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Friday 12 July 2024

Radar Festival 2024 Preview

Radar Festival Preview By Matt & Tom Bladen


Radar Festival 2024 is on the horizon and it's the most diverse eclectic line up yet. We're going to give you a run down of the big hitters and some of our personal selections.

Headliners

The main stage headliners are perfectly suited to this festival. To start the party on Friday are The Midnight, the Atlanta duo play cool, trendy synthwave that will bring the beats, to Manchester making us all go mad for it. Expect slick lighting shows and pumping bass on the mainstage. (Tom)

On the second stage the headlines is Caskets, the Leeds quintet features ex-members of Glamour Of The Kill and will get you built up for synthwave with alt-metal/metalcore that features powerful choruses and a emotional strength.

On Saturday it's veteran djentlemen Tesseract who take to the main stage. One of the most impressive live shows around, their light show is mesmerising, their music euphoric and the performance filled with passion and precision. A major booking, Tesseract are now ready to progress to the next size of venues, legitimate arena/festival headliners who will look to cement their place as not just one of the UK's best progressive metal bands but best metal bands period. They have something truly special lined up with the Choir Noir and their biggest stage show to date.

Before them though on the second stage is the crushing grooves of Conjurer, like a sledgehammer to skull Conjurer marry technicality with primal force the foursome and anyone who has seen them live will know their forcefulness and they'll be a perfect way to lead into Tesseract as they too are technical, progressive and downright heavy.

On Sunday it's something quite special, Norwegian prog masters Leprous return to Radar but this time they will be doing something totally unheard of. They are doing an in real-time by request set, so I assume they will be making their way to the stage with a few things in mind but the majority of the set will come from requests from the audience in situ. This will be brilliant for sure as of there's any band who can pull this off it would be Leprous as I would assume they know all of their songs off by heart anyway.

It's almost beast into beauty as the second stage headliners for Sunday are Humanity's Last Breath, the last time they played Radar my (Matt) ears were ringing for hours after so I'll need some of the snazzy ACS earplugs to combat that. However if you love a breakdown then HLB are for you, as they will bring pure aggression before we move towards the more gentle tones of Leprous.

Names To Watch

Elsewhere there are a fair few names to watch as for me (Matt) it's Friday that presents the best bands of the weekend as Vola are a must watch with their beautiful prog metal, then there some instrumental brilliance from Plini and Earthside. Prog/stoner/riffers Giant Walker will be kicking off the second stage with tonnes of groove as Cestra will provide the industrial/orchestral wonder and there's also a hint that there may be a collab with Tesseract in the offing.

On Saturday Tom is expecting crazy time signatures and post hardcore vocals from two favourites The Fall Of Troy and Hail The Sun. There's aggression from Heart Of Coward, Graphic Nature and Car Bomb while Tribe Of Ghosts have a gothic oddness and there's righteous hardcore from Ithaca and classic keyboard heavy prog from Kyros. Long term Radar fans will rejoice at the return of Dirty Loops, expect a lot of improper dancing.

On Sunday I'm looking forward (Matt) to watching Adharma for the first time after loving their album, bands such as Future Static bring their alt metal vibes and Blood Command will cause pits galore on the second stage. Sungazer will add jazz, video game themes and prog ready for some angular grooving while the special guest are Welsh future megastars Holding Absence.

With a slew of Masterclasses allowing you to get closer to the players and learn their tricks and techniques, a host of post show entertainment at Rebellion venue, games arcades, instrument market, stalls and improvements to the O2 Victoria Warehouse insuring that anything their loyal fanbase has brought up has been addressed for this year. Radar continues to be a festival for the fans, a safe space, with an eclectic line up that is always three days of discovery.

Reviews: Black Lava, Turin, Ananda Mida, Mothman And The Thunderbirds (Reviews By Mark Young, GC, Paul Scoble & Rich Piva)

Black Lava - The Savage Winds Of Wisdom (Season Of Mist) [Mark Young]

The Savage Winds Of Wisdom is the second album from Melbourne’s Black Lava. Two years after Soul Furnace, the 4-piece have pushed themselves further, desperate to keep the creative juices flowing.

Colour Of Death with its grinding opening as the guitars slide in and out leads you think that they are going down a tried and tested path of restrained start followed by a Superspeed attack. Not so, there is a roar of announcement from vocalist Rob Watkins but instead they subvert expectations by placing their focus on guitar parts that move the song forward, using the drums for the heavy lifting. 

There is a wicked groove to this, and the avoidance of standard tropes is very welcome here. There is some fast riffing but not to overwhelm. This is setting the scene, bringing you onboard and getting you ready for what is to come. That mix of techniques makes this sound so fresh, no reliance on chug or trem picking for the sake of it.

Dark Legacy is royal, that groove is back again as well as throwing in some technical flourishes but it’s the main riff that excites. Tightly focused, heavy but with a clarity. When they let the guitars ring out, its immersive as guitarist Ben Boyle deploys a great command of what should go where. Backing up here is some supreme drumming from Dan Presland and completing that rock solid foundation is Nick Rackham with bass duties. It sounds fantastic, especially through some decent headphones.

It’s the sort of release that creeps up out of nowhere and bang, you are engaged with it. The influence of the other bands they play in, be it thrash, or death metal comes together to give them a unique approach. As I mentioned, they don’t rely on the traditional tropes but with the heady brew of melody and countermelody you don’t miss it. There are those fast parts we love and that are present, for example on Wrapped In Filth as it closes out but the work they have done leading up to that means it hits organically, like it is the logical next step without it sounding tired. 

Unsheathing Nightmares combines those delicious but brittle sounding chords with some top-class bottom end riffing. Ben is puling some heavy work here because everything that comes out just works so well and there are some mad techy bits in there too. This is where you think how the hell has he managed to get that in there. 

There is just no drop in the quality of the songs at all, they have everything you could possibly want in new extreme metal, it’s a release that ticks all of the necessary boxes whilst sounding true to itself and again a top example of this would be Ironclad Sarcophagus, a gut stomper that shows more and more of what they can do as it unfolds. 

Yes, there are blasts but these are set within those glass like guitar lines and I think it’s the choice of those chords that won me over. The songs are heavy without the reliance on standard arrangements or guitar lines used by everyone else. Of course, there has to be an end and it’s the majestic title track, easy going rhythm and gentle lines growing into a monster of full-on metal until they decide to stop and pull back.

The background music, the rising choir like singing as Rob goes full throated roar is a sight to hear. It’s just awesome how it builds together and is my stand-out on here. Did I mention the guest solo on here from Benjamin Baret (Ne Oblivscaris) Is completely mental. And totally appropriate too!!

A lot of the extreme music go with upping the strings, lowering the tuning to get them where a song is heavy and to an extent its true. Sometimes that approach loses something in how it sounds, where it doesn’t have that clarity and it can put you off. Not with Black Lava. 

They have managed to get the sound so spot on, so you don’t miss anything at all. Because of this, it sounds heavy in all the right spots. Even when the melodic lines are occupying that lighter shade, they is still a heaviness to them. The band should be stoked about this, it is a ripper that should take up residence on your albums to keep on rotation from now until they release something else. 9/10

Turin - The Unforgiving Reality In Nothing (MNRK Heavy) [GC]

Of all the ‘’cores’’ deathcore is usually the most ridiculed and reviled, because hardcore fans think it’s for fucking posers and death metal fans think it not heavy enough, these opinions are both of course total bollocks! I like both hardcore and death metal, LOTS, I also like deathcore vey much but do agree that its very hit and miss and understand why a lot of people just don’t bother with it, so today I have UK deathcore crew Turin’s new album to review, lets see where they fall in the discussion.

Opener Envy definitely has the intensity needed and is a furious way to start the album rammed full of savage beatdowns they also manage to insert an elegant beauty into the waves of sonic brutality which is a nice way to start things off and following such a devastating start was never going to be an easy task but they manage it with ease on Abyssal which while it doesn’t feel as hectic or emotional it is still devastatingly heavy and definitely takes the death metal influence firmly by the horns and runs with it with more walls of thundering riffs and unrelenting drums. 

I Am The Truth then adds an ambience and melancholic feel to the mix of styles and adds another string to the Turin bow but, don’t think that this makes the song anything less than savage and horrible because if anything it makes it seem even heavier if that’s even possible? There is absolutely no regard or care here, it’s just pure brutality but its aimed and honed to perfection, it’s not just noise for noise’s sake, it’s thoughtful and violent and that’s what I like. 

Apostate has an atmospheric and eerie feel to the main body of the song and while its not exactly melodic death metal, its probably as close as Turin will get to it and it also has a definite Swedish death metal sound permeating throughout, Ghosts is just a lull in the middle of the storm and is just a minute or so of ambience that allows you to gather yourself the next assault in the shape of Reflections which feels to me more on the hardcore side of the cores we have had so far, the riffs are big and chugging as you would want and the pace is a bit stop start but it shows definitively that when a deathcore band wants to they can 100% create a massive hardcore stomper and still infuse all the death metal goodness into it! 

