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Wednesday, 8 February 2023

Reviews: In Flames, Frozen Dawn, Lüger, Fugit (Reviews By Mark Young, Richard Oliver, Richard Piva & Matt Bladen)

In Flames - Foregone (Nuclear Blast) [Mark Young]

I confess to not knowing that much about In Flames. I’ve seen them live, back in 2007 supporting Slayer and Lamb Of God on the Unholy Alliance tour and found them to be ok but certainly nothing to make me seek out more from them. That’s just opinion on my part and I am aware that they released some music that our heavy brethren have found distasteful. For this review, I am ignoring what has gone before and just reacting to the songs presented here. I’ll let others argue on its place within their back catalogue as they see fit.

Starting with the instrumental The Beginning Of All Things That Will End this reminds of the acoustic intro to Battery which after two or so minutes bangs into the State Of Slow Decay which bangs along at a terrific rate and takes me back to At The Gates. It’s heavy, fast and a strong opening gambit from them. It is almost too close of a ATG clone but then how many riffs can you really make within a given genre of music? There is also a taste of a recurring theme within it when the clean vocals come in, which almost seems like its designed for a sing a long in the live setting. There is something in how the cleans have been recorded, I cannot put my finger on, but it is jarring and takes away from the song.

Meet Your Maker continues with the fast attack and then we get the clean vocals again within the melodic bit and I just can’t get past it. It seems that there is a case of multiple themes they wanted to include in each song, and it left me cold. And so, it continues with each song: Excellent riffs, then clean then growls then clean. Foregone Pt 1 bucks this trend, it just storms out and stomps around and like State it could almost have been taken from Slaughter Of The Soul. Part 2 continues in a slower pace, but again that Gothenburg sound is all over it and then the clean vocals. Ack.

The pace picks back up from The Great Deceiver into In The Dark but the mix of vocal delivery is still there which I can’t get past. The style of music here, its aggression should have vocals that match it. By having the clean vocals in there is reduces its sonic impact. But that is just my opinion and I assume that there is an audience for this. It just isn’t me. 6/10

Frozen Dawn - The Decline Of The Enlightened Gods (Transcending Obscurity Records) [Richard Oliver]

Spain seems to be a country delivering a lot of black metal goodness lately. Mere months after the latest stunning album from Noctem, fellow countrymen Frozen Dawn unleash a monster of an album with The Decline Of The Enlightened Gods.  Frozen Dawn are a new band to this reviewer's ears but I’ve quickly become a convert to the band's fanbase having given this album multiple listens and also dug into the bands back catalogue.

Frozen Dawn formed in Madrid in 2006 and have made quite an impression with their first two albums The Old Prophecy Of Winterland and Those Of The Cursed Land which both have a long list of rave reviews. The Decline Of The Enlightened Gods should receive the same rapturous response and maybe more as it is easily the strongest album in the band's arsenal to date. Despite hailing from Spain, Frozen Dawn very much have a Scandinavian style about them performing a melodic brand of black metal reminiscent of bands such as Dark Funeral, Naglfar and of course Dissection. 

It is fast paced and vicious but with strong melodic guitar parts and a thrash-like approach to the rapid fire riffing. Songs such as Spellbound and Cosmic Black Chaos leap out of the speakers with a fearsome intensity and barbaric ferocity whilst songs such as Frozen Kings and Wanderers Of Times play to the more melodic side of the band’s sound and sound positively majestic as well as deliciously violent.

I’ve said before that we are really spoiled with black metal in current times in terms of both the variety and quality of bands on offer and Frozen Dawn are testament to that as The Decline Of The Enlightened Gods is a stunning album. It is definitely a case of a band performing music in the style of band’s that have influenced them when when it sounds this damn good I am more than happy to forgo originality.  This is a perfect balancing act of melody and ferocity and if your tastes are for the more melodic side of black metal then this album is a must hear. 9/10

Lüger - Revelations Of The Sacred Skull (Heavy Psych Sounds) [Rich Piva]

Well, this is fun! Montreal, Québec, Canada’s Lüger rip out nine filthy tracks on their debut for Heavy Psych Sounds, Revelations Of The Sacred Skull, channelling equal parts Motörhead (you know it with the umlaut), Iggy and The Stooges, sleaze rock, and the heavier side of the NWOBHM influences for a dirty as hell good time. Don’t expect any new ground to be broken on Revelations Of The Sacred Skull but expect to feel like you are in a tiny, unventilated club with lots of smelly, shirtless dudes cutting themselves and generally breaking shit. 

Right off the bat with the opener Black Acid you get Lemmy meets Iggy goodness with a dash of the origins of the back metal scene, think the listenable Venom stuff.  More of the same with the next track, Motörcity Hellcats which by the name you can figure out what this sounds like. Night Of The Serpent Women leans more the way of the Stooges, but a sludgy/occult version, showing that these Canadians don’t have to be a breakneck speed to be effective. 

The Sacred Skull reminds me of an 80s thrash song full on with air raid sirens opening the track. The production on this record is minimal, going for an almost demo tap feel in some parts, The Sacred Skull being a track where this really stands out. This is not a complaint; this may be my favourite track. Filthy Streets is a perfect description of the band’s sound and could be their theme song. Toxic Sludge makes me these guys could open for Municipal Waste to get the crowd going where the closing track is a dirty reverb filled slow burner that leverages the bands more occult/evil side of their personality.  

I am all for bands wearing their influences on their sleeves and when executed well bands can take those influences and make them their own. Lüger does this mostly with success on Revelations Of The Sacred Skull. A fun, somewhat predictable (given their influences) record that folks who crave more Lemmy/Iggy worship will really dig. 7/10

Fugit - Morphogenetic Fractal Hologram (Self Released) [Matt Bladen]

For fans of Alcest, Agalloch and Deafhaven, Fugit is a one man post black metal project from Italy. That one man is Andrea Milan who played all instruments, wrote all the songs, mixed, mastered and even did the artwork, he is also the vocalist (of course) with C.C providing ethereal female vocals on four tracks. 

Formed as a way for him to cope with the human condition Fugit is based on his own experiences and how he deals with the world, from an auspicious ambient opening the first song proper is Starbust which has black metal blastbeats set against atmospheric keys, his recent experimentation in ambient/electronic and acoustic music being used on this metal album which makes me think of Vangelis meeting a band like Ulver. 

This use of the electronics and synths is in keeping with the concept of the record which is: "the realisation that reality is nothing more than a fractal morphogenic hologram, constantly evolving its sound towards new melodies." Dramatic and cinematic, Fugit bring a sense of dark romance with opener White Limbo, Shrivel coming from a place on the doom spectrum, as the piano on Deus Sive Natura is more in-tune with New Age/Classical compositions. Morphogenetic Fractal Hologram needs repeated plays to be fully appreciated, let it worm it's way into your mind and question your reality. 8/10

Tuesday, 7 February 2023

Reviews: DeadBlondeStars, Seum, Shallow Truths, Full Circle (Reviews By Rich Piva, Mark Young, Zak Skane & Simon Black)

DeadBlondeStars - Metamorphosis (Self Released) [Rich Piva]

Being of a certain age, current bands that pay homage to the days of flannel, bad goatees, and musicians spawned from a certain city in the Pacific Northwest always peak my interest. In many cases I am disappointed with the output, finding bands using these certain buzzwords and throwing out influences that may get forty and fifty-somethings all worked up but ultimately sounding like any of the other radio ready crap that is being pumped out today. 

Yeah, sure, throw AIC or Soundgarden in your Bandcamp tags, but how about don’t sound like Shinedown or Nickleback instead. This brings me to the third album from Sheffield, England’s DeadBlondeStars, who on their latest release, Metamorphosis, are anything but cheap imitations of our favourite Seattle bands. Yes, singer Gary Walker sounds uncannily like Chris Cornell, and yes the riffs are reminiscent of some of Kim’s and Jerry’s best work, but these guys take what was the best from that era and make it their own, creating their best album till date and a record should catapult them to stardom.

Let’s be clear, no one can sing like Chris Cornell…but Walker’s voice is certainly close and it works perfectly across the twelve crunchy tracks on Metamorphosis. These guys have the songs for sure. The guitar work is killer too, with a three pronged riff filled attack that is the key driver for how awesome this record is. Right of the bat you know what you are in for with the killer riff from the opening track, 11 Teeth, that leads you to some seriously well done late period Soundgarden worship but modernised to fit the band’s style and individual traits. The record never sounds like an imitation, and I think a big part of that is the production. Generally, I would think it may be a bit too polished for my liking, and I think the drums should be turned up a bit in the mix, but for some reason overall it really works on Metamorphosis

This Tree sounds more like Audioslave then Soundgarden but again stands alone as their own thing, borrowing the best parts and putting their on spin on what comes out. I love the layered vocals on this track. Other standout tracks for me are Alaska, which sounds like it could have been on Facelift musically, OverOcean which is a killer grunge tune that could have been on any later era Seattle compilation and A Friend Like You, the closer, and probably my favourite track that has all the traits of what a great song from that or any era would have; catchiness, excellent vocals, killer guitar work, and a crunch and gallop that is unmistakably awesome.

