If you’ve ever been to a stoner/doom/sludge gig that relies on ear-splitting volume and thick syrupy riffs then you’ve probably seen someone wearing a shirt from stoner metal legends Sleep, it’s probably the iconic front cover of their Holy Mountain record, such is the legacy that the band have, they are defiantly underground but are probably considered one of the originators of the stoner metal/rock genre. Well released on 4/20 (in the USA) they have surprised everyone with what is only their fourth studio album. This has probably been on the card since their reformation in 2009 but it is kind of a big deal as it marks the first Sleep album since 1998! Has this 20 year gap mellowed the perennial purveyors of maximum riffage? The short answer is bloody hell no. Playing like they have something to prove the record builds into the hypnotic style you’d want from these odes to the shamanic power of weed.
With down tuned, heavily distorted, lumbering bass-lines from Al Cisneros and similar guitar playing from Matt Pike The Sciences betrays it’s title by making everything a lot more organic and analogue, this record is the audio representation of the monkeys at the beginning of 2001: Space Odyssey it’s primal in nature with the drums of Jason Roeder giving space and percussive clout to the grizzled vocals of Cisneros which are used as another instrument when needed but are not essential. It’s all about the riffs and the album builds them up to, similar to scaling a (holy) mountain the most repetitive, mesmeric segments come in the form of the three longest tracks that sit in the middle of the record; Sonic Titan, Antarcticans Thawed and the brilliantly titled Giza Butler all of which build on those Sabbath staples with layer upon layer of distorted fug, while also throwing in some Dune references and their love of pot (Marijuanaut's Theme even has a recorded bong hit)
Produced by the band and released through Jack White’s Third Man records a new Sleep album is great news, especially when it comes as such a fully formed, well delivered surprise, that reminds you why Sleep are so revered by the leaf lovers and hard rockers alike. 8/10
Mask Of Prospero: The Observatory (Symmetric Records)
Athens based band Mask Of Prospero is the third release for Symmetric Records the label owned by Bob Katsionis after his own most recent effort and Terra Incognita's last album. The Observatory is Mask Of Prospero's debut release and let me say they make a complicated noise or as frontman Christos Kontoulis puts it "We tried to create an emotionally heavy album that reflects on how modern civilization is plagued by social prejudice, passiveness and indolence". So to say that this album dwells in darkness would be an understatement, it's a very intense progressive metal album has rhythmic djent riffs one moment and ambient passages the next.
There was a conscious effort by the band to play with the atmosphere collaborating with Katsionis (who also produces) bringing post-rock touches to Kontoulis' clean/harsh vocal delivery on Drown In Grey. Nikos Letsios and Panagiotis Kottaras shred away on their six strings with the angular riffage switching to calmer moods in an instant as Eleni Nota (drums) and Biller Perakis (bass) give punishing rhythms to Ignorance. With sharp production and emotionally charged performances The Observatory is a decidedly modern progressive metal album that will appeal to any fans of Tesseract etc. 7/10
Dieselbeast: Dieselbeast (Self Released)
Dieselbeast describe their genre as "swords & sorcery heavy metal" to everyone else this is traditional metal or power metal, taking influence from Maiden, Dio, Sabbath and Priest Dieselbeast are everything your leather and studded heart could desire. Maiden bass gallops come thick on fast on One Thousand Bloody Nights and Mammoth Hunt borrows riffs from Diamond Head quite liberally, usually this would result in me chastising the band but in the NWOBHM/Traditional metal scene it's pretty much a given, for every half inched riff and rhythm there's a sweet solo and and another song about the occult or sci fi with some brilliant soaring vocals. With a swords and sorcery style I'm not sure why they chose the name Dieselbeast but for anyone who likes the classic metal revivalism of Grand Magus etc it's worth a headbang. 7/10
Stonelake: Thunder And Rain (Melodic Rock Records)
One of the joys of this blog is discovering bands that you’ve never heard of. One such recent discovery are Swedes StoneLake, having been active since 1999 their new album Thunder And Rain, their seventh record in total is an album built on a metal foundation with fluffy AOR trimmings, the power metal like riffs and flamboyant solos are matched by the use of keys and synths, through the course of eleven tracks the album has galloping metal, crunchy hard rock and yes some really sickly ballads. Vocally there are similarities to Tobias Sammet but musically this record is in the Place Vendome/Vanden Plas/Unisonic vein of melodic power metal. Well it would be if much of the album wasn't stuck in neutral sticking to the mid-pace for most of it, in fact one of the most entertaining parts of the album is their fire breathing version of Jennifer Lopez's Waiting For Tonight. Much like the British weather Thunder And Rain isn't as consistent as I'd like but fans of melodic metal should check this out. 6/10