Title track The Unforgiving Reality In Nothing is absolutely huge and has such an anger seeping through it you can’t help but be impressed, the visceral nature of that way this song is delivered needs to be studied because from start to finish not one second is wasted and not one fuck is spared for how it may sound, truly remarkable stuff. Loss is one of those tracks that finds a way to really get under your skin and the proceeds to get better and more savage with every listen and the guest vocals of Enterprise Earth’s Travis Worland are fucking brilliant! 

Hopeless Solutions is a whirlwind of visceral vocal anger, blast beats and stabbing guitars that are once again layered with atmosphere and haunting beauty but continue to always sound disturbingly heavy, so then Our Reality In Nothing comes along to finish off and does so with another song dripping in atmosphere and dread its probably the slowest and most doom fuelled track on the album and it’s a suitably bleak and emotion filled way to round off this staggering collection of nastiness.

If you are in the I hate deathcore mob, I would highly recommend you listen to The Unforgiving Reality In Nothing because once you do, you will instantly shut up and change your mind, this album is absolutely fucking world class and it should do massive things for Turin going forward because if they continue to write music as good as this then there really is no reason they cant be one of the biggest bands in the metal scene. If you listen to one album today, make it this!! 10/10

Ananda Mida – Live At Duma Jam (Heavy Psych Sound) [Paul Scoble]

Forming in 2015 Ananda Mida is a musical collective based around Max Ear and Matteo Pablo Scolaro. The collective has a variable line up with collectives from 3 to 6 members. The musical cooperative released their debut album in 2016, entitled Anodnatius, three years later they released album number two, Cathodnatius, another four years passed before the band released their last album Mythologically.

The band have a reputation for very interesting live performances with extensive visual aspects to their shows. So, Heavy Psych Sounds releasing this live album recorded at Duma Jam should open up their live show to people who were not lucky enough to see them in the flesh. The lineup on this album features David Bressan on bass, Max Ear on drums, Conny Ochs on vocals, Matteo Pablo Scolaro on guitar and Alex Tedesco also on guitar.
 
Duma Jam is a private Festival held in Sardinia since 2006. The gigs that make up the festival are held on beaches around Sardinia, and tend to have small audiences of approximately 150, giving the performances the feel of a small gathering of friends, rather than a major festival. This has had a small effect on this recording as the recording has very low levels of audience noise between the songs.

The set kicks off with the song Swamp Thing, which has a slow build up to mellow, meditative psych rock. The vocals are clean and very tuneful, there is also a great bluesy guitar solo in the softer part of the song. In the second half of the song the tempo picks up and we are now into fast, driving psych rock with very interesting guitar work. The song then goes back to slow Psych Rock for the ending which has an echoed, Dub feel to it. After Swamp Thing we get Blank Stare, a piece of fast, punky psych rock which is very rapid, a perfect fast head nodding tempo which is huge fun.
 
Next we get several parts of a longer composition, starting with Doom And The Medicine Man (Pt V). Doom And The Medicine Man (Pt V) is mid-paced and has a bit of a New Wave feel with fast clean guitar riffs and is full of energy. In a couple of places the song feels reminiscent of British Indie band The Libertines. Next comes Doom And The Medicine Man (Pt VI-VII-VIII) which is soft, clean folky rock.

The feel is mellow, meditative and blissful. As the song progresses it becomes tauter and more dramatic, becoming less blissful and more tumultuous. Next comes Doom And The Medicine Man (Pt IV) the final part of Doom And The Medicine Man. A piece of mid-tempo psych rock with a great guitar solo. The song drops to a softer, mellower and cleaner feel in the middle of the song, before building itself back together for the end of the song.
 
The album comes to an end with the song Lunia, a fast driving song that is purposeful with great fast vocals and a punky feel to the rhythm. The song is a great blast of positive energy that is a great way to bring the album to an end and must have been a great way to end their set.

Live At Duma Jam is a great live album. A lot of the material is subtle, but always interesting and engaging. The material that is faster and more aggressive is full of a great energy, massively tuneful and is a huge amount of fun. The fact that the audience noise is muted, doesn’t affect the album too much, you can’t hear them that loudly, but you can feel the energy from the band to the audience and vice versa. Really enjoyable live psych rock, highly recommended! 8/10

Mothman And The Thunderbirds - Portal Hopper (Self Released) [Rich Piva]

Alex Parkinson is the mad genius behind the always fun and always a tad crazy project Mothman and the Thunderbirds, and he is back with the most complete and fully realized output till date in the form of the new album, Portal Hopper. The band’s sophomore full length is all over the place in the best sort of way, leveraging everything from prog, to shoegaze, to dream pop, to metal and lots of stuff in between, but it never, for the most part, too much for the listener to digest and is an overall delightfully weird and fun listening experience.

Portal Hopper is best experienced end to end as it is a concept album, but the songs stand quite well on their own as well, starting off from the opener, Ruby Skies, that sounds like if Mew got the drummer from Behemoth. This one rips while also being whimsical, a paradox that Parkinson excels at. The track Flatwoods Monster is one of my favourites and incorporates an almost 90s grunge feel to its spacy prog rock vibes with excellent results, even with that crazy synth part in the middle. MATT can be super catchy too, case in point the chorus of the also great Liminal Spacetime Continuum

This is weird 90s alt rock goodness personified. How about we get funky? Well, the bassline on Fractals is there for you, but this is space funk, as Hawkwind vibes blow in to the picture as well, but there is this underlying heaviness to this song as well. Like I said before, a lot, but never not fun. Squonk Kingdom is another fun track that shows how Parkinson’s vocals have grown over releases and includes some nice straight ahead riffing as well, but there is nothing straight ahead about the synth work on this one. 

The riff on Akashic Records sounds like Prong which will always make me happy, and combines nicely with those heavy 90s alt rock vibes that are all over Portal Hopper. Harmonies too! I also love the dreamy and spacey slow burn of The Zaratan and the closing one-two punch of the quick up-tempo So Long (Portal Hopper) and the acoustic ending of the journey, Attic.

Portal Hopper is by far the most realized work by Mothman and the Thunderbirds. Be it the songs or the story, this album is end to end fun and a complete picture; a concept record that is great as a whole story but does not lose any of its quality as individual tracks. This should be the record that takes this crazy fun ride to the next level. 8/10

Thursday 11 July 2024

Reviews: Amorphis, Meltem, Lord Buffalo, Disloyal (Reviews By Paul Hutchings, Paul Scoble, Rich Piva & Mark Young)

Amorphis – Tales From The Thousand Lakes: Live At Tavastia (Reigning Phoenix Music) [Paul Hutchings]

Recorded with what appears to be no audience, and with no reference to this release on the band’s social media, one has questions that are not clearly covered in the press release that I received. Hence the assumption here that is one of those horrible lockdown events, it’s amazing that Finns Amorphis were able to summon the enthusiasm to make this a reasonable recording. A live show with no crowd isn’t a live show in my opinion. (Check out Queen Of Time Live at Tavastia or Live At Helsinki Hall for other live recordings)

Regardless, this package does provide an opportunity to see Amorphis perform their seminal album in full, celebrating over 30 years since its original release. And to their credit, on the Blu-ray version I watched, Amorphis give it everything. And if nothing else, it’s a timely reminder to reacquaint oneself with this seminal album, whilst watching the band’s intensity and drive as they perform.

Recorded in the iconic Tavastia club in Helsinki, Finland, Tales From The Thousand Lakes is a concept album based on the Finnish national epic Kalevala, a piece of 19th century poetry compiled by Elias Lonnrot from Karelian and Finnish folklore and mythology. Often regarded as one of the influential releases in the genre, this was the first Amorphis album to feature the keyboards of Kasper Mårtenson, who left the band three years later.

Of all the many metal bands from the Northern countries, Amorphis are one of the most influential, and they have maintained their originality and creativity from debut The Karelian Isthmus in 1992 through to the most recent opus, 2022’s Halo.

And what this release does do is bring this album roaring back into focus. From the blistering Into Hiding that opens the album, to the Deep Purple-esque keys that drench The Castaway, this is a reworking that ticks all the boxes. The sound is crystal clear, you can hear each instrument as they combine in glorious majesty.

Having had a stable line up for nearly 20 years, one can now fully appreciate the cohesion and fluidity that the band present. Vocalist Tomi Joutsen, the last member to join the band in 2005 possesses a vocal range that straddles the harsher growls and soaring cleans with ease, whilst the lead guitar of founding member Esa Holopainen cuts through with clinical precision.

In an album filled with classic cuts, there are some choice selections that demand even more attention. The majesty of Black Winter Day, with its wall of riffs that provide Santeri Kallio’s keys and the dual guitars of Holopainen and rhythm guitarist Tomi Koivusaari has always been a highlight, and it remains a favourite here.

There are many other gems on this album, but I’ll finish with specific reference to the sheer bombast of Magic And Mayhem which is just glorious, and which sounds incredible, 30 years after it was first unleashed on the metal world, and the brutal death metal drive of Vulgar Necrolatry, which lead to the mazy conclusion that is My Kantele, one that shows the band’s native roots.