So yes, you can be super influenced by a band or era or style of music and not come off as a cheap imitation. You can even create an album as excellent as DeadBlondeStars have with Metamorphosis. If you like grunge and are yearning for something from that time gone past, this record is for you. The perfect balance of influence and individuality. 9/10

Seum - Double/Double (Electric Spark) [Mark Young]

Doom and bass!! This is NOT Royal Blood.

From the off Montreal three-piece Seum tell you in no uncertain terms there are no guitars on this release. That is not to say that there is a lack of dexterity on show from them as they embrace the low-end spectrum with this release.

They have been a steady number of releases from 2020 onwards, with this being their second album following the debut Winterised. Double/Double’s main objective is to groove from start to finish without being a hyper-intensive experience. Steady tempos are observed with some absolute monolithic riffs straight from the Geezer Butler playbook.

There is very much a punk attitude on display with an almost black metal style of vocals but married to a sludge/doom speed limit which gives you a heavy but slightly less than smooth experience. Here length of track takes second place to the riff and the riffs must be good to keep you listening.

They are slow, at least compared to what I normally listen too which is not a bad thing but over the course of 28 minutes there doesn’t seem to be that much variation between tracks and if this is not what you are a fan of then it is possible it won’t convert you into listening further. 

It is possible that I am slightly biased that there is no guitar involved but again variety is everything so I can see that for fans of doom, stoner music it generally does the trick, and they will embrace this release because it is uncompromising in its approach. 6/10

Shallow Truths - Bury Yesterday (Shallow Records) [Zak Skane]

Starting with their opening track Bury Yesterday, which has bouncy interval hoping riffs, swinging from major to minor key notes to give the listener heavy feel good vibes. The clean and harsh vocals trade off are remind me of old school Issues. The melodic lines in the chorus sections are effortlessly catchy. House Of Lies combines the old school NWOAHM riffs of Lamb Of God with new school technicality of the likes of Periphery. 

The kick drum pattern routed in the vary from section to section of the song to satisfy very drummer that is listening to this E.P. The harsh vocals on this track oozes emotion and angst whilst the singer vents emotional turmoil. Wallow and Not Broken pushes forward the emotion onto the listener by bringing spacious keys and atmospheric layers to lay a bed for their modern metal recipe. Finally another highlight on this album is Veins which strips away the ambient backing tracks to bring the meat and potatoes metalcore which consists off meaty power chord stacked riffs and punchy drum grooves.

If you like your metalcore modern but featuring an old school edge to it Shallow Truths has got you covered. From the djenty bouncing riffs of their opening track Bury Yesterday which would please any of Northlane and Issues fan. House Of Lies presents the meeting of the old school with the new school by preforming Lamb Of God style groove laden riffs and mixed double kick patterns all soaked in a modern production and Wallow and Not Broken soaks the listener in ambient emotion whilst still packing the heavy. Within the five track journey the band have managed to show all sides of their sound without it feeling forced or disjointed. 7/10

Full Circle - Songs From The Apocalypse (Self Released) [Simon Black]

Progressive metal is an insanely broad descriptive term for a genre of music that can deliver in so many styles on its own that it’s often impossible to classify. But all things progressive have their roots in the experimental age of the late 1960’s and early 1970’s, and that’s definitely where Full Circle get started. For every album from the likes of Pink Floyd that was so musically precise that you could set an atomic clock to it, there was a pile of stuff that was way looser, freer and liable to head in any direction until it meets a solid structure, and definitely more rock than metal throughout. 

There’s a lot of this improvisational feel in the mix, which is really surprising considering that there is only one musician (Val Faluotico) in here playing absolutely everything. It’s one thing for a band to invest huge amounts of energy trying to recreate the feel of old analogue recordings on digital tech, but to attempt to make one man sound like a handful of stoned improvisational musos from another century is either genius or insanity.

The whole thing sounds like an old demo, or an edgy live recording, with the exception of the lead vocals which are very forward in the mix most of the time. Although to be honest, the mixing and mastering varies between tracks to such an extent that this feels like there were at least three distinct recording sessions involved. Another jarring vocal element is the harmonised vocals, mainly because they aren’t actually in harmony, or indeed key from time to time – again remember one man is doing all this, but it’s trying to recreate that demo or live feel from another decade that little bit too hard.

When Faluotico’s vocals are focused, his voice has quite a good range, and I can’t criticise his playing on the grounds that he can play at least three more instruments than me, and at least four better than me, but the music is a little too rambling and unstructured for me. An interesting experiment, but a really tough listen. 4/10

Reviews: DeWolff, Holy Water, Malleus, Ronnie Romero (Reviews By Rich Piva, Mark Young, Simon Black & James Jackson)

DeWolff - Love, Death & In Between (Mascot Records) [Rich Piva]

Can I get a hallelujah? How about an Amen? DeWolff are back (they rarely go away as the are an output machine) with their latest album Love, Death & In Between, where the band goes full on 60’s soul revival. Inspired by a trip to Memphis and the experience of a live sermon from Al Green himself, DeWolff invoke not who Green was preaching about by Green himself and other giants of that era gone by. 

It is an interesting, different, many times fun, sometimes too long effort from the Dutch trio.
Recorded directly to tape, and if you have read my reviews, you know how right off the bat this makes me very happy. The record sounds like, in the best kind of way, it was recorded at said revival in a tent with the parishioners singing along at the most strategic times.

DeWolff will be touring with the Black Crowes this year and I mention this because some of these tracks are very Crowes-esqe, think Go Tell The Congregation, but with even more energy. You get a church choir, you get a horn section, you get amped up energy, all in the opening track, Night Train. Heart Stopping Kind Of Show is a catchy, 60s inspired pop song with more choir, horns, and driven by the organ. 

This album is huge in a lot of ways. While the production is minimal (and awesome) the sounds from this album are gigantic all around. It sounds like they have 100 people under the tent recording the album. Southern blues rock and soul is also a plenty on Love, Death & In Between on tracks like Will O’ The Wisp and some garage rock, Exile era Stones type stuff on Rosita.

Message For My Baby is my favourite track on the album, leveraging all the great stuff on this record and channelling some CCR which is exactly what DeWolff should do. Some of the slower songs drag a bit, and the Seventy-minute run time makes Love, Death & In Between too long. Some editing would have made this record way more easily consumable. Despite the runtime, DeWolff have successfully captured vibe that they were going for on Love, Death & In Between

The crowds will love these guys on the Crowes tour, especially this new material. With how big the new songs are it will be interesting to see how it translates to the stage, but overall Love, Death & In Between is a fun, energetic time warp that stays a bit too long but when it hits it hits you right in the soul. 7/10

Holy Water - Holy Water (Self Released) [Mark Young]

It seems that Holy Water is almost one of the internet’s best kept secrets. A self-recorded effort that was originally completed in 2021 by Dutch artist Jasper den Hartigh with assistance from local talent and artistic collaborators for drums, guitar and vocals and the result of his attempt at making a pop-record that takes in specific filters via experience gained in playing certain genres of music such as punk and heavy metal.

So, what does it sound like? So, the closest description that I can make is that it directly reminds me of Joy Division in the vocal delivery, early 80’s goth for production in how it sounds but is dynamic at the same time in that you can hear everything from guitar to more subtle organ sounds that fill the space in each song. Its doesn’t sound like it is a home recording at all.

Each song keeps a consistent tempo, none of them could be singled out as being particularly speedy but this does not make for a negative experience. Going back to his objective that he wanted to make a pop record it feels as though he has attempted to limit song lengths to 3 minutes to present, perform and move onto the next one without overly extending the song unnecessarily.

Each song also has slight differences in how they are arranged, and it seems that each shares the same speed which means that they must work harder to keep you engaged. To the most part they succeed in this but by the end they do slightly blur into one because they keep that same steady pace with audio motifs you recognise from earlier songs.

These criticisms are only minor though. It is a well presented, written and recorded album that manages to evoke comparisons with Joy Division, Depeche Mode and Nine Inch Nails whilst remaining an original release. I can appreciate it for what it sets out to be and wholly achieves that objective, so my score is based on that 8/10

Malleus - The Fires Of Heaven (Armageddon Label) [Simon Black]

This Boston-based four piece have been around since 2016, with a couple of well-regarded EP’s under their belt already, but The Fires Of Heaven is their album debut proper. Extreme Metal has diverged out of all recognition since Venom first coined the term ‘Black Metal’ when I were a wee nipper in 1982, with so many sub-genres and splinters out there now, that even those of us who write this shit every day can’t keep up with all of them.

To be honest many of them do nothing for me, and at the first sound of an incomprehensible set of vocal lines, I’m normally checking the hell out of Dodge faster than you can say “Symphonic Power Metal”. So, you might be wondering why the hell you are even reading this, given that as unpaid scribes giving up our own time F.O.C. we generally prefer to opt for things we know we prefer. Fortunately, our esteemed Metallisch-Führer Matt knows us better than we do ourselves, so this one appeared unsolicited in my folder, partly because no-one else had grabbed it and knows I can write quickly, but also because he knows what I will like before I do... 

