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Monday 31 December 2018

Top 10 Worst Albums Of 2018

Paul H

1. Abstract Void – Back to Reality 1/10
“Programmed, muffled and lacking originality, no wonder the person behind it remains anonymous”

2. Crystal Ball – Crystalliser 1/10
“I should have known when I read that they were initially known as Cherry Pie that I was in for a Warrant sized eye fucking, but nothing could quite prepare for the diarrhoea splatter that confronted me”

3. Marco Mendoza – Viva La Rock 2/10
“If you think this is quality hard rock, then you have my endless pity. I’d rather have piles than listen to this arse sore again.”

4. Chris Bay – Chasing The Sun
“I think I found a sneaking admiration that he was able to churn out such a horrible fuckworm with a straight face.”
5. P.O.D. – Circles
“I slavishly listened to all of Circles. More fool me. The rap-influenced metal is ghastly. The Christian lyrics make me want to hurl bricks through glass plate windows.”

6. Stryper – God Damn Evil 2/10
“I managed to listen to this one all the way through, but second helping had me screaming for my water to be turned into a vat of wine that I could drown myself in.”

7. Straight Terror – Between The Lies 2/10
“I love thrash, but this is awful stuff I’m afraid; if I wanted to listen to Kreator then I’d listen to the real thing. A pale imitation.”

8. Thorium – Thorium 2/10
“Having to struggle through the wailings of a singer who really needs to find another role in life required more anaesthetic than I had to hand.”

9. Midnight Force – Dunsinane 2/10
“If you want your metal full of sword and chains imagery and recorded underwater, you may fancy a bit of this. If you value your hearing, I’d give it the swerve.”

10. RSO – Radio Free America 2/10
“They may be talented virtuoso guitarists, but holy shit, this is dreadful. I’m sure that music for mothers is a thing – the equivalent of dad rock maybe? All I know is that Stief, who should have reviewed this, will get something very nasty in his sleeping bag at Bloodstock because of this.”

Paul S

10. Gravewards - Ruinous Ensoulment
"In the last few months, I’ve listened to quite a few albums whose sound is pretty much indistinguishable from this album. It’s a good album, but the band need to find their own sound, so they will stand out. They can clearly play, but they need an identity of their own if they are to have a future."

9. The Shiva Hypothesis - Ourobos Stirs
"The main problem I have with this album is that it feels a little lack lustre. I found, after a couple of listens, I didn’t really want to listen to it again. There aren’t any parts thats grab you and make you want to listen to it. The production feels a little off. As I said before, the vocals are too high in the mix, and the guitars don’t feel very organic."

8. Sacrosanct - Necropolis
"From a band that used to play thrash, this is a bit disappointing. The songs on this album all feel a bit lacklustre, about 10% faster and the album would be transformed, but the excitement never really arrives."

7. Green Death - Hallowmass
"According to the bumf that came with this album “Green Death are re-defining Thrash”, I have to take exception to this as, well, they aren’t.This isn’t a good album. If the band can concentrate on the bits that work; the faster thrashier music, and harsh rasping vocals, they really could have something. But this album really doesn’t work. I am relieved that I have now reviewed this album, as I now can stop listening to it!"

6. Allegiance - Beyond The Black Wave
"O.K. I’ll admit it, these guys have got some balls to rip off one of the biggest and best Black Metal bands of all time, and to tell people they are doing it (Emperial Black Metal) takes even more bare faced cheek. But I can’t see the point of this album. The few bits that aren’t nicked are lack lustre and lacking in imagination. The only good thing about this album is that it has reminded me of what a great band Emperor were. Just listen to the originals, they are so much better!"

5. Betrayer - Scaregod
"Scaregod isn’t a bad album. In fact it’s a really good piece of old school death metal. It’s just that it’s someone else’s really good old school death metal album. It’s a shame, as the musicians involved are clearly very talented. But, they have to find their own identity if they are to have any relevance at all. If you don’t know Morbid Angel, this will definitely impress you, but you’ll be much more impressed if you listen to the originals."

4. Tornado - Commitment To Excellence
"Unfortunately, it sounds like the less impressive output of American thrash. A lot of this album is a little lacklustre and generic. The band have a nasty habit of starting songs with nice, tight, fast riffs, but as soon soon as the vocals come in the songs slow down and plod."

3. Carbon Black - End Of This
"Everything that was unspeakably dreadful about Nu Metal is on this album, deeply over-simplistic music, with horrible vocals. This unmitigated tripe might have had some success 20 years ago when Nu Metal was big, but this probably wouldn’t have been taken seriously even back then. I’m seriously thinking of seeking therapy to help me recover from having to listen to it (maybe a Nu Metal survivors group). I’d like to make a personal plea to this band - Please stop, It’s not big, it’s not clever and no one is impressed by it."

2. Rebel Wizard - Voluptuous Worship Of Rapture And Response
"I’m sure when Bob told his mates down the pub what he was planning they thought it was hilarious. Bad power metal with loads of mediocre solos (and there are so many, very generic solos, which are also far too high in the mix), terrible vocals and overlong, not overly funny song titles, probably sounds amazingly funny when you’re pissed down the pub, his friends probably thought the idea was ripping! But this is material that just doesn’t work, and needs to be dropped. The fact that this project has produced 7 EPs and 2 albums in 3 years might be a clue to the lack of quality here. Maybe if Bob had only made one Rebel Wizard album in that time he might have made one good album rather than lots of fairly mediocre music. Then again, maybe he should stick to hardcore."

1. MMMD Mohammed - Hagazussa A Heathens Curse
"If you are thinking “A tone that holds 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). "


10. Shinedown – Attention-Attention
"Despite being significantly heavier than the last album, these songs feel forced to the point of parody. Meanwhile, the overbearing synth effects prove incredibly distracting. Attention-Attention is the cynical result of a band wanting to court radio appeal while maintaining their credentials of a hard rock band."

9. Therapy? – Cleave
"Badly performed and produced, to quote my original review of this album this is ‘’a sterile, thrown together and tediously dull, sloppy mess of an album, which doesn’t so much as deserve a place in the cesspit of worst of the year lists, as it does a space in the musical dustbin, where it can be easily disposed of and quickly forgotten’’

8. Deaf Havana – Rituals
"A massive disappointment, Deaf Havana strangely decided to rush out an album less than a year after ‘All these countless nights’, abandoning all their soulful and heartfelt Songwriting. In the absence of a substance or that Springsteen-esque quality which bought life to their early releases, we instead get lyrical pretensions’ and yet more unnecessary synths. I just hope there’s a care left in Veck-Gilodi and co." 

7. Disturbed – Evolution
"And the award for most ironically titled album of 2018 goes to…Look, no matter what you think of the Sickness or Believe, they are undeniably important albums within the early 2000s metal scene. Despite every album being touted as a comeback, Disturbed have embraced devolution, clinging to the remnants of an outdated sound, while proving unwilling to take the risks necessary for a true return to form"

6. Muse – Simulation Theory
"Upon the release of simulation theory, I was saddened to find a collection of songs, constituting a pitiful attempt at an 80s throwback, while lying to rest the ingenuity and creativity which normally defines Matt Bellamy and co. I have seen some extremely polarizing opinions, some praising and others lamenting the new direction – believe me when I say I derive no satisfaction in my ardent distaste"

5. Atreyu – In Our Wake
"In our wake isn’t messy in a way which screams of a band reaching for the stars and falling short, Rather, every idea, every so-called experiment, feels hackneyed or betrayed, wither by squeaky-clean production, poor composition or terrible lyricism. Hardcore Atreyu fans, in our Wake, is best listened to with a hot water bottle and headache relief tablets at your disposal’’

4. Ministry – Amerikkkan
"I confess I have never been a fan of Ministry, yet I can understand why they are seen as juggernauts within the industrial metal genre. Yet judging by the reaction from fans, they are sorely disappointed with how the more recent output has stayed obnoxious while disposing of complexity and intricacy. Amerikkka is a mess of the poor production, embarrassing political sampling, and lazy performances."

3. Five Finger Death Punch – And Justice For None
"Gone are the days of The Bleeding, FFDP are now entirely focussed on appearing tough, championing a style of bro-rock which is impossible to take remotely seriously, and not in a charming way. Ivan Moody and his bandmates have become so lazy, so uncaring towards the thousands of fans who bafflingly still support them, that even their label sued them for ‘’shamelessly trying to cash in’’. Don’t let these overrated hacks embarrass metal any further."

2. Fall Out Boy – Mania
"Three albums into their comeback, it is clear Fall out Boy has stopped caring. Personally, Save Rock and Roll and American Beauty/American Psycho strike me as incredibly inconsequential and unfulfilling, though I always interpreted some potential hiding in them. Disappointingly, MANIA shows neither the passion nor the sense of risk-taking needed to create a revitalization or slow a steady descent into mediocrity and irrelevance."

1. 30 Seconds To Mars – America
"Perhaps to the disappointment of those invested in the early material, AMERICA exudes neither the show of talent nor the drive to create anything powerful. Even the various album covers, each of which has a list of something followed by a less-than-insightful footnote, should instead be captioned ‘one of a few designs we didn’t devote effort to’. The album panders hopelessly to trends while wearing its pretentiousness like elaborate set designs in a film robbed of any promise by the laziness of the performers."

Sunday 30 December 2018

A View From Another Country: Koupes

Koupes & R For Renegade, Prague Draft Live Stage, Kastoria Greece

I can't get away from this stuff even when I'm on holiday in Greece it seems that I'm still invited to watch bands and give my opinion on them. I been in Prague Draft Livestage before it is sort of a lounge bar that has a lot of rock band playing in there. In fact a week after I leave Gus G will be bringing his solo band to the same venue.

The last time I was here though it was for local act made good Scars Of Tears but they say that the more things change the more they stay the same and that was true on this twixtmas night. The last time we were here the support act was R For Renegade, this time the support was R For Renegade (5) a Greek rock band that plays their own songs interspersed with covers. The covers were the probably the best received except for one of their own numbers but when you bring out Wicked Game (Chris Isaak), What I've Done (Linkin Park) and Seven Nation Army (White Stripes) you'll get that response. However the problem remains that their playing is a little simplistic and the singer's voice, in Greek and English, is not very good at all, still the locals enjoyed it as the alcohol flowed like water.

