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Monday, 5 June 2023

Reviews: Einar Solberg, The Great Gray Funk, Akilla, Nattehimmel (Reviews By Matt Bladen, James Jackson, Zak Skane & GC)

Einar Solberg - 16 (InsideOut Records) [Matt Bladen]

Einar Solberg will be known to you if you have only a passing interest in progressive music, he is the frontman of Leprous and for a long time was keyboardist/clean vocalist for Ihsahn. In the same vein he is also has a creative thirst that is not satiated by his ‘main’ band, there are genres, styles, rhythms, ideas swirling around his head that even the art-progsphere can’t accommodate so it is now that he has chosen to release a solo record. 

A more introspective, intimate album than much of Leprous’ more grandiose efforts, Solberg has cultivated a collaborative environment for his debut solo album, a 50/50 split between Solberg and the composer who joins him on each song, this means that while there are call-backs and links to world many will know him from, it utilises styles Solberg may not be associated with. The title 16 refers to the fact that Solberg has been with Leprous since he was 16 years old and while they are now seen as one of the leaders of their style, this solo album is a new direction a different branch of the same tree. 

This period between 16 and 19 years old was also the most tumultuous so 16 is something of a concept release, retrospectively dealing with these events in attempt to find solace and redemption, making sense of that period and how it was integral to the success he now has as a composer and musician. Einar didn’t want this to be a small album sonically, using various studios around the world (usually those of the collaborators) while also bringing in the Prague Philharmonic Choir on Splitting The Soul and The Glass Is Empty, the former co-written/performed with Ihsahn and features lots of brass, the latter an 11 minute prog epic performed with Tóti Guðnason of Agent Fresco augmented by a church organ. 

While certain songs are what you’d expect; such as the avantgarde Where All The Twigs Broke where Einar and Starofash do what they do best on this sample infused oddness. Things get wilder, with more missions into the wider musical universe, the post gaze of the title track which features (and was written by) experimental cellist Raphael Weinroth-Browne, while the songs with Ben Levin (Bent Knee) becoming infused with repeating electronic drums on Remember Me, the synthwave A Beautiful Life while Home is parping electrofunk having the inspiration of the hip hop/rap scene. 

A varied and expansive journey, 16 gives more insight, if any were needed into the inner mind of Einar Solberg, vowing to have both Leprous and his solo project side by side, we could be in for more excellent music in the near future. 8/10

The Great Gray Funk - The Great Gray Funk (StoneFree Records) [James Jackson]

I’m going to start this with a quote taken directly from the band’s website:

“Being a vernacular term for long and foggy winters, it should come as no surprise that the band behind, The Great Gray Funk seeks to capture that certain eeriness and darkness with its music.”

And to some degree it’s true, it’s not Doom, but Doom influenced, or at the very least Goth Rock.
There’s certainly a darkness to it, though most of that is lyrically, for it’s a bleak journey. Cortisol opens the album with a Punk Rock feel to it, it’s got traits of bands like L7 to it, that scuzzy sound before giving way to a stripped down hypnotic sway found in Vacuum Thoughts and although Faceless maybe the fourth track in the album, it’s a prime example of the feel of the album, of the blend of genres that have made their way into the sound of The Great Gray Funk, it is the band’s ode to depression and loneliness; self doubt personified in music. 

Wintereuphoria is another solemn affair before the Punky Rock of The Narrator livens things up, Light And Grace has an interestingly funk filled intro before delving into a more melancholy verse, again the lyrics are a match to the darker theme running through this album; there are rhythm sections, a variety of melodies that are sometimes more uplifting, moving the concurrent theme of solitude and depression along at a swifter pace before taking a step back to something more befitting the lyrical tone. This is quite an interesting album, a blend of styles surrounding the foundation of melodic despair. 7/10

Akilla - The Gods Have Spoken (Self Released) [Zak Skane]

As soon as the cinematic drop commences on the opening track Wind Of Winter we are greeted with grinding guitar tones and waves of symphonic layers and tremolo picked guitars whilst the singer Ross Wilson provides us with his best chilling Johan Hegg of Amon Amarth battle growls. 

Following their chilling opener we get the single of the album Serpent And The Son which provides sharp guitar riffs bouncy beats before it gets into technical territory with it’s sharp placed jolty rhythms and intricate drum grooves and anthemic Melodic Death Metal choruses. Queen Of Heaven will make you charge into battle whilst making you sway to the drums of chaos from it’s transitions 4/4 into 6/8 rhythms. Song Of The Seafarers mid tempo pulses of chugging guitar chords and up lifting guitar leads matched with symphonic textures and clean passages to help you sail from one side of the earth to the other. 

Other highlights of this would be the Melodic Death Metal laced Djenty rhythms of Cosmia and the triumphant ending of Echo with it ambient clean passages, epic lead playing and moving string sections which would lay down our swords. From the opening track Winds Of Winter to the epic finally of Echo the band have shown true fighting spirit potential, the only thing that douses their flame is the DIY production. 6/10

Nattehimmel - Mourningstar (Hammerheart Records) [GC]

I will be the first to admit I am not an expert on Black Metal in any way, shape of form, don’t get me wrong I enjoy some of it but also dodge a whole lot of it because you never know who is sketchy and who isn’t nowadays? Having said that today I review a new release from Hammerheart Records in the shape of Mourningstar the new Nattenhimmel album, I really don’t know what to expect from this!

After skipping past the completely pointless intro, first track Astrologer starts off promisingly enough with the echoey and grimy guitars that sound like they were recorded in a cupboard and the drums are suitably dense and pummelling BUT, it’s the vocals that I can’t get my head around? Clean vocals in black metal just doesn’t seems to sit right with me at all and when the harsh vocals come in it all fits much better this may take some getting used to, but it doesn’t totally ruin the song which is full of atmosphere and a foreboding dread all the way through.

Each Man A Constellation is once again seeping with atmospherics and grandeur throughout and here the parts that are actually black metal are great and the guitars are razor tight and sound great but parts of this song sound like it was recorded as a dare between mates to see how ridiculous it could be? I may be missing something but it all just sounds so ridiculous to me!? Armies Of Tiamat is played at an almost doom pace its slow and thoughtful with just a little tinge of melodic death metal thrown in for good measure and here the clean vocals make sense and don’t clash or sound out of place when they mix with the harsh and bleak sections and overall really help the whole structure to flow nicely but they do once again manage to almost ruin the whole song by throwing in a load of whoa oh oh’s and I just want to cut my ears off, I mean there is no place for that in black metal surely? 

Slay The Shepard then sounds like a power metal track mixed in with more of the melodic death metal and when it kicks into the death style it is much better than the power style, however it all just seems a bit cheesy to me now? I can appreciate the musicianship on this record and applaud the urge to be different but it all just seems very comical in places! The Northern Kings creeps into life with a moody key filled intro and then is again slowed down to a very doom like pace with the main riff repeating and swirling in and out they even throw in some little woodwind parts here and there which is interesting and makes it stand out that bit more and when the customary black metal part arrives its absolutely class with a massive riff and some of the best vocals of the whole album so far, I just wish it ALL sounded like this but then they then delve directly back into the doomy vein and it closes out the song wonderfully! 

Realm Of Hades doesn’t really do very much for me, it is a heavily clean lead song and the music itself again does nothing, they attempt to ramp up the pomp and ceremony again, but I feel like they mis judged it and it all just sound flat and uninspiring. Onto the closing stages of this confusing album now and The Immortals is a full-on rip-roaring black metal track but is once again held back by having clean vocals on it, this should have been harsh and unrelenting savagery but is ruined by poor choices which is a real shame as when it started I though, oh hello, FINALLY! But no! a real shame. I hate the final song on this album The Nightsky Beckons because its all just got too much to deal with now, I just can’t keep on trying to work out what is going on and why they sound like they do anymore, and I am glad it’s all over.

Unfortunately, this was not for me at all. I get we all like different things and unfortunately, I didn’t like this very much, there were some really good bits, but they were completely outnumbered by absolutely bewildering bits that made no sense to me and that is what I will take away from this just total complete confusion and frustration. 5/10

Friday, 2 June 2023

Reviews: Necrofier, Unfurl, Tortured Demon, Saint Karloff (Reviews By Matt Bladen, GC, Mark Young & Rich Piva)

Necrofier - Burning Shadows In The Southern Night (Season Of Mist) [Matt Bladen]

It’s not often you get bands that can play groovy black metal, it’s a skill that transcends the genre. In a style obsessed with rawness, focussing on frostbitten tundra and making the music as abrasive as possible there are a small number of bands that inject the “pitability” of death metal to their sound, which for my money makes the band all the better. 

It’s quite coincidental that two of these bands are Immortal and Cloak, both of whom have recently released records, with another famous example being Rotting Christ, but Necrofier definitely come into this category of bands who are steeped in the linage of black metal but use other genres to widen their horizons. Hailing from the frozen wastelands of…Texas…(it gets cold at night in the desert), Burning In The Southern Night is the second album from Houston quartet Necrofier and they pitch it between black metal and classic heavy metal, using analogue and organic production methods, from Joel Hamilton, to make it sound as real as possible. 

Drummer Dobber Beverly, who is also the creative force behind Oceans Of Slumber, has brought the naturalistic sound of his other band to Necrofier, Hamilton produced the last OOS record. The partnership making black metal sound…warmer…ish. Anyway as the intro (The Fall From Heaven), which like The All Seeing Eye features Cammie Beverly’s ethereal vocals, gives way Total Southern Darkness (see what they did there?) is blistering black metal, Beverly blasting away behind the kit as tremolo picking and raging vocals, the hints of trad metal coming in on the lead breaks as Bakka Larson and Semir Ozerkan trade off, the solos a source of improvement and focus on this record to take that next evolutionary leap, (Call To The Beyond). The grunt of death metal comes on the thrashy To The Wolves, dissonant atmospheres behind absolute frenzy, you can feel the haste at which this album was recorded (in just 10 days straight). It’s brimming with vitriol and viciousness but never shies away from melody. 