And I’m really bloody glad that he did, because it’s an absolute belter.

If you are expecting something that’s going to spawn another sub-genre, then this is not for you. If you harken back to those early days of Black Metal snorting Speed Metal as distinct from Thrash, then yes, you will. I am reminded of those early Venom and Bathory albums very strongly, and this is very much a love letter to that early to mid-80’s birthing ground. The vocals do work for me because despite the depth of screaming going on, the aptly named The Channeller’s lyrics are still comprehensible enough to get the message driving the song (and with a definite nod to Celtic Frost era Tom G. Warrior too, which is never a bad thing). 

The opening tracks breeze by in a blistering burst of brutality, but the record also takes the time to build in some much deeper and complex compositions too as it progresses, with three of them taking up over half of the run time. Much as I love nasty, brutish and short, these longer tracks are really well-crafted pieces of work, and closer Mourning War in particular is hitting all the spots for me in terms of complexity, craft and sheer musicianship.

Production-wise as well there’s a deep nod to First Wave Black Metal, in that this is no frills production that has the zeitgeist of that ‘one-step up from a demo’ feeling of old, but still has enough richness in the mix to pick out the individual performances and nod along in appreciation of the craft. I’ve been very critical in these pages about bands trying to sound like that period of history by faking analogue kit on digital tools, but Malleus achieve what so many fail to do by focusing on capturing the energy and speed of the recording process and not in trying to fake the sounds with modern technology, so it has the fire and fury of the olden days without compromising the material. Perfectly fusing the old and the new, but with a rich and powerful delivery, and some well weaved in technical and musical complexity, this was a joy from start to finish. 9/10

Ronnie Romero - Raised On Heavy Radio (Frontiers Music Srl) [James Jackson]

The first thing I did when this album landed in my inbox was wonder - who the hell is Ronnie Romero and is he/she related to George. Not that I’ve found the answer to the last question but the answer to the first is this: Ronnie Romero is a solo vocalist who has worked with some great musicians over the years. Featuring in Rainbow with Richie Blackmore, being part of the ever revolving lineup of the Michael Schenker Group and working with former Whitesnake guitarist Adrian Vanderberg; as well as fronting Lords of Black, a Power Metal styled band he formed alongside Spanish guitarist Tony Hernando back in 2014.

His is quite an impressive resume, but is the album any good. Raised On Heavy Radio is a covers album, a continuing theme from last years Raised On Radio; and I’m not a great fan of covers, personally my opinion is this: if you aren’t going to put your own twist on it, honour the original but make it your own, if not - why bother. This is an album of paint by numbers covers, there’s not an ounce of originality within the 11 tracks here, musically it’s as you’d expect it to be, the songs are what they are, older songs now considered to be classics, mainly from the 80's, played by competent musicians but with no flair or diversity from the originals.

Vocally it’s nothing to get particularly excited about either; he has range and ability, obviously, you don’t have the discography that he has without the necessary talent but for me it’s just not hitting the mark; he covers Iron Maiden, Judas Priest and Manowar to name a few but there’s nothing here that wows me, nothing that stands out and makes it worth more than a single listen. 3/10

Monday, 6 February 2023

Reviews: Memoriam, BRUIT ≤, Giant Sleep, Seven Doors (Reviews By Matt Bladen)

Memoriam - Rise To Power (Reaper Entertainment)

Birmingham brutes Memoriam, continue to be the yang to Sabaton's ying as their blistering death metal tells of the harrowing brutality of war.  For this fifth album they kick off with Never Forget, Never Again (6 Million Dead) which holds an additional impact so close to Holocaust Memorial Day (when I was listening to the album), Karl Willetts' trademark bark, reminding us that this level of evil and blatant ignorance should never be let to repeat itself. 

With The Great War, it's loss, grief and dehumanisation being the focus of their bile and bite on their first three albums, their central protagonist in the concept living his life through this, then dealing with the aftermath on their fourth. This fifth album is the second release in their second trilogy (the last one coming next year at this rate), their death metal assault here is based on WWII, more modern conflicts too, but with the same feelings from their previous release as the central character becomes 'king'. Total War featuring some urgent bass from Frank Healy and artillery like blast beats from drummer Spikey T. Smith, it's the second part of the two ragers that open this record. 

It's I Am The Enemy that moves into the other side of Willett's raison detre, as the clean repetition of Scott Fairfax's guitars, drive a slow, persistent grind, the drums building and slowing in pace as we get those more melodic and doom elements that came in on their 2021's To The End, The Conflict Is Within too continues with this shift between melody and violence. Russ Russell again handles production and makes it sound dirty and authentic to the history of DM but also that modern surgical approach striking a good balance between both. Exploring a wider range of sounds again, track such as Annihilations Dawn touch on the Swedish melodeath scene, the title track adding yet more doom and Karl getting to shout the word "Rise!" which will obviously be in their live show. 

This Pain closes the album with a more...progressive(?) side, displaying that Memoriam can achieve a much more comprehensive sound than just the savage death metal they are celebrated for. 9/10          

BRUIT ≤ - Apologie du temps Perdu Vol.1 (Pelagic Records)

There are bands who evoke emotion, but few that can quite capture French Ennui better than Toulouse band BRUIT ≤. Their debut album The Machine Is Burning And Now Everyone Knows It Could Happen Again got a perfect score from me when it was released and it looks as if the follow up EP will get similar. Sorry to give the game away so early but at times this EP almost feels transcendent as if all other forms of music exist purely to be used here. That may sound like hyperbole but with just three songs, that do have long run times, this quartet ruminate on post rock, ambient, trip hop and classical textures, all these styles colliding to become not just a beautiful soundscape but an escape. 

I said on the last review that you should listen to this band with headphones and I'll have to reiterate that again here. It's the only way you can really 'feel' this album, let it wash over you in cascading waves of musical dexterity but also restraint and repetition. Since their full length they have travelled Europe performing and their improvisational style was pushed further each time, leading them to look inward on Apologie du temps Perdu Vol.1. Sociologically and ideologically inspired by nothing at all unlike their debut, it's meant to be a pause, an excuse to lose yourself in music. 

A transitional release between their last full length and their next one. Embracing ambience, Clément Libes' violin sits at the core of the release under the ambient and orchestral textures of cinematic opener La Sagesse De Nos Aïeux, the theme to an imaginary noir it sets the tone for the rest of the EP. Recorded and mixed on an old tape recorder, the result was then manipulated and mutilated, layers with synths and other instruments to bring the desolation to Rêveur Lucide, back masking used to swallow you as it transcends into a trip hop beat. Translated to "apology for the time wasted" it's a misnomer really as there's no time wasted at all here, music to take you away from the humdrum into somewhere more ethereal. 9/10

Giant Sleep - Grounded To The Sky (Czar Of Crickets)

You know when a record just hits a sweet spot? That intersection between all the bands you love, performed brilliantly and making you want to listen to it all again as soon as it ends? Well for me and my influences Giant Sleep are a band like that, the German/Swiss combo features ex-members of Destruction, Fear My Thoughts, K.O.C and Disgroove and play riffy, groovy, proggy heavy rock that's a mix of Tool, Pink Floyd, Monster Magnet and Candlemass, reminding a lot of Greek band Nightstalker and also Audrey Horne. Having release two records before this, which I will definitely be checking out, their third release Grounded To The Sky, has the primal percussion of Tool on track such as Davos where the thunderous rhythm section of Radek Stecki (bass) and Manuel Spänhauer (drums). 

The title track too has that groove as it also has some bluesy, single note Gilmour-like guitar solos. Patrick Hagmann and Tobias Glanzmann, lifting off into the atmosphere on the climax. As Siren Song goes full Pink Floyd, with that recognisable guitar work. There's a lot of desert psych rock riffing on Silent Field, a pocket full of swagger on Good Boy driven by one damn fine heavy riff, while Shadow Walker takes things into a heavier Genesis. The songs featuring the Wyndorf-esque vocals of former Destruction man Thomas Rosenmerkel, who has such a brilliant vocal. The ethos behind the band was to create music that feels classic but without leaning into the retro market favoured by a lot of bands. 

An album that deals with dichotomies with a strong sense of justice on the furious Davos, rich with twin axe attacks. Grounded To The Sky is such a joy to listen to, socially sculpted to be progressive but not too introspective in it's virtuosity. Even on a track such as The Elixir where you are taken on an 8 minute journey, they keep things energetic as it transitions between it's sound shifts. I adore this record, I'd never heard of the band before this and I'm kicking myself as they are most definitely my 'thing'. Plenty of of time to deep dive and a perfect score. 10/10 

Seven Doors - Feast Of The Repulsive Dead (Redefining Darkness Records) [Matt Bladen]

The solo project of Deadwood Lake live guitarist Ryan Wills, Seven Doors is a bloodsoaked death metal band that focuses on horror themed imagery inspired by the often ultraviolet and sickening blockbusters and B-Movies that are often straight to VHS, or banned outright. Wills plays everything on this record heavily influenced by the likes of Malevolence and Cannibal Corpse, as well as acts such as De Profundis and Skeletal Remains. Those bands guitarists; Paul Nazarkardeh and Chris Monroy/Mike De La O bring guest solos to The Morbid Mortician and Cannibalistic Humanoid Underground Dwellers respectively.