A short change over and the band (that translates to mugs/cups or the Hearts suit in cards - thanks to my Greek companions for the translation) came to the stage, again they were a home-town band and much like in the Cardiff scene they were made up of members from other bands including Scars Of Tears and Slavedom, both of whom have been reviewed in these pages. They feature drummer Christos Polizos, bassist Sakis Sarafas, guitarists Babis Stephanidis and Achilleas Parzikas and lead vocalist Athena Delliou. Together the band play excellent alternative/gothic heavy rock at a level that was far superior to the support band. You can clearly tell that the members of Koupes (8) have all served their time on the Greek rock/metal scene as they were a slick drilled unit who are currently supporting their debut album.

The lyricism was all in Greek yes but that's not a barrier to great musicianship or the absolutely superb voice Athena who is talented beyond her years and glides above the riffs brought by the rest of the band, the contrast between her and the gruffer voices of the two guitarists was brilliant and it made the songs really stick in your head despite the language barrier. At times straightforward but at others more progressive they were a warmup for the Lemmy tribute night later that evening and what better way to remember the man himself by getting out there and watching some live music. With an album under their belt and representation I expect them to be playing bigger stages soon.

Saturday 29 December 2018

Top Gigs Of The Year

Paul H

1.Slayer/LOG/Anthrax/Obituary – Palacio Vistalegre, Madrid 17th November 2018

2.Wolves In The Throne Room/Wode – The Globe, Cardiff 28th June 2018

3.Sons of Apollo – SWX, Bristol 29th September 2018

4.COC/Orange Goblin/Fireball Ministry/Black Moth – Great Hall, Cardiff 3rd November 2018

5.Testament/Annihilator/Vader – Motion, Bristol 29th March 2018

6.Lionize/Planet of Zeus – The Fleece, Bristol 3rd May 2018

7.Saxon/Diamond Head/Rock Goddess – The Great Hall, Cardiff 22nd February 2018

8.Vader/Entombed/The Drowning/Hellavista – The Globe, Cardiff 2nd November 2018

9.Hawkwind – London Palladium 4th November 2018

10.Phil Campbell & The Bastard Sons – The Globe, Cardiff 23rd November 2018

Worst Gig Of 2018

Molly Hatchet at The Globe, 9th December 2018

Paul S

1. Warning at Desertfest.

2. Yob and Wiegedood at The Fleece, Bristol.

3. Crowbar and Ingested at The Globe, Cardiff

4. Wiegedood and Dawn Ray’d at The Luisiana, Bristol

5. Wolves In The Throne Room and Wode at The Globe, Cardiff.

Friday 28 December 2018

Reviews: Arrayan Path, Minus One, Minorfase, Automaton

Arrayan Path: Archegonoi (Pitch Black Records)

Move over Sabaton, Arrayan Path are going to be dealing with the classic Hellenic myths from now on. This double disc collection, the seventh full length from Cyprus is based around the Greek myths and characters that many of you may have heard of such as Hydra, Menelaus, The Lion Of Amphipolis, Pandora and of course the Spartans at Thermoplyae. Over blown and epic Arrayan Path take the Sabaton lyrical approach but with the music it's pure Rhapsody/Manowar theatrical symphonic metal from the opening moments as they recount these myths in their ott glory using traditional instruments as well as the de-rigueur guitar, bass, drums, keys. 

If you're not the biggest fan of symphonic heavy metal then I'd say it's best to stay clear of this record as I've said it is a double album at a whopping 14 songs meaning that for some it maybe too much. Me on the other hand I love something a little bit overly silly and I've got a classics degree so I did have a big goofy grin on my face for the overblown Seven Against Thebes or the heavy Sins Of Pandora and did find myself throwing the occasional fist and singing along by the second listen. Like I said it is an epic record both musically and in it's run time but for anyone brought up on Manowar, Rhapsody et al, then this should be on your New Year buying list. 8/10

Minus One: Red, Black, White (Mighty Music)

Cypriot alternative rock band, represented Cyprus at Eurovision. This is their debut album and it's a real mix of sounds two of the tracks the opener, The Greatest and Girl sound exactly like Shinedown from the fist pumping electronic rhythms to the vocals, the similarity is uncanny. But then you get plenty of different sounds with some swaggering hard rock on How Does It Feel which has some brass to really make it like an Extreme track and the title track is riddled with electronic buzz before Psycho 5 brings industrially tinged pop. 

On these four songs alone you get the feeling Minus One are very broad church when it comes to influence they seem to be able to turn their hand to most styles due to the versatility of frontman, who's vocals are simply stunning throughout. The band aren't to shabby either mind you from the moody multi-layered approach of Nothing For Nothing, the bloozy acoustics of The Other Side Of Mind, the screaming solo in Girl, they're even a dab hand at a cover closing the album out with You Don't Own Me which is a brilliant duet version of this classic. It's unashamedly upbeat as you'd probably guess from a band that have competed in Eurovision but unlike fellow rockers Lordi there seems to be more than one string to their bow which makes this album an enjoyable listen. 8/10

Minorfase: 5 Symptoms Of Spiritual Awakening (Self Released)

Greeks like stoner rock, that's a fact so it's always worth listening to a a band from the region that plays distorted riffs in homage to the finest green. Minorfase is one such band, NOLA sounding riffs and a powerful rhythm section mean that Moneymaker immediately brings to mind COC as frontman has that Pepper Keenan drawl, a few numbers get a psychedelic sprawl but most are are more to the point with some grunting heavy metal that gives way to reverebed soloing. At just 6 tracks this second album makes its point in the most direct way possible giving you what you need from this style of music right away without any of the other bullshit. The might be Minorfase but it's a major win for this album. 7/10

Automaton: Talos (Sound Effect Records)

Much like the usually metallic giants they take their band name from Automaton lumber, lurch and crush anything and everything in their path with a unflinching inhumanity. This is sludge driven doom metal it's nastiest, heavily distorted guitars, punishing bass and drums with the occasional anguished vocal outbursts to break the monotony of the aural assault that's pumping through your speakers. With 7 tracks on this album each one is and elongated drawn out number that occasionally shows flair with a whiff of the cinematic but it's ear bleedingly loud doom metal for the most part with Electric Wizard a natural comparison. This is the kind of Automaton Sabbath were warning us about on Iron Man a disconcerting entity that lays waste to all without fear. 7/10

Sunday 23 December 2018

A View From The Back Of The Room: Music Minds Matter Charity Night (Live Review By Paul H)

Music Minds Matter Charity Event, Fuel Cardiff

As 2018 draws to a close, it was fitting that I finished my gigging year in the same venue that I started in back in January when Bloodshot Dawn kicked off 2018 in ferocious style. Having travelled back from a welcome mini-break in Portugal earlier in the day, the damp cold evening was a crushing reminder of the difference in weather several hundred miles makes. Nothing damp about the action inside Fuel though as a reasonable crowd attended to raise some funds for the charity Music Minds Matter. www.musicmindsmatter.org.uk

Opening the evening were Bloodstock heroes Cranial Separation (7) who have been regulars throughout the year in these pages. There’s not much I can write about these guys that I haven’t written before, but Ray, Chris and Sam were tight and as usual bone splinteringly heavy. Whilst there is always an element of chaos about Cranial, they can write a death metal tune and battered the venue with 30 minutes of their bludgeoning approach. Bound In Barbed Wire, Separated From The Cadaver and of course, the band’s love song Fucked With A Jackhammer are all now familiar favourites and it would be great to hear some new material from the band in 2019.

I hadn’t seen Cardiff’s Blind Divide (9) for a few months and many felt that they were unlucky not to be travelling to Bloodstock in the summer following their efforts in the Metal To The Masses final. The band has regrouped since those heady days of early summer and were in fiery form from the off. With new material written, the band were razor sharp and snarling like an angry pit bull. Tracks from their EP were greeted like old friends, guitarists James Ponsford and Adam Duffield riffing with focused intensity, whilst Dellan McCabe and Anthony Ellis ensured the groove that underpins this band was maintained. Vocalist James Birkett remains the focus of the band, hyperactive and restless as he roared through a magnificent 30 minutes with a new track sounded impressive. As the band hit Pathfinder I reflected that 2019 could be even better for Blind Divide.

Few bands have had as good a year as Democratus (8) who are almost a house band at Fuel. Their set at Bloodstock rightly earned several new fans and the band have been gigging as often as their commitments allow through the rest of the year. With some new material ready to be released on their forthcoming EP, this was a run through some of their well-known tracks with the bonus of new track Divided They Fall added into the mix. Steve Jenkins lasted two songs in his Christmas jumper which was one more than I thought he would, but as always, his performance remains high in energy and motivation. With Joey Watkins recovering well from some nightmare amp technical challenges, the band roared through their set, Kerrin Beckwith once more demonstrating some fine guitar work. With Stu ‘Spoon’ Rake adding some death growls to beef out several of the tracks, and drummer Zac Skane rock steady as always, Democratus are starting to expand their onstage approach. Divided We Fall didn’t really grab me, but I think it will with a few more listens. As always, the closing Life For A Life got the dedicated crowd roaring along. With 2018 being such a momentous year, it will be interesting to see how these lovely guys push the boundaries in 2019.

Having travelled from the West Midlands on a pretty miserable day, it was disappointing to see fewer people in the room for Ashen Crown (9) who were superb. The Birmingham five-piece hit Bloodstock hard in 2017 and demonstrated their credentials with a sweeping set that combined the groove of Pantera and LOG with the crushing power of Bolt Thrower. Twin guitarists Jay Rogers and Ste Fowkes throw down the riffs, frontman Kieran Scott is a bundle of restless energy whilst the rhythm section thunderously anchored everything with ease. Drummer Mike Ellis has only been with the band this year but looked very comfortable as he battered any remaining life out of the kit and Phil Milman laid down the bass lines with ease. 

With their demo Fall Of Thine Eyes providing the backbone of their set, it was time to stand back, nod the head and just enjoy the sheer power and drive of the band. Confident and slick throughout their 40-minute set, Ashen Crown are a band that I will certainly be keeping an eye and ear out for in 2019. A solid choice for the headline set, and a great evening catching up with bands who have also become good friends. Whilst the crowd could have been bigger, kudos to all those who made this event a success. 2018 is now complete. 63 gigs in a year which saw the Welsh metal scene roar with fire. 2019 is on its way, so see you somewhere at the back of the room then.

