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Friday, 18 October 2019

Reviews: Dawn Ray'd, In Mourning, Gentihaa, Vambo (Paul S, Paul H, Matt & Steve)

Dawn Ray’d: Behold Sedition Plainsong (Prosthetic Records) [Paul Scoble]

Dawn Ray’d have been making a lot of noise, over the last couple of years. The Liverpool based band were one of the first Anarchist/Anti-fascist Black Metal bands to get a lot of notice from the metal press. Back in 2017 when the bands debut The Unlawful Assembly was released, Dawn Ray’d seemed to be a lone voice, but in the last 2 years the Anti-fascist metal scene has blossomed into one of the most important, interesting and musically exiting scenes in Heavy Metal. (Paul himself has written extensively about it here: https://musipediaofmetal.blogspot.com/2019/06/opinion-anti-fascist-black-metal-nsbm.html) So, in 2 years Dawn Ray’d have gone from a lone voice to being the leaders of a massively expanding group of musicians who love Black Metal but hate fascism.

Dawn Ray’d formed in 2015. The group, made up of Matthew B (Drums), Fabian D (Guitar) and Simon B (Vocals, Violin), released an EP, A Thorn, A Blight in the year they formed and their first album 2 years later. The bands sound has always had a folk element to it, Simon B’s violin is an important part of the Dawn Ray’d sound. The folk in question isn’t the bright, happy folk of Scandinavian folk metal, it’s a style that is post industrial revolution, a style that was the punk of the nineteenth century. The darker folk that is part of Dawn Ray’d gives the band a sound that is reminiscent of Anarchist Black Metal pioneer SorgSvart. This darker folk is also similar in feel to the early work of British band Skyclad, which is interesting considering the overtly left wing lyrics that Skyclad founder Martin Walkiyer wrote while he was part of Skyclad. 

The other part of the bands sound is of course, fairly savage Black Metal. On previous Dawn Ray’d releases there was a slight Atmospheric feel to the Black Metal, but that has morphed into an earlier, nastier second wave style. The guitar sound is closer to the buzzsaw sound of early second wave bands, and that was perfected on Ulver’s Nattens Madrigal. The songs are all short, around the 3 to 4 minute mark, giving the album a punchy, punk feel, which is very appropriate. The lyrics are, as you’d expect, highly politically charged. They are angry, impassioned diatribes against fascism, capitalism and controlling authoritarian systems. The anger on this album feels greater and more urgent, the world has become a worse place since The Unlawful Assembly in 2017, and this is reflected in the rage that is all over the album.

The album is opened by the track Raise The Flails, which is a folky introduction to the album. The track gets much heavier at the end as is blends into the next track. The Smell Of Ancient Dust is the first full song on the album; it’s a mix of blasting second wave black metal and violin, the track has a very heavy, slow, powerful ending. Like Smoke Into Fog opens with a blast of feedback, before going into a brilliant up-tempo, thrashy part that flows beautifully. The track then takes a turn, and we get a softer folky part that is emotive and effecting. This softer section then gets heavy in a staccato, aggressive way, until another high speed blast brings the song to an end. To All To All To All! opens with blasting black metal, before an introspective softer section soothes the listener. The blast returns, before a heavy folk section brings the track to an end. A Time For Courage At The Borderlands is a slower prospect for the most part, measured blast beats mix well with the folk. Songs In The Key Of Compromise is simple, dramatic and very effective, with some really great tremolo picked riffs.

Until The Forge Goes Cold is mid-paced at the beginning, but then goes into some fantastic fast, flowing black metal that is packed with inertia and pace. The track comes to a close in a slow and powerful way. A Stone's Throw is a beautiful mix of clean guitar and violin with soft chanted vocals. it’s graceful, elegant and exquisite. Soon Will Be The Age Of Lessons wipes away all the beauty of the track that came before it with an incredibly heavy, aggressive opening, with some of the angriest vocals I’ve heard in a long time. The heavy nastiness is replaced with frantic blasting, before the slow and fucking angry returns. The song also has a very pleasing violin solo, that adds a nice amount of melody. Salvation Rite opens with some melancholy folk, before the track gets powerful and aggressive. There are blasting tremolo picked riffs, but this song is more about powerful mid-paced riffs and deeply melancholic folk. The album is brought to an end by the track The Curse The Dappled Light, which is a mix of blasting black metal, and more measured mid-paced riffs. The song and the album come to an end with another beautiful piece of soft acoustic folk.

Behold Sedition Plainsong is a fantastic album. It’s the follow up that The Unlawful Assembly deserved. The album is angrier in both lyrics and music, however the band haven’t solely used blasting aggression and extremity to achieve their aim. The album has more light and shade than its predecessor. There are different moods, pacings and feelings on this album. The band have allowed themselves introspection and thoughtfulness and as a result have produced a more rounded album. Yes, the album is angry (we live in horrific times, if you aren’t angry, then you are either part of the 1%, or you aren’t paying attention), but it’s a well informed, knowledgeable and enlightened anger that is far more incendiary than simple rage. This is exactly the album that Dawn Ray’d needed to make at this point. It can act as a rallying call to any other bands that love Black Metal and hate fascism. In the Heavy Metal Battle of Cable Street, Dawn Ray’d are leading the way, throwing cobbles at the black shirts; driving the fascists back. Black Metal is Anarchy, Anarchy is Black Metal, Dawn Ray’d have proved that with this album. 9 /10

In Mourning: Garden Of Storms (Agonia Records) [Paul Hutchings]

Often compared to Opeth, Swedes In Mourning are most definitely not a copycat outfit. In fact, the comparisons are misjudged in many respects. I’ve listened to little of their music so came at Garden of Storms relatively fresh. Their sixth album, following on from 2016’s Afterglow, the album opens with Black Storm, a maelstrom of melody of riffs, dark passages, death growls and clean verses. Melodic death metal in its style, it is in these opening minutes that one can see why the comparisons are made with their Stockholm brothers. Yields Of Fire follows, the soaring Radiohead style delivery moving to a progressive style before frighteningly demonic growls and tremolo riffing push the gentle vibe further back for several moments. Whilst sections of songs are ball-crushingly heavy, In Mourning never lose sight of the underlying melody throughout the album. Yields Of Fire builds in stature, fluctuating between huge blastbeats of death metal and soaring almost indie harmonies. Hierophant is a different beast entirely, jagged time signatures, pumping bass lines and intense driving rhythm give way to a passage of almost oriental style, the clean vocals of Tobias Netzell contrasting with his ferocious death growls.

With each of the seven tracks well over six minutes, there is ample time to explore the qualities of the band and map the performance of debutants Sebastian Svalland (Bass) and drummer Joakim Strandberg-Nilsson. Lengthy intricate passages are dealt with comfortably, the interplay is detailed, locked down tight and heavy such as Huntress Moon and Tribunal Of Suns and the spectacular finale, the nine-minute plus The Lost Outpost. The calmer sections are no less impressive, as the band drift into the progressive zone of The Pineapple Thief, Riverside and even Marillion. An album that is both simple and complicated, In Mourning’s sixth release is another special album in a year when special albums seem to arrive every week. 8/10

Gentihaa: Reverse Entropy (Symmetric Records) [Matt Bladen]

Released on Bob Katsionis' record label, Reverse Entropy is the debut album from fantasy themed symphonic black metal band Gentihaa. Coming out of the bowels of somewhere evil this Athenian act have created a debut album that could rival the any of the album by genre leaders Dimmu Borgir, especially the older material as Reverse Entropy uses the clean harsh dynamics in the vocals Dimmu had when ICS Vortex was in the band, they have also got the bands striking visual element as well. However they are not just the slaves to Nordic darkness they have the intensity of Nevermore, with Metamorphosis a key example, along with more classic metal sounds and the melo-death aggression of Nightrage on the face ripping Beyond

The album has been produced by Katsionis with SixforNine frontman and former Septicflesh drummer Fotis Benardo doing the mastering. That's yet another name I'd add to the list of bands Gentihaa owe a debt to, especially with their more symphonic compositions. The album deals with "a futuristic story based on an novel that was lost and found on the Internet" it's a dark Gothic tale lending itself to the bands sound. Formed by guitarist Valgran, he recruited Andre (Vocals), Rös Dracùl (guitars), Béheaal (bass) and Merenhor (drums) to form this talented band with special kudos to Andre on vocals whos harsh voice is terrifying while his clean vocals competes admirably with Evergrey Tom S Englund who guests on two tracks, there aren't many who would be able to compete with him so take that as a massive complement. Katsionis and Bernardo have made sure this record sounds huge the guitars rip and tear, the orchestrations swell, the rhythm section is ferocious and I've already mentioned the vocals. 