Gnarly death metal is what you get on this full length debut, following on from The Gates Of Hell EP in 2021, it's ten tracks of blastbeating, guttural growling and fretboard shredding death metal, that has been crafted by an absolute horror fanatic to indulge both his loves. Ryan even goes as far as bringing in Slasher Dave of Acid Witch to do an unsettling intro to set the atmosphere. Ten pit starters that will get the blood flowing, from where though is another matter entirely. 7/10

Friday, 3 February 2023

Reviews: Osiah, Elderseer, Warp, Lansdowne (Reviews By Matt Bladen, Paul Scoble, Rich Piva & Simon Black)

Osiah - Chronos (Unique Leader) [Matt Bladen]

From the dark North East comes some deathcore that is bound to annihilate anything it touches, but also transforms what many will think deathcore is about. A much maligned genre with metal fans it used to be scene kids playing death metal but now deathcore is much less of a dirty word, due in a major part to the Unique Leader label who seem to attract all of the most popular modern deathcore acts. Acts such as Osiah, who have joined the roster to showcase their style of extremely heavy music.

Crusty, gnarled guitars and gargling vocals are all trademarks of band such as Obituary, as are the slow deliberate riffs but Osiah manage to inject the trademark's of deathcore with a breakdown so big on Momento Mori that pitting to it would have to be done in slow motion. It's ominous and all-encompassing as the guttural roars shift into black metal shrieks with was, the jerky riffs, whizzing through your ears like a kid when they've had too much sugar. This second EP is more experimental and braver than their last few releases, carrying on with the journey they started on their second full length Kingdom Of Lies and through their third Loss which was critically acclaimed. 

From this set off point we get Chronos which is Osiah looking forward to what's to come, almost adding a flair for the progressive as well as other genres across 20 odd minutes of music, with more beatdowns on Elder King which features Josh Davies of Monasteries, The Golden Throne is blistering while the last track Hues Refract, the longest here, is more ambient than what proceeded it, ending the EP with something more cathartic and dare I say radio friendly than the rest of the EP concluding with a great solo. Osiah have come of age with this EP, following a spectacular album, Chronos is their next step and a indelible one. 8/10 

Elderseer - Drown In The Shallowness (Meuse Music Records) [Paul Scoble]

Drown In The Shallowness is the debut album from Elderseer, who have been making huge noises since 2017. In the time they have been together Elderseer have released an EP in 2018’s Bind Us As One. The Guildford based band is made up of Freddie French on bass, Richard Hartley on drums, Barry Copestake on vocals/guitar and Vinny Konrad on lead guitar.

Elderseer play a fairly traditional style of death/doom, so, huge riffs with a sombre feel to them with melody leads over the top that also have a sorrowful tone, harsh and clean vocals with the balance being on the harsh side, but as this is death/doom the vocals, although harsh, aren’t aggressive or hostile, the vocals fit with the music rather than being barked in an antagonistic way. 

The album opener Gilded Shackles is a good example of their sound; the song opens with guitar harmonies before big, sad riffs are added with harsh vocals and a piano. Initially this feels faltering and very slow, but the song picks up the tempo a little for more purposeful riffs that move the song along. In the second half of the song we get some more expansive riffs with keyboards and very good clean vocals, after this we return to the big guitar harmonies and heavy riffs to take the song to it’s end. 
This Aesthetic Life (possibly a reference to the philosophy of Søren Kierkegaard) is another good example of the sound on offer on Drown In The Shallowness

This Aesthetic Life is again a mix of huge doomy riffs and sad but melodic lead guitar work with a little keyboard for atmosphere, and much more minimal sections with clean vocals. The song also features a cracking chorus, that sticks in your memory, something that this band have a talent for writing, as this is not the only great chorus on this album. She Is The Ocean is another song with a great chorus you can sing along with. The song is a slow walking pace and feels brooding, until you get to the chorus where the pacing picks up speed and a lot more melody is added. The song also boasts a great solo and gets more melodic the closer it gets to its conclusion. 

It’s not all slow and sad with big melodies, sometimes Elderseer get nasty. The track The World Is Your Cloister (lovely pun) is brooding and dissonant, the riffs feel nastier and more putrid than anything else on Drown In The Shallowness, there is a melody lead, but its far more wailing and droning than the leads we have encountered before. Some of this reminds me a little of Autopsy when they are being slow and sickening, it also reminds me a little of blackened doom in particular a blackened doom band from Australia called Obed Marsh. There is a minimal clean section near the end, but that also feels disturbing and dirty. 

The album comes to an end with a song that is the least mournful and isn’t that disturbing, Bind Us As One has a mid-paced tempo and very tuneful and expansive riffs, the song has a great chorus with loads of melody, a great guitar solo and lots of drive and energy, it’ll have your head nodding strait away, and is a great way to end the album. 

Drown In The Shallowness is a great piece of death/doom. The style is quite traditional, but at no point feels generic or lacking in ideas. This album is packed with great melodies, lots of sad and desolate riffs and tunes, great vocals and great atmosphere. I’ve really enjoyed listening to it and have found that the songs grow on you and are very memorable, I have been humming all the tunes on this album to distraction over the last few weeks. What makes it even more impressive is the fact that this is Elderseer’s debut album, if this is their first try, then I am already eager to hear their second album! 8/10  

Warp - Bound By Gravity (Self Released) [Rich Piva]

I can never get enough of great stoner rock, and the trio from Tel Aviv, Israel, Warp, bring it with their second album, Bound By Gravity. The riffs are real on this one…these guys have taken it to the next Iommi worshiping level with their latest offering which will be much loved amongst the crowd that digs the holy riff.

Right off the bat with The Present you get some killer stoner rock with amazing guitar work and a kind of sung but shouted vocal that really works. If you dig Ripple Music stuff, like High Desert Queen for example, this will be right up your alley. The Hunger brings more of the heavy riffing same which I can consume all day and night. 

This trio makes a ton of sound. There is a fuzzy aspect of the guitar tone that is pretty much perfect and is highlighted on this track throughout the eight plus minutes of riffs and some cool tempo changes. Your Fascist Pigs Are Back is some more excellent heavy stoner goodness with some doomy influence as well and of course more killer riffs. Head Of The Eye is three minutes plus of stoner awesomeness and should be on every playlist for 2023 while Bound By Gravity crushes you with Sabbath worship but never leaves you thinking Warp is any kind of cheap imitation.  

This is next level stuff for the genre as there is nothing generic or boring anywhere on Bound By Gravity. I love the way that song transition into the next track, Impeachment Of Abdication, which just flat out kills. The closer is just amazing, a sort of nod to Children Of The Grave for the first two minutes (I hear it, do you?) until the tempo change comes and slowly crushes you into nothing.  
This is next level, top tier stoner rock that needs to be heard by the people who love the stuff.  

A perfect example of how I want my rock to sound. Great production, amazing guitar work, excellent songs, killer riffs, never outstays its welcome, and simply crushes everything around it. Warp have a stoner classic on their hands with Bound By Gravity and it will be near the top of my list when all is said and done in 2023. 9/10

Lansdowne – Medicine (AFM Records) [Simon Black]

Lansdowne are one of those acts that have been around for a while but failed to register on my radar. They’re also a challenging bunch to find out any information about, given that their internet presence is on a par with a really obscure underground act. That said, they have a distinct buzz about them, with their Spotify page indicating that their five most popular songs have amassed an impressive 35 million plays, which is way more than you might expect for a band with only one full album and an EP under their belt, both of which are a decade old. There have been singles in between, and plenty of buzz but now major label AFM has picked them up off the back of some impressive Billboard chart success for some of them and things feel like they are about to scale up somewhat.
This release is in fact a compilation of material from the bast two decades, newly cleaned up and offered as a taster for their new home, presumably whilst this Boston-based quintet craft something new and with a taste of what’s to come in new single FILTHY and the title track. The sound mix is fairly consistent for all the songs, presumably as a result of a thorough remix or master process, but you can tell from the writing and arrangements that the material covers quite a span of time due to the stylistic stretches it takes across it’s dozen songs.

With a blend of touches modern metal, alternative rock and even bits of country in terms of the vocal arrangements (yep, like but not at all like Black Stone Cherry), this is a band that sounds like it belongs in the arenas. To be fair they’ve toured their backsides off the hard way, so it’s more than about time that a wider audience outside the USA for their songs was found. It doesn’t matter that you haven’t heard of them before – the whole point of this release is to allow you to catch up. It’s eclectic and with enough aggression and energy to justify inclusion on these pages, and I would be curious to see what they are live, given that the songs are very studio effect heavy. 