Saturday 22 December 2018

Reviews: Gotthard, Eric Church, Fleshless, Conception, State Of Salazar, Needful Things (Reviews By Rich & Matt)

Gotthard: Defrosted 2 (Nuclear Blast) [Rich]

Gotthard are one of those bands who have been going for 26 years yet don’t have a huge following outside of their native Switzerland where they have had 11 number one albums. The band have put out 12 albums of stadium worthy hard rock and have overcome tragedy that would absolutely derail a band ten times their size but they have persevered and here we have Defrosted 2 an acoustic live album and sequel of sorts to the original D Frosted live album released in 1997. Acoustic albums give the band a chance to rework songs from their discography and Gotthard have risen to the challenge here with a tracklist which absolutely spans their 26 year career. The band are absolutely riveting form with frontman Nic Maeder sounding absolutely phenomenal.

 Highlights included the honky tonk stomp of Sweet Little Rock ‘N’ Roller, the anthemic Stay With Me and the classic Lift U Up. The band also pay homage to Deep Purple with fantastic renditions of Hush and the legendary Smoke On The Water. We also get a couple of new studio recorded songs as the end with Status Quo’s Francis Rossi making a guest appearance on the Quo inspired Bye Bye Caroline. I’m not the biggest Gotthard fan but it’s hard to deny that Gotthard have raised the bar for live acoustic albums with Defrosted 2. It’s a fantastic career retrospective though if you are new to Gotthard you are probably better off starting with one of their studio albums to get a true sense of what the band is about. A great live album but one really only for the fans. 7/10

Eric Church: Desperate Man (Snakefarm Records) [Matt]

Desperate Man is the new album from 2 x CMA ‘Album of the Year’ winner and 7-time Grammy nominee Eric Church. Released on Spinefarm Records country imprint it's his sixth record and it shoots from the hip about the desperate times we live in. Check out The Snake the album's slithering moody opener where Church whispers about a "Copperhead" Rattlesnake which could be a thinly veiled reference to POTUS and makes this album smolder, it's Hanging Around that gets the fire burning though with the hip shaking boogie as Church sneers over some juddering Fender Rhodes. It's a blend of country and rock but there are only a few stadium barn burners on this record, it's a bit more understated but still has that emotion that Church has been known for, see the reminiscing on Hippie Radio. However I will say that this album does tend to lump all the slower tracks together meaning that the middle of it sags and in places the Church lyrical magic does seem to be lacking relying more on tired and tested themes and rhymes than the Springsteen-esque creativity he's always been said to have, also Desperate Man has nicked the rhythm from Sympathy For The Devil. I'll admit I'm not a huge Church follower but I know enough about him to say that this album is a reasonable reflection of Church's talent. 7/10

Fleshless: Doomed (Rotten Roll Rex) [Rich]

It’s been a while since I heard anything from Fleshless. The last album I heard by them was some fairly unrefined deathgrind so it was a complete surprise listening to the ninth album by the Czech death metallers to hear a very refined and bruising death metal release. Doomed sees the band sounding tighter than ever before with a very subtle melodic sensibility interwoven throughout the album. Don’t get me wrong this album is heavier than a jackhammer to the face with crushing numbers such as Human Debris, Ninety-Seven Pieces and Castrate guaranteed to have you crying for your mother. The difference I hear between this and the previous Fleshless albums I have heard is the increased maturity in the writing and the compositions with some gargantuan guitar riffs matched with the machine gun drumming making for a highly devastating yet utterly enjoyable listening experience. 8/10

Conception: My Dark Symphony (Conception Sound Factory) [Matt]

Norwegian power/prog metal band Conception return with their first new songs since 1997's Flow, after the release of that album the band split up as singer Roy Khan went to become the voice of Kamelot, Khan left Kamelot in 2010 citing illness and burnout he retired from music enjoying a quiet life. However in April of 2018 Conception returned with founding guitarist Tore Østby bringing back bassist Ingar Amlien to the band along with getting drummer Arve Heimda and Roy Khan out of retirement. So what's the EP like? Well it's pretty much what you'd want as a Conception and even a Kamelot fan, swathes of keys, passionate vocals and progressively tinged compositions decisively led by the guitars of Østby. Quite Alright is probably this EP's stand out track but theres a nice mix of heavy, melodic and the tender moments that Khan does so well vocally. It's great to hear the man back behind the mic again and with Kamelot now in much more OTT realms those harking back to the early days of the band should be picking up My Dark Symphony. 7/10

State Of Salazar: Superhero (Frontiers Records) [Rich]

Superhero is the second album by Swedish melodic rockers State Of Salazar. Following the release of debut album All The Way keyboard player Stefan Mårtenson departed the band to be replaced by Kevin Hosford who also took on the lead vocals and the majority of the songwriting for this album. Superhero has a sound that is very reminiscent of late 70’s/early 80’s AOR with the band clearly taking influence from bands such as Toto, Journey and Survivor especially evident in songs such as My Heart Is At War, Masquerade and the title track. The performances throughout are rock solid and the production is suitably slick. 

This is a decent piece of AOR though it is very much lacking in originality with the band wearing the influences a bit too clearly on their sleeves. I enjoy a good bit of AOR as a counterpart to all the violent and chaotic music I generally listen to but I found this album just a bit too saccharine for my tastes and there are just that bit too many ballads throughout as well. That being said there are some quality tunes throughout and if you are a massive Toto fan you will definitely love this. 6/10

Needful Things: Deception (Psycho Control Records) [Rich]

Needful Things are a grindcore band from the Czech Republic and Deception is the third album from the grind quartet. This is very much rooted in the classic grind song so this release is short but completely savage and uncompromising with 15 songs in just over 23 minutes. All the classic components of grind are in place - throat shredding vocals, ripping guitars, chunky bass and a barrage of blasts from the drums all ably assisted by a mix that’s completely in your face. Most of the songs shred out of your speakers, smack you about a bit and then they are over. 

It’s not all a million miles an hour though as there are occasions where things slow down to a very satisfying groove reminiscent of Finnish grind heroes Rotten Sound. These slower groovier moments are few and far between and are just a brief respite from the blast beat ridden onslaught. There’s not much more than can be said of this release. If you don’t like grindcore then avoid at all costs but if you love your grind this is a damn good release. 8/10

Reviews: The Ocean, Amaranthe, In Shadows And Dust, Le Menhir (Reviews By Sean & Matt)

The Ocean: Phanerozoic I: Palaeozoic (Metal Blade Records) [Sean]

I like a bit of prog metal. Wouldn't describe it as my go to genre, if you get what I mean, but there are odd moments when I'd rather be swept up in a compositional journey, as opposed to usually being pulverised into a fine paste. I also don't mind a deep conceptual narrative to my music either, something beyond the clash of satanic carnage or the screams of the murdered. Deep shit, y’know? Something one can truly sink ones gnashes into, matching the music in density and complexity. Enter German prog collective The Ocean, with their scientific brand of audible immersion returning one more on their latest offering, Phanerozoic I: Palaeozoic. The concept? Well, to quote the band; “The Phanerozoic eon succeeded the Precambrian supereon, spanning a 500 million-year period leading to the present day, and it has witnessed the evolution and diversification of plant and animal life on Earth, and the partial destruction of it during 5 mass extinction events.”

Better press play then, hadn’t I? The Cambrian Explosion begins our journey, slow synths leading us into the lowest reaches of Earth. The ominous textures increases in tangibility, as we descend deeper into the planets core before exploding into life, with first real track Cambrian II: Eternal Recurrence. Huge guitar chords and thunderous drums drive us onwards, conjuring images of the planets chaotic core in constant motion. It briefly speeds up in the middle, as both clean and harsh vocals synergise in tasteful union. Ordovocium: The Glaciation Of Gondwana increases the aggression, as we enter a new geological period and ecosystem, exploding into life. Solid enough so far. Silurain: Age Of The Scorpions is a nuanced beast, guitars and synths rising and falling into a sprawling 9 minute epic, though the tempo more or less remains the same as before. Devonian: Nascent his simply gorgeous, thick in it’s atmosphere lead by the vocal talents of Katatonia's own Jonas Renske.

The Carboniferous Rainforest Collapse is a pleasant enough instrumental, clashing chords falling on each other before giving way to closer Permian: The Great Dying. As a finisher, it’s the musical equivalent of the tectonic plates shifting on each other, the ground rupturing open to swallow all life on it’s surface. Simply crushing, both physically and emotionally. All in all? A very pleasant listen to be sure, chock full with the weighty atmosphere that the German collective are renowned for. It’s an engrossing listening experience. Every note and voice seamlessly interplay, done so with much articulation and compositional guile but only really, REALLY comes together in it’s second half. 8/10

Amaranthe: Helix (Spinefarm Records) [Matt]

The fifth album from Swedish electro-metal band Amaranthe may have a new singer in Nils Molin but the music doesn't differ much at all except for refining the melodic sensibilities. Working in unison the three vocalists play off each other with Elize Ryd taking the lead on 365 which is overly poppy, the electronics ramped up but offset by Henrik Englund Wilhelmsson's screams and the heavy riffs. I'll say that out of all the clean male vocals the band have had Nils has the best voice making the record sound more rounded with this current trio behind the mic.

Elize states that "Helix describes the concept of how the past forms us and how life makes us become." while guitarist Olof Mörck states that the album "is a statement, a declaration and an assertion that we are here to stay" so with these defiant words aimed at the bands detractors they have honed their songwriting and musicianship as much as possible delicately balancing the electronics (which in the past have been a little overpowering), the metal (which seems much chunkier here) and the vocal lines which mesh better than before. Helix is Amaranthe at their apex crushingly heavy but with a shimmering pop shine along with even some rap on Dream and GG6. It's the most fully formed three dimensional release from this band well worth picking up! 8/10

In Shadows and Dust: Enlightened By Darkness (Redefining Darkness) [Sean]

I know I’ve harped on about it before but fuck it, Imma harp on about it again. I FRIGGIN love my Swedeath. No ifs, buts or coconuts, I’ll worship at this altar till I ascend to the great gig in the sky. I also like black metal, even more so when it’s violently combined in pursuit of ultimate satanic depravity. Just look at Necrophobic’s Darkside or The Third Antichrist, flawless filth crusted gems to satisfy even the most the basest of desires. French one man band, In Shadows And Dust, also know the horrid power of this combination, wielding both gore and grim with wild abandon. So, does 4th album Enlighetend By Darkness conjure the furious firepower of both sounds? In the immortal grunts of Glen Benton, let the killing begin!

