Haken: Vector (InsideOut Records) [Alex]
Despite straggling contemporary progressive metal as Opeth and Dream Theatre by at least twenty years, while Haken have lacked in permanency, they’ve excelled in quality - Visions and The Mountain, are already held up as classics within some circles. Showing their more humoured stripes, Affinity was in one part quintessentially 21st Century, and another part perfectly executed throwback. Notability posed the question of whether they would continue on a retro inspired pathway, or return to their visceral and dramaticized nature. Choosing instead to do both, Vector stands as a dark, brooding and venomous. Not shy conceptually, we deal with harsh clinical realities of experimentation, psychological torture, and medical vigilantism: Concepts precisely captured by the warped and vivid tone of the melodies intersecting and duelling with the instrumentation.
Clear begins proceedings. While only an introduction, the domineering synths emanate a chillingly psychotic anxiety. Disturbing the tension The Good Doctor, cuts through the atmosphere with a splicing lead melody and gnashing synths. ‘Electricity is the cure that he really needs, bring an empire to his knees’ relishes the voice of the surgeon portrayed here, the maniacal soundscapes, stressing the extremity of electro shock therapy, a condemned form of surgery, described in disturbing detail. Although the lyrics to Puzzle Box are left to be deciphered by the listener, they appears to tell of paranoia and obsession, musings in the vein of ‘A fleeting sense of self-worth, melts away into oblivion’ proving graphic while scarily relatable. Guiding our sensations, is the changeable and schizophrenic tone which staggers from quiet introspection, to panicked hysteria to a beautifully melodic chorus, poignantly asking ‘how can truth set us free when lies are all we have’. While being just as enthralling, Veil takes the approach of beginning a slow ballad with lush harmonies and subtle piano, before gradually swelling in dramatics, as sprawling complexity takes hold, and the words describes one desperately cleansing themselves of regret and guilt.
Already taken on an emotional thrill ride, Nil By Mouth guides us into a strange and alluring instrumental, taking us through all the different aspects of Haken’s musical character while making us reflect on the dystopian and difficult themes explored so far. To be saying so of an instrumental is high praise indeed, yet that’s testament to how excellently these songs flow and lead into one another. For another perfect example look at Host, which while despite a lot less dense and expansive than other moments on Vector, has the darker tone carried by downtrodden instrumentals and sombre lyricism, with such lines as ‘Sail away, goodbye, I’ve been left down here to die’ sending chills riveting through my nervous system. A Cell Divides closes the album, its precise nature speaking to the scientific and tentative themes. That said, as the record reaches its crescendoing seconds, the words ‘It’s the beauty in the flaw, the grace of imperfection’ ring out, emphasising that while this band and entire genre has a habit of cloaking any relatedness behind elaborate tales, at their core, they remain incredibly emotional and immersive. 9/10
Deathrite: Nightmare's Reign (Century Media) [Sean]
Death metal, death metal, death metal. You’ve always been there for me when black metal left me cold, when power metal mad me feel sickly and when prog straight up sent me to sleep. In many cases, I love you when you’re at your most simple and direct. No fucking about, just straight up impalement and more filth than an unwashed abattoir. Germany’s Deathrite very much belong to this category, highly influenced by the Stockholm rumblings with lashings of good ol’ crusty punk. A solid foundation to be sure but upon listening to new album, Nightmares Reign, it’s clear that’s there’s other demons lurking in the deep. Does tweaking with a well worn formula reap rewards? Or do Deathrite fall completely into the abyss? Let the ritual begin!
Ough! Fucking Ough! That’s what greets me after When Nightmares Reign atmospheric crescendo, transitioning into filthy d-beat beats and crunchy riffs. Consider me sold, as the punishing stomp is elevated even further by some really ripping solos. Then another “OUGH” as vocalist, Tony Heinrich, is intent on vomiting the entire contents of his being across Appetite For Murder. Then it slows, melody seeps in though this is a mere illusion. What comes is something akin to proto-black metal, briefly rearing it’s ugly head before returning to its deathly beginnings. And there we have it, the crux of the experimentation as Deathrite shift slightly between these different stances. At times embodying a Celtic Frost/Hellhammer stomp, other times like prime Dismember or even Autopsy during their slower moments. Demon Soul is downright nasty, whereas Bloodlust leans somewhat more into blackened territories, though still with one foot firmly planted into the grave. Temptation Calls is the strangest beast on the album. Starting with the typical death metal stomp, it suddenly slows down to settle in more melodic, dare I say, progressive waters. At 9 minutes, it’s a fitting if slightly overlong end of a filthy ride.