It adds energy, but it’s a bitch to recreate live without a sneaky cheating click tape, so time will tell. Catchy, commercial but with enough of a political edge lyrically to get me interested, this is one to watch. 7/10

Reviews: Sanguisugabogg, EYES, Blackwülf, The Miser (Reviews By Erick Willand, GC, Rich Piva & Rick Eaglestone)

Sanguisugabogg - Homicidal Ecstasy (Century Media) [Erick Willand]

Go ahead and just try to say that name properly. Take it a step further and say it three times while looking in a dark mirror in some busted up backwoods gas station bathroom and risk summoning a steaming mass of acid tripping, disease infested zombie goblins. That’s right, everyone’s favourite gore drenched, drug fuelled, utterly tasteless death metal crew Sanguisugabogg are at it again with a fresh slab of nasty tunes for us to gnaw on, bon appetit.

Befitting their reputation the first course is called Black Market Vasectomy and it is a crunchy taste of wonderful riffs and snappy drumming. By mid song while you and your friends are beating the stuffing out of each other we get treated to some fun guitar trickery that is simply impressive. Face Ripped Off with its B-movie gore video and caveman riff is pure in its death metalness. I just know the mosh-pits this tour cycle are going to be sick and gruesome.

Now onto the meat of the gore slab, Pissed is a groovy number with a tasty little time shift at about the 1:40 mark that satisfies the mosh gods nicely. Testicular Rot has the crunchiest guitar tone I think I’ve ever heard and when coupled with the rumbling bass and cymbal crashes becomes a strange pummelling solid wave sound. Hungry For Your Insides blasts out with a tight 1:31 of swinging crunch that leads fantastically into Skin Cushion and its cowbell opening, the only real stand out element of the song. Track 7 is A Lesson In Savagery which stomps right in and delivers exactly what the title implies, savagery. 

This is followed by Narcissistic Incisions which is the only track here that just feels like run-of-the-mill death metal, done well and with a brutal bass line but nothing surprising. Mortal Admonishment however is a different beast altogether, the longest song offered here and clearly the track that received the most creative work. The drums are brutal, the cave riffs vicious, all top shelf work that lands this song a solid spot in my personal playlist. Proclamation Of The Frail comes in next and does a fantastic musical impression of a drunk stumbling through a meat packing plant. A solid vocal delivery but there is so much going on in this song one is left feeling like this is where all the riffs went that didn’t fit anywhere else.

Last two tracks, Necrosexual Deviant and Feening For Bloodshed are two of the most straightforward death metal tracks these four dudes have ever done, and they do them very well. Both tracks carry the now signature crunchy guitar sound that grows on you like a fungus and down right gnarly vocal assaults, and of course the drum is devastating and enjoyable.

Sanguisugabogg catches a lot of flack for goofy gore shenanigans, endless merch, and b-movie splatter videos the likes would make old Troma Movie fans giggle like the mutant little brother that’s still secretly attached to your hip. Despite all of that, these guys know death metal and the fine art of the crunchy caveman riff like few others in the field. So, despite a horrible and rather disappointing album cover this time around I’m still giving Homicidal Ecstasy a gore drenched 7/10.           

EYES - Congratulations (Indisciplinarian) [GC]

This week’s release is from Copenhagen hardcore outfit Eyes, Congratulations is album number 3 from this band which is an impressive feat when you consider that their first release was in only in 2018 and then there was that worldwide pandemic thing thrown into the mix to mess everyone’s plans up for a good 2 years!

Opener Generation L kicks in with a hypnotizing, loop filled drone riff before the unhinged vocals of Victor Kaas kick in and add an air of mayhem to the riffs that are big and meaty and have a lovely angular djentyness to them and the bottom-heavy groove provided is monstrous! ITS HAPPENING kicks off with a more straightforward punk vibe but loses none of the mayhem or unease and again has a truly savage vocal performance added in and the groove that Søren Bomand and Rasmus Furbothey continue to produce is a thing of beauty!

The first couple of tracks just fly by in a little over 5 minutes and title track Congratulations carries on in the same vein mixing a punk fuelled anger with some massive groove laden hardcore and after this track we are only 8 minutes into the album and there has not been one wasted second so far. dull BOY does nothing to slow the tempo down and has a big scuzzy bass riff from Kenn Bendtsen running through the body of the song that really carries everything forward and holds the whole song together as the guitars here are sharp and cut like razor wire and it is almost reminiscent of if Dillinger Escape Plan decided to play a punk song, beautifully done. Tearjerker then finally clocks in at over 3 minutes and has now slowed the pace down but not the fury and chaos that is never lurking far from the surface but be assured that everything is done with utter conviction and urgency, and nothing misses its target!

Bbbbbbbliss is another slower number and its again filled with a big scuzzy, droney riff and the pounding and enormous drumming of Simon Djurhuus now really begin to resonate, if song doesn’t get you moving there is something wrong with you! Chew then promptly picks the pace right back up with more chaotic hardcore punk and once again Victor Kass steals the show with his vocals, he really must be heard, the passion and anger he projects through this vocal performance is fantastic and he must be absolute gold in a live setting!!

The City trundles in with more drums and bass combining to lure you in before exploding into the destructive force of chaos that has been the body of most of this album and just proceeds to then cavort and jostle you for the next 3 minutes of pure unadulterated punk enjoyment and then in the blink of an eye its on to Ballast to close the album which it does in absolutely furious style its more furious and urgent punk rock and the guitars are probably the best part of it all, the word to describe this really is just chaos, this whole album is complete chaos and I love it!

So, here we are this early into 2023 and I can’t believe what I am about to say but, I really think you are going to struggle to find something this mental, fun, angry and savage in the next 11 months of this year, it has left me completely awestruck with just how good it was! I think this will surprise a lot of people because it certainly surprised me in the best possible way. The overriding feeling coming out of this was that there is no need to play safe and you should just let go and see what happens, and here something truly remarkable has happened. 

Congratulations indeed to Eyes as they have release a stunning album that deserves to be heard by everyone and should be loved by all. If you do one thing this week make sure its listening to this unreal album. 10/10

Blackwülf - Thieves And Liars (Ripple Music) [Rich Piva]

Another outstanding release from Ripple Music…is this a repeat from a different review or is it just that fact that pretty much everything that the best label in rock puts out is excellent? It is definitely the latter. Case in point, the fourth full length from Oakland, California’s proto riff rockers Blackwülf and their excellent new record, Thieves and Liars.  This is nine tracks of 70s inspired dark and heavy rock and stoner/proto goodness that hits the sweet spot for all the above. 

As a recent reference point, I may call out last year’s debut full length from Early Moods as a strong comparison. When Early Moods goes more towards Sabbath Worship, I would put Blackwülf more into the Mountain worship category. But both records have a similar feel and vibe. Listen to Failed Resistance and tell me you don’t hear the influence from Leslie and the boys (oh and the cowbell…). That’s not to say there is not some Iommi riffing going on, but if you asked me to pick I would go Mountain. 

But either way there are riffs on top of riffs, including in the killer opening track, Shadow, which harkens to the Doctor Smoke record from a couple of years ago, but maybe slowed down a tad. Love the guitar work on this track and this is a 2023 standard for all of my playlists. Seems To Me to me is again some more Leslie West love (I need to see if the band are fans or if I am projecting) and more Mountain influence would make the world a better place. 

Killing Kind reminds me of Dio era Sabbath musically and has a ripper of a solo, great stuff. The title track probably my favourite on the record, three plus minutes of catchy, evil, proto perfection. The band goes a bit freak out on us (in the best possible way) on the almost nine-minute Psychonaut Edge Of Light, which is by far the band’s longest and most ambitious song, and they pull it of perfectly. There is a bit of trippiness to this track that I have not heard from these guys before. 

A brief instrumental interlude (Mysteries Of This) transitions to the killer track Brother, with all its riff and cowbell glory and would be a perfect live show opener. Love this song. The closer Cries Of A Dying Star is a perfect summary of the rest of the record with a heavier version of Mountain being my reference point, executed perfectly. 

Blackwülf doesn’t stray too far from their formula, but why would you when you play proto riff rock so well. I don’t need crazy experimentation or breaking of any moulds on all of my records; sometimes I just want straight ahead heaviness with riffs for days, killer overall guitar work, and just a kick ass rock swagger that oozes from Thieves And Liars. You get all of that plus the next level Psychonaut Edge Of Light, making this the band’s best album. Another excellent Ripple Music release. 9/10

The Miser – Memento Mori (Self Release) [Rick Eaglestone]

Casting a lurking shadow amid the bleak of winter The Miser bring us Memento Mori. The five track EP focuses on themes of mental health, horror and loss, opener House On The Hill is a supercharged with 70’s fuelled riffs and nightmarish lyrics with a punchy chorus and great guitar solos, this also has a great accompanying video which was directed and edited by Scott Haslett. 

Lyrically A New Dream seems to be the most personal of the EP this one really connected me so I have to pick this as my highlight track, plus it has that early Ozzy feel to it so I’m drawn to it that little bit more, this is followed up with Scars which makes for a great pairing. 

