Fractal Universe: Engram Of Decline (Kolony Records)
France probably leads the way with forward thinking metal with Gojira, Alcest, Klone and Trepalium all bringing something fresh to the world of metal. Fractal Universe definitely fall into this category, immediately the Nancy, Lorraine based band hook you with their intensely technical, down tuned riffs that will see many class them in the djent category however much like the theory they are named after the djent sound is fragmented into numerous different styles that mean every song has hook, a new element that holds the attention, whether it's the underlying synths of the addition of Jorgen Munkeby of Shining giving a sax solo to Backworldsmen.
There is a freshness and sense of adventure from Fractal Universe they aren't afraid to shake up what is a relatively new but already slightly stagnant genre. Their style death metal ramps up the technicality but these are no flights of fancy the songs are contrite and rarely stray further than 6 minutes with the final epic title track which clocks in at over nine minutes and sees the sax unleashed this time from Jean-Marc Florimond. The essence of Gojira imbues tracks such as Scared Legacy Of Hatred fret slides and all, Vince growls well its both nasty and happily audible, the vocals are usually make or break for me with this type of music. With dual guitar harmonies, sizzling solo spots and a bludgeoning heaviness Engram Of Decline is a superior debut effort from this French four-piece, Fractal Universe are progressive extremity par excellence. 8/10
MindMaze: Resolve (Inner Wound Recordings)
A female fronted band from Pennsylvania? Surely this must be Halestorm? I hear you cry but no far from the Highlander credo of their can be only one, MindMaze are a power metal band from Allentown and have returned with their first album since 2014. Resolve is their third full length and it's probably their most experimental, a concept album with themes dealing with human emotions rather than the normal myths and legends. As it is a concept album the band can be little more loose with their soundscapes, they play a bit of power metal Fight The Future, some electronic modern metal on Drown Me, bring doomy themes on Sanity's Collapse and of course there's an obligatory ballad with One More Moment.
At their core Mindmaze are female fronted symphonic metal band and they when you are in this most overcrowded of genres as a band you've really got to do something a little different to stand out. MindMaze do take risks there is a strong melodic metal vein running throughout records and the vocal and guitar interplay of siblings Sarah and Jeff Teets are great but some of the compositions are little too safe, it all fits together yes but at thirteen tracks with three instrumentals some could lose interest, however if you love progressively tinged symphonic metal then MindMaze's third release sees them peek above the waves of copyists and do something a little different. 7/10
Maverick: Firebrand (Self Released)
Maverick are not a band dedicated to the James Garner, Jack Kelly, Roger Moore TV show of the same name but he music on this disc would suit the shows Western Theme. Maverick though are not from the USA as you'd expect with music like this, no their Old West is Perth, Australia, Maverick are part of the explosion of Aussie bands moving away from the pub rocking of their most well known acts into more expansive territory, much like fellow countrymen My Dynamite and Electric Mary. Firebrand contains eight swaggering, groovy, blues drenched southern rockers that sit between The Allman Brothers and The Black Crowes with Zep-alike rocking, fusing with countrified rhythms.
It's an album born in the dirt and played after a few fingers of whiskey the band are a four-piece made up of the guitar and bourbon-hued vocals of Craig Jovanovic, along with guitarist Mark De Vattimo, Simon Hallett on bass and drummer Nick Dudman the songs on this record rock and roll along well, getting heads nodding and feet tapping (and if no one is watching asses shaking), the songs are driven by breezy dual guitar harmonies, crunchy rhythms and a rebellious attitude. Free opens the record with Skynyrd Southern guts and the record continues at a high level throughout, Break Me is hard rocking sing along that sees both guitarists showing off their chops, Obsession throws a bit of curve as track three, ominous, bluesy and dark it's built around shuffling drums and proper bass work and runs at the longest time on the record but is a welcome side shift.
From then on though it's bluesy heads down rocking and that's just perfect Silent Scream is deep in the delta, while Great Northern Highway comes from the Rival Sons songbook and the record ends with the acoustic Tonight We Die which is a soulful, riverside lament to finish the album. Firebrand is a superb record for anyone that secretly wears a Stetson and dreams of lazy days on the Bayou. 8/10