Find us on Facebook!

To keep updated like our page at:

Or on Twitter:

Or E-mail us at:

Tuesday 31 December 2019

Matt Bladen's Top 20 Of 2019

1. Opeth - In Cauda Venenum

Really in 2019 there wasn't going to be any argument, In Cauda Venenum is a majestic album from a band who have reinvented themselves into one of the most inventive acts on the current music scene. Released in both English and their native Swedish I would urge you listen to the album in Swedish first as this is how it was meant to be heard. Promoted by an extensive tour and glorious headline set at Damnation, In Cauda Venenum is the culmination of the Opeth transition that will see them headlining several festivals next year.

2. Wilderun - Veil Of Imagination

If you do miss the 'older' sound of Opeth though you could always check out Veil Of Imagination by Wilderun. A band who started out as folk metal act not too dissimilar to Amon Amarth, they really stepped up to another level on their third full length. Intensely progressive, devastatingly heavy and full of folk, jazz interludes, incredible vocals (those gorgeous clean/growl changes) it's everything you want Opeth to still be...if you don't like the new direction too much.

3. Dead Shed Jokers - All The Seasons

All The Seasons, the third album from Welsh wonders Dead Shed Jokers is probably their finest work, born out of mental health struggles, addiction, marital breakdown that may have ended most bands. DSJ channels these challenges into an album that is part Soundgarden, part Pearl Jam, part Kyuss with the introspection of Nick Cave but with a style all of it's own All The Seasons is the most emotive album of the year hands down.

4. Wheel - Moving Backwards

One of the major surprises of the year was the debut of Wheel, yet again a prog band but full of heavy grooves. In a year where Tool finally released an album, the almost hypnotic nature of Moving Backwards not only reminds me of Tool, but to me does what they do far better. Live they bewitched us both at BOA and Damnation and hopefully they will do so again in Bristol in February. Where all of Moving Backwards will excite again.

5. Rotting Christ - The Heretics

The Greek black metal legends enter their 30th year with an album that blows the mediocre Rituals out of the war with the bands epic, vicious, well honed and defiant extreme metal sound the most focussed it's ever been. The Heretics is the sound of band who have never conformed at all still standing high above any others who would lay claim to their throne. Non Servium!

6. Lord Dying - Mysterium Tremendum

Mysterium Tremendum serves as Portland psychedelic doom metal act Lord Dying's third album takes their sound into hyperspace, the four piece have sludge, stoner, doom and psych all wrapped up with space rock vibes, impressive soaring guitar solos and great vocals.

7. The Offering - Home

I made no bones about why I loved this record. it sounds like Nevermore. A band who are one of my favourite bands ever, perfect vocals, gothic, heavy riffs and emotion throughout, Home reminds me of all the things I loved about Warrell Dane and Jeff Loomis' progressive metal mastery, yes they have their own style of course but it's the warmth they put in my heart why I love this band.

8. Mammoth Weed Wizard Bastard - Yn Ol I Annwn

Having been a supporter of the North Walian purveyors of all things heavy from their debut record, their 2019 effort is the most accomplished to date, adding layers of 80's synths on top of the crushing doom metal they have always done, it's the most accessible record to date but still melts your brain with every listen.

9. Idle Hands - Mana

I mentioned in the review of Mana that Idle Hands remind me of In Solitude and much like them Idle Hands merge sexy goth rock with NWOBHM galloping to brilliant effect, it's dark brooding but full of anthems, it''ll have you dancing until midnight.

10. High Command - Beyond The Wall Of Desolation

It takes a lot for me to put a thrash album in my top 20. Unlike a lot of my colleagues it's not a genre I've ever been a huge fan of however for me High Command's Beyond The Wall Of Desolation is probably one of the best thrash albums of the year with it's unrelenting mix of speedy crossover and bouncing metal riffage, it begs for pits! 

11. Eternal Storm - Come The Tide

Spanish progressive death metal act Eternal Storm brought the fury, swathes of orchestration bolster the blistering death metal sound for an album that has a cinematic scope to it. It knocked me for six as soon as I heard it, the album flows into itself perfectly with conceptual feel to it.

12. SiXforNinE - Parallel Universe

A change for Greek metal SiXforNinE who adapted their style into a more American-influenced metal style, adding massive chorus hooks and chunky riffs to the prog/classic rock sound on their debut. It took me a few listens to get into this record but once I did I found myself singing along on repeated listens.

13. Paladin - Ascension

If you love guitar wankery then buy Ascension by Paladin. It's galloping power metal played at lightspeed, the twin axe attack is unleashed on every song making for an album that just pips the new Dragonforce record for sheer silliness mainly due to the use of clean/harsh vocals and a heavier sound. 

14. Krysthla - Worldwide Negative

The third album from heaviest band in the UK, saw them evolving into a band that opened the mainstage of BOA with a record that brought (gasp) clean vocals on top of the skull crushing riffs that they always have. With this record under their belt 2020 could be a big year.

15. The Neptune Power Federation - Memoirs Of A Rat Queen

Psychedelic cosmic blues rocking that merges AC/DC with Ghost while being fronted by Janis Joplin, it's wild, raucous and oh so trippy Memoirs Of A Rat Queen is whirling dervish of heavy rock riffs and rough and ready rock n roll.

16. Year Of The Goat - Novis Orbis Terrarum Ordinis

Something that stays in the occult realms is the latest from Year Of The Goat, a few years in the making this sinister, gothic masterpiece of an album. As Ghost were called the best metal act of the decade I'd argue that Year Of The Goat are probably more authentic to the gothic hard sound of BOC and Pentagram than the Tobias Forge etc. Novis Orbis Terrarum Ordinis proves this, as a hint play it on a full moon for full effect.

17. Wille & The Bandits - Paths

One of the first release reviewed in 2019 was one that hardly stayed off the music player since. An eclectic enticing mix of sounds that range from country, blues, grunge rock Wille & The Bandits put a lot of effort in their music with Wille Edwards raw Cornell-like voice and furious slide playing makes Paths a record I will keep going back to even into 2020, waiting with baited breath for a follow up.

18. Dragonforce - Extreme Power Metal

Extreme Power Metal is everything Dragonforce is known for, insanely fast playing, high pitched vocals, blast beats galore and lyrics based around video games and fantasy. It's probably the best album they have released with Marc Hudson on the vocals, it's Dragonforce embracing their musical past while looking forward to the future without giving a shit about fashions or detractors.

19. Stonecast - I, Earther

I, Earther is the third record from French metal band Stonecast and sounds so much like Blind Guardian it's untrue, from the vocals to the speed metal riffs I, Earther could be a lost BG album, though it's not a shameless pastiche but a very good metal album for any fans of the speed metal. One of the trad metal albums of 2019 and my favourite for sure.

20. Smoulder - Times Of Obscene Evil And Wild Daring

Epic doomsters Smolder are about as retro as it comes, songs of fantasy and warfare, powerful vocals and epic doom riffs. It smells of denim and leather so grab your broadsword and your dragon for Times Of Obscene Evil And Wild Daring. 

Monday 30 December 2019

Alex Swift's Top 20 Of 2019

And now for the hardest piece to write every year. As usual, I had lots to choose form and only 20 spaces to fill. Still, this is my opinion as it stands at time of writing…

20. Marianas Trench – Phantoms

Phantoms sees Marianas Trench taking what they have learned, and using that knowledge to explore a darker side of themselves. The theme? Being haunted by spirits of former lovers. The resulting album is arguably their most accessible piece of work to date, yet also holds a sinister quality, not typically seen within the bounds of so-called pop-rock.

19. Slipknot – We Are Not Your Kind

On their sixth studio outing, Slipknots fiery anger is brought to the forefront. Sizzling yet nuanced, the piece is easily among their as-yet works. Whatsmore, the album takes risks, making for a kaleidoscopic yet harrowing experience. . ‘I haven’t felt like this in years’ Taylor admits at one point on the album. To fans who have stuck by the band for through thick and thin, the answer is a solemn yet determined: ‘we know’.

18. PUP – Morbid Stuff

Taking a comical look at depression can be a risk as well, but when done right, it can emphasise the maddening, absurd or even miserable aspects. Morbid Stuff achieves this excellently, taking the listener through the strange and outlandish aspects of feeling unimportant, and striving to entertain a positive message. True, it’s nihilistic, yet instead of dragging you to hell, it will simply make you gaze straight into its jaws, while unashamedly singing ‘I’ve been having some pretty dark thoughts, I don’t like them a lot’.

17. Artificial Language – Now We Sleep

Now We Sleep is embroiled in elusiveness and mystery. The timed discrepancies in songwriting behave towards the listener’s expectations, the same way you’d expect a fox to behave to a rabbit – with cunning and savageness. An artificial or constructed language is one which is consciously devised. Many people have termed music as a type of language, and while that’s a debate for another time, if true, it would be a language Artificial Language are fluent in. Poignantly, in conveying meaning and emotion the music here excels, in detailed and precise fashion

16. The Wildhearts – Renaissance Men

For the Wildhearts first album in ten years, this is an excellent record, bursting with vivacity. Perhaps the only thing which saddens me is how overlooked this band have always been and will continue to be. Still, to a small yet dedicated following, there is no band as beguiling and robust. I for one can say I’m proud to be a fan. Whatever lies ahead for them, I’m sure it will be remarkable. Arriba!

15. Moron Police – A Boat On The Sea

One thing I was not expecting was an epic album with influences from Jazz, prog and Disney Soundtracks. I mean that in just about the greatest way as well. Much like the exuberant art, the whole experience bursts with life and colour. Exaggerated though strangely contemplative, the album is packed with anti-war anthems – a long shot from their early ridiculousness. All these elements combined make for a record which ticks every box in my book

14. Saor – Forgotten Paths

Not often can you call albums so aggressive, beautiful. Still, with the furrows of melody which spill from every second of Forgotten Paths you forget the genre and become transported to stunning rolling landscapes, and natural magnificence. The detail which Saor pour into each visceral moment, requires you to occasionally take pause to contemplate everything you are hearing. Taken on the surface, you could describe the project as Black Folk Metal. Delve beneath the depths though, and you witness a world of influences, both musical and natural, with a primitive nature as a vessel to carry strong emotions.

13. Holding Absence – Holding Absence

Perhaps one of the greatest alt rock albums of the year, Holding Absence pack so much energy and vigour into their debut that you’d be forgiven for thinking they’d been around for years and knew the tricks of their trade of by heart. In doing so, the album embraces darkness and becomes truly relatable as a consequence. As well as being a record which will appeal to long-time fans of the alternative genre, it also has the potential to transcend those boundaries.

