

Friday, 3 July 2020

Reviews: Kansas, Kingnomad, Rebel Wizard, Devastator (Paul H & Paul S)

Kansas: The Absence Of Presence (Inside Out Music) [Paul Hutchings]

I admit that Kansas rarely feature on my radar. Carry On My Wayward Son and Dust In The Wind. Yeah, that’s about my lot. They feature on Planet Rock whenever I tune in. Oh, and Anthrax did a blinding cover of Wayward Son. So, there was a bit of trepidation when beginning to review The Absence Of Presence, their 16th studio album. These are legends of the melodic rock scene. I needn’t have worried. This is a quite magnificent piece of work. The follow up to 2016’s The Prelude Implicit [which Matt reviewed, giving it 9/10], the line-up features original members Rich Williams (guitars) and Phil Ehart (drums), alongside long serving bassist Billy Greer, David Ragsdale (violin, rhythm guitar, backing vocals), Ronnie Platt (vocals), Zaki Rizvi (guitars, backing vocals) and latest recruit Tom Brislin (keyboards, backing and lead vocals). Platt’s vocals grace the Kansas canvas for the second time, whilst Rizvi also makes his second appearance. What surprised me is that Rivzi and Brislin have written just about everything between them. Maybe that’s why there is a fresh, vibrant, and bullish sound that surges through this album.

Opening with the title track which weighs in at over eight minutes, this is a throwback to Kansas staples of longer songs. It’s followed by the splendid Throwing Mountains, which contains a glorious riff and some superb interplay between the guitars and keys. Harmonies and melody are rich and plentiful, Platt’s soaring vocal clean and sweet. The band may be steeped in the 70s and 80s, and there’s no denying their roots, but this album is as contemporary as any melodic rock album I’ve heard for some time.

Kansas blend their music in a way that only bands of their stature can. Thick melodies, gentle interplay between the instruments, the ease of a band pulling in the same direction but with the introduction of fresh blood giving them new life. Brislin’s keyboards are fluid, polished and at times exceptional. There’s a reasonable level of steel underneath, with the duel guitars serving up some red-hot solo work. The opening duo may be relatively lengthy, at over 14 minutes combine, but the rest of this work has the fat trimmed, with the sweet instrumental Propulsion 1 just over two minutes in length and no other track straying much past five minutes. Other stand out tracks include Animals On The Roof and the dramatic album finisher The Song The River sang, which sees Brislin comfortably take lead duties for the first time.

Maybe I’d been a bit naïve about Kansas in the past; this album is flawless. Polished, beautifully produced and delivered, this is solid top-quality stuff. As millions of Kansas fans could have told me, there is much more to this band. This is as good a starting place as any to begin the journey into a back catalogue that promises much. 9/10

Kingnomad: Sagan Om Rymen (Ripple Music) [Paul Scoble]

Kingnomad are a band that grew out of two friends and neighbours, jamming together back in 2014. The two friends in question were Mr Jay, on Guitar and Vocals, and Marcus who plays Guitars and Psychedelics (not sure if thats sounds or substances, possibly both). The pair quickly added Mano on Drums and Maximillian on Bass and Backing vocals to complete Kingnomad. Since their inception the band have released 2 albums, 2017’s Mapping The Inner Void and The Great Nothing in 2018. So, how is the band's third? Well, it’s a very mellow piece of Psychedelic rock, that is packed full of late sixties, early seventies feel, with a touch of Southern Californian bliss. The style is very psych rock, but it’s not hugely heavy, instead there is a pop sensibility that mixes with the psych elements that keeps this fun and uplifting.
The album opens with Omniverse which has a driving psych rock feel, but also has lots of keyboards and a bit of a Dancey electronic sense, maybe a little bit like early eighties New Wave. The song features a big chorus and some very good guitar work in the second half. Next we get Small Beginnings which starts in a slow and measured way, but gets heavier as the vocals come in. The track has a darkly folk feel to it, and again there is some very impressive guitar work that reminded me a little of Green Lung. 

The Omega Experiment is a faster, heavier prospect. It’s driving, taut psych rock with a slightly floaty, shimmery chorus and again a very pleasing guitar solo. Tillbakablick - The Usurper King has a minimal, ballad like opening, before a big layered guitar part comes in making it sound a little bit like early Queen, the track then builds becoming faster, tighter and more purposeful.
Multiverse has an eastern feel to it, and a relaxed tempo. The song also boasts a very expansive chorus and is a nice change in feel on the album. The Fermi Paradox is a short clean, folky instrumental. The Creation Hymn is a melodic, ballad with an ethereal, blissed out quality that is very pleasing. It’s got just the right amount of So-Cal feel to make it feel like liquid sunshine whilst still maintaining enough psych rock to keep it interesting. The Creation Hymn also boasts a really big beautiful chorus. On The Shoulders Of Giants is a great uptempo piece of rock. It’s got lots of keyboards in it and has a big bombastic chorus. 

