Behemoth: I Loved You At Your Darkest (Nuclear Blast) [Paul H]
It’s been a good year for black metal. The return of the big guns like Immortal and Dimmu Borgir who rolled out massive albums interspersed with hundreds more solid albums added to the ranks. However, if there was a more anticipated release than this one, you were wrong. It’s been four and a half years since the opus that was The Satanist was released. If you’ve read Confessions Of A Heretic, then you’ll know some of the issues that Behemoth and Nergal have faced during that time. If you haven’t read the book, put down your crayons and grab a copy because it is an intriguing read. I Loved You At Your Darkest is a triumph. It is better than The Satanist. There. I’ve typed it out. It is simply fucking astonishing.
From the haunting children chanting on opener Solve and their backing on the venomous God=Dog, the obliterating power of Wolves Ov Siberia, through to the visceral closing track Coagvla, this is a stunning piece of work. Fast paced, with many of the tracks shorter than previous Behemoth releases, it also is much more rock orientated and, in some ways, more accessible. Nergal is quoted as saying that the band don’t consider musical direction but “simply create what comes naturally to us”. And it is demonstrated here. But I Loved You At Your Darkest still contains plenty to excite even the most hardened black metal corpse painted prowler. Nergal’s gravel mixed with glass growling continue to stir the bowels of hell; Orion’s rolling bass rumbles darkly, thunder clouds crashing overhead whilst Inferno’s devastating blast beats are as devilish as ever. Lacerating riffs, vertiginous climbs as tracks rise and fall and ample tremolo picking all thrive, combining to deliver ferocious and brutal tracks which are also laced with melody and changes of style and pace.
Listen to the monstrous Angelvs XIII, the rampant time changes and accelerating aggression soaked with Nergal’s vitriolic hatred of the Christian church. This is an album drenched in imagery and antagonistic blasphemy; from the extremis of the sacrilegious album title, a quote from Christ himself, through to the provocative artwork that sees the band in various positions of religious torture including crucifixion and beheading, this is incredibly religion-driven, and Nergal has admitted, possibly more so than anything the band has done before. Intense, provocative but also graphically artistic, this is as thought provoking as much as it is blisteringly heavy. Using the words of Aleister Crowley’s ritual to evoke the spirit of Mars in a haunting and hypnotic style on Bartzabel sends shivers down the spine. The longest track on the album, Havohej Pantocrator ebbs and flows, penetrating the very soul. Rom 5:8, questions the ‘book of peace’ and the hidden messages which for years were deflected to metal and its music.
The rapid-fire tremolo picking, thunderous drumming and massive riffs all create something magical. You need to hear this album. And then play it again. This is my album of the year. In the face of all competition, the Polish blackened metal of Behemoth sits highest. 10/10
Riverside: Wasteland (InsideOut Records) [Paul H]
It’s taken me a week to get my head around this album. Darker and heavier than previous releases, littered with brooding, haunting melancholic passages, but also interspersed with uplifting sections, Wasteland, to put it simply, is another creative masterpiece from a band who just don’t do average.
Having been in existence since 2001, it appeared that the events of February 2016 would signal the end. It would have been totally understandable. However, taking many deep breaths, Riverside regrouped, reconsidered and closed ranks to cope with their emotional turmoil. Releasing Eye Of The Soundscape in late 2016 was the first step, followed by the Towards The Blue Horizon tour in Spring 2017 when Mariusz Duda, Piotr Kozieradski and Michal Lapaj took their first steps back on stage, accompanied by the excellent Maciej Meller on guitar.
The live release that followed was another step in the lengthy cathartic process that finally allowed the band to return to the studio in December 2017 to begin crafting their eighth studio release. The result is another breathtakingly beautiful album. With Duda handling all guitar parts, one might question why Meller was not welcomed into the recording fold. Well, as Duda noted, 15 years as a unit means that Riverside need time to allow for such a monumental change, and whilst Meller will remain the live guitarist, this wasn’t the time for anything else. Although, as was noted by Duda on the band’s website, “Naturally, to enhance the sound of the album, we left some space for guests”.