This recording has certainly brought this album back to the attention and reminded me just how good are Amorphis. A special version perhaps, and probably one for the hardcore fan to shell out for. It’s one for the collectors. Me, I’ll probably just enjoy it and wait with anticipation for the band’s next album to drop. 8/10

Meltem – Mare Nostrum (Discos Macarras/Nafra Records/Nooirax Producciones/Quebranta Records) [Paul Scoble]

Meltem are a Catalan three piece playing a style of super heavy psychedelic doom metal. The Barcelona based band is made up of David Giménez on bass guitar, Pep Caravantes on drums and vocals and Daniel Pozuelo on guitar. The band released their first demo in 2022, Mare Nostrum is the bands first album.

The style on offer on Mare Nostrum is a mix of very heavy doom metal and folk from the Mediterranean area, to my ears it sounds like there are elements from Turkey, Greece and North Africa. The folk is mainly percussion with stringed instruments providing subtle backing and tuneful lead passages. The album is split into four songs, two very long and two that are slightly shorter.

The album opens with Tretze, the first very long song. Tretze starts with crushingly heavy riffs with a relentless feel to them. The music is super heavy and is joined by clean clear vocals with a very powerful feel. The song then takes a turn towards a softer sound with the guitars becoming clean and after a few bars chanting is added. The chanting is religious in style with a sacerdotal feel. The song then starts to build in heaviness and aggressive vocals join the mix, until the song is back to the super heavy and relentless sound we first encountered at the beginning of the song. In the last couple of minutes Tretze speeds up racing to a very heavy ending.

Next comes Curcuna one of the shorter songs. The first half of Curcuna is Mediterranean Folk, with lots of percussion and a hypnotic string melody. After this the drumming goes back to a doom metal style and clean guitars are added. The song then builds to heavy doom at which point we are dropped into much faster riffing with a great tempo that has lots of energy and aggressiveness, before a huge slow and heavy ending.

Mandragora is the second of the very long tracks. The song is made up of three different sounds; riffs that feel tumultuous and dissonant, taut mid-paced doom that is heavy and purposeful and section with big drumming and clean guitar. The song segues through the three sections several times at one point adding an echoey Tremolo Picked riff to the taut mid-paced doom and near the end adding the religious chanting to the final clean Guitar section and ending on a melody lead.

The album comes to an end with the song Oasi, the shortest track on the album. Oasi is a taut Folk instrumental with drumming, strings and bells, it’s a very striking way to end the album. Mare Nostrum is a great album. The doom is super heavy and very enjoyable, in places some of the heaviest doom I have heard. The folk elements were very enjoyable and worked well with the doom, it adds an extra colour to the sound and always had my head nodding. I also enjoyed the chanting which had a genuine Religious quality to it, and added some melody and atmosphere. 

There were a couple of places that thought could do with a little more complexity, however as this is a debut album I don’t think that is a huge problem, complexity can wait for album number two. This is a great debut and Meltem should be very proud of it. 8/10

Lord Buffalo - Holus Bolus (Blues Funeral Recordings) [Rich Piva]

I’m pretty sure I am going to get killed for this one, but I am really struggling with the new album from Auston, Texas band Lord Buffalo. I have a feeling I am going to be alone on this, but I found their third album, Holus Bolus, to drag around the multiple instrumental tracks that to me really don’t go anywhere. Now, I am always up for a difficult listen, but for whatever reason I can just not latch on to these seven new tracks.

Now there is some stuff I really enjoy on Holus Bolus. The title track for example. This has some serious Murder By Death vibes and I am always here for that. I love the dust bowl vibes of this track and the atmosphere surrounding the song is top notch. The use of the violin adds to the mystique of the record. The flip side of that is the next track, Slow Drug. I can understand building atmosphere, but this is six minutes that could have been a shorter interlude, as it acts as more of a distraction than anything else, especially as the second track on the record. I also would have wanted it to go into something that it was building up to, but instead it ends and we get Passing Joy, which is a great song, but not exactly what I was expecting Slow Drug to build to. 

The western creepy vibes are strong on this one too, kind of like Nick Cave partnering with the aforementioned Murder By Death, and I love it. The trend of every other track I dig continues as Malpaisano, an acoustic and voice track fails to capture me, but I Wait OnThe Door Slab does, driven by the violin and a catchiness you don’t always hear from Lord Buffalo, this song actually reminds me of the band Cursive, specifically during The Ugly Organ era of the band, which is an extremely high complement from me. So dark and so good. The trend breaks with Cracks In The Vermeer, as this one is a haunting slow burn that has a lot of the same vibes I mentioned earlier. My issue is more with the closer, Rowing In Eden, which is seven plus minutes that would fit better in a Cave/Ellis soundtrack than it does as the closer to this record.

Maybe I was not the right guy to review this record, but I will say the stuff that I like on Holus Bolus I really like, but there is just too much filler for me that tends to drag on. I love the vibe Lord Buffalo brings, I am just missing the full vision of this album (ducking from tomatoes thrown at me). 6/10

Disloyal - Divine Miasmata (Black Lion Records) [Mark Young]

The 5th Album from Polish death metal veterans, Disloyal frustrates and amazes in equal measure. As we go through the review, I hope you get the sense that although it didn’t totally land with me, that is not to say you won’t find it to be a stunning exercise in Death metal.

It starts with an intro track, Divine Miasmata which is a scene setter of a visitation from a demon most black. I know I complain about these normally, but in this case, I’ll make an exception as it tees up Silent Revolution to come in with those discordant guitars and razor-sharp drumming that is full-on in the mix. It is an odd start, the furious trem picking and melody lines that run into a drum pattern that is like a clock that keeps the oddest time. Instead of going for a full-on assault, Silent Revolution feels like it is two ideas thrown together, each fighting for supremacy with neither coming out on top. The vocals are suitably grim and have a tightly focused sound. 

Even the lead break sounds strange, off-kilter, and not what I expected at all. It evokes a feeling of time being stretched and compressed at the same moment and I’ll be honest it is jarring. The Black Pope on the other hand comes flying in, super rapid double bass with a riff line that is more like it. And it is a stormer, hitting all the right notes even when they drop those discord parts again. This time, it fits and conjures up an expansive cloak of sound. However, even though it hits like a closed fist it loses some of the impact because it runs too long.

1347-1352 shows that there is more to them than just pure battery. Mixing in a fantastic melodic passage amongst the heaviness, it is supplanted for what I can only describe as a head-scratcher of an arrangement, of the music within being stretched once more until they break out into superspeed. This mixing of technical/off-time motifs upsets the flow, and I cannot get a handle on it, do I like this or not? What is now apparent is that the comment of songs running just that smidge too long looks like it is going to repeat. The actual musicianship on display is faultless, the lurching forward and pulling back on a whim is impressive but it kills the flow. 

Stella Peccatorum has a crushing, technical opening that launches into some magic riffing, that gallop/triplet attack that is just royal It is a pity that as soon as it gets going, they drop back to opening arrangement again. It is too soon and once again it slows the momentum down. And it is starting to annoy. There is some phenomenal guitar work on this song, in fact the whole package is quality. Once it flies it represents some of the finest death metal that Poland (or anywhere) has to offer but they seem hell-bent on sabotaging it. 

Betrayed Faith comes in, and again the opening is spot-on and leads into that top-drawer musicianship once more. Double bass, tidy fills, and lightning-fast flurries are on the menu here. On here they get it completely right, the slow-down with voice-over is dense, layered and then they pull out of it with guitar lines weaving in and out until they hit escape velocity again. This is just next-level stuff, and you wonder why they couldn’t have done this before. Religion Of Warfare comes in, picking up where Betrayed left off, keeping that approach in play which pays off to a high standard as it navigates a crazed path, taking in atypical lead breaks amongst the pummelling rhythm work.

Ravens Of Starvation keeps the wizardry going, notes hit in flurries with rampant whammy abuse and it feels more cohesive now, there is less going on which makes it so effective and the arrangement is focused properly, it knows what it wants to be and like Betrayed Faith and Religion Of Warfare it delivers sonic battering of the highest order. The Ascension Of Abaddon is our final track, with an opening of glass-like chords that are firmly stepped on for an exercise in rapid-fire rhythm. A mid-paced melodic break ushers in those chords from hell once more, a slow clenched fist of a death metal breakdown before they blast off once more. Despite this late burst, it still suffers from the overlong lengths that were an issue earlier on, which is frustrating because had they been a little ruthless, we could have been having a different discussion today.

Frustrating is probably a good description, in that there seems to be a lack of direction in what they wanted to go in. The songs suffer as a result and add into it that they run too long meaning that at least for me they lose a lot of the visceral impact required. The later songs show a more concentrated approach and work better because of that but it means that you wonder how those earlier songs would have been had they been focused like the latter. 6/10

Reviews: The Radicant, Mr Big, Blasfeme, Voice (Reviews By Matt Bladen)

The Radicant - We Ascend (Kscope)

Vincent Cavanagh has one of the purest voices ever put to record. The frontman of Anathema since it's inception, alongside his brother's Daniel and Jamie they were not only one of the most important bands in the death/doom sphere but as they grew, they became probably the most emotionally resonant and beautiful prog rock bands of the last two decades. Their split hurt, a world without Anathema was unthinkable for a while but once I saw that Vincent was returning to music with The Radicant I had to consume it as soon as possible.

