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Thursday 3 March 2016

Review Number 666: Enzo & The Glory Ensemble, Metratone, God Syndrome

Enzo and the Glory Ensemble: In The Name Of The Father (Symphony Records)

Metal and Christianity are not comfortable bedfellows. If you search for Christian rock and metal bands on the internet, you’ll find hundreds including some that may be a little bit surprising but few that are successful or even well known. The most famous group to bat for the man upstairs remains Stryper supported by Kings X and then individuals such as Dave Mustaine, Blackie Lawless and Neal Morse & co. Some of the music produced by these guys is pretty decent, with Megadeth and WASP’s last releases amongst their best. However, Neapolitan self-styled Christian rock composer Enzo Donnarumma’s symphonic rock project is pretty special, in all the wrong ways.

In The Name Of The Father is a concept which sets into music eleven Christian prayers and biblical psalms in English and concludes with a single original text, Maybe You, dedicated to peace. The release features a wealth of special guests, ranging from the expected (Kobi Farhi of Orphaned Land is hardly a surprise) through to the more surprising; Ralph Scheepers (Gamma Ray and Primal Fear), Marty Friedman and Mark Zonder of Fates Warning all contribute.

First the positives: The symphonic progressive approach with orchestral arrangements, Palestinian folk sounds and choral polyphony is well delivered and at some points quite haunting; for example, the old catholic prayer Glory Be To The Father is beautifully delivered with the addition of female vocal of Amulyn (Whisper From Heaven). And that’s where it ends. I’m afraid that listening to catholic prayers set to speed metal is incredibly uncomfortable and in the main just doesn’t work. The Apostle’s Creed might just be the worst thing I’ve ever heard and The Lord’s Prayer is absolutely dreadful, with the latter akin to that of Cliff Richard’s piece of bilge many years ago. The whole concept is pretty ropey and whilst I’m as liberal as most, this should just do one and never be played again.  Why some of those on here have put their names to it I’m really not sure. To quote AC/DC, “If God’s on the left then I’m sticking to the right”. Utterly baffling and confirmation that the Devil really does have all the best tunes. 1/10

Metratone: Eucharismetal (Rockshots)

After the utterly dire offerings of Enzo and his buddies, reviewing another band who are at the forefront of the white metal movement filled me with trepidation, despair and that slight burning feeling that a good old atheist sometimes feels when entering a church. However, stripping Metratone back to their metal basics, it was a pleasure to find that this is an album which really rocks out without slamming you in the face with a copy of the New Testament.

Metatrone (metaphysical throne of God – okay?) has released three full length albums, La Mano Potente in 2005 soon followed by the English version called The Powerful Hand and Paradigma in 2010. The band was formed by Father Davide Bruno (Keyboards, a priest of the Archdiocese of Catania!), Stefano Calvagno (Guitars) and Jo Lombardo (Vocals). According to their press pack their mission has always been playing heavy metal songs deeply inspired by a Christian Catholic view of live and human being, with lyrics in English, Italian and Latin. Eucharismetal features two new band members; Dino Fiorenza (Billy Sheehan, Steve Vai, Paul Gilbert) on bass and Salvo Grasso (Hyersonic, DeniedD) on drums. Now I’m not familiar with their earlier works but Eucharismetal contains some exceptional double bass-drumming, impressive vocal hooks, heavy guitar riffs, huge swathes of synths and keyboards and most surprisingly some really astonishing growls courtesy of Father Bruno which wouldn’t be out of place on the latest black metal releases. The growls work well as a contrast to the superb clean voice of Lombardo.

The album features a range of styles with the focus on speed and power metal, Beware The Sailor and Wheat And Weeds, more melodic metal, Latest News From Light, slabs of progressive metal song like Una Parte di Me and more traditional AOR style hard rock, Keep Running, Lascia Che Sia (Let It Be) and In Spirit And Truth. The musicianship is really top quality, whilst lyrically the band don’t shy away from some heavy topics including child abuse on Alef Dalet Mem, religious and Christian fanaticism Molokai (one of the heaviest tracks on this release). Of course, Jesus gets a fair share of the action with the parable of the prodigal son on Latest News From Light and ancient Latin prayer on Regina Coeli (with full god squad effect). Mozart’s Nightmare is the odd one out, a rampaging melodic instrumental which showcases the keyboard prowess of Father Bruno and Calvagno's impressive fretwork.Whilst the lyrical content still makes me feel a bit queasy there is no denying that this is a pretty decent slab of metal, albeit wearing a completely different battle jacket. There are a few power metal fans who would appreciate the breakneck speed of this release. 7/10

God Syndrome: Controverse (Mazzar Records)

1. God Syndrome:  an unshakable belief characterized by consistently inflated feelings of personal ability, privilege, or infallibility
2. God Syndrome: an extreme melodic death metal band formed in 2011 in Samara, Russian Federation.

God Syndrome was formed by guitarists Sergey Aksenov and Vitaliy Mitsek. Their first release, an EP Downfall Omen appeared in 2013 with the remainder of the line-up completed by vocalist Pavel Bamburov, bassist Dmitry Kuznetsov and Alexander Krut on drums.  Controverse is their debut full release and it’s a pretty impressive debut. Controverse is almost a painting by number death metal release. Massive double bass drumming, pounding bass lines, vicious cutting guitar work and guttural vocals all combine at breath-taking speed to provide 12 tracks of solid music. Underpinning all of this is a melodic edge and some absolutely crushing riffs which make this release both interesting and memorable (think In Flames, Arch Enemy but heavier and you’re in the right territory). Opening tracks Purge and Clan are impressive straight on death metal tracks whilst Five Acts Of Deception is a more complex fusion of styles; the battering of Krut’s drumming a constant but several changes of pace allowing the listener to draw breath. At times 150mph before switching to a more measured melodic breakdown. This is a quite brilliant track which doesn’t let up and oozes real atmosphere.

With almost an hour of music, this is a really top quality release from a band that recently provided support to Marduk in Moscow. Tracks like Dark Sand and Summon The Sun give you little room for breath, explosive from start to finish but all containing that beautifully melodic guitar work that works so well. Underneath it all, there are some massive grooves and hooks which separate this work from the mainstream. Aksenov and Mitesk’s guitar work is impressive, whilst Bamburov’s vocals fit perfectly. As with nearly all bands in this genre, break neck speed requires some contrast and whilst the speed rarely slows, there is a more measured approach at times which demonstrates the quality of the compositions; check out Fire, The Law Of The Betrayed and album closer Hangman Of Atlantis. I am pretty clueless about the metal scene in Russia but being stereotypical for one moment, I would imagine the opportunity and chances to make such incredibly powerful music is more limited than much of the West. If having an unshakable belief in your beliefs is part of the definition of God Syndrome, then the name is well chosen. Controverse is a brilliant death metal release well worth getting involved with. 9/10

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