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Saturday, 20 May 2017

Reviews: Solstafir, Backwood Spirit, Distillator (Reviews By Paul)

Solstafir: Berdreyminn (Seasons Of Mist)

It's been three years since Icelandic metallers Solstafir released the stunning Otta, an album that really put them on the radar in the U.K. Live performances at Damnation in 2014 and a U.K tour the following year along with further festival appearances enhanced their reputation as a superb live band. 2015's rather acrimonious departure of drummer Guomundur Oli Palmason didn't do them any favours but the band has since recruited Hallgrimur Jon Hallgrimsson who is superb and at last the follow up album is here. 

If you've never heard Solstafir it's quite difficult to adequately define their sound. Sung in their native language provides a totally different dimension to the tracks, which regularly vary between the crushingly heavy and the beautifully delicate and fragile. Berdreyminn contains all of these elements, and has taken a step forward from Otta. Opening track Silfur-Refur builds slowly, twangy steel guitars and haunting tones in the background before the band crash into full flow. Aoalbjorn Tryggvason's straining emotional vocals combine with some ferocious riffs whilst Hallgrimsson's drums demonstrate how well he has settled. It's a powerful opening which is underpinned by some shimmering guitar work. The industrial feel of Isafold follows, a more serene almost indie rock sound in comparison. It's an immediate change of pace which works well. The ominous intro of Hula conjures images of swirling mist across windswept lakes, whilst the calming feel of the track is beautiful. A mild tempo, with piano adding depth and melody. It's a cracking song, echoing vocals and a simple, almost ghostly style at times. 

Solstafir rarely do short songs, allowing each track time to breath and grow. Naros is a classic example, with Tryggvason's opening vocals accompanied by a lone drum beat and atmospheric electric guitar. It's finely layered and very dramatic. After three minutes the song takes off, driving guitar work and the pounding bass lines of Svavar Austmann pushing the track forward whilst retaining the intensity. Naros is almost rock pop in it's feel but there is so much more to it. The alternative break downs, the relentless bass lines and solid drumming provide so much interest. A doom laden piano intro for Hvit Saeng fits perfectly with the string arrangement before the band let rip once more with a powerful and uplifting second half. Repetition is used to great effect with a fuzzy guitar sound complementing the intricate solo work. Saepor Marius Saeporsson and Tryggvason's guitar playing is fantastic with duel vocals adding fire once again.

Dyrafjorour lifts the album still higher with sparkling violins and piano complimenting the baleful progress of a darkened track. Yet pockets of light shine through it and it becomes quite uplifting in places, with the arrangement just stunning. Once more, it's almost impossible to find the right words and penultimate track Ambatt continues the theme, brooding piano and muzzled guitar mixing with Tryggvason's melancholic vocals. It's simply stunning. Album closer Blafjall's contemplative organ and angst filled vocals combine with a simple bass drum, all adding to the mix before the guitars slowly increase in tempo and intensity as the song builds. Blafjall is a slow burner, with more understated but essential keyboard work really providing depth to the sound. It's an epic way to close what is one of the best releases of the year. Captivating. Spellbinding and thoroughly enchanting. 10/10

Backwood Spirit: Self Titled (Pride & Joy Music)

Take a trip back to the 1970s with Backwood Spirit, a five piece from Orebro, Sweden whose self-titled debut is firmly rooted in the classic rock style of Free and Bad Company. Opener Give Me Good Lovin’ is about as close to that sound as you will get. This is in no small part due to the astonishingly Paul Rogers sounding vocals of Goran Edman, who spent time with Yngwie Malmsteen and Europe’s John Norum. His soulful vocals are full of blues rock and complement the band’s sweet sound. Founder member Kent Engström delivers some delightful guitar work whilst the rest of the band pitch in to bring a retrospective flavour.

The keyboards of Tobias Aslund (now replaced by Peter Emilson) tinkle in the background, whilst a robust organ fleshes out the sound magnificently. See Piece Of The Peach for example. There are lashings of other influences in amongst the tracks, Zeppelin and most evidently The Black Crowes whose riffs are stolen with gay abandon on the opening to both When Love Comes Around and Soul To Soul whilst the effects at the start of Water Of Change/Rainbow bring Rush’s Xanadu instantly to mind. If you relax and open your mind, Backwood Spirit is a perfectly solid album which transports the listener back to a simpler time, of rainbows, vinyl and inappropriate lyrics. It’s worth the journey. 7/10

Distillator: Summoning The Malicious (Empire Records)

Almost a year to the day, Dutch outfit Distillator earnt 6/10 for their opening slot for Metal Church at The Underworld in London. At the time I reported that they were honest in their endeavours but a little bullet belt heavy and dated. Well, album no.2, the ludicrously named Summoning The Malicious has now arrived and it's exactly as you'd expect. Old school thrash metal is a beautiful thing when it gets going properly. Unfortunately the problem with this album is that it doesn't get onto the starting blocks that often. 

Opening track Blinded By Chauvinism is one of the most confusing titles I've ever heard but it kicks hard. And to be fair most of the album does exactly that. The problem is that it's all a bit routine and predictable. The better tracks include Enter The Void, closing track Megalomania and the fantastic Algorithmic Citizenship. If you like your thrash in the meat and two veg variety then you may well like a bit of Distillator. Not terrible by any stretch of the imagination, apart from the cover which is just awful. 6/10

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