Those guests include Meller who plays some delightful solos on four tracks, as well as Mateusz Owczarek, a young and talented guitarist who played with the band during their Warsaw memorial concert for Piotr Grudzinski. Wasteland also features the band’s first violins (a perfect fit on Lament), thanks to Michal Jelonk. Wasteland is certainly darker than 2015’s Love, Fear And The Time Machine, as well as the majority of the band’s excellent back catalogue. Multiple guitar riffs feature, such as the raw and savage Acid Rain, whilst the emotional Vale Of Tears and Guardian Angel build neatly to the majestic Lament which contains haunting mournful melodies which hit deep. This leads to The Struggle For Survival, nine and a half minutes of juxtaposed streams of sound, ranging from almost thrashy riffing to progressive breakdowns, screaming keyboard and guitar solos adding grit and depth before reducing the temperature to a mere simmer with an acoustic break, soaring choral combinations and soothing synths.
The inspiration of the album is based on surviving a post apocalypse world, with influences from the 1983 film The Day After, which bookends the album with The Night Before as well as Cormac McCarthy’s book The Road. However, it’s inevitably also part of the process of saying farewell to Grudzinski, and the whole band’s rawness because of the situation. “The album carries a lot of emotions which reflect everything that has been happening to the band for the past few years. It’s a much darker and heavier face of Riverside” commented drummer Kozieradski. With a drum sound heavier than on previous releases sitting alongside the characteristic driven guitar and bass sound, what is certainly noticeable is how the band once more comfortably ease between dark and light. The title track for example, at eight and a half minutes long, develops through measured acoustic sections, crashing riffs and delicate interplay which weaves and envelops the listener.
For sheer perfection though, The River Down Below takes centre stage, its gentle acoustic meandering climaxing with an unexpected intensity. Ultimately, Wasteland is an album that features segments of nearly every Riverside album. There’s the melody of Love, Fear And The Time Machine, alongside the rawness of Second Life Syndrome and the debut angst of Out Of Myself. Less polished than previous releases, it’s the fresh, honest sound that provides a rawness which the band clearly needed to flesh out. It’s impossible to find a flaw on another magnificent release, which stands proudly alongside their catalogue and Duda’s solo work with Lunatic Soul. If you want a blueprint, this is what you follow. 10/10
Coheed And Cambria: Vaxis Act I: The Unheavenly Creatures (Roadrunner Records) [Alex]
Prefacing this review, I would like to make clear that Coheed & Cambria are my favourite band, and have been for the past four or so years. While I approached Unheavenly Creatures with honesty and an analytical ear, you all now know where I stand, and what perspective I’m coming from. By creating killer hooks and blending them with progressive stylings, while weaving a gargantuan science fiction narrative throughout nearly all their albums and even writing an expansive amount of graphic novels to accompany the lyricism, Coheed has surrounded themselves in an enchanting and sprawling mythos. From the ambitiously post-hardcore touches of Second Stage Turbine Blade and In Keeping Secrets Of Silent Earth: 3 to the experiments in prog and classic rock on the Good Apollo I and II, to the ventures into electronic music and space rock on Year Of The Black Rainbow and The Afterman, they are not afraid to adapt and keep their loyal and dedicated following hooked.
Their last album, the Color Before the Sun, saw them briefly depart from the Amory Wars narrative, in order to offer an experience that was deeply personal and autobiographical without any pretenses of fiction or fantasy. Determined to continue his opus, frontman, project mastermind and afro-perm enthusiast, Claudio Sanchez, has immersed us in a new universe, whereby dead planets are hollowed out and used in service of the Star Supremacy for imprisoning undesirables. Chief among these "planetary prison pits" is the Dark Sentencer, home to our protagonists, Creature and Sister Spider. They must rekindle their love for one another and escape their captors in order to cut out a decent world for their son, in the first in a five-part "pentalogy" of albums, known as Vaxis. Sound daunting? Don’t worry, you do not need to know the story. As always, the music is inspiring and the fantastical elements are laced with introspective, and societal themes, owing to our frontman's testimony that "most writers are recording their thoughts and feelings in an autobiographical way, I’m just recording mine in a different genre"
'Take my Hand, and follow us into the black, so far that we can't get back’ omits the chorus of The Dark Sentencer, alluring the listener and ushering in a new era of the ‘heed as a thudding beat and electrifying instrumentation takes hold and wrenches you into the experience. Proving equally visceral is the Sabbath-esque Black Sunday, crashing in with an evil sounding guitar riff and the lines played out like mocking taunts in a game of life and death, as we climb towards a monumental crescendo. Queen of the Dark is doomy and guttural, thematically introducing us to an overlord, residing in the blackest depths of the prisoness chasm where our story unfolds. Nearly resembling a punk song, True Ugly is incredibly fast-paced and panicked, the words ‘show me your true ugly, the stranger you move the sweeter you become, now show me the good you’ve done’ proving weirdly pensive, yet never failing to send a chill down my spine.