If you want standard black metal then you'll be left wanting by this release as it's not trve cvlt, it's a lot more than that drawing from numerous bands who could all be considered extreme in their own way, it makes for a much intensity and scope as they dive between blastbeats and acoustic textures, utilised the best on the final track Singularity which features the second appearance by Englund. Reverse Entropy is a debut album that kicks down your door and dares you to dislike it. I don't just like it, I think this album kills! 8/10    

Vambo: Vambo (Self Released) [Steve Haines]

Average. Standard. Middle of the Road. You get the idea. You can stop reading now if you’re just waiting for the verdict. As I’ve said before, I have three broad classes of albums: the first demands my attention, the second I can listen to quite happily without being special and the third makes me want to rip off my ears and throw them at the listening device. This album sits in the very middle of the second category. A soft rock album with a hint of a sleazy edge that, were it to be played on a pub jukebox, would see me bob my head quite happily without ever noticing anything about the music. The musicianship is good, the singing is good, the lyrics often cliched but never memorable. 

I’m tempted to say there is something of the Scott Weiland/Velvet Revolver about it but that promises way too much. There is absolutely nothing wrong with the album and We’re Not The Same does hint at a more interesting direction but it is a false dawn as it is followed by token ballad Dancing With The Devil. It is a debut album so in the respect of a solid platform for growth and development it definitely hits that brief, but there is little new here. That said, there is enough here to suggest that there is enough talent and raw material to propel them onto greater things. In terms of this album as a standalone body of work - it’s just, well, nice. 6/10

Thursday, 17 October 2019

A View From The Back Of The Room: Alice Cooper (Live Review By Liam True)

Alice Cooper, The Stranglers & MC50, Motorpoint Arena, Cardiff

Walking around Cardiff and you can see the different generations of Alice Cooper fans. From the older rockers to the newer fans, and we’re all united in the spirit of the master of shock rock himself. But before we get graced with his presence, there are two bands who I never thought I'd see.

MC50 (8) are a band that I never thought I'd ever see. Although coming to the UK last year I wasn’t able to see them. Now they’re here. The Detroit punkers storm though their set with passion and content, only stopping to catch their breath between songs. Although only addressing the audience once, they let their music do the talking, because they can get away with it. Playing only a 9-song set filled with nothing but their classic hits they get the crowd ready and moving. Well, some of the crowd at least. While coming to final song Looking At You, guitarist Wayne Kramer states ‘This song is dedicated to someone we all dislike’ He only mentions the word orange and the entire crowd cheer in return. The MC50 have come, played, and Kicked Out The Jams Motherfuckers.

The Stranglers (6) aren’t my kind of music to be completely honest. But the majority of the crowd are big fans and having a blast. Me however, I'm not that impressed. They interacted with the crowd with some banter, calling themselves a ‘Bunch of twats’ heckling two women who took their seats halfway through the first song and having the time of their lives. And that’s what it’s all about. Their set filled with classic songs such as Golden Brown and Peaches get the biggest reactions from the crowd and people are dancing from the floor to the balcony's. The band however fall just a bit flat for myself. Although I'm glad I've seen them, once is enough for me.

Now it’s time for the main event. The moment we all came here for. Ol’ Black Eyes himself. It’s my first-time seeing Alice Cooper (10) and have heard big things about his live performance so I came here expecting a spectacle. And it was delivered. From the moment the curtain dropped and the band launched into Feed My Frankenstein, the bar was set. The backdrop was the ‘Nightmare Castle Of Alice Cooper’ and at the front leading in the charge is The Godfather Of Shock Rock himself. The band rampage through the big hitters No More Mr Nice Guy & Bed Of Nails with ease and the crowd are in the palm of their hands. He’s Back (The Man Behind The Mask) has Jason Voorhees lurking on the castle walls slaying his victims before disappearing into the mist before I’m Eighteen has fists rising in the air. Billion Dollar Babies has a giant inflatable baby breaking through the castle wall and bouncing around the stage before taking it’s leave. Poison has the singalong anthem and gets everybody up and moving while Cooper commands everyone from atop the battlements.

Roses On White Lace see’s Cooper decapitated with a giant Frankenstein and the baby tossing his lifeless head back and forth before bursting out of the coffin bearing a Welsh football top causing the crowd to erupt in a frenzy. Devil’s Food & The Black Widow are both shortened with only the rhythm being played which I was saddened by as The Black Widow is my favourite Cooper song. Steven then again has the crowd chanting and raising their fists while the band climb atop the castle and look down at their subjects. Then the finale comes, Schools Out shuts down the show with a reign of confetti and members of both The Stranglers and MC50 playing alongside the band. The entire show just blew me away and proved that Cooper still had the energy and willingness to keep performing. I’m still in awe about what I've seen, and nothing will ever top it.

Reviews: Phil Campbell, 1349, Cynic, Tainted Lady (Paul H, Rich & Steve)

Phil Campbell: Old Lions Still Roar (Nuclear Blast) [Paul H]

Whilst he’s been plying his trade with the Campbell cubs with aplomb for the past couple of years, underneath it all the Motörhead guitarist has been itching to deliver his own solo work from many years. “This is something I wanted to do many years before Motörhead finished”, he told his label Nuclear Blast. “I talked to Lemmy about it many times and he always encouraged me. It just never came about because we were touring so relentlessly. But I kept the odd idea and riff from way back and never abandoned the idea. Now I felt the time was right to do it.” And it is a fine release as well. Ten tracks which vary in style immensely. Opening with the autobiographical Country style Rocking Chair, played beautifully on a Gibson from the 1940s with Leon Stanford (The People The Poet) delivering the heartfelt lyrics which are sure to bring a tear to the eye to even the most grisly Motörheadbanger: “I’ve seen the rocks, whiskey and Jack, I’ve had some knocks, I want my best friend back, Just to play it one more time, playing in a rocking band”

With a stellar cast providing the vocal support, this is a celebration of one of rock and metal’s finest guitarists. Straight Up has the Metal God Rob Halford on the microphone and sits as close to the work that Campbell has done with the Bastard Sons. The stoner stomp of Faith In Fire is perfectly set up for the roar of Orange Goblin’s Ben Ward, Campbell’s gritty riffing as always underpinned by that bluesy feel that we’ve grown to love over the past 30 years or so. A full out rocker, this is one that really gets the pulse racing with the energetic vibe and power. There isn’t a bad song on this album. The sleaze of Swing It features none other than ol’ black eyes Alice Cooper, and I’d go as far as to say it’s one of the best songs Cooper has been involved with for a long time.

“A good song is a good song”, said Campbell, “and obviously, there are some good classic rock songs on my solo debut. Yet, there are a few experimental songs that could be seen as a departure from those people who primarily know me from my work with Motörhead which I am extremely proud of and always will be. But in most cases a musician is more than just one specific style. And on this album, I spread my wings a little bit here and there.” Nowhere is that truer than on the smouldering Left For Dead, seamlessly set up for the velvet tones of Hand Of Dimes’ Nev McDonald, who does a fine job with his emotion-soaked vocals. It’s the quality of the songs that make this album and Left For Dead is a classic example of a song that defines Campbell’s desire to demonstrate he is more than the guitarist in the loudest band in the world. A sweet, heartfelt solo underpins the song, with McDonald, another Welsh treasure, giving a masterful performance.

Plenty of changes of pace too, with the thumping Walk The Talk, a punk-tinged stomp which has Mondo Generator’s Nick Oliveri’s barnstorming performance whilst there was only one singer for the raging These Old Boots, the mighty Dee Snider whose huge performance is as over the top as anything he’s ever played on. Whitfield Crane pops up for the raucous Dancing Dogs (Love Survives) whilst the melancholic Dead Roses, dominated by a mournful piano allows Newport’s own Benji Webbe to deliver one of the performances of his career. The beautiful acoustic instrumental Tears From A Glass Eye with added harp closed this wonderful album and proves that when it comes to quality, the old lion can still roar with the best of them. This is an essential listen. 9/10

1349: The Infernal Pathway (Season Of Mist) [Paul H]

Formed in 1997, The Infernal Pathway is the seventh album from the Norwegian black metal outfit whose current line-up consists founding members vocalist and former drummer Ravn and Seidemann on bass, alongside guitarist Archaon and Satyricon drum-legend Frost. The band has functioned as a four-piece since the departure of Tjalve after 2005’s Hellfire. Crammed full of intense black metal delivered very much in the old school style, 1349 have retained the ultra-fast aggression and soundscapes that they have been renowned for during the past two decades, defiantly carrying the old school sound and torch with a resolute determination. It’s been some wait since Massive Cauldron Of Chaos but this is a band who release music under their own terms. Deeper Still is symbolic of the speed and intensity of the whole band, but that’s no bad thing. Indeed, The Infernal Pathway is as ferocious and sonically charged a black metal album as you’ll find this year.

