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Sunday 31 March 2019

Reviews: Warpit, Bleed Someone Dry, Good Tiger, Wraithborn (Liam)

Warpit: Reborn EP (Self Released)

Some melodic death metal from Canada, and this just destroys the stereotype that Canadians are just all about hockey, maple syrup and saying ‘Sorey’. This EP, only 20 minutes long, just blew me away. With the technicality from both guitarists to the fantastic drumming by Samuel Voyer and the crushing vocals of Gonzalo Zunino. Opener Bleeding From Truth is my personal favorite, but the entire EP is just full of death metal destruction. Beautiful, and if there’s anything to take away from this EP, it’s to make sure you apologize to your neighbors about blasting it. Sorry about that one again guy’s, my bad. 8/10

Bleed Someone Dry: Unorthodox (Wormholedeath Records)

This is a classic deathcore album. From start to finish I was instantly hooked. I’m not usually a big deathcore lover, but this just struck a note with me. I love the heaviness they hit here and it just syncs together so well to create this fantastic album. I really can’t pick a song which is my favorite, because if I was to listen to this album, it would be from start to finish, no breaks, just pure deathcore, heavy. The strongest point of the album is the putrid vocals provided by Alessio Bruni that just brings it altogether. Italy has some wonderful exports, but this band certainly beats the heck out of pizza. Well done boys. 9/10

Good Tiger: Redux (Remix) (Metal Blade Records)

This is one I really didn’t want to review. I didn’t enjoy this at all, it was a horrendous experience for me because I hate it when bands remix their songs. It always comes out sounding like a toaster in a woodchipper. An interesting concept but when it comes to the crunch you want out immediately. It got to the point where I disliked it that much that it made me quite annoyed. So yeah, not for me. At all. 0/10

Wraithborn: The Testament Of The Infernal (Ebon Vale Productions)

I'm just going to say this straight up. This was a brilliant album. More along the lines of black metal but it's got some influences from death/metalcore. And it nails it all flawlessly. The entire album just blends together so good at points I even forgot that I put on a full album. You can feel the relentless energy put into this record and it makes it all the more fantastic. Personal favorite Heart Feast is a classic. Some good black/death metal here. Definitely deserve a support slot for a band like Behemoth. It'll go down a storm. 7/10

Reviews: Haunt, Turner, Burning Rain, Mindmare (Matt, Polly & Manus)

Haunt: If Icarus Could Fly (Shadow Kingdom Records)

Trevor William Church must be easily bored. He's prolific as the leader of stoner/doom riff masters Beastmaker pumping out records at a rate most other bands would laugh at. So far they've had 2 full lengths and 12 EP's. Although he's not content with that, he also has Haunt a classic metal project that despite only being around since 2017 has released 2 EP's and now 2 full length albums with If Icarus Could Fly being the second full length, (seriously man take up knitting or something).

Technically a solo project, we've reviewed Haunt's stuff before and it is everything you'd expect from a classic metal band (much like Beastmaker is occult doom at its purest) dual riffs, galloping bass and songs about history and fantasy, at just over 30 minutes it doesn't need you to engage your brain too much but there is joyous sense of nostalgia to the album's when Maiden, Priest, Tokyo Blade, Angel Witch et al were all still raw and vital fighting for space in Sounds magazine. Run And Hide is straightforward, while Cosmic Kiss brings a more spacey style to the traditional metal template. The whole record flies by with every track getting your head banging nicely. Classic metal done well can't be beat and Haunt do it well. Maybe Church should change his name to Midas. 8/10

Turner: Parliament EP (Self Released) [Polly]

Solo artist Turner is certainly on the right path with his music, his second EP release that shows he is onto greater things. The Anticipation of EP’s intro leading into Forward it packs quite a kick, the lyrics ‘it gets better’ is quite apt as the EP flows through to belter after belter to conclude with my favourite track. Dusk, featuring,Christina Rotondo has a theatrical essence to it from her powerful voice and dramatic delivery that with the creepy melody at the beginning paints quite the picture. Haunter, my favourite on the album opens with a lullaby-esque melody that gives an eerie warmth before plummeting into the heavy riffs that follow.

