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Friday 21 June 2024

Reviews: Rendezvous Point, Seven Spires, The Mysterines, Sons Of Arrakis (Reviews By Matt Bladen)

Rendezvous Point - Dream Chaser (Long Branch)

Norway keeps giving the world emotionally resonant, musically impressive and forward thinking progressive music, similar to fellow Norwegians Leprous, Dødheimsgard, Borknagar and of course Ihsahn, Rendezvous Point have been part of this group of musicians push boundaries with their sound. Based around drummer Baard Kolstad, who is also a member of Leprous, Rendezvous Point have that strong rhythmic backing as their countrymen, while also taking the introspective moments of both Leprous and Soen, putting them against some striking, synth heavy, ultra-modern prog metal.

Dream Chaser is their third album and it’s those parping EDM synths of Tangen Svennæs (Ihsahn) who creates the main melodies over the throbbing rhythms from guitarist Petter Hallaråker and bass player Gunn-Hilde Erstad on first track Don’t Look Up. An opener full of groove that got my hips moving, but the pre-chorus/chorus has that melancholic vocal from Geirmund Hansen, the pace and soundscape adapting as it goes on, that synth refrain turning into a shimmer behind the more riff driven Oslo Syndrome, a track that isn’t even prog, it’s telling that the band wanted to write more focussed and concise tracks with this third album, going towards a more radio friendly rock sound.

With a slinky solo in the middle of it and hooky chorus, prog nerds have to wait until Utopia for some jazzy rhythms and quirky playing. The keys are important to this album as major melodic element, as is Baard’s widescreen drumming on Utopia for instance. Personal lyrics and societal struggles occupy the lyrics, which is why there’s melancholy and catharsis when a track such as Fireflies builds with a slow burn towards a euphoric chorus and a keyboard solo, the mood kept gloomy and reflective on Presence, which has a echoed quality to it single note guitars airily drifting in the background until the distorted riff comes back.

With Wildflower adding some Peter Gabriel layers and The Tormented giving you the heavy quotient Dream Chaser successfully takes Rendezvous Point into their next era as a band. 9/10

Seven Spires - A Fortress Called Home (Frontiers Music Srl)

The fourth record from melodeath/power/symphonic/black metal band Seven Spires is their most accomplished to date. Skillfully mixing their signature sound perfectly for the most aggressive, intoxicating album they've created. The follow up to 2021's Gods Of Debauchery, it's the culmination of a long term touring schedule with recent support slots to Eluveitie, Twilight Force, DragonForce, Kamelot and many more. The Denver based band have channelled this unstoppable touring schedule into this new record, focussing on harnessing not only their live synchronicity but their technical virtuosity and massive hooks. 

After the introduction what we get is an album of gothic romance, self empowerment and personal study but delivered in the hybrid/conceptual sound of Seven Spires, if Meat Loaf was power metal or Disney was death metal then tracks such as Songs Upon Wine-Stained Tongues a duet with David Åkesson or the poppy Almosttown would fit right in, the first more of duet while the second shows the full range of front woman Adrianne Cowan, be it her soaring soprano or her black metal squawks and everything in between. There's a reason why she has become an integral part of Avantasia live and this album draws a lot of the bombastic influences from Tobias Sammet's rock opera, including some backing vocals from Angelica Sandnes Åkesson.

As you would expect from a band who formed from the Berklee College Of Music alumni, it's ridiculously technical, the bass from Peter de Reyna is especially great, drawn from the jazz expressionism, the little flourishes are strewn throughout, especially on Portrait Of Us and No Place For Us. Though Jack Kosto's guitar playing and production is also magnificent, he not only plays up a storm with lightspeed shreddingo/melodic leads on No Place For Us but also gives drama to tracks such as Where Sorrows Bear My Name and melody and emotion to the mega ballad Emerald NecklaceA Fortress Called Home is the final album with drummer Chris Dovas behind the kit but he absolutely explodes on tracks such as the operatic Love's Souvenir or Architects Of Creation.

Inspired by the Romantic-era, there's full use of an orchestra, I even hear some harpsichord and other instruments that come from that period. I guess you could call Seven Spires "Bridgerton Metal" (I want credit if other people start using this) as A Fortress Called Home puts evocative orchestral soundscapes with a myriad of metallic flourishes. Fantastic! 9/10

The Mysterines – Afraid Of Tomorrows (Fiction Records)

Sometimes seclusion is what a band needs to tap into their most creative side. Fresh from supporting Arctic Monkeys in arenas, the Merseyside foursome known as The Mysterines purposefully recorded their latest album in the countryside along with producer John Congleton (St Vincent) to make sure they could focus on what they wanted to say, to redefine and solidify who or what The Mysterines are. Inspired by trauma, love unbounded, addiction “but ultimately a desire for life” Afraid Of Tomorrows has the band at their rawest and open.

The jangly The Last Dance starts the record with some moody, regret filled garage fuzz, Callum Thompson’s guitar sound hard on the ears but that’s the point. The Mysterines are going abrasive, hazy and fuzz drenched with a steady bass walk from George Favager on Stray. As the album continues there’s lots of musical experimentation, be it repeating electronic drum patterns, angular guitar riffs, new wave grooves, post rock experimentation and indie darling rock explosions.

The constant though is Lia Metcalfe’s breathy, lackadaisical, drawl, though she adds some clarity to Hawkmoon, a short moment of stripped back beauty. Then we’re back to attitude and distorted riffs on Sink Ya Teeth, propelled by Paul Crilly’s impressive drumming, whether it’s in the more naturalistic tone or the mechanical beats of Goodbye Sunshine. Alongside the Grammy winning producer, The Mysterines have produced an album that uses its core song writing talent as jumping off point for audio alchemy.

Afraid Of Tomorrows uses modern production techniques, genre bending and a whole host of effects to create unique sounding songs. However it never forgets the core principal of hook driven rock music. 7/10

Sons Of Arrakis - Volume II (Black Throne Productions)

Grab your Sandworm popcorn bucket (just wash it first) and settle in for another selection of spice flecked cuts from Frank Herbert's Dune novels. Yes its Volume II the second album from Canadian desert rockers Sons Of Arrakis, get it desert rock, Dune? See? Anyway yes SoA are a desert rock/doom/stoner band who pack their songs with chunky riffs, slinky leads and great vocals. As well as Herbert’s sci-fi epic they also write songs inspired by the likes of Dostoyevsky, Chekhov, Camus, Gary, Sartre, and Lovecraft, so well read, heavy riffing is the name of the game and on Volume II they build on what they did with Volume I but make it better, like any good sequel (though in Dune’s case maybe stop at book 2).

As this is journeyman music, fit for travelling in a Bedouin caravan, it means that they're masters of the build and release on tracks such as High Handed Enemy, elongated psychedelic sci-fi rock tracks, that have layers of QOTSA/Sabbath/Sleep like cinematics. Frédéric Couture has those hazy, melodic vocals and starts these songs with an acoustic guitar, before switching to an electric and then brining in the rest of the band. Joining on guitar is Francis Duchesne, who also plays organs/keys, Victor Lepage adds the low end groove to Beyond The Screen Of Illusion which has some tasty dual harmonies, the shifts in pace given a rudder by Mathieu Racine’s drums.

Volume II though is a guitar player’s record, the six string synergy can be heard on every track, from the psychedelic journeys, doom crawls and stoner bounces it’s a tribute to the mighty power of the riff. SoA remind me of Aussies Dr Colossus who in turn remind me of Sleep, now if we could get a tour between the Canadians and the Australians in the UK, that would be great. Play loud enough to attract Shai-Hulud. 9/10

Thursday 20 June 2024

Reviews: Kittie, Portrait, Greenleaf, Maverick (Reviews By Matt Bladen, Paul Hutchings, Rich Piva & Paul Scoble)

Kittie – Fire (Sumerian Records) [Matt Bladen]

Are Kittie Nu-Metal? If you’ve only heard 1999’s Spit then you may say yes, but you’d be wrong, the Canadian metal act have been moving toward a heavier, louder style with every resulting album. That’s not to say they don’t have that groove, or that radio readiness, Kittie just got angrier and paired massive choruses with screaming vocals and more evil sounding riffs. That is until 2011’s I’ve Failed You where after touring the record they went into the dreaded ‘indefinite hiatus’, in that time there was very little activity but 13 years later this cat comes clawing and hissing back to life with their seventh album Fire.