On Forbidden Light Of The Black Moon, the sounds of Rotting Christ and Immortal are obvious Mat Valentine’s bass controlling the grooving bounce, as it slows into a deliberate breakdown, Beverly’s drumming given a lot of room, while Whispers That Burn In The Dark has the directness of Mercyful Fate, but with the intensity dialled up, a simalr trick comes on the gothic On Wings Of Death We Burn The Sky. Dealing with the occult and esoteric nature of things rather than just Satanism, Necrofier are obsessed by the nature of the soul, something that also distances them from most of the black metal pack. 

With Oceans Of Slumber now moving away from the metal sound, Beverly and his three compatriots can express his extreme side. Burning Shadows In The Southern Night is a record that has melody fused with melancholy, rage with rapture, a must listen. 9/10

Unfurl - Ascension (Self Released) [GC]

Unfurl describe themselves as an experimental, blackened hardcore band. They are from Pittsburgh and already have a couple of releases behind them and are about to release their new album Ascension upon an unsuspecting world.

A sparse and moody section opens Coiled Serpent before everything kicks off and the gates of hell are opened and the next 6 minutes are a haze of truly unhinged and manic vocals combined with an unrelenting mix of mathcore/grind/death metal and its an impressively violent mix of all the differing styles, and you can already tell that this is not going to be for the feint hearted! 

Gossamer Ladder continues the assault on the listener with another apocalyptic blend of punishing mathcore and death metal and the anti is upped significantly on this track and it just never lets up or gives you a second to compose yourself and just continues to beat you into submission until the final 20 seconds of the song that finally takes its foot off the gas and fades out before Trembling In The Threshold explodes in your face like a pipe bomb, the savage nature and psychopathic force of this song is just unreal, it has a way of wrapping you up and making you feel trapped and surrounded in a huge wall of noise that even has a bit of a slow break in the mid-section but this does nothing to ease the sense of unease or relieve the tension, this is truly remarkably dark songwriting at its best! 

Burning Question is a burst of noise, that manages to also mix in some thick atmospheric guitar work into all the madness, the textures and tones that are shown are a thing of beauty and even though it’s hard to pick out a standout performance, but you must give a special mention to the vocals of Nicky as they are mental all the way through! This Empty Planet finally decides to slow the pace right down and is short but droning and sludgy but doesn’t lose any of the savageness and if anything adds more to the whole feel and tone of the album and then Hyperviolet Estuary continues with the more measured pace to begin with and has a prog type guitar riff and tone throughout and then from out of nowhere we also get a dose of clean vocals that add another texture to the whole song and mix perfectly, this is probably the least heavy track on the album and still it doesn’t suffer or sound out of place. 

Entity Reunion In The Sky clocks in at an eye wateringly long 8:36 and I say that because the levels of insanity and discomfort that it creates is astonishing and to put yourself through this for that long is not an easy thing to achieve as a listener its hard but rewarding, the song itself is a big lumbering beast full again of angular mathcore guitars and insane drumming but it also has another break in the middle of the song that is haunting and serene which helps you to appreciate the amount of work that is going on and of course when this part subsides it back to complete chaos for the remainder of the song and its beautiful anarchy! Closing track and final blast of violence is Longitude_Leylines and it is a thing of absolutely jaw dropping beauty it has an atmospheric and serene opening before the unrelenting savageness is once again unleashed and again, they mix in a clean vocal part and it all just meshes so well to round of a truly remarkable album.

Once you have picked your jaw off the floor and really taken time to think about what has just happened, you realize that you have just listed to something special, to be able to have that much intense violence and hone it to perfection and not just make it all sound like a mess is truly remarkable musicianship and every song has its own unique way of making you pay attention and just sit and listen. This is a stunning album, and you should not just take my word for it, listen to it yourself and thank me later. 9/10

Tortured Demon - Rise Of The Lifeless (Self Released)

Second album from rising UK metallers Tortured Demon with Rise Of The Lifeless which sees them taking thrash and redefining it to suit a 2023 gaze.

First impressions are that this is a very collection of modern-day metal. I’m avoiding tags such as Thrash or death for fear of penning them in one field. They may call themselves Thrashcore but to these ears Each of the tracks are very well built, replete with all of the necessary core parts to function to a high standard. 

I get why they are certainly on the music press radar because they are very good at what they do. There are a lot of online content about them that mention the age which I think is irrelevant. Slayer were 19 with Show No Mercy, How old were Metallica with Kill 'Em All? What counts is do you like it? If you like it heavy, fast, with respectful nods back to a classic period in metal but delivered with contemporary thinking then you will love them. It is that simple.

Following the instrumental intro, they kick in with title track, which is a frantic, tear up that shows their statement of intent is to remove the skin from your face. It is a beast of a thing, and an exceptional start to proceedings. Virtual Death keeps that beat, mixing the brutal and the melodic in equal measure and again it’s a winner. Its reminiscent of later Carcass mixed with Lamb Of God with devil’s own break preceding a step up and a change in arrangement. Just from these two you can get a feeling of why there is a buzz about them.

Global Threat steps into the lower end and throws a measure of shout-along chorus you know is going to be picked up live. The deep breakdown will cause spontaneous pits to break out and then they ping straight into some class soloing. However, with Disfavour with that slower pace that hints of Arch Enemy riffing. It builds into a chorus part that is built for crowd participation, but I found that the phrasing reminded me too much of the previous track probably because they are back-to-back.

Conflict Of Interest just booms out and starts with a class opening that puts the verse riff and overload drumming right in, pummelling including that classic thrash key step up the neck to add that bit of flavour to the sound; Chorus / break to gear up for a classic bit of riffing just before the solo meltdown and next its Erase Your Life, as fast as you like, this leaves scorched earth behind it and is perfect in its execution and is just classic thrash that has been amped up beyond it’s safe working limit.

Working on the premise that the last three songs must be as strong as the first they drop This War Will Come To You which shows that they have it to maintain both the velocity and quality. Its so well put together and keeps that balance on point but leaves space for Eyes In The Fire to keep the engagement high. It has some cool riff moments going in that show the skill they possess and pays a little bit of homage to Megadeth (why not?). Brilliant stuff and pointing to ending the album on a high point.

And here we are with the closer, The Damage Is Done. Occupying that sweet spot as it opens with a nifty riff pattern it is almost derailed by opting for dropping a quasi-clean singing part that just sticks out too far. The song pulls back completely for an acoustic passage which for me is similar in build to Master Of Puppets and it then goes back to the heavy and rapid attack. I’m not against it but that vocal part took me out of the song.

All in all, it is a monstrous release and points to an incredibly successful future for them if they can continue putting out albums of this quality. Closing track notwithstanding, this is quality stuff with a focus and maturity that some veteran bands could do with. If you get chance to catch them live, I would do so because you will witness something a little bit special. 7/10

Saint Karloff - Paleolithic War Crimes (Majestic Mountain Records) [Rich Piva]

It must be so difficult to continue a band after suffering a tragedy like Saint Karloff did in 2021, losing one of the founders and bass player Ole Sletner to cancer. For our sake and most likely as a form of healing therapy, the band is back with their first album since 2018, Paleolithic War Crimes. These guys bring the stoner fuzz heavy, channeling everything from Sabbath, to 60s psych, to Electric Wizard, to Zeppelin, while never sounding too much like any of them. Paleolithic War Crimes takes this to the next level, as you have seven absolutely killer tracks to rock out, chill out, and/or expand your mind to.

It is apparent right of the bat that Paleolithic War Crimes is going to slay with the opener Psychedelic Man. Riffs for days, a nice Sabbath gallop, cool spacey vocals, and synths thrown in for good measure to bring a little space rock to the party. This is one of my favorite tracks of all year so far. I think this album will be more accessible, as the band have been known to do one long song on an album. With Paleolithic War Crimes you get more traditional song structures and lengths, Blood Maridian being a good example. 

Five plus minutes of heavy fuzzy goodness with killer guitar work and excellent use of keys to compliment the guitar. Amazing stuff, like Deep Purple if Matt Pike joined the band. I love the false ending and restart on this track too. A soft interlude leads us to Bone Cave Escape, which is what this song sounds like, if I am imagining what a Bone Cave Escape is. I love the opening of this track and how it kicks to even another gear about 45 seconds in. This is the fastest tempo track on the album, and the oooohs add something super cool to this song. 

The solo absolutely rips and the tempo changes throughout are expertly done. Flute? Acoustic solo? Yup. These guys are not heavy for the sake of it, there is an underlying melody on all these tracks and this record is expertly produced for their sound. Nothing To Come starts out like an epic folk metal journey that turns into a heavy battle of wills with the riffs winning. I did not see the Tull worship coming and I am here for it. Maybe a little Zeppelin on this one too. 

Death Don’t Have No Mercy is the sludgiest track on Paleolithic War Crimes while also somehow being almost bluesy, except when they channel some Children Of The Grave type vibes for two minutes halfway through…and somehow it all works perfectly. The epic closer, Supralux Voyager, is stoner psych space rock done at the highest level and could not be more of a perfect closer.

Well, the New Saint Karloff record is pretty much perfect. From the playing, the more traditional song structures, the use of all sorts of different instruments, and the production, you will not hear anything like this or much better than this all year long. On the short list for album of the year with maybe three other records. This is an absolute must listen. 10/10

Reviews: Avenged Sevenfold, Pupil Slicer, Wytch Hazel, Dog Tired (Reviews By Simon Black, Mark Young, Rich Piva & GC)

Avenged Sevenfold - Life Is But A Dream (Warner Records) [Simon Black]


You know how some of the more experimental artists in the rock and prog world can produce something so eclectic and so leftfield that it bemuses the fuck out of their fanbase, yet get away with it? Quite often it seems, if you are someone like Frank Zappa, Yes or more recently, Devin Townsend, but then these guys are so prolific, churning out a release a year or more and to a fanbase in tune with the experimental side of things, so even if it’s a bit more miss than hit, it doesn’t make a dent on their career.

