Tribulation: Down Below (Century Media)
2015’s The Children Of The Night was a really enjoyable release and probably my first encounter with the band from Arvika, Sweden. They impressed hugely when supporting Paradise Lost at the Wulfrun Hall in Wolverhampton supporting Paradise Lost in 2015. Down Below is album number 4 and it is a superbly dark release. Johannes Andersson’s rasping black metal vocals remain intact, although the band have moved even further from their death metal origins to a much more gothic sound. Opening track The Lament sets the tone before Nightbound continues the haunting atmosphere. Crystal clear guitars combine with an almost electronic undertone, but there are shades of several other masterful outfits here; pick elements of Paradise Lost, Cradle Of Filth, Lacuna Coil and Moonspell as well as The Mission and The Sisters of Mercy.
Combining shorter tracks such as Lady Death with the longer songs works perfectly, allowing you to become absorbed in the ethereal Lacrimosa whilst not losing any focus. Lady Death is a short, three-and-a-half-minute voyage, the pomp and ceremony maintained throughout. Subterranea’s evocative piano intro leads into a powerful piece, the heavy riffs not smothering the melody and tune. Purgatorio would sit comfortably at the start of a horror movie, such is the lingering melancholy that exudes from the pores. A repeated chord, simple yet effective keys and some eerie sound effects send shivers up and down your spine.
It’s calm, poignant and yet completely in keeping with the album. It should come in black and white. Cries From The Underworld is heavy without thrashing it, the guitar work of Adam Zaars and Jonathan Hultén superb whilst new drummer Oscar Leander keeps it simple and effective. A return to the older style reappears at the beginning of the excellent and stimulating Lacrimosa before The World leads to the epic Here Be Dragons which closes the album in style. Down Below has set the bar high already for 2018. A superb release, dripping with atmosphere and imagery. 9/10
Black Moth: Anatomical Venus (Candlelight Records)
I first encountered the dark brooding of Leeds’ Black Moth at the Temples Festival in Bristol in 2014 and made sure I caught them again at Damnation later that year, although clashes prevented me from catching what was by all accounts a stellar show at 2017’s Bloodstock. Their third album has been much anticipated. Well, with the waiting now over, I can confirm that it was worth every second. By far the band’s heaviest work, it is 45 minutes of swirling darkness, a heady mix of garage rock with psychedelia, remnants of their previous gothic overtones and some very tasty riffs.
With a range of tracks that all contain captivating hooks and an intensity that was still developing on Condemned To Hope, Anatomical Venus moves the band up not just one but two or even three levels. It remains distinctive though, with the ‘Mothic’ sound instantly recognisable, from the opening bars of Istra which moves on to the first single Moonbow, a rampaging track which showcases not only vocalist Harriet Hyde but the whole band in a tight rocking composition. The fuzzy guitars of Jim Swainston and Federica Gialanze give a stoner vibe to the whole track, whilst bassist Dave Vachon trades musical punches with drummer Dom McCready.
The album never slows, with Sisters Of The Stone fast paced and A Lover’s Hate stealing a riff from Wolfmother to superb effect. Of course, the theme and name of the album focuses on 18th century wax models of the female form employed by male surgeons to learn their craft. Hyde has stated “The Anatomical Venus spoke volumes to me. She embodies the male gaze, a history of men dissecting women in an attempt to understand her, reveal her magic, snuff out her unruly flame, while all the time needing her to be beautiful and aesthetically pleasing to their taste.
These models are not simply practical medical models for education – they are fetish objects, women stripped back as far as you can go. But there is a look of defiance in their eyes as if to say, ‘keep looking if you like. I dare you. Peel back my skin and peep behind my ribcage, you won’t find anything unless I choose to tell you.” Listen to the album’s central track, the menacing A Severed Grace and you’ll understand exactly what Hyde means. Repeated plays allow the album to permeate deeply, and each spin cements what a stunning piece of work this is. 9/10
Sinistro: Sangue Cássia (Season Of Mist)
Massive walls of guitars, some of the most hauntingly beautiful vocals and an achingly melancholic effect dominate the fourth release by Portuguese ambient rock outfit Sinistro. I must admit that I was vaguely aware of the band’s name but unaware of their sound. The follow up to 2016’s Semente, Sanque Cássia is not an easy ride. Full of complexity, compellingly mature and intricate pieces and bookended by the 11-minute Cosmos Controle and the ten-minute Cravo Carne, this release is simply delicious.
With more twists and turns than the back streets of Venice, the dense keyboard layers, ambient introspection and quite stunning vocal performance of Patricia Andrade transport you into a different plane. At times erotic and lustful, soft, warm and wrapped in a velvet glove, tracks such as Lotus, Petalas and the majestic Vento Sul are gentle yet powerful whilst the crushingly thick guitar work on the likes of Absimo which breaks down into an ethereal middle section before ramping up the riffage once more remind you that this is a heavy, commanding outfit, who deliver in the same manner as bands like Warning.
It’s slow, methodical and very impressive. Be warned though. It cannot be rushed so ensure you devote sufficient time to allow this captivating release to snake its unearthly tendrils around your neck and pull you in. Lose yourself in quiet fascination. 8/10
Trespass: Footprints In Rock (Mighty Music)
Trespass were one of the very small lights in the NWOBHM; in fact, more of a tea light than even a torch beam to be honest. One Of These Days was probably their most well known song, due in no small part to Lars Ulrich and Geoff Barton including it in a 1990 compilation. The band hailed from Suffolk but fell by the wayside relatively early in the new wave. As happened to many of their peers, the urge to reform returned and in 2013 the band made their first tentative steps at a reformation. Several changes occurred before the current line up settled and recorded the comeback album Footprints In Rock.
You’ve got to admire the band for their effort and dedication but honestly? This is some of the most tired and dull hard rock I have heard in years. Ponderous construction, repetitive formats and a sound that is still stuck in 1982 all contribute to a pretty dull release. Tracks such as Mighty Love, The Green Man and the ghastly Music Of The Waves bounce off with no impact. At least on Prometheus guitarists Mark Sutcliffe and Joe Fawcett can let rip a little but even then, it’s stale and dreary. Sutcliffe’s voice is monotonous and grates after about three songs. Sorry, full marks for endeavour; few marks for quality. 4/10