Apparently a term from botany for something that will grow anywhere, I suppose it's a metaphor for creating music when there seems to be nothing. The Radicant is not just music though it's a full multimedia approach, merging music with visual art, Cavanagh inspired to link these electronic compositions with inspiring, thought provoking visuals that have been honed due to his many collaborations with visual, augmented reality and virtual artists, creating the soundscapes, field recordings and spatial audio for multiple pieces and artists.

These sonic dalliances inspire the debut EP from The Radicant, the experimental style of audio similar to Steven Wilson projects No Man and Bass Communion, Mariusz Duda's Lunatic Soul, the collaboration between David Sylvian & Robert Fripp and electronic artists such as Aphex Twin or Boards Of Canada. There's pulsating DnB, ambient dreaminess, sprawling electronica as well as the previously discussed spatial audio and field recordings that add a ticking clock on We Ascend, or a white nosie hiss on the angular Anchor.

The production is layered and evocative, Cavanagh and French producer Ténèbre making sure that it sounds huge but intimate, Sam John's mastering, claustrophobic but welcoming. Wide Steppe builds as if played with strings, each turn introducing another layer, I'll be honest I thought this was a lost Anathema track, the ethereal operatic vocals, emotional substance it's just wondrous in it's simplicity.

The Radicant is imbued with 11 albums worth of recording experience but tries something that Vincent himself has been perfecting since Anathema spilt up. It's different but with Vincent's voice and ear for composition The Radicant will have a long tenure. 9/10

Mr Big - Ten (Frontiers Music Srl)

When you press play on Mr Big's new album, you realise that All Good Luck Trying needs is some organ and it could easily be a Deep Purple song. It's got that bluesy, jazzy sound to it that Mr Gillian has loved for years. Eric Martin with the sneer of an old crooner, reminding me a lot of solo David Lee Roth, the link here being Billy Sheehan's virtuoso bass work.

We're back to Mr Big business on I Am You, Paul Gilbert's acoustics and echoed The Beatles-like guitars adding a bit of power pop. Yep Mr Big are back! Currently on their farewell tour, named The Big Finish, they didn't want to close things out without one more record. Ten is their tenth and probably final studio album and serves as a tribute to their late drummer Pat Torpey.

His loss the reason why they are calling it a day, but here the percussion is taken by fellow virtuoso Nick D'Virgilio, his percussive prowess displayed on the Aerosmith-like Right Outta Here, the spirit of the blues very strong on Ten, more so than on any previous Mr Big releases. With Nick joining the trio of Billy, Paul and Eric, he is able to adapt to any style they want to play on this album.

As I've said that style seems to be blues meets The Beatles, Torpey frequently singing Beatles songs while performing his drum solos, Gilbert and D'Virgilio are both Beatlemaniacs so these influences track, however there's also Mr Big balladry on the soulful Who We Are, as What Were You Thinking brings back the choppy rock n roll.

That's something that is lacking on Ten, it's bluesy, ballady, poppy but there's a lack of rock, there's no Addicted To That Rush, no Colorado Bulldog, none of the full on shredding from Gilbert or Sheehan. It's a band you feel are at the end, laid back and enjoying playing the music that inspired them, it's Mr Big paying homage to their fallen brother and to their idols, but they've lost their bite. 6/10

Blasfeme - Black Legion (Wulfhere Productions)

Blackend flames once again arise to reject God and all his works and spread their unholy blaze.

Described by us as a set of unholy hymns, Bristol's Blasfeme' debut album, Iniquity In Salvation, was both proceeded and succeeded by an EP, but Black Legion is their second full length. Uncompromising in their commitment to the darkness, their heretical extreme metal takes from both black and death metal, smearing itself in goats blood and corpse paint, then viciously tearing you limb from limb with malevolent intent and a sadistic grin.

Sacrificial daggers sharpened on a whetstone, Black Legion doesn't waste time with setting a scene or creating a phony atmosphere, it lets fly instantly with tremolo picking from Moord and Parusight, they also trade off vocals, both harsh and evil, grunts, screams and growls that speak of devils, demons and the occult.

It's full force from the opening chords, blistering pace and ferocity as the metallic blasts of Striga Hell's drumming and Dialgar's bass, carves through these songs such as the visceral blasting opener Purified By The High Flames Of Hell and Czernobog which has a hint of venom to it. As the frothing rage increases on Wolves Of Karpathia.

There's muscular classic metal riffs too that creep their way into the extreme metal savagery of Ritualistic Exsanguination and the battle metal of the title track. Black Legion wages war on the faithful, swords sharpened ready to fight for his infernal majesty, join their side before it's too late. 8/10

Voice - Holy Or Damned (Massacre Records)
 
Making their comeback in 2017, German metal crew Voice follow up an album from that year with their new one Holy Or Damned. Their sixth album in total is another piece of melodic power metal that they have been playing since 1988, though their debut album was released in 1996. So expect keys augmenting the riffs, anthemic choruses and that Teutonic chug present with bands such as Accept.

Still containing three of the founder members in guitarist/keyboardist Thommy Neuhieri, bassist Sören Glas and Oliver Glas, they keep things simple sticking with the sound they established way back in the 80's/90's shunning a lot of the modernity their compatriots now have for a retro sound. Oliver has a gruff voice (Grave Digger style) which means that they play down-tuned even with ballads such as Tears In The Dust

He's soulful in the way he sings and the music is a cinematic style of heavy but melodic power metal, so Holy Or Damned is a decent heavy metal album if you like the German power style. 6/10

Tuesday 9 July 2024

Reviews: Arx Atrata, Madicide, Blasting Rod, Mystery (Reviews By Mark Young, Zak Skane, Rich Piva & James Jackson)

Arx Atrata - A Reckoning (Independent Release) [Mark Young]

A Reckoning is the 4th full album from Arx Atrata, stemming from the brain of single member Ben Sizer. The genre is melodic atmospheric black metal and courtesy of the Boss, it provides more exposure to a style of music I don’t know a lot about. Looking online Arx Atrata formed in 2013, and have since then have ploughed a singular furrow, with each result completing Ben’s vision whilst showing room for growth.

Now, dear reader you might have read that I have become fatigued with albums that have an intro track as means of a starting point. Its because they generally feel as though they are filler, and as a result don’t go anywhere. This is not the case here with To Sunder The World. Simple chords, building synths that slowly expand. Its measured, controlled and has that movement to it that grabs you. It is an early indication of the ride you are about to take as it then segues into I Was A Witness To His Passing, which starts with a bang before settling into shape as a prime piece of black metal storytelling.

Its melodic, almost uplifting as it twists and turns through a myriad of changes. What is apparent early on is Ben’s ability to pull this together, so all the parts fit seamlessly. The title track, A Reckoning keeps this going, its pace is steady, with a simple but effective central riff. It doesn’t rely on super-charged guitars to push it forward, the gentler moments working equally ensuring that you are kept gripped by it. When it pushes the speed towards the end it doesn’t lose itself in a flurry of blasts, it keeps its shape.

Mercy Unearned is the masterwork here. 9 minutes of pure class, from the opening gentle picking into that dual guitar attack, never standing still or repeating the tricks from earlier. The sub-melodies that weave in and around the heavier guitar are quality, and the arrangement is excellent, knowing when to speed up without it developing into a speed fest. 

It covers a lot of ground without putting a foot wrong. The Ruin Of My Past is another example of just how well they put these songs together. It’s the parts within that are just royal, deploying the synths at key moments that keep the track from becoming dull. With songs of this length, there is always a danger that any momentum built slowly falls away. Not here, the craft is there for all to see. 

Bear in mind that I’m basing my review on how this hit with me. Fans of the genre may say otherwise, and that is fine but for me you cannot argue with how good this sounds. So obviously they bookend with The Witch (at 9 minutes) and Our Dark Shadow (11 minutes) which is like them saying we can do this for days. The Witch ups the speed whilst keeping that melody in check. There is a fantastic progression in here, just before they pull back for those uplifting moments once more. 

It is an incredible effort, and it is up there with Mercy for how good it is. It also shows that they are not afraid to go fast when they need to. The album closer Our Dark Shadow, encapsulates everything into one place without falling victim to repetition. It is a gift that keeps on giving, those melodic touches are everywhere, the main riff dominant and providing the backbone for the rest to build from it.

Quite simply, this is an album that exceeds every promise made. From start to finish it represents what I consider to be an incredibly high standard of music that continue to get better as each song unfolds. It is an album that sets the bar for what this genre can do. Get on this, because it is pure excellence. 10/10

Madicide – Madicide (Self Released) [Zak Skane]

Originally formed in the Swansea by bassist Josh Bevan and rhythm guitarist/vocals Ceri Roberts the four piece thrash group have played the venues along the South Wales alongside with their heavy peers such as Revoker which the vocalist is now in Bullet for My Valentine and Sworn Amongst before they went on hiatus in 2015. Since it’s reboot in 2021 Madicide have brought new and revived fan classics into their full length album.

For example The Pit And Pendulum which was originally released in 2012 has been revived with a more groovy pace allowing each riff to cut through with more precision, the original disjointed transitions have been smoothened out and polished up with some assistance by the the people of Pitch Black Studios. The Anthrax inspired track Killing Machine adds crystal clear guitar segments before being re-introduced by the redefined rhythm sections and better paced verses. 