Thunder rolls across the sky, malefic atmosphere and melodic strumming taking the lead on intro Maëlys. Wasting little time, title track Enlightened By Darkness thunders into my poor eardrums with the force of a megaton bomb. Promising start indeed, blackened tremolo picking flowing perfectly with Stockholm groove. Revenge is solid enough though noticeably generic, blasting along under the snarls of mainman Stephane Thirion. Occasionally a melodic lead rings out, the only real sense of melody amongst a wall of buzzsaw guitars. This works to great effect on Deathlike Silence, where the In Shadows And Dust REALLY grab me (3 guesses where). Dawn Of A New Day amps ups the ante even more, adding more nuanced layers to the onslaught. Black Sword features some utterly ridiculous double kicks but feels ultimately flat until end section somewhat redeems it. At The End Of The World and Beloved Darkness are fucking monsters, with the latter instilling some involuntary urges to literally RIP AND TEAR EVERYTHING IN THE FUCKING ROOM! Death and black are one, all is dust and I pick up what is left of the pieces that remain. Whew…..

I’ll start by saying this;I like this record. It’s performed with passion, the production is sublime and it’s mighty impressive that all this came from one man. However, and it pains me to say it, I did feel a slight air frustration in my listening experience. A slight feeling of inconsistency in the riffs department, with certain sections ranging from blazing to…well….blandness and often in the same song. Thankfully, this feeling doesn’t always prevail, with that dumb grin working it’s away across my mug when Enlightened By Darkness gets it right. 7/10

Le Menhir: Aube EP (Self Relased) [Sean]

Post Metal isn’t the most immediately rewarding genre to dive into. Either it isn’t “metal” enough for the impatient “troo” or misunderstood by the passing casual. For the rest of us, we enjoy it for what it is. Melancholy with a touch of muscle, forlorn with a pinch of fury and willingness to go beyond genre convention altogether. UK one man project, Le Menhir, weaves a wall of doom laden disparity, intense as it is introspective with a few blackened touches for good measure. Intro Rituel is a stirring opener, hornpipes calling out majestically before Monstre really beings the proceeding. Swirling Mgla-esque riffs under slow and steady beat guide us through a desolate landscape, with Paul Sparshott voice soaring above a ruined landscape stripped of all its beauty.

Well, in this authors mind anyway. Final track Centenire stirs everything back, as a narrative is spun of a fallen kingdom from beyond out time. Instrumental layers gradually build upon each other, surrendering to those aforementioned swirling riffs and the tale of the fallen kingdom is concluded in fitting fashion. Despite both songs being over 7 minutes in length, not once did my mind wander, such was the gripping atmosphere that cascaded from my speakers. The performance matches it equally, though the vocals do miss their intended note on occasion. This small detraction does little to dampen an otherwise engaging EP, so the only thing left to say is this; give me more! 7/10

Friday 21 December 2018

A View From The Back Of The Room: Myrkur

Myrkur & Jo Quail, The Fleece, Bristol

A second night in Bristol and one that totally flew in the face of the previous evenings gig, this was a more subtle, subdued, cerebral affair, heavy yes but also enriched by the musical dexterity displayed. The queue was already around the corner as the doors opened at 7:30, I took a place by the sound desk as seeing the band is never really an option in the Fleece due to the pillars, slowly but surely the venue reached it’s sold out capacity, note I said sold out, not over sold like the previous evening as all manner of punters came through the doors. Black metal fans covered in Emperor patches, mixed with Wiccans, New Age hippies, prog fans, classical buffs, folk fans and those who always try to seek out the latest trend in music making for a very heady mix of crowd, most of whom I will say were very well behaved with limited chatter throughout the night.

First on stage was the solitary figure of acclaimed solo cellist Jo Quail (8) who’s EP I reviewed earlier this year, her set was built upon numerous ‘pieces’ from her repertoire that were performed by her and a set of loop pedals. She plays an electric cello decked out with skulls and horns in keeping with the evenings other worldly feel, and virtuosically constructs the songs from a base level, adding layers upon layers that start with percussion on the cello itself, then plucking, tapping or bending the stings, building etc until the finished product. You can tell it was all happening live as opener White Salt Stag was played as a 'remixed' version due to some minor hiccups. Jo explained this much to the mirth from the crowd who she seemed genuinely shocked to see was so big. It was followed it with Gold, the brooding Mandrel Cantus and the finale of Adder Stone all of which are elongated sweeping pieces that need time to properly develop, this was not the 3 minute wonders of Clutch the previous evening.

With a rapturous reception and the tone firmly set in the spectral realm the crowd grew bigger again waiting for the main show already warmed by Jo’s performance and the folk songs playing over the P.A finally it was time as Amalie Bruun took to the stage with a Bodhran in hand backed by an acoustic guitar, electric bass, drum kit and Jo Quail once again on the cello. This inital part of the set was skewed toward the folk side of Bruun’s persona playing traditional songs with traditional instruments from Sweden (Fager som en ros), her native Denmark (Ramund) and Scotland (The House Carpenter). It was an interesting way to begin as the trve cvlt members of the audience stood a little dumbstruck waiting for the tremolo riffs and violence. Personally I find folk fascinating so hearing the stories around the songs was excellent even though there was a little chatter during the more plaintive numbers. There was also a special treat for the gamers in the audience as since their Polish shows Lullaby Of Woe from The Witcher Official Soundtrack has been added to the set fitting brilliantly just before the folk song set ended with the Nickelharp led Två konungabarn which left Bruun alone on stage the band having left previously.

With the final folk number concluded and the stage cleared, there was metamorphosis, the soft candle light grew darker with shades of orange and red, a much more evil presence could be felt as a deafening electronic thud bludgeoned your ears as you catch glimpses of the stage being rearranged for the second part of the set and like an explosion a distorted guitar cut through the drone beckoning the ungodly as Amalie changed from the folk songstress into her more spectral Myrkur (10) persona, it was almost like the black metal influence corrupting everything and as the cheers and the volume grew louder, it was wondrous to behold.

This second set saw a band clad in hoods faces obscured and the lighting now more prominent, emphasising Myrkur’s appearance of being resurrected or corrupted her face covered in corpse paint. Opening with the chanting The Serpent the heaviness was just beginning as Myrkur’s haunting vocals soared over those tremolo riffs the doom and darkness built and built until the finale of Måneblôt. The way the entire evening was constructed, it was almost as if the it's almost like the folk innocence from the beginning was being defiled and laid to waste in front of our collective eyes, Myrkur was now more animated when singing moving between the soaring cleans and screams beguiling the room with her expressive performance, as the hooded band constructed an atmospheric foundation of doom, every so often Myrkur herself strapped on a guitar and the level of noise increased with blast beats steamrolling for Elleskudt.

With minds blown and bodies broken (mine especially), Amalie humbly thanked everyone and introduced the ominous Juniper, the slow thundering doom allowed necks to be massaged and then they took their leave the crowd wanting more, they were expecting more I believe but as the house lights went up that indicated that this ritual of superior music was over. Breathless and still mesmerised much of the crowd departed still trying to comprehend what had just happened, it took me the best part of a day to really put into words this show. It was one of those ‘had to be there’ moments and I’m glad I was.

A View From The Back Of The Room: Clutch

Clutch, The Picturebooks & The Inspector Cluzo, O2 Academy Bristol

I suppose I should count myself lucky, due to the influx of acts playing Cardiff this year we haven’t had to go across the bridge that much at all, more importantly we haven’t had many gigs at all in the god awful O2 Academy Bristol, it’s quite possibly the worst venue I’ve ever been in, the sound is nearly always muddy and they do have a habit of over selling the venue meaning that all three levels become almost impassable. This often leads to either mild dehydration or a very painful bladder as you dare not move away from your space to use the facilities or go to the bar. It also means that if you are on the floor, you will be in a pit whether you want to or not. A truly dreadful place to watch any sort of music but unfortunately the lessons will not be learnt to make it just that little more tolerable.

The misgivings of the venue out of the way, I arrived just after the doors opened and with the middle part of the upper barrier already full I was at the right hand side of the stairs at the top due to my inability to face standing on the floor because of major back and knee issues. Being up the top (and my height) does offer a pretty good view however the sound does suffer a little from this vantage point, however you could only really make this out when the headliners were on stage. The supports both being two pieces, are very hard to get wrong with drums and guitar easy to engineer for the live stage. First on the stage were French duo The Inspector Cluzo (7), named for the infamous detective in The Pink Panther Series, they label themselves as a band from Gascony which they say is not France but to a room full of Brits they may as well have been from Paris.

Geographical quibbles aside they’re self labelled brand of funk-infused rock was just what the wet Tuesday night crowd needed to wake themselves up the well dressed Phil Jourdain handling drums and backing vocals while the more wild and reckless Malcom Lacrouts handled lead guitar and lead vocals, shamelessly anti-bass player and overly D.I.Y the band play a raucous style of music that incorporates big riffs, funk phrasing and even some jazz breaks with the vocals wildly veering from mid-range croons to wild falsetto, which I think should have been left alone, early on there was an air of disinterest but as the set wore on and the 2-pint glasses were consumed (yet another issue with the venue) the steadily more inebriated crowd got involved right as the climatic dismantling of the drumkit concluded the last song. For a first time playing in Bristol The Inspector Cluzo had that little bit of chaos from their namesake that was an ideal beginning to the evening.

Next up was less chaotic but a heck of a lot more enthralling as the second of tonight’s supports came on the stage. Playing what I like to call atmospheric heavy blues The Picturebooks (8) are a primal force, again they are drum and guitar unit but unlike the traditional set up the drum kit here looks almost like a percussion set up there are no small toms just big floor toms and snares, few cymbals and the occasional shaker and bell. From the way they strode on to the stage and their entire sound I honestly thought the band were American but no they are in fact German, however they do look like they have ridden their hogs right off the set of Easy Rider.