The album comes to an end with The Unanswered Question, which features big keyboards, an interesting spoken word part in the first half, before the track gets more driving and purposeful in the second half with big, strong melodies and some interesting gang vocals. Sagan Om Rymen is a great album. It is on the lighter end of the Psychedelic Rock spectrum, but what it lacks in heaviness, it more than makes up for with huge melodies, great choruses and some really beautiful moments. Musically it is very accomplished, all those involved can really play; whether it’s beautiful keys, fantastic guitar work (really great solos all over the album), or great vocal melodies and harmonies. It’s upbeat, fun and will put a huge smile on your face. 8/10

Rebel Wizard: Magickal Mystical Indifference (Prosthetic Records) [Paul Hutchings]

If the devil had norovirus, this is what it would sound like. A brutal eruption of bile, vomit and excrement that explodes with an almighty force. Rebel Wizard roar at you from the forests of Australia, in a spectacular blast of what is self-titled 'Negative Wizard Metal'. It is certainly a cacophony of searing rage, a combination of thrash, black metal, and the occasional burst of melody. Look into the history of the band and there is a prolific output since the initial self-tilted demo in 2013. Eight EPs and two long-players have come and gone with Magickal Mystical Indifference the third album. Further investigation establishes that this blackened wall of grotesque noise is the result of just one artist, Bob Nekrasov, or NKSV as he operates under in this guise. So, another multi-instrumentalist who produces shitloads of material, especially with many other projects on the go including Mors Sonat and Nekrasov. Although this is a solo project, the tracks are well constructed and ferocious, with a cohesion that is often lacking for these projects.

It’s not a long album, at 34 minutes it certainly comes at you all guns blazing and rarely allows a pause for breath. A visceral salvo opens the release, heavy negative wizard metal in-fucking-excelsis, a slavering punk/thrash hybrid instrumental which rages hard and fast. This segues into the first song with lyrics, Upholdeth All That Fall, And Raiseth Up All Those That Be Bowed Down, the echoing female narrative that appears throughout the album making the first appearance. NKSV’s vocals are horrific, devilish screams that rise from the deeps without warning. This would scare the shit out of your sleeping granny. But underneath it all is a melody that echoes the virtuoso skills of Satriani and Vai. It’s all a bit confusing and somewhat a blur. A bit like being beaten around the head with a cucumber. It hurts, but at the same time you know you’re getting one of your five a day, so you accept it.

With each song title a real jumble of words, I found that sitting back and letting it come at me was the best approach. White Light Of Divine Awe Smelling Of Sweat And Sex for example, a rampant vomiting detonation, which segues into the almost Satanic grindcore thrash of You Are Being Lived, Dear One. It’s all a little batshit crazy, but repeated listen allows you to warm to it. The most coherent song is probably the closing title track, a thunderous anthemic six minute plus piece that has groove, drive and some insane vocals, all with a Celtic jig feel and a deep, dark Opeth style breakdown allowing the horror to spread its tentacles. The visceral shrieks will peel paint from the walls, but this is in many ways spectacular. Thousands will hate it. I must be honest. Three plays got me nodding along. Take a step towards the dark. You might just enjoy it. 7/10

Devastator: Baptised In Blasphemy (Self Released) [Paul Scoble]

Devastator share their name with quite a few other bands, this Devastator are a Derbyshire based 4 piece. The band, who were born from the ashes of two other bands; Reulsive and Hellrazer, have been making loud, fast music since 2017. Baptised In Blasphemy is the band's first album. So, what has Devastator’s first album got in store for us? Well, we get 26 minutes of Black Thrash, 7 tracks of high energy Thrash lunacy. As this is Black Thrash there are no progressive elements on display, perish the thought. What we get is fast, simple thrash riffs, ridiculously infectious tempos and some very impressive solos. This album takes me strait back to the mid eighties, there’s loads of references to Venom, Bathory, early Slayer, Destruction and of course Motorhead. However the album also reminds me of more recent acts like Toxic Holocaust, Aura Noir or Hellripper.

What this album really excels at is massively energetic riffing. This is an album that will not let you sit still, opener Howling Night is simple fast thrash, bristling with razor sharp riffs and a beat that will definitely have you headbanging. Death Slut is another track where the riffing is just superb, tight, meticulous and bombastic, it takes me back to 1986 and reminds me of Destruction and early Slayer. Spiritual Warfare is another beautifully riffy song, it’s nice and choppy and in the second half has a fantastic melody lead. Which brings me to another really impressive aspect of this album; the solos. This might be a fairly simple style of thrash, but there are clearly some very talented people in Devastator. The solos are just superb, packed with melody whilst at the same time screaming and savage, they really add to the songs and the album as a whole. Worship The Goat has a fantastic solo, as does Hail Death and final title track Baptised In Blasphemy.