The two stepping Trapped In Purgatory has been given some extra "thoonk" with the track containing more low end to the drums and the guitar having a more darker thicker tone in comparison to the old version. The vocal tracks have now been added these Voivod and Killing Joke styled effects to some variance in the verses whilst also making half time beat down part even more slower to give it that extra mosh factor. 

Into The Dark had been re-vamped with in the clean intro and has added more texture with some synth layers to give it some added ambience. Whilst the drum arrangement have also been given a modern update by being replace the demo styled drums with full sound and more polished production resulting with a more retro sound especially is the drums fills having this old school styled reverb which you can hear from classic album like Metallica Ride The Lighting and 80’s Era Sepultura. 

Their bonus closing track Death March has also had a remix with this retro sounding production, resulting with the double kick grooves and Cliff Burton styled bass lines sounding more locked along with the guitars still sound more thicker than it’s former brittle self.

The newer editions on this album such as Nicotine Love brings in the band into more groovy territory after it’s ambient intro section that consists of chiming clean guitar arpeggios accompanied with ascending and descending bass lines and atmospheric vocal layers before being greeted with Metallica half time riffs mixed with Megadeth snarling vocal delivery. 

The King In Yellow, which I assume is influenced by the book, provides these neo classical clean sections whilst we also getting high energy circle pit worthy riffs. The Stephen King inspired track Tommyknockers brings the band to new level of song writing and musicianship with the choruses sounding catchier than ever, the arrangements backing the guitar solos are a match made in heaven whilst the production really accentuates the sci-fi themes of the track with it’s clever usage of the robotic effects on Ceri's vocals.

This 9 track album shows a great land mark in the bands musical journey by showing how they have progressed as songwriters and musicians, especially to their close followers with newer entries such as Tommyknockers, King In Yellow and Nicotine Love. On a critical note, I do feel like they have wasted an opportunity in the studio by re-working songs that have already released, it could have been suggested to use that studio time to record newer material even if it was a 5 EP instead because it does sound like a night and day difference of when the old and new are on the same album. 

From a followers perspective, I do respect the band using this studio time and higher production to re-amp some old classics such as making the last section lower to help it hit harder Trapped In Purgatory and adding more textures on Into The Dark. For fans that like their 80’s and 90’s Thrash i.e Anthrax, Megadeth and Ride The Lighting era Metallica this definitely should be on you list. 7/10

Blasting Rod - Mojave Green (Low And Slow Disk) [Rich Piva]

The Japanese stoner/doom/heavy psych scene is super strong right now, with bands like Bahboon, Lightning Swells Forever, and the band that we will cover in this review, Blasting Rod, leading the way. Of the three bands I mentioned, Blasting Rod is the least straight forward and most challenging listen, as these guys go all over the place, in the best possible way, and are the most experimental of the three. This is very evident on their new album, Mojave Green.

With an album title like Mojave Green, you would expect that we would be going down the desert/stoner road for sure, and we in fact do, but like everything Blasting Rod does it is simply not that straight forward. The album starts out this way, with a nice and fuzzy stoner rock ripper in the form of YEA 24m (Cosmic Bash). This has fuzz on top of fuzz while bringing some heavy psych to the party as well. Give me a whole record of songs like this and I would be happy, but that is not Blasting Rod’s MO; they are here to challenge the listener, and I am here for it. 

Not everyone is going to be though when the second track, Yao Tsu (Infinity Landing) is over sixteen minutes long and half of that is droning guitars and feedback and the second half is a slower doom type instrumental with some crazy ass guitar work. It is a lot but, in the end, it is quite the rewarding experience. It is good they did not put this track at the end of the record as it would be too easy to ignore the coolness of this song. The title track hovers around ten minutes but has a more traditional song structure and is a killer epic desert rock journey in all of its fuzzy glory, with some nice tempo changes included. I absolutely love the guitar tone on Mojave Green

Bowl Of Shala sounds way too much like California to be from Japan, but here we are. This one is a stoner slow burn to start that has quite the bring down vibe until the tempo changes, taking you on a head trip rollercoaster that shows that Blasting Rod can psych doom it up when they want to. Grandon The Stone Cutter (OG ver.) is the closer and shows a funkier side of the band, with a super cool bass line, nice riff, and is the catchiest Blasting Rod song I have heard in a while.

Five tracks in 45 minutes, with one being over 16 minutes can be daunting for some, but hang in there, even during the most difficult parts on Mojave Green, because Blasting Rod has given us something special with their new record. Even if it is challenging in parts, it is their most complete and fully realized record till date. 8/10

Mystery - Mind Pollution (Metalapolis Records) [James Jackson]

There’s a very thrash aspect to the intro to Writing On The Wall, the opening track on Mystery’s fourth album Australia based Mind Pollution, from there it morphs into a more traditional rock track more in the vein of Motley Crue and similar hard rock acts. 

Dead By Sunday takes on the “drink all day, party all night, sleep when I’m dead” mantra of old and whilst the music is as rousing as you’d expect, lyrically it sounds cliché and more juvenile at times than it was probably intended. Mad Man extends that mentality and adds some gang vocals to its Whoah, Whoah chorus; again musically it’s not all that bad, the hooks and riffs formulate a solid track upon which a number of flamboyant solos are played out. 

Fortunately the following track, Fantasy, a rock ballad of sorts, drags the lyrics into a more mature context and more than competently handles the long lost love tone. Take You Down ensures takes a step backwards and adds motorbikes to the soundtrack, adding little to the track in all honesty, the rock band notion of fighting the world, living on the edge bravado, that’s always felt false and blow hardy. 

At the halfway point in the album I’m torn as to whether I carry on or leave the rest alone, for whilst I’ve quite enjoyed the music so far, I’m finding the lyrics far too puerile and I listen to the ever imbecilic but funny with it, Steel Panther. Straightforward rock with the occasional thrash tinge to it, musically this isn’t too bad, for lyrical content and poetical prowess however I’ve heard a lot better. 5/10

Reviews: Kryptos, Visions Of Atlantis, Nyktophobia, Wormed (Reviews By Mark Young, matt Bladen, Paul Hutchings & GC)

Kryptos - Decimator (AFM Records) [Mark Young]

Sometimes all you want is fun, breezy heavy metal. Nothing stupidly heavy, just metal tunes that come in, make you feel better and then leave. Especially if that music takes inspiration from the classics – Iron Maiden and the like. This is where Kryptos come in with their seventh release. Hailing from Bangalore and kicking around since 1998 they have consistently kept busy, sharing stages with some of the big guns, Maiden, Exodus to name two and it is Iron Maiden for me that is writ large over their music, those epic guitars, bombastic drums and that heads down, always moving forward gallop that you know and love.

Its full of those melodic touches, completed by a vocal delivery from Nolan Lewis (R. Guitar) that owes more to 80’s Thrash than operatic air raid sirens. Starting off with Sirens Of Steel, you could argue that it is derivative of Maiden, but that would be missing the point. This is METAL, just pure metal in song name, in arrangement, and everything in between. Fall To The Spectre’s Gaze has those harmony parts in it which brings a smile to the face. It is unashamedly old school 80’s in attack and it is all the better for it. I’m assuming that naysayers and those reviewers who love to be snarky will pull it to bits but what is the point of that? The lead breaks are completely in step with the riffs behind, take a bow Rohit Chaturvedi.

To be fair, there are some softer riffs on here, Turn Up The Heat has mid-80’s Ozzy all over it but if you think of it as them being the perfect support band, having all of the best riffs that are familiar in execution you would have a cracking night. Electrify has that classic vibe all over it, right up to the lead break which takes you on a journey with it, the way the best leads always do. Then they go and put a mini-interlude in and they were doing so well. Solaris, weighing in at 1 minute 40 is a definite throwback to how Metallica used to start their albums off, its ok and lucky for them Decimator brings the riff goodness.

It takes all the best from here and puts it in one place – propulsive drumming, thumping bass and that guitar attack which continually has them moving forward. From In The Shadow of The Blade to Pathfinder to album closer We are the Night that approach never wavers. Their ability to mine the classics and yes there are some familiar guitar parts here, I won’t say that there aren’t and it is possible that you could play ‘name the song that inspired it’ but they do exactly what they are supposed to do. And that is Rock out.

In terms of the music on here, you couldn’t describe it as being cutting edge when compared to what modern metal is supposed to sound like which is dependent upon what publications you read. This is a love letter to simpler times in music, pure and simple. If you approach it like that you will have nothing but love for it. I’ve said that some of the music is very close to that which has inspired it and there is no avoiding it but putting that to one side, they have a collection of songs which you can have fun with. Sometimes, that is all you want. 7/10

Visions Of Atlantis - Pirates II: Armada (Napalm Records) [Matt Bladen]

Visions Of Atlantis continue their nautical adventures with the follow up to their 2022 album Pirates. Last year they released that record as a symphonic only versions but this brings the metal instruments back as it seems they have found yet more inspiration from the tales of privateers.