The EP felt as though I was on drugs and liquid with the sound. Jonny Turner’s soothing and earth shattering voice draws you in and spits you back out with heavy proggy riffs and comforts you all over again. Every time I have listened to the EP I forget about the epic solo casually slipped into Hunternot not because it’s forgettable but because there are so many other aspects to the album that are imprinted. I’m excited for his next project that will more than likely be better again. 8/10

Burning Rain: Face The Music (Frontiers Records) [Manus]

Super(ish) group Burning Rain, made up of ex-members of Dio, Whitesnake, Montrose, and Steelheart among others, are onto album number four with the cliché-titled Face The Music. There’s 12 tracks on this record, but none of them contain anything particularly attention-grabbing. Even the catchy choruses leave the ear as quickly as they come. The album’s faster, upbeat rock songs, like the title track and Midnight Train, might make for decent driving music or something, but the ballads like Shelter and If It’s Love really drag on, and there are far too many of those. There’s nothing blatantly terrible to pinpoint about any of these songs, but they’re just dull and lack any sort of real excitement. 5/10

Mindmare: Psychotic Regression (Some Studio) [Polly]

The opening track Psychotic Regression didn’t suck me in as much as I expected however the background synths did add a layer to the track that made it more enjoyable. The solo for this track is an area that I enjoyed but the general riff seemed quite repetitive after a while. Elsewhere on the album A New Slave Of Mankind was one of the tracks that I enjoyed more, opening with guitars followed by the impressive speed of the drums made this for me. I can hear a pinch of clean vocals that should have been emphasised more but generally the pace of the stringed instruments battling against the drums work well with this track, exit riffs work well however it does not fade into the next track well.

The Deceit has one of those openings to the songs that’s familiar. I’m not sure if this is a good or a bad thing, it kind of feels like it has been done before. In spite of this the progression of the song is one of the winners of the album where the guitars and vocals work well with each other. Overall I enjoyed the album,I can’t think of anything brilliant to say about it, but nothing terrible either. 5/10

Saturday 30 March 2019

Review: The Treatment, Whitechapel, American Sin, Marianas Trench (Paul H, Mark, Alex & Liam)

The Treatment: Power Crazy (Frontiers Records) [Paul H]

Cambridge quintet The Treatment have been delivering the goods for over a decade now. I’ve seen the band several times, opening for Black Stone Cherry in a sweaty, fabulous night in Cardiff’s Solus in 2011, headlining at Clwb Ifor Bach back in 2014 and an event stealing performance at Steelhouse in 2015 and they’ve always been great value for money. It’s been a while since I’ve listened to the band on record, but their fourth album, Power Crazy is certainly worth a listen. Since I last saw the band, vocalist Mitchell Emms has moved on. New man on the microphone Tom Rampton (and I say new but he’s in his second year with the band) has certainly slotted in comfortably, with an assured confident performance. The band tour hard and often, and it shows in the cohesion on Power Crazy.

This isn’t ground breaking in any shape or form, and the band appear to have moved more towards the blues rock of AC/DC, especially on tracks such as Luck Of The Draw, Let’s Get Dirty and King Of The City. What the Treatment bring to the table is good honest rock n’ roll with a swagger and arrogance that demands a beer in the hand, a hot evening and a bloody good time. The tight rhythm section of Rich Newman and Dhani Mansworth lock everything down tightly whilst the guitar work of Tagore and Tao Grey is simple but efficient.

With the arrogance of Aerosmith, the tightness of The Cult alongside the Acca Dacca influences still in evidence, this is an ear pleasing album that should be mandatory for car journeys, whilst the band should be synonymous with great nights out. The version I reviewed contained two acoustic bonus tracks, Bite Back and Let’s Get Dirty, both showing that the band can do the softer stuff without a problem. This is an album that will be pleasing every time it is played and a solid follow up to 2016’s Generation Me. Good, honest hard rock. Now, it’s time to get back to seeing them live again next time they pass through South Wales. 8/10

Whitechapel: The Valley (Metal Blade Records) [Mark]

Hailing from Knoxville, Tennessee, Whitechapel are a deathcore band named after a district of London, made famous by the serial killer Jack The Ripper. Formed in 2006 this five piece band have been through a number of members but seem to have settled down with the following line-up, vocalist Phil Bozeman, guitarists Ben Savage, Alex Wade, and Zach Householder, and bassist Gabe Crisp. The seventh studio album release, on the Metal Blade label looks set to catapult the band into the limelight. When A Demon Defiles A Witch opens up The Valley and it’s as Whitechapel as Whitechapel can be to begin with, Bozeman’s vocals cutting the music asunder with its recognisable guttural low end, but don’t be fooled, this man has a lot more range than you might be led to believe from earlier albums, developing a great mid pitch melodic scream, reminiscent of Gojira at times.