Ravn was quoted in Zero Tolerance’s last issue as saying that black metal didn’t need to sound bad, it needed to sound good and this is evident throughout this album with the raw sound still in evidence despite the improved production in comparison to the days of debut album Liberation. When the Munch Museum and Innovation Norway chose 1349 as one of four bands to create a song based on the paintings of Edvard Munch last year, the result was the single Dødskamp, and this album contains a version of that track amongst the 44 minutes and 11 tracks. Recorded in Amper Tone studios and Studio Nyhagen with engineer Jarrett Pritchard, The Infernal Pathway is brutal, fearsome and epic in equal measure, with the massive finale of Stand Tall In Fire a fitting conclusion. With a European tour with Abbath and Vltimas in 2020, 1349 remain an essential black metal outfit in a world where so many black metal bands struggle to forge their own identity. 8/10

Cynic: Traced In Air: Remixed (Season Of Mist) [Rich Oliver]

Traced In Air is a very revered album in metal circles and its relevance is quite rightly deserved. It was the second album by Cynic released back in 2008 and was their first release following their reformation after a hiatus of 15 years and saw the band virtually sever all ties with their death metal past and incorporate jazz times signatures with progressive metal riffs producing a truly progressive and technical masterpiece. 11 years later and Traced In Air has been revisited not just receiving a remaster but a full remixing courtesy of Adam Getwood of Periphery with brand new bass tracking by bassist Sean Malone. The difference is a fuller bodied sound with more low end and just a generally cleaner mix to it. 

Tracks such as Evolutionary Sleeper, The Unknown Guest and King Of Those Who Know now sound absolutely crystal clear. There are a few minor adjustments from the original with the harsh vocals completely buried in the mix and perhaps even totally removed. Fans of Cynic will lap up this remix. There are those of course who will deem this an inferior product to the original but the original mix is still there to enjoy. I personally think the original of Traced In Air has aged well and a remix wasn’t wholly necessary but it is nice to hear these songs with an extra depth of clarity. The remix doesn’t detract from the original at all and whatever version you listen to it is still a wondrous piece of progressive metal. 8/10

Tainted Lady: Sounds Like Freedom//Feels Like War (Self Released) [Steve Haines]

This is the second album from the Danish five-piece following on from 2017’s How The Mighty Have Fallen. From the opening bars of Building A Machine, it sounds very solid. The whole album is a refreshing take on classic rock. In the band’s own bio, their sound is described as ‘rebel-rock’ but like any label without a backstory, what does that mean? If this album is anything to go by, I would describe it as sleaze rock with a bass and drum-fuelled driving impetus. As with most rock albums, there are faster songs and slower songs and while the lyrics can sometimes be a little stilted, there is enough shift from the norm musically to set it apart from the average. Even the ballad Little Bird with its clichés of somewhat cheesy lyrics and even the dreaded harmonica solo is eminently listenable. The other out and out ballad is Hey Mr Music Man which carries a haunting quality and its layered vocal melodies give it a texture that ballads rarely have – though the guitar similarities to Red Hot Chilli Peppers’ Road Trippin’ was a little off putting! 

There are some tracks that feel like fillers: Fever Dream, Flowerchild and Revolution (Love Pollution) are not on the same level as the other tracks, but even these tracks set a very high bar, they’re just not as good in my opinion. For me, the stand out track of the whole album is Down To The River which opens as a folk-rock track that builds to a pounding rock track and manages to maintain both sensibilities through the song. Overall, I really enjoyed this album and it was different enough to make me take notice. It is an album that is well worth investing in and if the band can capture this sound and energy in a live setting, their gigs would be well worth going to. Good job, lads or as they say in Denmark: gode jobkammerater. 8/10

Wednesday, 16 October 2019

A View From The Back Of The Room: Big Boy Bloater & The Limits (Live Review By Matt Bladen)

Big Boy Bloater & The Limits, Fuel Rock Club, Cardiff

All I can say is that it's a good job I love the blues. With an 8pm doors and a 9pm start a lesser man would have gone home but staying the course despite almost a pint of 13% beer being consumed. I sat (at the back of the room of course) and waited for bluesman Big Boy Bloater and his band to take to the stage. The crowd was sparse with vast expanse in front of the stage as most of the audience sat near the sound stage. However after quite a lot of waiting (so much waiting) At 9pm Big Boy Bloater and his two accomplices, The Limits kicked off Friday with Saturday Night Desperation Shuffle through any desperation was hidden as he jammed with some nifty blues licks and his gruff vocals delivery.

They moved through Insanely Happy to the shuffle of Messing With The Booze and Friday Nights All Right For Drinking, particularly apt with the amount of alcohol being imbued outside in the front bar. Now despite the show featuring some talented blues playing having an 8pm doors but 9pm start time did irk me a little especially due to how few people were in Fuel's back room, having a local support would have helped with the numbers I'm sure but as it happened BBB played his set with vigour interspersed with some friendly banter, with some responses coming from the audience. Still it was entertaining enough and the perfect excuse for some Friday night drinking. 7/10

Reviews: Joe Bonamassa, The Ferrymen, Toothgrinder, Forever Vendetta (Reviews By Matt Bladen)

Joe Bonamassa: Live At The Sydney Opera House (Mascot Records)

So here he is again, the man they call Joe Bonamassa, or indeed Joey Bones, yet again releasing a live album. Live At The Sydney Opera House is his 16th(!) record and as the title probably gives away is live from the legendary UNESCO Heritage Monument in Sydney Australia. It features nine tracks tracks that all come from his most recent studio album the No.1 rated Blues Of Desperation. Opening with the chugging (pun intended) This Train driven by the boogie woogie keys of Rock & Roll Hall Of Famer Reese Wynans and a very persistent drumbeat from Anton Fig. The remaining members of this absolutely shit hot live band are Nashville recording legend Michael Rhodes (bass guitar), Paulie Cerra (sax) and Lee Thornburg (trumpet). With Mahalia Barnes, Juanita Tippins, and Gary Pinto on backing vocals for the soul sounds. It's an all star cast who cast magic behind Joey but of course it's the man himself that you'll be buying this album for and as per he brings his A-Game, firing off riffs and solos like it's going out of fashion as well as using that distinct voice of his to great effect on the slinky Drive which features the brass mentioned before. The two masterclasses are Love Ain't A Love Song and Livin' Easy which clock in at the longest runtimes as the band all jam in front of an audience who are clearly having the time of their lives. These albums have always been a great way of experiencing the live power of Joey B in their own home, it's full of blues rock mastery and songs that are bang up to date. 7/10

The Ferrymen: A New Evil (Frontiers Records)

The debut album from The Ferrymen received a glowing 9/10 from myself back in 2017 when it was released. I praised their brand of tough melodic metal comparing it to Dio and Jorn due to the excellent gruff vocals of Ronnie Romero and the guitar heavy songs written by Magnus Karlsson (Primal Fear) that many will know from the Allen/Lande project on which he was the main architect. So what of the second album from these two heavy hitters, well thankfully it's more of the same. Hard hitting melodic metal tracks with hook-laden choruses and powerful emotive ballads that never become too saccharine, which so often happens with bands such as this. Take a tracks like No Matter How Hard We Fall, it has a colossal chorus made to be sung back but it never falls into a trap of being overwrought, even with the piano led All We Got you get a thick riff behind it.

We get some crunchy, choral sounds on Our Own Heroes which moves from some choppy riffs swirling into the explorative guitar solo as drummer Mike Terrana (Rage etc) thunders away behind the kit, You Against The World is a rampaging heavy rock number and the album opens with the orchestral intro to Don't Stand In My Way before we get a storming classic heavy metal riff into the fist pumping Bring Me Home. As I said in the review of their debut this is ideal music for fans of Dio and Jorn it's anthemic, melodic and at times quite heavy too, pick up A New Evil if you want some proper classic sounding heavy rock. 9/10

Toothgrinder: I Am (Spinefarm Records)

Toothgrinder have vowed to “make peace with all I am” on their third album and that hints at some of the turmoil experienced by their frontman Justin who's drug and alcohol addiction during their last two album and tour cycles. On this album cycle he's faced his problems and is looking to solve those issues. You can hear this on the album as it has an optimistic outlook, as the clean guitars solo over some more djent styled riffs. I could go into massive amounts of detail about the different styles present on this album as every song presents you with a new sound to try and get to know in their short run times. No Tribe has thick prog riffs and electronic touches, No Surrender In The House Of Leaves has the acoustic Steven Wilson style opening before shifting into some dynamic emotive alt rock, Shiver explores more ambient sounds.