The renewed interest in the band after their documentary, resulted in shows in 2022 and 2023, including the Sold Out Sick New World Festival and this convinced band founders Morgan (vocals/guitar) and Mercedes (drums/vocals) Lander to damn the hiatus and jump into the studio with guitarist Tara McLeod and bassist Ivy Vujic to revive Kittie for 2024. What a revival it is as Fire, is an incendiary groove/modern metal album, massive comparisons can be made to bands such as Machine Head, Korn, Slipknot and even bands such as Lamb Of God, most of whom are contemporaries to Kittie but criminally more recognised than they were.

It’s time to change that now though as Fire is just as aggressive, violent and brutal as any of those bands, more so than a few of their recent efforts. The thick bass grooves and riffs of the Nu metal sound are there on the title track and We Are Shadows, but there’s also some duelling solo sections, savage vocals and huge melodic hooks in the chorus. There’s an industrial edge to Falter as I Still Wear This Crown has a defiant chorus, Vultures and Wound add thrashing rage.

Where Hawxx, Jinjer, Infected Rain and even Halestorm (listen to One Foot In The Grave) have followed Kittie led, and now they are back to show everyone how it’s done. Still wearing the crown, it will take a lot to usurp them. 8/10

Portrait – The Host (Metal Blade Records) [Paul Hutchings]

Back in 2021 I gave Portrait’s fifth album, At One With None a splendid 9/10. As they continue to evolve with their own unique metal style, the Swedes return with The Host, a 74-minute opus that certainly took a few listens to get involved with.

The Host is album number six, and the first to feature guitarist Karl Gustafsson. He joins vocalist Per Lengstedt, fellow axeman Christian Lindell and the powerful engine room of Frederik Petersson on bass and Anders Persson on drums.

Described by Lindell as “an occult tale of sword and sorcery, accompanied by some of the most passionate heavy metal ever recorded. The Host is our first concept album. The story takes place in 17th century era Sweden and revolves around an unnamed protagonist who, because of his experiences with the injustice and hypocrisy of this world, decides to seek truth and strength through its’ Adversary.”

A true heavy metal album, there are plenty of influences in evidence, but it’s the ability of Portrait to craft their own classic sound that really works here. The flowing bursts of rapid drumming and melodious riffage, combined with Lengstedt’s vocals, a cross between King Diamond and Bruce Dickinson really work as he tells the story throughout the songs. Musically it’s perfect, very much in the high-end classic metal crossed with power metal, and songs like The Blood Covenant and Treachery work as well on their own as they do weaved into the storyline.

Having been in the business for close to two decades, it may be unsurprising that Portrait can craft such majestic and imposing music, but that doesn’t take away anything from the quality on offer. A serious blend of groove, merged with a delightfully upbeat tempo, and with a richness of style that sets its root back nearly four decades.

You do need to invest time though. Whilst the explosive style of Sound The Horn can certainly be standalone tracks, you pick up much more from a long, engaged sweep of the whole album. However you wish to listen to this album though, you should find it works. They may be approaching veteran stage, but this band is quite unique. Another fine addition to the catalogue. 8/10

Greenleaf - The Head & The Habit (Magnetic Eye Records) [Rich Piva]

Do I get my stoner rock fan club membership revoked if I say that I prefer Greenleaf to Dozer overall? (I don't think that's a thing - Ed) We can all agree that Greenleaf is not a side project anymore given that their new album, The Head & The Habit, is album number nine, right? Don’t get me wrong, I love both of these bands and the other bands connected to the current and former members of Greenleaf, but for whatever reason, especially over the past decade, my go to out of almost any band in the genre seems to be Greenleaf. 

If you are not familiar with the band it has included members of the already mentioned Dozer, Lowrider, and Demon Cleaner, which is an obvious huge reason why this band is so awesome right off the bat. The last Greenleaf record, Echoes From A Mass, was just excellent and a top 10 album for me in 2021. So excited is an understatement for a new Greenleaf record. So how does The Head & The Habit stack up to that album, the rest of their output, and just overall? Well to me 2024 Greenleaf is as good, or better than anything they have done before and cements the Swedish band as one of the best out there today.

I mention that Greenleaf has been one of my main go to bands, especially their material from the past decade or so. There is no coincidence that this is when Arvid Hällagård joined as vocalist. Hällagård is one of my favourite singers for any band, and this run continues on The Head & The Habit as that voice just works perfectly with the heavy stoner excellence that Greenleaf brings. Breathe, Breathe Out is the perfect opener, with that trademark tone, killer riff, ear candy catchiness, and those vocals. Sebastian Olsson’s drums shine on The Head & The Habit. Avalanche gets all riffy and chunky led by Tommi Holappa’s fuzzy dominance of his guitar and I love the multiple tempo changes in this one. 

Different Horses has some of those QOTSA vibes they will leverage while building their own Greenleaf sound. This one rips while the chorus part embeds in your brain. A Wolf In My Mind is in a similar vein while highlighting the killer rhythm section of Olsson’s drumming and Hans Fröhlich on bass. That Obsidian Grin is a bluesy little interlude highlighting the lower end of Hällagård’s vocal range and acts as a great bridge to the second half of The Head & The Habit, led by The Siren Sound that includes all the best of what Greenleaf brings and Oh Dandelion leverages the band’s heavy blues side I mentioned earlier, partnered perfectly with their perfected heavy stoner sound. 

The record closed extremely strong, with The Tricking Tree and An Alabastrine Smile anchoring the nine tracks expertly, the former, an epic eight-minute plus track that mid song includes a killer bluesy solo until the mountains crash down at the end, while the latter is a two-minute chill out to bring us down nicely from previous 40 or so minutes of heavy rock excellence.

Greenleaf simply rules and should be looked at as on of the best bands out there today. The Head & The Habit cements them as in the top echelon of the genre for sure. These nine tracks are exactly what a fan of this band would expect and more. Another amazing entry into the legend that Greenleaf continues to create. A top 20 album of the year for sure. 9/10

Maverick – Silver Tongue (Metalapolis Records) [Paul Scoble]

Hailing from Belfast in Northern Ireland, Maverick shares a name with the lead character from Top Gun, and the band do seem to be obsessed with music from the mid to late eighties, a time that the film Top Gun defined. This is because Maverick play a style of rock that is more late eighties than any band I can think of, as Maverick play Eighties glam rock, that to my ears sounds like Motley Crüe crossed with Skid Row.

The five piece is made up of brothers Ryan Sabastian Balfour on guitar and backing vocals and Dave Balfour on lead vocals, they are joined by Mike Ross on drums, Richie Diver on bass and Ric Cardwell also on guitar. Maverick have been together since 2012 and in that time have made four albums before Silver Tongue, Quid Pro Quo in 2014, Big Red in 2016, Cold Star Dancer was released in 2018 and the bands last album was called Ethereality in 2021, Silver Tongue is the bands fifth album.

As Silver Tongue is a glam/hard rock album the 12 songs are split into rockers with great riffing, screaming vocals and widdly guitar solos, and Power Ballads full of emotion and fervent vocals.
Let’s start with the rockers, Daywalker is a cracking piece of stomping glam rock, it reminds me a little of Motley Crüe’s song Wild Side, has some really great riffs, really good backing vocals and a great guitar solo. Puppet Show has a pounding chorus, powerful vocals, lots of great WhooOOO Oooooh Yeaaaah’s in the backing vocals and a chorus that rhymes Maniac with Hell And Back, what more could you want?

Halfway To Heaven is fast melodic rock with another great vocal performance, another awesome chorus and the song manages to be fast and driving, whilst still being melodic and tuneful. Another great rocker is the track Bloody Mary which stomps along at a great pace. The song has a huge chorus and a smaller verse section, the chorus is a great sing along and the song is filled with a great energy.
No glam rock album would be complete without power ballads, and Silver Tongue has some great ones!