12. No Man – Love You To Bits

Here’s an oddity for me, a trip-hop, disco, synth album, on a year-end list. In describing the record, Tim Bowness and Steven Wilson have called it “The least progressive thing we’ve ever done in terms of the music but the most progressive thing we’ve ever done in terms of capturing the spirit of what that music did’. He’s not wrong in that analysis. The throbbing beats, changeable melodic phrases and elusive dances which compose Love You to Bits, embody the revolutionary nature of early dance acts, while still being a unique creation by a modern act.

11. Leprous – Pitfalls

With their venture into more electronic, minimalist, experimental waters, Leprous have created one of their most unique albums yet. The entire experience is carried by contrast, quiet becomes fierce, mumbles become wales, a lone violin becomes a dramatic string section. Perhaps the most glaring of those contrasts though comes in your – or at least my – experience of the album, in which even the moments I initially drew away from, slowly yet surely enticed me, until I was fully under the albums aura.

10. Tool – Fear Inoculum

Can Fear Inoculum live up to expectations? The answer to that question has to be ‘No’. Considering all the hype across those thirteen years, of course expectations are not met. Can Fear Inoculum stand on its own as a great record? Absolutely! Everything here sounds like Tool, yet the album differentiates itself through the hypnotic, cerebral and entrancing elements which don’t so much as present you with a glorious painting to marvel over as they do give you a puzzle to take time with and piece together. Do not expect to be enraptured on first listen. Here’s a piece which rewards for your patience.

9. La Dispute – Panorama

Severely direct and relatable, Panorama is not an easy record to listen to, purely for the reason that we have all been in a situation where we have felt alienated from another’s anguish. If you love someone and they hurt themselves, or you care for someone and they hurt you, that emotional weight can be paralyzing, even if it appears pale in comparison with the actual pain of your loved one. To hear that feeling captured so precisely, in musical form, serves as a deeply emotional yet tumultuous experience.

8. The National – I Am Easy To Find

Scouring the National’s discography in recent weeks has been a journey, especially in seeing the way that they have evolved from outsiders to outsiders reinventing rock and pop music. The gatekeepers of arts would reserve the term immersive for paid experiences which charge you at the door, for short term exhilaration. Still, in making music which flutters and flurries through your senses like a butterfly caught inside a dream, and making an accompanying film, the Ohio innovators have created a piece which not only immerses yet submerses you in beauty.

7. Chelsea Wolfe – Birth Of Violence

Chelsea Joy Wolfe makes mercurial textures of moroseness. I can’t say much beyond once more remarking on the delicate way Chelsea Wolfe knits pain into a mesmeric sort of beauty. You often hear the adage that depressing music can often be the most uplifting or moving. Birth of Violence performs that balancing act with absolute precision, despite being another great reinvention, in a career imbued with exquisite sadness

6. Opeth – In Cauda Venenum

I don’t care how much Mikhail decides to growl or how closely he works with Steven Wilson, Opeth to me will always be one of the finest, skilled and brilliant acts in modern music. In Cauda Venenum rejoices in being dramatic and taking on a surreal, hypnotic quality, which continues to prove their penchant for evolution, even today. Rarely do you see an alum which simultaneously rivals and matches past triumphs, yet ‘the sting in the tail’ defies even the expectations these musicians set for themselves.

5. Baroness – Gold And Grey

Cascading influences from folk to experimental, debates will continue to rage about whether or not Gold and Grey truly earns the mantle of greatest Baroness album – though no one can deny its uniqueness in the acts already quite mottled catalogue. The songwriting is powerful, the playing immense and while some may have gripes over the production – to me the choice solidifies the idea of this being a truly magnificent piece in modern music

4. Cellar Darling – The Spell

Tell me, dear reader, do you believe in sorcery? How about after hearing The Spell? Capturing in vivid, enchanting, and mystical detail, the ritualistic concepts they experiment with, you feel a subtle hypnosis overtaking you as you listen. Many of the sounds are reminiscent of Celtic folk or indeed early metal, yet the fervour with which they combine those concepts proves truly enthralling, even though all the melodies, all the up’s and downs, all the mysterious lyricism, it always proves a journey worth taking.

3. Thank You Scientist – Terraformer

There are many variations on progressive rock. However, a gross oversimplification would be that there are two types: The prog which is accessible and influenced by easier to broach music, and the prog which is difficult, and inspired by Jazz or Classical. Plenty of acts don’t fit into that analogy and plenty have brought those influences together in the past. However, by committing to the idea so wholeheartedly, Thank You, Scientist, have established themselves as one of the finest acts in the modern prog movement.

2. Nick Cave – Ghosteen

Beautifully sad, yet brilliantly thoughtful, Ghosteen is a gorgeous reflection on tragedy that speaks to the enduring genius of Cave so many years into his career, while making us reflect on our own relationship with grief and loss. Lyrics rise and fall like crests of waves, while instrumentation retains a sparse yet incredibly expressive feel. Even in his finest moments our frontman has never sounded so honest, poetic and graceful.

1. Devin Townsend – Empath

Enthralling, multifarious and brilliant, Empath combines Devin’s influences with precision and mastery. The cleverness with which our crazy frontman commands ideas from extreme metal, to pop, to musical theatre, to animal noises is truly a sound to behold. Moreso, the message of finding empathy in a world of cruelty and division, proves poignant and strongly carried. As well as being my album of the year, this may also be Townsend’s crowning achievement! ‘There’s a sign on the borderlands, it says shine like a galaxy and woe to those who fear this!’

Sunday 29 December 2019

Liam True's Top 20 Of 2019

20. October Tide - In Splendor Below

Doom Metal isn’t my go to genre, but this album turned me right into the genre and made me see it in a new light.

19. Dayseeker - Sleeptalk

While not being entirely metal, it does have it’s moments and it’s kept me listening since i first heard it due to the tone and experimentation of the genres.

18. Enterprise Earth - Luciferous

Being a Metal/Deathcore kid this album just ticks all of the right boxes for myself. Brutal, fast and sickening vocals combined with the technical instrumentals make it the perfect Deathcore record.

17. Brymir - Wings Of Fire:

Huge Symphonic Death Metal that was made to be played for arenas. With big riffs and hooks there’s no shortage of anything from this album. It’s huge.

16. Danny Worsnop - Shades Of Blue

Not a metal album but I had to include it because of how much I love the music and lyrics. Small departure from his first solo effort being more blues, but it’s still a touching record.

15. Killswitch Engage - Atonement

The Metalcore kings hit hard with this absolute banger of an album with multiple guests. Including one Howard Jones.

14. As I Lay Dying - Shaped By Fire

After a 7 year gap between albums, a whole lot of controversy and a reawakening the Metalcore perfecters hit it on the head with this brilliant record.

13. Whitechapel - The Valley

Deathcore has never sounded more perfect or brutal on this triumphant effort

12. Thy Art Is Murder - Human Target

Pure Australian Deathcore. Just utter carnage and brilliance.

11. While She Sleeps - So What?

The Sheffield metallers bounce back from You Are We with even catchier chorus’ and heavier riffs.

10. Frank Carter & The Rattlesnakes - End Of Suffering

A heart pouring record from the former Gallows frontman which is full of singalongs, riffs and emotional lyrics to make you cry and smile.

9. Lagerstein - 25/7

A pirate party album full of riffs and big chorus’ enough to leave you begging for more.

8. Holding Absence - Self Titled

A Post-Hardcore throwback with big riffs and bigger chorus’.

7. Car Bomb - Mordial

A head spinning Metalcore/Groove record that’ll have you equally confused and Impressed.

6. Cane Hill - Kill The Sun

The up and coming Metalcore kids unleashed this EP earlier this year m with devastating effects.

5. Lingua Ignota - Caligula

Again, not a metal album, but it’s atmospheric and is a change to my usual taste. Little diamond in the rough.

4. Plague Vendor - By Night

Groovy, riff and chorus’ are all apparent on this record with enough to keep you coning back for more.

3. American Sin - Self Titled

Full of riffs, chorus’ and genre blending tunes on this debut enough for you to crave more.

2. The Machinist - Confidimus In Morte

Strong Death Metal from the heart of New York with enough power to punch you into next week.

1. Der Weg Einer Freiheit - Live In Berlin

To make a bold statement, and to simply put it, the greatest live Black Metal album to be put out. Raw, energetic and on times you forget it’s even live. Astonishing.

Saturday 28 December 2019

Paul Scoble's Top 20 Of 2019

20. Arctos - Beyond The Grasp Of Mortal Hands

If you like any of the styles I’ve mentioned, or you like any kind of black metal, or metal in general, there will be a lot to like about this album. The fact that this is the bands first album is amazing, this sounds more like a band that have been making music together for decades. Highly recommended.

19. Ashbringer - Absolution

Brilliant mix of Black Metal, Post Black Metal and Progressive Metal. The songs are fantastic, and this album does have very well written, well rounded songs. Packed with melody, emotion and fantastic tunes, Absolution is an album that gets into your head, and will have you humming for days, Black Metal but for grown ups.

18. Violet Cold - Kosmik

Violet Cold return to the sound that made Anomie such a great album; and they pull it off again. Great tunes and melodies and just enough savagery to keep things interesting. Violet Cold make such interesting and engaging music, which, considering how productive they are is a massive achievement.

17. Zeal & Ardor - Live In London

Zeal & Ardor are a very powerful live act; this live album captures that perfectly, with hefty production. This album is essential for any Z&A fan.

16. Green Lung - Woodland Rites

During the conversation my friend stopped and said, “Who is this? This is really good!”. Well, my friend Matt is right, this is really good, really really good. I’ve really enjoyed listening to this album, and will continue to listen to it, as it is one of the best Stoner / psychedelic rock albums I have heard in a very long time. Fantastic album!

15. Wills Dissolve - The Heavens Are Not On Fire…..

The Heavens Are Not On Fire is a staggering album. It’s incredibly diverse in its influences, each track constantly changes, but all the transitions between disparate elements are seamless and so well realised you forget this is a the bands first album. This album has so many massive melodies that get stuck in your head, I’ve been humming this album pretty much nonstop since I got it.

14. Gaahls Wyrd - GastiR - Ghosts Invited

Gaahl returns with a brilliantly avant-garde take on Black Metal. GastiR - Ghosts Invited is initially a difficult listen, but it’s worth making the effort, as a dedicated listener will be rewarded with a very unique album. The album has a lot of depth, and will keep you intrigued for weeks, savage, hypnotic, introverted and very creative. The more you listen to it, the more you are rewarded, sublime writing and performances.