Then there’s Avenged Sevenfold…

Now these guys are no stranger to experimental changes to musical direction, having moved from being one of the progenitors of metalcore to more trad Metal sounds mid-history, to the more Prog Metal direction of 2016’s The Stage, complete with the hugely theatrical live show that went with it. That said, these albums all had clear and easy stylistic pigeonholes with which to classify them, so the fact that they switched direction periodically didn’t generally slow them down much, even though their rate of production is far from prolific. It’s been seven long years between The Stage and Life Is But A Dream, and this one is not so easy to pin down into a convenient sub-genre bucket, unless of course they have inadvertently just created the entirely new sub-genre of “Bat Shit Crazy Metal”.

Now, this review had to be done in a hurry given that it landed very last minute, which is why I’m probably not going to do it enough justice. On first spin, I was totally sidestepped and astonished. This entailed a second spin, and then a third, by which time I had gone from total bemusement to serious respect.

This thing simply does not stand still stylistically, with each and every song ping-ponging around stylistically to such an extent that I would struggle to fit a lot of any of it into any kind of Metal classification. This actually is no bad thing, because in doing so and in the performances throughout what jumps out loud and clear is quite how technically proficient these musicians are. With some beautiful acoustic guitar work and pianos threading things throughout, plus some hugely 70’s Prog keyboard sounds alongside the usual ones you would expect from these chaps, the whole approach to writing seems to have been to take Sergeant Peppers Lonely Hearts Club Band, snort something strong and then mix in a blender with Trevor Horn Tormato era Yes, along with a Spotify list of their own top tracks and see what the fuck happens.

The answer is one hell of a lot, but it takes a lot of repeated spins to really appreciate the bravery and brilliance of it, but when you do, your patience is rewarded. For an old Prog fart like me, this was so far from leftfield that it came all the way back round from the right and made me glad I stuck it out. 8/10

Pupil Slicer - Blossom (Prosthetic Records) [Mark Young]

Described as Math-core, post-metal, blackgaze and more, their second album is one of the most anticipated releases of 2023. The single tracks released so far show that they have moved light-years beyond their debut album Mirrors. One of the best things about them live is that chaos energy that they seem to live on, the performance teeters on a knife edge and I wondered if they could capture that in the studio.

The Answer is yes.

Glaring Dark Of Night gently brings the album to a start, dark, melancholic keys and then BANG they drop Momentary Actuality which comes at you like a full-on nightmare. Already, it is instant and has full on ear worm material as the singing rebounds between anguished howls and something that similar to a nursery-rhyme in delivery. Kate Davies is channelling something here from deep within. Josh Andrews is absolutely beating the shit out of his kit here. Superb.

Departure In Solitude contains some of the best riffs I’ve heard, its tight and again there are manic time changes with some excellent guitar work. Its heavy, and live, you will have no problem moving to this. It’s monstrous. Creating The Devil In Our Image allows Luke Fabian to show his bass sensibilities off in the introspective opening. This is soon replaced by SOMETHING FAST as they tear through this. It doesn’t stand still, nor does it stay in the same theme, it just moves and moves and sounds massive. That anger is on full show here

The Song At Creation’s End is our mid-point and starts with the most control/measured approach seemingly like a jam session as they work towards a resolution. Then it kicks in, Kate once more with that dual attack, back and to between the screams and a haunted clean vocal. Drumming once more is just unreal, the control on display is simply astonishing. And then they go dark. Words are spat, voice almost cracking but the music behind it is carrying it through. Ending with a catching of breath, its jaw dropping. This will be something live.

No Temple gives us more insanity and is welcome after the emotional battery that came before. Ripping through its 4-minute time they are on fire here. Terminal Lucidity is another full-on attack, full of vitriol and guitar that seems to come from every possible direction, fully anchored by drums and bass, it’s so, so heavy in its final moments. Language Of The Stars has a low-key opening, piano and spoken word, barely audible and continues along this muted path, allowing you to take a moment as Dim Morning Light with its rolling, expansive opening comes in keeping that measured tempo to it. This one is possibly the lightest track here in terms of attack, even when Kate switches gears in vocal delivery. It grabs you and doesn’t let you go as its arrangement builds and builds to its end.

And the album closes out with Blossom, which is possibly the best thing they could have ended on and to me represents an almost perfect distillation of the 9 songs that came before.

What we have here is a band that has made on the best UK extreme metal albums of all time. It is absolutely killer and is only their second full length album. There are a ton of UK bands all wanting you attention, these have to be one of them 10/10

Wytch Hazel - IV: Sacrament (Bad Omen Records) [Rich Piva]

Wytch Hazel is an anomaly in the world of metal. Is there a band that is so overtly Christian that is more beloved by the metal community? Look, we all know that Papa from Ghost is not sacrificing goats to the Dark Lord, but these guys really do go to a lot of church (even though they claim to not be a Christian band, but come on…), which seems counter to so many of the people I interact with in the scene. But let’s face it, musically these guys rip, playing their NWOBHM/70s/Proto style pretty much perfectly and always manage to be super catchy too, which is why I think people who are neutral to anti-religion can still dig what these guys are giving us. All of this continues nicely on their fourth full length, aptly titled IV: Sacrament, which is ten excellent tracks of more of what we have come to expect from Wytch Hazel.

The Fire’s Control starts us off with their twin guitar attack and their excellent sound which to me is one of the best parts of this band. Their albums are expertly produced for their style and songs. Some Thin Lizzy love happening here and throughout IV. I have been listening to a ton of Blue Oyster Cult lately, and I think these guys have too. More twin guitars lead us with Angel Of Light, which is a bouncy little NWOBHM number and maybe a bit too preachy, but still killer, which is the paradox of this band. A bit of early Maiden love on the next track, Time And Doubt, which may be my favorite track on IVStrong Heart is perfect proto and is catchy as a Sunday acoustic mass. There is not a weak track on the album, with tracks like A Thousand Years and the early Priest like (Judas I mean) Endless Battle being standouts. We could probably tighten IV up a bit by leaving off a couple of acoustic interludes, but this is nitpicking.

This would be the closing for any Wytch Hazel review I would do unless they went all Against The Law Stryper on us. If you can get past the overtly Christian lyrics and you dig the NWOBHM, 70s stylings that they deliver, then you are going to really enjoy IV: Sacrament. The overall sound of the band, the excellent twin guitar work, and the catchy, bouncy proto of Wytch Hazel always delivers, and IV is no exception. 8/10 

Dog Tired - The Red Verse (Self Released) [GC]

Having been around for more than 20 years and during that time releasing 4 albums Dog Tired are back with new release The Red Verse I am not familiar with their back catalogue so have no real idea what this will sound like or what to judge it against but let’s see what they have to offer!

Building in from an atmospheric opening Fracture then viciously explodes into life with some thunderous rhythm from the drums of Keith Blaikie and the big bass of Barry Buchanan that clash with sword sharp riffs that then give way to an almighty groove before all hell is unleashed again for the verse and the changing styles and chaotic feel are an absolute joy and when the midway groove section comes back but longer it is superb before closing out with more chaos! Eyes Of The Divine has a savage almost death metal beginning but before long they manage to unleash another absolute monster of a riff that twists in and out of the death metal influences throughout to beautiful effect. 

Of Severed Gods thunders forward with all the subtlety of a rhino on speed and has an undeniable thrash influence injected all the way through but what you always pick up on are Luke James’s guitar work as the riffs are always so thick and dense but never lack any edge at all! The Wall is a glorious full throttle, balls to the wall heavy metal stomper and sorry but, if this song doesn’t make you move or feel something I think you might be clinically dead inside and Chris Thompson sounds glorious on vocal duty here also! 

Mars floats in on a suitably spacey beginning that is then rudely interrupted by stabbing and urgent almost robotic Fear Factory type riffs that also manage to have an atmosphere around them that mesh with more pounding drums and soaring vocals and the customary mid-section huge riff is there and yes, it’s as huge as you want to imagine! Not sure why they decided to include Relic on here if I am honest, its 4 minutes long and 3 minutes of it is just an acoustic guitar run through then a random big riff tacked on at the end? Bit pointless to me really and doesn’t really offer much? Shame.

It Awaits wastes no time in waking you back up and is full of more of the all too familiar bruising metal that leans just enough on thrash and death but also evokes a stoner vibe so as not to not make you think this can be pigeon holed as just one thing because it is many different beasts all combined, Godless Carrion Pit begins with a section full of big thundering riffs that mix with another relentless and powerful drum performance and the whole song reminds me of early era Mastodon and that is no bad thing. 

Then we get to my most disappointing part of the album the 8-minute instrumental Pillars Of Phobos as it just completely stops everything in its tracks and breaks up the whole momentum that has been built it’s just a bit of a watered down version of what has already been on offer and to have 2 instrumentals that combine to over 13 minutes on the album but offer nothing to the whole sound is a bit of a waste of album minutes if you ask me!? 

Anyway, after that annoyance its onto The Red Verse to close the album off and it does so with a monstrous, drone filled beast of a song the riff is so heavy it makes me feel like I can smash a wall down with my forehead, it twists and contorts beautifully for 8 minutes of pure unadulterated death/doom that leaves you almost shell shocked and after a misplaced instrumental is a masterstroke to end on a massive high!