Lorelei is a great doesn’t mess about with the formula for a great ballad. The verse is clean guitar and fervent vocals, the chorus is bigger with a bit of distortion on the guitars, and lashings of big emotion in the vocals and, man, it feels like being strait back to 1987 and as the wonderfully emotive guitar solo kicks in you wonder if this could be any better. 

Evenfall is another ballad but with a bit more heaviness than Lorelei. Again, the verse is softer than the big emotional chorus and it all works so well; Big Power Ballad, Big Emotions. The track Time manages to fall into both camps as it feels both a little ballady and a bit of a rocker. The verse is measured and minimal whilst the chorus is bigger and feels emotional. The song also boasts a really great guitar solo.

The last song on the album We All Die Young is a bit different from the other material on the album, it’s much more like stoner rock rather than glam/hard rock. It has a great chorus, is melodic and tuneful and has some great vocal harmonies. It’s a little different from the other material, but when it is as good as We All Die Young I don’t really care that it’s a little different.

Silver Tongue is a great piece of hard/glam rock. Everything you could possibly want from a glam rock album is on here, and done so well, the quality is off the charts. Yes, it does sound like it was recorded in 1987, but these days with music streaming all eras are available to people to listen to so the idea of things being out of date, is now, well, out of date. 

The most important thing is are the songs good, and on that count Silver Tongue is superb, if this album had been released in 1987 Maverick would have been a huge band. Glam rock is meant to be fun and this album is an absolute blast! 9/10

Reviews: Cavalera, King Bastard, Gorgatron, Aklash (Reviews By Mark Young & Matt Bladen)

Cavalera - Schizophrenia (Nuclear Blast Records) [Mark Young]

And now, a perfect end to my reviews for this week. A year or so ago, Max brought Bestial Devastation and Morbid Visions back from the grave, re-recorded for your delight and delectation. Assuming that you liked what they did with those, then you should love how this has turned out because its brilliant. With this release, Max notes that the ‘third world trilogy is now complete’ so It acts as a suitable bookend to the first Sepultura releases.

A suitably old-school intro (allowed) blasts into From The Past Comes The Storms that slams down a marker. This is chunky, gnarly and full of those trademark early Sepultura moments that would become front and centre on Beneath The Remains and Arise. Its sounds great, and they have treated the original source with respect. I think I said this last time round that there will be those who will be critical of the reasons behind it. What I know is that on this it sounds refreshed and maybe it now sounds like the way they wanted it to back in the day. 

To The Wall continues to rage, and with this improved recording it will sit comfortably with the classics that followed it. Escape To The Void reminds you just how furious their music was in the early days, its pummelling and is played with the same intent as the original whilst Screams Behind The Shadows has that late 80’s thrash build to it, a banging riff that is supported by trem picking that sees the neck laid to waste. That frenetic energy is maintained as they rip through Septic Schizo into R.I.P. (Rest In Pain) which is just storming. Triplets, bass drum kicks and that 100mph motif that they did so well. Nightmares Of Delirium closes us out, and we are done.

It can be difficult to review albums such as this, does it capture the energy of the original? Does it add anything to it or is it a cash-grab? Some will decry these as the latter and they are welcome to their opinion. Some preferred the early brutal sound because it gave those recordings something different, and as we know Metal elitists love liking something that nobody else does and would probably say that the new releases are too clean. Or some nonsense like that. Others, like me, welcome this because they have approached it in the right way. 

They have gone hard with this recording because at the end of the day, they knew there was no other way of doing it. If you didn’t like the early stuff, you won’t find anything here to change your mind. It’s still heads down, full-pelt death metal that you might call prehistoric when compared to latter-day releases. But this is the charm, it is not trying to be anything new, yet it still batters a lot of music released today. It has one job, to crush and it achieves it. 9/10

King Bastard - From Whence They Came (Self-Released) [Mark Young]

The second full-length from King Bastard, From Whence They Came is best digested in one sitting to fully appreciate it. A story in 4 acts, the press that came with this intrigued me – Drop F tuning, a running narrative of life and glorious use of ‘Caveman riffs’ set against the progression of the human race’s doomed course. Of course, concept albums are not new and in some circles are treated with disdain but when it’s thrown in front of you that yes, there is a story, but when it is concisely described as they have, you have to give it a chance. 

It is destructive as it is subtle. There are obvious doom overtones and they have produced a sound that is as thick as a docker’s sandwich but they avoid falling into the trap of repetition or just being boring by utilising the use of alternative instruments and narrative samples to add to the sonic palette being painted. The doom aspects don’t land like traditional doom, it's not oppressive nor slow of pace. The four songs rip by, in a manner you don’t normally expect, and you find yourself sat there wondering where the last 30 minutes have gone.

Knuckle Dragger, with its birdsong and tribal percussion is the lead off track. Tribal chants starts to build, as does feedback that takes over, and an almighty riff comes in, filling in the space like an aural blanket. Its massive, barely discernible movements as drums come to the fore. There is what I call a ‘space’ guitar moment, those arpeggios that allow the piece to increase in speed as if to emphasise the dragger in question pulling forward to an end. The closing payoff is immense, as vocalist Arthur Erb unleashes a guttural roar for the ages. Epic stuff!! 

The Invisible Landscape, with echoing squalls and percussion gently bringing it to life underneath a spoken narrative. There is a gorgeous guitar line running through it, and those drums once more pounding holding it all together. It has such a great foundation that live they could go in any direction with it whilst Astral Psyche expands the sonic landscape, taking a similar form as the preceding track but with layer on layer of guitar. Special mention has to go to Matt Ryan, there is some fantastic drumming on here and there is opportunity for the three to go hard as the song progresses. For a song that is this length it doesn’t feel like it at all The riffs here are spot on as is the way they know when to back off and go lighter, giving the song room to breathe. 

The Dawn Of Man arrives in the same destructive way, that droning sound back again for the final time. A lumbering, solid start with the guttural vocals in full flow combined with the drums which are just immense. Its just so dense, it feels like a jackhammer going off nearby. Even the solo is heavy, sat amongst the bass and drums that for me, should be used a clinic in how to keep a song like this going. Doom / sludge bands should take note, THIS is how you do it. It moves, it has a breadth to it and there are some absolute stand-out moments here as they close it out. Honest to god, you have to give them a try. 8/10

Gorgatron - Sentience Revoked (Redefining Darkness Records) [Matt Bladen]

You play death metal? You’re named after a character in Aqua Teen Hunger Force and you’re compared to bands such as Hate Eternal, Suffocation, Morbid Angel, Necrophagist and Origin? That’s a pretty good resume before anyone even here’s the record. This is no debut mind you Sentience Revoked is the fourth release from North Dakota death machines Gorgatron. Their first album on Redefining Darkness Records, a label with a thirst for juicy extreme metal, it’s a nine track workout that will get any fans of dual channel (left/right) production and snare/tom happy drumming.

The drumming from Matt Johnson is intense, his hands and feet move at speeds only witnessed in the Hadron Collider, the sharp production in the drums keeping that authentic 90’s sound. With that wall of sound laid down Paul Johnson and Coop Schuh drive home the technical riffs, assaulting your ears with grinding mid paced stomps and furious eruptions of blistering metallic fury. The Suffocation comparisons I can clearly hear when a track such as Conduit Of Pain or Omnipotent Error has dive bombs and widdling over the grunting bass of Cameron David, but then the next track Absorbency unleashes a short blast of brutal death metal.

The band never falling back on one style or the other for too long going from full on pummelling to stank face inducing, constant shifting riffs on Implosive, vocally Karl Schmidt stays in the throat shredding growls but the lyrics can be heard clearly, always a bonus for me as the bog snorkelling delivery doesn’t do much. Sentience Revoked adds some new wrinkles to Gorgatron’s sound but keeps them comfortably tearing out your insides with some excellent US death metal. 8/10

Aklash - Reincarnation (Self Released) [Matt Bladen]

Stepping into nearly 15 years as a band, Aklash are a black metal band who bring a spectrum of European music heritage to their extreme metal magic. From Southern England, Aklash consist of Nicholas Millar (vocals/guitar/violin/organ), Yiannis Panou (guitars/bouzouki/flute/vocals), Chris Kendell (bass/vocals), and Marco Silva (drums/percussion/synth/vocals)my and my are they impressive to listen too. 