The New Punk Rock is more Nu-metal meets industrial with some rapid fire aggression in the vocals which continues on too soft for the scene, TOO MEAN FOR THE GREEN a blasting hardcore number and Can U Live Today takes some cues from Tool. It's a smorgasbord of sounds from the outset, which could be a bit jarring for anyone used to one style per album, so you could say this record is as progressive as you could get. The differing stylistic changes can only work if the composition and songwriting is strong and Justin, Jason Goss (rhythm guitar) Matt Arensdorf (bass, backing vocals), Wills Weller (drums), and Johnuel Hasney (lead guitar, backing vocals) have clearly focussed on this for I Am. In intense, intriguing listen, I urge you to seek it out. 8/10

Forever Vendetta: New Day Rising (Self Released)

Initially active between 2008 and 2011 Forever Vendetta played across the country with acts such as Hardcore Superstar, Enuff Z Nuff, LA Guns and Tigertailz as well as many of the HRH events as well. Their sleazier style of hard rock was well received giving them a cult following in Swansea however as with so many bands a hiatus beckoned but now they have returned; Chris Tippett (vocals/guitar) and Liam Alonzi (bass) are re-joined by original lead guitarist Leigh Fuge and have got Gareth Hunt (Buffalo Summer/Lethargy/Pearler) behind the kit. On the back of numerous EP's New Day Rising sounds a lot more mature of a release, drawing influence from numerous places they can't be labelled with that sleaze rock tag anymore as this is much more evolved band, than before opening the album with a string intro, Takin It Back has big grooves to it, Roll It On Back brings a BSC Southern style (and even slide guitar) as Come Alive has a big, ballsy riff to it to get things moving properly. I will say as good as the music on this album is, their radio friendly rock does occasionally slip into some more generic sounds but all in all New Day Rising is the re-birth of Forever Vendetta. 7/10

Tuesday, 15 October 2019

Reviews: Silvertomb, Torpor, Grim Reaper, Caiina, (Paul S, Paul H & Val)

Silvertomb: Edge Of Existence (Long Branch Records) [Paul Scoble]

Silvertomb can only, really be described as a supergroup. It’s a bit of a last century cliche, but with Silvertomb, there isn’t any other word that is accurate. The band revolves around the 2 ex-members of Type O Negative; Kenny Hicky (Type O Negative, Seventh Void) and Johnny Kelly (Type O Negative, Danzig), but the other members are hardly unknown; Hank Hell (Seventh Void, Inhuman), Joseph James (Agnostic Front, Inhuman) and Aaron Joos (Awaken The Shadow, Empyreon). The band have been slowly getting things together since tragedy caused the breakup of Type O Negative. Edge Of Existence is the band's first album.

The style on offer here will probably disappoint anyone who was hoping for Type O Negative part 2. This isn’t an attempt to re-live history, no matter how attractive that might have seemed, I’m glad they haven’t done that. Silvertomb has its own sound; ok that sound is still rooted in the early nineties, but not in a Type O way. What we get from Edge Of Existence, is a mix of huge Doom, a little bit reminiscent of Crowbar, and early nineties grunge, particularly Alice In Chains or Stone Temple Pilots with maybe a little bit of Soundgarden as well. The guitar tone and production in general fits in with the grungy feel of the album. Most of the pacing is mid to low paced as you’d expect from a doom album. Kenny Hicky’s voice is good, fairly high register with a bit of a rasp to it. It’s full of personality and is one of this albums strong points.

Highlights for me are: Insomnia - Sunrise is a great swaggery rocker that kicks the album off in great style. It’s alt-rock that is driving and powerful. So True is a cracking mix of fast and punky doom, and a more measured and controlled style that is slower, but is a nice juxtaposition to the punk aggression. It’s not all heavy and aggressive; Sleeping On Nails And Wine is a soft acoustic track that is genuinely beautiful, and feels like a nursery rhyme. The last track on the album is also rather special, Waiting has an acoustic beginning that feels a little bit like Blind Melon and then goes into uptempo grunge that is a little bit like Stone Temple Pilots.

It isn’t all good however. There are a couple of places where the pacing isn’t quite right. Right Of Passage-Crossing Ov has a couple of places where the tempo drops and the song feels plodding and lacklustre. It’s a shame that there are a few small sections where this happens, as the rest of the album is excellent. Edge Of Existence is a very good album. If it hadn’t had the few pacing problems, it would be a great album. But let’s not forget that this, despite the illustrious persons involved in this project, is a first album. If this is what Kenny, Johnny and friends produce on a first try, then I can not wait to hear album number 2. 7/10

Torpor: Rhetoric Of The Image (Sludgelord Records) [Paul Scoble]

Torpor are a London based 3 piece. The 3 in question are Lauren Mason (Bass, Vocals), Simon Mason (Drums, Vocals) and Jon Taylor (Guitar). Rhetoric Of The Image is the bands second album coming 4 years after the bands debut, From Nothing Comes Everything. The album features five songs that are split into 3 long, sludgy, heavy tracks and 2 shorter, less heavy tracks. The album opens with Benign Circle, which has a feel that is a mix of huge sludgy nastiness and very soft and quiet sections. The heavy parts are very sludgy with angry, harsh vocals. There is a little bit of a Post Metal feel to some of the riffs, which are also discordant, and gain a certain amount of swagger as the song progresses. Two Heads On Gold is mainly a noise track. We get keyboard swells and distortion, the vocals are spoken word, moving to shouted at the end of the track.

Enigmatic Demand is another long track. The song has a very long, slow build before a simple strummed acoustic guitar comes in. The song then goes into a massively nasty sludgy riff. The vocals are harsh and angry, which fits with the rest of the track which, by now, is heavy, aggressive and viscous. This track is quite simple, but my god, it’s effective! Mouths Full Of Water, Throats Full Of Ice is soft, short, ballad like and very beautiful. The track features what sounds like a tambourine to me, and soft clean vocals. Mmmm, Lovely. Mourning The Real has a very long, brooding intro, before the Huge, Heavy and Harsh comes crashing in again. The track has a softer, cleaner section, before the huge riffs come back to batter the listener into submission. The heavy is back, but this time it’s more measured, with a little bit more drive and powers the track to an end in a nicely relentless way. Cracking way to end the album.

Rhetoric Of The Image is a great album. It’s huge and aggressive, nasty and discordant. The structure of the album helps you enjoy the it. The short track that are markedly different from the huge and heavy longer tracks, act as palette cleansers that clear away the nasty, so you are ready for more. A very, clever, well written album that comes highly recommended. 8/10

Grim Reaper: At The Gates (Dissonance Records) [Paul Hutchings]

And the NWOBHM keeps on coming. Grim Reaper formed in 1979, in Droitwich with guitarist Nick Bowcott the main face. Recruiting vocalist Steve Grimmett proved to be a masterstroke, as Grimmett was the voice on debut release See You In Hell and their follow up Fear No Evil. The band disbanded in 1988, with a reformation happening in 2006. Now billed as Steve Grimmett’s Grim Reaper, this is the second album since their return, with Grimmett having suffered a well-publicised leg amputation in 2017. With my respect for Grimmett in place as a stalwart of the old school metal community, it was difficult to really get enthused about this album.

Firstly, Grimmett’s vocals are average at best, and whilst he can hold a note okay, there’s nothing which gets the breath pumping. Secondly, whilst the band are competent in their musicianship, this is another album that contains virtually nothing that sticks in the memory for more than a couple of minutes. In a saturated field, it takes something a bit special to really stand out these days and I’m afraid that Grim Reaper don’t fire much in terms of excitement. Kudos for Grimmett’s dedication to the cause. It is endearing in every respect, but this is pedestrian old school NWOBHM fare. 5/10

Caiina: Gentle Illness (Apocalyptic Witchcraft Records) [Val D'Arcy]

Caiina have throughout their past, skirted around the peripheries of Black Metal, dipping in and out whilst drawing on everything from improvised jazz to dark ambient synth and everything in between. This album is no real exception, Gentle Illness is an excruciating episode of theatrical noise that is as experimental as it is primal. The antithetical title Gentle Illness is representative both of individual, human conditions and those of the larger collective society. Themes of suicide, degradation, treatment and mysticism make up the subject of this record. There are a number of different elements that make up Gentle Illness, each carrying its own difficulty rating for you as a listener. From the relatively accessible sections of post black and prog metal, to the borderline-noise, raw black metal, to the dark ambient atmospheric, to the outright strange cacophonies that make up some of the more obscure passages.

As a fan of Black Metal, with a particular fondness for the chaotic style I enjoy many aspects of this; think GGUW crossed with Gnaw Their Tongues with some (older, dirtier) Anaal Nathrakh and you're not a million miles off. But where Caiina may have stayed closer to the confines of Black Metal's stylistic parameters in the past, Gentle Illness does have a tendency to stray much further afield and for longer periods of time. If you're a fan of dark ambient and noise, less so of Black Metal there's probably more for you to get on with here than fans of the latter. That said, there are recognisable structures in several of the tracks, even accidental melodies which peer through the cracks, always to be enveloped in nightmares again before too long. But those fleeting moments of respite do just enough to allow the listener to consume what is a very dense 37 minutes as something resembling a singular album. Gentle Illness is an abstract view into a troubled soul, of the microcosm of the individual to the macrocosm of society, its neither easy nor always pleasant. 5/10

Reviews: Officium Triste, Alcest, Angel, Wayward Sons (Paul S, Paul H, Steve & Matt)

Officium Triste: The Death Of Gaia (Transcending Obscurity) [Paul Scoble]

Officium Triste have been making Death/Doom since 1994. The dutch band released their first album Ne Vivam in 1997, and their last album, Mors Viri in 2014. Officium Triste play a very melodic, melodious brand of death/doom, with the emphasis on the doom; they play in the same ballpark as Paradise Lost, My Dying Bride or Anathema, but with a little bit more Death in the guitar sound and the (main) vocals. The album starts with The End Is Nigh, which opens with a huge expansive feel, featuring mournful guitar and strings, it’s heavy but very beautiful. The track is filled with melody despite feeling dense and woeful. The track feels more purposeful as it builds, the guitar and strings seem more staccato, the track ends with strings and keyboards.