Full throttle mode engaged for Yeah We’re Back from start to finish before final and title track Memento Mori brings the EP to slower more purposeful doom laden conclusion. Flooded with B-Movie Brilliance. 8/10

Thursday, 2 February 2023

Reviews: Atrocity, Mask Of Prospero, Electric Mob, Conjureth (Reviews By David G & Matt Bladen)

Atrocity - Okkult III (Massacre Records) [David G]

Atrocity have a bit of a wayward history, one of the earlier German death metal bands they released some classic albums including Todessehnsucht (which even lent its name to a book on the history of German Death Metal). The band has also had the “difficult” middle period where they dabbled with pop covers, industrial, and godawful album artwork featuring glossy pictures of scantily clad women. Since dabbling with alternative sounds, as long-standing bands are often wont to do, they’ve re-entered the death metal sphere, the culmination of which is this, their third entry in the Okkult series. I came into this with a large degree of scepticism, having last heard the band via their rather poor industrial chugfest Gemini.

To start, there are still fairly juvenile components to Okkult III. Lyrically it is pretty asinine, Born To Kill’s urging to “put your hands on the trigger” induces some degree of cringe, as does Malicious Sukkubus’ eyeroll-worthy growls about soul raping. Heavy sigh indeed. What I didn’t expect was the rather catchy, groove-laden music. The aforementioned Born To Kill feels like a rather successful blend of euro death metal with a thrashy groove, it stomps along in impetuous fashion with a bro-metal lilt that feels designed to be mosh-friendly. 

Cypka also sees a thrash influence racing along with furious double bass drumming and precision riffs, the Slayer-ish squealing solo tops it off, definitely a highlight of the album. The driving riff of Malicious Sukkubus even has a bit of a Coroner tone which I certainly appreciated. The album can be a bit one-note as it largely follows this groovy/thrashy death metal formula, however the delivery has a conviction and vigor that holds throughout. Curiously the band decided to include in the release a second set of tracks that are simply instrumental versions of the album’s songs. Removed of the vocals the music continues to feel very strong, in particular Lycanthropia’s death metal churn is quite remarkable without the growls dominating the track.
I’m pleasantly surprised by what Atrocity are offering here, it’s not the most brutal thing you’ll hear in the death metal sphere, or even the deepest experience, however Okkult III is a rather enjoyable collection. Fair play to the band for producing something that sounds this modern and fresh. 8/10

Mask Of Prospero - Hiraeth (ViciSolum Productions) [Matt Bladen]

Hiraeth is a Welsh word that invokes a sense of longing and homesickness mixed with loss. It is in effect all about a yearning. Probably a feeling that many of us now have due to the ongoing separation between people caused in part by the pandemic but also political divisions and the increased use of social and digital media. Hiraeth as a phrase speaks to the nature of the Welsh much like schadenfreude does to the nature of the Germans. So what is a band from Athens doing using it as an album title? Well as a Welshman married to a Greek woman that sense of yearning for the past is prevalent across both cultures, that feeling of being 'home' as soon as you touch ground with the country of your birth, as well as connection between all the people in your local community which lends itself to the increasing feeling of disconnecting while away. 

So there is crossover between the two cultures, but Mask Of Prospero take things further with additions of the mother deity in their artwork and the overall need to have freedom. It's all very esoteric, brought through music that blasts out of the speakers with some very modern prog metal, duality of vocals, electronic, pop-tinged atmospheres and chugging, pit worthy riffs and breakdowns. The follow up to the 2018 debut The Observatory, they have widened their djent/prog metalcore sound adding more cinematic dimension while getting moodier and heavier. As Divided gets us going with punishing palm muted riffs from Panos Kottaras & Nick Letsios, the rhythm is classic stop start modern metalcore, with flashes of melodic leads, Chris Kontoulis' vocals screamed and crooned, slipping between the two brilliantly. 

Hourglass continues with their loud/soft dynamics Aggelos Malisovas' bass grooving away between the quieter moments, the soaring choruses and the breakdowns, all the time the pace and power delivered by drummer Andreas Kalogeras. Slowing it all down for In Exile which brings to mind BMTH and others, as does the progressive Lethe, the emotional catharsis present on these songs, running through the rest of the album including the ambient, synthy Amal as Lament brings the beatdowns back as Kyma is based just around some theatrical pianos and Chris' scarred vocals. Hiraeth is an album that uses its melancholia well, filtering it through modern metalcore to great effect. 8/10

Electric Mob - 2 Make U Cry & Dance (Frontiers Music Srl) [Matt Bladen]

Despite the awful album title (-_-) Brazilian rockers Electric Mob have been whipping up support for their bluesy hard rock since their 2020 debut album Discharge and there seems to be no stopping them. With a lot of Whitesnake, Tesla and Dokken in their sound they derive their overall feel from 70's/80's/90's rock bands, who play that bluesier/melodic style of rock. 

With Renan Zota's brilliant vocals right at the front of all their songs, Electric Mob have a star who can ably handle ballsy rockers and emotional ballads, though there aren't as many of those on this record like many of their labelmates. They keep the pace brisk and try to pack as many choruses into their songs as possible, those vocals of Zota's are extremely impressive, gritty but soulful but you can't talk down the impact of Ben Hur Auwarter (guitar), Yuri Elero (bass) and André Leister (drums), they make up the rest of the band and all link togther perfectly, banging out the hard rock riffs. 

Despite being quite a new band they are really at the top of their game, having a sound of experienced rockers, from the riffy opener Sun Is Falling Down, to the Celtic flourishes on Will Shine and the massive chorus of It's Gonna Hurt, just their first three songs tell you what Electric Mob do as band, flirty, filthy, slithering rock with arena ready hooks. As the album progresses, they even experiment with a bit of Mr Big on 4 Letters and Extreme on Saddest Funk Ever, to expand their repertoire so to speak. 2 Make U Cry & Dance is a hard rock album that draws from the best and delivers something very classy of it's own. 8/10

Conjureth - The Parasitic Chambers (Self Released) [David G]

This is American death metallers Conjureth second album, and for fans of straight up aggressive death metal it is probably a very welcome release though I have to say, I struggle with it.

Smothering Psalms starts as the band mostly seem to go on. It’s a vicious example of the style or sure, and full of twists and turns with the band rarely resting on a particular section of the track for too long. What instantly caught the ear was the drumming, in particular the cymbal play with lots of the flourishes and fills amongst the general blasting battery. It’s certainly impressive in just how relentless the approach is, but feels a bit formless almost as if there are so many riff ideas crammed in, none of which encourage a catching of breath.

Dimensional Ascendancy likewise, doesn’t let up. Racing from start to finish with brutal accuracy even the vocals are delivered in a manner that could best be described as breathless with lines practically overlapping each other as they burst out of the speakers. There are some nice moments in here though, the ascending and descending tremolo picked riff sounding manic and convulsive, and the short solo lurks in the mix, notes falling out in rapid succession with a curiously dry but effective tone.

The only relent comes with the final track, The Unworshipped II. The lazy stop-start lolling around of bass and drum leading into an equally ponderous guitar part. A weird about-face from the preceding tracks it stumbles along, all instruments in unison punctuating each painful beat in slothful grime. The solo feels achingly poignant, almost sentimental in comparison to what comes before, and captures the ear quite nicely.

As mentioned, this is probably manna from hell for people that really want the head-caving labyrinthine approach to their music. In moments I can see the appeal, certain sections jump out thanks to a crafty riff or that fantastic drum work. In the end it leaves me a bit feeling lost and not having much to grab a hold of, which is a shame because some of what the band does is quite impressive. 4/10

A View From The Back Of The Room: Top Surgery Of The Pop's Fundraiser (Live Review By Alex Swift)

Top Surgery Of The Pop's Fundraiser: Telgate, Banshi, Small Miracles & Frankie Parris, Clwb Ifor Bach, 28.01.23

It’s a sensational kind of night at Clwb Ifor Bach. Sensational, partly in the sense that every gig is a brilliant experience for the people that are there. Still, tonight is one that reminds us precisely why moments of community and acceptance are so vital. More than a show, this is a rallying of Cardiff’s queer punk crowd to help raise funds for Telgate’s singer Casper to receive gender-affirming surgery. A rare moment of community activism which reminds everyone not just of loud music’s ability to foster a sense of solidarity, but to have a meaningful and significant impact on people’s lives. 

So much so that having sold out the entire bottom floor, the legendary venue, being in the words of the headline act “absolute babes”, have decided to move the show upstairs in an act that allowed more people to come along including me, owing to my propensity for leaving buying tickets for anything until the last second. More than that, I see friends I recognise from Cardiff’s very own Aubergine Café and Queer Emporium at this event, furthering the sense of mutual respect among people who share common identities or experiences. 

Well before the gig is due to start, contrary to the usual ever so slow arrival of gig-goers, an impressive and colourful queue has formed on Womanby Street – one that someone next to me accurately describes as “very long and very gay!”

Frankie Parris starts tonight’s proceedings. The wistful acoustic guitar pieces speak to the beauty and utter splendour of any gathering where people can go and be themselves. The quiet introspection of the songs reflects the fragility that many of us have experienced within our lives, while soothing us with gentle kindness that fills the room with a kind of tranquil comfort. Parris cites Leonard Cohen as a particular inspiration and even performs one of his songs from the early folk era. 