Which brings me to the aforementioned final track Baptised In Blasphemy. What a great way to end the album! It starts in a way that is very reminiscent of Overkill by Motorhead, before blasting the album to an end in a way that is similar to Kill ‘Em All era Metallica, particularly the track Motorbreath (not really surprising considering how the track opened). Although I have mentioned a lot of other bands in this review, I’m not trying to suggest the band are ripping anyone off or are derivative, these are nods to their influences rather than being copyists. Devastator are very clearly their own band, with their own sound. Baptised In Blasphemy is a fantastic piece of Black Thrash. It feels rooted in the origins of thrash, whilst also being fresh and new. The album is so packed with energy, drive and vitality, every time I listen to it I can’t help smiling, it’s difficult to be poe faced when confronted by an album that is this much fun! 8/10 

Thursday, 2 July 2020

Reviews: Bury Tomorrow, Aleah, Bob Katsionis, Phoxjaw (Liam, Matt & Alex)

Bury Tomorrow: Cannibal (Music For The Nations) [Liam True]

In my case, Bury Tomorrow are one of those bands that you’ve heard of but never listen to for some reason. You hear the hype build up around them but brush it off thinking their a passing band. Fast forward 3 years and they’ve become one of the UK’s top Metalcore bands from the ground up by working their self to exhaustion with a ruthless tour and album schedule. Touring with some of the biggest bands in the scene. Building their fan base and releasing 6 albums in 11 years takes it’s toll, but Bury Tomorrow always seem to bounce back even harder with each album.

It’s been two years since Black Flame released and secured BT at the status they’re at today, selling out shows, gathering large crowds and festivals and their ever increasing popularity. Now ,here comes Cannibal. And I can safely say it’s BT’s best album to date. The entire album is just perfection from start to finish with the technicality of lead guitar Kristan Dawson & rhythm guitar Jason Cameron intertwining to create the raucous and fearless riffs and devastating breakdowns that cause BT to stand out. Choke & Cannibal are perfect starters as they implement the demonic vocals of Daniel Winter-Bates and the almost angelic cleans of Jason Cameron as they interlock their chords to create a sublime start. As the band reaches Imposter they’re tight and as heavy as you can expect. The Agonist & Quake are two glorious songs that utilize Cameron's vocal range to make him front and centre for the chorus’. From Voice & Truth the album is just a vulgar display of the thunderous Metalcore breakdowns the band can create with drummer Adam Jackson being the forefront of all the carnage as the world crumbles around you. When Dark Infinite finishes.

It’s a ballsy album due to the fact that the band have released 5 singles from the album, pretty much half of the album itself, but have kept the best songs unreleased, so you’ll find some perfect gems by the end of the album. And you’ll wonder, have Bury Tomorrow just created not only the best album of their career, but in the Metalcore scene this side of 2009? You bet your fucking soul they have. 10/10

Aleah: S/T (Svart Records) [Matt Bladen]

Now many of you know about Aleah Stanbridge (AKA Aleah Starbridge), the South African-born/Sweden based caught the attention of Swallow The Sun founder Juha Ravio as they writing a record. He used her beautiful, ethereal voice on their song Lights On The Lake from their album New Moon and then went on to form death/doom band Trees Of Eternity in 2009. Since then she also appeared on Amorphis' Under The Red Chord and STS's Songs From The North I, II & III. Now tragically before the Trees Of Eternity album was released, her death due to cancer was confirmed by her partner Ravio in April 2016, he went on to release the Trees Of Eternity album in November of that year in tribute to her, Ravio also went on to form Hallatar with Amorphis' Tomi Joutsen with the songs based upon Aleah's poems and lyrics written with Ravio. Aleah was clearly a hugely talented singer/musician and was also prolific in her compositions as we now have another album to carry the flame of her legacy.

Aleah is a posthumous collection of Aleah's music set to backing from Juha. He set to work on this record on April 18 2020 the anniversary of Aleah's death and the album was scheduled for release on 01 July 2020 her birthday. Now I listened to this wonderful album on it's release day and I will admit to shedding a tear as Aleah's ghost-like, whispered vocals drift over the stripped back acoustic compositions of what are really demo songs. It's a poignant record that really highlights Aleah's wonderful voice and knack of creating images with her lyrics, unlike Trees Of Eternity (which I scored very highly) the music doesn't give you that heavy, introspective backing Juha is known for, it's basically a dark folk style similar to Myrkur's most recent album or the more accessible sound of Laura Marling.

With the acoustic album a more D.I.Y affair. The second disc is a glistening epitaph to Starbridge and features songs in a more electric format which resonates so much to the vibe of Anathema, Portishead and others, mournful piano playing, is cut with thudding programmed drums and pulsating electronics on My Will while Sacrifice has a lilting repetitive guitar and some airy drumming that also features multi-instrumentalist Anilah (Dréa Drury) lending it the calibre of Enya or Clannad. Now most rock or metal fans will identify more with this disc more than the first one as it does share similarities to Steven Wilson's eclectic back catalogue along with the bewitching music of Kate Bush. It's a fantastic, moving record that is a fitting, dynamic elegy to Starbridge, having both the acoustic and electronic albums, you can hear the versatility of her voice and songwriting. I urge you to buy it as it's magnificent. 9/10 

Bob Katsionis: Amadeus Street Warrior (Symmetric Records) [Matt Bladen]

It's probably best for Multi-instrumentalist/Producer/Studio Owner Bob Katsionis to explain how this record came about: "2019 Christmas' period was kinda rough for me. I was struggling regarding my future with Firewind, I was renovating my house, and looking for a place to build my new studio while my father was at the hospital. I found shelter in the place I always do: Making Music." He started writing music based upon numerous suggestions that he should make video game music, he took these suggestions to heart and as an avid gamer he set about not just writing some video game music but writing an album that is the soundtrack to an, as yet, fictional video game. "As the story was developing in my head, so did the music. I structured the album like a video-game, divided to Levels, Boss Fights, and Main/End title themes".

