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Wednesday, 28 October 2020

Reviews: Draconian, Scardust, Corners Of Sanctuary, King Bull (Reviews By Matt Bladen)

Draconian: Under A Godless Veil (Napalm Records)

Sometimes a band is needed at a particular time, they seem to capture a moment, a zeitgeist, speaking for the majority with their music. Draconian are one of those bands, five years after the release of Sovran their bleakly beautiful, hopelessly romanticised doom metal is what is required in this year of endless isolation and living with a fear of the unknown/unseen. Under A Godless Veil is the seventh full length from the band and it is 10 tracks of wonderfully melancholic, dreamy music from Johan Ericson (lead guitar), Jerry Torstensson (drums), Daniel Arvidsson (rhythm guitar) (I believe Daniel Änghede plays the bass for the last time on this record) who shift between downtuned deeply heavy doom metal and soaring atmospheric melodic passages evidenced by the wonderful Sleepwalkers and the devastating Moon Over Sabaoth which showcases Anders Jakobsson's harsh vocals brilliantly. 

On the other side of the coin though is a song such as Burial Fields, a haunting Gothic piece where Heike Langhans' celestial cleans drift above the lighter side of the bands sound, ascending into the clouds before you are once again pulled back to Earth with the metallic riffage. Now where Draconian are most effective is when both vocalists work in conjunction with each other providing that Angel/Demon delivery that has become so synonymous with the band since their debut album Where Lovers Mourn in 2002. For an example The Sethian presents both vocalists at top form the music is long, slow and heavy topped with a solo that shifts into the ominous Claw Marks On The Throne. At just over an hour Under A Godless Veil is Draconian returning with the depressive, desolate music fit for the times we find ourselves in, as the closing duo of Night Visitor and the 8 minute plus Ascend Into Darkness linger in your memory, you find yourself yearning to play it again as a kind of catharsis. Yet again another wonderful release from these Swedish Gothic masters of the melancholic. 9/10 

Scardust: Strangers (M-Theory Audio)

Israeli progressive/symphonic/cinematic metal band Scardust finally return with their sophomore album Strangers the follow up to their 2017 debut album Sands Of Time. It seems that the band have been much more heavily influenced by US prog metal on this second record option for an ambitious concept record much like the ones that Dream Theater were making in the early 2000's. It's even got a driving instrumental overture to get you ready for what is to come and much like most overtures it contains snippets of the remaining songs. After Overture For The Estranged the first song here is Break The Ice a jaunty emotive track that sounds a lot like classic period Kansas albeit with Noa Gruman's expansive voice that culminates in a powerful top end soprano adding more gravitas over the top of this theatrical prog rocking.

Conceptually the record is about being estranged from one another a theme that took on a new meaning when recording was interrupted by the pandemic meaning that this record was continued with each of the bands in their own homes/studios. Despite this the songs here have a huge scope musically, with all that made their debut so critically acclaimed while building the levels of technicality and melody with the Hellscore Choir returning and also the Westbrook Hay Prep School Chamber Choir also adding another edge to Huts. while YouTube sensation Patty Gurdy displays her mastery of Donavan's favourite instrument (Hurdy Gurdy) and her vocals to Concrete Cages. Despite the sweeping melodies on their record they also have some crushing heaviness on Over where the harsh vocals are used to great effect. Mixed by Yonatan Kossov and mastered by Jens Bogren (Opeth, Devin Townsend, Arch Enemy) Strangers is a brilliant follow up from these prog metal wizards. 9/10

Corners Of Sanctuary: Cut Your Losses (Exquisite Noise Records)

Cut Your Losses is a new EP from American traditional heavy metal band Corners Of Sanctuary, it was released to coincide with the latest flavour in their craft beer range. Opening with a new version of their song Wild Card (also the name of their new beer) it's pretty standard trad metal that runs through a new version of My Revenge and two new tracks called Tonight We Roll and Mind's Eye. Very much a stopgap waiting for their next album Cut Your Losses is four tracks that show exactly why Corners Of Sanctuary have supported UDO and Tim 'Ripper' Owens but doesn't really do much else than be standard trad metal. 5/10 

King Bull: What Happened Here? (Riot Records)

What Happened Here? Is a punk-infused, garage rock record from Red Deer, Alberta, a short hit of 5 fuzzy, full power rockers for fans of The Who, The Stooges, MC5, The Hives and The Ramones, the riffs are downtuned and fuzzy, the songs are designed to get you up and shaking your ass. After 13 years the band got around to releasing their debut full length last year quickly following it up with this EP that will keep their muscular sneering rocking in the minds of their fans. Distinctly analoge in their productions and recording processes, What Happened Here? is bristling with that dangerous energy that a lot of modern rock lacks. There's not much else you can say about this record, it's an EP that continues King Bull's direct audio assault, Detroit muscle from Canadian foundations. 6/10   

Tuesday, 27 October 2020

Reviews: Carcass, Leaves Eyes, Auðn, Defecto (Rich, Simon, Paul H & Lucas)

Carcass: Despicable (Nuclear Blast) [Rich Oliver]

Carcass are a band that don’t really need any introduction. Alongside Napalm Death, they are one of the most important and influential extreme metal bands from the UK. From goregrind to death metal to melodic death metal they have had an overwhelming influence on the development of extreme metal. Carcass were meant to have a new album in 2020 but the ongoing pandemic has resulted in the album being delayed until 2021. To tide us over in the meantime Carcass have provided us with a tasty little EP entitled Despicable containing offcuts of the upcoming album. It comprises four songs that were leftovers from the recording sessions which bodes very well for the new album as the material deemed surplus to requirements is of a ridiculously high standard. As soon as you hit play on opener The Living Dead At The Manchester Morgue it is unmistakably Carcass with a classic Bill Steer guitar harmony before dropping in a lovely galloping riff. The pace alters throughout the song from the mid paced gallop to blast beat riddled speed and by the end of the song it is clear that Carcass are back and they mean fucking business. 

The Long And Winding Bier Road plays more to the melodic side of Carcass and has a great groovy riff that sounds like it could have come off the Swansong album. Under The Scalpel Blade (which was also released as a single back in 2019) plays more to the death metal side of the band though still has plenty of groove and melody whilst the closing song Slaughtered In Soho is a classy piece of groove laden melodic death metal. The EP sounds fantastic and the performances are top drawer stuff with Jeff Walker’s unmistakable snarl sounding as fantastic as they did in the early 1990’s. Despicable is a delectable starter for the main course to follow next year. It is a great reminder of just what a good band Carcass are. If fans are expecting something different from the band they may find this a little disappointing. It does pick up exactly from where the band left us with Surgical Steel and whilst one could accuse Carcass of going through the motions it is the band doing what they do best. Despicable is a fantastic EP and is a worthy return for the UK extreme metal legends. The fact that this is merely a sampler for what is to come next year has me salivating with excitement. 8/10

Leave’s Eyes: The Last Viking (AFM Records) [Simon Black]

Symphonic Metal is a funny beast and gets a lot of stick in the metal world. Finland was a powerful factor in the genre’s origin, with Stratovarius and the mighty Nightwish probably the most well-known and influential break out acts, although the former are a shadow of their former selves and the latter have left everyone else so far behind as to be a genre in their own right. To be honest though, the line between Symphonic and Power Metal is blurring, as albums like this demonstrate. But then after eight albums and some notable chart success in their native Germany, this quintet can afford to do what the hell they feel like.

In my book to be truly Symphonic a band ideally probably has a quite large number of players, or at the very least an overt keyboard presence. Not so with this incarnation of Leave’s Eyes, for whom the majority of the original line up were lifted and shifted from Death Metal outfit Atrocity. Indeed they partially retain that vocal sound with the contribution of band leader Alexander Krull, whose vocal style is a complete contrast to the cleaner than clean pure soprano strains of frontwoman Elina Siirala (which the band refer to as a ‘beauty and the beast’ approach). With founder member Liv Kristine Espenæs having left under a cloud relatively recently (plus all sorts of legal shenanigans running in the background), these are difficult shoes to fill. No doubt this is made tougher by the decision to go straight to completing the third album in their Viking trilogy fifteen years in the making, rather than warming Siirala up with an interim EP or a live release. Fans need not worry. She fits the band like a glove.

Stylistically this has significant Power tropes – the Norse concepts and ethos - and the first handful of tracks are straight out of that playbook. The symphonic elements take a while to come into their own, and actually, this trick works astonishingly well. They don’t really start playing with the more symphonic vocal tricks until Black Butterfly when Clementine Delauney pops up for a beautifully delivered duet. The Norse folk elements don’t really show up until about half way through and at that point the keyboard steps in with a vengeance with the breadth of instrument voices that the genre is so well known for. This has the effect of warming you up to a bouncy Power opening and dragging you into the story with the Symphonic tricks one at a time. It works well, and holds your attention throughout what is quite a long album at over an hour’s run time for its fourteen tracks and might just persuade a few genre doubters that actually it is OK to love the Symphonic (yes, you too Mr Editor).