About half way through the song the biggest departure from their earlier material kicks in, with clean guitars and relaxed drums, with actual singing, from a singer who can growl, scream and sing. This is going to divide opinion, without a doubt, comparisons to Five Finger Death Punch and Slipknot are already doing their rounds on Facebook comments and forum posts. I say good luck to them for trying to make the sound more accessible, more appealing to casual metalheads who are looking for the next big thing, because I’ve no doubt Whitechapel have it in them to be that, their ability to write a catchy song, the production, the choruses they write are all top notch, a band who progresses and evolves is a great thing and we’re witnessing that very thing here.

Forgiveness Is Weakness stomps through the melody of the previous track and has a real Our Endless War feel, a three minute crush of heaviness that is a definite live cut that will get the mosh pit moving. Holy shit, I didn’t know a human throat could make that noise, the opening to Brimstone drops in like a bag stuffed full of hammers, the simple 4/4 beat creating an amazing groove that will get the head nodding, two minutes in, we’re treated to a breakdown/buildup back into the opening riff that leaves some space in between the hammers beating you relentlessly. One of the simpler songs on the album but it’s catchy and great because of its simplicity.

Right here we go, Hickory Creek, the only song I heard before getting the album for review, a song that had me a little nervous about the contents of this record. This is a song that has melody, singing and choruses that a lot of bands can only imagine writing. It’s one of the tracks that I think will divide opinion, but I don’t care, it’s great and shows a maturity, with real emotion poured into the subject matter, a song structure that reminds of the early 00s with build, break and chorus, it’s hard to pin down where the influence comes from for this departure from Whitechapel’s regular broadcasting, but that doesn’t matter, all that matters is they’re willing to put down this sort of material and stick to their guns with it.

Black Bear on the other hand is a groove filled smash through some mid paced bounce, this track is something else, fans of earlier material will enjoy this, a lot. We Are One digs even further back into their catalogue for influence, blast-beats and some amazing kick patterns really get this track going, around the three minute mark there’s a build which sounds familiarly like another song (it’s one of their own, so it’s OK), then a breakdown kicks in that is sure to get the blood moving. Lovelace is the album highlight for me, this track shows the most maturity, adding in some mid range Gojira-ish screams, super catchy and all told something that should have appeared earlier on the album.

That said there’s not really a bad track on The Valley, the only factor will be whether you’re into the Whitechapel sound, low tuned guitars, breakdowns, guttural vocals, now added clean vocals, and perfect production. I am into all these things, I look forward to releases and tour announcements, this album has come along like a real shot in the arm for heavy music in 2019. 9/10

American Sin: S/T (Sumerian Records) [Liam]

This is quite a diverse album, and it took me by surprise how good they make it sound. Musically it’s a diverse mixture of metalcore & hard rock. While vocally it’s a mix between metalcore & Southern rock on times, which sounds like a terrible idea, but this band pulls it off smoothly. Rebranding from Come The Dawn in 2017 and dropping this surprise album only a few days ago with no promotional teasers or no notice from record label Sumerian Records, this album is quite the gem. Back to front this album is flawless. There are so many hooks, chorus’ & riffs that’ll keep you fulfilled, and more.