So Amadeus Street Warrior is a conceptual chiptune/16-bit instrumental album, based on a fictional video game from a multi-talented musician with a lot of time on his hands and his own studio to record it with. Not really the sort of thing we cover on a metal blog but while it's not strictly metal, it doesn't stick to the rigid retroism of synthwave either, though with acts such as Carpenter Brut and Gost, receiving tonnes of coverage in 'Steel Tool' magazine, a record like this clearly has a crossover audience. The story is set in San Francisco, 2050 about the son of a US Android Army General and a classical pianist from Austria. Our hero (Amadeus) seeks answers with nothing but a golden flute and his military training, faces his evil mutated father. That all being said what does it actually sound like? Well very much like Streets Of Rage 2, Super Castlevania IV, this is an action adventure styled soundtrack for a game I'd play!

It opens with Into The Asylum which has that introductory style similar to Green Hill Zone, starting things at pace  before things get darker and more industrial on Seline City while on both Boss Fights there is a sense of urgency that you need in those moments. Due to the conceptual nature of the record it really lets you feel the storyline and move through the journey. Bob wrote this record in 6 days (!) using a VST plug-in called "Koji" and recorded it via just a 16 channel MIDI to retain the 90's sound. No it's not metal but Katsionis has so much of that under his belt and his solo music has been so varied that it was a no-brainer that any video game soundtrack would be as good as this. It's not for everyone but if your childhood was lost to the Sega/Nintendo/Commodore etc then you'll get a happy sense of nostalgia from this record. 8/10

Phoxjaw: Royal Swan (Hassle Records) [Alex Swift]

Creatively amalgamating the genres of progressive with post-punk Avant-garde, Phoxjaw has proved one of the wildest yet odd acts to come out of the last few years. And I do mean odd as well – as a disclaimer, this act has zero expectations placed on them dragging them down into one genre of playing style. Over the course of three EP’s that have set fire to the rulebook and changed their sound more often than some acts do throughout their entire career. So, as I mentioned I had absolutely no preconceptions going into their debut and I absolutely loved that fact – even with the most changeable performers you sort of know what to expect after a while. Here? Na, nope, Zilch. All I knew is that anything that graced, or rather shook my eardrums would be experimental, raw, and weird.

A gorgeous piano opens Charging Pale Horses – we’re soon greeted with distorted yet strangely haunting frequencies and eerily disquieting choir melodies. We glide into Trophies In The Attic – which proves infinitely more normal than one might expect…for about ten seconds, as the instrumentals take on a cascading and claustrophobic fear, the sharp arpeggiated melodies clashing in wonderful chaos against the guttural screams of our frontman, the overarching throng of the bass textures, and the melancholic fuzz of the synthesizers. There’s a sense of disorder throughout, yet the progressions feel deliberated as if to set the listener on edge while forcing them to contemplate the complexity on display. Triple AAA emphasizes their skill for a hook – taking a looping effect as a starting point, a forceful vigour is granted to the anthem, which is ironic given how depressing the themes of mental discomfort are, and how the melodic choices emanate a gothically psychedelic feel. Again, Phoxjaw reconciles the impossible and does so in such a way that you can dance to the sound of musical conventions exploding. You Don’t Drink A Unicorns Blood – a hallucinogenic ode to the environment – brilliantly plays with dynamics, swaying elusively from moments of hazy otherworldliness to frenzied exploration into diverse sonic explorations.

Half House proves another insatiably catchy yet eloquently disturbing moment – a seizing moment within the context of Royal Swan yet a totally unique and exceptional piece in the way the ostensibly disassociated musical concepts come together to form a harrowingly beguiling composition. Suddenly changing the mood to a far more optimistic and shimmering outlook, Infinite Badness would be beautiful if not for the eccentrically ironic and forbidding instrumental niches that contribute so much to eliciting tones of feeling and emotion from otherwise fascinating works. The spiralling changes and transcendental crescendos feel like we’re taking a trip down a demented and frenzied thought process – there’s a very Wonderland, Oz feeling to the waterfalls of harmony, juxtaposed with the sense of lurking fear and darkness which pervades from start to finish. In bringing those moods together especially on tracks like the immersive Teething and the curiously titled An Owl Is A Cat With Wings, Phoxjaw creates something truly distinct from their contemporaries. We end the later on the words ‘You’ve got me, we’ve got you’…they have indeed captured my imagination.