World In Flames opens with a sad little piano riff, before the rest of the band come in for a guitar riff that mirrors the piano. The track has a melody lead guitar through most of it, which helps to drive the track along, the keyboards temper this. The track feels controlled and measured, the interplay of rhythm and melody lead is a little reminiscent of Paradise Lost. The track boasts a slow, clean passage that is restful, and tranquil, before the distorted guitar comes back in. The feel for this track is mainly quite relaxed and restful, but for the final quarter the track feels more determined and direct, till the end. Shackles starts with a slightly droning guitar and organ, making the track feel huge, but tranquil. The almost dreamlike tempo makes this a beautifully brooding piece of work. The bands name means a very sad and sombre religious service, this track could have been written for this sort of event. Again we get a sad, almost distraught melody guitar lead. The track ends with a very soft passage that gets more and more menacing till the end of the song. A House In A Field In The Eye Of The Storm is a soft, expansive, melodic instrumental, that reminded me a little of some of Devin Townsend’s more huge and expansive moments.

The Guilt starts with keyboard swells, hash vocals and slow riffs. The track features the fantastic vocals of Marska Van Der Krul, giving the track an extra vocal element that is very interesting. There is a very soft part in the centre of the song that gives way to some very dramatic drums, before the harsh vocals come back in. This gives way to a huge melodic part with lead guitar coming to the fore. Marska is back for the end of the track, bringing it to an end in a breathtakingly beautiful way. Just Smoke And Mirrors, feels more like a piece of Post Rock rather than Death/Doom, clean rhythm guitar, with guitar harmonies. The track gets bigger at times, but it is always pulled back to the Post Rock sound. The track features vocals from Vigo Van Dijk and Chiara Kwakernaak, the 2 clean voices juxtapose the harsh vocals very well.

Like A Flower In The Desert feels more purposeful and direct than most of the other material on the album. The melody lead guitar helps to drive the track forward. The song does have a slow, expansive, heavy section, before going back to the faster and more purposeful feel again. The track ends on the sadder, softer feel, which feels in keeping with the album as a whole. The album comes to an end with Losing Ground. The song has a soft, introspective feel at the beginning before going into a slow and very heavy section that feels darker than the rest of the material on this album. We get another soft, introspective section before things get ridiculously heavy again, before a soft, slightly discordant piano riff comes in to disturb the introspection. The song is then heavy till the end, but as we get closer to the end of the track, more melody is added.

The Death Of Gaia is a fantastic piece of Death/Doom. This is an album made by a band that are clearly masters of their craft. Every track has been painstakingly put together, to create a whole that is stunning. It’s expansive, heavy, beautiful, melodic, dreamlike, effecting, mournful, sad, uplifting and exquisite. This album is so beautiful and so heavy at the same time, and that is quite a trick to pull off. 9/10

Alcest: Spiritual Instinct (Nuclear Blast) [Paul Hutchings]

If you thought that 2016’s Kodama was a beautiful piece of work, then album number six from French duo Alcest will have you thinking once again. Niege (vocals, guitars, bass, synths) and Winterhalter (drums) avoids any chance of pigeon-holing on Spiritual Instinct. This is an album of quality which exceeds what they achieved three years ago. Niege is at his most personal, with six songs that are both darker and heavier than the previous two albums. There is the spectacular pace of Les Jardins De Minuit, complete with multiple changes of pace and style, whilst Protection offers heavy metal tremolo riffing, a total contrast to the ethereal harmonies which overlay the indie back beat of Sapphire’. It’s clear now that whilst the band’s roots were and will always remain loosely in the black metal genre, Alcest have slowly and subtly separated themselves from the genre, without losing the fan base. Indeed, they have gained many new fans with their delicate yet at times blasting intensity.

2014’s Shelter focused on a lighter tempo and production. Here, Niege has delved deep to emphasise the darker heavier feelings which he experienced when fighting to reconnect with his spiritual essence; with a message to seek balance in nature. His angst-ridden vocals and riffing on L’lle Des Morts is balanced with gentle sections; Niege’s inner conflict and desire for self-betterment fuels the spectacular penultimate track Le Miroir. The album concludes with the title track, iridescent, majestic and impressive in equal measure, Spiritual Instincts is the latest stunning chapter in the continuing journey of one of rock’s most consistent and intriguing bands Spiritual Instinct was described by Niege as a ‘cathartic process’, with his own internal pressures fuelling his anxiety. Once you have heard this album, you’ll understand why this was so important for him; but he can rest assured that he has achieved his goal. Just beautiful in every respect. 9/10

Angel: Risen (Cleopatra Records) [Steve Haines]

Before I talk about this album, let me just explain the three broad categories of albums that I have: the first is where an album is so good that it demands my attention. Secondly, an album can pique my interest and sound perfectly pleasant – you can listen to it quite happily but it doesn’t astonish you or have that certain something that elevates it. The final category is an album so execrable that I have to turn it off and curse the gods for allowing me to put that shit in my ears. When I first saw the band picture and album art I feared we may be going down the execrable route – at best I imagined a parody, a poor man’s Steel Panther and at worst a depressing offering from some wannabes stuck in the past. I’m pleased to say I was wrong. This album could quite easily have been plucked from the early 80s in the heyday of glam metal. (Though the band have been going since the mid-70's after being discovered by Gene Simmons - Ed)

It is musically sound – very melodic with great musicianship throughout. In terms of my categories, it is most definitely an album that I can listen to very happily – but does it have something that elevates it? Yes and no. There is nothing in the band’s style and overarching vibe that stands out so in general terms while it is a good album, it isn’t great. But, and like Nicki Minaj, it’s a big, unavoidable but – there is one standout track that is truly exceptional. 1975 meshes the sensibility of 80s glam metal with the finesse and introspection of modern rock. I genuinely had to stop and listen – then listen again. So, while this album won’t blow you away, it is a good album that warrants a few listens, if only for the great 1975. It really feels comfortable, like an old pair of spandex pants! 7/10

Wayward Sons: The Truth Ain't What It Used To Be (Frontiers Records) [Matt Bladen]

Now I really liked the debut from Wayward Sons, the latest project featuring former Little Angels, Fastaway and Gun vocalist Toby Jepson, it had a great mix of hard rock songs on it with some really big hitters. S because of this I was interested to see what their second album was going to be like. Well it turns out that the band have tried to broaden their horizons a little creating a concept album that deals with "fury at the state of the world, and fury at our leaders" That fury is evident in the first three tracks especially on As Black As Sin which deals with Jepson's fury over Brexit and Joke's On You the album's first single where the stupidity of human beings is highlighted.

There are some big ballsy rockers here as you'd expect from this band fronted by a revitalised hard rock troubadour, he takes a more of melancholic, introspective approach on Little White Lies where it has almost a Queen style guitar solo, as does Fade Away which is another slower number with that's theatrical built around just a piano going all a bit Jim Steinman meets Mott The Hoople. It is a shame that Feel Good Hit is no their reimagining of QOTSA's Feel Good Hit Of The Summer but perhaps it's for the best. Like the first album there are different styles featured on this record, with traditional hard rock tracks, ballads, glam stompers and even some punk rock styled fury on (If Only) God Was Real which of course is a song about challenging religious dogma.

The story of the album concludes with the title track full of pitch black humour about 'alternative facts' with the choppy Punchline as it's companion piece to bring things towards a close. Yet again a good record from Wayward Sons this one is not as immediate as it's predecessor but it shows more dimensions to the bands sound that before. 8/10 

Monday, 14 October 2019

Reviews: Spider Kickers, Swedish Death Candy, Weapon UK, Nachtterror (Paul S, Alex, Paul H & Val)

Spider Kickers: Ektroma (Sleazy Rider  Records) [Paul Scoble]

Spider Kickers have been making nasty noises since 1986. The Greek four piece have released 5 albums before Ektroma, the last being The Hill Of The Dead released in 2014. Spider Kickers play a fairly incendiary mix of Death Metal and Thrash. They class their sound as Deathrash, however this sound is less technical than the sound of more recent mixers of thrash and death metal; Revocation or Reprisal. This is a mix of old school death metal and eighties European thrash. The album kicks off with the title track, and we are dropped strait into a battering blast beat, the death metal quickly morphs into thrash for an incredibly tight, thrashy chorus. The track then goes back to battering us with death metal, before it’s all brought to an end with a very thrashy outro. Inner Grave has a mid-paced thrash intro with some very interesting spooky keyboard parts, before going into what is really a melodic death metal section. Inner Grave is a simple track, it just repeats those 2 main feelings, but they’re such good parts, and the song isn’t long, so it all works. Vanity In Front is mid-paced and sounds a lot like Kreator, and has a very pleasing solo. Nightmare Receiver starts with speed metal before getting a little mid-paced and then blasting off into a bit of Death Metal. This track does have an issue in the second half where the tempo drops and it feel a little lacklustre and plodding, which is a shame as the track started so promisingly.