The more folky elements work very well, and if the presence of a fiddle on a metal track in 4/4 reel time doesn’t make you want to get up and dance, then the band should go home. And Leave’s Eyes get this perfectly, whilst seamlessly keeping up a relentless metal time change or two alongside (check out Serkland if you don’t believe me). By the time we get to the epic closing title track, all pretence at Power Metal has been abandoned for sheer Symphonic reckless excess with a cacophony of instruments sounds, vocal tricks and time changes. I’ve listened to this three times now and I feel like I have barely scratched the surface of what this album achieves, and unpeeling the layers with every repeat listening a joy. 9/10

Auðn: Vökudraumsins Fangi (Season Of Mist) [Paul Hutchings]

Iceland is slowly generating more and more impressive metal bands. Think Kontinuum, Solstafir and The Vintage Caravan and you’ll realise that there is plenty happening. You can add Auðn to that list, for this third album by a band that have been together for a decade is an emotional rollercoaster which propels them to the forefront. At 55 minutes in length, this isn’t an album to take lightly. Auðn trade in vibrant black metal, utilising sweeping passages of sonically explosive power which contrast with sections drenched with haunting melodies. It’s not difficult to visualise the remoteness of the Northern Atlantic in their music, with each piece an individualised and dramatic concept which is intertwined to provide a stunning release. Opening with Einn um alla tíð, a dramatic and elegant song that flows organically, Auðn paint images of light and darkness, the harrowing screams of vocalist Hjalti Sveinsson jar the listener from any comfortable position they had adopted. Apart from Einn um alla tíð which is over eight minutes in length, most of the tracks here are more traditional in length, but still pack a majestic punch. 

The melodic sections of Birtan hugann brennir and the agonising downtuned dissonance of Verður von að bráð contrast in a way that appears natural, the six-piece working in unity to develop and expand their sonic landscapes. It’s big, ambitious, and totally works. The strains of Næðir um push boundaries, the band straining muscle and sinew. Horfin mér is explosive, a melding of tremolo riffing, blast beats and a wall of emotional intensity that is immersive. Vökudraumsins fangi translates to Prisoner of the Daydream. Although the reference is to a perpetual state of delusion of a life that never took place, it’s impossible not to drift gently along with this album, such is its power to provoke images and thoughts.  Auðn’s three-pronged guitar sound allows for plenty of creativity whilst the inclusion of Hammond organ, Mellotron and grand piano adds even more textures. This is an album that needs time to absorb. It’s majestic, compelling and with the legendary Jens Bogren at the production helm, perfectly crafted. If you enjoy black metal that crafts and creates visual stimuli, this may well be worth exploring. 8/10

Defecto: Duality (Black Lodge) [Lucas Tuckwood]

It’s the latest album from Denmark’s loudest headbangers Defecto, surging back with another killer release. Boasting a remarkably consistent sound since their debut in 2012, they’ve made the rounds, even supporting legends like Metallica on the promotional circuit. But does the new record stack up against the rest? Let’s see. Defecto fall into the realm of melodic metal, so you know what to expect from their work. It’s fierce, heavy, and while not as fresh as it ought to be, it still feels pretty damn good. There’s oodles of soaring melodies here, juxtaposed with chugging, heavy riffs, spearheaded by Nicklas Sonne’s fearsome vocals. If I was to make any kind of complaint, it’s that while musically the whole album is heavier than a tank, on the sound front it feels a little generic. Though this is mitigated by the quality of the music, it strays a little too far into well-trodden territory to allow it to sound one hundred percent fresh. 

What is fresh however, is the decision to stop dipping their toes into electronic territory, and instead plunging head first into the wires in the penultimate track Tempest. Screeching synthesisers pair with the guitars, adding some serious crunch to the riffs. The brief foray into electronic is rather good, and though it may not be everyone’s cup of tea, I think a few more tracks with experiments into new types of music would give the album a big boost. With that said, this is still a great melodic metal record. It’s got triumphant choruses, soaring melodies and shredding guitars aplenty, but it struggles somewhat to find a distinctive sound amidst its peers. Regardless, I’d still unflinchingly recommend it to fans of the band and melodic metal as a whole. 7/10

Monday, 26 October 2020

Reviews: Zeal & Ardor, Deep River Acolytes, Saul, Jahbulong (Paul H & Matt)

Zeal & Ardor: Wake Of A Nation (Self Released) [Matt Bladen]

With a cover that starkly depicts two, white, nightsticks to form a cross, Wake Of The Nation is the latest EP from Swiss band Zeal & Ardor, the title a play on The Birth Of A Nation a Racist pro-Ku Klux Klan film from 1915. A band who have always been incredibly powerful musically their amalgamation of extreme metal, soul/gospel spiritualism, blues and various other style has been lauded by critics and fans alike. Their newest EP is a stark political statement as Manuel Gagneux puts it "The EP is dedicated to Michael Brown, Eric Garner, George Floyd and the countless untold and nameless killed" the interpretation and ambiguity of their previous Satan-as-God records is gone, this is directly aimed at the events that have and are still inspiring the Black Lives Matter movement in the USA and around the world, Manuel couldn't let the horrific visages from the USA go unanswered. 

He put his new album on the back burner focusing his attention and rage on these 6 songs, designed to hold those who have participated and promoted the murder of innocents, to account. There is a raging torrent of anger, frustration and darkness behind these songs with the plaintive piano-led Vigil opening the EP channeling the frustration into an ominous soul ballad tinged with sadness before Tuskegee brings the black metal rage counterpointed by more melodic swathes. Musically it's typical Zeal & Ardor genre bending with Trust No One merging industrial thunder with gospel spiritual to great effect. This is an EP that needed to be heard, with all proceeds of the single I Can't Breathe donated to an unspecified charity, and the most important election in our history mere weeks away Wake Of The Nation needs to be played loudly as possible everywhere. 8/10

Deep River Acolytes: Alcehmia Aeterna (Argonauta Records) [Paul Hutchings]

Previously known as Deliverance, Deep River Acolytes is a Finnish heavy rock and metal outfit whose latest album is their third full length. Formed in 2011, the band’s dark blues soaked heavy rock and doom has prompted Argonauta Records to take a punt, no mean feat these days. Recorded at the Anvil Road Studios in 2019 by Ari Rajaniemi, mixed by Antti Lindholm at Boat Island Studios and mastered at Enormous Door by Jack Control in 2020, Alchemia Aeterna is 37 minutes of fuzzed up reverb which opens with the pulsing Sabbath fused At The Crossroads. It’s a solid opener, with some thick heaviness, driving groove and an underlying riff which is strangely reminiscent of 1980s era Samson song Vice Versa. It’s a decent foot stomping start to an album which disappointingly doesn’t improve as much as you might hope.

Sabbath riffs are the order of the day on Under Her Spell, a rather lumbering track that isn’t that exciting, especially with the ‘eerie’ mid-section but it does give way to a slightly more interesting conclusion. Caught Somewhere Out Of Time doesn’t impress either. It’s slow, doom-filled and to be honest, a tad boring. I’m quite partial to doom but this doesn’t do much for me at all. The River Deep is better, increased tempo and a mix of chunky riffs, thick Hammond organ and a devilish atmosphere making it one of the standout songs. 
In fact, the album improves slightly towards the tail. Veriurut is a smouldering, evil track, the eerie effects that haunt the mind echo from the depths as waves of gargantuan riffs and gravel-soaked vocals crash down. Alchemia Aeterna concluded with the weighty Cemetery Earth, a tale which weaves in and out for around ten minutes. The riffage is big, the music solid and it slowly builds to an epic and quite enormous crescendo. It’s an album that varies in parts considerably but overall, it really didn’t quite have the spark needed to make it that memorable. 6/10

Saul: Rise As Equals (Spinefarm Records) [Matt Bladen]

Saul fall under that genre tag of 'Alternative Metal' which basically means "we can do whatever we want musically so long as it's heavy and catchy". It means that This record is almost a jukebox of hard hitting, North American metal that is staples of American rock radio. You get some Breaking Benjamin electronically influenced technicality, some djent grooves, Shinedown emotion and FFDP heaviness (and some roars in the vocals). Hailing from Iowa Saul was formed by brothers Blake (lead vocals) and Zach Bedsaul (lead guitar) who joined with William McIlravy (bass) and Myles Clayborne (drums) to complete the band. 

Rise As Equals is their debut album and runs to a mammoth 14(!) Songs, now I'm all for creativity but there does need to be a little quality control as much of the record is very similar musically. It closes out with a cover of Pink Floyd's Welcome To The Machine which is made to be heavy and is if I'm honest sacrilege. The lyrics here are quite politically charged as you'd probably expect from this extremely modern band nodding towards Disturbed who's David Draiman co-wrote the song King Of Misery which is an obvious single. A mature, slick debut as you'd expect from any band who are aiming at the Billboard charts, still it's nothing that different from what's come before. 6/10

Jahbulong: Eclectic Poison Tones (Go Down Records) [Paul Hutchings]

Sometimes power metal doesn’t seem that bad an option. Dragons, wizards, ghouls, and goblins. You know where you are with that. Meanwhile, if you want something completely the other end of the spectrum, then I invite you to indulge in a journey of dark, atmospheric distortion. Welcome To Eclectic Poison Tones, the latest release by Italian doom stoners Jahbulong who, it must be said, follow their own path. This is really fuzzed up stuff, and with a 46-minute-long record and only four tracks, it’s evident from the off that this is one heavy slab of meandering, throbbing stoner, and doom. The reason I use the power metal analogy is because in contrast to the sometimes throwaway style of the lycra clad dragon slayers, Jahbulong’s cover concept is a collaboration with the visionary illustrator Nino Cammarata and celebrates the 420th anniversary of Giordano Bruno’s death, the controversial figure who radically changed the religious and philosophical world. Not a mythical scaled creature in sight!