A band who have always leaned more towards the nautical and mythological in their music for me they really starter to take off when Clémentine Delauney took over as singer in 2013, with here majestic voice up front they have delivered albums that see them go from strength to strength, varying what is expected of symphonic metal band. Her first album was 2018's The Deep & The Dark, but it was on 2019's Wanderers that they settled into their new approach perfectly brining in Michele Guaitoli of Temperance as the vocal foil for Delauney which has resulted in three albums since.

On Pirates it seemed that they were trying to reclaim the pirate metal genre from a certain Scottish band with suspect members but there's a long line of pirate metal bands who have been sailing these seas for years. How VoA approach it is with stirring cinematic orchestrations, the storytelling coming from the dual vocals while the atmosphere is confirmed by the music. Uplifting and empowering track such as Monsters and Tonight I'm Alive carry a message of hope with them as the characters portrayed here gather for a battle, it is an Armada after all but there's tender moments of reflection and progressive epics too.

Pirates II: Armada, continues the buccaneering adventures coming with a theatrical soundtrack to match. 8/10

Nyktophobia – The Fall Of Eden (Self Released) [Paul Hutchings]

It’s our first encounter with the German Melodic Death Metal outfit Nyktophobia, and it’s reasonable to report that their fourth album, The Fall Of Eden is a fine release. With seven years’ experience, and three previous full-length releases under their belt, there’s an expected level of confidence and prowess contained within the 38 minutes of music that they present.

Starting with The Gateway, a gentle piano intro which includes some light orchestral elements which helps build the atmosphere, before segueing into the full force of To the Stars. This is the beginning of eight songs that ebb and flow, with intricate patterns, switches of tempo and a range of vocals styles that switch from gruff growls to more extreme screams. It’s got a foot in the early melodic death metal of bands like At the Gates, In Flames etc, but also possesses a clarity and contemporary flourish that makes it a little more interesting than just more copycat artists.

Charon Gate is one of the more explosive tracks here, a punishing burst of double kick drumming and ripping guitar work bursts forth, the song fair blasts forth and drives with a pace that is relentless. It’s the vocals of Tomasz Wisniewski that tower above, his range giving the songs extra edge, although his lower vocal makes the Pole very reminiscent of Amon Amarth’s Johann Hegg in parts.

Musically, The Fall Of Eden is incredibly tight. A decent production always helps, and this benefits from this. Yes, there are more than a few echoes of many of their peers, but that’s to be expected. It may not be the most original, but it’s delivered in a bombastic style that I think is necessary for such a release. The title track tempers the bombast slightly, although the band retain their pace and power throughout.

Nyktophobia also has the confidence to conclude with an epic. The seven-minutes of Voyager-1 stand amongst the best to offer on this release, blending the crushing metal style with more melodic elements. It’s a fine conclusion to an album that improves on every play. 8/10

Wormed - Omegon (Season Of Mist) [GC]

When I was given the new Wormed album to review, I will admit my eyes rolled slightly as they are described as ‘’brutal death metal’’ and as we all know, this is the lowest form of death metal and generally gets shitty reviews from me but, on further reading they say they offer ‘’odd-time signatures, avalanches of breaks and complex rhythms as well as melodic patterns that will excite every aficionado of extreme technicality, while growls down-tuned strings and double-bass assaults will more than satisfy extreme metal connoisseurs’’ so maybe more tech-death which is much more appealing to me!!

With the nerves slightly eased, I press play on Omegon and I am instantly put out as what comes is Automaton Virtulague and it falls directly into the BDM category, with standard bree, bree vocals, drums that sound like they are recorded over everything else and the guitars, apart from the annoying pitch harmonics all just meld into one weird noise and don’t stand out above the vocals and drums. Pareidolia Robotica does start off a little better and sounds like its actually been mixed correctly but when they try to be extreme all that happens is that the drums overpower and then the vocals drown everything out and it just starts to sound disjointed and messy. 

Unfortunately this carries on into Protogod, it all just sounds so all over the place like they are trying to do to much all at once and not concentrate on an actual structure, which is fine if you can pull it off but here it just isn’t doing anything for me and midway through every song I have just got a bit bored if I am honest as there is nothing that hooks me in. 

Pleoverse Ominertia is probably the best song on the album as it has a slower pace, which allows for the different instruments to be heard more clearly even when the vocals kick in and there are some nice mid-section breakdowns but even now, I am struggling to fully enjoy what I am hearing, something is just not quite right, Malignant Nexus is an utterly pointless interlude spoken word/blatsbeaty track that is just more confusing than annoying which is saying something the way this album is going. 

Virtual Teratogenesis is another staggeringly messy mix of styles with the tech-death attempting to happen but is then taken over by the more straight forward b00tal-ness and when they try to add some texture and groove about halfway it improves drastically but of course this doesn’t last long before its just everyone is trying a different style all at once again and everything kind of just veers towards and end and your glad when it is all over.

Aetheric Transdimensionalization adds another notch to the stupid song title bedpost and unfortunately for me, it’s just another too much going on all at once to really make any sense of anything type song and while I am all for chaos and unpredictability, there has to be something to hone in on and then you can focus on the rest of what is happening, like a decent riff, some good drumming or a vocal line that embeds itself into your mind, here? 

Nothing, its just an over complex collection of noises and exactly the same can be said of Gravitational Servo Matrix and honestly, I am over the moon that Omegon is the last song, then I nearly die when I see its 7:31 and as expected it has no business or need being this long as it’s just everything we have already heard but for even longer than is necessary.

I’m sure you can probably tell I didn’t like Omegon very much, throughout it felt messy and complicated with no structure or body, just a badly executed chaotic noise. With more focus and concentration, I am sure that Wormed could create some decent stuff but on this showing I won’t be waiting around to find out if they do. 3/10

Monday 8 July 2024

A View From The Castle Grounds: Avril Lavigne (Review By Matt Bladen)

Avril Lavigne, Simple Plan & Phem, Depot At The Castle, Cardiff Castle, 02.07.24

Nostalgia is a powerful thing, it takes you back to somewhere you have been in the last, a place, a feeling, a friend, family member. All of these things can be conjured up by a simple song.

It was nostalgia that filled Cardiff Castle as two of Canada's brightest pop punk acts brought a wave of pink, black and white checkerboard, fishnets and loose fitting ties to the grounds.

As American singer Phem (6) took to the stage. A self created artist she went from sleeping in her car to co-writing songs with Travis Barker, Machine Gun Kelly and Palaye Royale. All well and good but on the night her vocals were a little lost in the backing tapes as she had only one other musician on stage moving between guitar and drums but the rest of it was processed. Shame really but I'm sure Tik Tokers (the masses of kids) jumped on seeing Phem perform but for those of us in our 30's it was the next two acts who were the main draws.

First it was Simple Plan (7), who are real fun when they play live. Packing their set with hits such as Shut Up, Jump, Emo anthems such as Welcome To My Life and I'm Just A Kid (that song from Instagram) all of which whipped up the nostalgia and got the crowd singing. The between song banter was funny, the drummer crowd surfed and we all partied like it was 2002 as they pumped out upbeat pop punk with massive choruses. Simple Plan know how to win an audience over, they brought some sun to a dreary Cardiff with Summer Paradise, they played their Scooby Doo theme (best song of the night) and also did a medley of All Star/Mr Brightside which became a mass sing along. There was a lot of people in the audience who were there for Simple Plan only and they got a great show out of these Canadian veterans.

The headliner though has been trending the boards since she was 17, that was 22 years ago, playing Cardiff on her debut album tour and again in support of Simple Plan, Avril Lavigne (8) is now megastar, her albums have been staples of teenage girls playlists for years, especially my wife. So she was elated when the intro video building the anticipation for this "Greatest Hits" show and that drumbeat, "Hey, Hey, You, You" refrain of Girlfriend got the show going, a quick welcome and then into What The Hell and Complicated. You could feel the excitement as many who went through their adolescence to these songs embraced them with open arms and hard seltzers, every line sung back.

It's no wonder her set at Glastonbury only days before had a one in one out policy as the Castle was packed, very little room to move but a very jovial crowd, odd for someone who has been brought up in pits and beer swilling metal shows. I've never been into pop punk/emo, when that was all popular I was listening to classic rock dinosaurs from the 70's. I didn't know all the words to every song here, though I can name every member of Deep Purple, but I did find myself engrossed in the show, the staging and performance was great. Her band are tight as hell, her voice is damn good, a little augmented in parts with backing vocals and volume but damn good.

My Happy Ending led into the punky He Wasn't and then in bit of clever staging she Face Timed Simple Plan and brought them on for a version of their song Addicted where fans were taken out of audience and given skateboards decks, most too terrified to go near Avril or Pierre Bouvier, but the perma-smiles on their faces was a joy. It was all theatre but showed Lavigne's connection and idolisation from her fans. Obviously Sk8ter Boi ended the main set and then it was a costume change into a Celine Dion-like number and an encore of three ballads climaxing with When You're Gone and I'm With You.

So yes nostalgia is a very powerful thing and for one night a massive swathe of this audience were taken back to their formative/teenage years for an hour and a half.