Nothing could have felt more natural. Cohen’s music – despite coming from a different tradition of struggle, echoes the silent serenity that one feels after hurt has passed and one’s left with their own thoughts, relying on those they love to put back together the parts of themselves. The sound of solitude resides in scaled-back folk performances to captivated crowds of people who can feel the emotion that bleeds through the music. It's one that Cohen always captured with his songs, and its one Parris has captured for tonight’s audience.

Small Miracles are up next, and wow! do they succeed in summoning the wild energy you expect from a punk show! Tearing off a robe to reveal a makeshift dress that from memory reads “the future of punk is trans”, the room is made awash with smiles in awe at the flamboyance, extravagance, and unique vocal style of singer Finn Pelling, while the rest of the band brilliantly capture the rapturous combination of the pulsating melodious of new wave, the raucousness of grunge and the absolute flamboyance of glam. 

A standout moment in the set comes with a cover of It’s A Sin by The Pet Shop Boys, as Pelling explains the emotional resonance of seeing that song performed live, aware of its significance to the gay liberation movement in the 80’s and yet relating those same lyrics to the struggles transgender people are living today! In fact, what makes this set so brilliant is that Small Miracles can be seem acting out the emotions on display, as if every song is its own unique piece of theatre. And yet look beyond their stage presence, and you see that the sentiments of liberation, righteous anger, as well as that of seeing beauty in yourself and your community, are not just theatre!

“Thank you to Clwb Ifor Bach for allowing us to play on the top floor. and thank you Telgate for allowing us to play to our target audience – the gays!” Banshi’s singer proclaims to cheers. The rest of the set continues in that deeply cheeky and bold vain, the influences from psychedelic rock intertwining with textures from blues, pop, and metal, as the acts vivacious stage presence holds the vibrant momentum of the night in perfect balance. “No offence to any of the straight, cis guys in the audience but you suck” comes one of the funniest jibes of the night as the anthems spit venom at homo- and trans-phobia. All of this inspires the crowd, including myself (admittedly, with the help of having had a few drinks, in my case) to dance along, liberated by dazzling, and empowering quality of the music, and performance.

Finally, Telgate take to the stage. Despite this feeling being present throughout the night, this is where I absolutely get the sense that this is what rock and roll is all about. Mosh pits which take up most of the floor rage for almost the entirety of the time the band are on stage. Witnessed from the back of the room, the glare of stage lights and haze of artificial smoke, the musicians frenetic movements silhouetted against them, gives a brilliant aesthetic to proceedings. 

Casper impressively belts and screams, alongside powerful riff’s and breakneck rhythms, as in the spirit of punk, the metaphorical barrier between stage and audience collapses as he ventures into the crowd to interact with his captive audience! I repeat, this is what rock and roll is about! Hell, The Darkness are playing on the other side of town tonight, and I can pretty confidently say that anyone here, who possesses the magical ability to be in two places at once, would concede that Telgate are probably neck-and-neck with them in giving their crowds a great show! More than any of that though, what makes this spectacular is that Telgate achieve their aim of making a crowd feel liberated. 

Of making people who are perhaps queer or autistic, or in my case both, feel like there’s a space within Cardiff’s rock music scene where they don’t have to mask or hide behind their walls! It’s a show that emanates the kind of unashamed acceptance and defiance that acts like Bowie, Queen or Against Me! have championed! I think a friend of mine put it best - “Look, Kiss were full of shit! God didn’t give rock n’ roll to you. The gays did…you’re welcome by the way”.

More vitally than that though, for the purposes of tonight, I’m sure its not just the audience who feel liberated but Casper and his circle of friends. At least that’s what I can deduct from his painfully funny closing jibe of “right, I’ve got the money to get my tits off. Now fuck off!”. And so, we fucked off. Still, this was one of those rare nights where every act leaves an impression on you, so much so that I will be following all of their future career moves with a sense of excitement! 

Finally, I only hope that – at least until the day LGBTQ+ people are no longer discriminated against, or made to risk waiting an eternity to receive health-care - that moments of community togetherness on such a significant platform as this are more common! It is these moments, after all, that give a sense of purpose and belonging to our sacred spaces! 10/10

Wednesday, 1 February 2023

Reviews: Girish And The Chronicles, Arctic Rain, The Privateer, Spell Garden (Reviews By Rich Piva, Matt Bladen, David G & Mark Young)

Girish And The Chronicles - Back To Earth (Frontiers Music Srl) [Rich Piva]

If Girish And The Chronicles were around in 1987-91, they would have appeared on every mix tape I made. The Bangalore, India band have pretty much perfected the sound of that time with their mix of everything that was trademarked in heavy music in the 80s; guitar hero antics, soaring vocals, slick production, catchy songs, layered harmonized background vocals, etc. 

A virtual hodgepodge of 80s Maiden and Priest with some Def Leppard, G n’ R, Whitesnake, some other 80’s hair bands and a damn near ringer for Slave To The Grind era Skid Row. Cool, right? I really enjoy the retro journey these guys take me on, but was a re-recording of their 2014 debut necessary? I mean re-recording songs worked for Coverdale, right? (I prefer hobo to drifter, but that is a discussion for a different review). 

Well, the answer is kind of. 

Songs like Born With A Big Attitude, Shot By Cupid, and Hey You are serious STTG Skid Row worship, and that is a good thing. Ride To Hell and Loaded are bonafide 1989 hits and would have been great live as played the opener on the Use Your Illusion tour (I know that tour was in 1991 but you get what I am saying). I Wanna Get That Lovin again has a Priest like opening riff and stays on that path of some of their mid to late 80s material. 

I understand the need to have ballads on these albums (at least back then, now not so much) but Girish and the boys should stick to the heavy rockers, because songs like Yesteryears, Smile Little Child (ugh), and to a lesser extent Angel are all skippable for sure and bring down the overall energy and quality of the record and putting Yesteryears and Child back to back is a terrible idea with the updated track order.

Overall, the re-imagining of Back To Earth sounds great, is still expertly played, but doesn’t really take us anywhere new that where the original brought us. I would have just as happily waited longer for some new material than have a rehash of the old, but I do have to say almost all the songs on Back To Earth rip, so that is not the issue, I am just not sure this whole thing was necessary. But if it helps to get some of these killer songs out there to a bigger audience, then I am all for it. This is an 8 for the songs and 6 for the necessity, so do the math and you see how I came up with my number. Fun album! 7/10

Arctic Rain - Unity (Frontiers Music Srl) [Matt Bladen]

The second album from Swedes Arctic Rain and yet again the country shows it could easily stock every single festival in the world with just bands from there. However Arctic Rain are definitely a band who tread on the AOR side of melodic rock, packing a new keyboardist and a drummer they have doubled down on the rock so they have that sunset strip strut on the title track. Everything on this album being very upbeat much like Survivor or Journey, the massive choruses of Fire In My Eyes remind me of the classic Steve Perry era. 

It's a testament to Tobias Jonsson's vocals and the interplay between the other co-founding members Pete Alpenborg and guitarist Magnus Berglund, Journey seems to be the major inspiration in both the rockers and the ballads with a good mix of both. At times it goes a little too near to the inspiration but they do bring enough of their own clout to make it their own. I enjoyed Unity but I did think it was a little too long perhaps, but the shift to a heavier output, this progressively tinged, melodic rock record is a good thing for Arctic Rain. 7/10

The Privateer – Kingdom Of Exiles (Reaper Entertainment) [David G]

The Privateer are a German five-piece specialising in that most easily of mockable styles, Pirate metal. From its humble beginnings in the speed metal of Running Wild it is interesting to see how it seems to have gained traction as an identifiable style and The Privateer seem quite adept practitioners of the style. Let’s see how many piratical and nautical references we can cram into this.

There’s a variety of styles integrated into the album, naturally pulling from folk and speed metal first and foremost, but also cannily leaning into melodic death. See, for example, the lead into the final third of The Darkest Shadow Of Life that successfully blends throat scraping vocals into a maelstrom of furious drumming and churning guitars. It’s a nice touch that fits seamlessly alongside the trad-speed riffing and Martin Walkyier-like spitting. Queen Of Fire And Wind throws in a breakdown that grinds into the dirt before unleashing the krak... melodic chorus that, whilst memorable, is not sickly sweet.

The folksy elements are strewn around the decks, Foretold Story with its acoustic intro adding that jaunty charm whereas the mid-track arpeggios bring about a maudlin reverie. By the time the violin and guitar play off each other in a short lead section that sense of adventure has been successfully conveyed. This is what I want from pirate metal, the music taking me on a fantastical voyage across the seas.