Mixing Primordial with Wolves In The Throne Room, Blind Guardian with The Mission, Reincarnation begins with the gothy post punk meets black metal meets Morricone title track, setting out their stall early, the folksy ending to the title track leading into the beginnings of Communication With Ghosts. Marina Bowden providing oboe and recorder as the band show their virtuosity with folk instruments such as flutes, violin and bouzoukis as vicious as their precision blasts of power meets black metal on Babylon, or the more epic strains of Cossack that features some accordion from David Martin.

Reincarnation is the first album with Silva and Panpou and it does seem as if Aklash have gone through a rebirth because of it. The virtuosity is much higher and the song writing at a far higher level than before. There's a myriad of influences at play, it comes to a point where you are playing spot the sound alike though they never lose their individuality. The dramatic Kaval has some Balkan intensity while Caravanserai is more Eastern flavoured, as Aklash pull inspiration from many regions and styles. Reincarnation is exactly for that for Aklash, I doubt you'll find a more multifaceted extreme metal album this year. 9/10

Wednesday 19 June 2024

Review: Earthtone9 (Review By GC)

Earthtone9 - In Resonance Nexus (Candlelight Records) [GC]


Ok, before we started, I feel that I must admit that I love Earthtone9! Ever since they came onto the scene back in 1998, they have challenged what you would classify as heavy music and have released at least 2 perfect albums already (Lo-Def(inition) Discord Arc Tan Gent, if you were wondering) they mix in so many different elements into their sound sometimes it can be difficult to keep up with them.


It’s been a good while since their last release, 11 years in fact, but when they released a single earlier this year seemingly out of nowhere, I nearly had a heart attack and was praying for an album and now in the shape of In Resonance Nexus we have one but, is it any good??

Blasting out of the blocks with The Polyphony Of Animals is a suitably exciting way to get everything started and shows that being away for so long has not dulled the fire in their bellies one bit, its full of big chunky off kilter riffs, thunderous drumming and as always Karl Middleton’s voice soars over the everything with expert ease.

Navision Record turns their focus to the more melodic and epic side of things at the start and then twists and turns with some frantic metallic hardcore riff work and the whole song wraps up in just under 3 breathlessly beautiful minutes before Under The Snake mesmerizes and soothes in equal measures the soft and dreamy verses are full of moody atmosphere and the chorus lifts everything up to another level, and right at the end they smash all the tranquillity with a final blast of crunching metal. I can feel if this is played live they will have you, the audience in the palm of their hand and it will be a special moment for sure.

Now comes the previously mentioned single Oceanic Drift and even after my 789th time listening to this track it still sounds perfect in every way and is the distillation of what ET9 do so well, they mix the furious crunch of hardcore with melodic and atmospheric sections and when they do it this well there aren’t many bands on the planet that sound this exciting and invigorating.

Now we reach the midway point with Black Swan Roulette and they take the choice of song style back to the woozy atmospheric and gentle soundscapes but again mix in some huge soaring guitars and vocals that drive and control the song beautifully and command your full attention at the midway point you may expect some more forward thinking and ‘’heavy’’ tracks but that is not what you get.

You get songs that guide you through just how they want with Lash Of The Tongues they thunder along and it almost sounds out of place because of that, until about a minute in it when really settles into a rhythm and the intertwining of subtlety and savagery is once again done with inch perfect precision and if you wanted ‘’heavy’’ you certainly get it with Etiquette Of Distortion which has some huge groove infused riffing and the way the chorus wraps around the song and adds that extra layer of earwormness is an absolute thing of majestically heavy beauty.

As we get towards the end of the album Observe Your Course does nothing to ease you towards the end and is feels like a full-on hardcore track but with some more beautiful melodic sections added in to never really mark the song as one thing or another and adds more power to the whole feel of the album, Third Mutuality decides to then step right off the ‘’metal’’ pedal and is a soft and dreamy soundscape song that has distorted but subtle vocals throughout, its full of beautiful and ethereal sounds that does mix in some guitars about midway through but never really takes away that more soft side of the sound.

Following a song as beautiful as that would be a challenge for most bands but of course ET9 don’t back down and decide to finish with the albums longest track Strength Is My Weakness which distils all that is great about their sound into one last statement it has riffs, it has the big vocals and mixes the savage crunching metallic hardcore with the more dreamy post-rock side of their sound and of course rounds off this utterly stunning album in a completely perfect manner.

I seriously cannot believe that it’s been 11 years since Earthtone 9’s last album because its on this showing you would say that this is a band right at the top of their game not on the comeback trail? They have seriously recoded an album that most bands would kill to be able to release and practically from out of nowhere, with no warning or fanfare just here we are, this is our album!

There is not one single part of any song that I didn’t like, and it just gets better and better with every listen and the fact they have the nerve to do this is just ridiculous! I have mentioned album of the year contenders in some of my other reviews and I am once again about to do it again, if this isn’t up there in your lists and you don’t like this album you need your head testing!

Stunning perfection from one of the UK’s best to ever do it, don’t believe me? You will once you have listened to it!! 10/10

Tuesday 18 June 2024

Review: Louise Patricia Crane (Review By Matt Bladen)

Louise Patricia Crane - Netherworld (Peculiar Doll)


On her debut album Deep Blue, I like many others raved about the hallucinatory, mystical experience of listening to Louise Patricia Crane’s music. Comparisons to Kate Bush, Tori Amos, St.Vincent, Peter Gabriel, Jethro Tull and King Crimson were brought together through a love of Hammer Horror, avant garde films and literature, it was a veritable feast for the ears, and especially the ears of someone like me who is stuck in the 1970’s. A gothic chanteuse, singing breathy, fantastical songs full of prog/folk/blues influences and cavalcade of musicians from a few of my favourite bands.

So when a follow up was touted I have followed the progress every step of the way and now I’ve had a chance to listen to Netherworld I can say it’s not only better than Deep Blue but a more emotional and diverse album. Crane again plays the majority of the instruments, wrote/co-wrote the songs, arrange and produced the record alongside Jakko Jakszyk, singer/guitarist of King Crimson. As Crane plays guitars, keyboard, piano, harpsichord, mellotron, bass guitar, EBow, percussion and provides “found sounds” or field recordings, such as the final track Japanese Doll which is a windup toy that plays Where Do I Begin from the 1970 film Love Story.

This last moment is part of the cathartic nature of Netherworld, it’s a record that tells a story, one very personal to Louise. She takes on the role of storyteller, beginning with an Irish folk song before the descent into the Netherworld and back out the other side as someone who now understands herself. It reflects her own journey with this album, infused with a sense of melancholy like many Irish/Celtic people.

During the conceiving/writing/recording of the album her thoughts of childhood uncovered buried trauma that stemmed from her own childhood during The Troubles in Northern Ireland, faced with paramilitary forces and violence at a young age, she was interrogated at gunpoint and repressed this for years, it manifesting in different ways over the years but starting a course of therapy while recording made the album all the more personal, a journey through her own psyche to unlock and overcome this trauma, through music.

It means Netherworld is perhaps not as fantastical as its predecessor, it has darker moments, but ultimately it’s about catharsis and the journey from childhood to adulthood. With Crane playing so much you may think that there was no time for anyone else but like with Deep Blue there is a host of special guests who supply magic to this musical journey.

Jakko Jakszyk adds solo guitars, keys and backing vocals while the rhythm section is the dynamic duo of bass extraordinaire Tony Levin (King Crimson/Peter Gabriel) and jazz fusion drummer Gary Husband (John McLaughlin/Allan Holdsworth), though Nick Beggs (Steven Wilson) plays bass on folksy opener Dance With The Devil and upright bass on Long Kiss Goodnight. Meanwhile flute again is from Ian Anderson (Jethro Tull), sax from Mel Collins (King Crimson) and Shir-Ran Yinon (Eluveitie) plays violin and viola.