Frontman Fynn in all black riffing away on his electro-acoustic like a man possessed by Robert Johnson, manipulating sound with both pedals and feedback, on top of the kit Phillipp aggressively beat the holy hell out of them with primal urgency. He was so vicious that at one point Fynn had to check he was ok. In between the visceral heavy blues Fynn explained that they are very much a D.I.Y band as it’s the two of them plus Fynn’s dad on sound, a cracking sound he gave too as every note reverberated around the room. A slightly different affair from both the previous act and the headliner The Picturebooks managed to ramp up the heavy bulldozing their way through the set getting everyone nice and fired up for what was to come.

What was to come was possibly one of the best live acts around the unstoppable force of Pure Rock Fury that is Clutch (9), each coming to the stage individually as soon as Neil Fallon approached his Tim hit the riff for D.C Sound Attack and we were off and running. Now D.C Sound Attack is a groovy little number with a double cowbell jam in the middle so this for a band known for their intensity was a little too laid back but, it grooved along into The House That Peterbuilt from the eponymous debut record and Spirit Of 76 from the latest album. It was here that the crowd started to really go nuts even the slower songs were getting quite vicious pits as two from Pure Rock Fury came in succession, it was the faster chugs of Sucker For The Witch, Gimme The Keys and the mental Firebirds that really caused alarm for the security stationed in front of the stage.

As the songs wore on (all 17 of them) you are drawn towards Neil more and more. Tim and Dan stand statuesque with Tim only venturing out for solos, but both are quite content to just let the riffs flow, while drummer Jean-Paul happily tub thumps in the backroom, Fallon on the other hand is wild and incensed only settling down when he’s playing the guitar. Emily Dickinson and Hot Bottom Feeder (their most controversial song apparently) were met like old friends but the tempo shift was notable with a steamrolling trifecta of In Walks Barbarella, Electric Worry and The Mob Goes Wild meant that the encore of two slower paced new songs did make the room come-down a little.

Clutch are always brilliant but unfortunately I have seen a lot of reports of people simply not enjoying them due to the excess numbers in the crowd, even from my vantage point on the balcony I could see the conditions on the floor were worse than those offered to a Sardine with some pretty sloppy pit work. A sold out crowd is fine but an oversold one is detrimental to the venue and to the band even one with the fandom of Clutch who as I said were on fire tonight.

Thursday 20 December 2018

Reviews: Evergrey, Flotsam & Jetsam, Walter Trout, Jon Schaffer's Purgatory, Myrkur (Reviews By Matt & Paul H)

Evergrey: The Atlantic (AFM Records - 2019) [Matt]

Swedish dark melodic masters Evergrey have been on a roll since Hymns For The Broken they adapted their more power metal approach to a heavier darker more cinematic sound. This continued on The Storm Within taking things one step further upping the progressive elements allowing Tom S Englund to really explore the personal themes of the records. Here the personal themes remain, it wouldn't be Evergrey without them, but musically it's more straightforward and more vicious than ever before, with A Silent Arc jarring you from from your seat as the riffs come at you with the frantic tremolo picking of a black metal band, it switches to the more epic melodic stylings Evergrey fans will be familiar with and is almost an overview of the entire The Atlantic album sticking with natural nautical themes of the title conjuring tempests and danger but also moments of blissful calm as Englund's smooth vocals do their thing on your ears making you feel the lyrics as the solos give way to the chugging middle eight and Floydian solo.

A Silent Arc works well as track number one and the first single as it's thematically linked to the rest of the album letting you experience what's to come but also get used to the more brutal qualities of this album. I've mentioned black metal but there's also the shades of modern prog metal bands such as Tesseract with the electronics and piano's gurgling underneath the down-tuned palm muted riffs of Weightless but taking a starring role on The Tidal which has Vangelis-like synthwave repetition that serves as an intro for the chunky End Of Silence and the groovy Currents. As the previous two albums were Evergrey's return to form, bringing them back from the brink, The Atlantic s this now established 2019 edition of Evergrey absorbing the sounds of bands around them to adapt into their dark melodic/progressive metal sound. It's not as immediate as the previous releases, it takes a few listens for it to sink in, and the balance of heaviness to melody is firmly in the former but The Atlantic is the continuing evolution of Evergrey into one of the most unique acts in the metal world. 8/10 

Flotsam & Jetsam: The End Of Chaos (AFM - 2019) [Paul H]

2016’s self-titled release from one of the seminal thrash bands from the 1980s was a thoroughly enjoyable affair. Two years later and the band that are forever haunted by the ghost of that guy who allegedly played bass on the fourth (but definitely did play bass on the fifth - Ed) Metallica album (no, Bob Rock wasn’t in this band!) return with album number 13 and it is a rager. Full throttle from the start, Prisoner Of Time races out of the blocks and immediately reminds you that when this band is on fire, they are a genuine thrash monster. With original vocalist AK Knutson still possessing the pipes to do the business alongside partner in thrash Michael Gilbert on guitar, as well as long term bassist Michael Spencer, guitarist Steve Conley and new drummer Ken Mary making his recording debut with the band, this is a real statement of intent.

Far from fading away into the sunset, the US band have delivered 12 songs with enough meat on the bone for most fans of heavy metal to feast upon. At times blisteringly fast, with machine gun fire drumming and guitar wizardry at the fore, this is an enjoyable release. Slowly Insane propels itself along at breakneck speed but retains melody. Architects Of Hate broods and smoulders like a recently active volcano before exploding in a frenzy of molten metal. There’s little if any filler on this album. Flotsam & Jetsam may not have ever received the recognition they deserve but The End Of Chaos suggests that there is plenty of life in these old dogs yet. 8/10

Walter Trout: Survivor Blues (Provogue Records - 2019) [Matt]

Be careful how you vote, on every election day, because the one you vote for, might just let you down" the lyrics to the second track on Walter Trout's new album has a prophetic message that's more relevant today than it was when Sunnyland Slim wrote it. However it's not an album of political statements, it is actually another blues covers album but Trout being the blues aficionado he is, he's decided on taking some deep cuts for this record, not the tried and tested songs that appear everywhere. From the tour-de-force playing shown on Me, My Guitar And The Blues (originally by Jimmy Dawkins) to the simmering Red Sun and the louche Out Of Bad Luck (Magic Sam). These covers are faithfully recreated but with all the power of Trout's US blues mastery, he is a survivor in the truest sense of the term if you know anything about his history with liver failure, then you'll understand that. Also though here that word takes a new meaning as he's helping these obscure blues numbers survive in the best way possible, Survivor Blues is a great blues record that sees Trout on top form. 7/10

Jon Schaffer's Purgatory: Purgatory (Century Media) [Matt]

Before there was Iced Earth there was Purgatory, the first band formed by guitarist Jon Schaffer in 1985. Well in between his Iced Earth work Schaffer has once again hooked up with Purgatory singer Gene Adam (who also sang on Iced Earth self titled debut) and Bill Owen (original bassist of Purgatory) to re-record some original Purgatory material from 1985/86 to do this he's enlisted drummer Mark Prator (featured on Iced Earth The Dark Saga), longtime producer/guitarist Jim Morris and Ruben Drake bass player for Demons & Wizards and Schaffer's other project Sons Of Liberty.

It's a horror themed 25-minute EP that has all the hallmarks of Schaffer's dayjob, which of course it would as this is precursor to it. The keen eared amongst you may also recognise that two of the track names on this EP (Jack Dracula) are the same as on the Iced Earth album The Horror Show but they are different songs entirely. In fact this album only really shares the musical similarities with Iced Earth because of course it's Schaffer's riffs that are powering every song, but vocally there's a difference due to Adam's screeching vocals, he's a good singer but some may dislike his histrionics. For mega fans this is a little bit of history lesson as it brings those early demos to life finally with some modern production techniques, it's good old US metal done by the master. 7/10

Myrkur: Juniper (Relapse Records) [Matt]

Myrkur returns with a new EP, it's only two tracks long but my god are they beautiful, cold bitter slices of dark gothic folk metal. Juniper opens the EP with the haunting vocals of Amalie Bruun who takes most of the instrumentation as well, with the strings especially resonant as the electric guitar cuts in. It's more of the traditional Myrkur sound although without the black metal blasts but leads into the Bonden Og Kragen her take on a traditional folk song dating back nearly half a millenia, this is as raw and stripped back as it gets just voice and guitar. This will keep the Myrkur faithful on side until her next full length. 7/10

Wednesday 19 December 2018

A View From The Back Of The Room: Winter Eradication 2018 (Review By Paul H & Rich)

Winter Eradication 2018 – Black Metal All Dayer Fuel Rock Club

There is no doubt that the efforts of Gavin Davies and his Eradication Festival team is beginning to see fruit. On a filthy day in the Welsh Capital a fine day of music culminated in a very pleasingly busy venue as headliners Gra finished the event in style. At a mere 12 Welsh pounds for the whole day this was fantastic value.

It was a little less packed when we arrived at the venue to catch some of Cardiff’s Black Pyre (5) kick off proceedings. Their style of black metal is similar to most in the scene, but with some humour added in. Nothing particularly special about these guys but they make the right noise, and were entertaining enough. Mancunians Deus Mori (5) are no strangers to Fuel and despite a truncated set and one guitarist light they gave it a good go, bringing tales of horror and war from deep within the trenches to the masses. This probably wasn’t their finest hour and it will be good to see the band again at full strength. Ylem Darkul (6) did arrive at full strength and to devastating effect as they ripped through their set at pace, drummer Kristoph battering the crap out of the kit in his chain mail top (possibly an inappropriate choice given the notorious heat in the venue). The West Country outfit’s blackened death metal impressive with front man Sam an imposing figure. Their debut EP is out now and should be worth hunting down

Next up was Misanthropic Existence (6), a band who are making a name for themselves with their raw, unashamed decimating blackened metal. Despite being a three piece the band make hell of a noise and with debut album Death Shall Be Served providing the bulk of their set, the Midlands outfit were a worthy addition to the bill. Cheltenham’s Shadowflag (6) stepped up the pace a level, and with three albums behind them these guys are confident and professional. However, with bassist JJ Flames also handling the majority of the epic roaring and vocals, many in the room were left scratching their heads as vocalist Gray Preston spent most of time scratching his arse and starting at the floor. Their imposing sound at times majestic, it really was confusing as to why the band persevere with this set up.