Bats For Bleeding proves almost carnivalesque in the taunting harmonies and the waltz through a multitude of uncanny realities, each one different and musically animated. Next, The Monk shocks by becoming one of the most throttling anthems these musicians have ever put to paper, the kaleidoscopic divergences eliciting and soothing moods of deep inner turmoil and angst. We finish on the title track and there certainly seems to be a willingness to bow out on a theatrical note, with the musicianship and eccentricity soaring to an epic and impassioned curtain call. I certainly hope that future albums will continue to confound my expectations before chucking them into a meat grinder. The genre defiance here has assured me that they will. That innovation, oddity, and experimentation drive creativity in music. That combination is revolutionary, exciting, and beautiful. By taking such a bold creative risk on their first album, Phoxjaw embody and inhabit that pioneering state. 9/10

Reviews: Nick D’Virgilio, Make Them Suffer, SVÄRD, Magick Touch (Bob, Liam, Rich & Paul H)

Nick D’Virgilio: Invisible (English Electric) [Bob Shoesmith]

It’s not often I get to report on a drummer’s burgeoning and successful solo career, in fact there’s Phil Collins…and…maybe some others that aren’t readily springing to mind (Don Henley? - Ed), possibly a good pub quiz question? However, Nick D’Virgilio has now been on a solo journey that began a few years before the release of his debut solo album back in 2001. Nick is probably best known for his time in Spock’s Beard where he started as the drummer and branched out into frontman duties. But Nick is much more than “just a drummer” he has some great vocals and is a decent multi-instrumentalist as well as being no slouch behind the kit, so having that kind of locker obviously helps immeasurably.

He has also been involved with projects like Big Big Train – and fifteen years working with Tears For Fears - while still finding time to record and/or perform with many of the best in the business including the late Kevin Gilbert, Mike Keneally (Frank Zappa) and a five-year stint as drummer/singer/assistant bandleader with the Cirque Du Soleil. For this latest offering Invisible Nick D’Virgilio (who prefers the snappier ‘NDV’ on his pages) has also surrounded himself with some heavyweight hired guns with some classic idiosyncratic bass contributions from Tony Levin, as well as appearances from Mr Big’s Paul Gilbert, Cheap Trick’s Rick Nielsen and Dream Theatre’s Jordan Rudess on keyboards. There is a heavy focus on high gloss, clean cut production, with a besuited Bonamassa look in photoshoots, and some accessible shiny pop/prog I’m sure the album is set to find interest in far wider markets than Spocks Beard. .

The first thing I should say about Invisible is that it is described and categorised as Prog rock and when people hear the term progressive rock their eyes tend to glaze over with thoughts of 70’s excess and grandeur. To many progressive rock fans, this is the kind of deal they’re looking for, but Invisible is quite a long way removed from triple gatefold epics, cloaks and wizard hats. NVD has floated his style way down to the cleaner, shallower end of the Prog pool. There are swathes of strings throughout (particularly on the introductory track Prelude), a commercial jazz-funk Ronson/Bruno Mars vibe of I’m Gone. There are occasions where the his clean, well pitched vocal range – reminiscent of Nick Kershaw, are nearer to Broadway crooning in Waiting For No One, Where’s The Passion and the title track Invisible. There’s also a clever, bluesy take on Barrett Strong’s Money (That’s What I Want).

NVD does occasionally push the ‘Prog button’ with some crunchy guitars and Wakeman-like keyboards on tracks like the technically adept Turn Your Life Around Wrong Place Wrong Time and Mercy, where he also gives us a several great demos of his still impressive drumming talents. All in all, Invisible probably does sit within the Prog community more than anywhere else, as it has echoes of the slightly harder edged more recognisable prog of Spock's Beard in places and even though NVD only goes back there once or twice, this is a far more commercial affair and cross fertilizes his Prog roots with several more accessible chart minded styles which will bring in a much broader audience, as I suspect was always the plan and that does makes commercial sense. It will possibly be way too saccharine for the beard stroking purists but is a very good, accessible album with some very well crafted songwriting that has already received some gushing reviews in shiny paged coffee table magazines. 8/10

Make Them Suffer: How To Survive a Funeral (Rise Records) [Liam True]

Make Them Suffer have been a band that has been on my radar since I saw them live back in 2017. Their not exactly a new sounding band, but they somehow stood out too me due to the nature of their music. By which I mean they hit hard and take no prisoners. And How To Survive... Is no different.

Step one is a slow burner until vocalist Sean Harmanis bellows ‘Speak from your heart’ as the Metalcore band blasts into their breath-taking signature sound of sounding heavier than a blacksmith pounding away at their anvil. From then on the band take no breaks, take no prisoners and don’t even give you a second to catch your breath. Bones proves they can blend both their heavy styles and their more mellow side to perform a melody that sits just right on your taste buds and soaks in all the juicy goodness of the song. Drown With Me has the helping hand of Booka Nile with her sublime clean vocals adding amore haunted feel to the already great song. Erase Me & Soul Decay sit back to back as two sounds that sound phenomenal on their own but join together as perfect as can possibly be. On How To Survive...