So we’ll talk about the music on the album itself, Dancing With The Devil begins this transformative period, lilting Irish folk of strings and flutes, put together with militaristic, hypnotic drumming/percussion, Crane’s vocals smoky and mystical, the Kate Bush influence very strong with this opener, before the music is stripped back to 60’s acoustic psychedelia on Tiny Bard, though I say stripped back, everything on Netherworld is multifaceted and layered to create bewitching soundscapes. With Celestial Dust, we take more of a turn towards the UK prog scene inhabited by the likes of Mostly Autumn, Karnatarka etc, tender vocals, swelling synths, pipes/flutes and dreamy atmospheres.

These continue through Little Ghost In The Room, yet more Kate Bushisms as Jakko peels off a very Gilmour-like solo to end (but solo album Gilmour not Floyd Gilmour). We are just getting started though as Netherworld is 13 tracks, but never feels like that, sequenced as a musical journey, a ship through troubled waters, where the naivety of childhood is broken by real world dangers, Toil And Trouble building towards these revelations spiralling down the rabbit hole on The Red Room, the twisted The Beatles Pepper-isms a tad unnerving as darkness and light battle (as H.G Wells tells us in the novella of the same name).

As Bête Noire evokes some smoky, dark jazz club images, we’re hitting the crux and moving towards the end of the record to, it’s all a bit angular and haunting, maybe a bit threatening too and things build and release then build again, the outro taking us into the doomy country/jazz of Long Kiss Goodnight as more acoustic torchlight troubadouring is felt through Thieves Fools And Crows as Midnight View closes the album with the cathartic, emotive song writing of classic prog rock. With the doll ringing out Netherworld closes its gates beckoning you to travel again. 

Louise Patricia Crane has crafted a stunning album that shifts away from the route set with her debut, into something more personal but more poetic too. For fans of arty music with virtuoso performances Netherworld is a realm in which you will love to dwell. 10/10

Reviews: Downfall Of Mankind, The Ghost Next Door, Battlesnake, Sibiir (Reviews By Zak Skane, Rich Piva, Paul Hutchings & GC)

Downfall Of Mankind – Purgatory (Seek & Strike) [Zak Skane]

Formed in Portugal in 2019, the symphonic deathcore band Downfall Of Mankind combines snuff movie levels of brutal bludgeoning beat downs of modern death metal along with razor sharp technical riffage whilst cinematic layers of orchestral instruments like violins, harps and pianos fill the sonic spectrum. To date the band has released two albums The Path Of Human Existence and Vile Birth before Purgatory.

Following the albums intro track which features intensifying roaring brass instrumentation before the blast beats courtesy of drummer Pedro Peralta ramp up the energy even more before Lucas Bishop whips out the first roar on the album along with Arthur Baptista, Diogo Gates and Sérgio Pascoa bringing in some Slipknot infused modern djent rhythmed riffage. 

The first track Purgatory brings in modern djent chugging patterns welded with half time grooves layered with strings and pulsing choirs before the tempo modulates faster in the pre-choruses to match the mathcore styled riffs. The first chorus on the album features Trivium frontman Matthew Heafy to provide some power metal styled choruses that are traded off with Lucases harsh vocal responses over a bed of half time grooves and blast beats.

Following this God Of Nothingness takes us into Lorna Shore territory from it’s the fast break neck blast beats and technical riffs where the notes are just flying off the page until they descend into face pounding beatdowns which are accompanied by brass instruments and violins. In this track we also get to hear Lucas doing some Will Ramos man bear pig sound vocals as well. Ware Of Hell brings us back into symphonic territory with its classic Deathcore rhythmical breakdowns produced by the tried and tested percussive open power chords whilst neoclassical leads are played below it. In the song we also get to hear the clean operatic sung choruses whilst also including other genres thrown in the mix such as it’s electronic trap drum breaks are provided us with breathing space before the final waves of breakdown finalise the track. 

Self Loathing takes the technicality level up to 100 from it’s Flight Of The Bumblebee paced fret runs before it leads into drum room breaks that bring us into tricky rhymed breakdowns and soaring darked choruses. To close the mid point of the album Down The Barrel Of Madness give us filthy slow modern Whitechapel riffs. Down The Barrel Of Madness also comes in as one of the dynamic songs on the album with it’s haunting cleaning sections that feature jazz and Spanish crossed guitar licks whilst melancholic string accompanies them, while it also brings the most intense and underrated breakdowns this year with the way the tensions build up like a classic horror movie score before it catapults us into the stratosphere with it’s factory machine tight grooves. 

To open the second part of the album As Much As Your Sorrow brings in mainstream metal styled song structures with it’s classic harsh vocal verses into clean sung catchy choruses. Other highlights on this album are Blinding Rage, which sounds like a darker modern sounding Trivium due to having the crossover of deathcore meeting symphonic power metal instead of Trivium's more metalcore approach. The Crease brings in modern Gojira influences from it’s scrap harmonics and modulating rhythms before the songs fades into haunting clean guitars which lead in to the bands ballad Consumed By Strife which bring in Fit For An Autopsy style atmospherics of echo filled guitars and dynamically played drums before it builds up to classic metalcore choruses. 

The closing track on the album Rumbling continues the melodic delivery to a point which is sees the band take a more power metal turn with the clean vocals becoming more powerful melodic and on occasions quite operatic especially in the open phrases in the song. The song is built on a more mainstream metal approach especially with song being more chorus focused. The song adds a few versatile moments such as the brief Spanish styled sections before it goes into a classic deathcore beatdown and brief piano led chorus.

Through this 11 track album Downfall Of Mankind have proved that they are more than just your average deathcore band, the band can be just as melodic and as they are heavy. The production on this album has really given the band justice by capturing their brutally rough edges to the melancholically smooth touches. The band has left multiple paths on where they want to take their sound for future releases but for now we are graced with this multi-layered offering. 8/10.

The Ghost Next Door - Classic Songs About Death and Dismemberment (Ripple Music) [Rich P]

Ripple Music is great at release bands that are not your typical fill in the genre here band. The Ghost Next Door is a perfect example. The last record for Ripple, A Feast For The Sixth Sense from way back in 2019, was not quite doom, not quite prog, but what it was and still is would be excellent.

There we definitely heavy elements of both and if I were forced to pick a side, I would go with more doom than anything else, but again let’s not put the San Francisco band in any box, especially given how their second album for Ripple, and third overall, Classic Songs About Death And Dismemberment sounds. You still get elements of the doom and the prog, but I also hear some serious post hardcore vibes as well, but no matter what, once again, what I am hearing is excellent no matter what label you give it.

I think the guitar tone and the vocals is what makes me say post hardcore, especially right off the bat where I hear elements of Hum and vocally Into Another (there could not be a better combo for this reviewer). Sure, we still get elements of the doom and the prog, but now I would lean more towards prog. TGNS sound more like Vitskär Süden than they do Goat Lord, using two labelmates for comparison but I cannot escape the serious post hardcore leanings I am getting. I am not just getting Into Another vocally, epically with a track like It Takes A Village

How about some harmonized vocals for you? That was a nice touch that we did not get from previous output. Overall, I would say there is more singing on album three than ever before. Not that the band was ever full-on cookie monster, but more effort to sing rather that scream seems to be happening here, and it sounds excellent. I love the catchy little middle part in this one too. Diatribe continues the trend and rocks in a way that listeners may not expect from a Ripple band and I keep coming back to the “post” word. I love the tempo change during the chorus that continues to scream Revelation Records. 

Proggy doom rules the day still on some of the tracks on Classic Songs About Death And Dismemberment, Nothing Than Nothing Again being a perfect example, especially with the nice heavy riff. The tracks that really stand out to me however are the ones that continue to push me towards that Hum/Into Another universe, like The Hit That Hits Back, which if you played for me without knowing who it was, I would blab out Into Another before thinking about it to deeply. This track absolutely rules and will be on my year end playlist for sure. 

Same for Static, which sounds more Midwest 90s early emo or something like Shudder To Think during the Dischord years than anything else (another compliment). If there was a band I would compare The Ghost Next Door to currently on the Ripple roster I would say Obsidian Sea, but even that is a stretch because TGND is not as dark as them, but a track like I Am The Monster is where I hear this comparison the most. My only complaint about Classic Songs About Death And Dismemberment is that it is a bit long, coming it at over an hour, but tracks on the back end of the record are still very strong, especially the closer, the epic track Wax And Wane.