As I mentioned I wasn’t sure what to expect from The Red Verse but I enjoyed the vast majority of what I did get, its gloriously heavy and the groove they manage to create is truly magnificent, for a band that has been around 20 years I am shocked they aren’t bigger because they deserve to be heard far and wide by many people because the talent is there and if you like music with big riffs, heavy drums and big bass rhythm and an angry man shouting then there is no reason you won’t like this! 8/10

Thursday, 1 June 2023

Reviews: Bongzilla, Seven Impale, Messiahvore, Order Of Decay (Reviews By Richard Oliver, C Hunter, Mark Young & Paul Scoble]

Bongzilla - Dab City (Heavy Psych Sounds) [Richard Oliver]

Wisconsin stoner metal maniacs Bongzilla return with their sixth full length album Dab City their second album as a three piece and their second album for label Heavy Psych Sounds. Dab City is an ode to the purest form of THC and the band’s hometown of Madison, Wisconsin and sees the band on standard fuzzed out, groovy and abrasive form.

If you have heard Bongzilla before then you know what you are going to get and the band remain their consistent selves but for the uninitiated the music on Dab City is very much a mix of stoner and sludge metal with gnarly fuzzed out guitars bringing forth a barrage of fat groovy riffs with bags of psychedelia and the throat shredding vocals of frontman Muleboy. The songs range from lengthy numbers with a free flowing jam element to them such as Cannonbongs (The Ballad Of Burnt Reynolds As Lamented By Gentleman Dixie Dave Collins), American Pot and the title track to shorter numbers where the riffs do the talking such as C.A.R.T.S. and King Of Weed’. 

As you can probably tell from the band name and song titles the theme of marijuana is prevalent throughout and has been since day one with the band. The band has stated that for these recordings they procured 10g plus of the finest concentrates they could lay their hands on and somewhere north of 120g of cannabis flower with the recordings completed over two sessions and to analogue tape.

Dab City is another enjoyable slab of sludgy stoner metal goodness from Bongzilla. The album doesn’t offer up any surprises but is just Bongzilla doing what they do well and getting very high in the process. The shorter songs are the most effective on the album with the lengthier ones going into jam territory at times and dragging on a bit but those elongated trippy sections make those moments when the riffs come piledriving back in all the more effective.

If you are a fan of sludgy, stoner and fuzzed out sounds then you can do no wrong in giving Dab City your time. 7/10

Seven Impale - Summit (Karisma Records) [C Hunter]

An insane and brilliant concoction of organised chaos. Norway’s Progressive Heavy Jazz Rock hexad Seven Impale’s Summit is a thing to behold. Hunter doesn’t take its time to creep up on you.The gentle and eerie noir-esque keys almost act like diversion before you’re assaulted by the beefy brass of Bergen, as they make the sax sound like it was somehow designed for doom. If you put King Crimson, Frank Zappa and Electric Wizard in a blender, pulsed it a few dozen times, poured the contents into a cauldron and had it blessed by a time distorting witch, then you’d have wasted your time, made a mess and killed a bunch of inspirational musicians. Luckily, nobody need do such a daft thing. As we’re already onto a strong starter. 

Traditionally the Hydra had nine heads, the first head of this beast is in an atmospheric transient dream. The second, the head of carnal knowledge, 70s style … I know … it’s the sax, but the sax will always feel that way. The third rides a Harley and enjoys the repetitive chug of rock guitar. As I ponder how a head could ride a bike independently of its connected peers, I grow tired of my own analogy and decide to just enjoy the song. Some great wonky riffage, sagacious time and feel changes, in parts having the free form/feel of a jam whilst also seeming too thought out to be so. Ikaros; apart from the bee trapped in the vocal booth at the beginning… Imagine if you took Mastodon, Elephant Tree and The Sensational Alex Harvey Band and put them in a blender … the blender would have to be pretty big… which is exactly what this song is. It’s heavy, It’s dark, it’s as powerful as ten bears on performance enhancing drugs and it also has some haunting vocal harmonies. 

Sisyphus. Unlike the Sisyphus of Greek mythology who had to repeat his actions for eternity. This Sisyphus only goes on for a mere thirteen minutes. However, during those thirteen minutes, Seven Impale barely repeat a beat. Playing out like a Progressive Heavy Jazz Rock medley of madness, multifunctional in mood and masterful in its musicality we’ve migrated the mountainous melodies to the monument of Seven Impale’s Summit.What a Journey. An eccentric, eclectic example of prog perfection and my favourite album of the year so far. For me Ikaros is the highlight of the album. A song that I currently listen to again whilst deciding if I can bring myself to give an album more than a 9 ……… 10/10

Messiahvore - Transverse (Iron Head Records) [Mark Young]

And keeping up with new music, I have Transverse by Messiahvore. Their second full length release via Iron Head Records. It promises a combination of punishing music and stoner/doom/groove metal and to quote the very brief mission statement on their website: TO FUCK SHIT UP. So, this could be the perfect companion whilst working away from home in deepest, darkest Worksop.

But is it?

Yep, it almost makes up for being in Worksop. It has that gnarly tone to it, discordant riffs that is lo-fi whilst being big enough at the same time. I’ll come back to this in a mo.

Discipline Of Violence, static from a wireless and we are off. It’s a pretty solid opener with an insistent main riff and drums that are giving it full whack. The Unkind has that same vibe this time with a more pronounced stoner riff going through it. When you think of driving in the summer you can have that classic rock (available from K-Tel and not in the shops) or you can have this blasting especially with that earworm riff and vocal. So far, so good.

Deconstructor has some serious low end going on and has a fantastic tone set with a great progression. Its keeping things going but just has that slight difference from the others to prevent it getting samey. What it does do is groove, monstrously so. Live, this will rattle your fillings out of your mouth. Transverse, our title track opens with a spoken piece then Boom! Avanti another infectious riff with that slight change in tone that seems more pronounced as we make our way through the album. They keep that groove moving and its royal.

One Million Mistakes comes across as the most sludge/doom so far with a riff that is so insistent it gives the song the heft it needs to keep it moving. It also has the most spaced-out vocals -so far; the structure is more heavily built than the preceding tracks, but it has a cracking solo break that just lifts it up further and this would be a blinder to play. Well in! Hopes Of The Living Dead gives you the necessary smack round the back of the head with another smasher. Tonal changes again with another in your face groove-inducer of a track with doom just giving it that depth. It’s got that urgency to it that propels it along without sounding hurried, just great stuff.

Antidote mixes up the loud / quiet dynamic, it’s all rumbling bass and sweet, sweet fuzz, especially with the harmonies kicking in towards the end of the song and then we hit Replicant that says hello doom, I’ve missed you. Its psych out time with the vocals and another head mover of a track. This one gives massive Sabbath vibes and just brings the album to a triumphant end.

The whole album flies past so quickly, despite its near 40-minute run time and is chock full of some of the best groove-riffs I’ve heard in ages. There are subtle changes in the guitar tone from start to finish, it changes from this gnarly buzzing wasp of a thing to this massive-warm beast of a thing, even when they have the quiet moments in Antidote it still sounds huge so when kickover comes in its massive.

Did they achieve their mission statement, no but I reckon live it would be a completely different affair because live, I think these riffs would just grow into a different animal altogether. 8/10

Order Of Decay - Mortification Rites (Sentient Ruin) [Paul Scoble]

Hailing from Scotland, Order Of Decay are a suitably mysterious and fog shrouded. I cannot tell you who is in the band (although the record company has pointed out that all members are highly experienced members of the Scottish extreme metal scene), I can’t tell you who is in the band or even how many members the band has got. The mysterious nature of the band fits entirely with dark, desolate and dense nature of the music; this is death/doom of a very dissonant, blackened and impenetrable style. There is a similarity in feel to bands such as Abyssal, Esoteric, Grave Miasma or Lycus

The album opens with Rotten Souls which mixes slow and dramatic sections with very dense riffing, a slow tempo and busy drumming that causes an anxious feeling in the listener, and blasting dissonant death metal sections. The song also contains some very nasty melodies. So far so putrid, next comes Vows Of Death which continues the sickening melody theme. The song is filled with unpleasant tunes that could have come from an Autopsy album, in places these melodies are harmonised to increase the horrificness. The song is mostly slow but builds the intensity to immense proportions.

In Thrall To Suffering has a nasty blackened doom feel to it, in a way that is a little reminiscent of Australian band Obed Marsh. Most of the song is slow and unpleasant, but it does have a fast blasting section that has a beautifully chaotic feel to it. Blood Libation is another track filled with putrid tunes, and particularly nasty vocals, the middle of the song has some pleasingly dissonant and chaotic blast beats, but this track is mainly slow, sickening and heavy.

Scents Of Flesh has the balance on the side of the blasting dissonant death metal, that insane swirling chaos feeling is back as this track batters you into submission. The song has a slower section with the anxiety causing fast drumming and a dissonant melody lead, but this song mainly brings the chaos and savagery.

Necrotic is a very interesting song. It opens with slow and very heavy riffs, there is a feeling of hugeness caused by the layering of guitars and keyboards, harsh vocals are added and the drums increase to blasting, this feels a little like Portal as it builds in intensity. After a short slow and atmospheric section the song goes into some huge blastbeats with dissonant death metal riffs that feel huge due to the aforementioned layers, the drumming at this point becomes so aggressive it boarders on abusive. Over all this massiveness another sickening melody is added before the song collapses into dissonance. Charnel Meditations is a slow atmospheric track full of keyboards that is nicely spooky.

Final Track Bone Lords brings the album to its close in an incredibly heavy and intense way. The song is full of nastily dissonant riffs that are vastly heavy overlaid by putrid guitar harmonies, all with overtly aggressive and savage vocals. The song is very intense despite its slowness, at one point there is a mid-paced death metal section but this just highlights how heavy the slower parts are.