Carnivores is a mix of slow, driving death metal and mid-paced aggressive thrash, it’s simple but very effective, and has a cracking chorus. Isolation Cell starts with driving, powerful death metal, before it gets really slow and heavy, almost as heavy as Death/Doom, before going back to that unstoppable death metal feel from earlier in the song. Jehovah Complex is mainly mid-paced thrash, except from the bits that are poundingly aggressive death metal. This is another fairly simple song, but a lot of its effectiveness comes from that simplicity. The album comes to a close with Lord Great Ra, which starts with an eastern feeling intro, before driving and aggressive death metal kicks in, the track has a very purposeful feeling to it. The chorus is nasty and combative, and the song has a very slow and heavy ending. Ektroma is a very strong piece of Deathrash. It’s not perfect; those moments where the tempo isn’t quite right, where the pacing and drive drop a little, are there. However, those moments are few and far between. This album is mainly packed with energy, drive, great riffs, melodic solos, battering blast beats, and great vocals. On balance the great moments massively outweigh the moments where it drops off a little. 7/10

Swedish Death Candy: Are You Nervous? (Hassle Records) [Alex Swift]

The intriguingly titled, Swedish Death Candy plays a form of traditional psychedelic rock. Everything is very Doors, late-era Beatles, grateful dead, and very, very retro. If I can wear my objective hat for a second, moments in the vein of Interstellar Love Machine and Space Holiday, manage to combine classic rock charm, with elusive, weird textures, making them immersive and experiential. Judging by the influences they utilize, anyone who has a liking for old-style, trippy, psych rock, will probably be absolutely drawn in by these musicians. Me, on the other hand…Well, while I don’t dislike that sort of music by any means, you all know how I appreciate modernity and innovation, and I just can't get fully behind a complete an utter retread of an old genre, no matter how skilled the musicians on display are. Indeed, Modern Child just sounds like the early desert rock piloted acts in the vein of Kyuss. Always sounds like an extremely early synth-pop record. Journey to the 13th Floor slaps of such punk founders as the Damned, and The Stranglers. Seriously, there’s not a single song here that I can point to and wholeheartedly say ‘yep, that’s a Swedish Death Candy piece’. The only thing this band seems to do differently from anyone else is lathering their music in layers and layers of reverb, and deliberately dragging out their compositions in order to give them that weird, beguiling, hallucinogenic experience. Again, while I can see some appreciating Are You Nervous? I’m not feeling the excitement, in the slightest. 3/10

Weapon UK: Ghosts Of War (Pure Steel Records) [Paul Hutchings]

Initially formed in 1980, Weapon UK’s main achievement was securing the support slot on Motorhead’s All The Aces 1980 UK Tour. This 32-date tour included four nights at Hammersmith Odeon, something that bands would kill for these days. Having disappeared as quickly as they appeared, the band members went their separate ways, remerging in 2003 for the release of a compilation Set The Stage Alight before returning again in 2012. The current line-up features original members Danny Hynes and Jeff Summers along with Darren Lee and Tony Forsyth. Ghosts of War is an average chunk of NWOBHM. The odd passage catches the ear, emerging from the rather mundane and routine songs that are thumped out with a fair degree of energy. Queen Of The Ride for example, is about as bland as you can get, with the typical chorus repeated ad nauseum, a feature of many of the original NWOBHM bands. It’s not unpleasant to listen to, but it is just a bit pedestrian, from a band who are clearly stuck in the 1980s. Like so many of their contemporaries, and as I’ve said many times before, sometimes it’s better to let sleeping dogs lie. 5/10

Nachtterror: Judgement (Hypnotic Dirge Records) [Val D'Arcy]

Canadian five piece Nachtterror, from Regina, Saskatchewan present their debut, full length album Judgement. Claimed to be ten years in the making, it still feels unfinished. The first track, which although clocking up over four minutes is more of an extended intro, which opens up with some fairly basic keyboards before moving into the first metal passages consisting of rolling double bass, melodic guitars and clean vocals. It doesn't really set you up for what follows especially well (despite some passages of this track being reprised later on). It sounds a bit like Borknagar done badly.

The second track, which in my opinion the album should have opened with (and done away with the first track altogether) is a combination of some more key driven melodic metal and some chuggier doom based riffs. There's a mix of clean vocals, some harsh, which alternate between raspy death growls and higher pitched, black screams which, sound OK but sadly the mix here isn't great and they've been layered in a way that makes it all a bit difficult to pick apart. This track goes on for over seven minutes, which seems a bit on the long side for what's on offer. The third track is a slower paced dirge like number, once again combining the interwoven mix of vocal styles, synths and more spoken word passages, before exploding into a faster paced symphonic melody which actually sounds pretty good; it's not a million miles from early Bal Sagoth or more contemporary tech death act Inferi. Despite this glimmer of promise, once more, before it's given any opportunity to develop its back to the dirge and spoken word which is about as gratifying as someone swapping your cake out with sand just as you're about to take a bite. We'll just skip past track five, I have no idea what's going on here.

As I listened to this record, on more than a few occasions I wished they'd just let the faster paced, symphonic melodies develop, or at least be given some time to run rather than being constantly choked by the tedium of the slower doom (I guess) parts, which sadly prevail throughout. For music like this to be effectively epic (which it seems to want to be) it needs to be given sufficient space to breathe, expand and ultimately climax. Nachtterror have attempted to scatter fleeting moments of it throughout the record, each contained within a matchbox and it doesn't work at all. The seventh track is perhaps an exception, an eleven minute, straight up symphonic blackened melodeath track which actually sounds good, it's the highlight of the album and despite briefly dipping into their dirgey indulgence pot towards the end it's a more balanced song (despite being far too long). Much like the beginning which shouldn't have been, this should have been the end but instead we're subjected to two more relatively uninspired threnodies, like someone that won't stop talking to you when you've already got up, said goodbye, put on your jacket and got half way down the road. Even if I ignore these last two songs sadly it's not enough to sway my opinion of what is mostly an average album that's equal parts confusion, frustration and boredom. With some ruthless editing, better production and a lot more discipline in the writing process this could go somewhere, but I won't hold my breath. 4/10

Reviews: William DuVall, Car Bomb, Necrophagia, Crossbones (Paul H & Liam)

William DuVall: One Alone (DVL Recordings) [Paul Hutchings]

It’s been 13 years since William DuVall joined Alice in Chains. In that time the former Comes With The Fall vocalist has completed numerous tours, formed the Giraffe Tongue Orchestra with Brent Hinds of Mastodon and been part of two of the best AIC albums in Black Gives Way To Blue and last year’s Rainier Fog. One Alone sees DuVall deliver his debut solo album, a stripped back heart on sleeve release which features DuVall acoustically bear his soul. Songs such as Chains Around My Heart, Keep Driving Me Away and the opening Til The Light Guides Me Home are beautifully performed, intimate and honest. A self-reflection on heartbreak and triumph, this is DuVall at his best. At times smouldering, at times vulnerable and delicate, just one voice and one acoustic guitar. An album for late night meditation, warm fires and long drinks, this is a beautifully crafted and composed album which reveals another side to one of rock’s underestimated vocalists. 8/10

Car Bomb: Mordial (Self Released) [Liam True]

Experimental. Explosive. As heavy as dark matter. And totally bat-shit crazy. Few of the many ways to describe Car bomb, and the list to do that is endless. Much like previous album Meta, Car Bomb have taken everything you know about modern metal, flipped it on it’s head, pulled it apart and started anew. With the explosive barrage of mathematical madness pounding your eardrums, it’s a thrill ride through the minds of the turbo-thrash Long Islanders. When first confronted with the album, it’s a lot thrown at you at once. But once you get the style and groove of the band, it’s a masterpiece of aggressive Mathcore and brutal punishment of the instruments they use. While not being conventional by any means, the polyrhythmic style they use is ultimately interesting to say the least. Playing riffs backwards, reversing them and even messing with the tempo, Car Bomb have a strange and unusual approach to handling the music they create. Which makes them stand out in the slowly deteriorating stale scene at the moment. The band have proven since 2007 that they are the rising force of the modern metal scene. And with the release of Mordial, there’s no doubt in my mind that when these guys cross the ocean and hit the UK next, they’ll be headlining bigger places. And pummelling them to the ground. 10/10

Necrophagia: Here Lies Necrophagia - 35 Years (Season Of Mist) [Paul Hutchings]