The Ghost Next Door have taken a step forward in their maturation as a band with Classic Songs About Death And Dismemberment. These songs show more finesse and the song writing has become more intricate and deeper, not that it wasn’t before, but this is some next level stuff. As I love post hardcore, all things Revelation and Dischord Records, and bands like Hum and Into Another, this is right in my wheelhouse, especially given I still get some of the doomy prog I expect from the band. Another great Ripple release and an excellent addition to The Ghost Next Door discography. 8/10

Battlesnake – The Rise And Demise Of The Motorsteeple (Self Released) [Paul Hutchings]

I’d heard the name but knew nothing about this lot until my mate did one of his deep dives into a complete unknown and mentioned that they were playing locally recently. Their promo pic shows seven dudes, dressed in fantastic garb, robed and horned, and with a keytar prominent. According to the Metal Archives they’ve been releasing music since 2019, including their self-titled debut in 2023. 

Hot on the heels comes The Rise And Demise Of The Motorsteeple, and one that fits in with a lot of the lunacy that has emanated from down under – think King Gizzard and the Wizard Lizard as just one other example and you wonder if the distance and isolation is causing some kind of musical fusion of sorts.
 
Anyway, it’s a crazy album, from start to finish. Vibrant, upbeat, with elements of about a million genres that begins with the creak of machinery before the one-minute opener A Blessing Of Fire And Speed provides a dramatic introduction. One gets the feeling this band don’t do anything small scale. They rip into the Seventies riff of Motorsteeple, a real old school chug that sees Sam Frank’s vocals command the scene. Three guitars give it heft and you are soon nodding along, whether you like it or not.

At 31 minutes in length, it’s not a long album, but the seven main songs are all addictive. The longest song is Road Warrior, which takes an age to start, but when the revs from the bikes segue into Nick Zammit’s drum fills and the familiar riff kicks in, you can’t stop the groove. It’s infectious, even if there is a hint of good ol’ Jebus worship hidden in some of the songs (I may be wrong here of course – it’s happened before).

The interesting thing here is that whilst Battlesnake don’t do anything new, they bring a zany new approach to a standard approach, and it works on every level. The lyrics aren’t mind-blowing, the overall song structures are routine, yet it works fabulously, in part thanks to Frank’s delivery. By the time you’ve whizzed through I Speak Tongues and grooved along to the final song, the excellently titled Pterodactyl Firehawk, you’ll be wanting another hit and pressing play again. It’s simply brilliant and awful … and that makes it a winner. 8/10

Sibiir - Undergang (Fysisk Format Records) [GC]

Before I start, I have to admit to not really knowing anything about today’s artist Sibiir, I do the usual internet searching and I can see they class themselves simply as Norwegian Metal and have a couple of albums and EPs released so far, and today I have their latest album Undergang to listen over and give my thoughts on.

Divergence And Deceit opens the album and starts with an epic death metal feel that then is rudely interrupted by some hardcore punk that also has mixes back into the epic feeling death metal with consummate ease and never relents on pace or anger throughout, Placid Waters has an unmistakable black metal influence mixed in but also doesn’t stray too far from the previous styles and its all hectic and chaotic in just the right way. 

On Ruinous the hardcore punk takes centre stage once again and the whole track oozes with the petulant anger and fury you really want from a good hardcore punk track but still manages to instil a bit of grandiosity from the death metal influence, Engerdal unfortunately takes and absolute age to get going and when it does, it’s a slow and brooding instrumental that seems oddly placed so early into the album its not that it is specifically bad it just doesn’t really do much for me personally. 

It does set the mood for The Flood though which continues with the slowed pace and adds a doomy feel into the mix and again while its not a bad song its just sort of stuns the pace of everything but it does have some really nice guitar work involved to keep you intrigued enough to listen till the end the same sort of pace is kept for Watch…From A House On Fire at the beginning but then it all just slows down even more and the mid-section here is led vocally and backed up with sparse instruments to create an odd feeling of unease and its done well but once again the slowed down pace is just putting me off a bit, when the riffs do come back they are cascading and epic and I just wish the whole song was like this.

The Plague has more of the death metal and once again mixes the doom element for the slower and more precise sound and here it actually works really well, because they also re-introduce the more hardcore sound back into the song and it’s a real force and I fell that this is what they should concentrate on more as when they sound like this it’s an absolute joy to listen too!! Wearing The Weight is a lumbering behemoth that wears the doom element firmly on its collective sleeve, its measured and thoughtful while not ever being to, dare I say it, boring, they absolutely manage to keep you listening all they way till the end and there is more than enough to make this worthwhile and then we have the final track The Famine which has another slow and ominous death metal and pace to it before they unleash one last furious blasting hardcore punk part and mix the two styles to wonderful effect and close the album on a real high.

So, as I mentioned at the start I had no prior knowledge of Sibiir and this being my first listen, what can I say about Undergang? There is a nice effort to mix in a few different styles and create a real sense of grandiosity with some savage heaviness dumped in for good measure, for the most part they really hit the mark and create an unexpectedly beautiful and emotional record, I do get a bit stuck in some places and feel they need to up the pace and really concentrate on having a bit more impact but that is only a small note because overall this was a good listen. 8/10

Reviews: Mono, Horseburner, Kvaen, Zu (Reviews By Matt Bladen)

Mono – Oath (Pelagic Records)

Mono make beautiful music, the Japanese quartet, have long been established as one of the most endearing, soul stirring bands on the planet with their instrumental post rock encapsulating why music is a universal language, a way for all people, no matter what they speak to connect to the core rhythms of the world. 

Sorry if that sounds cheesy or perhaps a little pretentious but with a band such as Mono you have to describe how the music makes you feel, not necessarily the skill (of which there’s plenty) and definitely not the lyrics as there are none but their music touches something deep down leading to a wonderful sense of karmic ease with the universe. Mono pair shoegaze/post rock build and release with orchestral swells in a hybrid way no other band does better.

Their 12th album Oath, there is no sign of that changing, just from the parping brass parts of Us, Then and Then, Us that bookend the title track there’s a delicateness but a sense of warmth to the record. Perhaps it’s because the brass reminds me of Collier bands and Christmas but I found myself welling up a little, similarly Holy Winter keeps the spirit of the season despite it being June. 

Recorded and mixed by the late Steve Albini, there’s a rawness to Oath but one wrapped in a lush expressive builds, 7 minute to 9 minute songs that slowly crawl from their reserved openings into full spectrum pieces of pure audio bliss. Takaakira 'Taka' Goto and Yoda’s guitars gets the Albini fuzz while Tamaki’s bass throbs beside the electronic drumming and the orchestral brilliance of tracks such as the propulsive Run On.

Oath strives to answer the question of “What Are We Doing Here?” what is our purpose? How do we make the most of the time we have. It’s existential which explains my pontificating at the beginning of this review, but while being existential the band intended focus on joy, that we are all one with the universe and that should inspire and comfort us, much like how this music does. As Hear The Wind Sing uses silence and space to create beauty a song such as Hourglass keeps the state of transcendence high with the shortest runtime moving into Moonlight Drawing another tearjerker which comes from the orchestral beginnings into post rock ambience, layering towards release at the climax. 

As Time Goes By closed out Oath, I have to admit an record hasn’t affected me like this in a long time, the beginning damn near broke me but the rest of the record was a tonic for the soul. Mono continue to be more than just a band, they’re an entire movement. 10/10

Horseburner - Voice Of Storms (Blues Funeral Recordings)

Think that Mastodon peaked with Blood Mountain or that Baroness lost their way after Blue Record? Then let me introduce to you Horseburner, having been around since 2009, they play that conceptual style of progressive sludge, steeped in Americana, linking them to both the bands I mentioned. 2019 was their last album The Thief and this saw them improve exponentially as a band, adding the expansive progressive flavours to their stoner/sludge.