It will be no surprise, however, to find four massively elongated tracks included on Eclectic Poison Tones, nestled amongst a combination of Seattle grunge and 1970s psychedelia, as well as the customary Sabbath riffs which certainly provide comfort. Drag yourself from the distorted cacophony of final track The Eremite Tired Out, all 15-plus lumbering minutes, past The Eclipse Of The Empress with its temporary pause for a drum solo mid-song, and back to the Sabbath crusted opening of The Influence Of The Fool, full of heavy distortion, tripping soundscapes and a urgent desire to skin up and stoner it on up. Meanwhile, The Tower Of The Broken Bones grinds its way like the marathon runner with jelly legs on that last one mile. It’s an album that is hard to listen to without some supporting substances, although you can at least visualise the effects this album this could have. For a three-piece, Jahbulong make hell of a noise, those thick riffs locked in with a rhythm section that is total in synch. Formed in Verona in 2015, Eclectic Poison Tones is one dark and swirling piece of work, a transforming voyage that may well suck you in for good. 7/10

Sunday, 25 October 2020

Reviews: Black Fate, Chaos Divine, Nightstryke, Astrakhan (Simon & Matt)

Black Fate: Ithaca (Rockshots Records) [Simon Black]

Ithica is the fourth album from the Greek Power Metal five piece. They've been around since 1990 and this album it seems is a little darker than previous outings from the brief foray I made into their back catalogue. Greece seems to be quite a tough market to break out of compared to many northern European ones, but a tight in-country scene nonetheless, where these guys are credible players. That said, four albums in thirty years is not what you would exactly call prolific…

Most of the songs are fairly robust power metal affairs from the Kamelot school of Power, with clear emphasis on the instruments and vocals and some quite nicely understated moments of technical excellence in some of the instrumental/solo breaks. To be honest I struggled with this one as a whole however. Although you can’t fault the playing and production and the song structures are robust enough, but the whole thing lacks that magic spark that makes me want to keep repeat listening. Part of this I suspect is due to the relatively new addition of Themis Koparanidis on keyboards to the line-up. He’s clearly a technically proficient player, but they very much keep him in the background for most of the album, which is a shame, because this recording is screaming out for some more showy interplay between him and guitarist Gus Drax (in the Dream Theater vein). The moments we have hint that letting rip in this area would allow them to really step up a notch.

Rainbow’s End is probably the strongest track on here. It’s an out and out ballad, and works because the song-writing seems to step up several notches to create a song that you actually want more of on this album, which in many other respects is pretty much a cookie-cutter Power Metal affair. Until, that is, we get to closer Circle Of Despair. This one is a different beast, and the interplay between the instruments that I have been craving elsewhere on the album I delivered with panache here. Guitars and keyboards bristle off each other in a frenzy of skill, but in a power metal vein rather than the old cliché of neo-classical tit-for-tat. If there were more tracks in the calibre of these two highlights, then I would be rubbing my hands with glee. Let’s hope that this new line up proves more prolific, and has the confidence to experiment more in this direction, because when it works, it does so brilliantly. 6/10

Chaos Divine: Legacies (Chaos Recordings) [Simon Black]

So, album number four from Australian Prog Metallers Chaos Divine. For those who haven’t come across them, they really are a direct fusion of Prog and Melo-Death metal, so although instrumentally the Prog is dominant, vocally there is a fairly even split between clean and death vocal styles. Bizarrely it works quite well despite the contrast as singer David Anderton switches effortlessly between the two styles. If anything the cleaner sound does predominate, as the Death style isn’t always included and is powerful and emotive throughout. They have corner of the market in their home territory, which has allowed them the luxury of working with some fairly well known bigger bands on the support slot circuit and it goes a long way to explaining the richness and confidence of their sound. This may well help them get noticed in the much more crowded global marketplace.

Musically this is not as overt and showy as many if the genre, with the focus on well-structured song craft rather than fret-board masturbation. The tracks know how to keep the audience – when ambient and most melodic such as the excellent Unspoken the raw emotion grabs you by the heartstrings. The pure Melo-Thrash/Death of Colours Of War just grabs you by the throat and bangs your head for you, but interleaves some of that raw emotion in along the way in the chorus, with one of the most technically effective instrumental breaks to be found on the record. This is by far head and shoulders the best track on the album, despite being the most in your face and that’s coming from me, Mr Clean vocals fan. Then just to throw you off, just when you have them pigeonholed, you get tracks like Beacon, which is straight out of the HM/AOR playbook, and works brilliantly as well.

The quality of the recording is top notch, and the whole effect of all these influences and sounds is to create the sense of a band with a really original and unique sound. 7/10

Nightstryke: Storm Of Steel (Skol Records) [Matt Bladen]

When an album is called Storm Of Steel you can pretty much nail what sort of music you are going to hear on it, especially when you also take a look at the Frazetta-esque album cover it's wrapped in. This is classic metal or power metal as it's more often known these days, Finnish band Nightstryke channel the chest beating, sword swinging of Hammerfall and Riot along with the galloping edginess of the NWOBHM bands such as Enforcer and Cauldron. Storm Of Steel is their second album following on from the debut Power Shall Prevail in 2017 and the band lose none of their power, as Read The Omens starts off with a riff that while new is strangely familiar to the ears all throbbing bass and dual guitar harmonies. 

With the production and mixing of Bart Gabriel and Cederick Forsberg, giving it an analogue hiss of the 1980's, the album shifts at a fair pace through it's 10 tracks the only real issue being that singer/guitarist Rami Hermunen is not the strongest singer in the world his voice working better when snarling on the speed metal assaults such as Deathstalker rather than when he tries to adopt some power metal histrionics, still I have heard much worse recently and it does fit the music. Storm Of Steel is NWOBHM pure and simple, no frills needed. 6/10 

Astrakhan: Astrakhans Superstar Experience (Black Lodge Records) [Matt Bladen]

"He's not the Messiah, he's a very proggy boy!" I like to think this is what Andrew Lloyd Webber was thinking when he was writing Jesus Christ Superstar, long before it was West End super smash it was originally written as a progressive rock concept album in 1970 before being brought to the stage in 1971. It charts Jesus life from his entry in Jerusalem until his Crucifixion with a love story surrounding Mary Magdalene, it's a bit of rip roaring musical as you'd expect from Lloyd Webber however it was conceived as prog rock record with Ian Gillan of Deep Purple taking on the role of Jesus in the original album and West End run. So this brings us to Astrakhan band that features some noted members of the rock/metal scene such as Pain of Salvation, Royal Hunt and House of Shakira , they have been performing Gethsemane as an encore for a while and this has led to the Astrakhan Superstar Experience, a fully realised live performance of the original album performed as a concert rather than a full blown West End performance.

The focus here is on the music and they have imbued the Lloyd Webber original with some storming progressive rock/metal as rampant organs run wild, guitar solos soar and there's even a drum solo too, it's all the bombast and cinematic mastery of the original filtered through a much more rigid prog rock lens. What helps is much like with the original the lead roles are taken by Astrakhan's own Alexander Lycke as Jesus and Mats Levén (every band ever) as Judas, they give this record it's hard rock edge Lycke especially hitting those huge Gillan-like highs on Gethsemane while the band nod to Ian's involvement in the original by setting Damned For All Time to the backing of Highway Star, with great effect.

I'll admit I'd never heard of Astrakhan before but on the back of this great version of JCS I'll be investing some time into their back catalogue. This album though as I said is played excellently and takes back JCS from the West End luvvies into a powerful prog rock epic it was meant to be. 7/10

Saturday, 24 October 2020

Reviews: Armored Saint, Forlorn World, The Struts, Artificial Eden (Paul H & Matt)

Armored Saint: Punching The Sky (Metal Blade Records) [Paul Hutchings]

It’s been five long years since Win Hands Down was released. Five long years since I gave Armored Saint a 9/10 with their seventh album. Well, good things come to those that wait and the patient are about to be rewarded, for album number eight is another stellar release from a band who have always followed their own path in the world of metal. They’ve straddled the line between thrash and power metal but for me Armored Saint have always been the epitome of good, solid heavy metal. Their signature sound is instantly recognisable, the hard edge mixed with lashings of melody and the distinctive vocals of John Bush, one of the best singers in metal over the past 35 years. The band have worked for over 18 months on honing their music, concentrating on writing quality metal. Punching The Sky kicks off hard with the anthemic Standing On The Shoulders Of Giants, a classic Saint track that is also the longest track on an album that sees most songs shorter in length than the previous release. The opening track ticks every box, with its slow burning intro, opening riffs which lead to a pulsing song crammed full memorable hooks and chorus. The temperature increases on the piledriving End Of The Attention Span, which flies along at full throttle. 

Two tracks in and the quality is shining. Superb guitar work from guitarists Phil Sandoval and Jeff Duncan, ably supported by the locked in rhythm section of Joey Vera and drummer Gonzo Sandoval. This is a band who have been joined at the hip for over three decades and it shows in the tight links which are threaded throughout the album’s 11 songs. As Punching The Sky progresses, it’s clear that Armored Saint remain masters of the killer earworm. There are few tracks on this album that don’t have a memorable hook or chorus which you’ll end up humming hours after you’ve turned the turntable off. Their sound is as robust now as it was back in 1985. In fact, the years of recording and touring have honed Armored Saint into a slick driven metal machine. They are also unafraid to mix up their sound with Do Wrong To None containing a change to their usual style. There is a freedom in the Armored Saint sound that they didn’t possess early in their career. 