The Gutter is incredibly multifaceted, beginning with a solemn piano and the words ‘over my dead body’ ringing out, before spilling into an maddened verse which in turn strays into an impassioned chorus, a creeping bridge and finally a theatrical closing few minutes, emanating Queen charms. All On Fire meanwhile is as explosive as the name advocates, while It Walks Among Us is strangely danceable in its infectiously confident stomp. Aside from their ability to tie the tense and deranged themes which underpin the Amory Wars narrative into their music, Coheed has also always been able to showcase triumph, victory, and elation, or to take a dire moment in their characters typically hellish trajectories and turn them into pieces of joyous pop. While there are songs which bridge the changeability - Nighttime Walkers being a key example – It is this contradiction which lends so much life and dynamism to their core sound. Unheavenly Creatures sees the band riding a wave of tension and dramatic atmosphere while incorporating spacey synths and an adorably memorable chorus line of ‘I fear my dear, the end is near, so run, run, run, run, run like a son of a gun’.
Another note, Toys dives into Glam stylings with a powerfully crunchy riff, a hook which is every bit as charming and heart-racing as the last one and a glorious solo, courtesy of Travis Stever. Love Protocol and The Pavillion (A Long Way Back) are examples of sci-fi power balladry at their pinnacle, the former being a solid case of pop-rock prowess, and the later proving tearful as the veil of fantasy Sanchez has wrapped his emotions in appears clear enough to see that he is singing about his own anxieties of being a father and watching his own son grow up in a world which is far from perfect. Penultimate song Old Flames is certainly the most exuberant anthem, as we hear of Spider and Creatures ascent from their ‘horrible pit’ and reflect on our own struggles, the bouncy rhythms created between Zach ‘super-duper’ Cooper on bass and Josh Eppard on drums adding to the sentiment, as do the exuberant ‘Na-Na-Na's’, destined to be a raucous singalong at shows.
‘Chasing as we try to compete for each other time, In a world we locked ourselves inside, In a place to keep us safe’ muses the acoustic-led Lucky Stars, proving a beautiful and poignant closer to an album already infatuated with twists and turns. All in all, Unheavenly Creatures is among the best albums in Coheed’s entire discography, bringing back the concept in a way which echoes the style and rising and falling dynamics of a traditional rock opera, while refusing to abandon the prog and alternative stylings they are adored for. Not only that but Vaxis: Act I is only the first part in a long and dramatic journey that stands before us. To Children and the Fence and an assorted group of people who respect and keep up to date with Claudio and co, the response can only be one of enthusiasm and excitement: roll on Act II. 9/10
MMMD Mohammed: Hagazussa A Heathens Curse (Self Records)
I haven’t bothered to do any research into this album, the band haven’t bothered to make any music, so I don’t see any reason to. What we have here is very minimal ambient, a tone fades up from silence, holds for a few minutes, then fades. Some of the tones change slightly as the time goes on (you have to skip the track forward to hear this), a couple of them have slight distortion on them, one of them is just silence. If you are thinking “A tone that hold for a few minutes before fading? Hot Damn, that sounds like a party!!!”, then fair enough, dive in. But to me this is just wasted space on my hard drive; Pointless (which is what it’s going to get I’m afraid). 0/10