Mortification Rites is a great album, it won’t be for everyone as this deeply intense and savage take on death/doom will be an acquired taste, anything this extreme, dense and chaotic will need a special kind of listener. However, if this is something you can appreciate, then you’ll get a lot from it as there are very few bands doing material that is this intense and savage. The album feels as if it was created under extreme pressure, as if they made it at the bottom of the Mariana Trench or at the heart of Neutron Star. It’s dark, dense and difficult, but is also very affecting and powerful, highly impressive and original. 8/10

Reviews: Sirenia, Dark Side Of The Moon, Paracrona, King Of The Dead (Reviews By Matt Bladen & Mark Young)

Sirenia - 1977 (Napalm Records) [Matt Bladen]

As the symphonic metal genre expands from it's late 90's beginnings, more of the veteran bands are adding new strings to their bows, from moving towards folk or pop, and adding lots of electronics from the dance music scene, bands such as Sirenia are doing what they can to stay relevent more than 20 years after their formation. 

On 1977, the band have found a musical time machine to add synthwave and 70's/80's pop sounds to their already established symphony metal pomp. Again Morten Veland plays and produces everything with the exception of guitar solos and drums, using his gruff vocals agains the classically trained Mezzo soprano of Emmanelle Zoldan who is on her fourth album with the group and fits in comfortably no matter what style they are attempting. 

Always a bit edgier and darker than many of their contemporaries, Sirenia weave a more gothic web with tales of loss and melancholy on Fading Into Deepest Black. Continuing the thematic style they started on their last record, Nomadic is epic and cinematic, the use of the pop is brought to a much heavier sound on A Thousand Scars as well as the bouncy Dopamine and synthwave is the driving force behind Oceans Away and Timeless Desolation. The fusion of genres make sure that there are pieces that will get you excite and engage you. 

Closing out with a cover of Twist In My Sobriety by Tanita Tikaram, which sticks close to the original though it has a metallic twist, even having a synth-oboe. Sirenia still evolve but never shift too far from being one of the symphony metal originators. With synths and danceable rhythms 1977 is another worthy addition to their catalogue. 7/10

Dark Side Of The Moon - Metamorphosis (Napalm Records) [Matt Bladen]

Surprisingly not a Pink Floyd covers band, Dark Side Of The Moon however do throw in a few covers on this record, which has an over arching concept of being heroes. Something of a collaborative project featuring members from Feuerschwanz, Amaranthe and Ad Infinitum, Metamorphosis is their debut album and comes about as the result of a dare between vocalist Melissa Bonny and guitarists Hans Platz, Hans won and challenged Melissa to record a metal version of Jenny Of The Oldstones from Game Of Thrones. 

From here's it's spiraled into other covers/metal versions plus their own songs dedicated to heroes from fiction, film and TV. From Lord Of The Rings captured on Misty Mountains, which features Tom S Englund and Enya's song May It Be which features Charlotte Wessels, to League Of Legends (Legends Never Die), Harry Potter (Double Trouble/Lumos Hedwig's Theme, the theme from the TV show Vikings; If I Had A Heart and The Woven Storm from The Witcher video game. 

There are more covers than originals here but The Gates Of Time (dedicated to the Legend Of Zelda series) but with the excellent playing of all those involved especially Bonny's vocals, The Dark Side Of The Moon could easily evolve into a fully fledged band with their own influenced metal sound if they record fewer covers next time. 7/10

Paracrona - Sun God (Self Released) [Mark Young]

Paracrona are another new band on me, hailing from Oslo and bringing with them their spin on black metal, adding in some symphonic and progressive touches on their debut Paracrona release, Sun God.

New Impunity has some tight riffing, low end in effect. BM vocals, double bass as per usual. There is a heady mix of musicality and brutality on offer here as it moves through it’s near 8-minute run time in a suitably grand album opener. This is a great start and Carry the Cross keeps the good stuff coming – heavy on the melodic, some brilliant guitar work, all tasteful and working for the song. Thriller starts off with an almost heavy rock intro that gets discarded for some dirty trem picking that races along. Vocals switch from BM to deep DM as they unleash some chord moments that almost lighten things up. Almost, as the chords ring out against manic drumming and some more excellent chugging. We break free of the chug and take off for the final minutes for a cool melodic break, drumming once again on point.

Sun God with a slow start and deeper than deep growls then straight into traditional Black metal. Just furious stuff but managing to keep that melodic side of things in full view. Their ability to mix up genres / styles within the same song but keep it in context so it flows is just marvellous. The use of piano here is sparing as they drop into an atmospheric break with ethereal singing that allows them to launch forward, keeping this backing there. Again, it is cracking stuff and certainly gives them on the debut a high platform to kick on from. Mendacious echoes Sun God with that deliberately measured start before they hit the gas and deliver another tear through. Its quality in itself, possibly too much like the preceding track, but this is the sort of thing they will look to avoid with the next release.

River Of Pain on the other hand starts fast, with that quick tempo that Black Metal is renowned for. What they do here is temper it with those shining chords again, set against some speedy double bass. When they drop a gear to start chugging it just gets the head moving, mixing it up with speedier riffing that’s not just one note. There is a brilliant break that feels almost Egyptian in attack that’s not overdone. Again, the arrangement here is fantastic, everything finely balanced. An almost swing-type feel heralds the start of Therefore I Move The Time before those blast beats kick in and the guitars come to kick your head in. There is some frenetic movement here and is one of the stand-out tracks.

With that, we head to the Gates Of Immortality for the final track. Everything leading up to this has been top class and of course they nail it. Full on melodic attack without sounding grounded in the past, its fresh and sounds royal. Excellent end to a very strong debut here, each of the songs is crafted well and executed to a high level. Minor criticism aside, It should be on year end lists, certainly for debut releases (is this a thing?) and for me is one of the great releases of the year. More please!! 8/10

King Of The Dead - Perdition (Self Released) [Mark Young]

Well, this is unexpected. With an almost Freddy Mercury style belting out over an organ/choir intro, The Sermon For The Cursed slides into your ears with an almost straight up earworm melody. It’s an energetic opener that sets the tone for the rest of the album to follow up.

The Hunt is a solid, no fills rocker that just cuts along nicely. What impresses is that they are here just to offer a rock album that you can dance and sing along too. Its really that simple and luckily for them they have got some decent songs to back it all up. Courage is more of that heavy rock with a touch of Van Halen in the application and although it may feel a bit tame compared to a lot of the stuff, I’ve listened too this year it still powers along. Who’s Left To Blame has a bit more of harder edge to it with some muscular riffing, again with the Hammond organ present.

Crawl follows that classic rock approach of loud opening, sing along bits and manages to parcel it all up in 3minutes or so. Its good stuff for those who go in the lighter direction, for those who love singers who sing, not singers who don’t. When It All Comes Down has a downright sleazy opening riff that backs off to allow the vocals to stretch, again in the classic rock style

So, what we have is a collection of bright, well produced rock songs that do what they need to do and zip along. It takes the best of 70’s rock and tries to give it a modern shine. There is some class Hammond Organ going on that gives you Deep Purple vibes, and it trundles along at a decent pace. It is certainly inoffensive and is very well put together. Certainly that 70’s feel is front, and centre twinned with some strong riffage. Trying to find information on them online (there is PR included with the albums - Ed) was difficlult, in that they are termed as a Horror-rock so possibly in the live arena there could a bit of stagecraft to go along with these songs which would be good thing. 

The song lengths are pitched perfectly, crafting them so they stay within that 3 – 4-minute range which is difficult to do – Ask Pete Townshend, he’ll tell you. As EP’s go it has got a lot going for it and it is really suited to driving in the summer with windows open. 7/10

Wednesday, 31 May 2023

Reviews: Cry Of Dawn, House Of Shakira, Circus Of Rock, DeVicious (Reviews By Matt Bladen)

Cry Of Dawn - Anthropocene (Frontiers Music Srl)

When Cry Of Dawn released their first album I instantly knew who was singing without even looking at the PR. Göran Edman has sung for Yngwie Malmsteen amongst many others but in this Frontiers collaboration he moves away from the Neo Classical style into the melodic rock/AOR, a style he is also synonymous with. Though Cry Of Dawn is much more melodic than a lot of his background. As you could hear on the debut and on this follow up, Cry Of Dawn is very much melodic rock/AOR, taking the Yacht Rock template of Toto, ideal for sunny days by the sea. 

Partnered up with guitarist/producer Tommy Denander who plays everything else on Anthroposcene, it's some slick bright American FM radio music, the vocals of Göran perfect for this punchy style of melodic rock from the driving Before You Grow Old, to swaying ballads such as Edge Of A Broken Heart it's got a lot of Toto to it with lots of keys, chunky guitars and that voice this record is AOR at its most melodic, the rock giving way to the more poptastic sounds. Cry Of Dawn is an ideal record for anyone that loves some extremely upbeat melodic rock. 7/10

House Of Shakira - XIT (Frontiers Music Srl)

Not a rock band fronted by the woman who's hips always tell the truth. House Of Shakira are a veteran Swedish hard rock band who's 10th studio album XIT sees them plugging their distinct sound once again. By distinct I mean they have a kind eclectic rock sound that steadles any genres and is quite hard to pinpoint. But they have been producing this for the best part of 20 years so on XIT they have refined to the point that it's second nature. If I were to describe it, House Of Shakira's style is kind of Def Leppard meets Asia with Phil Collins on vocals. 

Eclectic songs made with huge choruses Toxic Train is very in the realms of Genesis as the hard rock and funk fused, Your Exit brings more prog with lots of Yes-like vocal harmonies as Too Much Love comes from the more direct rock domain but elsewhere there's some influence from both Journey and Rush which is a bit of genre clash but House Of Shakira handle it all really well. I'll admit this is the first House Of Shakira album I've heard (I think) but it left an impression on me, from the virtuoso guitar playing to the great harmonies I very much enjoyed this album.