Tracks such as Lone Wolf and Fly In The Ointment contrast with their feel and tempo, the latter a more brooding, reflective piece but both are distinctively Armored Saint from start to finish. Unfair is another slower, smouldering track full of emotion with a powerful feel as it builds to an epic crescendo whilst Sandoval plays an American Indian flute on the intro to the muscular Never You Fret that closes the album. Vera once again produces, utilising the same engineering team from Win Hands Down. The result is a slick, polished but not overly shiny record that still has grit and dirt under the nails. Punching The Sky warrants repeated plays to get under its skin and yet it is instantly accessible. The best of both worlds? You bet. 9/10

Forlorn World: Umbra (Self Released) [Paul Hutchings]

If you know anything about the UK melodic death metal scene, the name of Josh McMorran is one that you will instantly recognise. The engine behind Bloodshot Dawn, scene veterans for close to two decades, McMorran has worked tirelessly to pursue and produce his music. Since Bloodshot’s last release, the excellent Reanimation in 2018, McMorran has been working on a new project, Forlorn World. The results are spectacular. Forlorn World gathers many of those instantly recognisable traits of Bloodshot Dawn, but McMorran has mixed them with other elements that allow a wider flexibility than he allows himself with the main outfit. The album includes several guest solos and vocals including Francesco Paoli (Fleshgod Apocalypse), bandmate Morgan Reid, Yo Oniytan (Rings Of Saturn), with bass duties covered by fellow Bloodshot Dawn member Giacomo Gastaldi. Forlorn World explores the story of a man forced to take a dark path, finding revenge and redemption. The epilogue of a great saga in a fictional universe, based on the world we live in and trials we all face together. Josh adds, "The story is about a man who stands up for his beliefs, shot down in the face of impending fear. This is a sombre tale of redemption and inner struggles which hold the character back and his journey to overcome it all." 

The lyrical concepts within the album touch on modern politics and social observations ambiguously woven into an adventure following a wizard that seeks revenge in a universe of portals, trolls, and medieval civilisation. The album follows The Shadowmancer's journey to revenge and redemption, after suffering a harrowing trauma he will learn and grow, gaining the power to appease his will. The album opens with Moving Mountains, which provides a dramatic introduction to the release. Ferocious and unrelenting, the initial moments stick closely to the Bloodshot blueprint, but the arrival of clean vocals marks the immediate diversion from the mothership. The frenetic picking remains, alongside the blistering solos, crushing riffs and pummelling programmed drumming but it’s the pleasing melody that provides the freshness. Utilising percussion and some rich synths, McMorran has expanded and pushed deep into new musical territory. The Shadowmancer follows but here there is more than just clean vocals to delight. This song is propelled at a blistering pace, and let’s face it, Josh isn’t going to take the foot of the accelerator is he. Shredding for fun, the guitar work is stunning, the bass lines of Gastaldi rampage underneath the maelstrom. Before The End provides a gentle, instrumental interlude, a sweet piece of guitar allowing a quick breath. March Into The Void sees the utilisation of the synths, described aptly as Blade Runner style, and whilst they add to the mix, they never take away from the underlying power of the overall track. 

McMorran has always drawn from bands like Soilwork and Scar Symmetry and never is it more evident than here. The Traveller provides some of the most melodic elements of the album. The longest track on the record, the opening section segues into a flat-out passage, with the keyboards coming to the fore, adding atmosphere without any loss of the firepower expecting. The clean vocals demonstrate that McMorran can sing as well as growl, the contrast working nicely, whilst the changes of tempo, from explosive soloing to fiery aggressive sections and the huge finale all blend well. It’s carries a triumphant feel although the abrupt finish is one of my few criticisms. With the album clocking in at the 30-minute mark, it’s obvious that McMorran has pushed for quality rather than quantity. Penultimate track Pillars Of Eternity sees Josh trade gruff and clean vocals with one of the guest vocalists (I think it’s Francesco Paoli but I may be wrong) before the title track (Umbra which means Shadow in Latin) with its battery of riffs, subtle synths and further guest cleans provides a fitting conclusion. Having worked on the album for over a year, what is evident is the attention that McMorran has put into this project. 

The artwork was created by Applewhite Art and only enhances the package. Written, recorded, and mixed himself, McMorran handed over mastering and additional mixing to acclaimed producer Jacob Hansen of Hansen Studios (Aborted, Extol, Amaranthe) who has finished off the project in fine style. Forlorn World is exciting, fresh and provides a creative outlet for one of the UK’s main underground artists. 8/10

The Struts: Strange Days (Polydor Records) [Matt Bladen]

Recorded in just 10 days during Lockdown Strange Days is the third full length from The Struts and it's the sound of a band making good on their claims of being the world beating arena rock n roll band. Their huge support shows of bands such as The Stones and The Who have been well documented despite their own tours being a little smaller scale, however once we all get out of this I can see that they will on the Marquee at the UK's biggest venues easily. Strange Days is a key part of this once again ramping up those classic British rock influences of The Stones, The Faces and Queen; Luke Spiller's snide, confident, vocals weaving these tales of sex, drink and rock n roll with a glint in his eye and occasionally a tongue in his cheek. More diverse soundwise than before, check out the Hendrix thumping psych of Wild Child where guitarist Adam Slack faxes off with RATM's Tom Morello it's also got those traditional hip shaking rhythms from Jed Elliot (bass) and Gethin Davies (drums) that hark back to when the Brits ruled the airwaves, the boogie ballad of Burn It Down sound like prime Rod and Ronny. 

The band themselves broke the USA before they did over here so I Hate How Much I Want You is little bit of a passing of the torch moment as Def Leppard's Joe Elliot contributes vocals and Phil Collen guitars. The full steam ahead towards the arenas was noticeable on their previous album, here it practically beats you around the head, they are using nostalgia yes, but mostly their music is made help you have a good time. Whereas this was a little contrived on the last record here the short recording time makes things a little more fast and loose Slack getting more chances to bring an axe attack than before the fuzzy All Dressed Up (And Nowhere To Go) an example. As well as Elliot another higher profile guest is Robbie Williams who sings on the title track which I'll admit when I first heard it, I didn't like, however now I've heard it in the context of the album it's not bad even with Stoke's cockiest singer on it his part is thankfully understated, the indie rocking opener Another Hit Of Showmanship has The Strokes guitarist Albert Hammond Jr. 

They have also put on their first cover and rather than play it safe, they've gone for Do You Love Me by KISS rocking up the disco thump of the original but not starting too far. Closing with the sax-filled baroom soul of Am I Talking To The Champagne Strange Days once again lays claim to The Struts place on the throne of British rock dominance. A long way away from your Ed Sheeran's, this is what out British music on the worldwide map and The Struts do it with cross generational appeal. I can even forgive Robbie Williams. 9/10 

Artificial Eden: Self Titled (Boersma Records) [Matt Bladen]

Recently signing to German label Boersma Records, Greek based progressive metal band Artificial Eden have a finally released their debut album despite being formed in 2003. Made up of Greeks Antonis Panagopoulos (guitar), Thanasis Paparidis (guitar), Giorgos Pispirigos (drums), S. Hasapidis (bass) and Non-Greek Rob Lungren (vocals), they play a style of progressive metal that nods to Fates Warning, Shadow Gallery et al. So you can expect on Artificial Eden is the complex but classic leaning style of heavy metal with changing time signatures, dramatic elements on the balladic Day Of Tears as well as some soaring vocals that really resonate on the closing track Land Of Depression which is 12 minutes of exactly what Artificial Eden do well. As many of you know I'm a bit of a prg nerd and I'm quite impressed by Artificial Eden the only thing I would say is that the title track which opens the record is possibly the weakest on the record as personally I would have opened up with Thoughts or Lies Between The Lines which are bit more immediate, the latter especially brings a thrashier sound. Still it's pretty decent prog metal that's been a long time in the making. Check it out if you're a prog metal completist. 7/10 

Friday, 23 October 2020

Reviews: Hammerfall, Coexistence, USA Nails, White Walls (Matt, Charlie, Lucas & Alex)

Hammerfall: Live! Against The World (Napalm Records) [Matt Bladen]

Live! Against The World is the newest live Blu-Ray/CD from Swedish power metal veterans Hammerfall. Boasting their biggest production yet their 2019/2020 World Domination tour, this show comes from a show in Germany and what you get is essentially a 'best of' record with a few tracks from Domination the album this tour was in support of. What you get here is Sweden in full flight especially vocalist Joacim Cans whose voice does seem particularly high in the mix but that's not really a problem as he's one of the best singer in the classic metal/power metal genre. ow I obviously had the audio version of this so I can't really comment on the visuals but soundwise it's a slick as you can get capturing every nuance of their performances from the frantic kick drumming of David Wallin to Oscar Dronjak an Pontus Norgren's searing leads. 