Friday 5 July 2024

Day Of Wreckoning 2024

Day Of Wreckoning, The Patti Pavilion, Swansea, 29.06.24

Overview By Matt Bladen

Metal To The Masses has been running in South Wales for a long time. The incentive to promote grassroots venues and local music scenes, has been a boon to the UK (and beyond) live music scene for many years. As with anything that runs for a long time the South Wales region has had its ups and downs, there's been talk of curses, it's taken place in various venues, been run by various promoters and there has been all sorts of shenanigans in the past. However when Alyn Hunter and Tim Hill of former winners Agrona took over as the promoters of M2TM South Wales it started to gain a clear heading and strategy.

Based out of Fuel Rock Club in Cardiff they negotiated the rough waters of a scene that is so overlooked in South Wales, the usual problems any sort of competition throws up and a global pandemic, they have created a culture where M2TM is one of the leading supporters of grassroots rock and metal music in South Wales. 

Splitting the heats across two regions Cardiff and Swansea with the help of Will Sheldon at The Bunkhouse things have stated to get bigger and in 2024 it was decided that taking a punt at putting on a proper final would be the way to go.

Based at The Patti Pavilion in Swansea, Day Of Wreckoning was booked to be a one day event where the six bands (3 from Cardiff, 3 from Swansea) competed to get a coveted place at Bloodstock Festival, and to gain some experience in playing larger stages than those in Fuel or The Bunkhouse. 

In addition there was another five established bands who would keep the crowds entertained while the decision was made making for a monumental day of music.

Starting at 12pm, though team prep was from very early doors, the minimal, mostly volunteer crew working their asses off to make sure everything was ready for the crowds, then at 12:30 it was time for things to kick off. 

M2TM South Wales Final

Up first after the random drawing were Swansea black metal trio Verletzen who certainly had vocal fan support (though the final is decided on an independent judge vote), they started out the day with frigid black metal that brought that sent a chill through the Victorian venue. Causing marathon windmill sessions down the front row, their necks will still be hurting even a week late. The tremolo picking was absolute precision, the blast beats rapid and raging and for me the biggest element that makes Verletzen stand out is the use of bass in their sound. It's treated like a lead instrument and adds some classic metal flavour. 

Establishing the level to beat early it was going to be a tough night for the judging panel. 

Following Verletzen was the primordial force that was Thrakian, entering M2TM for the first time and only really in their first year of performing as a band they have a seismic groove to them that goes to the fringes of sludge/doom/post metal. Lingering feedback, growled vocals and an ominous, claustrophobic atmosphere, that could spilt a crowd but when you get it, the music consumes you. Hypnotic heaviness is the name of the game here, their frontman conducting a sermon to noise, raging into the mic, guitar aloft to let the chords ring through the venue PA and it's crystal clear sound. A formidable act there's lots to come from a band clearly comfortable on a big stage. 

Talking about comfortable Confessions Of A Serial Killer seem to take to any stage you out then on. Masked, theatrical audio violence that was bristling with energy and aggression, their psycho-killer frontman stalking and harassing the crowd once he was free from his straight jacket. The similarities to bands such as Mushroomhead and Slipknot are obvious but it's the way they present them that draw you in. Industrial/death metal battery is the soundtrack to their killing spree but there's a genuine sense of terror when their singer is stomping at you in his trademark mask. Inhabiting who he becomes with it on they are always on the hunt for new victims and clearly found some at The Patti 

The level was so high throughout but another crowd favourite took to the stage and it was as if Pantera themselves had arrived. Kill By Mouth are local legends and they play groove/thrash metal that always elicits a response. Be it though frenzied thrash assaults or grooving stompers they keep the energy high and the riffs coming. Having seen them a few times in the last and seen them progress through this competition they were definitely in the running with an incendiary performance, thrash being one of those genres that really gets the crowd going. But with two bands to go it was still too close to call. 

Next up were the veterans Rites To Ruin who are a drilled, incredibly skilled unit. Their level of playing is incredible, they boast probably the best singer in the South Wales scene and for any fans of classic heavy/power/prog metal they are always going to score highly. Their performance was slick and highly experienced and they've always been incredibly supportive of the M2TM initiative. Running through their set with rigour, this was Rites To Ruin in business mode, enjoying it yes but focussed and every note hit perfectly, like a well oiled metal machine. A band who appeal to the roots of Bloodstock as a festival I can't believe they haven't been snapped up yet to play.

Speaking of Bloodstock's roots, it began as an indoor festival that showcased a lot of power/trad/symphonic metal bands, it's grown and diversified since then but it was certainly the sort of place that Root Zero would have fit way back in 2005. Their dual vocals, symphonic, prog, goth metal sound is eclectic and diverse like those early line ups, the clean vocals mixed with harsh growls, keys creating atmospheres on top of the doom meets classic metal sounds. This performance was a huge step up from what I'd seen in the semi final, the big stage used in full effect as there they looked shy and aloof, in the Patti there was a real sense sense of performance, the vocals blending similarly to the way Lacuna Coil do it, giving a definite alternative to the countless metalcore bands that seem to inhabit the UK scene and other regions. 

This bewitching, intoxicating performance is obviously what sold it for the judges as it was Root Zero who were chosen to represent South Wales at Bloodstock Festival 2024. 

The field could not have been tighter in my opinion, every act upped their game comprehensively, the larger stage leading to bigger performances and more confidence. As a concept of trying to offer the finalist something different I can definitely say the organising committee of Alyn, Will and Tim did the job brilliantly to elevate the South Wales metal scene. 

Day Of Wreckoning 

While the judges deliberated and after a well deserved break it was time for the established bands to entertain. Unfortunately a car problem outside Manchester meant that Inhuman Nature couldn't play so the first two bands got longer sets. 

Silverburn began the second half of the day with their technically proficient grooves, having seen their first gig at The Bunkhouse, their stage craft has only gotten better with countless shows and recent support slots with High On Fire (which has left them deaf they told me afterwards). Consisting of stalwarts of the South Wales metal scene it was a heavy way to start the second half of music. Crush prog grooves with sludge and tech riffs. Hypnotic rhythms catching many unawares there were some familiar faces catching a glimpse of this meaty morsel of Welsh riffage.

The pace increased exponentially with the constant blur of motion that is Mother Vulture. One of most consistent and impressive live bands on the scene the Bristol foursome never stay in one place and play punk infused metallic hard rock. Fuzzy thick basslines, choppy riffs and drumming that is frantic but with finesse, the smiles on the faces were clearly visible. Mother Vulture inject joy, unassuming off stage their singer is a wild man on stage, his diverse vocal style ranging from a sneer to a snarl to a scream and everything in between. Cranking out the jams it was a major high point of the night for everyone, this youthful band on a meteoric rise to the top, anyone who saw them here or in The Bunkhouse this year will attest that there are few bands who are this skilled on stage. 

Then we came to Raging Speedhorn who for many would have been the highlight of the day of it hadn't been for the actions of two members. Due to issues they had with the venue which were unfounded and unwarranted, their drummer refused to play only relenting after it was discovered he was in the wrong. They played for 20 minutes, starting half an hour after their set was supposed and had been advertised for. Running over by 10 minutes they were cut off due to timing, this caused the longest serving vocalist to storm off stage and another incident that has been reported elsewhere. For the time they played, they held the room unfortunately the whole performance was soured by two individuals within the band. One can only hope that RSH are able to wrestle with whatever demons have resurfaced and capture some of what makes them such a force to be reckoned with on the UK circuit without detriment to the fans that come to see them and the promoters who book them.

Enough about that and on to something much better and much more professional. Since 1975 Discharge have been keeping hardcore punk alive. California bands such as Bad Brains and Black Flag and Dead Kennedy's were starting, keeping the D.I.Y ethos of the inital punk explosion as many of those bands faded away or got lighter, it was the hardcore scene that made it heavier, angrier and more political. 

Over on this side of the pond we had our own explosion at the same time keeping the same ethos as the Americans but with a bit more Brit grit. Our scene was led by The Exploited, GBH and of course Discharge. These bands were just as influential as their American cousins and Discharge have been flying the flag for nearly 50 years. Covered by Metallica on Garage Inc, it's Discharge and bands like them that are cornerstones of grindcore, black metal and most importantly thrash. Without hardcore there is no thrash it's as simple as that.

A political band, they stand for anarchism and pacifism, they are confrontational and keep their music as a form of simple savagery. All these ideals are still held true to this day, consummate professionals from the time they came into the building they were jovial and gracious off stage but when they got on it they proceeded to rip the place apart, showing everyone how you totally command a venue without any shenanigans. Inciting pits, bouncing and smiles all round, they ripped though their hour long manifesto of political punk without too much interaction. 

A few thank yous and some buoying of the crowd for more energy, all issues previously disappearing in a circle pit of sweat and biting riffs. Finishing on a high that had been there from the beginning after one small dip, Discharge are well worthy of their place as such an influential band. 

Summing Up

Mission accomplished I'd say! Will, Alyn, Tim pulled a blinder with the inaugural Day Of Wreckoning, a small but perfectly formed team with a collective vision of elevating the South Wales metal scene. It will be back and it will be bigger and better than ever!

Watch! This! Space!