Behold Sedition Plainsong is a fantastic album. It’s the follow up that The Unlawful Assembly deserved. The album is angrier in both lyrics and music, however the band haven’t solely used blasting aggression and extremity to achieve their aim. The album has more light and shade than its predecessor. There are different moods, pacing and feelings on this album. The band have allowed themselves introspection and thoughtfulness and as a result have produced a more rounded album. Yes, the album is angry (we live in horrific times, if you aren’t angry, then you are either part of the 1%, or you aren’t paying attention), but it’s a well informed, knowledgable and enlightened anger that is far more incendiary than simple rage. This is exactly the album that Dawn Ray’d needed to make at this point. It can act as a rallying call to any other bands that love Black Metal and hate fascism. In the Heavy Metal Battle of Cable Street, Dawn Ray’d are leading the way, throwing cobbles at the black shirts; driving the fascists back. Black Metal is Anarchy, Anarchy is Black Metal, Dawn Ray’d have proved that with this album.

12. Schammasch - Hearts Of No Light

There is a huge sense of religious fever (although it is undefined which religion, I get the feeling that Schammasch wouldn’t lower themselves to getting denominational about this) running throughout this album. I defiantly feel that this album has a sacerdotal function; it is channelling energy to the listener from somewhere higher, or maybe it would be more accurate to say ‘Other’. The band are an intermediary between the listener and a greater power. In a purely musical sense, this is a stunning album, it’ll take a few listens to get really into it, it’s a complex beast that deserves some effort from the listener, but if you do give it some time and energy, you will be rewarded by one of the best ‘Spiritual’ Black Metal albums I have ever heard. Absolutely stunning!

11. Mavradoxa - Nightmarrow

This is one of the most original black metal albums I have heard in many years. I’ve felt as exited about it as I was the first time I heard black metal. It is beautiful, nasty, hypnotising, cathartic, aggressive, blasting and sublime. I would highly recommend this album to anyone with any kind of interest in black metal, or if you’ve never listened to black metal, then this would be an amazing place to start. Right, now it’s time to hit Bandcamp and buy up everything they have recorded before this! Genuinely amazing Black Metal.

10. Sun Worship - Emanations Of Desolation

Aggressive, tremolo picked Black Metal that manages to be extreme, aggressive and nasty, whilst also being melodic, tuneful and packed with ideas. Initially you are struck with the aggression, but with further listens a lot of depth and intelligence is revealed behind the savagery.

9. Батюшка - Панихида

Панихида (Panihida) is a great album. However, it’s not the huge step forward that most Batushka fans were hoping for. There have definitely been some progress, Песнь 4 and 6 are cases in point, but the other tracks, although incredibly enjoyable, are quite similar to the first album. The progress that Песнь 4 and 6 show probably would have spread to the whole album if Krzysztof Drabikowski had been able to concentrate on the album, and not had to fight to keep control of what, let’s face it, was always HIS project. Making an album with the expectation that was attached to the second Batushka LP was always going to be difficult and daunting; making that album and fighting a court case, with no record company backing or support, whilst having to constantly defend himself from smears and innuendo from the other Batushka camp, what Krzysztof Drabikowski has produced is nothing short of amazing. The fact that he has managed to move the project forward at all deserves respect, producing 2 tracks like Песнь 4 and 6 is staggering. This is clearly the second Batushka album; talent will out, the answer is in the music.

8. Vukari - Aevum

Brilliantly conceived Black Metal. Multi layered tremolo picked riffs that are filled with melody and tunefulness. Very aggressive, but tempered with beautiful melodies, and a very affecting atmosphere. Once you get into it, it’s difficult to stop listening, in fact for a while this album took over my life.

7. The Penitent - Before It All

One of Déhà’s many, many projects. This one is old school depressive Black Metal, lots of tremolo picked riffs and blasts, but all of it drenched in staggering melancholy. The 3 very long tracks take you on a journey through misery, is dark, but ultimately rewarding. Also features Nokt Aeon from Dymna Lotva, what more could you ask for?

6. Bull Of Apis Bull Of Bronze - Offerings Of Flesh And Gold

Offerings Of Flesh And Gold is a stunning piece of chaotic, ritualistic Black Metal. The band are spiritual, Anti-Capitalist and Anti-Fascist, and the rage against the evils of the world is palpable. Musically and lyrically angry, intelligent, savage and thoughtful. Bull Of Apis Bull Of Bronze are going to be a very important band, going on how good their debut album is.

5. Falls Of Rauros - Patterns Of Mythology

Fantastic progressive Black Metal, with elements of doom and folk. Falls Of Rauros have swapped some of their aggression and savagery for lushness and beauty, and it works so well. One of those albums that can cause obsession in the listener, stunning.

4. False - Portent

The mixing of blasting chaos, and smoother, tempered sections is done in such an intelligent way, that it’s almost unbelievable that they have managed to pull this off. This album is chaotic, savage, brutal, difficult, disturbing and oppressive; whilst also being tuneful, melodic, accessible, tranquil, sweet and mellifluous. To combine styles that should be dispirit in such a seem-less way is nothing short of incredible. If extreme Black Metal has always turned you off, give this a go, it’s a gateway drug to more extreme, difficult music. This is an incredibly well made and written album, a classic from the first listen. If you like Black Metal, or any kind of extreme music, this is essential, close to a perfect album.

3. Venom Prison - Samsara

Samsara is a fantastic album. It will probably be one of the best Death Metal releases this year, in fact it’ll be one of the best metal releases full stop. The album feels like it has had a massive amount of work put in to it. There was a huge amount of expectation associated with this album, Venom Prison have exceeded that expectation massively. The album is extreme, brutal, viscous, crushingly heavy, and just about the most intense album I’ve heard in a very long time. Animus had a huge amount of promise, Venom Prison clearly keep their promises. This album is stunning!

2. Devin Townsend - Empath

Devin broke up his project to do this album, which took some guts. His bravery has been richly rewarded with this staggering exercise in progressive metal adroitness. One of the hugest album sever made, it’s a work of compositional and performance genius. The album is made of massively disparate elements that Devin has somehow made to work together. From multi layered progressive metal tracks, to reggae, to swing, to blastbeats, and even a track that feels like it’s come from a Gilbert and Sullivan Operetta, this album seems to contain the entire history of music. An amazing sprawling monster of an album, that is just SOOOOO good.

1. Mizmor - Cairn

It took me a little while to get into this album. Something that I’ve read about it quite a lot. However, after giving it 5 or 6 listens, I found I kept on wanting to put it on. It started to become obsessive, after listening to it, I found I wanted to go strait back to the beginning and listen to it all over again. Mizmor play a very dark, depressing style of Blackened Doom, a mix of savage black metal and crushingly slow and oppressive Doom Metal. The difficult thing with Cairn is explaining why it’s such a good album; only member A.L.N. hasn’t discovered a new, novel way to do Blackened Doom. It’s one of those albums where everything is done so well, so skilfully, so expertly that I can’t think of any band that has done this better. The quality of the riffs, the tunes, the stunning vocals, the deeply oppressive feel of the album is far beyond anything achieved in this style of metal before. At times it feels like the listener is drowning in misery, but in such an engaging, enjoyable way that I found I was really enjoying the anguish. If dark and depressing is what draws you to extreme music, then this is essential, and that is why it’s my number 1 album this year.

No 1 Gig Of The Year - Devin Townsend’s Acoustic Tour, St Georges, Bristol.

Friday 27 December 2019

Rich Oliver's Top 20 Of 2019

2019 has proven that the worlds of rock, metal and alternative music are in a very good place as compiling a list of the top 20 albums of the year as been near impossible. There are countless albums I have had to omit from my list and it was very tough to do so. To those foolhardy people who say that there is no good new music I say please stop living in the past, get off your arses and get listening to some bands as there is a whole world of music out there now more accessible than ever. Anyway enough ranting (for once) here are the 20 albums that tickled my eardrums the best in 2019.

20 - In Mourning - Garden Of Storms

Sweden’s In Mourning are a band that bridge together melodic death metal and progressive metal in exquisite style sounding somewhat like a cross between Insomnium and Opeth but with their own unique stamp.

19 - Exhorder - Mourn The Southern Skies

After a 27 year gap New Orleans groove thrashers returned with an album and one that was well worth the wait. Imagine if Bay Area thrash meets NOLA groove and this album is the result.

18 - Twilight Force - Dawn Of The Dragonstar

The second Swedish entry and this time it is completely silly and over the top symphonic power metal. These guys know what they do is ridiculous but completely play up to that. A brilliantly ridiculous and fun album.

17 - Lacrimas Profundere - Bleeding The Stars

After years of mediocre gothic metal albums Germany’s Lacrimas Profundere finally got some inspiration and returned to their original death doom sound albeit mixed with a modern gothic metal sheen. Atmospheric and melancholic this is a great listen for those who like their music laden with misery.

16 - Swallow The Sun - When A Shadow Is Forced Into Light

Another album of sadness and melancholy Swallow The Sun delivered another fantastic album of their trademark FInnish misery and it was as mesmerizing as ever with some of the strongest material the band have ever released.

15 - Possessed - No More Room In Hell

2019 seemed to be a year of long awaited returns and this was one of the most anticipated by the old school death metallers and thrashers. 33 years since their last album and Bay Area death metal pioneers returned with an absolutely killer album of pure old school rage.

14 - Soilwork - Verklightenen

Three points for Sweden as Soilwork returned with their 11th album and one that seamlessly mixed their melodic death metal origins with their later streamlined alternative metal sound resulting in an album that was equally furious but catchy as hell.

13 - Nordjevel - Necrogenesis

This comment is going to ruffle the feathers of a good few black metal fans but I think black metal works best when there is an injection of melody into the sound and Nordjevel manage to do this such thing whilst never sacrificing the aggression of their music. An absolutely fantastic black metal album.

12 - Soen - Lotus

Featuring ex-Opeth drummer Martin Lopez Soen seem to get better and better with each release. Previous album Lykaia blew me away but Lotus managed to do the nigh on impossible and improve on it. A sublime album of progressive metal.

11 - Imperium Dekadenz - When We Are Forgotten

This is such a well rounded and multi-faceted black metal release that is deeply atmospheric and deeply melodic whilst stretching the genre in multiple directions. This blew me away when I first heard it and continues to do so. Easily the best album Imperium Dekadenz have done to date.

10 - Borknagar - True North

Album number 11 from these Norwegian progressive black metal legends see the band continue in the fine form established on previous album Winter Thrice and manage to surpass it. Colossally epic and deeply moving this is one of Borknagar’s finest albums.

9 - Evergrey - The Atlantic

Another point for Sweden for the 11th album by the dark melodic metallers. This album is a definite grower as I wasn’t completely enamoured on the first listen but after a second listen and I kept finding songs I constantly wanted to revisit. Following a divorce frontman Thomas Englund has put together some of the most heart wrenching songs that Evergrey have ever done.

8 - Insomnium - Heart Like A Grave

More Finnish misery with the 8th album by the melodic death metal band. Insomnium are a band that have never put a foot out of place with an incredibly strong back catalogue and Heart Like A Grave is no exception. A wonderful album of dark forlorn melodic death metal.