(Rich) Riding off their release of their debut album this year Crimson Throne (8) played a fantastic set showcasing their atmospheric style of black metal. Mixing moments of dark ambience, ethereal mood and blinding aggression. Very impressive stuff

With apologies to Necrocracy, who we mainly missed due to a food break, it was time for things to move up a gear with the existential outrage of London’s Damim (8) who had made such an impression in their set at Eradication in May. Fired by the sheer intensity of Nathan on vocals and guitar, Damim raced through a savage set, drawing gasps from the now busy crowd at their sheer speed and energy. This isn’t negative in anyway as Damim are fine musicians, and Faust, Flow and Edd made sure this was another memorable show. With a new album due in June 2019, the band threw in a new track which sounded great and it should be a good year coming up for a band who are getting better every time.

Now down to a six piece having parted ways with guitarist Phoenix a few months ago, Agrona (8) are no strangers to Fuel and despite a muddy mix dominated by their backing synths, the band once again demonstrated their quality with 40 minutes of top notch black metal. With their set list mixed up a little, the band opened with Burn and proceeded to scorch the venue to bits. With drummer Ankou using a heavier set of sticks his onslaught was even more intense whilst the rest of the band maintained the attack with thunderous determination. All too quickly their show finished but it’s fair to say that with one of the albums of 2018 under their belt, 2019 could be massive. 

A slow start with some sound difficulties melted away as headliners Gra (9) demonstrated why they were top billing. With a black metal sound that is both steeped in the Scandinavian old school black metal scene but also with a renewed freshness, Heljarmadr, Dimman, Maugrim and the impassive Vediger delivered a set of high passion and ferocity. Another band who made their way into my top 20 with their Vasan album, it was another opportunity to see top class black metal. No fuss, just a blitzkrieg of aural abuse which went down a storm with the Cardiff crowd. As the day caught up with me and I headed home in the rain, the outside cold failed to penetrate. Black metal may be founded in the frozen forests of the north but the beating heart of the scene is enough to warm the coldest heart.

A View From The Back Of The Room: Sumo Cyco (Live Review By Neil Lewis)

Sumo Cyco & Bullets And Octane, Bristol Thekla

What kind of idiot buys a ticket to see a band he doesn’t actually like? This kind of idiot that’s who! I saw CKY earlier this year supporting one of my faves Skindred and to be perfectly honest their performance bored me rigid. They are very good at what they do, but that thing they do just doesn’t appeal to me at all. So when they announced a headline tour of their own I initially had no intention of attending, until I noticed who one of the support acts were.

Opening act of the night Bullets And Octane (5) peddle a decent enough brand of whiskey-soaked hard rock which seemed to go down well with the small but growing crowd that had arrived at the venue early. The highlight of their set for me saw most of the band (except the drummer for obvious reasons) relocating their instruments and mics into the crowd for a raucous finale of Bad Motherfucker. Their type of music doesn’t particularly appeal to me either, but as a spectacle their performance on the night got things off to an enjoyable enough start.

My enjoyment level was about to be ramped up as the band I had come to see – Sumo Cyco (10) were up next. As a frontwoman Skye “Sever” Sweetnam is a fizzing ball of energy and charisma who commanded the audience’s attention expertly here. That’s not to say that the rest of the band (Skye’s partner Matt “MD13” Drake on guitar, drummer Matt Trozzi and new addition bassist Oscar) are slouches but it’s difficult to focus on anyone other than Skye during a show such is her stage presence. Highlights of their nine song set included a storming cover of System Of A Down’s Bring Your Own Bombs, Skye taking a tour of the venue (and the bar!) during a song and finally Skye – with a little help from the crowd – scaling the venue’s balcony (from where Skindred bassist Dan Pugsley was watching as he is a fellow fan of the band) during set closer Fighter.

Following their set Skye headed to the merch desk where she spent the rest of the night selling, signing, posing for photos, drinking just about everything and just generally connecting and hanging with the fans as the rest of band also came and went at various points to do the same. Judging by the amount it looked like they were selling I think it’s a safe bet to say that the ever-expanding Cyco family gained quite a few new members on this boat. Whilst I was hanging around the merch desk chatting, CKY apparently played a set. Now look – a band having an off night is one thing, but I’ve always thought it best to say nothing about a band that I simply don’t like rather than slag them off just because they don’t appeal to my tastes. With that in mind I’m going to abruptly end this review right he-

Tuesday 18 December 2018

The Spotlight: Interview with Skye 'Sever' Sweetnam By Neil Lewis

Sumo Cyco may just be the hardest working band on the planet right now. Totally independent, the Hamilton, Ontario, Canada based punk / dancehall crossover squad do pretty much everything themselves from writing, recording and producing music in their home studio to directing (and obviously starring in) their music videos. The band are also frequent visitors to UK shores so when I was offered the opportunity to sit down with vocalist and one of the two main creative forces behind the band Skye “Sever” Sweetnam (the other force being guitarist Matt “MD13” Drake) for a chat prior to their recent show on board Bristol’s Thekla (as the main support to headliners CKY along with opening act Bullets And Octane) being the fanboy I am, I accepted.

Having met Skye in the car park outside the venue we proceeded to the bands camper and, seeing as though this was the last night of this tour and the bands final show of the year I started by asking how the tour had gone to that point:

(Skye) “It’s been fun, it’s been a roller-coaster. We’ve had some amazing, great shows – unexpected shows such as a high school and we also unfortunately had a break in to our camper so there’s ups and there’s downs. We’re all sorted now and everything’s worked out but for a few days there was a little bit of pandemonium not knowing whether or not we were gonna be even able to finish the rest of the tour so I’m so glad we didn’t even miss one show and everything went on as planned.”

(For those that don’t know the aforementioned camper break in saw the band’s passports being stolen amongst other things (but thankfully none of their gear or merch money). As the break in happened in Ireland the band weren’t even sure for a while whether they would be able to travel to England without passports, but after they were able to make the journey they had to make a six hour drive from Glasgow to London to get new passports on their only day off. After getting new passports though the band travelled to Milton Keynes to hang out (and perform, in Skye’s case as mentioned a little later) with Skindred for the night, so as Skye says there’s ups and there’s downs).

Having established that Skye had never done a show on a boat before (the night’s venue – Thekla – is a boat moored in Bristol’s mud docks if you didn’t already know), I asked about the other unusual venue they performed in on this tour, that being the aforementioned high school:

(Skye) “So we happen to have a really amazing crazy fan from Germany named Lars who is an English teacher in a high school. When he got our schedule for this tour he said “you know you’re passing right by where my high school is, maybe you could come in and talk to the kids?”, and we said “talk to them? Why would we talk to them when we could play a rock show for them?” so then we, especially my guitarist Matt is like “OK we’re not gonna do this on a little scale we’re gonna do this on a big scale - we’re gonna do it for the whole school, what time can we do it when the entire school is gonna be able to watch?” so at like 9:15 in the morning or something we played a set and we had a bunch of high-schoolers rocking out and moshing! We didn’t know what to expect because it’s a common hour where they can do whatever they need to like extra homework, go to the cafeteria or whatever so they didn’t have to sit there and watch, they could have done other things. Lars was a little bit unsure if everyone was gonna dig the rock music but I told him “this is going to be so much fun” and it was. It was a great experience for us as well because they surprised us with their choir and their guitar players learning a song of ours and performing it for us.” (Neil’s note: the song in question was Free Yourself, more on that in a bit).

Moving on to our shared interest in Welsh Ragga metallers Skindred I asked how the collaboration with Benji Webbe on the track Move Mountains (from Sumo’s latest album Opus Mar) came about:

(Skye) “I told everybody that I knew that I loved Benji and that I’d love for him to be on the song and it is a small world in the industry and we had contacted Skindred’s management, we were working with the same producer that worked on their last few records, we have the same PR agent etc so I think word just got around that we needed this to happen. Once we sent him the song it just all came together. I didn’t actually meet him until we did the video for it in Newport, in the Dub War rehearsal studios. Benji was just a total gentleman and took us out to show us Newport. It was a lot of fun and I was kind of in shock because you look up to a band for so long and Skindred was one of the reasons we started playing this type of music and they say not to meet your idols because you’ll be let down but Benji did not let me down; it was one of my favourite days I’ve ever had – filming a music video and going out on the town with Benji was a great day.”

Speaking of Skindred, Sumo Cyco was supposed to be their support on a US tour that was originally arranged for this past summer but was cancelled at the last minute due to visa issues. I asked Skye whether this tour might be rearranged in the future:

(Skye) “I’m not sure what’s gonna happen with that, obviously there was some type of issue with immigration and getting the visa’s over to America, but the boys and I are still great friends. I actually stopped over in Milton Keynes during a show they were playing on this tour a couple of weeks ago and got on stage and did Warning with them, and the Newport Helicopter of course. So there’s been moments that we’ve been able to collaborate, there will be at some point a tour I’m sure eventually down the line, it just hasn’t worked out yet.”
Me (in response): “I’d like to see a UK tour with the two of you”
Skye (decisively) “Yes”.

Having just released their second EP of Sumo Cyco songs reworked acoustically (Appropriately titled Live Acoustic Sessions Vol. 2) I then asked what the thought process was behind going down the stripped back route:

(Skye) “The first reason we started doing acoustic was because my arm was kinda twisted by a friend back home in Toronto to do a singer songwriter night. At singer songwriter nights it’s very inspired by Nashville you kind of always tell a story of why you wrote the song, what inspired the song and then you perform the song and it’s a very intimate and kind of close setting. [That] wasn’t gonna work for the full band so I convinced Matt my guitarist in Sumo Cyco to rearrange some Sumo Cyco songs for that night and then once we took the time to do that we said “Well we gotta record this in some way because we’re just being selfish just keeping it to ourselves”, so we released the acoustic volume 1 EP. That went off so well that on our UK headlining tour that we did earlier this year we did acoustic VIP packages where the fans could come early and they could experience the acoustic versions of a few songs and then hang out with us for a bit before the live show started.