The band have taken a more melodic approach to other albums, but that doesn’t cancel out their heavy side on bit. In fact it even adds to it making the album much more enjoyable to listen with the addiction of background keyboard mixed in with Nick McLernon (Guitarist), Jaya Jeffery (Bass) & Jordon Mather’s (Drums) instrumentation stand out more as there’s a few things going on to capture your attention. The entire record is a phenomenal effort from a smaller Australian band that continues to rise in the ranks. Let’s hope in the coming years they venture to the UK shores again so we can see them rip a hole in the fabric of our world. 8/10

(Editors Note - Released digitally in June, the physical release isn't until July 24th)

SVÄRD: The Rift EP (Argonauta Records) [Rich Oliver]

The Rift is the debut EP from SVÄRD featuring members of In Mourning and Ahab. Unlike the progressive death or funeral doom metal stylings of those aforementioned bands SVÄRD are rooted in traditional heavy metal especially the bands from the NWOBHM movement. I definitely heard nods to bands such as Mastodon and Baroness in the melodic yet slightly sludgy approach to their sound and there is a definite psychedelic influence to the songs. This EP is comprised of five songs including a short atmospheric intro. A Rift In The Green starts things out hard and heavy with driving riffs whilst Palaeocene Flames plays to the traditional heavy metal elements with plenty of twin guitars. The Portal which closes the EP has a very doomy vibe about whilst also an epic scale of sound. SVÄRD have a promising EP here. It sounds equally old school and contemporary in its sound and is a good sign of things to come from this new band. 7/10

Magick Touch: Heads Have Got To Rock N Roll (Edged Circle Productions) [Paul Hutchings]

I reviewed Magick Touch’s second album Blades, Chains, Whips & Fire when it was released back in January 2018 and I was impressed with it. Like many of their Scandinavian counterparts, Magick Touch are reasonably prolific and Heads Have Got To Rock N Roll is their third full-length release since their formation in 2015. Add in six singles and 2019’s live album Inside The Cage and you begin to appreciate just how hard these guys must work.

A solid three piece, the band share lead vocals between guitarist HK Rein and bassist Christer Ottesen whilst drummer Bård Nordvik adds backing vocals. Heads Have Got To Rock N Roll is neatly performed heavy metal/hard rock. I’d class them as a bit of Kiss (Love Is A Heart Disease), some Van Halen and a sprinkling of early Def Leppard. The music has a rocking edge, and the songs are perfectly decent but there is something that isn’t quite right here. Musically there is a confident swagger which comes as standard, but the passion isn’t quite there as much as it was on the previous album. Rein is however, a confident guitarist; his lead bursts are fiery whilst his playing is fluid and natural.

But it’s all a bit hard rock by numbers. Love Is A Heart Disease is weak, a showy almost glam rock track whilst the smoulder of Ready For The Quake is a slow burn, the type that Whitesnake could do so well in the mid-1980s. There’s a Black Star Riders/Thin Lizzy feel to Bad Decisions, but its another song that doesn’t exactly excite. It may be that Magick Touch have found an audience who appreciate their retro sound. Certainly, there are plenty of fans of the ever-expanding new wave of classic rock and I would wager that these guys will kick up a storm live. For me, it’s just a bit formulaic and whilst there is little actually wrong here, there is a lack of sparkle which would allow it to stand out from the herd. 5/10

Wednesday, 1 July 2020

Reviews: The Last Renegades, Kenziner, Goblins Blade, Mora Prokaza (Reviews By Matt Bladen)

The Last Renegades: Valley Of The Kings (Dissonance Records)

Valley Of The Kings is the first album from The Last Renegades a new project from Tokyo Blade founder Andy Boulton along with vocalist Aio (Adrian O'Shaughnessy). It follows on from Tokyo Blades excellent 2020 release Dark Revolution, though the album itself comes after a conversation following their previous release Unbroken. Aio and Andy worked together on a few songs, one being When Will I See You Again but commitments got in the way and it wasn't until Aio caught up with Andy in 2019 that The Last Renegades began properly. Now what is very interesting and very 2020 to be honest, is that neither man has met the other in person and this album was written by both men in their own studios and put together as one 10 song record.

So a kind of laboured creative process but to what end? Well it's not Tokyo Blade by any stretch, this band/album/project is a lot more of a hard rock sounding album taking from the 90's American metal of Skid Row and Y&T but also the chest beating power metal themes of Manowar/ Helloween that comes through on 300 Strong. Much of the songwriting is enforced by horror and battle themes similar to the classic and power metal band. Most of the songs feature Andy's heavy guitar as the driving factor in tracks such as Mr Smile while Aio's powerful and wide vocals soar on Bringers Of War and the triumphant march of Serial Killer (which once again has the final speech from The Great Dictator as sample) but also can carry ballads such as the dramatic Across The Great Divide and When Will I See You Again (though this number is mainly just some melodic guitar playing). It's not a perfect record, there are a few too many ballads and the last half is weaker than the first but for what is basically a studio project Valley Of The Kings is a great debut record. 7/10  