7 - Disillusion - The Liberation

Another band who made a long awaited return and after 13 years The Liberation was truly worth the wait. Prog heavy melodic death metal written and performed to a ridiculously high standard. This album had my jaw agape in wonder. Very much hoping I get to see Disillusion perform live in the near future.

6 - Cult Of Luna - A Dawn To Fear

I took me a little while to fully appreciate Cult Of Luna but now that I am finally there I can easily say that A Dawn To Fear is one of their finest works. Dark and atmospheric with an almost cinematic scale in sound this is a truly wondrous piece of music.

5 - Cellar Darling - The Spell

Featuring ex-members of Eluveitie, Swiss band Cellar Darling perform a mesmerising mix of folk and progressive metal. Their debut album was great but they have really come into their own on second album The Spell which is a concept album about falling in love with the embodiment of death. Truly brilliant stuff and I can’t wait to see what they do next.

4 - The Offering - Home

Like many I was gutted when Nevermore called it a day but along have come a band that have the spirit of Nevermore but with an ever more eclectic sound. I give you The Offering and their debut album Home. There is so much going on throughout this album and so many different sound and influences that it shouldn’t work but The Offering manage to pull all these different elements together to produce a masterclass in heavy music.

3 - Equilibrium - Renegades

This is truly an album that has divided a fanbase. Equilibrium are known for being a folk metal band but on Renegades they have gone a different direction and produced a very contemporary sound metal release with elements of industrial, melodic death metal and alternative metal. I thought it was a brave move with marvellous payoff. I have the unpopular opinion that this is one of the best albums they have done. Whether this is a one off experiment or the direction the band will take now remains to be seen.

2 - Beast In Black - From Hell With Love

This album is fucking fun. So much fun. Power metal meets classic pop music meets the Rocky IV soundtrack. It is silly, over the top but so much fucking fun. These songs are utterly addictive and have been a frequent part of my playlist since the albums release. If you think heavy metal is all doom and gloom you seriously need to hear this. A heavy metal party soundtrack.

1 - Devin Townsend - Empath

There was only one clear winner and that had to be Heavy Devy and his quite frankly bonkers album Empath. Devin has taken the concept of genre and smashed it to pieces with an album which is all over the place yet completely cohesive and totally genius. This album allows Dev to fully retain his crown as the mad professor of metal.


Narrowing the top albums of the year to a Top 20 list was an absolute bastard and there are some glaring omissions. I simply had to side with the albums which I have wanted to revisit the most. Some special mentions have to go to the bands who just narrowly missed the list - so apologies to Alcest, Blazon Stone, Candlemass, Leprous, Malevolent Creation, Nick Cave And The Bad Seeds, Opeth and Thenighttimeproject. You were so damn close!

Thursday 26 December 2019

Paul Hutchings' Top 20 Of 2019

1. Opeth – In Cauda Venenum

There was no doubt when I heard this that it was going to be my top album of 2019. Complex, simple and beautiful, the Swedes 13th observation was a release that drew universal praise. Not something that has happened for a while. The masterstroke was releasing the album in Swedish, allowing most fans to soak up the delights of the musical constructions without deciphering the lyrics. It was only after repeated plays that I moved to the English version. The band proved they could cut it in the live arena too, with a masterful headline set at Damnation. A deserved Number One.

2. Wheel – Moving Backwards

When Matt pointed me to this album, I had no idea how deep it would take me. The English/Finnish quartet’s debut has enthralled me throughout the year. Two live shows at Bloodstock and Damnation confirmed their quality and their headline tour in February cannot come quickly enough.

3. Krysthla – Worldwide Negative

Whilst their first two albums were bruising beasts, Worldwide Negative saw the Northampton outfit really come of age. Utilising Neil Hudson’s clean vocals as a foil for Ade Mayes gruff roar was inspired, the playing tight and on point and the songs memorable. I can hum Zero Sum Game for fun. Their Saturday set at Bloodstock made me feel proud, and there is no greater feeling that a heart swell to really in kick the emotions. Simply crushing.

4. Rotting Christ – The Heretics

One of my most played albums of the year, the Greeks roared back with an album that put the disappointment of Rituals firmly behind them. Punishing, accessible and always superb, this was the year that Rotting Christ really kicked through the door to the masses. 2020 could be massive.

5. Insomnium – Heart Like A Grave

This album simply took my breath away. The Finns equalled their superb Winter’s Gate and Shadows of the Dying Sun with another beautiful melancholic melodic death metal album. Elements of doom, death metal, orchestral pieces and oodles of melody combined to make this an emotional rollercoaster of an album.

6. Lionize – Panic Attack

I love this band. Their funk-soaked rock never fails to make me smile, move and smile some more. The band’s first outing on their own label was brave and crammed full of the type of song that they do so well. Few albums open with the strength of The Lonliest Whale, one of the tunes of the year. Lionize, I just love ‘em.

7. Memoriam – Requiem for Mankind

Whilst I gave their second album a 9/10, in hindsight The Silent Vigil sounds a bit rushed. Not so album number three from the Midland death metal titans. There isn’t a bad song on this release, and at times it absolutely crushes. Shell Shock, Undefeated and the socially aware Austerity Kills proved that underneath that brutal exterior pumps a heart of genuine goodness. This was a killer release.

8. Overkill – The Wings of War

Their 19th full length release and the New Jersey thrash veterans showed how to do it again. Another vicious thrashing monster, The Wings of War maintained the rich vein of form that has seen them produce quality after quality for the past decade. Savage thrash at its best. Overkill proved once more that they are the masters of their art.

9. Phil Campbell – Old Lions Still Roar

Many years in the planning, The Motörhead guitarist finally found time to squeeze out this gem of an album. Crammed full of quality guests, Old Lions Still Roar was surprisingly well-balanced, from the tear-jerking Rocking Chair through to the metal ripping These Old Boots with Dee Snider. Campbell’s guitar playing was sublime throughout, and having Steve Vai assist you to close your album is about all you need.

10. Sacred Reich – Awakening

23 years we waited for this. And it was worth every one of them. A short, eight track release, Phil Rind and the boys blasted through their latest album with the power of Dave McClain back in the engine room. Wiley Arnett’s guitar playing is gritty and uncomplicated, whilst Rind’s vocals are better than they were in 1991. Quality over quantity, and another band whose live performance made me lose my breath on more than one occasion.

11. Entombed AD – Bowels of Earth

Earthy and brutal, Entombed AD returned with their third album and possibly the best they have released for many years. Uncompromising old school death metal, that HM-2 sound and a slab of solid quality songs made Bowels of Earth essential listening

12. Hawkwind – All Aboard the Skylark

Celebrating their 50th anniversary one could have forgiven Dave Brock and co for taking it easy but oh no. All Aboard the Skylark is one of the band’s best releases and a big improvement on Into the Woods. Tracks such as Flesh Fondue saw the space rockers let rip whilst the variety on the album was a vast as ever. Last Man on Earth was just stunning, and the songs translated beautifully into their live sets in Cardiff and London.

13. Diamond Head – Coffin Train

Possibly the best album Diamond Head have released since Borrowed Time, there were some powerful heavy metal songs on this album which was on repeat throughout the year. The title track is majestic, The Sleeper a smouldering beast whilst Until we Burn was one of the best metal songs of the year. Plenty of life in the band yet.

14. Lord Dying – Mysterium Tremendum

I’d enjoyed the American’s 2015 album Poisoned Altars but the third album by the Portland outfit shifted gear massively. Full of sludgy guitar riffs, Envy the End and Severed Forever became anthems. Even the Ed gave this album a 10, something he rarely does. Simply massive.

15. Candlemass – The Door to Doom

Released in late February, the doom-fathers latest release finally saw Johan Längquist join the band as a permanent addition. For me, the voice of Candlemass, this album demonstrated exactly why this band are so revered in the metal world. Full of spine crushing riffs, but underwritten by Lief Edling’s ear for melody, Candlemass really need to get over here so I can worship at the altar of doom again.

16. Lion Shepherd – III

I’ve been a fan of the Poles ever since discovering them supporting Riverside a few years ago. Their third album was a joyous bounty of variety with enough hard rocking to keep my metal side on board, but it was the world music which the band have embraced which really captured my vote.

17. Fen – The Dark Light

Released on 6th December, The Dark Light nearly didn’t make it into the top 20 but so enchanted was I with the new direction and the delicious post-black metal style that one listen propelled Fen into the hit parade.

18. Avatarium – The Fire I Long For

Avatarium improve with every album and number four from the Swedes was their best yet. Jennie-Anne Smith’s vocals are superb, Marcus Jiddell’s guitar playing fantastic and the songs range from delicate to face melting.

19. Deadwood Lake – Immortalised in Death

It was between this and Swallow the Sun, but I plumped for the Devonians. The second album from Bruce Powell and his band demonstrated a maturity in their song writing and playing which made this album one that hit repeat an awful lot.

20. Damim – A Fine Game of Nil

There were many other albums that could have made the top 20 but London’s Blackened thrash from Nathaniel Underwood and colleagues roared in thanks to a fine slab of existential dread and doom. 42 minutes of ferocity, jagged riffing and pummelling social observations. A Fine Game of Nil was fine indeed.

Worst 5 albums

1. Thor – Hammer of Justice
2. Emerald Sabbath – Ninth Star
3. Infinity – Awakening
4. Gatekeeper – Grey Maiden
5. Edge of Paradise – Universe

Tuesday 24 December 2019

A View From The Back Of The Room: Winter Eradication (Live Review By Paul Hutchings)

Winter Eradication 2019, Fuel Rock Club

It’s difficult to comprehend that a year has already passed since Grá punished those in attendance at Winter Eradication 2018 with a stellar headline set. Another year gone; Some things change, some things stay the same. For example; the filthy weather which had gripped South Wales. Cold rain lashed down Womanby Street for most of the day, people scurrying from doorway to doorway, clutching coat hoods in a futile attempt to stave off the winter fury. The same as 2018. All we needed was a permafrost to blow across the Capital and the scene would have been perfectly set. After last year’s event, what was also assured was a decent line up, courtesy of the excellent Eradication Booking Agency. A slightly truncated line-up in comparison to 2018 but no shortage of quality on offer.

Back in May Devonian five-piece Cistvaen (7) made their Welsh debut at the same venue when they opened the evening for Advent Sorrow. A small but dedicated crowd assembled for 30 minutes of dark brooding atmospheric black metal as the band demonstrated they were not there just to make up numbers. Tight, confident and improved from their previous performance, Cistvaen delivered a three-track set which included the superb Waiting and the climax of their set, Voice Of An Old God. Despite having been ill for most of the week, guitarist Lee Meade and fellow axe master Chris Finch once again demonstrated why there is much interest in the band. Vocalist Guy Taylor’s guttural growls are perfect for the black metal the band play and drummer Ed Wilcox and bassist James Mardon cemented the engine room. Cistvaen will be back in Fuel in April and I strongly recommend catching them.