Formed in 1983 in Wellsville, Ohio, Necrophagia were one of the early US death metal pioneers alongside Possessed and Death. This album closes the lid on the coffin of a band whose debut release Seasons Of The Dead remains a revered slab of thunderous death metal. With numerous line-up changes and several periods of inactivity, this is the band that also housed a guitarist named Anton Crowley (better known as Phil Anselmo) between 1998 -2001. With the death of original member Frank ‘Killjoy’ Pucci in 2018, the band finally drew its last fetid breath. Drawing off the band’s seven studio releases, this release allows you to immerse yourself once more in the brutal Cannibal Holocaust, the pulverising Flowers Of Flesh And Blood and the explosive Beast With Feral Claws. Killjoy’s vocals remain a thing of vile repugnance, his spewing guttural style comfortably supporting by the chainsaw riffage raging around it. This is a fitting tribute to a seminal band. 7/10

Crossbones: The Awakening (Blasphemous Records) [Liam True]

Becoming big in the modern day Metal scene is a difficult thing to master. Crossbar however are rising up to that mark. With the perfect blend of hard-gritty riffs, catchy melodies and singalong chorus’, they’re currently rising up through the ranks of the Hard Rock/Metal scene with their blend of toxic gutturals, furious fretwork and crushing drums. The album itself is versatile in the way it goes from being a fast thrash paced record, to almost a ballad filled journey through the minds of the Albanian based wrecking crew. Not a country you’d usually associate with Metal bands, but this demolition effort shows the true nature of the bands performance. With the machine gun legs of drummer Theodhoraq Napoloni taking centre stage for me, the band are as furious and intertwined with their taken places, showcasing they’re not a band to be taken lightly. Throughout the album the band are on top performance taking you through the adrenaline ride that is The Awakening. And with this mammoth of an album. There needs to be a mammoth tour following. 8/10

Sunday, 13 October 2019

The Spotlight: Interview With Neil Hudson (Interview By Paul Hutchings)

Interview with Neil Hudson of Krysthla & Initiate Audio

As guitarist, producer and main writer for Northamptonshire powerhouses Krysthla, Neil Hudson is a man in demand. Not only have the band dropped their third album Worldwide Negative this year, possibly the best extreme metal album of 2019, but they stepped out on the main stage at Bloodstock on the Saturday of this year’s festival to a huge response. Alongside that, Hudson runs Initiate Audio and Media, a recording studio in Wellingborough where he adds the experience of over 25 years in the UK music industry to a range of bands and their material. This year Neil has produced new material from Ashen Crown, Blood Oath and Ashborn, to name but three. Krysthla had just completed a three-date tour of Scotland when I caught up with Neil to have a chat about his career, his progress and his plans.

Neil has always lived in the same area of the UK, along with his current band mates and his first memories of music were of his dad and his love of big bands and jazz. “He loved drums. He always used to say “the music’s all well and good boy, but if you’ve got a good drummer, you’ve got a good band. You can have rubbish music, but a good drummer makes the band”, and that stuck with me for all these years”. Alongside the big band music, Neil’s mum loved Barry Manilow and the like, and with his sisters also into the 80s music of Duran Duran and A-Ha, there was always music in the Hudson household. “It was a good melting pot, a good influence really” Neil adds.

The first record Neil ever bought for himself was Talk Of The Devil, the double live album by Ozzy Osbourne. “My sister’s boyfriend at the time, he rode a motorbike, had the mullet and tattoos, and he listened to Black Sabbath and I thought, “oh, this is pretty cool”, and then he introduced me to Iron Maiden, Ozzy (who shares his birthday with Neil, fact fans!). I used to listen to that album non-stop, it terrified me, and I loved it at the same time. My next-door neighbour had just moved in and one Saturday morning I was lying in bed and I heard this clean, plucky Fender guitar coming from his house.” Being the curious type, Neil wandered round and knocked the door. “This guy in a Pink Floyd T-shirt with ripped holes in it answered it with his Fender in his hand and goes “alright”. And I said, “was that you playing the guitar? Can I come and see what you are doing?” Two hours later Neil had learnt three chords, G C and D and had spent his time strumming those chords whilst the Floydian neighbour jammed away over the top. “And that was it” Neil said. From there, he borrowed The Song Remains The Same, the Led Zeppelin video from 1976 filmed at Madison Square Gardens and having watched that alongside Talk Of The Devil, the love of the guitar had been fully cemented.

Talk Of The Devil featured Brad Gillis, who stepped in after the tragic demise of Randy Rhoads, and he, along with Jimmy Page were influential but when it comes to other guitar heroes Neil doesn’t really have that many. “I never found Zeppelin a riff heavy band”, Neil noted, “it was a mix of everything that made the band”. Interestingly Neil cites Mark Bolan. “My brother in law had T-Rex albums and Life’s A Gas, that was the first track I really learnt to play by myself, and when I’d figured that out, I was thinking, I can do this. Then you discover Ozzy and it was more difficult. Growing up, Dimebag, and Pantera, Metallica in general, the clean riffing. I like their approach, simple, not particularly complicated but effective. But I don’t really follow guitar players that much, I tend to write my own thing and don’t pay attention to what others do”.

As Neil has played more extreme music with Violation, Gutworm and of course Krysthla, I wanted to know how he got to that section of the genre. Neil explained that some friends and he used to have a tape player at school, and they’d play mixed tapes at lunch time whilst kicking the ball around. “The heaviest thing we had was probably Pantera”, Neil recalls, “and a guy we didn’t knock around much called Raymond came over with a tape and asked if he could put some music on. We were like “what??” but we let him, and it turned out to be Arise by Sepultura. We heard the intro, and all stopped playing football and went “what the hell is that?” to which Raymond said “I thought you might like this! We spent the rest of the lunchtime ignoring our lunch and the ball as we huddled around the tape player as this next level brutality blew our minds. We became friends with Raymond straight away!”

Neil was 17 when he started in Violation, around 1994, and recounts the day he started the band. Having passed his driving test, Neil found himself at a house party where everyone else had arrived in fancy dress. “There was a guy there in a black thong and a black basque with his hair up and loads of make-up on and it turned out to be Ade!! (Mayes – singer of Krysthla) That was my first introduction to him. He saw me air guitaring in the corner to And Justice For All on my own and he came over and said “you play guitar?” and we talked about thrash and music and then he said “we should start a band” and on the back of a paper plate in lipstick he wrote down his phone number! It could have gone two ways, but we started Violation and it went from there.

Whilst Neil acknowledges that Violation “did alright” on the local circuit and certainly got some decent gigs (e.g. Terroriser Christmas bash with Iron Monkey), Gutworm was another beast altogether. “Things moved a lot faster” says Neil, “I think we were a lot more of our time, more current back then. It was simple, low tuned and noisy. I think a lot of people got into it straight away”. Gutworm’s 20th gig turned out to be in LA, at a festival which Neil now admits “we had no idea what was going on”.

The band didn’t know too much about the festival until they joined the artist accreditation line and started looking around. “I’m pretty sure that’s Testament” he recalls, “and I’m pretty sure that’s Converge. Oh, and there’s Mortician, there’s The Haunted. We were like, “Oh my god, what is going on!” It turned out to be a much bigger bill that the band had expected and as Neil described it “a huge wakeup call”. Having been offered another festival in New Jersey off the back of their performance, Gutworm experienced similar moments of disbelief!” The band went on to tour the UK relentlessly, adding in shows at the likes of Hellfest along the way.

Looking back Neil acknowledges that Gutworm may have been a little too independent at the time, “we decided to row our own boat a little too much” he says, “a little bit insular you know, so we maybe shot ourselves in the foot, if we’d maybe looked at getting a little more help on the professional side, which is something we learned in Krysthla, because there are people that are experts doing certain jobs, and we do the music, but we didn’t do any of that back then. We ended up signing a couple of record deals, one with Cultural Minority/SPV who had some big bands like Motörhead, and then we spent six-eight weeks in Germany recording an album that never saw the light of day. That went horribly wrong for about two years which prevented us from playing or recording for about two years”. The band then signed to Anti-Culture Records who put out the first Gutworm album. “Gutworm was definitely a learning experience”.

There is a love hate relationship for musicians with the studio and what I wanted to know next was what sparked Neil’s interest in recording and producing. Neil explained that many years ago he had a hernia operation and whilst recuperating on his mother’s sofa Neil asked Lee (Mason, who had already been with Neil in Violation and Gutworm) to lend him his old four-track recorder so that Neil could record some ideas. “I’ve always been interested in why a record sounded a certain way, so why Obituary would sound one way and why Sepultura sounded a different way. It contained the same kind of thing, distortion, drums, screaming, yelling whatever, but they sound slightly different and I was always intrigued as to why. Then you get into recording things at home and you go, ahh, okay, so this does this when I put that effect on or whatever”.

Neil really enjoyed this passage of discovery and it helped with the development of demos. Of course, when Neil then went to the studio to record, he wanted to know more from the engineer he was working with. “I was really keen to learn, and about 20 years ago, I got my first laptop with a digital audio workstation with sonar on it and a little interface and ran it from there. Once I could work in the computer a bit more, then it went crazy because you had 64 tracks to work with, it was a lot easier to make the sounds I wanted to in a way I wanted to.” This then spiralled as Neil realised that if he could do demos for his bands this way, then he could do other bands as well.