(Skye) That went off really well so there just was a demand for it and I think especially after hearing these kids at this high school singing a song acoustically (Neil’s note: the aforementioned Free Yourself) I almost didn’t believe it was my own song because they do have such a vastly different feel when you just break it down to melody and lyrics and guitar. Obviously I’m in this band because I love the pandemonium and chaos - but there is a lot of meaning that sometimes can be lost in the mayhem, and so I think that doing it that way shows a very different side that I think a lot of people may like that may not even like our crazy rock stuff so it’s just kind of appealing to everybody out there in all different ways. As an independent band we’ve gotta hustle and always put stuff out because people have short attention spans so for me it was a good sort of tide over until new music starts coming our for our next album next year, so it’s kinda cool to be bringing some of the old songs back and doing them this way.”

On the subject of new music, I then asked about the EP that was originally planned for release this year which ended up being shelved:

(Skye) “We were anticipating to do that but then we ended up hooking up with a new management company; you may know DevilDriver and Coal Chamber lead singer Dez Fafara? Over the last year he just started a management company called Oracle Management with his wife and they have the likes of Jinjer and Cradle Of Filth and some amazing artists on the roster (Neil’s note: also Combichrist, Wednesday 13, Static-X and producer Ross Robinson to add a few others), so he started working with us and we kinda decided that instead of putting out a quick EP with some stuff that we’d written that we’d take an extra amount of time over the summer after our tours and really try to do a lot of really deep songwriting and venturing into all the different kinds of things that we can do as songwriters and come up with a super strong album for 2019. 

(Skye) Dez kinda pushed us - in a good way - pushed our songwriting skills to say “I think you could write a song that would fit this way, could you go this way, could you try this?” and Matt and I have sometimes just been like “oh we’ll just do whatever” and it just comes out the way it comes out, but I think when you have a challenge or when someone's like “I think you need to write a song that’s more in this direction or that direction” it almost makes you get more creative because you have to work within those restraints and come up with something really amazing. So we’ve really been spending a lot of time, more than ever with every passing year as Matt and I become a better writing team together the songs I think just keep getting better. He [Matt] keeps becoming a better engineer, producer - we do this all out of our home studio so I like to think that the next record is going to be the best yet.”

Over the years the band have released a number of digital singles and videos to coincide with and promote tours in particular (such as Sirens to coincide with their first UK tour in 2013 and Undefeated to mark their first headlining UK tour earlier this year). From a standpoint of pure self interest I enquired about the possibility of compiling all these older singles onto one album so fans (i.e. me) can get them all in one place:

(Skye) “That’s interesting; there’s a few projects that have come across like maybe we should do anniversary versions, people have asked about getting vinyl printed of some of the earlier records and so I think there’s that and then there’s a compilation of all the videos on a DVD with some behind the scenes stuff that we never released. There’s also finishing the story line because all our videos have these crazy storylines that I haven’t quite wrapped up yet so maybe we could release a finale movie. There’s so many ideas but I think that definitely we’re not against doing stuff like that, maybe coming out with an anniversary compilation CD like you said with all the earlier releases maybe in the future, it’s not a bad idea.”
So if such a compilation ever actually happens you are welcome to thank me ;)

Returning to the topic of tours, the band have now done a total of eight UK tours in the past five years (which is a phenomenal workrate if you ask me), so how important does Skye think that the UK is as an area / market for Sumo Cyco?

(Skye) “I would think it’s the number one priority actually as far as areas go right now. We’ve been fortunate enough to get some really great opportunities here and I think it has helped us in all other areas of our career. America is our next door neighbour and it’s really important but it’s also an even bigger place obviously than the UK to get around. I think that’s what we love about coming here is that the drives from one place to another aren’t really that bad. There’s a lot of people in a tiny amount of space so you can hit a lot of people in a short amount of time. Having the consistency of coming back every six months or so I think has really helped our fan base ‘cause you build off of the momentum, but we also understand that you can’t oversaturate either so every time you come back you have to make sure you have something special to share with the people like a new song or a new album. Shows like what we’re doing with CKY have been great for us because we’re exposing ourselves to new fans, new potential people who’ve never heard about us before and that’s what to me is the most rewarding part of when you do these opening gigs is to see the reaction of people in the crowd who are kind of unsure at the beginning and they start getting into it by the end.”

Speaking of getting in front of new people, you don’t seem to play all that many festivals, is that because it’s difficult as an independent band to get on those sorts of bills?

(Skye) “That’s a kind of a goal to go for all the festivals next year. Fingers crossed everything works out but like I said we’ve tried to build enough momentum, especially here, to finally get some of that recognition and you’re right it is more difficult as an independent band to get those slots ‘cause they do fill up so fast and the labels kinda have first dibs on the spots so it makes it harder and harder for us as the little guys busting our way in. Luckily we’ve had great support from the likes of Live Nation who’ve seen our numbers and stuff, that shows that there is great support for our band here and we’re really lucky to have that so hopefully that’ll shine through and we’ll be able to get in front of even more people with some of the festivals and stuff. That’d be great, a great experience ‘cause I’ve never done that over here either so I would be so up to be a part of it.”

So, is there any chance of a record deal in the near future, or do you think that would impinge too much on your creative process? You do pretty much everything yourselves right now, is that because you prefer it that way?

(Skye) “I have had experience with a major label in the past (Neil’s note: Skye was signed as a solo artist to EMI / Capitol Records in 2003 where she released two studio albums before forming Sumo Cyco with Matt in 2011), but it is a different climate right now than it was ten years ago when I was working with labels, and it’s different labels I’d be working with in this genre versus before. There’s positive and negative memories of that experience and I’m never against talking with people and seeing their perspective and what they think they can do to help us and what we can do to help them in a kinda business arrangement, but you’re right I do have a very controlling... - or just a really passionate opinion about what our music should sound like, what our videos look like, what our style is, how we do our live show, and I’m not against suggestions as long as I agree with them (laughs)! 

(Skye) So I think that because we’ve been able to survive so well doing things independently we’ve learned from a lot of our mistakes and from our history that we can survive pretty well doing it this way, but if you wanna go to another level you need a bigger team, you need to have support and that’s one thing that I’m terrible at sometimes, asking for help from people who are actually willing to give it and want to be part of it but I’m always like “I can do that, I can do that myself, I can do that myself!” so I don’t want to say that’s out of the realm of possibilities. 

(Skye) We’re trying to have a few conversations here and there, there has been some names that have floated through so maybe... (me: “are you allowed to mention any names?”) uh, no it’s all kind of back door talk with the business people behind the scenes but yeah there’s a possibility that maybe the new record might be on a label, but there’s also a very good possibility that we’ll just crowd fund and put it out ourselves as well. I think that’s kind of a tricky moment because we want to not stop, we want to move forward and I think sometimes when you get too many people involved it slows the process down a little bit and we don’t like that, we like moving forward. Just the fact that we haven’t had a new single out for this tour is already making us feel like “ohh we have so many cool songs we wanna release!” so we're already biting at the bit to get some new stuff out. We don’t wanna hold back for next year so there’s definitely going to be an album coming out next year.”

And on that (possible) bombshell the interview wrapped and I thanked Skye very much for her time. Once she freed me from the camper I went off to enjoy their show, which I did very very much. To paraphrase an earlier comment from Skye: between this interview and the band’s awesome performance that night, it was a great day

Monday 17 December 2018

Reviews: Venom, Arwen, Dark Moor, Reckless Souls (Reviews By Paul H)

Venom: Storm The Gates (Spinefarm Records)

Back in 2015 I was gushing in my praise for From The Very Depths. In fact, I gave it a 10. Three years on and Cronos, Rage and Dante are back, with another 13 slabs of Venomised Black Metal. Having enjoyed their 100 Miles To Hell EP last year, this album has appeared with very little fuss or fanfare. So, as the year ends, what does the Venom of 2018 sound like? Well, completely unsurprisingly, very much like the Venom we’ve had for the past few years but there is a change on those foul winds. As well as the usual crash, bang, wallop approach, there are outbreaks of almost blues style guitar work and whilst I hate to use the word mellowing, the occasional track here is lighter than in days of old.

Cronos remains the voice of Venom, and Satan and Hell remain the predominant themes. Opener Bring Out Your Dead batters, I Dark Lord is sinister, malevolent and gnarly with echoes of Welcome To Hell and 100 Miles To Hell remains a ferocious banger of a song. There are a few duds on here though. Dark Night (Of The Soul) for instance kicks off at thunderous speed before some dreadful lyrics “Hey Motherfucker, what you looking at, born a fucking loser, acting like a twat” just make you laugh at the throwaway nature and whilst it’s a punk crusted stomp, it’s a bit weak. Beaten To A Pulp is similar in its throwaway nature. However, there is enough meat on this bone to enjoy the feast and whilst it is not as strong or fierce as their previous release, this is still an enjoyable listen. 

Venom were never going to be progressive rock virtuosos but if you want some full on in your face dark metal then maybe you’ll be punished by Krampus with a copy of Storm The Gates. 7/10

Arwen: The Soul’s Sentence (Self Released)

So when I received this I assumed the Ed was asking me to pass it on to Mrs H, who shares her name with Elrond’s daughter. Oh no, despite the obvious humour bone that must have been tickled when he sent it to me, Arwen is a Spanish power metal outfit from the capital Madrid, who have been together for 22 years. This is only their third full release and it’s an eclectic mix. Part Coheed And Cambria, mainly down to the vocals of José Garrido, part Dream Theater due to their intricate compositions and part Primal Fear. 