Travelling across the UK on a miserable December Saturday is grim at the best of times, but for Derby one-man outfit Dark Doom (6), the journey must have been inspirational. Sad black metal is best inspired by those negative events in life and the M42, M5 and M4 are certainly odes to one’s feelings of impending doom. Now, I’m far from the biggest fan of solo projects. Put together in studios with no input from other musicians, their music can feel sterile and unimaginative. This wasn’t the case with Dark Doom, or Alex Wills to provide his true name. Yes, there were lots of backing tracks, clicks and loops, but this didn’t stop a reasonably entertaining half hour. Whether there is much to watch is open to debate; I prefer to watch a whole band, but Willis certainly has talent to go further.

It’s been a matter of mere weeks since Levitas (7) opened for Winterfylleth at The Exchange in Bristol, and once again the Cardiff/Bristol four-piece’s miserable atmospheric black metal slotted neatly on the bill. As usual, minimal chatter between songs, Levitas prefer to let their music do the talking. Of course, it wouldn’t be a black metal gig in Wales without drummer Sam Heffernan pulling double duty and as usual his effortless style anchored the band. With Liam Wolf’s gigantic roars contrasting with the cleaner vocals of guitarist Rhys Williams, those who had not seen Levitas before were no doubt impressed. I wrote earlier in the year that Levitas live is more an experience than an event. I can think of no greater compliment to pay the band.

It was at Winter Eradication last year that I gave Cardiff’s Black Pyre (8) a trifling score of 5. “Nothing special about these guys” I wrote. How times have changed. I’ve had the pleasure of watching the band develop over the past 12 months and how they have progressed. With the addition of guitarist Othigor Doombeard, the band now have the heft to support their tremolo riff heavy songs. Doombeard’s arrival also takes the pressure off vocalist and guitarist Asbjorn Daemonium de Noctis as well as giving the band a much needed ‘thickness’ in their sound. Basing their set from the enjoyable The Forbidden Tomes EP, but with a little Mayhem added for extra flavour, the permafrost swirled through the venue as the four-piece displayed a newfound confidence which will hold them in good stead for 2020. Warriors Of Despair, Aeon and Black Magic Heresy all sounded fresh whilst Summonings is the ideal set closer. This might have been the best that I’ve seen from Black Pyre and with a little polishing the band should move forward in the next decade as something a bit special.

One band I was desperate to see on this bill was the South West heavy weights Deadwood Lake (9). The band’s fourth release, Immortalised In Death has made it into my top 20 albums of 2019 (coming soon - Ed), such was the depth of emotion contained in it. I’d reviewed their debut EP Remembrance way back in 2016 and loved the quality of it. However, despite the band having played in Cardiff late last year, this was the first opportunity I’d had to see them live. They did not disappoint, and a 40-minute set flew by with tracks spread from across their four releases. Highlights included Loss from 2018’s Forgotten Hymns and the concluding duo from Immortalised In Death, Guidance and Vigils. As well as frontman Bruce Powell’s distinctive roar, the band features guitarist Ryan Wills whose playing was sublime and were anchored by drummer Tom Warren who also added superb vocals roars as well as blastbeats a plenty. With touring guitarist Tim Hodgson throwing his lengthy dreads into orbit every time he rolled his head. With the audience now swollen since the sparsity of earlier in the evening, Deadwood Lake grabbed a few new fans (maybe not the Christmas jumper clad crew who lasted about 30 seconds before the blastbeats blew them back into the bar!) and their headline set at Fuel on 5th April deserves a good turnout.

We’ve written about Cardiff blackened metal outfit Agrona (7) on many occasions and they usually blast a hole in the wall with their intensity and power. However, this was not Agrona at full force. With Jonny Foxhall of Incursion stepped manfully into the hole left by absent guitarist Arawn, the band was slightly unbalanced (nothing to do with Jonny who did a great job). Illness had unsettled the outfit as well, and errors crept into their normally polished set. I Chose To Burn creaked, the click tracks caused confusion and just a few little cracks in the blackened chest plate started to show. Regardless, the band have no quit button and their frenzied assault continued. Whilst this wasn’t their best show, Agrona don’t really do average and despite seeming a little flat, there was still much fire in the belly of this beast.

Arvas (7) had the honour of headlining the night but due to a few running order issues didn’t hit the stage until about 10:20pm. Their ferocious assault quickly grabbed the attention, especially with those intent on putting the dance floor through its moshing paces. Led by the intimidating shaven headed V-Rex, the Norwegians played an intense and blistering black metal style. Sadly, the typical restraints of public transport meant that I had no choice but to leave after about four of their songs. What I saw was enough to note that if they head this way again, I’ll be there. And there we have it. Another year, another excellent event from Gavin Davies and his team. Same again next year please brother. It was great.

Reviews: Diagonal, Tylor Dory Trio, Mistful, Rusty River

Diagonal: Arc (Self Released)

A lot can happen in 6 years, Diagonal burned brightly for two albums, getting them released through noted retro label Rise Above Records then seemingly disappeared into the ether that formed them. But now they are back from their intergalactic voyaging (or family commitments), with their collective headspace now back in the same place they holed themselves up in the studio and after a week of solid writing and recording they created their newest record the at times beautiful Arc. This new approach to writing which took them out of their day to day lives has made Arc probably the most organic release from the band as the Canterbury scene sounds, bleeding into jazz and more atmospheric textures than before. 

This record sees founding bassist Dan Pomlett and organist/vocalist Alex Crispin return to the fold, as the organs take over with the lilting guitars, synths and even brass all getting their chance to shine. The renewed focus has meant that tracks such as The Spectrum Explodes with a post-rock insistence as Warning Flare comes from the realms of Tangerine Dream as the opener 9-Green is full of funk as the nods to Yes, Caravan and Soft Machine make this the most anthemic and hopeful Diagonal album of them all. No longer made just to be musically impressive Arc is Diagonal rediscovering their heart and soul. Welcome back gentlemen! 8/10

Tylor Dory Trio: Unsought Salvation (Self Released)

Formed by guitarist/singer Tylor Dory, this Canadian three piece will obviously draw comparisons with Canadian progressive rock legends Rush but TDT have a heavier song collection than Geddy, Alex and Neil which will place them in the conversation along with Porcupine Tree, Devin and even Opeth. Unsought Salvation is the band's second full length album and it's a very mature, melodic, modern progressive rock album, that showcases all he prog genre has to offer. All three members of the band are virtuosos as drummer Jonathan Webster and bassist Slava Fedossenko lock in guiding the musical movement along with bringing the heavier edge to the songs. Tylor himself handles acoustic and electrics along with the synths that layer these tracks, he also has a very wide vocal range that can be gritty and crack with passion at the top end of more anthemic tracks such as The Righteous And The Rest, but can also be melodic on numbers like the lilting, string-laden Glass Menagerie

The Righteous And The Rest shifts through many phases as it segues into Comatose another anthemic song where Tylor's vocals shift into higher realms and this moulds into The Fallen Man which has pumping synths Muse would be proud of. There's a lot of different styles on this record (it is prog) but all the songs compliment each other with almost a theme in the sequence as the earlier tracks have a the pop-influenced as Dying Light is ballad that gives anther side to TDT's sound as does the excellent East Of Eden which sounds a lot like Coheed & Cambria with the massive chorus hook. As things progress though the tracks get darker and heavier, culminating with the epic final number that brings together all that has come before with some Opeth-like metal that even reaches to growled vocals. As 2019 draws to a close the goodies keep coming, this is one heck of present for prog fans just before the festive season. 8/10

Mistful: The Hive (Self Released)

Mistful are a Greek hard rock band from Athens fronted by the powerful vocals of Elenna Lawarea who is the key focus of this album as it's her voice that is the highest in the mix, but it is very impressive. Kicking off with the title track this second album, you immediately get the driving sound of Lacuna Coil as keyboard player Michalis adds his voice for a double vocal sound that comes back a few times throughout the record. Now they do lack the heaviness a little of Lacuna Coil sticking to the melodic rock style but they know how to write a ballad as Broken Again soars with some soulful sax, huge keys/orchestration swathes and Elenna in full voice, it's one of a few emotional songs on the album most of which are driven by the piano for maximum impact. There's bits of AOR on Hold Me and Stand On The Edge which are synth heavy again but when they do pick up the pace the rockers here are made to get the fist in your air which they do on Spectres Of Our Time. Bouncy melodic rock on one hand and tender ballads on the other The Hive has an odd duality but it's delivered slickly by these hard rockers. 7/10

Rusty River: Holy Basil Blues (Self Released)

A southern rock band from Seville, Holy Basil Blues is latest album from Rusty River. Despite being 1,000s of miles away from the Delta Rusty River have clad themselves in Paisley and Denim, gone down to the river and brought the music of Robert Johnson, Howlin' Wolf and later acts like Free. I'm fact it's Free who they sound most like with a very strong blues vein to it as You brings hazy swamp riffs and loose solos, Right Back Here struts, the title track brings the country flavours adding banjo, as Mirage closes things out with more atmospheric themes. Rusty River are a band who bring blues and Southern rock together like so many others, after that NWOCR revival this decade they sit somewhere in the middle of the pack. 6/10

Monday 23 December 2019

Reviews: Reasoning Reflections, Dreamlord, Oak, Uncle Woe

Reasoning Reflections: Samsara (Self Released)

From Nicosia Reasoning Reflections' debut full length record is a "short sci-fi story about cycles of death and rebirth of the universe as viewed from the human perspective" Samsara is a progressive/technical death metal record that really reaches to some stratospheric highs as the tracks thunder with numerous time changes, fat breakdowns, fleet fingered guitar playing and heavy use of synths the album is bullet pointed by a three part Saṃsāra suite starting with the bass-driven opening of Explosion Sets The Canvas (Saṃsāra I), that sets the album off with a sound of modern Trivium. getting you ready for intriguing numbers like Inexorable Cognizance which has a maelstrom of brutal death metal riffage, guttural vocals but also some beautiful piano. The blistering Solar Breath and the choppy Oceans Of Clouds show some of the more of the clean vocals but still the intense prog metal style of the rest of the album. An absolute cornucopia of musical endeavour, Samsara is a journey that reaches heady heights it aims for Temporal Voyages brings some jazz jamming, as the album closes out with probably two of the most direct songs on the whole record; Symphonies of The Void (Saṃsāra II)Moksha (Saṃsāra III). There's real intelligence and brilliant music, this Cypriot band have produced a fantastic late addition to what has been an excellent year for music. 8/10