If they've been playing music this eclectic and accessible for 20 years then I have a lot of catching up to do as XIT is a HIT in my book! 8/10

Circus Of Rock - Lost Behind The Mask (Frontiers Music Srl)

Circus Of Rock is another collaborative project from the Frontiers music factory. This time it's the creation of King Company and Hevisaurus(!)  drummer Mirka Rantanen, who is now into his second go a ring master for this Circus. It takes a similar tact to the first record where there's a host of talented players and singers on each song the highest profile here being Jeff Scott Soto, Bernie Shaw, Mark Boals, David Readman and Mr Lordi himself but everyone who contributed is immensely talented and there's more than a couple of Frontiers young guns getting a bit more attention as the album opens with Girish Pradhan (Girish & The Chronicles) giving his rock n roll growl to Alive And Kickin' before JSS belts out Keep On Shining

Having these two next to each other is a genius move as the have two of the best rock voices out there. Mark Boals soars on The War Is Over while Mr Lordi scares on Nine Lives. The music is based of course in hard rock but with some added theatricality of the Avantasia or Phenomena variety, the revolving vocalists making each song unique but also slotting into the album perfectly. They are written for each voice which is why Is It Any Wonder sounds like Pink Cream 69 and Sunrise is all Uriah Heep pomp. Frontiers projects like this are always decent if a little bloated, Circus Of Rock is a bit more entertaining than most. 7/10

DeVicious - Code Red (Metalapolis Records)

DeVicious are European style melodic rock, I mean not just European, but that Scandi style that will kill at any Eurovision, the repeating refains and upbeat chorus on Are You Ready For Love, probably would have done better than both countrymen Lords Of The Land and Aussies Voyager as like most of DeVicious' music it's got the best bits of Journey, Def Leppard and bands such as Europe and H.E.A.T.

Synths and guitars in unison, the synths the main melodies while the guitars are used for rhythm and solos mainly, there's some electronic brass on Highway To The Stars, some heavier bluesing on Madhouse a song that is as dark and brooding as DeVicious get as the Europe influence is strong on Stuck In Paradise, while Raise Your Life has a symphonic metal-like chug. 

I could definitely see DeVicious holding their own at any of the AOR/Melodic Rock Fests against any of the big hitters as they've got, slickness in the songwriting/delivery, musicality from the players and choruses that are as hooky as something Delboy & Rodney would sell on Peckham Market. 

With a change behind the mic, Baol Bardot Bulsara now the singer after the departure of their previous vocalist and he let's loose here his expansive background meaning he's adaptable. Code Red is a return to form for DeVicious, after some sonic experiments on the last album and the pandemic effecting touring it, Code Red is made for arenas. 8/10

Reviews: Cloak, Def Leppard, Inherus, Demented Heart (Reviews By Erick Willand, Rich Piva, Mark Young & GC)

Cloak - Black Flame Eternal (Season Of Mist) [Erick Willand]

Cloak’s sophomore album The Burning Dawn dropped late 2019 and like so many that released albums at that time it’s impact was lessened by the world at large unexpectedly shutting down. It’s a shame really since The Burning Dawn is a solid album and although it was on the radar of critics and die hard ‘must listen to everything’ dudes like myself not being able to tour hurts these days. Like other bands stuck in this Cloak did what so many did, wrote another album.

Black Flame Eternal begins in a grandiose entrance style, drums and blasts as to herald a dark arrival. Ethereal Fire is blistering and direct without losing the band's trad metal influence, can’t help but join in with the “HAIL!” gang chorus. The song trudges a little in the back half but this takes little away. With Fury And Allegiance is Cloak flexing their speed and aggression muscles, it’s furious and Taysom’s vocals are at just the right gravel growl levels. 

This is followed by a change of pace with Shadowlands, a slower more insistent approach here with absolutely blazing guitar work. This track has ritual vibes on it, especially with the little spoken word bit. Invictus comes rolling in like an approaching storm with some howling vocals that highlight the grand sonic display. This song is a sweeping epic, there’s no other way to describe it musically, it blatantly breaks my ‘song length rule’ and I didn’t even notice. That’s good in my book.

Seven Thunders carries this urgency forward with a ferocious riffing and relentless drum assaults, I feel like a pyrotechnic display is in order for the live performance. Eye Of The Abyss has a great circling riff that carries the song through it’s gothy Dimmu Borgir inspired delivery and I’m once again given the ‘this is ritual’ vibes that bleed right into following track The Holy Dark which is clearly ritual as it happens. Fast and riff heavy with an in-your-face declaration for all things dark and esoteric, it’s intense and my fav track so far. Unfortunately this is followed by Heavenless, the shortest and clearly weakest song on the album, a weird gothic ballad of sorts that just feels so far out of place compared to the rest of the album, this is a final track placed just before that actual final track, a misstep to be sure.

Thus to the final track and the album title, Black Flame Eternal, a nearly seven minute journey in resplendent Blackened fashion that seems to distill all of the bands deep influences into a spell of driving darkness, Shagrath would be proud. Guitar heroics, thundering drums and insistent vocals are on full regalant display as this final spell brings this darkness to its final storm wracked end. I start the album over again.

Not without its faults to be sure, nearly each song on Black Flame Eternal could use a time trim, just the extra bits here or there, I’m not looking for pop song time here, but this isn’t Doom Metal either. The other quip is the placement of the song Heavenless, which just feels really out of place with the overall flow and vibe I think the band is going for. Despite this and to be fair, I wasn’t bored and I genuinely enjoyed this album and have listened to it four times now. Also the cover art is fantastic and fits well with the music, it’ll make great t-shirts. So, all tallied up Cloak and Black Flame Eternal land at 7/10

Def Leppard - Drastic Symphonies (UMR) [Rich Piva]

Look, Def Leppard was never my favorite band, even growing up during the time when they were arguably the biggest band in the world when Hysteria dropped. I have always enjoyed their early work pre-Hysteria more than any of the work after, but nothing ever really made me feel one way or another after that. I really did not like their last studio album at all, but how bad could a “hits” record redone with an orchestra be? I mean we have some of those hits that we all love on Drastic Symphonies, so what could go wrong?

Turns out, a whole lot, as this may be one of the worst things I have heard in a long time, and I reviewed the latest Monster Truck album, so this is saying a lot. Nothing has been more unnecessary except maybe the new Mike Tramp record where he does terrible, uninspired new versions of his own songs. Some of these songs sound redone, some of them sound like they took the original and added some orchestra stuff, and some of them are flat out abominations to anyone who enjoys this band in any capacity. Take the top stripper song of all time, Pour Some Sugar On Me, which they somehow turned into a dirty Disney soundtrack song and actually made me lose hope in humanity. Their new take on Animal was not that much better.

Too Late For Love was OK, and by OK it didn’t make me want to smash my head through a window. I am not sure what album When Love And Hate Collide is on, but I want nothing to do with either of the versions. Thankfully they did not ruin my favorite Def Lep song, Bringing On The Heartbreak, which is the only reason that this got rated as high as it did. Also, there are sixteen tracks on this album. Sixteen!!! One hour and twenty-two minutes of this!!! Why do you hate me, Joe Elliott!!! I am not going to cover all of them because I really hate being negative in a review, but the guys have left me no choice.

There are bands who have done this very well (Metallica), just fine (Kiss), and acceptable (Metallica again) but this is not any of those. Def Lep are milking the cash cow, which is fine, but give us something that is listenable, not something that seems like a punishment to get all the way though. I am sorry to anyone who liked this, but I have not had such a visceral reaction to any album I have listened to in a long time. You’re welcome, Mike Tramp, you are no longer my lowest rated album of 2023, but it’s still terrible. 1/10

Inherus - Beholden (Hypnotic Dirge Records) [Mark Young]

Having a look online at where Inherus sit musically their members have come from various bands such as Witchkiss, Botanist, Swallow The Ocean and Lotus Thief to name but four. It’s labelled as a mix of post-metal and heavy rock that takes in black metal, doom, psyche on its musical journey.

So, when it starts with a roar and a warm guitar sound that bows at the alter of the Lord Tony Iommi it’s not what I expected at all. Forgotten Kingdom is all about the riff and blackened vocals with a suitable melodic backing that is given additional weight by Beth Gladding that provides that dynamic between clean and harsh. It continually changes its approach from track to track, One More Fire concentrates on Beth’s strong vocals in its opening stages against an almost minimal backing as she tells her story in an unhurried fashion. The harsh vocals come in with a backing that matches as we switch back and forth as the two styles come together. It put together so well; everything is in synch with each other which is key here.

The Dagger continues in the same manner, with those ethereal vocals really shining here, throwing in tasteful solos as it continues on its long path. They achieve so much with the combination of these clean vocals and a simple guitar riff which builds emotion and feeling. Oh Brother adopts the same approach and again uses the top-class clean vocals as a base to build and expand the song into that otherworldly realm, this time facing attack from the death growl vocals. Final song, Lie To The Angels starts as Forgotten Kingdom did, emphasis on a more up-tempo heavy approach but with a strong vocal delivery on both sides of the coin. They lean into the darker side here without forgetting the great work they have done leading up to this.

This is going to appeal to fans of expressive longer jams with the majority of songs running at nine minutes plus. It lives up to its description of a mix of psyche/doom which will definitely resonate with those who love those genres. The album is chock full of memorable riffs and musical intent. Its handled so well that it has clearly been a labour of love for those involved. If anything, the song lengths are too much for me but that is a minor criticism and results from an ingestion of thrash metal from an early age. As I’ve said fans will love it, and those involved should feel rightfully proud of their achievement with this. 8/10

Demented Heart - Frantic Epidemic (Brutal Mind) [GC]

Not much background on Demented Heart but after a quick search I can see they are from Indonesia and are on Brutal Mind records and then my heart sinks because I recently reviewed one of their artists and didn’t like it at all! They have a couple of releases previously, hopefully my initial trepidation can be stamped out by latest offering Frantic Epidemic.

It starts exactly how I expected on album opener and title track Frantic Epidemic with some full-on brutal tech death metal but this time there is no comical song titles or stupid album artwork! While it has the tech death at heart it also manages to have a bit of an old school death metal feel from the vocals and throws in some nice solos as if to ram this home even harder and I already feel better that I did at the start! 