Let’s get down to it then; Nightmares Reign is not a huge departure from ye olde metal of death. Deathrite are far from leaving their deathly beginnings, but it’s evident that the Germans are indeed looking to different horizons. And for the most part, it works really well though it’s not without a few minor quibbles. There’s far more of an emphasis on groove than outright speed, which may disappoint and turn off some. For myself, the only issue was the length of the longer songs. Despite containing some great moments, they buckle ever so slightly due to their length, though this is hardly a blemish. In closing, Deathright’s more playful nature of Nightmares Reign empowers the Germans with a newfound air of versatility, neatly fitting into their rot ridden oeuvre. One more time lads, OUGH! 8/10
Lost In Thought: Renascence (Self Released) [Rich]
It’s been seven long years since Swansea based progressive metallers Lost In Thought released their debut album Opus Arise and this band has overcome a lot in that period from a horrific road accident which completely derailed the band to the band pretty much splitting into two to members leaving and for a while it looked like we would never get a second album out of the band. Thankfully with the addition of new members album number two Renascence is finally here and it has very much been worth the wait.
The original members of the band remaining are guitarist David Grey and drummer Chris Billingham and they have been joined by bassist Josh Heard, keyboardist Diego Zapatero and vocalist Deane Lazenby. The vocals by original vocalist Nate Loosemore were a definite highlight of the debut album but with Deane they have most an ever better singer with an incredibly rich powerful voice and an incredible range. The musicianship and songwriting throughout the album is second to none. The band is still very reminiscent of European progressive metal bands such as Anubis Gate, Pagan’s Mind and Vanden Plas but there’s a definite influence from bands such as Haken and Leprous this time round especially with the contemporary sounding keyboards and some of the guitar riffs almost veer into djent territory but this is by no means a bad thing with Lost In Thought ensuring that their progressive power metal style sounds very modern and up to date.
Renascence had me in awe from the get go with the opening double punch of A New Life and Ascendance sending my mouth agape and the hairs on my arms standing on end. The quality remains at this astonishingly high level throughout the entirety of the album with other notable songs being the melodic Save me whilst the heaviness is brought forth on Delirium and Legacy and the band reach epic proportions on the massive album closer Absolution.
It’s clearly evident that an incredible amount of love and hard work has gone into this album as it easily surpasses Opus Arise in terms of quality and Opus Arise is a brilliant album. Progressive metal fans seriously need to hear this album as it’s easily one of the finest releases of the year. A huge welcome back to Lost In Thought. 9/10
Bitch Hawk: Joy (Adrian Recordings) [Paul S]
Joy is Bitch Hawk’s second album. In fact it’s Bitch Hawks second album this year; their debut was released in January. The Stockholm based four piece clearly aren’t afraid of a bit of hard work, but is the album any good? Or are Bitch Hawk just putting out any old crap they can cobble together? Luckily for this reviewer, it’s the former, as this is a great piece of work.
The music on offer here is a mix of crossover thrash, hardcore and punk. First track Good News kicks the album off in very thrashy fashion, in fact this is probably the purest thrash on the album. Tight, fast riffs, aggressive vocals and great drums. Really impressive simple, crossover thrash. But, as I said this is an album with a few different moods. Baby Love is a slower looser track, more punk than thrash, but still with lots of energy, and a very heavy ending. EDM is slower still, and has a bit of an alternative metal sound, it’s got a fairly relentless feel to it, in some ways the slower tempo gives the song this relentless aspect. Optical Character Recognition has a fairly measured feel to it, probably the most controlled, well behaved track on the album.
Slime is a fairly loose hardcore track, faster than the songs that came before it, possibly a little power violence in execution. The hardcore is tighter and more aggressive with the sing Get Up Your Fine, fast and in your face, this track has a definite intent. The next track Rikspsyk is an out and out blast, in some ways it’s close to grindcore in it’s ferociousness. Joy is a great album. Although there are lots of different sounds on this album, the one thing they all have in common is energy, lots of energy. In fact Bitch Hawk have so much energy if science can find a way to tap into this energy, we might have found a replacement for fossil fuels! If you like fast music packed with exuberance, fun and masses of energy, definitely check this out. 8/10