Dreamlord: Disciples Of War (No Remorse Records)

Dreamlord are a thrash metal band from Athens, Greece and they are a very old school prospect with pounding drums, riffs that get the headbanging and aggressive vocals. The band were formed in 1994 but their debut wasn't released until 2007, however this follow up has taken 12 years so was it worth the wait? Well it opens with the abusive one-two of the Slayer-like Out For Blood and the riff-fest of the title track which both gallop along at a fair pace before The 11th Hour brings more of a stomp and serves as  great showcase for lead guitarist Yiannis Glykiotis who moves between Kirk Hammett melody and Jeff Hanneman frenzies as the track climaxes. There is a definite darker style of thrash on this record with nods to Kreator, Slayer and Megadeth as Babis Paleogeorgos (rhythm guitar), Christos Peveretos (bass) and Nikos Kousounis (drums) crank out the riffs, keeping things moving along at frenetic speed, while showcasing their mettle on the instrumental Act Of God. If you're a thrash fan then Dreamlord will satisfy a lot of your cravings, but it won't redefine the genre. 6/10

Oak: Lone (Transcending Obscurity Records)

Portuguese doom band Oak, like things slow, really bloody slow. Formed by Guilherme Henriques (vocals/guitars) and Pedro Soares (drums), the two of them combine to drag out some atmospheric doom metal that brings a feeling of hopelessness and despair to your listening experience, over the course for 4 tracks and nearly an hour Lone fills you with a sense of isolation and dread. The issue I have with this record is that nothing happens for minutes at a time, much of it is very repetitive, which I understand is the point to build a haunting atmosphere but it does make the attention wander, unless you're totally committed to this style. Putting the two longest songs one after another does mean that it gets to be a struggle after the first two songs on the album, a shame but I really didn't enjoy this album because it does become too tedious. 4/10

Uncle Woe: Our Unworn Limbs (Self Released)

Uncle Woe are Canadian sludge band ramp up the psych, with psychotropic effects in force from the opening grizzled, fuzzy chords. The majority of the record is instrumental, with the guitars, bass and drums doing most of the work here the vocals drifting in and out on the first two tracks though on Mania For Breaking has the cleanest vocal on the whole album. To be honest I drifted in and out of this album as with a lot of sludge it can be a bit samey and a bit slow too. Still if sludge is your bag you'll find much to admire on Our Unworn Limbs. 5/10

A View From The Back Of The Room: Alter Bridge (Live Review By Matt Bladen)

Alter Bridge & Shinedown, Motorpoint Arena, Cardiff

Black Friday (the proper one) is probably the busiest night of the year, a evening of revelry that turns into carnage relatively quickly. This write however was on a promise, I'd bought tickets for this gig for my other half earlier in the year as both bands on the bill are favourites of hers. Unfortunately she was also working in Porthcawl in the lead up to Xmas so I had to drive too the seaside town to pick her up and make my way back into cardiff for the show which had a start time of 6:30. Luckily as most people were in the City Centre pubs drinking themselves into oblivion the roads were quiet so I made great time to get to Porthcawl and back. However after parking the car, which was also not as much as a hassle as I thought it would be, it was only at the venue that we encountered problems as the upped security and a packed venue meant long queues to get in. This meant that we missed most of the opening band The Raven Age, who were filling in for Sevendust the original openers on the tour. Sevendust couldn't play due to surgery needed by their drummer Morgan Rose just before they set out on tour.

As The Raven Age finished their final song, we took our place near the back and waited for the special guests Shinedown (7) who I was hoping would impress me more than they did when they supported Iron Maiden in the same venue. Back then it was the massive over use of pre-taped vocals that got on my nerves and detracted from the show, however as they took to the stage, after quite a long intro, it was obvious Brent's vocals were a lot better this time around, he was definitely singing live with the guitarists supplying the backing vocals, there was still some tapes but they were nowhere near as obvious due to the vocals being quite high in the mix. This tour was in support of their most mature album yet Attention, Attention opening things up with the bouncy Devil kicking things off, into Diamond Eyes (Boom-Lay Boom-Lay Boom) which was welcomed as an old friend by the crowd. Then the band stopped. We got to the part of Shinedown sets that really annoy me, at every gig they stop and have the audience all say hello to each other. It's supposed to be a way of everyone interacting but really it kills any momentum the band have going. They proceeded to stop a few more times through the set making it a little up and down in terms of pacing as they also focussed on a lot of their slower, ballad material. Still the room loudly sang along with Second Chance, their cover of Simple Man and Sound Of Madness with then very partisan crowd enjoying every minute of it. Better than I'd seen them before but their mantra of being the best band on the planet is a little boastful.

No such boasting from Alter Bridge (7) who do always come off as humble when they play especially when they you can see that quite clearly technically gifted musicians. The flashy stage show of huge screens and lights showed the band in full arena headline mode as Mark Tremonti and Brian Marshall crossed each others paths numerous times using full length of the Motorpoint's stage as Scott Phillips sat atop his drumkit keeping pace. Many were here to see Myles Kennedy the band who has ascended to a higher level of fame due to him being the frontman of Slash's solo band (which he now has co-billing on). He is every inch a rock god, trading between lead and rhythm guitar with Tremonti, he has every person in the room hanging on every word of tracks like IsolationCome To Life and Ghost Of Days Gone By. Since I've last seen the band you can see that they have really become true arena headliners, even going as far as to give away a signature Tremonti guitar on the fourth song!

Now I have had a problem with Alter Bridge live, it's that they are quite clinical and they get a little sterile  quickly, the four songs from Walk The Sky all blended into one another when mixed with tracks from One Day Remains and the one song from Last Hero. In fact the only songs that made an impact were the four from Blackbird and the three from Fortress (the last great Alter Bridge record in my opinion). The middle part of the set did drag a little it was only with Watch Over You that I got interested again as it led to Blackbird, Open Your Eyes and Metalingus. There is a huge distinction between their earlier songs and the later stuff, that's hard to ignore, as I've said a few times in this review Alter Bridge are now at arena headline level properly (though the Cardiff crowd was quite sparse at the back) and their songs now have to appeal to an audience that has come on due to Kennedy's other project, I may still find them a little bland on stage but their fans probably don't care what I think as they were throwing shapes like nobodies business to every song.    

Sunday 22 December 2019

A View From The Back Of The Room: Motionless In White (Live Review By Neil Lewis)

Motionless In White, Bristol O2 Academy,

Ahh the good old O2 Academy in Bristol. It’s a much-maligned venue amongst many of the MoM regulars and with good reason: it’s often an absolutely terrible place to watch bands. However I must give credit where it’s due as there have been some sightings of the green shoots of improvement during my past couple of visits there; for example the cage around the sound desk area which obscured the view for anyone in and around the bar is thankfully now gone and on my last two visits at least there were numerous stewards around the building ensuring exits and – crucially in my opinion – the stair cases at the sides of the main room were kept clear the whole night. Admittedly it helped that neither of the two shows I went to had been oversold (or were even sold out as far as I could tell) but as a certain supermarket loves to say: every little helps.

Something that didn’t help on the night under review was the rather massive queue I encountered when I arrived at the venue not too long after the advertised door time. Said queue meant that your writer missed the entirety of the first support act, Thailand’s Defying Decay. Unfortunate but sadly unavoidable. I did however catch all of the main support act Skold (6). Led by industrial legend and producer extraordinaire Tim Skold, the band that bears his sobriquet play an appropriate industrial/metal type sound which I found to be enjoyable enough but often seemed to lacking a killer hook or a catchy chorus or something memorable in general. Nevertheless both main man Mr Skold and his backing band (consisting of Nero Bellum on keyboards and Jon Siren on drums) put on a decent show. Tim himself also made a cameo during the headliners set when he performed his parts of Final Dictvm which he recorded with Motionless. Speaking of whom...

Motionless In White (9) have included a Bristol stop on pretty much every full UK tour they’ve done since their first visit over here in 2013, the majority - if not all - of which I have also attended. Over these years I’ve watched the bands’ audience grow, picking up new fans with their newer industrial/metalcore hybrid sound whilst simultaneously trying to appease fans of their older, pure metalcore sound. The latter I feel is a mistake these days but that’s just my own opinion which I have stated a number of times before. Having said that I was pretty happy with the set list chosen for this show as it leaned heavily towards newer material from the bands past two releases (this years Disguise and my album of the year for 2017, the rather excellent Graveyard Shift), and featured just the one tune (Puppets (The First Snow)) from their debut.

The band have also grown a lot as performers too; whilst front Chris “Motionless” Cerulli has always dripped charisma the rest of the band are also equally as attention-grabbing on stage nowadays (especially new bassist Justin Morrow, who jumped to Motionless from previous band Ice Nine Kills and who appears to be an absolutely perfect fit for the band), although the larger stages and more elaborate stage sets the band are performing on nowadays certainly helps with that. The fans in attendance also played their part on this night with loud singalongs of fan favourites such as Reincarnate, Devil’s Night and immense set-closer Eternally Yours (in addition I personally spotted an amusingly high number of attendees singing along to the PA song played immediately following Motionless’ set – which just happened to be We Like To Party by the Vengaboys. Go figure).

Unfortunately Chris still relies a fair bit on what I shall charitably call “pre-recorded vocal elements”, although this didn’t bug me as much as it usually does for some reason as it wasn’t always quite so obvious – there were a couple of occasions when vocals could clearly be heard but no one could be seen singing, but these didn’t spoil the sheer enjoyment of the performance in my view. After all, it is the performance on the night that counts, and this was a first class one (and let’s not mention the fact that the keyboard elements of the songs were all present and correct despite the fact that the band don’t actually have a keyboard player at this moment). As this was the very last show of the tour – and of the decade – for Motionless, there was a palpable party vibe to the night, as evidenced by that Vengaboys track. Overall, I thoroughly enjoyed the show as I have done for every Motionless show I’ve attended thus far and I will certainly be going to see the band again if they continue to play Bristol – especially if the venue really does manage to sort itself out. There’s still a way to go on that front, but: skeletal fingers crossed

Friday 20 December 2019

Reviews: Sidë Effects, Echoes Of Decay, Warcode, Hidden In The Basement (Reviews By Matt Bladen)

Sidë Effects: Expedition (Underground Symphony)

A vivid retelling of Homer's The Odyssey, Expedition is the debut album from this Athenian metal band. There is one definite influence here...Iron Maiden, from the 'Arry-like bass playing of band leader/lyricist/songwriter George Nidriotis, to the Air-Raid Siren vocals of Tasos Lazaris and even the production just screams (for me) the UK's premier metal act. The subject matter even lends itself to the historical fantasy style that Maiden have always been so keen on. A short intro leads into the galloping Into The Sea and from there Sidë Effects rarely leave the Maiden comfort zone, (they even have late album instrumental in Fields Of Stone). The drumming of Chris Bouvis has that metronomic style of Nicko McBrain as Kostas Grammenos and Andreas Zografidis duel with a twin axe attack made famous by Dave Murray and Adrian Smith. The title track has those classic melodic flourishes on top of driving progressive backing that makes it the first song echoing those Maiden epics such as Rhyme Of The Ancient Mariner. 