After a long time in gestation, Voice Of Storms is their newest chapter, and again they have built an album that is prime period Mastodon or Baroness, dual vocals from Jack Thomas (guitar/keys) and Adam Noble (drums), are strong and used brilliantly like their Atlanta influence, the riffs are gutsy with Thomas and Matt Strobel counterpointing each other with start stop playing, the fuzz is heavy but then so are the melodic cleans. Ryan Aliff’s bass grumbles and gurns beneath the duelling guitars of The Gift. As the first track on the record it tells you a lot about what to expect from Horseburner, educating the uninitiated and for those of us who have heard them before, welcoming you back into the heavy psychedelic world of epic music.

Horseburner lean much more heavily on their progressive side with Voice Of Storms, Nohe and Aliff keeping the sludge/stoner grooves coming on Heaven’s Eye but the harmonised guitars do their thing again. It’s ambitious and accomplished, but while Mastodon and Baroness have perhaps mellowed, or become a bit more accessible, Horseburner aren’t afraid to be obtuse and angular in their delivery on Palisades for instance. That said there is a touch of the anthemic on Hidden Bridges where there’s a rhythmic psych rock grooves and more Allman Brothers-like harmonies. Voice Of Storms carries the torch for the era they were formed in but keeps them marching forward towards more epic circles with tracks such as Window. Crushing progressive stoner/sludge with southern styled melodies. 8/10

Kvaen - The Formless Fires (Metal Blade Records)

Swedish melodic black metal band Kvaen is the creative work of one man, Jacob Björnfot, yes he has a live band but on record it is just Jacob (and drummer Frederik Andersson) that brings the full force extreme metal of Kvaen to life. From the Northernmost part of Sweden, on the Baltic sea, Kvaen is a record dedicated to the frigid waters, icy tundra’s and transitional heritage of this area. 

Immersed in Viking culture and weather phenomena, this is record for winter released in the summer. Icy blasts of black metal riffs, glacial double kicks and frostbitten vocal shouts make for all the hallmarks of the black metal bands from further North but Jacob also adds the melodic, technical guitar playing of his countries death metal scene. Sebastian Ramstedt (Necrophobic) and Chaq Mol (Dark Funeral) playing some guest solos on the album too.

The Formless Fires is the third record from Kvaen and its another set of songs that are an ode to the natural world and shun the big city in favour of the introverted and peaceful agricultural existence. His fascination with mythology, ancient rituals are all explored through the eight songs on this album. Björnfot praising his recent touring with Insomnium as the catalyst for a lot of the intense guitar playing on this album, making for a black metal sound that is intense and bitter on tracks such as Basilisk, but has clean guitars shredding on The Ancient Gods, gloomy atmospheres on The Perpetual Darkness and more death metal chugs on De Dödas Sång. The Formless Fires consists of tuneful tracks, rich in Scandi mythos and mayhem, it’s a melodic black metal feast. 7/10

Zu – The Lost Demo (Subsound Records)

What the heck is jazzcore? Well from what I surmise, it’s Primus with saxophone. Well at least that’s what Zu are. Italian musicians that have collaborated with everyone from Mike Patton to Thurston Moore, The Melvins, to Dälek, Fugazi to Steve McKay of The Stooges and theatre director Romeo Castellucci. Their avantgarde sound is firmly in a genre of one. 

Having released 15 albums since 1995, they have teamed with Subsound records to re-release their 1996 demo. These are the earliest explorations for Luca Mai (alto sax), Massimo Pupillo (bass) and Jacopo Battaglia (drums) as a trio, roughly produced but weird as all hell, defiantly going against the grain with a musical concoction that only the creative types I mentioned earlier would know what to do with. 

Their demo tape was circulated so much that even the band didn’t have a copy of it but, when one was found, intact it was digitalized and mastered by Andrea Secchi at Forward Studios, though originally recorded r and mastered by Giampaolo Felici, it retains the D.I.Y sound of the cassette but now is much more accessible. 

So after 25 years is it listenable, well that depends if you like jazzcore? If crashing drums, thick rolling basslines and paring sax thrown together with progressive time signatures and plenty of audio shenanigans, gives you a warm fuzzy feeling then go right back to the beginning with Zu. 6/10

A View From The Back Of The Room: Sweatbox (Live Review By SJ)

SweatBox, MondoWave & The Oversights, Le Pub, Newport, 14.06.24

Another great line up at Le Pub! This was my first time watching any of the acts, so I was excited at the prospect. I did appreciate the small gesture of free ear plugs from the venue. We’ve got to protect our ears to be able to listen to all this great music, right? Even before the music started there was a sense of comradery among the crowd and the acts who were all chatting over drinks.

First up were The Oversights (8), an indie rock band. It can be difficult as the opener act to warm the crowd up albeit pulled this off fantastically. All 3 members, Rhys, Kane and Tom collectively got the crowds’ feet tapping and head's banging. Throughout their set, between their songs they made us laugh with their comedic comments which helped build rapport with the crowd effortlessly. Even calling out the fact they missed out some of their own lyrics, what an oversight – pun intended. They engaged with the audience and made us part of their act, getting us to clap along. The vocals switched between Rhys and Kane throughout the songs which added a distinct vibe to their songs.

I had a quick catch up with the band afterwards who told me that this was the second time they’ve performed at Le Pub, the first time was in 2020, so it’s been a long time coming for them to come back to Le Pub. They also mentioned that their favourite song to perform is Summer Nights and I can see why, it has addicting guitar riffs, funky melodies, and fluid vocals. 

Overall, it was a pleasure to watch The Oversights live and I look forward to seeing them again both for their music and amusing quips.

Up next were MondoWave (7), a 4-member punk band from Mars, and although they claim to be from another planet, they felt at home on that stage. I quite liked the style of singing; it was almost like melodic or rhythmic talking at parts. The way the singer looked at the microphone, I felt like he was seducing it at times. There was banter between the members of the band and smile exchanges throughout the performance; it’s always great to see people love what they do. Stand outs for me were Hard 2 Focus with its vivace tempos, but overall, their set felt quite reminiscent of a band such as Dead Kennedys, invigorating the crowd with punk rock. 

Headlining the night were SweatBox (8). What a grandiose performance totally embodying punk attitude with vibes of early Melvins or the crossover thrash of Suicidal Tendencies. They kicked it out of the bag from the get-go by bringing a mannequin head with a cowboy hat on stage to use as a prop, which was both intriguing and a little odd. The lead singer was pacing around the stage like an animal, almost liked he wanted to branch out into the crowd out more, but he was confined by the stage itself. This didn’t last long though as he jumped off the stage and into the crowd. The band had such stage and off-stage presence it was impressive. Standout songs for me were We’re All The Same and T.O.P, both because of their dynamic guitar riffs and riotous and riveting vocals.

Overall, the night was mesmerizing and radical. It felt futuristic, yet nostalgic, and in a way, timeless. 

I went to the gig by myself, and Le Pub always has some of the most welcoming and friendly atmosphere, although I attended the event alone, I didn’t feel like it when I was there. Plus, you know it’s a great set when even the photographer is dancing along.

Monday 17 June 2024

Reviews: Axel Rudi Pell, Ulcerate, Embryonic Autopsy, Xeneris (Reviews By Matt Bladen)

Axel Rudi Pell - Risen Symbol (Steamhammer/SPV)

22 albums! 22! There's no doubt that German guitarist/songwriter Axel Rudi Pell is a machine and while he does love a ballad, having two(?) full compilations for his slower numbers, on Risen Symbol he keeps the rock as it should be, loud and heavy. 

Still heavily inspired by Hendrix, Iommi, Page and Blackmore, he has drawn from these inspirations on this new record, even covering Immigrant Song. That will make you listen to the album if you've heard none of ARP's 21 previous releases but once you get into Risen Symbol you'll find many reasons to stay. Complete with Rainbow drummer Bobby Rondinelli, keyboardist Ferdy Doernberg, bassist Volker Krawczak and Johnny Gioeli who has one of the best rock voices around. 

