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Wednesday, 30 May 2018

Reviews: Varathron, Toundra, Voices (Reviews By Alyn)

Varathron : Patriarchs Of Evil (Agonia Records)

Hailing from Greece, Varathron are an outfit that have long spent time in the shade of the likes of SepticFlesh and Rotting Christ, even sharing members at points (their former bassist, Mutilator was one of RC's founders). Patriarchs Of Evil is their sixth studio offering in their 30 year existence and serves up a cacophonous mix of an extreme metal fans staple diet of thrash and death with a strong black metal undercurrent - wrapped in swathes of synth and melody with a crisp modern production befitting their craft. You could even argue there's strong folk influences in the writing as there's a number of memorable lead lines that are true earworms. Vocals throughout are an echoey rasp akin to latter era Dismember, authoritatively bellowing malevolence throughout with inventive pacing. Percussion is particularly cavernous but doesn't stop rumbling bass from cutting through. Track composition is spot on and the stronger riffs are allowed time to embed themselves. Catchy leads are in abundance and the solo work has purpose rather than being profligate.

Opening track Tenebrous does a fantastic job of providing a quick snapshot of the entire album within a track - setting the tone by flitting seamlessly between melodic black metal and pagan bombast, and closing with a very Rotting Christ-esque lead. Varathron haven't lost their roots though with Hellwitch, Remnants Of The Dark Testament and Orgasmic Nightmares Of The Arch Desecrator (as ludicrous as the name is...) all featuring traditional black metal blasting. I'm sure if you dropped Kampfar and Rotting Christ into the hadron collider, you wouldn't be too far from the mark.
It's clear Varathron are an ambitious band, and understand their need to really create something that'll set them aside from their peers as both an identity and product in order to not be completely overshadowed by their compatriots. This is Hellenic extreme metal done right. 8/10

Toundra: Vortex (InsideOut)

Spanish post-rock/metal instrumentalists Toundra are celebrating over a decade of existence on the circuit. Fifth album Vortex serves up 43 minutes of "post by numbers" guided by the experience and ability afforded by their Toundra's decade of graft. Lead guitars are naturally enveloped in delay and reverb for the bulk of the album, and the rhythm section reinforces with well weighted passages steeped with subtle nuance. Tracks cover the typical spectrum of the genre and explore many avenues of creating those familiar post-rock atmospheres, ranging from the acoustic driven melancholy of Cartavio to the more fully layered and gained up anthem Cobra, right back to the more synth powered and brooding Roy Neary. As a whole, it's a solid album...

But that's about as far as the praise goes on a personal level for me. I find instrumental bands have a finite scope to really achieve something special, particularly opting to play without our oldest and emotive instrument - the vocals. The biggest pitfall is rehashing cliche formulas that you've already heard by other bands doing it better - unfortunately Toundra aren't really bringing anything new to the table. Take the ending of the final track Cruce Oeste which is lifted straight from the God Is An Astronaut or Explosions In The Sky handbook 101. Another example being the long fake build-up as on the end of Tuareg, granted not as quite extreme as contemporaries Mono like to milk. A lot of the technical lead lines come across as more self-indulgent rather than contributing to the overall composition of the tracks, and don't inspire the same emotion I'd expect a real class record to produce. It's all a bit meandering and forgettable, and unless you're seriously into the genre it often strays into elevator-music territory.

I certainly don't want to take away from the musicianship on display, Toundra are excellent at their craft and in particular they deliver interesting arrangements, however they sit amongst a sea of other "post" bands who all play off the same characteristics and struggle to raise their heads above their piers. Vortex has moments of brilliance such as the track Mojave which has a very "Porcupine Tree at their heaviest" feel at times, but across the board it fails to pull the big punches that would set it apart as a must have album. They're not doing much wrong, but I feel they could aim higher. 7/10

Voices: Frightened (Spinefarm)

I've had Voices on my radar for some time now, and more fool me for not investigating sooner. One of the many side projects spawned by Akercocke's hiatus, Frightened is their 3rd release following their critically acclaimed concept album London, an album heralded by many as a masterpiece. Fortunately Voices haven't focused on attempting to necessarily surpass that behemoth of a record, moreover cast their net over a larger span of themes and kept whatever crazy formula they've mastered as is. The result is what feels more like the natural progression rather than the successor, although that's far from playing it safe given the calibre of what preceded.

Frightened takes you on a voyage of many twists and turns, but each expertly crafted track explores its own particular theme. There's extreme metal, Bauhaus, Jazz-structured doom akin to Ethel Duath; then at times it's like as if Faith No More got scary, vocalist Peter Benjamin at the very least rivals Mike Patton at his most varied on record. You're allowed recovery time as the album is punctuated by shorter acoustic orientated numbers like Iwsya and Fascinator, and then pummelled back into madness with tracks that possess real palpable intensity such as Home Movies and Dead Feelings.

For the uninitiated, Frightened is a peculiar beast that claws at you until you submit. It oozes an atmosphere that's as close to unique as you could hope to find. Voices are masterfully showing that you need not subscribe to templates so long as you are consistent in your approach. Admittedly my favourite part of listening to Frightened repeatedly was realising it was an exceptional album without being able to quite put my finger on why - it's possibly because I love that mystery. 9/10

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