With some Eastern influences also adding depth to their compositions, each track feels grandiose and epic. Torn From Home is a good example, with hard hitting drums and fiery riffs complimented by Javier Díez’s orchestral keyboard sound. Garrido’s vocals are chameleon in style, changing to suit each song. Us Or Them sees him move to a clean Myles Kennedy delivery. With a passable cover of Chris Cornell’s You Know My Name closing the album, The Soul’s Sentence is worthy of repeated listening. 7/10

Dark Moor: Origins (Maldito Records)

Madrid’s neoclassical metal outfit are back, three years after Project X, an album so bizarre that I gave it 1-10/10 back in 2015. One listen to this release and I’m going to struggle to repeat that. This was a real challenge to get through. Raggle Taggle Gypsy left me speechless with its bouzouki playing traditional score, flute fluttering around in the background and a beat that would get everyone up and dancing badly at a wedding. In The Middle Of The Night is one of the most ghastly light rock tracks I’ve ever heard, a Beat It riff failing to save it from being filed in the stomach churning cabinet. Once more crammed full of cheesy Eurovision style melodic rock tracks, tracks such as Druidic Creed leave you astonished that there is a market for such dirge. It’s perfectly well performed, with strings, the hint of an accordion and some of the cleanest singing you’ll ever hear from Alfred Romero once more tugging at the heart strings. Fair play to Dark Moor, they keep churning it out. I think my stomach might be about to as well. 4/10

Reckless Souls: What About Us (Indiego Boom)

A four-piece from Trondheim, Norway, What About Us is the band’s debut full-length release and in the days of one-track downloads it is heartening to both hear and see. This is 31 minutes of full throttle classic rock but with much more punch than many of those bands who are also badged under the same banner. Vocalist and guitarist Nikolai Eilersern has a gritty voice which works perfectly with the tracks that the band has crafted over their recent years together. 

There are a few tub beating anthems such as their self-titled track, which motors along with a defiant almost rebellious stomp. Forget About Love benefits from some delicious female vocals, reminiscent of The Answer who enhanced Nowhere Freeway with Lynne Jackaman back on Revival. Their closing track Memories is a powerful change in pace, full of emotion and passion. Reckless Souls have taken the beat of AC/DC, added a bit of Motörhead rock n’ roll and the energy of early Foo Fighters to deliver an impressive foot tapping album. 7/10

Sunday 16 December 2018

Reviews: Palace, Violblast, Shading, Swallow The Sun (Reviews By Rich, Alex & Matt)

Palace: Binary Music (Frontiers Records) [Rich]

Binary Music is the second album by Swedish melodic hard rock band Palace named from frontman and multi instrumentalist Michael Palace. This is another album straight from the Frontier Records melodic rock production line but this album is actually really good. The sound is very 80’s influenced almost bordering on an 80’s pop sound at times with a huge amount of retro sounding synths making this album sound like it was recorded in 1987. The songwriting is fantastic on the whole and irresistibly catching with songs such as Tears Of GaiaPromised Land and Dangerous Ground proving themselves to be absolute earworms. The album does lose a bit of steam towards the end with Who’s Counting Time being a very disposable ballad and the unusual Queen Of The Prom sticking out like a sore thumb but the sheer quality of the first half guarantees this album a good score. People musically still living in the 80’s and the AOR hordes are going to absolutely love this.  A very fun enjoyable album. 8/10

Violblast: Theater Of Despair (Hostile Nation -2019) [Rich]

Violblast are a thrash metal band hailing from Spain and Theater Of Despair is their second album.  Like fellow Spanish thrashers Angelus Apatrida, Violblast know their craft as Theater Of Despair is an excellent thrash metal album. It takes cues from the American and European thrash scenes combining the best elements from both with a sound that is equally catchy as it is vicious. Frontman Andrés Perez has a vicious vocal style with a style very reminiscent of German thrash frontmen Schmier of Destruction and Tom Angelripper of Sodom which works very well with the aggressive music on display. The album is well paced and nicely varied with mid paced numbers such as the stomping The Shadow No Longer Rests and the atmospheric New Orphans Elegy to the raging speed metal assault of Martyrs Without A CausePainless and Secret Reality. Although not groundbreaking this is simply a great thrash album with a great frantic energy about it, bags of aggression and memorable tunes. 8/10

Shading: The Vanishing of Our Lore (Self Released) [Alex]

Progressive metalcore is in a strange way, the closest proggy music even close to the mainstream, as well as being grossly inaccessible to lots of metal fans. Even Shading who on their second album, take a melodic and melancholic approach, are subject to the label. Whether you think they are worthy of that description or not, there is no denying they have a unique take on the idea, playing with atmosphere, theatricality, and emotionality, to vibrant effect.

Rather than begin on the typical blast beats and a punishing guitar riff, Abyss sets in on swaying synths before a tidal wave of dramatic instrumentation crashes in, embracing the values of tension and changeability from start to finish. Breathless makes a little more use of downtuning while staying deeply emotional, a combination of slowed tempos, gorgeous melodies and charming transitions making for an intriguing listen. The multifaceted aspects don’t stop there either as Convergence constitutes a rich and detailed anthem. Worldwalker beautifully utilizes musical textures and The Scent rejoices in its elaborate complexities. 

Perhaps the best moments here though come with Stranger – an aching ballad, not afraid to embrace patience and restraint – and Weak Signal – an epic closer, encapsulating everything which this an excellent release not only for Shading, or even prog but for the progressive metal as a genre. Debates have ravaged and endured about the style, and the value crunchy guitars and blast beats bring to a subgenre commonly associated with composition and intricacy. My view, as something of a Djent-defender, is that The Vanishing of Our Lore has the potential to introduce some much-needed nuance to the debates, by creating a work which melds the elements of visceral aggression and contemplative beauty. 8/10

Swallow The Sun: Lumina Aurea (Century Media) [Matt]

We don't review singles, we won't review singles however life is full of exceptions and this is one. The standalone-single Lumina Aurea is being released as a preface to Swallow The Sun's new album When A Shadow Is Forced Into The Light which is due in January. Despite it being standalone both these releases are two halves of a whole. It features Wardruna’s Einar Selvik and The Foreshadowing’s Marco I. Benevento and is the darkest most brooding piece of music Swallow The Sun have put their name too. Think of it as an elongated introduction to the forthcoming full length, a sinister foreboding precursor to the more positive A Shadow Is Forced Into The Light which will see them move away from the ambience here back to the epic doom metal they are renown for. An interesting preamble that builds the anticipation. 7/10

Reviews: Billybio, Parasitic Twins, Invoker, Under (Reviews By Paul S)

BILLYBIO: Feed The Fire (AFM Records)

BILLYBIO is a new project from Billy Grazaidei from Biohazard, Powerflo and Suicide City. Feed The Fire is the first material to be released from this new project, we get 3 tracks that come in at 9 minutes. First track, Feed The Fire is a great piece of mid-paced punk. It’s got a driving, aggressive feel to it, with a great, gang vocal chorus. Rise And Slay is slower, but with a tempo that feels unstoppable, like a runaway bulldozer. It has a great structure that is beautifully rhythmic. Final track Freedom's Never Free, is an absolute stormer. It’s pretty much hardcore, really fast, almost verging on thrash. There is a slower part in the last third of the song, but that quickly goes back to fast hardcore. Cracking track, and a great way to end the EP. Feed The Fire is a great Ep, well written and recorded, by an artist who clearly knows what he is doing. If you are a fan of any of Mr. Graziadei’s other work you should definitely check this out, fantastic fun! Oi, Oi, Oi! 8/10

Parasitic Twins: All That's Left To Do Now Is Sleep Together (Self Release)

First thing to mention about this EP is that it is only 6 minutes long. So, I’m going to attempt to review it in 6 minutes. Here Goes! All That's Left To Do Now Is Sleep Together is a three track Ep from Stockport based duo Parasitic Twins. Massive kicks thing off with some very aggressive lo-fi sludge, huge, slow crushing riffs with very guttural, nasty vocals. Next up is Flipswitch, which is slightly faster with a slightly softer middle section, but is still massively heavy. Last track End is more direct, the riffs feel slightly more rock like and to the point. All three tracks are enjoyable and I’d definitely like to hear more than 6 minutes from this band. 5 mins and 45 seconds, hot damn! I did it! 7/10

Invoker: Cursed To Feel (Self Released)

Firstly, I should point out that there are quite a few bands called Invoker, this one is from Switzerland and play a fairly modern take on hardcore, which could be classed as post hardcore. The band have released an album and 1 other EP before this release. First track Black And Blue opens with blisteringly fast and aggressive hardcore, the vocals are very aggressive and shouty. About halfway through the track the song slows down for a much heavier section that then goes into a part that I would class as post hardcore. The music is less aggressive with more nuance and a more relaxed feel. There is a lot of tremolo picking going on so it also has a little bit of a post black metal sense as well.

The next track Cursed has a simpler, punk feel to it, it’s a more direct song. The Novel has that aggressive hardcore opening that batters the listener, before going into a softer sounding post part. The juxtaposition of these 2 styles works so well, it gives the material a lot of depth. Next up is the shortest, most straight-forward song on the EP, Cease To Exist, it’s only a minute and a half long, and is a mid-paced piece of punk. Last song End Me has a soft simple opening, before going into the slower hardcore section, that then morphs into a soft post part that takes the song and the EP to a very pleasing ending. Cursed To Feel is a great EP, every time I listened to it I wanted it to be longer, which I think is the sign of a great EP! Highly recommended. 8/10

Under: Stop Being Naive (APF Records)

Under are a stockport based 3 piece, Stop Being Naive is the band's second album. The album opens with a blast of feedback, before going into a slow, lurching, achingly heavy riff. The tempo of the first track Malcontent, is very slow, and in many places off kilter, the vocals remind me of Conan, but seem to be multi tracked as well, emphasising the wailing, yowling quality. The Climb has a slightly more minimal sense to it, it’s restrained compared to the song that came before it. Traitors Gate is monumentally heavy, with really aggressive vocals, nasty vocals. This band do heavy and nasty with unnerving ease. The band have more strings to their collective bows than just heavy and nasty. They have an interesting alternative feel to some of the material. P. Irving has an early nineties feel that is very effective. 

There are parts that sound a little Jane's Addiction, maybe with a little bit of the Pixies as well. This track is an interesting diversion after all the hugeness and heaviness. This alternative feel is on the last 2 tracks as well. An Inch Of Sun has a very soft opening, which even includes a piano part. The song is very alternative for the first half before getting incredibly heavy for the final couple of minutes. Final track Circadian Driftwood has a fairly strait alternative rock mood, it’s a really interesting way to end the album, as it is a bit different from most of the heavy material on the album. Stop Being Naive is a great album. 

The band have taken sludge and doom, and made it as nasty as they can, but it is tempered by the more alternative material. This is an intensely creative band, the album has so many parts that I didn’t expect, but after a few listens these unexpected elements felt so natural. If you are into huge and heavy, and also like music that is experimental and interesting, then you have to give this a go. Great piece of work! 8/10