At nearly tow hours you can't say you don't get value for money with a massive 20 song setlist that shifts between modern tracks like Never Forgive, Never Forget, One Against The World and classics such as Blood Bound (driven by the thump of Fredrik Larsson's bass), The Dragon Lies Bleeding ending with the bouncy Heart's On Fire (of course). This tour was only in conjunction with the 20th anniversary of Renegade so we get a neat little medley of tracks from that record, there's also a special guest in the shape of Battle Beast's Noora Lohimo on ballad Second To One. Throughout the show Cans is commanding the German fans with the mastery of a seasoned frontman while never missing a note. Live! Against The World is Hammerfall at their brightest showing why they are considered the saviours of Swedish heavy metal, having to weathered many storms they deserve all the plaudits they get. If you need a Hammerfall live album (they have three in total now) then I suggest this one as it's the most comprehensive. 7/10   

Coexistence: Collateral Dimension (Transcending Obscurity Records) [Charlie Rogers]

Italy has some outstanding musicians, and Coexistence are certainly among them. Soaring guitar leads, tasteful yet relentless drumming, and some mind-bending fretless bass work - it’s impossible not to slap like now. Clocking in at 55 minutes, this bucks the trend of shorter albums we’ve been seeing recently. Phasing into existence, the first track Metaphysical Essence opens the album with a slow fade - like a celestial body emerging from the horizon. Fitting, as the album has a cosmic theme. The engines fire on spaceship riff, and we accelerate into the ether. It’s catchy from outset, and a strong sense of pace keeps your attention from drifting away. Setting out the formula for the whole record, the intensity swells and ebbs, as if navigating solar tides. Transitions are very smooth, with little to no jarring breaks or curve balls thrown at you. This leads to the record being very relaxing to listen to, despite some absolutely thunderous doublekick. Masterful use of the guitar across all tracks demonstrates complete control of the instrument, with soundscapes ranging from atmospheric passages, to dense picking, and gravity defying leads. Epico. The bass is handled beautifully - fretless tone produced perfectly and played with incredible precision. 

Personally, I’d raise the volume of the bass by a tiny bit, maybe 5%, as some of the beautiful lines fall in danger of being lost from time to time. The bass solos are breathtaking too - fluid and captivating, it’s great to hear all members of a band have their place in the sun. Vocals are consistently impressive, with wide roars and piercing screeches, showing off versatility but also knowledge of when each technique is most effective. This is all underpinned by some stellar drumming, which remains interesting without distracting from the harmonic instruments. It’s tough to find flaws in the album, as it executes each song with finesse. It’s lack of variation between styles may bore some listeners, but if you’re looking for knuckle dragging caveman beats and low-fi horror samples, you’re in the wrong place. I mentioned previously that there’s no sharp turns, and the record feels very smooth - in this dreamlike state it might be possible to lose track of what you’re listening to, especially if performing other tasks. If you’re paying attention, however, Coexistence will reward you with some glorious music. Fans of Obscura, Augury, and Beyond Creation will have a very good time here. 8/10

USA Nails: Character Stop (Bigout Records) [Lucas Tuckwood]

London based punkers USA Nails crank it up to 11 with their freshest release, Character Stop. It’s album number five, and in this instalment things get rather melancholy and introspective. Lockdown’s a bitch, and it’s affecting us all in different ways. In USA Nails’ case, they’ve spent their time looking inward to get their inspiration, and they shine bright through the walls of sonic sound, touching on themes of social media, working part time as a musician, and mental health. But if you don’t care about all that stuff, there’s a superb punk album to go along with it. USA Nails certainly seem to have their technique down to a fine art, as the music rips its way out of the speakers with little regard for manners. It’s that quintessential modern day noise punk, featuring guitars fuzzed out to truly insane degrees, as well as free flowing song structures that each serve as a healthy shot of vitality to take the old punk formula and turn it into something fresh and spicy. Songs like I Am Posable and the title track stand out, presenting great lyrical themes meshed with a sheer wall of distorted riffs, chugging bass, and frantic drumming. I can see some new listeners not being too keen on the vocals, but I find they’re quintessentially punky, and if you’re already a fan then this won’t be an issue. If you happen to be one of those fans, then you’re going to absolutely adore this record. It’s packing even more of USA Nails’ fierce punky chops, blended with some great lyrics to add just that extra bit of spice to each track. Thoroughly recommended. 8/10

White Walls: Grandeur (Self Released) [Alex Swift]
White Walls aggressively combine the musical forces of misery and serenity, persistent riffs and atmospheric ambiance, chaos, and restraint. While their music draws on everything from traditional elements to extreme metal, their prog is that dark, seething, and morose style which wraps the listener in a symposium and beautiful sadness and refuses to lessen its grip. Grandeur continues that mammoth sound on to a stunning third album. False Beliefs transitions hypnotically into Eye For An I. A profusion of eerily tranquil guitar chords and haunting singing serves to lull the listener into a false sense of security before the anthem spills over into apocalyptic soundscapes and a sense of sonic absorption. Instrumentals and vocals clash against each other like the elements in a howling hurricane. This grants us a sense of imbalance and exploration, which is carried over into the visceral Home Is On The Other Side, where the guitars growl alongside the rumbling rhythmic textures, until the harmoniously wraithlike middle section. 

Continuing on the same journey, Holy Worse may be one of the most emotionally poignant moments on the record, permeated with a contemplative sense of lurking inner dread. By Contrast, Velvet feels almost retro in nature, before plunging back into the darkness with arresting screams, and a swarm of blackened melodic passages which feel like they leave a physical impression with the dramatic weight! Providing one of the most psychedelics and experimental moments is Speaking In Tongues which is too short to satisfy its frankly intriguing, scarily dreamlike concepts. Once more, these musicians eloquently control the art of contrast. Continuing on this unpredictable nature, Starfish Crown allows us to experience a more frenetic, sauntering sound, where the guitars and bass switch roles in a way which absolutely elevates the anthem, and showcases the excellence of the songwriters on display. Locked-in Syndrome contains fewer risks overall, yet carries’ that sense of grandiosity which creates so much character for this experience. Fear not though, fans of all things weird, Month’s End combines unbridled aggression with dashes of synthesizers, which was certainly unexpected. 

Hell, look no further than The Descent – a seven-minute opus which grows from a brooding, trudging piece to an absolute juggernaut of a centrepiece. The Slaughter feels influenced by Middle-Eastern folk, with a mesmerizing sense of majesty, complimented by the graceful harmonies, the emotive performances, and the steady, powerful and crescendoing progression, which sees out the album in impressive style. The ambition and skill scattered throughout this record prove stimulating. The precision of the pacing and the timing and the myriad of styles that they employ defines White Walls as a persistent, captivating act. 9/10

Reviews: Pallbearer, Unearth, Distant, Cortez (Paul S, Rich, Liam & Simon)

Pallbearer: Forgotten Days (Nuclear Blast) [Paul Scoble]

Pallbearer have been one of the biggest noises in Doom Metal for the last few years. The band, based in Little Rock, Arkansas formed in 2008, and released their first album Sorrow And Extinction in 2012, and 2 years later followed it up with the critically acclaimed Foundations Of Burden in 2014. The bands lineup has remained stable since 2012, featuring Brett Campbell on Guitar and Vocals, Devin Holt on Guitar, Joseph D Rowland on Bass and Mark Lierly on Drums.

I must admit at this point that I am a fan of Pallbearer, in particular their 2017 album Heartless. In fact it was my album of the year in 2017. It was my most listened to album in 2017, for about 9 months I listened to it everyday; most days it was the first album I listened to in the morning as it was such a great way to start the day. So, I was a mix of excitement and trepidation when I picked up the new album to review it; excitement at having the new Pallbearer a couple of weeks early, and trepidation at whether it would live up to my (possibly unfair) expectations.

The album opens with the title track Forgotten Days. Forgotten Days has slow build up of feedback before a big heavy riff comes crashing in, it feels powerful with a driving tempo and a dark, dense melancholy sense. Brett Campbell’s vocals come in, and they are just as good as i remember them to be. The chorus is as good as anything the band have recorded before, it’s more melodic than the verse section and feels looser. The track features a very melodious solo and then has a surprise for the listener, near the end of the song is a section with very heavy riffs, feedback and a huge amount of discordant noises, something that is totally new for Pallbearer. This section feels influenced by hardcore and would not be out of place on a Sludge album. Next we get Riverbed; which is still driving Doom Metal, but has a looser, less aggressive feel to the song that preceded it. The chorus is deeply melodic and full of lush tune-fullness. The track has a soft and introspective moment with just Guitar and Vocals, before going back to the loose but driving Doom.

Stasis is the next track, which is very slow and melancholic Doom. There is a very heavy section before the song takes a slightly unexpected turn, and electronic noises are added that give the song a fantastic psychedelic feel. It was unexpected, but it works so well.

Next we come to the albums centrepiece, the 12 minute Silver Wings. Silver Wings has a soft opening, slowly building up to the first riff, which feels heavy, but also controlled and measured. As this part builds, more Guitar layers are added and it is lush and full of depth. Then everything stops, just for a second, before just guitar comes back in for a short interval, and then it’s back to the heavy, and this time it’s huge, slow and is achingly melancholic. For the rest of the song Silver Wings is sad but incredibly beautiful, the only other album I know of that could pull off this level of heavy, sad and beautiful is Warning’s Watching From A Distance. This song feels so sad and despairing it feels like a requiem for the entire human race. This is the emotional centre of this album and is so well crafted, it’s dark and melancholy, almost monolithically sad, but it is also breathtakingly beautiful. In the second half of the track there is a section with lots of layered, harmonised Guitars that draws you in, and makes you wish the track would never end.