Though it's not as long or epic as For The Love And Land which clocks in at 10 minutes with numerous time and style changes. Both songs are bookended by the synthy ballad Light On My Steel where they move slightly onto the Manowar battleground. There's pretty much no other way to review this record, it's really hard to be objective on this one as no matter how much I want to be cynical about how much they sound like Maiden, I bloody love Maiden so I enjoyed this album immensely, if you like Maiden you'll enjoy it as it is so bloody similar, if you don't like them then you've probably stopped reading. Jump aboard the Expedition with Sidë Effects and hear of the tales of Odysseus, Homeric in every sense. 7/10

Echoes Of Decay: Dive Into Darkness (Self Released)

Formed in 2017 in Thessaloniki Echoes Of Decay are a band who you wouldn't want round for Christmas dinner, their atmospheric doom/death metal is misanthropic, gloomy and thoroughly miserable. The songs dredge along with elongated runtimes and gargled runtimes as maudlin piano that splits many of the songs with a downcast melodic sound. The band cite their influences as the obvious bands such as Paradise Lost, Opeth and Katatonia, while they also take from the post-metal side of Cult Of Luna and Neurosis. Dive Into Darkness is a dark and brooding with the first two tracks long slow doom numbers as Echoes Of Decay makes things a little faster but not by much. It's atmospheric yes but the grunting vocals are a little one-dimensional, this record is crying out for some soulful cleans and just s little bit of variation, like Obsession provides. There's nothing particularly weak here hit;s just been done before better, though if you want some introspection at the end of this turbulent year then I'd suggest Dive Into Darkness. 6/10

Warcode: Post Modern Delusions (Self Released)

Hailing from Trikala where there are as probably as many sheep as there are in Wales, Warcode do their best to frighten every single one of the wooly bastards with death/thrash metal assault. Taking their cues from the Germanic sounds of Kreator and Sodom with some of the second wave US thrash style from Exodus and Obituary. Warcode have an album full of distorted riffs that are brought thick and fast as the drumming bludgeons you to death with percussive blasts, even on the more grinding mid-paced Architects Of Immoral Dogma the drumming from Vasilis is devastating. Elsewhere though razor-sharp riffs of Bill and Milt slash at each other on numbers as Instigate The Suffering and the vicious Ruination while Vaios grunts and Sotiris brings the thunder with his bass. Will Post Modern Delusions change the metal landscape? No. Does it reinvent the wheel? No. Will it scare away your family on boxing day? Hell yes! 6/10

Hidden In The Basement: Cursed By The Sun (Self Released)

Probably not the best name for a band to be honest as Hidden In The Basement does tend to conjure images of serial killers, but the only thing these Larisa natives kill is anyone allergic to riffs. With three guitarists, one bassist and a drummer Hidden In The Basement are a heavy riffing stoner metal band. I've talked ad nauseum about the Greek affinity with stoner music so when a band like this bring to mind NOLA heavyweights Down and COC then it reinforces these remarks. As I said they have three guitar players giving the songs such as False Dawn a bit more depth. It's all pretty good stuff here, getting the head nodding with psych-drenched heavy rock riffs and grizzled vocals, things get woozy on The Witch, Hangover is driving while Wasted Nights brings more mind expansion. Cursed By the Sun yet again shows that Greeks are in their own league when it comes to riffage. 7/10

Thursday 19 December 2019

Reviews: Carcariass, Stormburner, The Curf, Gaslarm (Manus & Rich)

Carcariass: Planet Chaos (Self Released) [Rich Oliver]

Planet Chaos is the fifth album from French progressive metallers Carcariass. A band I haven’t come across before, Carcariass play a nice mix of melodic death metal and progressive metal with some leanings into technical death metal as well. The musicianship on the album is absolutely brilliant with some astounding guitar work from Pascal Lanquetin and nifty drumming from Bertrand Simonin. The vocals by Jérôme Thomas whilst not mindblowing are perfectly functional and complementary to the music. The downside to Planet Chaos is its excessive length and the quality of the material just isn’t sufficient to justify the album’s 68 minute plus duration. The music is top quality and the performances phenomenal but the songwriting isn’t as refined with a lot of the album whilst sounding wonderful is merely forgettable. There are some brilliant moments such as the synth laden wonder of Star Implosion and the melodic death metal majesty of Letter From The Trenches. Overall whilst it has its flaws Planet Chaos still is a very enjoyable album. Well produced, meticulously performed but just overlong and excessive. 7/10

Stormburner: Shadow Rising (Pure Steel Records) [Manus Hopkins]

Shadow Rising by Stormburner… as is made evident by the title and the name of the band, this is a pretty straight-up heavy metal record. Not that there’s anything wrong with that, because straight-up heavy metal, when it’s done right, doesn’t need to be anything more. There are no weird fusions here, no attempts to make anything out of the ordinary fit in with this style. It’s just heavy metal, and it’s good. With song names like Metal In The Night and Demon Fire, pretty much any metal listener will know exactly what to expect, and no expectations will be subverted. But the combination of screeching vocals, galloping riffs and grooving drums has worked for decades, and while it’s exciting to see metal go in new directions, traditional heavy metal isn’t going away any time soon, nor should it. 7/10

The Curf: Among Others (Lychnopolis Records) [Manus Hopkins]

This stoner rock album isn’t an awfully boring or torturous listen, but at the same time, it’s hard to really get that excited about or into. There’s fine musicianship and decent song-writing, but these songs just lack a certain energy that makes them come off a little lackluster. This might be the right music for some more chill atmospheres, but it’s hard to imagine anyone being all that eager for a record like this to drop. All that being said, this still isn’t a bad album. There’s some cool guitar work on it, and parts that are actually pretty enjoyable if you go in without expectations. The Curf shouldn’t be written off—this is still a band with potential worth giving another show. 6/10

Gaslarm: Creation Myth (Self Released) [Rich Oliver]

Upon doing my research for this review I saw that Gaslarm had quite a lengthy discography and so immediately assumed this was a long running band. Then I saw that the band formed in 2017 yet had a total of sixteen albums and two EP’s and confusion hit me. Then I saw that five of those albums including this one had been released this year. Then the alarm bells started ringing. Either Gaslarm has the most impressive work rate or they basically release any old shit. Unfortunately any old shit was the right answer.

Gaslarm isn’t really a band per se more of a one man project from Riff Lord aka Anders Lindeberg who is also guitarist in Age Of Nefarious and Excöriator. Riff Lord performs all instruments and vocals and whilst a very competent musician is an absolutely awful vocalist. Imagine a cross between Lips from Anvil and Cronos from Venom but absolutely tuneless and you have a summation of the vocals on this album. The songs themselves are either completely unremarkable or painfully awful with Know Who I Am has to be one of the worst songs I have heard this year. There is one decent song and it is an instrumental called The Race To Save Humanity. More like the race to save this album from complete failure. After eight songs which fail to inspire much if any hope the album finishes on an absolute butchering of Black Sabbath’s Children Of The Grave which was so awful I nearly switched it off.

Listening to Gaslarm was nearly one hour of my life I will never get back. I will award two points to the album - one for the competent level of musicianship especially the guitar playing and one to the stamina of Anders Lindberg for continually releasing material. I don’t know whether he is doing this for laughs or if he is genuinely serious about what he does but if Creation Myth is what his creative output is then please someone stop this man from recording albums. 2/10

Wednesday 18 December 2019

Review: Violation Wound, Mountain Of Smoke, Solarys, Bestial Invasion (Matt & Liam)

Violation Wound: Dying To Live, Living To Die (Peaceville Records) [Liam True]

So Hardcore Punk isn’t really my forte, but I don’t mind it. With Violation Wound however, it’s opened the door for me a lot more. Imagine Dead Cross mixed with early Black Flag and that’s VW. From start to finish it’s an adrenaline packed Punk masterpiece. Granted it’s not your typical Punk, but a new wave so to speak. With the aggressive vocals of Autopsy frontman Chris Reifert leading the band through the 31 minute assault on your senses you don’t get time to think, speak or even know what you’ve just witnessed. Don’t get me wrong I know it’s supposed to be that way for the feel of it, but the production lets it down a little bit for me. I just like my music to be less murky and more clear if anything. It’s a personal preference, but I know most Punk bands go for the muddy sounding approach to their records. But at the end of the album you’ll find yourself putting it back on repeat because it has a fair amount of re-listens until it gets to ‘samey’. Make no mistake, they need a little bit more fuel in the fire to become known, but they’ve hit the nail on the head with this record. 8/10

Mountain Of Smoke: Future Sins (Self Released) [Matt Bladen]

This EP is available as a name-your-price download from Mountain Of Smoke's bandcamp so if you're a fan of heavy stoner metal similar to Orange Goblin then I'd suggest you pick this EP up as from the opening riff fest that is Trashcastle you get fuzzy, distorted riffs from Kyle Schutt a man who knows about riffs as his day job is a part of retro stoners The Sword. This is their first release as a four piece and while Schutt brings riffs locking in with Brooks Willhoite (bass and gravel-filled vocals) and PJ Costigan (drums) the most interesting part of this band is the pedal steel and synths from Alex Johnson who give this band and other world feeling take Plague Of The Powerless, yes the heavy reverbed bass is the main force the synths make it more unsettling. Things get weirder as the industrial instrumental Terminus build a Vangelis style soundscape into Zone Tripper which is heavily processed feeling like a synthwave number, though the last two tracks brings us back to more familiar ground. Mountain Of Smoke brings a unique take on sludge/stoner metal one that's worth investing in. 7/10

Solarys: Endless Clockworks (Wormholedeath) [Matt Bladen]

Solarys are modern melodic metal band and Endless Clockworks is their fourth album and their first since 2013. Now if you like bands such as Kamelot, Symphony X and Angra then you'll find much here, the synths underpin tough power metal riffs as the vocalist croons emotional lyrics. Now musically they are pretty basic, the guitarist is good but the vocalist doesn't really do much for me, he hasn't got much range and does warble a bit too much. As I said the guitar player Salvador Almagro is very slick, peeling off solos with ease as well as providing the stirring orchestral sounds for this album. As much as they try to aim for Kamelot etc, there are too many mid-paced numbers and nothing really sticks. Shame really as there is promise. 5/10

Beastial Invasion: Monomania (Nocturnus Records) [Liam True]

Power Metal has always been one of my my favourite genres. It’s cheesy. It’s catchy. And it’s pretty damn good. Beastial Invasion take it, and add hints of traditional Heavy Metal. It sounds like it would work, but it falls pretty flat to be honest. It’s not a bad album by any means, but the whole record seems forced, like the band aren’t being creative with each other, but just coming up with a tone and not improving on it. It does have some highlights with vocalist Vakhtang Zadiev showing some powerful vocals with the highs and growls he can reach. But that’s really it. It could be a lot better, but it could also be worse. Being on their third studio album you’d think they’d be more creative, but unfortunately not. Which is a shame because they do have potential. They just need to harness it. 4/10

Tuesday 17 December 2019

Reviews: Nightwish, Palm Reader X Conjurer, Edge Of Forever, Deaf Radio (Matt & Manus)

Nightwish: Decades: Live In Buenos Aires (Nuclear Blast) [Manus Hopkins]

Live records are hit and miss. They’re also commonly used to fill contractual obligations to record companies, or to fill space between studio releases, and aren’t often released because they’re what the artists really want to put out. Still, some live albums have been excellent, and some have been incredibly successful. Decades probably won’t become the record Nightwish is known for, but that doesn’t mean anything about the actual quality of the record.