Severe Disease manages to inject some groove into the middle of all the death metal relentlessness and shows a clever knack of how to make what can sound all a bit one dimensional not sound so one dimensional, Incitement To Violence continues with the utterly inhumane pace that has been a theme of the album so far and while there is absolutely zero subtlety or variation on the tracks when they are done with this much conviction you just kind of have to sit back, listen and appreciate it all for what it is, which is thoroughly technically excellent death metal! 

Terror And Destruction has a phenomenal opening riff that is full of big groove infused death metal that wouldn’t sound out of place on a mid-90’s Florida album and the rest of the song just destroys everything it its path with a breath-taking pace and again the way the solos are incorporated to really keep everything interesting is done brilliantly. Over the halfway point now and of course Impact Of Chaos does nothing to relax the tempo or slow down the attack and keep everything flowing along at the usual breakneck speed but does manage to have some of the most groove filled sections from the whole album so far that again offers a nice juxtaposition of sounds. Abnormal Funeral begins with probably the most straight forward death metal sound of the whole album and is not all heads down full-on attack mode, it’s still fast and savage but there is a focus and determination here to make you suffer in as many different ways for as long as possible.

Social Destroying then continues with the more old school but still savagely brutal tech death onslaught and is again done with such force that you just have to sit back and enjoy, there is of course a complete lack of variation and much of the record is very similar sounding but, when its done this well it really doesn’t matter at all! Territorial Invasion relies heavily on an almost thrash riff that carries the song forward with more unrelenting speed and power but obviously never strays to far from the sound that has been the body of the album so far, but the solos midway just keep adding to the thrash vibe and it’s a real pleasure to listen to as it keeps you guessing all the way through! 

Population Decline then does what I didn’t expect and throws in an almost acoustic and mellow opening that flows directly into a slow-paced build up that then of course they cast all this aside and a cascading wall of death metal is back, and it stomps, pummels, thrashes and mixes in mid-tempo sols and continues to twist and turn all the way to the end of the track.

Got to admit, I was expecting very little from this and it produced so much! It got the death metal fan in me excited in a way that only good death metal can, it can be an exhilarating listen when done right and Demented Heart absolutely do it right on Frantic Heart they manage to mix the old and new school approach to death metal expertly and don’t need comedy song titles of stupid artwork to make you pay attention, this is an album that all death metal fans will really enjoy!! 8/10

Tuesday, 30 May 2023

Reviews: Yes, Arrival Of Autumn, Vexing, A Pretext To Human Suffering (Reviews By Rich Piva, Zak Skane, Mark Young & GC)

Yes - Mirror To The Sky (InsideOut Records) [Rich Piva]

It’s 2023 and we have a new Yes album! Prog nerds of the world unite, and I mean that in the most loving way I possibly can. Yes has a rabid and technically sound fan base, so I am sure new material will me those guys very happy. As a casual fan, I have always enjoyed Yes, but never dug way deep into their discography but what I have spent a lot of time with I always enjoy and frequently pull out my Yes records to go on those epic journeys they have always been so go at giving the fans. We are up to album 23 and the band looks much different from their origins for obvious reasons, but somehow Steve Howe and the latest incarnation of the band have produced a worthy record for their late career catalog, with a couple of hiccups, but overall, some solid Yes material.

I love the opening track, Mirror To The Sky, which Is one of their best songs of the last couple of decades. Jon Davison’s voice is eerily like what you would hear on the Yes hits they play on classic rock radio. Some great bass and guitar work on this track makes it the perfect opener. This album is so cleanly produced you could eat off it, but somehow it is not too much for me when it almost always is. The opener was nice and compact at just over five minutes, but this is Yes, so buckle up for some long ones. All Connected is next and is a nice one two punch to open, with some cool harmonies and interesting time changes that you come to expect from the band.

We start to get into some grandiose territory with the next track, Luminosity. Everything sounds clean and big on Mirror To The Sky, and this track is exhibit A. Nine minutes of excellent instrumentation that could have been five, but if you are listening to this album you know what you are getting yourself into. The production again really stands out on this track with everything that is going on. Mr. Howe is a mad scientist in the studio. The song, while big, is a bit on the lite side for me. There is really zero rock crunch on Mirror To The Sky, but that is just where we are at with the band at this point. 

You almost get some rocking with Living Out The Dream which almost has a southern rock vibe to it. Nice track. The title track is a lot. Almost fourteen minutes long which some killer playing but somehow winds up sounding like a Disney soundtrack towards the end. Other standouts include Circles Of Time and Magic Potion, which are nice little Yes tunes, and by little, I mean under five minutes, with the latter having an almost jazzy feel to it.

At this point Yes fans should be happy with Mirror To The Sky. Is this something they will revisit often given there are 22 other albums out there of which 17-20 are better than this? Probably not. Is it a bit long? Of course it is, what band are we talking about again? But make no mistake, Yes is awesome, and they continue to provide their fans with new output that no one should be embarrassed about. Good stuff, especially for the rabid fans of the band. 7/10

Arrival Of Autumn - Kingdom Undone (Nuclear Blast) [Zak Skane]

Opening up this album is the classic 2000 technical metal era Scares which tears our faces off with thrashy galloping riffs, energy driven scank beats and crushing breakdowns that would please OG fans of the likes of Unearth and Sylosis. After their thrashy opening they shift their style to a more Djenty/mathy sound with tracks like Your Fiction and Ghosts which contains gut punching staccato riffs and technical grooves that would please any Periphery fan. 

Through out the album the band trades off sub gerners through track coming back to their old school thrashcore sound with songs like Hell Comes Home and One More Day which pushes the bands talents with Brutal double kicks and blast beats played at breakneck speeds whilst guitar solo soar over the top of them. Modern metal on Burn and Masters Serve takes the band into more Architects and Wage War territory with interval and jumping technical riffs and Briton Bond barked vocals. 

Overall this album takes the listener by the hand and explores the old and new sounds of metalcore, from the thrashy opener of Scares to the modern tech metal edge of Burn, the only criticism that I would point out is the transitions feel like two worlds apart. 7/10

Vexing - Grand Reproach (Ordovician Records) [Mark Young]

Grand Reproach is the latest from Vexing, a progressive sludge trio from Denver. I don’t think I’ve heard much progressive sludge so let’s go. And we are off! The Mold comes in with a tight riffing structure, moving at a pace that is leans more to hardcore territory. You can hear the progressive nature of their attack very with little twists and turns as they chase the song to the end. This would be a great song to play, so much to do within it and it’s a promising start.

Vanquishing Light keeps this up, with another densely packed song that navigates its way across different structures and melody lines that takes a heavier, faster turn and turns it on its head. It’s dark and nasty and leads us into The Invisible Hand, with feedback filled start into minimal gain riffing churning out one of the most hummable lines in recent times. What is apparent is that when they approach a chorus or break the music in that piece is so different from what the main structure starts with, and its great to hear this being executed in this way.

Shallow Breath is low, stop/start riffs and is content just to grind away at you as it takes flight. Its manic yet controlled and another example of how well they change both gears and genres within the same song. Howling is an intermission piece, of sustained keys that could be at home in any Sci-fi film, but I don’t think it serves a purpose here other than to break the album up. It does segue into Blunderbuss which changes tack slightly, the vocal delivery is different as it comes more into the death side of things. Whilst we have that change, they are still consistent with taking you on a musical trip within the song, touching on different motifs and attacks: Fast, direct, slow, one sided but all good.

Small Black Flame is a direct attack, most conventional build of the songs so far, ascending movement and an incredible solo to the end that is manic and tasteful at the same time, completely fitting in with the whole body of the song. Red Skies and its again with that almost burrowing effect guitar that just tries to split your head open like a precise drill. Its all change again as the directional switch is pulled, trampling to the natural end of the album. Its like and then nothing like the songs that came before, which is exceptional.

I don’t know where the sludge part comes from, it’s likely that I am wrongly assuming that ‘sludge’ should sound like that aural equivalent of a thick, dense guitar sound that is capable of splitting the earth’s crust or that it moves at a pace similar to that of a sloth with nowhere to go. That is not the case here, they are heavy without ridiculous tunings, or 18 string guitars and it moves, it really does and live I think it would take on another identity, stomping the crowd into bits. 7/10

A Pretext To Human Suffering - Endless Cycle Of Suffering (Realtiy Fade Records) [GC]

After reading the press release for the debut album from A Pretext To Human Suffering, apparently I can hope to hear some technical and brutal death metal that promises ‘’superb levels of sheer musicality and skill, with the dedication to supreme heaviness which brings to life of the band’s horrifying, incisive vision and is the imaginative accomplishment of the song writing that results is an utterly magnificent album’’ big words for a debut and of course its time for me to see if they can back all this up.

Starting with the 5 second intro Indoctrination its falls onto Endless Cycle Of Suffering to kick things off properly and it kind of does and doesn’t really? It sort of lumbers along for the first minute or so not doing very much and when it does all explode into life it’s all a bit of a blur, it’s a shame the drums on this track are programmed because if this was a human I would be blown away! The rest is all very proficient tech death, but it just feels like its missing something to really kick it on, Architect Of Reality does fare slightly better as it doesn’t meander at all it just dives directly into the pummelling and ramps up the pace sufficiently to make you pay attention and has some really decent breakdowns included. 

Then on Hollow Sanctuary the pace begins in a more slowed down fashion but, this time its adding to everything and that mixes well with the breakneck speed of the faster parts and there is even a healthy dose of atmospherics thrown into towards the end to add more depth and texture to the song which is a wise move, Formless Collective is another short, sharp shock type song that just explodes out of the speakers and the savages you all the way through.