The Quicksand Of Existing is the shortest track on the album, and feels like a palette cleanser after the beautiful despair of Silver Wings. The Quicksand Of Existing is a much faster, expansive and bombastic. The tempo is mid-paced but with loads of energy and drive. The track also boasts some fantastic Guitar harmonies and a cracking Wah-Wah infused solo. The Quicksand Of Existing goes strait into the next song Vengeance & Ruination. Vengeance & Ruination has the huge, slow riffs you’d expect from Pallbearer but with a clean electric guitar melody over the top, which gives the whole song a slight gothic feel. The song has an introverted sense to it, until the last couple of minutes where a huge and heavy section with droning guitar over the top of the huge riffs. At this point the song looses the introverted feel and moves towards expansive and huge.

Second to last track Rite Of Passage is mid-paced, melodic and forceful. The track is simple and filled with great vocals, and a vast amount of tune-fullness. In the second half those gorgeous layered guitars return, and take the track to its end. The album comes to an end with Caledonia. Caledonia is as close to a ballad as Pallbearer get. The song is full of loose, deeply melancholic riffs, at a relaxed and almost dreamlike tempo. The clean Guitar from Vengeance & Ruination makes a reappearance in the second half of the track in a section that feels huge and expansive, but also very dark. The last few riffs feel heavier and tauter than the rest of the track before a clean guitar takes the track, and the album to a close.

So, was I right to feel excited about getting this album? Yes, definitely, but I’m also very glad to say after my first listen the trepidation left me. Forgotten Days is a stunning piece of work. It’s darker, heavier, sadder and in some ways feels angrier than Heartless, but then 2020 is a darker, heavier, sadder and angrier time than 2017. Pallbearer are still capable of all the great elements that I loved on Heatless; amazing riffs, fantastic solos, great harmonies and one of the best voices in Metal. However this time they are used to represent a darker world that is currently in turmoil. I listened to Heartless so much that it is difficult to judge it objectively, but I am already feeling that Forgotten Days is a better album, amazing as that might sound to anyone that feels the way I do about the album that preceded it, but I genuinely think that it has more depth and features better, more mature songwriting. Heartless will always be one of my favourite albums, I genuinely believe that it is one of the best Doom albums ever made, and the fact that Forgotten Days is probably better is truly staggering. 10/10 

Undeath: Lesions Of A Different Kind (Prosthetic Records) [Rich Oliver]

Another day and another new band playing old school style death metal. Despite the sheer quantity of bands making death metal grim and filthy again, the quality of the music on offer is very good indeed and Undeath join the legion of bands bringing back the old school death metal sound. Hailing from Rochester in New York, Undeath have a string of releases from demos, splits and live recordings but Lesions Of A Different Kind is the first full length release from the band and is coming out on Prosthetic Records.

Like the majority of the bands in this new wave of old school death metal, Undeath don’t break any molds when it comes to what they do but just play simple and very effective old school death metal. The music is suitably raw and uncompromising heading more into that murky death metal sound spearheaded by bands such as Incantation back in the day whilst there are definite influences from bands such as Cannibal Corpse throughout. The riffs are filthy, the groove is gnarly and the vocals are guttural. The pace is nicely varied from all out speed, aggression and brutality to a slower, sludgy and outright nasty pace. Death metal is at its most effective when it knows when to slow and vary the pace rather than being an all out speed attack. Right from the get go this album goes for the jugular with the relentless Suitably Hacked To Gore whilst other highlights from the album included the crushing Lord Of The Grave, the sludgy groove of Shackles Of Sanity and the wonderfully titled Kicked In The Protruding Guts.

Undeath show great promise with their debut album and join an ever growing legion of bands determined to take death metal back to the early 1990’s. There is nothing that jumps out in their sound to differentiate them from other bands in the scene but if you are looking for something groundbreaking or overflowing with originality then old school death metal isn’t the genre for you. Undeath have a very solid debut album with Lesions Of A Different Kind and they can definitely stand tall alongside the other main players in this scene such as Blood Incantation, Tomb Mold and Necrot. 8/10

Distant: Dawn Of Corruption (Unique Leader Records) [Liam True]

While it’s been in a bit of a slump lately, the Deathcore scene has picked up over the last year or so with some phenomenal outputs. And to add one to the pile, Dawn Of Corruption may only be a six track EP, but it crushes as much as any full length released this year in terms of heaviness.

On their third EP they’ve managed to nail their sound, putting together a cacophonic symphony of absolute destruction. Not many bands can pull of the mixture of both Slam & Deathcore in one sound, but Distant do it perfectly. With the shrieking highs & tectonic plate changing low gutturals of vocalist Alan Grnja it goes hand in hand with the apocalyptic riffs of Nouri Yetgin, Vladimir Golic & Eise Smit (Yep, three guitarists in a Deathcore band) which adds to the untold destruction they create. The bass grooves of Elmer Maurits churn the pit of your stomach into a vile wall of death. Drummer Jan Mato is the glue to the band holding everyone in place with his precision blast beats, versatile style and 200 MPH speed around the kit to create the heaviest sounding drums of 2020.

Behind the music they create is the story of the realm of Tyrannotophia, the sounds of the worlds damnation, so to speak. And if anyone has nailed that sound. It’s distant. Disgusting. Vile. Putrid. Just a few words to describe the EP. But my got, it’s an exhilarating thrill ride through the world that the Dutch Sextet have created. 10/10

Cortez: Sell The Future (Ripple Music/Salt Of The Earth) [Simon Black]

It’s difficult third album time for Boston’s Heavy/Hard Rock five piece. Always a challenge for any band after the album you’ve been working all your careers before signing a deal, then the leftovers are finished, and they have taken their time putting this out, with four years passing since The Depths Below hit the decks. It was clearly time well spent, as the record is absolutely filler free. And HEAVY… I mean REALLY HEAVY. We are all used to that down-tuned stoner touch to the mixing desk, but these guys have really fattened up the gain and compression, so that even at low volume my stack was rumbling. And you know it’s good heavy music, because my kids told me to turn it down….

Firing off with the energetic opener No Escape, which is classic hard rock riffage driven energy, and dripping with Classic rock guitar hooks the album slows right down for the title track. Sell The Future is full of ire at the current state of the world, starting slow and cranking up the pace slightly to create some astounding pounding riffage. The lead breaks aren’t about speed and excess virtuosity, but drip with fat heavy melodic weight and really do the business, carrying the often quite lengthy instrumental sections effortlessly. Look At You turns the speed up again, and has one of the more catchy riffs and vocal hooks on offer here – and it’s a belter. I’m also particularly enamoured of Matt Harrington’s gutsy bluesy voice which compliments the soulful stripped back guitar work from Scott O’Dowd and Alasdair Swan.

Single Faulty Authors takes things back down again, with an opening guitar break that wouldn’t be amiss in a Southern Rock act, before taking a heavier down tuned trippy verse, shortly before bashing you round the face with a pure Metal brick of a chorus… and then back again. The anger continues with Deceivers, very much the theme of the album and once again a more emotive start to chugger Sharpen The Spear. The final pace flip-flop is the pacey Vanishing Point, which is by far the fastest track on the record before closing with the lengthy epic Beyond.

If I have a criticism it’s that the tracks alternate fairly rigidly between a fast one, then a slow one, but it doesn’t jar as the tracks are so richly crafted and mixed, and when they do really mix it up as they do in Faulty Authors, it just works. Uncomplicated and effective, less is definitely more on this album. 7/10

Thursday, 22 October 2020

Reviews: Big Scenic Nowhere, Red Moon Architect, Thanatopsis, Ironed Out (Matt, Paul H, Rich & Liam)

Big Scenic Nowhere: Lavender Blues (Heavy Psych Sounds) [Matt Bladen]

Lavender Blues is only three tracks long but the title track is a whopping 13 minutes long so they are very much substance over style. This project is collaboration between Bob Balch (Fu Manchu) and Gary Arce (Yawning Man) on guitar, Tony Reed (Mos Generator) on bass, vocals, synths and guitar, and Bill Stinson on drums (Yawning Man), and this EP is a mind-expanding slice of psychedelic/progressive rock, bringing a fluid mellow sound, sort of like ethereal desert rock but with shuddering synths that take things into the mid-period Floydian realms the title track especially having those waves of synths supplied by ex-Opeth man Per Wiberg. 

As the guitars fade almost in and out of consciousness Stinson's drumming just steadily keeping everything in place for the explorative melodies. Along with those named above the record also features guitar playing from Daniel Mongrain (Voivod) and Chris Goss (Masters Of Reality), so it's packed full of sun-worshipping, fuzz-drenched riffs that often evolve into brilliant guitar playoffs, especially on Labyrinth's Fade. A true collaborative effort, you can hear each of the bands they play in each musician add to their own touch to the EP along with a  lot of Grateful Dead references but really Lavender Blues is not only a great follow up to their debut full length from January but a cherry picked journey through the outer realms of desert/space rock. 7/10

Red Moon Architect: Emptiness Weighs The World (Noble Demon) [Paul Hutchings]

The sea laps gently on the shore as a piano melancholically echoes. This calm vista is quickly overtaken by a thumping riff, the piano sounds again before crushingly heavy doom and guttural vocals take centre stage. Welcome to the impressive and massive opening of Red Moon Architect’s fifth full length album. For those unaware of the band, the Finns formed in 2011, with their debut release Concealed Silence dropping in 2012 and their last album Kuura came out last year. The six-piece play a pleasing style of melodic death doom metal and Emptiness Weighs The Most continues in the vein of previous albums. The band use clever shades of light and heaviness in their music. After the intro of Hidden, Chained is a punishing slab, with Ville Rutanen’s growling dominant. The gentler voice of Anni Viljanen are introduced on Rise, her soaring cleans the perfect foil.