Nightwish’s last studio release was back in 2015, so it’s not hard to see this as a gap-filler, but it’s an enjoyable one at that. The essence and energy is quite well-captured, the songs sound excellent, and a listen to the record should make pretty much anyone wish they had been at this show, or can catch one in the future. It’s also definitely something with the potential to make fans excited for Nightwish’s upcoming spring 2020 studio album. 8/10

Palm Reader X Conjurer: Palm Reader X Conjurer (Holy Roar Records) [Matt Bladen]

Another covers EP this time from two of the most exciting bands on the UK scene, the self proclaimed 'arch-enemies' Conjurer and Palm Reader. Conjurer are the heavier of the two with a more death metal style while Palm Rader sit in the hardcore base. So let's start with the two Palm Reader songs, firstly we have Tire Me Rage Against The Machine's ode to the death of Richard Nixon, from their second album Evil Empire. As with all of the covers on this record it's close enough to the original to be recognisable but with the Palm Reader aggression mainly in the vocals, the second cover is Circles originally by Post-hardcore/emo act Thrice, now having never heard this song I can't comment on how near it is to the original but it adds a new more emotional side to Palm Reader's delivery.

The Conjurer songs will be a little more familiar to the metal audience, firstly it's their version of Mastodon's Blood And Thunder a track they have been playing live for a while. Now this is basically the original version but with all guttural vocals not the three pronged sound of the Atlanta natives. if you've heard it live you'll know what to expect, the real attraction of this EP is their cover of Vermillion Slipknot's 'ballad' from Vol 3: The Subliminal Verses which adds the death vocals to the cleaner sounds that appear on the Slipknot version (a song that signalled Slipknot's change into a more multifaceted band). As good as both bands are this is just a covers record, obviously done as a bit of fun but it doesn't really show the best attributes of either band, still worth a listen. 6/10

Edge Of Forever: Native Soul (Frontiers Records) [Manus Hopkins]

It’s almost surprising that Edge Of Forever isn’t named after a geographical location, as their music fits in perfectly with that at the 1970s AOR giants. The essence captured by Native Soul is impressive for a record that’s come out so long after the advent of this style, but it’s a welcome change of pace in today’s rock climate. It’s the vocal melodies that really drive these songs, particularly on the catchy choruses, but the instrumental work is notable as well. Overall, this is a strong rock album, the type of which there should be more coming out these days. 8/10

Deaf Radio: Modern Panic (Ihaveadrum Records) [Matt Bladen]

The second album from Athens/London based rock band Deaf Radio ramps up the QOTSA influence in their music to another level. From album cover that definitely reminds me of Like Clockwork and Villains to the songwriting which brings an amalgamation of fuzzy garage rock, creepy alt psych, desert stoner grooves and even some pop inflections. Take the first two songs, they couldn't be more different Death Club is propulsive rocker with the fuzz overdrive on full, while Animals is much more expansive with haunting vocals and a dark atmosphere. Panos Gklinos pumps out guitar riffs along with Dimitris Sakellariou while giving his best Josh Homme impression vocally (Dance Like A Reptile).

It's the engine room of George Diathesopoulos (drums) and Dimitris Georgopoulos (bass) that deserve the spotlight though as they get the grooves going on the faster paced tracks while also stimulating the more atmospheric 'romantic' numbers like the title track and dramatic psych rockers like Astypalea. When they were ready to write Modern Panic Deaf Radio apparently wanted to start from the ground up, redefining their identity as a band. The songs reflect on "modern society’s issues such as lonerism, homophobia, racism, drug use and social media addiction." all very recognisable problems in today's society.

Whereas their debut was off kilter, full of jangly guitars and lashings of groove Modern Panic is for a more refined talent, much like the QOTSA of today, this is music with slicked back hair and a sharp suit that conceals a razorblade and fangs, it's the audio equivalent of the Peaky Blinders, refined but vicious. Don't panic just listen. 8/10

Monday 16 December 2019

Reviews: DeWolff, The Murder Of My Sweet, Lovekillers Feat. Tony Harnell, Elyrean (Paul H, Rich & Matt)

DeWolff: Tascam Tapes (Mascot Records) [Paul Hutchings]

You can find more detail about this interesting Dutch outfit in the previous reviews on the blog. Matt enjoyed their last studio album Thrust back in 2018 and the band released a second live album in spring 2019. Tascarn Tapes is slightly different though. It’s totally stripped down. No drum kit, no Hammond and no guitar amps. Yes, this was written, performed and recorded on the road for less than 50 euros. For that alone, you must commend the band. Singer Pablo Van de Poel explained that the reason for this was “partly because it seemed fun and it was about time to do something completely different and partly out of necessity. It was recorded in tiny crammed little spaces like the back of our touring van or in some tiny backstage somewhere, so we had to use portable stuff like a drum sampler and pocket synthesizer to make it work.” Recorded on a Tascam Porta Two, a four-track cassette recorder from the 1980’s. The only equipment they used was a sampler with some rare soul and funk sampled drumbeats loaded in by drummer Luka Van de Poel, a battery powered synthesizer and a guitar, all plugged directly into the recorder.

Not being familiar with their previous work made it easier to be objective. For a start, at 32 minutes in length, it’s not going to over burden you too much. The longest track is just over three minutes duration. The soulful Northpole Blues starts things off, the harmonies of the trio (completed by Robin Piso on keys) instant before the track veers crazily into an electrobeat conclusion. The fuzzy riff for Blood Meridian I brings the guitar into play; Pablo’s high-pitched vocals high above Piso’s soaring keyboards. The song is inspired by Cormac McCarthy book of the same name with the later Blood Meridian II is written through the eyes of the outlaw in the story. Elsewhere the gentle organic meander of Rain echoes Rival Sons, and the road trip lifestyle ode of Made It To 27 has a Robert Plant blues vs world music hybrid feel. Awesomeness Of Love blends a Zeppelin riff into its body whilst Love Is Such A Waste combines The Beatles and ELO in unique style.

At times raucous, at other times gentle and delicate, this is an album like few others. With much of the music now stale and repetitive, DeWolff have taken old ideas and brought them fully into 2020. This is interesting, stimulating and when you consider the way in which it was collated, it’s no wonder that the band can count Seasick Steve and Roger Glover amongst their admirers. 8/10

The Murder Of My Sweet: Brave Tin World (Frontiers Records) [Rich Oliver]

Brave Tin World is the fifth album from Swedish melodic metallers The Murder Of My Sweet. Another band I have never heard of before I had no idea what to expect going into this album but what I got was a very ear pleasing blend of melodic hard rock and symphonic metal. This album has a very nice relaxed energy about it with some very well written and hook laden songs. The symphonic elements are very subtle and not in any way overblown whilst the AOR elements give the songs a very slick melodic sheen. The performances are all very good and singer Angelica Rylin has a very pleasing voice. The songwriting is excellent with highlights including Tin Soldiers, Reasons To Live, Hit The Ground and Keeper Of The Flame. Brave Tin World is a great melodic rock/metal release and whilst not something I would generally listen to out of choice it was definitely not an endurance to get through. Well crafted and well produced songs.  7/10

Lovekillers Feat. Tony Harnell: S/T (Frontiers Records) [Matt Bladen]

American singer Tony Harnell is probably best known for fronting Norwegian rock band TNT, he was the bands longest running singer until recently along with stints in various bands the most notable of which being Skid Row. Lovekiller's is the newest release to feature Harnell's wide vocal range, written along with producer/keyboardist extraordinaire Alessandro Del Vecchio, and some other writers as well as being produced by Del Vecchio. It means that Lovekillers is an album of slick, melodic hard rock, AOR of the highest level pairing big ballads such as Bring Me Back with more straightforward rock tracks such as Now Or NeverAlive Again which are wrapped around the huge keyboard swathes of Del Vecchio and the insistent guitar and drums of Gianluca Ferro and Edo Sala, this is premium quality AOR, the likes of which Harnell hasn't been apart of since those heady days of the 'classic' TNT albums, his vocals soar on on Higher Again, but he can croon with emotion on numbers like Heavily Broken. Yes it suffers from ballad bloat but if polished melodic rock is your thing then this album featuring one of 'the voices' of the genre. 6/10

Elyrean: Blacken The Sun (Self Released) [Matt Bladen]

This debut E.P from Staffordshire technical thrashers Elyrean has been a long time in the making, numerous line up changes have hindered the band but they now have a solid four piece line up and after a fair few gigs Elyrean have unleashed their debut on the world, the EP is 7 tracks long but one is a string prelude and one is an instrumental interlude, the first track proper Unhallowed has blasting drums, technical thrash riffs and underlying strings to give a grandiose feel to the song. It's no surprise that they state their influences as Sylosis, Machine Head and Bloodshot Dawn as they have tried hard to make this album as virtositic as possible bringing various musical styles to the over-arching thrash sound but mainly there's death and black metal fury mixed with some more cinematic sounds.

Now what I would say is that the true scope of this EP is limited by the production a little, still that never really detracts too much from what are some good songs, my head was nodding throughout and the choice of putting a orchestral interlude is inspired as it gives you a chance to regroup for the final two numbers the starting with the excellent Fallen Ground and ending with the mini-epic Swarming Darkness. When you see that all the additional instrumentation was also played by the band members you can see how talented they really are, but it never really reaches that level it aspires to. I suggest you pick up Blacken The Sun if it sounds like something you like and keep an ear out for Elyrean in 2020. 7/10