They bring ARP's visions to life and it's a cinematic, epic sounding vision that builds from intro The Resurrection, as Forever Strong absolutely blitzes to life with full on blast beats and thrashing riffs, this is heavy metal 101, showing that Gioeli as his Crush 40 self rather than his Hardline one. We go from Hammerfall on Forever Strong to Dio on Guardian Angel and Darkest Hour, as Ankhaia has Eastern mystery. It's Hell's On Fire that is what I would call the 'traditional' ARP sound as Crying In Pain has a lot of Savatage and Rainbow about it. 

After 22 albums Axel Rudi Pell has his style perfected, but with each album there's something to draw you in and hook you. Risen Symbol is an album of resilience from one of heavy rocks survivors. 8/10

Ulcerate - Cutting The Throat Of God (Debemur Morti Productions)

Cutting The Throat Of God aye? It's edgy but then Ulcerate are a band who never air on the side of caution. Quoted as being unorthodox death metal, Ulcerate live in the Avant Garde, the progressive, the controversial. Their music is hard work and on this 7th album they attack the synapses with their most experimental and uncompromising release to date. 

The trio of Jamie Saint Merat (drums), Michael Hoggard (guitar) and Paul Kelland (bass/vocals) have been unleashing impressive, forward looking extreme metal, each album adding more to their musical menagerie. So album number 7 follows a more dissonant 6th record with some hooky death/black metal which seamlessly blends the extremity the melody. 

Cutting The Throat Of God, pitches itself as an intensely progressive album and the playing backs that up every step of the way, more off kilter rhythms come on Transfiguration In And Out Of Worlds, Kellands bass the anchor for the psychedelic weirdness. There's still room for outright violence though as To See Death Just Once progressive yes but mainly as tough as any death/black metal band you wish to mention, as can Undying As An Apparition

To Flow Through Ashen Hearts begins in earnest, tremolo picking against a thundering groove, post metal power, with some visceral vocal shouts as they weaves their way into blackened blasts. Across 7 minutes the trio shift and undulate between various types of extreme metal but all the while keeping the engagement of anyone who isn't as won over by ultra aggressive music. 

Continuing the dissonance The Dawn Is Hollow has a guitar and drum pattern that almost counteract each other, as if playing different songs, it is a death metal assault but played with a lot of progressive metal elements, as the atmospheric middle section links the two more brutal halves of the track, this segues into the post metal harshness of Further Opening The Wounds, more ringing cleans from Hoggard and ungodly double kicks from Saint Merat.

With just 7 tracks but nearly an hour of music, Cutting The Throat Of God is a masterclass in progressive extreme metal. It needs time and repeated listens as there's a lot going on but Ulcerate put a declarative stamp on their position in the metal world. 9/10

Embryonic Autopsy - Origins Of The Deformed (Massacre Records)

30 minutes, 10 songs, death metal, let’s go! Embryonic Autopsy follow up their debut; Prophecies Of The Conjoined with their second album of hybrid death metal Origins Of The Deformed. Continuing the X-Files-like story of alien/human interbreeding, the tracks fly by in a haze of double kick blasts, buzz saw riffing and guttural grunts. 

Gore soaked and grotesque, expect to understand nothing lyrically from Tim King, unless you really hone in on it, though Human Vessel Of Alien Hybrids has more clarity. You get battered by Scott Roberts (guitar/keys), Kenxi Dupey (bass) and Marco Fimbres (drums), it’s pretty raw and definitely hostile as the track titles add to the disgusting putrid death metal approach Embryonic Autopsy have. The US style of death is prevalent as is grindcore, acts such as Obituary, Cannibal Corpse and even Suffocation the bands you conjure up. 

This is also witnessed in the guest guitarists lending solos to most of the tracks, James Murphy ex-Death/ex-Obituary has three moments to shine, Jack Owen of Six Feet Under two and Terrance Hobbs of Suffocation just the one. They take in several styles from the death metal universe but never move away from their brutal US death metal assault to the senses. Hawaiian shirt death that will leave you asking where Greg is? 7/10

Xeneris – Eternal Rising (Frontiers Music Srl)

Xeneris arise from the ashes of Kalidia, guitarist/composer Federico Paolini and bassist Roberto Donati founding the band in 2022 after Kalidia dispanded. Alongside singer Maryan and drummer Stefano Livieri, Xeneris take the best bits of the founder’s previous bands and bring more cinematics with tracks such as Equinox and Shahrazad which is full of Middle Eastern influences. 

The album is about the phoenix’s rebirth, happening every 500 years, the concept of resilience and return are very close to the band due to forming out of another. Most of the songs are fantastical tales from history/fantasy/legend; pirates (Barbarossa) and Greek myths on Pandora's Box/Scilla And Cariddi all told by some orchestrally dense and riffy symphonic metal and the soaring vocals of Maryan. 

Only time will tell if they make as big of an impact as Kalidia did but there's a lot of positives on Eternal Rising. 7/10

A View From The Castle Grounds: The Smashing Pumpkins/Weezer (Live Review By Matt Bladen)

The Smashing Pumpkins, Weezer & Teen Mortgage, Depot At The Castle, Cardiff Castle, 14.06.24

The start of Cardiff Castle's Summer Sessions began with some traditional Welsh summer weather. As the hordes of South Wales alt scene packed into the castle grounds, I can guarantee that this was the weirdest and wettest show on the tour itinerary. 

Now a mainstay of the Cardiff music scene Depot At The Castle is series of concerts that take place inside Cardiff Castle. It's a picturesque, festival setting where the main stage is accompanied by bars and food outlets, but perhaps fewer toilets than their should be. 

This one gripe aside, and the extortionate price of beer of course, everything else runs smoothly, entrance, bag checks, filtering of the crowd into the grounds, the stage parallel to the Motte-and-Bailey that stands so proudly at the centre of our city. 

As a bit of rain never put off the Welsh and many had arrived early to catch openers Teen Mortgage (7) a two piece playing fuzzy garage rock. Their first time in Wales they did seem a little swamped by the stage and by the occasion but cranked out some heavy distortion and bouncing drums on a short but impactful set. 

The sound for the whole show was amazing, clear and warm without ever being too loud, visually the lights were well used and the inclusion of a signer at side of stage was a great touch, both of them rocking out with the rest of us. 

Next up was Weezer (9) from "sunny Southern California" and their set was a hits packed journey through their catalogue for all of the Gen X and Millennials in the audience (lets face it that's the main bulk of the crowd). My Name Is Jonas, shifted into Beverly Hills (cue a massive singalong), the band in a rehearsed synchronization as they occasionally let loose from their pop rock bangers with some virtuoso shredding. 

Undone - The Sweater Song was countered by Pork And Beans, as All My Favourite Songs, Island In The Sun, Perfect Situation, The Good Life, Hash Pipe and Buddy Holly all got an airing as did a tribute to Billy Corgan as they played a "song that he wrote" covering Hole's Celebrity Skin. (look it up - Ed)

With Buddy Holly closing it the show, the final show of this current run let the fans bask in the sunny disposition of Weezer while they seemingly enjoyed their first time in the Welsh rain. 

Now smiles next though as the angstiest band in all of music were about to set grimaced grins of those wearing Zero T-shirts permanently. A 24 song set and what looked like an 8 members band as Billy Corgan, James Iha and Jimmy Chamberlain took to the stage once again as The Smashing Pumpkins (8)

Drawing the bulk of the show from Mellon Collie And The Infinite Sadness, Siamese Dream and more recent output Atum: A Rock Opera In Three Acts, the ever contradictory played an album/arena tour set in a festival setting. I'll be honest and say this did lead to a few lulls that Weezer's more tightly packed hits but the like of Today, Ava Adore, Tonight Tonight and Bullet With Butterfly Wings were placed well enough for anyone not that au fait with Corgan and co to know something. 

Rounding out the current touring band is Jack Bates (bass), Katie Cole (keyboards/guitars) and the woefully underused Kiki Wong (guitars), but Corgan seemed unnervingly happy even joking about his (supposed) Welsh heritage. As their mammoth show continued the really big songs hit last as 1979, Jellybelly, Cherub Rock and Zero (cue Simpsons Homerpolooza episode dancing).

One to tick off the list for sure but for South Wales Pumpkins fans this show had been a long time coming and was a loud way to kick off Cardiff's summer of live music.