Emptiness Weighs The Most contains nine tracks, a return to a more routine formula after Kuura, which features a mere three tracks, two weighing in at 16 minutes plus. Rise sees the band effectively use the keys of founder member and drummer Saku Moilanen, the lush layers adding depth and volume to the track. The Finns aren’t afraid to slow things down, Dethrone The Darkness begins with an ethereal feel before more concrete heavy riffs shatter the peace. It’s this juxtaposition which works so well across this intriguing record. The music on Emptiness Weighs The Most switches between heavy and damn heavy. The lighter touch of tracks such as One Shines Brighter and Into The Light with their gentle melodies and Viljanen’s captivating vocals contrasts with the funeral march pace of Muse, a powerful seven-minute song and the doom drenched penultimate Reform

The duel guitar work of Matias Moilanen and Taneli Jämsä is restrained but effective whilst Moilanen and bassist Jukka Jauhiainen have the rhythm section firmly anchored. Themes of death, misery and memories cast a typically melancholic feel across the album. It’s not something you put on for a workout but for dark nights with flickering candles and wood burning fires, it would sit perfectly. Take a moment, close your eyes and immerse yourself in an album that is drenched in emotion. 8/10

Thanatopsis: Initiation (Extreme Metal Music) [Rich Oliver]

Initiation is the debut full length album by Californian band Thanatopsis released through the Extreme Metal Music label.  Despite this being a debut album Thanatopsis were formed back in 1992 and released a string of demos between 1992 and 1997 before disbanding. They reformed back in 2015 and three quarters of the original line up plus new drummer Jason Adam Borton present to us Initiation. Initiation is a mix of new material and material which appeared back on the demos in the 1990’s and is a mix of thrash metal and progressive death metal. Considering a lot of this material was written around 1993/1994 it sounds remarkably contemporary with its mix of thrash riffs, complex rhythms and a strong sense of melody. The playing throughout is impeccable with some fantastic bass playing from Thom Hall and excellent guitar solos from Dave Couch. 

The vocals by frontman John Bishop are very much in a thrash style but reach levels of gruffness that just about cross over that border into death metal at times. The album is made up of nine songs which cover around 35 minutes. A shorter album length is beneficial as the songs are very similar in style and their repetitive nature means that not a long stands out. The songs themselves are short and compact and don’t outstay their welcome. For me the most effective songs were the ones which were more on the aggressive side such as the title track, Your Demise and the ferocious album closer Suffersystem. On the whole this is a very good album from Thanatopsis. It sounds brilliant aided by a fantastic production and mix by Juan Urteaga. The performances are tight and despite the repetitive nature of some of the songs this was still an enjoyable listen. 7/10

Ironed Out: We Move As One (GSR Entertainment) [Liam True]

Grime influenced Hardcore. That’s how Ironed Out have described themselves, but in reality, it’s Rap Metal. And it’s not even a good version of it. It’s god song good riffs to it, some good headbanging moments. But that’s where it ends, which is a shame because I'm a good supporter of the Rap Metal genre. Blending two genres together to create a new sound is always exciting. Unless you’re Ironed Out, then you just ruin it. Spanning 12 songs and 39 minutes it does drag on because all the songs sound the same. Hardcore riff, gang vocal chant of the chorus, one big breakdown per song, rinse and repeat. It’s a system that’s worked well for many bands in the past, but now it’s overdone. Ironed Out have done that.

To be fair there are a couple of good things about the album. The riff work from guitarist’s Steve & Mark create some nasty stringed sounds. The drum work from Jorge is simplistic yet stylish. And that’s that. The vocals don’t fit the sound of the band at all. Props to the band for trying Grime & Hardcore, but it falls flat of anything good. 2/10

Reviews: Mörk Gryning, Hellripper, Tibetan Sky Burial, Vesta (Matt & Paul S)

Mörk Gryning: Hinsides Vrede (Season Of Mist) [Matt Bladen]

After 15 years of biding their time in the shadow realm, Swedish band Mörk Gryning emerge with their razor sharp extreme riffage, sharpened, polished and ready to take the heads of anyone who listens. As mentioned this is their first album since 2005 and it feels as if theses legends of the scene haven't lost  step Goth Goron (bass, guitar, keys) still leading them in their pursuit of supremacy in the black metal realm but he has been reunited with the other founding members of the band Draakh Kimera (drums, guitars, keys, lead vocals) and Avatar (lead guitar, vocals) so Hinsides Vrede can be seen as almost a re-birth for the band, trying to rekindle the fire and fury of their cult debut album with this sixth record that translates to 'otherworldly wrath.' 

This is what you get as Hinsides Vrede explodes out of the stereo with Fältherren and The Night showing those tremolo picked riffs and virtuoso solos that the band have been associated with as well as their ear for the melodic on Sleeping In The Embers along with the wonderful Black Spirit as song that features Goth on lead vocals and guest vocals from Laura Ute. If I were to make a comparison I'd say Cradle Of Filth would be the one that stands out, although without the pig squeals. The multitude of small intermezzo's like the piano-led For Those Departed are used to link the album together adding artistic flourishes to the straight up black metal sound. After a 15 year wait Mörk Gryning return with a furious melodic black metal record that will please anyone that has been waiting in anticipation for this record. A welcome return. 7/10 

Hellripper: The Affair Of The Poisons (Peaceville Records) [Paul Scoble]

Hellripper have been making music since 2014. Hellripper do exist as a live band with a full line-up, however on record Hellripper is James McBain (not to be confused with the action hero character from The Simpsons) playing all the instruments and vocals. The first material released by Hellripper was an EP released back in 2015 called Manifestation Of Evil, then there followed several splits and a compilation of the EP and split material called Complete And Total Fucking Mayhem. Hellripper released their first full album in 2017, called Coagulating Darkness, and followed this with the excellent Black Arts And Alchemy EP in 2019. So, have Hellripper managed to keep up the high level of quality that has characterised their career with this new album? Hellripper play a very Blackened style of Thrash that feels rooted in the mid nineteen eighties. 

There are elements of early Slayer, Early Sodom, Early Kreator as well as having a healthy dose of NWOBHM melody and tunefulness and an attitude that is reminiscent of Venom or Motorhead. There are also obvious parallels with with more modern Black Thrash acts like Toxic Holocaust and Aura Noir. However, having mentioned a lot of other bands, Hellripper definitely have their own sound, and those references are just to give you an idea of what the band sound like. As you’d expect from Black Thrash all the material on the album is really fast, there are only about 2 or 3 slow sections on the album, and even the mid-paced material is dwarfed by the amount of full throttle, savagely fast thrash. Probably the fastest and most unhinged track on The Affair Of The Poisons Is Beyond The Convent Walls which has a similar feel to early Slayer, it’s an almost ridiculously fast adrenaline fuelled blast of fast riffs and ripping solos (or should that be Hellripping solos?). Which brings us on to the soloing on this album, which are all fast, frenetic and full of energy, whilst at the same time being appropriate for the song and never detracting from the thrash. Some of the thrash on here really does transport you back to the early days of thrash. 

Vampire's Grave has an opening riff that reminds me of classic Motorhead, it’s a song that would fit in with a lot of the material on Ace Of Spades. Savage Blasphemy has a lot of NWOBHM melody in it, and combined with the fast riffs this gives the track a feeling that is reminiscent of Kill ‘Em All Metallica. There is a definite Punk sense to some of the material as well. The tracks Spectres Of The Blood Moon Sabbath and Blood Orgy Of The She-Devils both have this simpler feel to the riffing that is so Punk. Both tracks are filled with cracking, spikey riffs, that remind you why crossover thrash is so exciting. The Affair Of The Poisons is a great piece of Thrash Metal. It’s packed with energy and drive, full of tight riffs, ripping solos and exuberant, effervescent tempos. What is really great about this album, is it’s fun, life affirming and it puts a huge smile on your face. This album could pull people out of comas its so full of life, anyone who can listen to this and not head-bang must already be dead. If you are looking for a massively energetic blast of an album; then this is it. 9/10

Tibetan Sky Burial: Lamenta (Self Released) [Matt Bladen]

With a ringing dissonant chord and multi-layered roar we have the debut record from Texans Tibetan Sky Burial, not the kind of band to wish you Namaste, Lamenta is a raging, torrid, piece of emotional record which is conceptual piece dealing with the five stages of grief: denial, anger, bargaining, depression, and acceptance. Now in the current climate many of these will feel very real to a lot of people as many of us are dealing with some kind of grief. So with now added resonance Lamenta is an album that may act as some kind of catharsis for those struggling, especially if they enjoy the crushing atmospheric blackened post metal of Ba'al, Inter Arma et al. Tracks such as Scorned beat you around the head with the sheer unbridled aggression that evolves into the more down-beat atmospheres on songs like Flesh Rot. Produced & recorded by Kfir Gov at Evil Snail Studios in Austin, Lamenta is a strong debut from Rick Fernandes, Bryan Stevens, Healy Rosman, Shane Wallin, Rom Gov channelling suffering and strife into musical aggression. 7/10 