Although the hernia recovery was the catalyst, Neil is sure he would have got into this field anyway. “I’m too much of a control freak not to be at the core of what’s making the sounds. Standing back and watching someone else turn the dials absolutely grinds my gears”. He adds “I’m glad I learnt to do it way before anything digital though, because you had to learn everything, you had to be efficient with tapes, because of course the more you record over tape the worse the sound gets. Each time you add effects and move to a new tape to add more stuff the quality gets worse, so you had to focus on the quality control and write something that was good and nail it early on with your ideas. I think I learnt a more efficient work ethic; it makes you a better player and engineer when you have had to struggle a bit to get what you wanted. It has certainly benefited my work approach. I learnt to do it properly even though it’s easier with digital”.

I asked Neil how receptive the engineers he pestered in those early days were. Neil was keen to give credit and cited Greg Chandler from Priory Studios in Birmingham. “He’s a really good guy, we’ve got a lot of time for Greg; he’s a great guy and a good engineer and plays in Esoteric, a doom band who play all over Europe and he really knows his stuff. He was forthcoming with information”.

Neil is keen to know what bands influences are when he works with them these days, so that he knows where their vibe is. “Some bands prefer energy over quality, whilst others prefer quality over energy. You must then find the middle ground as you want it to sound good. Is it raw like Converge or polished like Killswitch? A lot of bands use similar software and techniques and whilst the quality may be good, they are stating to funnel themselves down an alley very similar sounding to each band, even though they might play slightly different sounding music. The sounds are the same. It’s a little shallow and it does bore me a little. You can listen to a band you like on Spotify and then listen to another band and it will sound just like the band you were just listening too. Sonically it sounds the same. I try to give each band their own ‘sound’ and hope they understand what I am aiming at.”

I wondered if bands were receptive to that approach and Neil was happy to confirm that most of the bands do get it. “The older bands, those that have been doing it for a while, they understand a bit more, they want to have that individuality. As a band in the modern age you must stand out somehow, and unless you are prepared to do ultra-shocking things on stage to get noticed then you have to rely on your music”. Neil will focus on the bands a band likes, what era and what sounds the like when he first meets them, in order to have an idea about snare sounds, guitar tones, gear etc. This helps him to establish what will work and what won’t before the band even gets to the studio.

Bill Snide was the first band that Neil recorded, using his laptop and some minor bits of equipment and got the band in at a rehearsal room and did their demo and it turned out well. “I found it was easier to coax players to deliver better performances than they did at practice. You can’t smash through it all when you are recording like you would when you are at a gig with minor errors. You must be more stringent about what you let through the net!” Neil says he felt it was a natural thing for him to be able to sit there and encourage, correct and support “Having your eye on the ball for performance and things it was pretty natural for me”. The next band Neil worked with was Black Ink Sun, who were local to Northampton. They approached Neil after their first demo hadn’t delivered what they wanted. Neil then moved to Big Noise Studio and rented a room there, picking up work from the bands who were rehearsing upstairs. That was about six – seven years ago.

Neil has upgraded his equipment although he is quite reserved about what ‘toys’ he does pick up. “If you have a good signal, good amplifier and guitar, good microphone and good set of preamps then the rest will all be in the performance. You can spend thousands on amazing gear but if the players don’t play well it will still sound terrible. I try and capture the character of the player. That’s past of the task. I have a lot more gear than I actually need, and you have your core elements that you always use which tends to forge your sound as an engineer”. Neil is happy with how things are sounding in the studio now, and if you’ve listened to any of the bands, he has recorded this year you’ll see why.

Unsurprisingly the conversation turned back to Krysthla. With Neil having produced all three of the bands albums I was keen to know what the learning curves within the band across the three releases had been. Neil confirmed that from the debut release they had released that Ade has what Neil described as a ‘golden hour’, when his voice hits peak quality for the band’s sound. “It takes him a lot longer to warm up for a recording that for a live show, as the tone has to be so much better when you are recording. We figured out that it takes almost two hours for his voice to switch on fully. We will be recording a track, and I like to have lots of layers to choose from, so he’ll end up doing the same song all the way through six or seven times. We figured out after doing all these takes that out of nowhere his voice would sound twice as big from out of nowhere. And so, we’d pick specific verses and then I’d go, “sorry mate, we need to go back and do it all again as your voice is on fire”.

So, we figured out early on that we had to bash his voice in for about two hours. But it’s more fun recording other bands rather than your own because there is always an element of over criticism of your own work. For me it’s the extra 5-10% which makes a good record become a great record. You kind of get a little stuck with some of the nitty gritty and it’s easy to get too far away from the vision of the song. I’ve learnt to be more efficient with the demo stages before you get to record the real thing. You get to go to town on all your demos and listen to them for a couple of weeks and then when you do the real thing it’s a really stripped back, efficient, perfect version”.

Neil won’t listen to the newly recorded music for about six months as he always listens out for the negative things about the production. So, whilst he can listen to A War Of Souls And Desires and Peace In Our Time it will be a little while before he can enjoy what we already do with Worldwide Negative. Neil notes that there was less of the issues on the new album. “I always tell bands I work with not to listen with a critical ear; go away and listen to it and enjoy what you’ve got. I can put on the Black Album (Metallica) which is one of the best recorded metal albums ever and I can still find flaws in it and what I’d have done it differently”. Whilst Neil is super critical of his own work, he reassures bands that if he is happy, they should also be happy. “All bands should be critical in some ways, because they are passionate about what they do and they care about their songs and they spend a lot of money on equipment and time on rehearsing and gigging and you want that song to be the ultimate representation of your band. I understand that because I am critical. I am better at listening to it now than I was”.

Of course, the test of a good producer is how the music sounds in the final product and we discussed that with the current trend to listen to music through less traditional equipment, if a release can sound good from a phone through earbud speakers then you now that the job has been done properly. As Neil pointed out, there is a sad irony of a band spending lots of money on recording and taking time off work only for their music to be listened to via MP3 and tinny headphones. “No one has nice stereos anymore. It’s a bit heart-breaking for me. However, a good engineer will ensure that if you are listening to something through a good system, then there is a payoff there and there will be some stuff you can pick up”.

As our interview meandered to a close, I asked Neil about his wish list for the future. “I’ve said this many times, and if it doesn’t happen, I shall be very upset, but I want it to happen one day, by absolute fluke, I want to record Metallica. I think there is something inherent in Metallica that is in so many bands. Over the years, with the different productions they have had, I don’t like their production sound. We were listening to Hardwired on the way to Scotland in the van last weekend and I was listening to it saying that snare is doing my nut in, and Ade said, “I think it sounds really good” and I said, “yes, it’s good quality, but it doesn’t sound like Metallica, it sounds like someone has remixed it on a laptop. There was something about it I don’t like”.

Ironically, the Blood Oath video had just been released and Neil continues “I said to Ade, “stick Blood Oath on” so he did and we put it through the same speaker and as soon as the beat kicked in Ade looked at me and screwed his face up. So, I’d really love to get Metallica in my tiny little studio and do an album with them that would shock everybody. Something that is super heavy, rather than something heavy hard rock which is what they have been doing. If they did that album, then they could quit whilst they are on top. Haha!!”

And what about the immediate plans? “It would be great to get a couple of bigger bands in, maybe those a bit higher up the ladder than Krysthla, that would be good. When you get that level then the proficiency of the players also gets better, so then you have more time to try ideas and produce things rather than worrying about the time and getting the takes down. If you get a band in and they struggle with some of the parts, you are clock watching a little bit. When bands can really kick out the performances you can work with them a bit more. So, getting a few of those type bands in the next couple of years is the immediate goal”. With most of the work coming to Neil via word of mouth, music being shared through social media etc, it’s Neil’s own work which is the advert. “I can’t say I’ve pushed the studio that hard if I’m honest” he admits, “I share the videos and tell bands to share their stuff. I like the organic flow which is happening with it”.

Neil isn’t resting on any laurels though, as he told me he is currently mixing and mastering the final stages for an EP with From Eden To Exile. “They are a top band, one of our favourite local bands and their EP is brilliant” says Neil. “Always good to work with them”. Next month Neil also has Coventry Metal To The Masses alumni Djinova in the studio and following that he reveals that he is planning album number 4 for Krysthla. “We never really stop, I’m always writing, at rehearsal, when sound checking, and when I get a break, I’ll take a bit of gear home and smash out some stuff”.

A genuinely fabulous guy, this was an interview which was great fun to do. Neil clearly knows his stuff, has the experience and grounding to give bands the quality that they need and with a set-up that is both professional but also relaxed and welcoming. My thanks to Neil for his time. If you want to get in touch with him, then the webpage is https://www.initiateaudioandmedia.com/ where you can find all the necessary contact details.