Anti-Flag: American Reckoning (Spinefarm Records)
Championing strongly politicized punk rock, Anti-Flag occupies a place in my tastes also presided over by the melodic-hardcore music of Billy Talent, NOFX, and Rise Against. The passion of one kind or another has always been a dictator in what has stuck with me and these Pennsylvania quintets have it in abundance, as their works, The Terror State and For Blood and Empire solidifies. American Reckoning sees them bring together songs from their last two albums in a raw acoustic setting. Unsurprisingly then, they have chosen the melodic and somber sections for transformation, often lending them more depth and emotion than channelled in their original forms. The Debate Is Over - a beautiful account of a character who has only just begun to see the destructive effects of humankind on the natural world – is made more genuine by its swaying and contemplative nature here. Same can be said for the fervent address of self-destructive and disregarding tendencies that make up Set Yourself On Fire, or the border-defying love anthem of Brandenburg Gate.
They are still able to omit all the anger and call to action, yet in a more nuanced and restrained way. Where the stripped down and the unplugged idea doesn’t work as well it’s on the more visceral Racists and American Attraction, which despite still sounding decent acoustically, just proved more effective within the harsh chaos of a traditional punk setting. We do see the instruments plugged in for three surprisingly chosen yet well-executed covers: Gimme Some Truth by John Lennon, while originally dreamy and distant, here takes on a frenetic and no-holds-barred hardcore edge. For What It's Worth by Buffalo Springsteen, while more contemplative in its folksiness, is given a pulse to express the discontent at its heart.
Meanwhile, Surrender by Cheap Trick, while quite reserved in its studio version is made to seem more in line with the instrumentally rich live version of the rebellious youth anthem. American Reckoning has some thoughtful forms of original songs and some even more cleverly reworked covers. As expected, the lyrical themes so not shy away from tough political themes or ideological leanings, yet they are very clearly not lacking in consideration, care or attitude. 7/10
Black Peaks: All That Divides (Rise Records)
Synthesising post-hardcore with something a little more avant-garde, Black Peaks have honed a style uniquely brooding, yet also triumphant and elated. Marking their second full-length release, following their breakthrough debut, Statues, All That Dives continues to cut out an intriguingly ever-changing career or strong hooks and experimentation. Starting from the beginning, Can’t Sleep is one of the most enthralling singles I have heard all year, the opening riff sounding like an ominous stomp. Soon, however, we are left with an atmospheric mood to compliment the discontented lyricism: ‘How their hateful seed it grows, breath out now. How we hold each other tight as we slip into the night’ is the last line we hear, before being immersed in a writhing chorus. Midnight Sun is equally as emotionally fuelled in nature, the contrast between the screamed and sung voices only adding an extra layer of mystery to the already elusive instrumentation, with lines the type of ‘Don’t let the words of the weak grind you down to bone’ proving a positive facet in the deeply immersive music.
Aether is strained and tortured - the mellowness only cut away in the finishing seconds, while Eternal Light is rabid and unleashed and strange in the finest way possible. Even those moments where you think the tone and mood are established in the first few minutes as on Across the Great Divide or Slow Seas, take on multiple forms over the course of their run length, transforming from acoustic dirges to angered theatrical pieces. Fate I & II is a multi-part closer encapsulating everything heard so far meticulously and with hypnotic power and distinctiveness. Black Peaks may take you off guard on first or even second listen, yet it is their combination of the familiar with the unsettling or different, that will keep you enticed, proving beyond a doubt why they are actually an exciting and game-changing new act. 9/10
Flat Earth: None For One (Drakkar Entertainment)
Comprised of ex-members from Amorphis and H.I.M, Flat Earth draw prominently from alternative metal, yet also incorporate classic and progressive ideas into their ethos. Not to allow themselves to be beleaguered by any particular styles, their sound melds the ferociousness of traditional instrumentation, while throwing unexpected synth textures into the mix. The result is a project which in all honesty bears the scars of its debut status while holding some potential. Beginning on Subhuman, we get the first taste of the combination between alt and traditional metal as obsessively clean lead parts are layered over the top buzzing keyboards and a steadily chugging rhythm. Pikkarinen’s vocals are in the higher register here, gelling well with the soaring tone of the opener.
These prove to be the most exciting moments overall as evidenced by the rollicking Noble Swine, the spacey and impressively played Freedom or the assertively swaggering closer of Kill My God. In these instants, the contrast between glimmering synth-enhanced sheen, and bluesy retro vibe shimmers, contributing towards the memorability factor. Sadly, the slower and mid-tempo sections, no doubt intended to be ominous or introspective have a tendency to translate into slovenly sluggishness in practise. Blame starts off intriguing enough, with some decent fretwork, yet soon becomes lumbering and downtrodden, with the growling sounding more nasal than angst-ridden. Cyanide and Limelight have the same problem, the seemingly serious themes robbed of promise by the irritatingly grating production and vocal elements.
Then there are the ballads, Given Time and Blunt, which despite begging for some of that polish and instrumental virtuosity praised earlier, are given nothing to make them stand out or inspire a hint of genuine emotion. Make no mistake, where None For One shows promise it really shows promise. Yet, as a debut, there is too much filler, too much imitation of classic artists and too many uncomfortably pulled off experiments, to make me beg for more, or even establish a solid sound. As I said, there undoubtedly exists potential in the project, yet in between now and album no.2, these four genuinely talented musicians, need to focus on expressing that 5/10
I Am Pariah: Procreate Annihilate (Self Released)
Fusing ferocious hardcore punk, with traditional thrash metal, Procreate Annihilate serves as the debut EP from I Am Pariah, introducing them by bleeding chaos from every facet, its gory title to its frantic tempo. Lest you think that they don’t know how to foster a unique sound though, they keep this work bizarre and elusive. A Place To Belong starts slowly before kick-starting into chugging riffs, blast beats powerful lead work and hooks to keep you intrigued amid the carnage. Big Shot is stylistically close to a nu-metal song, which despite not sounding like high praise, is here pulled off superbly, creating an enormous performance, and an attitude that isn’t afraid to use outlandishness to its advantage.
Cult Society is fully let off the metaphorical leash, the sheer zing bringing to mind images of rabidly animated crowds, inspired by the ardent fierceness of the music. Heavy In Japan closes out with a pure, honest thrash anthem, which despite not fully living up to the drive of the previous three songs, still makes adrenaline surge through my veins, while paying homage to the influences at play. Overall, some elements – Benjamin’s melodic yet also strangely guttural vocals, the sheer magnitude of the mix – may take some getting used to, but they stamp the project with a sense of buoyancy, making it difficult to not devote your full attention. Procreate Annihilate leaves you brimming with energy by the end, pining for a full length 7/10