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Wednesday 24 October 2018

Reviews: High On Fire, Earthless, Mirrors For Psychic Warfare, Sunless Dawn (Paul H & Paul S)

High On Fire: Electric Messiah (Entertainment One Music) [Paul S]

Matt Pike has been really busy this year. Not content to release a brilliant new Sleep album (The Sciences), he’s also back with a new High On Fire album, Electric Messiah. It’s been 3 years since their last album Luminiferous, so what have High On Fire got for us this time? First track, Spewn From The Rock, sets the pace for this album. It absolutely rages! This album is insanely fast. Pure simple thrash, fast, in your face and with a real punky edge. Second track Steps Of The Ziggurat / House Of Enlil seems to have a slower more 6/8 timing, until about half way through, when the pace picks up and were back to high energy thrash again. Sanctioned Annihilation does a similar thing, more of a slower track, until the band get bored of it and put their collective feet to the floor, and the song gets turbo charged again. When ever High On Fire try to slow down and be more measured and sensible, the red mist clouds their vision and off they go again.

This isn’t a complaint, this is wonderful. High On fire are at their best when they are at full speed, and they know it. The title track, which was inspired by, and is an homage to the late, great Lemmy. My god, what a tribute this song is. Definitely one of the fastest songs on the album, to my ears it sounds like the Motorhead track Overkill pushed to ridiculous levels of fury; an absolute raging explosion of a song! The production is great as well, this is the 3rd album produced by Kurt Ballou and he knew exactly what this album needed. It’s raw and in your face, but at the same time clear enough to allow the songs to shine through. 

The band all excel themselves. Des Kensel’s drums sound like amplified thunder, Jeff Matz’s bass could start earthquakes and Pike’s vocals are probably the best he’s managed with High On Fire. Every song on this album is cracking, they all have their own personality, and I didn’t get the urge to skip any of them. The album is brought to an end by the track Drowning Dog, another storming fast track with an absolutely brilliant chorus, which will get stuck in your head. Electric Messiah is probably High On Fire’s best album, from a band that have only made good albums. Do yourself a favour and get this album, it’s impossible to listen to it without smiling! 9/10

Earthless: From The West (Nuclear Blast) [Paul H]

The savagely jazz free form style of San Diego’s Earthless has been impressing audiences around the world since their formation back in 2001. Their latest live album, their third, captures the band in their natural environment. Lengthy psychedelic and Krautrock pieces, mainly instrumental in nature, showcase the talent of the three musicians in the band. The band once delivered an astonishing set at Roadburn in Norway, the recording of which was released live and this release, recorded at the Great American Music Hall in San Francisco in March encapsulates their ferocious approach. The Baroness/Rory Gallagher fusion of Electric Flame is one of the few tracks which features the vocals of guitarist Isaiah Mitchell, although it is his fluid finger picking that stands out, with some impressive lead work. 

The band is completed by bassist Mike Eginton and Mario Rubalcaba on drums, whose solid rhythm work allows Mitchell space to work. Tracks such as the 20 minute Uluru Rock allow you to become fully immersed in the band’s evolving styles, whilst a rather tasty cover of Zeppelins Communication Breakdown doesn’t let down the original in any way. A fine release that is worth repeated playing. The band are on the bill for 2019’s Desertfest in London and if you are heading to that these guys are sure to be worth checking out. 8/10

Mirrors For Psychic Warfare: I See What I Became (Neurot Recordings) [Paul S]

Mirrors For Psychic Warfare are Scott Kelly from Neurosis and Sanford Parker; musician and producer extraordinaire. The pair have worked together on Corrections House, this is the second album from this industrial project. First track Animal Coffins starts slowly, dissonant electronic sounds fade up and down, becoming more and more oppressive before a slow, powerful beat pulls all the disparate parts together. The song has an eastern feel to the later parts, with the inclusion of Tabla drums and chanting. The pacing on the album is all mid-paced, these aren’t the kind of beats you could dance to, much more hypnotic and relentless than that. There are also elements of Glitch Techno in the sound as well, the track Body Ash is a good example of this. In some ways this sounds like Godflesh jamming with Aphex Twin. Most of the individual instruments on this album, whether real or software, have lots of reverb and echo on them. However, the vocals don't. This allows the vocals to cut through the music, no matter how dissonant and cacophonous the music might be.

Although there is a real feeling of darkness and menace in the music, the vocals have a feeling of intelligence and control, which act as an interesting juxtaposition to the music. The song Crooked Teeth has a heavier feel to it, particularly the latter part of the track, the rhythms feel like they are in opposition to each other, and what could be an organ gives the song real depth and weight. There’s a dreamlike quality to the album. The constantly morphing music, combined with eerie samples and the clean vocals feel like a fevered dream, a dream that is confusing, that you want to wake up from, but can’t. The final track Coward Heat is the slowest song on the album. A dark, desolate, dissonant soundscape that brings the album to a really disquieting finish. This is not an album for the faint hearted. But if you are willing to let some incredibly dark industrial noise into your life you will find a lot to enjoy in this album. Give the album a little time and you’ll get a great deal out of it. 8/10

Sunless Dawn: Timeweaver (Prime Collective) [Paul H]

This is the debut release by Danish progressive death metal outfit Sunless Dawn. Complex patterns, deep and intricate passages as well as mood changing reflections are all contained in a soundscape of truly interesting tracks. Having waited for some time to produce Timeweaver, the Danes, who earned a slot at Wacken in 2016 by winning their national battle of the bands competition, have clearly taken their time to ensure that it’s a memorable piece of work. The opening three tracks segue into the intrinsically linked middle trio, Biomorph I, II and III, which provide an Opeth style exploratory sound. Biomorph I: Polarity Portrayed switches easily from delicate and fragile into Biomorph II:Collide Into Being, a much more raucous and aggressive piece which still retains melody, haunting atmospheric guitar work and some perfectly pitched keyboards which add both depth and warmth.

The track ascends to epic proportions with the introduction of choral voices toward the end before easing gently into part three, Biomorph III: Between Meadow And Mire. This is another stunning and intricate piece of work, retaining hooks and pitch whilst the organic evolution develops in Ne Obliviscaris style. Whilst the band are described as progressive death metal I’d also add a good dose of black metal and even a teaspoon of djent into the mix. Timeweaver is a beautiful piece of work with closing track Sovereign, all 15 minutes in length, a perfect conclusion to an explosive, balanced, natural and complex album. With influences amongst the band cited as far ranging as Dream Theater, Opeth, Alcest, Cynic, Tesseract and Cattle Decapitation, it’s still a surprise just how mature and thought provoking this album actually is. An enormous debut from a band who clearly have potential for a massive future. 8/10

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