Void then sort of suffers a mid-album slump, it’s just a bit meh? It all begins with low-down chug chug riffs that don’t really do much and when it does kick in it all just seems slightly aimless and doesn’t seem to go anywhere? Toxic Dreams is an atmospheric interlude that doesn’t really do very much to pick up the flow or pace and just gets in the way before Shadow Of Time bundles into the mix there’s some a nice mix of different guitar work here with squeaky pitch harmonics, mixed into the dense riffs and a solo thrown in for good measure, which is probably helpful as it makes what could have been a boring song, not so boring.

It’s now that I feel that they are losing some rhythm and flow but, Paradox does succeed in picking the pace back up and is probably the style they do best which is a full on tech death onslaught with no subtlety or mood setting just full on attack mode and they picked the right time for it here! Clandestine is more of the same and the pace even seems to be upped another notch and even the slowed down chug of the verse doesn’t take anything away from the brutal nature of this song just when it was all seeming to get slightly aimless, they have picked it right back up! Cult_ure then once again drops the pace down to a more mid-tempo stomp and probably has a more deathcore nature to the whole track and it’s a decent way to finish the album off.

Did they back up the hype from the press release? Not really for me, I must be honest and admit I didn’t really connect with this album, there were some good parts and some not so good parts, but I just couldn’t find that thing that really made me connect to what was on offer? As a debut I can say that it’s a job well done but in future I think they would need to offer more for me to really think they can push onto the next level. 6/10

Reviews: Metal Church, Blind River, Oceanlord, Samantha Fish & Jesse Dayton (Reviews By Rich Piva & Matt Bladen)

Metal Church - Congregation Of Annihilation (Rat Pak Records) [Rich Piva]

Some bands in their fifth decade will chill a bit. Maybe release their “Stones Influenced” record and rest on their old school thrash laurels. Not Metal Church, who are back with their thrashiest record in years, Congregation Of Annihilation. This is the first record after the passing of former lead vocalist Mike Howe and the first with new singer, Marc Lopes, who has a bit of a higher screech than I am used to with The Church, but it works with the total aggression that comes out of record number thirteen from a band who has been to hell and back lately, potentially having Congregation Of Annihilation as a type of scream therapy for the band.

Right off the bit these guys are ripping with the opener, Another Judgement Day. You get some serious screams from Lopes, and I am getting not just old school MC vibes but am I hearing some Testament too? I love the dual guitar attack and the right up in the front drums. The vocals take a while to get used to, but once you settle in you see the vision here. You get even more thrashier on the title track, which is a flat-out banger. Lopes fits in nicely with the vibe on this record for sure. Anyone up for a MC/Overkill tour because this track literally screams yes. 

The foot is never taken of the petal with killer thrash like Pick A God And Pray, Children Of The Lie, and Making Monsters. Me The Nothing is heavy in other ways, even if it is the slowest burner on here, and to me is the most old school like Metal Church track on Congregation Of Annihilation. All in all, eleven (if you count the bonus tracks) thrash rippers that never hint at this legendary metal band slowing down any time soon, even with the tragedy that they have endured.

Overkill, and now Metal Church has revived my hope for how bands I loved as a kid can keep killing it in 2023. Congregation Of Annihilation is a testament to a band who has lived though the loss of their singer and come back strong, battling the sadness to unleash a monster of pent-up rage that we have not heard from them in a long time. Great stuff from a band who has no right sounding a fresh and heavy as they do on Congregation Of Annihilation at this point in their discography. 8/10

Blind River - Bones For The Skeleton Thief (Self Released) [Matt Bladen]

Blind River have a stock-in-trade of gigantic rhythms and ball breaking blues rocking, a style they've been deafening audiences up and down the country with since 2017. Formed with a shared love of touring an very much a live act the band is made up of members of some of the UK's best riff slingers, Blind River features former members of Godsized, Pig Iron, and many more well respected UK bands also well as vocalsist Harry Armstrong now being the bassist in UK veterans Orange Goblin.

These road dogs write their music in green rooms and work out the tracks on stage, perfecting the songs in front of audiences until they go into the studio to record the fully formed cuts. It's worked on their two previous records and it works again on the brilliantly titled Bones For The Skeleton Thief. Proudly recorded with "No click track. No auto-tune. No edits" it was recorded straight to tape to encapsulate the sound of Blind River perfectly, recorded differently, I might add to their last two albums but Bones For... feels more fired up, rawer and bit more pissed off than they did previously.

I've always considered Blind River to be the UK's answer to Clutch, with the no-frills dive bar sound of many of their former bands (a few of which are my favourites). They easily merge stoner riffs, southern rock grooves and punk wildness. Their debut album was fast and furious heavy blues rock, Made Of Dirt the second album brought more variation as they continue to broaden their style on this third release. The 10 tracks (all their albums are 10 tracks) comes out of the stalls swinging fists on Punkstarter, with the brawl begun, the groove is established on Second Hand Soul, riff monsters Chris Charles and Dan Edwards playing it low and slower, before Andrew Esson's percussive blast carries the slithering Snake Oil.

Just three tracks and Blind River are almost screaming "We're back baby!" Out Of Time slowing to the throb of Will Hughes' bass, Harry letting his gritty blues howl do the work, though he's more restrained but equally powerful on the beginning of Skeleton Thief. The dynamics have always been a part of Blind River's music, that's why I mention Clutch as their music your head banging and fist pounding, touching the inner caveman on tracks like Mind Blown but it's also got a cleveness, the work of skilled musicians who have thought about the compositions and the lyrics, with tracks like Passing By.

As they have plenty more shows lined up, and a tour in November with Sasquatch, Blind River 4 may not be that far away, still, Bones For The Skeleton Thief continues the bands rise as one of the most respected and bloody entertaining bands in the UK scene. 9/10

Oceanlord - Kingdom Cold (Magnetic Eye Records) [Rich Piva]

Australian doom baby!!! Oceanlord has dropped their debut of slow burning doom goodness on us from down under, shaking the streets as their release their mythical sea creature, in this case six killer tracks of traditional and not so traditional doom, upon the masses. This is heavy, fuzzy, doom with cool vocals, and a kind of constant buzz across all the tracks. This must be from the deep parts of the Australian Ocean because Kingdom Cold lives up to its chilly name.

That is the vibe right off the bat with the opener Kingdom, a slow, plodding track with an excellent guitar tone and the aforementioned excellent vocals. The pace does not pick up with the next track, 2340, but why would you want it to with doom this good? I get some serious Trouble vibes with this one, especially in the chorus. There is such a cool darkness to Kingdom Cold that is hard to put into words without listening. The album can be listened to by individual tracks, but to me this record seems like a natural continuation from song to song, case in point the move to the next track, Siren, with more doomy goodness, and an urgency to the lyrics and vocals keeps that cold wind blowing along the coast that is this record. 

Is this a concept album? Because it could be with the overarching vibe and themes that continue throughout the forty-two minutes of Kingdom Cold, as the creepy Isle Of The Dead continues but turns up the cold factor even further. This eight-minute epic is my favorite amongst an album where all the tracks are top notch. The fact that the record is six tracks and forty-two minutes is the perfect length as too much more you may feel that it is dragging a bit, but you get none of that in its given configuration. So Cold is just that just, keeping up the theme, and reminds us that these guys wrote and recorded this record during the very strict lockdown in Australia. Come Home is an excellent closer, with a psych guitar opening and not altering the mood of this record in any way, which is a really good thing.

Kingdom Cold is an excellent debut record, positioning Oceanlord as part of the future of doom for years to come. These guys seem to have a natural feel for the genre and take pieces of what everyone loves about doom and melding it into their own dark, cold, and gloomy offering. Great stuff, and I look forward to what is next from the cold depths of the land down under. 8/10

Samantha Fish & Jesse Dayton - Death Wish Blues (Rounder Records) [Matt Bladen]

There's a certain sound to this album, I was trying to put my finger on it. Fuzzier and dirtier than Samantha Fish's last release, this is renegade sounding album fusing blues with outlaw country but there's something else? It's in the buzzing guitar tone or the reverb vocals, like garage rock meets hillbilly attitude. Then I looked at the credits and it said production by Jon Spencer, the penny dropped and it all made sense. He of the self named Blues Explosion is synonymous with the 'sound' of this record, the musical traits I've mentioned earlier, his music has always been experimental and boundary breaking.

So it's only right that he's behind the chair for this collaboration between two artists from similar mindsets but alternate musical backgrounds. Both forging their musical relationship in Kansas City; Samantha Fish is one of the most red hot blues players on the scene, she's got the chops, the skills and the attitude while Jesse Dayton has played with Cash and Jennings while also punched out four chords with punk band X.

Both players wanted to push the boundaries of their respective styles while merging them and creating something different. Lustful, sardonic, dark music, that can be called alt-blues but I'd say it's rebel music, songs for lovers, thieves, drunks and killers. Biting guitar tones using the unpublished dark side of rock n roll, it's the motorcycle crash epics Jim Steinman loved with the murder ballads of Nick Cave, Fish and Dayton trading off on vocals and guitar, Fish bringing the Cigar Box twang as Dayton has a Baritone thump, the idea was to keep it blues based but without the fear of being traditional.

Recorded in just 10 days, Death Wish Blues sounds frenzied and frenetic, a band featuring Kendall Wind (bass), Mickey Finn (keys), Aaron Johnston (drums) augment the duo who often feel like they're sparring with each other on Riders, the shuffling Lover On The Side and Dangerous People. The swaggering Deathwish is 2 and a half minutes of bad ideas and blossoming lust on top of filthy blues, the funky Down In The Mud sees Dayton take vocals for a bit of Americana, both of them changing between taking lead vocals on the tracks where they don't duet.

Elsewhere in the album; Settle For Less is some prime Fish blues rocking, things get slower and soulful on No Apology while for me Rippin’ And Runnin’ is one of the best songs here a moody cut from the deep blues, while the fun Supadupabad is full Jon Spencer Blues Explosion, the left/right divide in the production. Death Wish Blues is a collab that shines a light on both artists telling anyone that listens to it, that this blues...beyond. 8/10