Photos By Konstantina Frasia Photography For Musipedia Of Metal/Day Of Wreckoning

Discharge

Raging Speedhorn


Mother Vulture

Silverburn

Root Zero

Rites To Ruin

Kill By Mouth

Confessions Of A Serial Killer

Thrakian

Verletzen

Thursday 4 July 2024

Reviews: Horned Almighty, Thunder Horse, The Commoners, Amongst Liars (Reviews By Mark Young, Rich Piva, Paul Hutchings & James Jackson)

Horned Almighty - Contagion Zero (Soulseller Records) [Mark Young]

The 7th album from Danish BM veterans Horned Almighty is being touted as a rebirth, which I assume is the band looking to the past to move forward. I can’t confirm this as being true or not as I’ve not heard their music before and to be fair, I’m not the greatest lover of this genre. They promise to bring aggression and to make this an essential purchase. I’m all for artists revisiting what has come before, to identify what they excelled at and to re-energise their efforts in putting out the best material they can.

The Messiah Scourge is our starting point, and they waste no time in establishing a dark tone with a repeating guitar line that smashes into life. It is typical bombast, double bass firing on all cylinders, blast beats and those rapid traditional BM riff lines. It confirms early on that they are not here for nostalgia; they are here to attack. The tempos are pitched in that mid-zone which allows them room to speed up with trem picking or slow down as the song dictates. It shifts when it needs to and places a firm marker on where they are going.

Gospels Of Sickness is straight out of the traditional BM playbook – furious guitar and manic drums that just powers straight through. I think you can safely say that they have brought the aggression with them, it is oozing out of the speakers, but it isn’t a speed fest for the sake of it as they squeeze in some melodic moments which still have that dark undertone. Whilst Vermin On The Mount once again mounts that front foot attack with some storming drum fills in there. 

There is no avoiding that for a good chunk of this song it shares a lot of common ideas with Gospels, but suddenly moves into its own light with a quality descending guitar line that comes in around 3 minutes 40, that lifts it clear of the preceding song. That motif continues through as they blast towards the end and onto Ascension Of Fever And Plague which has one of those spidery opening arrangements to it that expands into what I guess is a black metal swing as they slowly move through the gears into the expected blast beat section which is just rapid. What they do so well on here, is those little melodic fill moments, it is literally the calm before the storm.

Furnace Of Sulphur And Fire starts with another of those mint guitar passages that maintains a steady pace, full of those traditional BM chords (you know the ones I mean, especially when you hear them) and then BANG they put their foot through the floor. I know we praise drummer’s week in and week out for their herculean efforts, but special shout out to Harm for the powers of endurance displayed here. While I’m here I should also give props to S, the vocal delivery is volcanic, nothing less would have fitted the music here as it stamps its authority over everything. 

Darken The World wastes no time, full pelt from the start and is that aggressive edge they promised. In a lot of respects, it works in its position as track 6, the album has prepared you to get to this point with the other songs having their melodic moments amongst the mayhem but on here they go for the throat. Even when they back off there is still that air of darkness and discord running through it, permeating every strike and growl. It is fabulous stuff and then we are at the end with the slow, misery filled arrangement that is Epilogue…Of Hades And Of Death

Well, I’ll keep this brief. Like I said I’ve no idea if this is better than the music that has come before. All I know is that this is a stormer of an album and simply put is one of the releases of the year so far. 9/10

Thunder Horse - Dead Alive In TX (Ripple Music) [Rich Piva]

Texas deliverers of the heavy, Thunder Horse, emulate their 70s heroes, like Kiss, and gift us a live album after three excellent full length studio LPs to start their career as a band. Unlike Kiss though, there was no studio wizardry or overdubs on this bad boy, as Dead Alive In TX is Thunder Horse in all of their live glory, warts and all, exactly how the band was intended to be heard, and whoa is it awesome. If I was going to see Thunder Horse this is pretty much the set I would have personally requested. 

Opening with Let Them Bleed From Chosen One is always an excellent choice, with its slow burn opening and Sabbath worship tempo change, it is the perfect way to get the set started. New Normal, the protest song we all needed without having to pick a side, is up next, with Stephen Bishop seemingly even more angry at the state of things while delivering his vocals with an almost punk rock sneer, only done surrounded by heavy doom riffs. 

A brief interlude leads to the absolute ripper, Demon Speak, from the self-titled debut record. I’m not sure I would call TH a tight band live, but why the hell would you want them to be? There is a bit of heavy chaos going on which makes this one of the realist live records I have heard in a long time. This is not to say they don’t sound amazing, because they do, it is just so organic. I love the placement of Song For The Ferryman too, acting as an epic doom bridge between the two halves of the set, and boy does this one bring the crunch live. I love when the band gets all heavy blues on us in the second half of this song. 

The new record is represented well on Dead Alive In TX, with the addition of my (and many other apparently) favourite TH song Monolith, which just crushes you even more in live form, and according to Bishop is a fan favourite that will be a set standard for the band and thank goodness so because it is somehow even better live. What a way to end the set too, with the one-two punch of the slow burn (until it is not) crunch of Liber Ad Christ Milites Templi and my other favourite TH track, Chosen One. But we are not done yet, as the band leaves the crowd on a serious high note with their version of Ace Of Spades.

There has been a surprising amount of great live records over the past two or so years (thank you HPS), but Dead Alive In TX may be my favourite. This show is a perfect representation of Thunder Horse in all of their glory. If they keep going in the Kiss pattern, the next record should be their Destroyer, and I can’t wait for that next chapter in their story, but for now play this very, very loud. 9/10

The Commoners – Restless (Gypsy Soul Records) [Paul Hutchings]

My first and only encounter with The Commoners came in April 2023 when they squeezed into the Louisiana in Bristol on a co-headline tour with Tory Redfern. Despite their Southern swagger, they are Canadian, but don’t let that put you off. These Wicked Rivers are from Derby after all.

Restless follows 2022’s excellent Find A Better Way release, and it’s another perfectly crafted release that fits in with a multitude of occasions. Restless is the perfect singalong album for a long journey, for the emotive romantic dinner accompaniment, or as the soundtrack to an evening gathering with friends. Rich organ, a deep groove, and whisky soaked vocals, it all adds up to an album that sits very much in The Black Crowes/Rival Sons/Blackberry Smoke ballpark.

Ten tracks spread over just shy of 45-minutes provides value for money, and the band have paced it right. Devil Teasin’ Me is the ideal opener, Chris Medhurst’s smoky vocals backed by some lovely harmonies and whilst The Commoners don’t bring anything to the table that hasn’t been done before, their sound is distinctive, and infectious. It’s impossible not to be tapping your foot or humming along with the chorus after just a single listen.

They do the simple stuff right, the guitar work is crisp without being flashy, the melody delicious and provocative, and the rhythm keeps the movement without being in your face. Boot stomping up tempo feels come next with the vibrancy of Shake You Off. A raucous, in your face track that is sure to be in the set for years to come. It’s an addictive tune that gets the blood pumping with an ease that only comes with high levels of talent and plenty of hard work. When Ross Hays Citrullo decides to peel off a lick or two, he does it in style, with a subtle and understated style that works neatly with the band’s overall sound.

The title track is one of a couple that slow things down a little. The Country Western Rock sound that is inevitable on every Southern Rock record, there’s a bit of slide work here, and they pull it off with ease. It’s a smooth song, with little flourishes that provide the extra needed to keep you locked in. Gone Without Warning and Who Are You both rock along nicely, before the band depart slightly, with the darker atmosphere of Body And Soul that has an edge to it that hasn’t been present before. It's one of the best songs on the album, the interplay between vocals, organ and guitar created a delightful kaleidoscopic combination. It’s certainly the darker twist here though that makes it stand out.

Every album of this type needs that lighter aloft anthem, and it duly arrives with Too Soon To Know. A track that could easily feature in the soundtrack to a gritty series like Sons Of Anarchy, it’s another highlight and leads into the acoustic finale of the emotional All That We Have. This sees Medhurst give a gorgeously intimate finish with acoustic accompaniment.

The Commoners were fantastic at that Bristol show, and this album has whetted my appetite for another encounter with them in a few weeks at the Steelhouse Festival. 8/10

Amongst Liars - By Design (Earache) [James Jackson]

Channelling a mix of Punk, Grunge and Rock, Amongst Liars based in the coastal towns of Brighton and Eastbourne, release their second album By Design. The band formed in 2019, a year later the pandemic hit and plans to perform live were obviously put on hiatus, according to their bio however, this wasn’t a time to rest on their laurels and the band pushed singles and wrote their debut album, released in the summer of 2022. 

Some of the band’s influences are listed as Rage Against The Machine and the social, political views within some of the tracks definitely have that influence stamped all over them, another influence which is quite dominant within songs like Mind, is Shinedown, following that is Vice which holds a strong Electro influence to it, the intro a Techno beat away from being played at a rave, ultimately being my favourite track upon the album, there’s a BMTH vibe to it, another cited influence. 

The song writing is done well, the choruses catchy, lyrics relevant, the hooks driven to do their job, even the stripped down track Say has an impact as poignant as any of the other more punchy rockier tracks that precede it. There’s quite the blend of influences throughout the album that the easiest thing for me to say is that if you’re a fan of BMTH, Shinedown, Queens of the Stone Age and Rage Against The Machine, bands that are credited as inspiration for Amongst Liars, then this really is a band worth checking out. 7/10