Kenziner: Phoenix (Pure Steel Records)

Ah Neoclassical metal, usually bands formed by virtuoso guitar players and a number of professional session musicians, think Yngwie Malmsteen etc however very often these projects become bands with Symphony X, At Vance, Circle Of Fire and Firewind being the most notable. Add to that Kenziner the band formed and named after Jarno Keskinen who were originally active in the late 90's with Stephen Fredrick on vocals, who also sang the vocals Firewind's album Burn The Earth as well as some David T Chastain projects (another long term neoclassical metal survivor). Jarno reactivated the band in 2012 with new members releasing their last album in 2014. Since then the band have welcomed vocalist Peter ‘Zinny’ Zalesky and keyboardist Ariel Perchuk to their ranks ready to be reborn again with Phoenix (see what I did there?) From the opening moments of Eye Of Horus you can hear that the shred is strong with this one as Keskinen peels off riffs and solos with abandon in harmony with the speedy runs of Perchuk which means that there are a lot of Symphony X/Stratovarius sounds coming through as Zalensky's vocals mirror those of Russell Allen. It rarely strays from this blueprint so if you love the neoclassical metal sound then you'll be playing tracks such as Curse Of The Pharaohs, The Mirror and Phoenix Rising at full volume air guitaring along with it I'm sure! 7/10  

Goblins Blade: Of Angels & Snakes (Massacre Records)

If you don't guess from the album cover and name Goblins Blade are a power metal band, to be more precise they are a power metal from Germany. Now, many power metal aficionados should recognise that German power metal is very unlike most of its European brethren, it's usually a lot more bombastic and heavier taking from Accept, Running Wild and Grave Digger while also adding the thrashiness of the American sound especially Heathen whom they have taken their name from. Certainly Goblins Blade have delved deep into the German power metal vaults and found all manner of leather and metal adornments ready to head into battle. Of Angels & Snakes is their debut record, the band only formed in 2018 and it's got the fist pumping quality you want from Teutonic metal bands, numbers such as the driving Blink Of An Eye get the head going while When The Night Follows The Day encourages a sway. The one thing I would say is that vocalist Florian is a little pitchy when he hits the highs, but his gruff mids are much better. A decent debut from Goblins Blade, there are improvements needed but it's a good start. 6/10

Mora Prokaza: By Chance (Season Of Mist)

Theirs avantgarde and then there is downright weird, this Belarusian two piece fall into the latter category. Composed of Farmakon (guitars, vocals) and Hatestorm (drums) Mora Prokaza started life as nasty second wave black metal band, rooted deeply in the underground, however in 2018 they changed their sound completely with apparently " great feedback from fans all around the world". Well I wasn't asked as this album is awful, I understand it's avant garde and it's supposed to be odd but the mixture of toilet-recorded echoey black metal, jazz instruments such as piano/bassoon/accordion and the trap influences (yes that very dark electronic style of hip-hop music) doesn't sit well with me and at the mid point of the record I was reaching for the off switch. There is an audience for this music I'm sure (I mean their PR says so) but where they are I don't know as this is one of the worst albums I've heard this year, or maybe I'm not cvlt enough to get it. 3/10 

Reviews: Feuerschwanz, The Miser, Echidna, Chugun (Rich, Simon & Matt)

Feuerschwanz: Das Elfte Gebot (Napalm Records) [Rich Oliver]

When it comes to bands who are more light hearted, funny or generally silly I am a mass of contradictions. I love power metal and especially when it does not take itself seriously but find Alestorm extremely irritating. I find a band like Raised By Owls hugely entertaining and very amusing but I find Evil Scarecrow about as entertaining as a cancer diagnosis so I really wasn’t sure what I would make of Feuerschwanz.

Feuerschwanz formed as an antithesis to a lot of bands in the German folk metal and rock scene who were taking what they were doing way too seriously and so they formed as a light hearted counterpart to these bands. They have slowly been incorporating more rock and metal influences into their sound and seem to have reached their nadir on their ninth studio album Das Elfte Gebot. I have to say that I really enjoyed this album. Like a lot of German folk metal acts it is all sung in the native tongue and so whilst the lyrical content is totally lost on this non-German speaking reviewer the tone and mood of the music I found more than agreeable being a very energetic, epic and damn fun mix of German folk and power metal sounding like a mix of bands such as Sabaton, Powerwolf, Brothers Of Metal, Equilibrium, Subway To Sally and In Extremo. 

The songs are all punchy, melodic and catchy to the extreme. From the outset this album shows us what this band is all about with the hooky folky opener Meister de Minne immediately hooking in the listeners. The insanely catchy Metfest follows which is a song purely designed to be played to drunk festival crowds whilst the equally epic sounding title track, Schildmaid and Lords Of Powermet maintain that heady mix of power and folk. Mission Eskalation is the most folky song on the album and will definitely encourage some drunk dancing from the audiences when Feuerschwanz are able to return to the stage whilst the pummelling Totentanz with its thrash riffing shows that these Germans can bring the heavy when they want to.