Vesta: Odyssey (Argonauta Records) [Paul Scoble]

Italian three piece Vesta have been making huge noises since 2016. The band, featuring Giacomo Cerri (Seed'n'Feed/Dinelli & SNF Ensemble/Foolhouse/La Lisca) on Guitar and Loops, Sandro Marchi (La Iena) on Drums  and Lorenzo Iannazzone on Bass, have made one album before Odyssey in 2017’s self titled album Vesta. Vesta play a mix of Doom and Post Metal, with maybe a little bit of straight Hard Rock injected into the mix. The other aspect of Vesta’s sound is the lack of vocals; Vesta are a purely instrumental band. The different styles present on Odyssey, tend to be mixed together, so all of the tracks have some very huge doom riffs and also Post Metal sections with clean guitar layered together. Opening track Elohim has some great doomy riffs, it opens with a slow build up to some nicely massive Doom riffs in a sort of 6:8 time signature, before the tempo increases and we are in huge and bombastic territory. The doomy aspects of Odyssey are very effective, to me there seems to be a little bit of influence from Crowbar in places, Sleep in other places, and coming somewhere between the two there is a little bit of similarity with Pallbearer. Although Vesta clearly have their own sound, there reminiscence to these bands in some of the riffing. 

The middle section of Breach is a good example of the Post Rock aspect of Vesta’s sound. After some huge and expansive doomy riffing, the song takes a turn towards softness and introspection. The Post Metal section features clean guitar riffs, layered together, the feeling is relaxed and cathartic. The song then builds back up for a huge and heavy ending. The best example of the Hard Rock feel on the album is probably the final track Cerere. The song has taut, tight rock feel, the riffs are less relaxed than the doom riffs, and the tempo is slightly faster and more driving. Odyssey is a great mix of Doom, Post Metal and Hard Rock. I find with instrumental albums that if I start to wonder where the vocals are, it probably isn’t that good. However, if I just enjoy it and get into the album without wondering where the vocals are, then it’s almost certainly a great album. When I listened to Odyssey, I didn’t think once “Where are the vocals?”, I just enjoyed the fantastic riffs, the beautiful introspective Post Metal sections and definitely nodded my head to the Rock swagger. Which means that this is a great instrumental album! 8/10

Wednesday, 21 October 2020

Reviews: Joe Bonamassa, Raging Speedhorn, Rusty Eye, Mors Principium Est (Reviews By Matt Bladen)

Joe Bonamassa: Royal Tea (Provogue Records)

Joey Bones returns with his new record and even though recently he has been indulging in American Big Band, instrumental Jazz side projects and a myriad of styles. The spirit of that young guitar slinger who burst onto the scene with, the recently re-released New Day Yesterday, was a New Yorker heavily influenced by the British Blues scene spearheaded by John Mayall & The Bluesbreakers, Jeff Beck, Eric Clapton & Cream. Maybe it's due to A New Day Yesterday's re-release but things seem to have have come full circle with his 14th studio album Royal Tea, recorded at Abbey Road Studios, Bonamassa going back to his musical roots with some hard driving, soulful, British blues rock. We ge 10 original tracks kicking off with the 7 minute When One Door Opens, we go into the music that burnt strongly in the heart of that guitar slinging kid all those years ago.

With powerful, emotional numbers such as Why Does It Take So Long To Say Goodbye the thundering Lookout Man and the 43-year old is rediscovering his heroes, filtering it through the incredible talent and world weariness he has now.  Co-written with former Whitesnake guitarist Bernie Marsden, ex-Cream lyricist Pete Brown and Jools Holland, the record really sizzles with that British Blues Explosion power as tracks like High Class Girl and the flashy A Conversation With Alice has a gutsy almost Southern swagger to it (maybe it's the slide guitar) and I Didn't Think She Would Do It sees the band in some Cream-esque psych-western freakouts. Once again produced by Kevin Shirley and backed by his insanely talented touring band of Anton Fig (drums), Michael Rhodes (bass) and Reese Wynans (keys), along with the soulful backing vocals and brass section he now  Royal Tea is Joe Bonamassa showing to his old fans that he hasn't forgotten where he came from and for new fans, used to his more eclectic sounds, it's a seasoned pro delving deep into the history of the blues. Stylish, sophisticated but most of all honest to the source material, Royal Tea is another superb blues record from Bonamassa. 8/10  

Raging Speedhorn: Hard To Kill (Red Weed Records)

The veterans of the UK heavy scene Raging Speedhorn have mostly been on pretty much any festival bill you'll have seen in the last 10 years, they get everywhere delivering their thunderous brand of hardcore/sludge influenced groove metal to pack crowds. They are very much a band with 'cult' status inspiring near worship and devotion from their faithful fans. Since their reformation a few years ago they have really upped their appearance schedule and this has been reflected with their previous release Lost Ritual which cemented the come back. However there have been some line up changes since then with guitarist Dave Leese and former Hundred Reasons bassist Andy Gilmour joining guitarist Jim Palmer, and founding drummer Gordon Morison. 

This isn't the only change though as Dan Cook picks up the co-vocalist role alongside founding co-vocalist Frank Regan, he replaces John Loughlin who left the band after 21 years. So with these changes in place and with potted history it pretty easy to see why this record is called Hard To Kill. Musically then the record is classic Speedhorn full of Diamond-hard grooves, raging firestorm riffs and slow heavy doom-laden numbers that are like audio black-treacle, Hard To Kill (the song) unleashes face breaking aggression, while first single Snakebite brings that oh so familiar groove, welcoming you like an old friend. But as I've mentioned we go into the crushing waves of doom for aptly Doom Machine and the steel beating Hammer Down. Dan Cook makes his mark as an ideal foil for Frank Regan both of them spitting venom throughout blending as one unit on ragers like Brutality. I mean the cover of T-Rex's Children Of The Revolution is wholly unneeded but the remaining 8 songs on this album are Raging Speedhorn doing what brought them to the dance, Hard To Kill indeed. 7/10    

Rusty Eye: Dissecting Shadows (Bloodblast)

Another addition to the Bloodblast distribution network are LA/Mexican trio Rusty Eye. Originally from Mexico City they now reside in Hollywood and the spirit of cinema is never far from this new record. Albeit the type of cinema they are focussed on are Italian Schlock-Horror B-Movies and the exploitation/Grindhouse flicks that Quentin Tarantino has based his career on! To deliver this grimy, often blood drenched lyrical influence the music needs to match and Rusty Eye's music is dirtier than a Miner in a Coal Pit! Easily showing influence of bands such as Sir Lord Baltimore, Blue Cheer and our own Budgie they also bring quite a large amount of punk raging. (Defacing Effigies)

It mainly puts then in the same kind of dirty biker rock sound as Admiral Sir Cloudselley Shovell, Gentlemen's Pistols and at times even Orange F'kn Goblin but with the occasional foray into something that makes the listener prick up their ears and think "what was that?" Be it some black metal tremolo picking or some haunting synths which creep in at the end of Can't Wait To Go To Hell and drive a prog metal sound on the title track.

The key to the band forging a unique sound is that while Baron Murtland plays some mind expanding solos and lead explorations Mr Rust (bass) and Miss Randall (drums) not only power the gritty riffs and rhythms which move between crunchy biker rock grooves, through thrash metal and into black metal ferocity but also share vocals Miss Randall having a sneering clean voice opposed to Mr Rust's more extreme growls that both lend themselves well to this album menagerie of styles. Defiantly D.I.Y and fearlessly independent of any genre labels Rusty Eye's music sounds as if The Ramones and Motorhead made a film soundtrack jamming with Voivod and John Carpenter, it's clever, interesting effortlessly cool Dissecting Shadows is unlike many albums you'll hear this year. 8/10

Mors Principium Est: Seven (AFM Records)

Surprisingly Seven is the seventh album from Finnish melo-death mob Mors Principium Est  and after six previous efforts the bands trademark use of bombastic symphonic touches and guitar heroics EVH (R.I.P) himself would be proud of. Obviously being Finnish the main reference point would be  Children Of Bodom but Mors Principium Est have greater depth to their sound than COB, meaning that they could easily be the band COB fans will latch on to now, of they haven't already. MPE do deserve the same kind of worship COB seemed to garner as for me they are the better band, not just vocally but playing wise they have that virtuoso edge, with keening lead breaks and mind melting solos but also their songs bring with them more intricate playing in the rhythms to the point that they almost get progressive. 

Much of this scope is due to the band being a two piece in the studio, Finn Ville Viljanen the screams/growls and production while Brit Andy Gillion is the six string wizard that handles the guitars and programming. While the lyrics on this record are somber and downcast the music is anything but keeping the album moving at Warp One seldom dropping out of hyperspace unless required to it's necessary to add some atmosphere or where the synths are used to full effect. Equally brutal and melodious Seven continues MPE's journey at the leading edge of the Scandi melodeath sound. When things get back to normal they are heading out on tour with Wolfheart and on the strength of Seven there will be many a pit induced. 7/10