Highlight of the album is the seven-minute epic Memory Of Man, beginning with a plaintive acoustic setting and floating vocals, it builds so a gentle strum with violin accompaniment until the waving guitar lines start lapping at the ship. The melodic riff and shanty-like dual vocals eventually give way to rolling double bass and raw rasps, building up pace before crashing back down to a warm acoustic interlude. The wind is back in the sails and the pressure builds again to a blistering bit of thrashing rawness that provides wind in the sails. As the violin plays a tense melody over the layering guitars it feels like the natural gangplank to disembark from, which causes the final chanted/acoustic section to feel like unnecessary ballast.

There are only a few small holes in the hull of Kingdom Of Exiles, it takes some cues of older metal bands like Running Wild, Iron Maiden and Skyclad but has much more to offer than imitation. Maybe a few sections don’t entirely flow as one would like, it’s necessarily theatrical and maybe a bit hokey because of the space it inhabits, but it’s also surprisingly well realised and quite engrossing. The concept bleeds into the music successfully and makes for a well charted voyage. 8/10

Spell Garden - Spell Garden (Self Released) [Mark Young]

Heavy Doom, as it should be!!

At the opposite end of metal is doom, epic, sludgy and slow build riffs with the emphasis on riffs and Spell Garden possess them in spades. Daughter Of The Storm starts with some acoustic guitar which boots straight into Goddess Roots. It just moves along and grooves but isn’t overlong or overblown. At this point I should point out that I’m not big on doom so I’m a blank slate, but it is just so easy to listen to and you find yourself nodding along. And it continues in this vein, with almost trademarked Sabbath breaks which is typified in the track Spell Garden, and I think the riff lord himself would be happy with.

Lilith runs with spidery lines with an eastern motif and the vocal styles changes from traditional singing to a more black metal approach but this doesn’t seem out of place and certainly makes it standout. With the more traditional vocal, it makes the music behind seem more hypnotic in its delivery so when they cut loose with the expected solo, they it just fits, and everything just seems seamless. Mars Crimson Mountain is an exercise in how an instrumental should be written and for me if I want to learn how to play it myself then it is a winner!! Uncle Fear brings us back to normal service, with the rest of the album coming to a satisfactory end, again with some great guitar lines and final track Black Chapter just stomps on home,

One thing I couldn’t find was a social media link to them. According to some web source they are an international band with members from Argentina and Brazil and this is their first release done independently. Of the 12 songs, none are excessive and just groove along with just enough momentum to keep them from standing still. Having the two styles of vocal delivery work and keep the interest going. It is a good, solid album and fully deserving of a score to suit. 7/10

Reviews: ...And Oceans, Crowne, Iron Void, Liv Sin (Reviews By David G, Matt Bladen, Rich Piva, & Mark Young)

 ...And Oceans – As In Gardens, So In Tombs (Season Of Mist) [David G]

A part of the late 90’s/early 00’s industrial black metal scene alongside contemporaries such as Aborym and Dodheimsgard, Finland’s ...And Oceans carried on for a good while before morphing into Havoc Unit. Now back following their rebirth under the previous moniker the band have returned to their original symphonic black metal home.

Indeed there’s a very mid-to-late 90’s symphonic feel to the material, the keyboards providing an apparitional melody in application. Within Fire And Crystal is a prime example of this as the thick wash of guitar runs on the keyboards sit in the high reaches haunting as they soar, until they meet in the middle and combine to close of the melody. It’s an effective device that sits in stark contrast to the furious blastbeats that kicks in later in the track when guitars also go into overdrive.

Where ...And Oceans feel most powerful though is when they create tremulous, echoing guitar melodies. A pulsing example of this is about a minute into the title track, where the rattling drums and screamed vocals push along, and the melody overlaid adds an insistence and verve that’s quite enthralling. The old school Ambivalent God also provides an ear-catching rush, a tinny and frail sounding melody that’s wonderfully evocative, riding atop the blastbeats like a rickety boat on the ocean.

The reservations I have about the album are largely the density of the material. Clocking over 50 minutes, whilst not unusual for an album length, there’s a sense of drag towards the middle. Things have a tendency to get a bit Borgir-ish with the calamitous, whirling keyboards sitting around the edges of sonic boredom. There are also still hints at the industrial past that, whilst probably hard to move beyond, feel like they detract from the more engaging aspects of the music.

When they’re on form on As In Gardens, So In Tombs ...And Oceans create some thrilling stuff. The ability to hold attention throughout the album is lacking, but when it is good it’s also powerful. 7/10

Crowne - Operation Phoenix (Frontiers Music Srl) [Matt Bladen]

H.E.A.T/New Horizon keyboardist Jona Tee comes back with the second album from Crowne. He produces and plays keys on this punchy rock record, packed with metal influenced riffs from Tee and guitarist Love Magnusson who comes from Dynazty, there's a lot references to bands like Europe and others than can cross between metal and rock. Speaking of Europe Tee and Magnusson are joined by Europe bassist John Levén, The Poodles drummer Christian Lundqvist as the muscular rhythm section while Crowne is rounded out be powerhouse Alexander Strandell behind the mic. 

A Swedish rock supergroup they pay tribute to another Swedish band with Super TrooperOperation Phoenix is a major upgrade from their last album, there's a professional slickness to this record which means tracks such as Ready To Run are pulsing workouts for the back room packed with plenty of shredding and keyboard runs, this has to be a set opener or a closer as it's incredibly pacy and will get a crowd going, Juliette has some orchestrations from bands such as Kamelot or Brother Firetribe the melodic metal links strong here. Swedish bands are always a few steps ahead of any other countries and they do melodic metal/rock better than anyone, so it was only natural that Crowne's debut album would be immensely strong. 

Well Operation Phoenix builds on that quality and tightens it all up with the same brilliant songwriting as the duo of The Last Of Us and Just Believe show in droves, both massive Eurovision-like rockers. I went back and listened to their debut and while that was good, this one is great. Arising from the flames Crowne have nailed it. 9/10

Iron Void - IV (Shadow Kingdom Records) [Rich Piva]

I love when I am doing a review of a band that I have never heard before and it is titled something like the new one from Wakefield, England’s Iron Void is…IV. The first question I ask is how I have missed a band in the “doom” category that have been around full time since 2008 and are album number four, especially when they are this good. These guys are right in my wheelhouse, and if IV I any indication then I need to deep dive into their discography ASAP.

As for IV, we are not breaking any new doom ground here, but these guys do what they do extremely well, with a combo of some serious Sabbath, Cathedral, and Trouble worship, with some nods to the NWOBHM gang, but with their own spin on it. This is not formulaic crap, this guys should be leaders of the modern doom march. We get riffs right from the start, with Call Of The Void, which is pretty much perfect old school doom. Grave Dance reminds me of something from the self-titled Trouble record while also sounding like the awesome new(ish) band Wolftooth (who rip and you should all check out). 

Living On Earth reminds me a bit of the killer band Curse The Son if they went in a more Pentagram direction on their next album. Pandora’s Box is more on the NWOBHM side of the house with some Cathedral vibes minus Lee’s heavy vocals, excellent stuff. More straight-ahead doom goodness with Blind Dead, some Candlemass influence showing up here. She may be my favourite song on IV, a slow burn with a catchy chorus for a doom song as I have been singing it though my house randomly (She who must be obeyed!) that descends into hell with a killer Iommi style riff half way through. The rest of IV is similar to the rest, which in this case is a good thing, with the killer Last Rites closing out this record perfectly. The back half of this album, starting with She, is pretty much doom perfection for 2023.
Nothing flashy here, just excellent old school doom/NWOBHM action that is done as good or better than anyone doing it today. Don’t expect anything you have not hard before from Iron Void, but what they do deliver is worth your time in a world filled with bands playing similar styles. IV should be checked out and go for a deep dive into their other stuff as well while you are at it, like I need to do to catch up on this great band. 8/10

Liv Sin – KaliYuga (Mighty Music/SPV) [Mark Young]

According to online sources, Kali Yuga (in Hinduism) is the fourth and worst of the four Yugas (World Ages) in a Yuga Cycle. Paraphrasing the current Yuga Cycle is believed to the present age. Hailing from Sweden, Liv Sin is fronted by former Sister Sin vocalist Liv Jagrell who formed her band in 2016 and this is their third release via Mighty Music and SPV following revamping her band. The ten songs on display will appeal to a certain audience, but not with me possibly because I am older than Moses. 

There is nothing wrong with the music provided here. It’s performed with gusto, played well and is heavy as well as being melodic in passages as you might expect from having two King Diamond members onboard for producing the album. There is a clear path and structure to each of the songs i.e., heavy bit, sing-along bit, blistering guitar solo but it is just bland, at least to me. I Am The Storm for example, Liv bellows and roars and you think ‘YES’ let’s have some more of that but then it drops off back to the more traditional rock singing. It’s a good song and is the highlight because she cuts loose, but there is not enough of it. 

There is a definite shift towards the latter end of the album, with Virus coming in at a good pace and D.E.R doing the same, but they fall into the same trap as the others and it’s a shame because there is some good stuff here, but it suffers because there is not enough variety between the songs. Its ok, but this being heavy music it should elicit a reaction that’s either positive or negative and this does neither. It just meanders from one track to the next following a process and probably and is just a bit sterile where had it been a bit rougher it would sound better. 6/10