Ministry: AmeriKKKant (Nuclear Blast)
AmeriKKKant is the 14th Ministry album and the first not only on Nuclear Blast but without long time guitarist Mike Scaccia who died in 2012 but featured posthumously on 2013’s From Beer To Eternity. Now I will admit that I’ve never had more than a passing interest in the work of Al Jourgensen and the industrial metal that he and Ministry churn out. It’s never really grabbed my attention that much although Ministry certainly deserve respect and legendary status. This album is Jourgensen’s rail against the USA post Trump, reacting against the right wing fake news, racism and internet trolling that has gripped the country since November 2016. The album features additional vocals from Fear Factory’s Burton C Bell and NWA’s Arabian Prince, and has the thumping bass lines of Tony Campos to keep the ship steady.
Tracks such as The Twilight Zone and Victims Of A Clown leave little to the imagination. We’re Tired Of It changes the pace, a punchy sub-three minute rage which thrashes and would ignite any pit, with Bell’s guttural roar adding gravity. The programming is on point as usual, with intricate splicing and effects enhancing the industrial stomp, especially on tracks such as the grim Wargasm. This was never going to be a jolly album, and the apocalyptic cover with Liberty covering her eyes as America burns aptly captures the feelings of many. The rage in Antifa and the eight-minute plus title track say it all. AmeriKKKant demands additional plays to allow time to absorb it. I found it strangely compelling. 7/10
Memoriam: The Silent Vigil (Nuclear Blast)
A mere year after one of the most impressive debut albums landed, the mighty death metal machine that is Memoriam return with another slab of crushing tunes. For The Fallen rightly deserved all the plaudits it received, full of memorable songs which allowed the ghost of Bolt Thrower to be laid to rest whilst carrying the memory proud and high. The Silent Vigil picks up where For The Fallen closed, and it’s another absolute monster. From the opening salvo of Soulless Parasite through to the closing bars of Weaponised Fear, Willetts, Whale, Healey and Fairfax are in blistering form. Soulless Parasite rips the starting block in half, a huge drum sound complimented by massive riffs and the distinctive growl of Karl Willetts immediately raising the smile.
The rampant From The Flames explodes and burns, whilst the sheer pace and intensity of As Bridges Burn, with Healey’s bass bursting out of the speakers, is incredible. In memory of those no longer with us, a nod to ‘Kiddie’, is neatly wrapped up in the two-minute title track whilst Bleed The Same tackles equality and the challenges in today’s society. The New Dark Ages surges with groove and power, Whale’s brutal drumming in fine form and the two behemoth closing tracks, No Known Grave and Weaponised Fear both take no prisoners. It’s a stunning release, especially so quickly after For The Fallen and once again places Memoriam high in the running for one of the albums of the year. Roll on BOA and their mainstage set. 9/10
Winterfylleth: The Hallowing Of Heirdom (Spinefarm Records)
Possibly the most beautiful album of 2018; the 12-track album by Manchester Black metal outfit Winterfylleth is their sixth studio release, and really does push the boundaries of their sound into new territories. No strangers to incorporating elements of traditional English folk music into their sound, and with guitarist Dan Capp having released the stunning Wolcensmen album last year which was in a similar vein, The Hallowing Of Heirdom witnesses the band dive deep with an entirely acoustic album that for the uninitiated will be at total odds to their usual ferociously heavy sound.
The album retains the signature spirit of the band. The Hallowing Of Heirdom sees Winterfylleth draw lyrically and conceptually from influences of ancient folklore, pastoral poetry, riddles, rhymes and odes, as well as early British customs and practices to present a unique and reverent homage to Ancient Britain.
Soaked in atmosphere, and with the emotions and sensitivity that crackled through their previous albums present in spades, the acoustic combination of guitars, percussion, synths and strings presents a stunningly different and highly interesting musical formula which captivates from the opening beats of The Shepherd. Alongside Chris Naughton, Simon Lucas, Dan Capp, Nick Wallwork and Mark Deeks were guest musicians Victoria Bernath (viola & violin), Jo Quail (cello), Matthew Dabbs (glockenspiel), Jake Rogers (flute), Angela Deeks (spoken word on The Nymph) and Sarah Wallwork (backing vocals on The Shepherd). The stunning cover artwork titled Sycamore Gap At Dusk by David Taylor is stunning.
The shorter instrumental tracks with the combination of cello and acoustic guitar, such as penultimate track Resting Tarn, A Gleeman’s Volt and Embers nestle comfortably alongside the longer story telling of the likes of Edler Mother, The Shepherd and the magnificent title track which closes the album. Unique, original and utterly spellbinding, this is a truly magical piece of work. 10/10
Barren Earth: A Complex Of Cages (Century Media)
I’d always wanted to know what the collective for multiple Nicolas Cages’ was and now we have the answer. A Complex Of Cages is very apt! But seriously, enough of the man responsible for Drive Angry and Vampire’s Kiss. Barren Earth were an unknown quantity for me. The six-piece from Helsinki have been around since 2007, and A Complex Of Cages is their fourth full length release. And what a release it is. From the opening bars of The Living Fortress and the impressive first release Ruby, you instantly realise that this is a journey which requires commitment. Over an hour in length, with many of the tracks well over six minutes in length, A Complex Of Cages swirls and changes like a flock of starlings, sweeping and wrapping around the listener’s head in a whirlwind of time changes, variations in style and sounds.
It is captivating from the opening bars, and by the time you get to the Opeth sounding Further Down you’ll either be desperate to explore more or want to turn it off. A fusion of progressive, doom, melodic death and heavy metal, there is nothing simple here. The mixture of death growls and pure clean vocals inevitably draws comparisons with the mighty Swedes but there’s loads of other influences in this miasma of resonance. Vocalist Jon Aldara may have only been with the band since 2014, this his sophomore release with the band, but he fits perfectly. The intricate guitar interplay between long-term members Janne Pertilla and Sami Yli-Sirnio flawlessly complimented by new keyboardist Antti Myllynen whose keyboard work on tracks such as the haunting Zeal and the epic Solitude Pith is spectacular.
Underpinning the whole release, the battering drumming of Marko Tarvonen and founder member Olli-Pekka Laine whose thunderous bass lines cement it all together. It is an album that demands repeated listens to really appreciate the complexity and creativity, but it is so worth the investment. Having now discovered the back catalogue as well, the only thing that would make this release better would be some UK dates. One of the most impressive releases of 2018. 9/10