I reviewed the special edition version of the album that comes with a bonus disc of cover songs from artists ranging from German hip hop, reggae and dancehall band Seeed to the insipid Ed Sheeran to metal to metal acts such as Sabaton, Powerwolf and Rammstein. The Powerwolf cover is quite frankly fantastic, rearranging Amen & Attack to a folk metal song and equally enjoyable is the acoustic folk rendition of Engel by Rammstein. They even manage to inject some energy and enthusiasm into the Ed Sheeran song which is no mean feat.

Overall I did very much enjoy Das Elfte Gebot. It is not a deep and meaningful record but never does it try to pretend to be. This is exactly what it sets out to be which is an immensely fun record. I imagine when festivals do return that Feuerschwanz will be hitting stages all over Europe as this music definitely lends itself to being played in a large field in front of thousands of inebriated metalheads who want to party. 8/10

The Miser: The Miser EP (Self Released) [Simon Black]

Describing themselves as “Trouble partying with Budgie and Atomic Rooster” is pretty apt, and this London based 4-piece have been at it for a few years, although this EP is the first new material since their debut album back in 2018, and they are going to be releasing these 4 tracks in a drip feed over the coming weeks.

What A Pity has a very traditional stoner groove, with slow haunting vocals and plenty of chunky riffage and really lets rip in the middle 8 with a heavy riff, some nice pace changes and a simple but effective solo. Nawks Of War turns the heat right up – it’s faster and flashier, with the simpler construction hiding some nifty playing across the board and you can’t help but notice the razor sharp footwork coming from the drum stool. Definitely more early 80’s metal than Stoner for me, with blistering guitar work to boot - but the fusion of the two works really well. Judgement Day is different again, with a much heavier and frenetic energy, and some cracking but understated vocal work from singer Crocker. Final track Numb is back in Stoner groove territory with a catchy bang-your-head-to-this riff that just damn works, with some nice pace changes thrown in particularly with the bass-led instrumental section at the end.

Although it’s not a word I would use normally for a band with such a Stoner sound, but the 4 tunes on here are surprisingly tight and aggressive sounding. They may love their analogue sound, but the recording and mix are razor sharp and the whole EP is a joy to listen to. It’s tight, it’s pacy and its bloody groovy. 8/10

Chugun: Rogue Planet (Sliptrick Records) [Matt Bladen]

Chugun apparently means "cast iron" in Russian and this Tel Aviv based trio, have a very heavy bottom, perfect for beetroot soup or a hearty casserole. Chugun play death/thrash metal with a nastiness of bands such as the German thrash aggression of Kreator or the Polish death metal assault Vader with some of the explosive guitar solos that Slayer have always relied upon. Chugun are the  Timur Sizov who's guitar playing rips and tears with the tenacity of a rabid wolverine as Nir Baurch's drumming blasts away on tracks such as the ironically titled Happiness which grooves along well  Yani Sizov's growled vocals barking out the 'lyrics' on Idiot's Guide as her basslines thunders on the doomier beginnings of Extinction Cycle, well before it once again moves into blasting death metal. Rogue Planet has 8 tracks of death metal power though it does move into some LOG grooves (Andromeda), but it's standard stuff, nasty heavy and played with abandon. 6/10

Echidna: Escape From Civilisation (Self Released) [Matt Bladen]

Two points:

1. I'm unsure why a technical death band would name themselves after the egg laying mammal also called the 'spiny anteater'. Maybe they have an affinity with Knuckles from the Sonic The Hedgehog games?

2. In these Covid threatened times their album name should be taken as a good way of not contracting the virus, so you can call it a public health advisory notice.

But on to the music...well that is very interesting, Escape From Civilisation is their second album coming 10 years after their debut Manifests Of Human Existence, it's had a long gestation period but that hasn't had any negative effect on the album, if anything it's made their style of progressive death metal, more experimental, than they were on their debut. They cite influences such as Atheist, Necrophagist, Meshuggah and Cynic and on Age Of Plastic you can hear them really amp up the Cynic quirk even using that electronic vocal/synth sound they are known for. Organix is heavier moving into Meshuggah/Opeth realms. At nine tracks, if the very progressive style of this record isn't to your interest you will struggle due this Thessaloniki five-piece's virtuosity  Nikos and Panos playing the choppy, chugging, intricate riffs that often sprawl into jazz-inflections on tracks such as Yet No One Notices and the mad Empire Of Crime.

Holding down the bottom end is the low-tuned bass of Antonis' providing more than just a rhythm but enforces the various switches and changes of pace Giannis' drumming explorative and destructive in equal measure, Escape shows this the best, though the addition of folky strings is curveball. Rounding out the band is Theo who has a simple death metal vocal but it works along with the intensity of the music behind it, giving you something hooky to latch on to. For extremely progressive extreme metal fans Escape From Civilisation will have you headbanging and mouthing wow like Owen Wilson as it moves from piano, through jazz/folk and destructive heavy metal sometimes in the same song. A heady metal record. 7/10