My personal favorite track Roulette will get you bobbing your head. But the entire album is so catchy, I've caught myself singing it at random points throughout the day (Which I must say, I did butcher, but I'm trying okay) and to the dismay of my co-workers, sorry again guys. You might recall a certain ‘Band’ a few weeks ago stating that ‘They are a year ahead of metal bands’. Well with the new self-titled album by American Sin, that statement has been well and truly fucking crushed. I honestly can’t wait for this band to tour the UK and make themselves a force to be well and truly reckoned with. 10/10

Marianas Trench: Phantoms (604 Records) [Alex]

Alright, let me be honest. Calling Marianas Trench rock, is stretching the definition slightly. Most mainstream publications don’t seem to know how to accurately describe them either, opting for the ambiguous, Pop-Rock, as a way of covering all bases. The Canadian quartet still places plentiful emphasis on guitars, while utilizing some instrumental palates not typically seen in dominant genres, and repeatedly emphasizing their place as an ‘album orientated’ act. Each of these qualities is well represented across their discography as well, with Masterpiece Theatre breaking from the rawer style of previous releases, and Astoria being conceived as a concept album inspired by adventure movies. Unsurprisingly then, Phantoms sees them 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.

When it comes to creating a ghostly atmosphere, Marianas Trench precisely utilizes tension. Instrumentals begin modestly so that the listener pays attention to the lyrics. Soon enough, layers of orchestral and harmonic arrangement are set on top of one another, emulating the creeping way in which we experience love or fear. ‘’Repeating from the beating of your tell-tale heart/ Well stirs of whispers trail and linger you still haunt the corners of my eye’’ Josh Ramsay sings on Echoes Of You in reference to the short story ‘tell-tale heart’ by Edgar Allen Poe, where the protagonist desperately recounts a murder he committed, while simultaneously trying to convince the reader of his sanity. We are here carrying on a theme introduced on the perfectly layered opening song Eleonora, and just like the opener, the simple pop edifice is counterbalanced by an epic yet haunting crescendo of strings and horns.

Several moments from across the album are reprised on the final anthem: The Killing Kind. Here, our narrator is seemingly crushed under the weight of his guilt – ‘’Nevermore to leave here’’ – while we hear callbacks to numerous melodies scattered throughout the record, and the wordplay continues its perpetual allusions to Allen-Poe: ‘If madness overtakes us both, then nobody would be alone. The ghost of us can linger here, forever not to disappear’. These narrative quirks are the centerpiece of Phantoms and go quite a long way to proving how well Ramsay hones his songwriting ability, to create an experience which while bearing some the features of contemporary pop, bears a close resemblance to an experience which is theatrical or cinematic.

Perhaps part of the reason I haven't focused nearly as much on the individual component parts, as I usually do in my reviews, is that they don’t intrigue me as much as Marianas Trench’s claim to be ‘an album act, in age where the album is a dying format’. For instance, I could talk at length about how moments like Only The Lonely Survive and Wish You Were Here, utilise pop hooks to maximum effect, becoming both catchy and memorable. Alternatively, I could ruminate on the weird vocal modulations on Don’t Miss Me? and The Death Of Me, which in honesty I don’t care for. Doing so however would undermine my goal to see if these musicians stand up to their own scrutiny.

Admittedly, upon my first few listens I didn’t notice the storytelling. However, upon further excavation, I began to notice the subtleties and lyrical caveats which are cleverly weaved into the tapestry. For that reason alone, I would not recommend Phantoms as anyone's first introduction to this band. However, I would encourage listeners to show them the respect, and the patience to look closely and see the skillful songwriting, which lies beneath the accessibility on their surface 7/10

Reviews: The Mute Gods, Rival Tides, Colt 48, Anthem (Paul H, Manus & Alex)

The Mute Gods: Atheists and Believers (InsideOut Records) [Paul H]

Despite being one of the busiest touring and recording musicians in the rock world, Nick Beggs also finds time to deliver high quality side projects. None more so that The Mute Gods, the band he put together with drummer Marco Minnemann (Steven Wilson, The Aristocrats, The Sea Within) and keyboard player Roger King (Steve Hackett Band). Atheists And Believers is the third album, following on from 2017’s Tardigrades Will Inherit The Earth and the band’s eponymous debut in 2016.

Whilst Tardigrades Will Inherit The Earth was a dark, heavier release than its predecessor, Atheists And Believers has a more melodic, pop feel about it whilst retaining the dark subject matter. Main writer Beggs has continued his social commentary, this time turning his attention to the state of the world, focussing on universal topics such as politics, humanity and love. As Beggs comments, “The album’s key message is that we now empower stupid people and don’t listen to educated, informed experts anymore because truth is no longer fashionable.”

Clocking in at just under an hour in length, the ten tracks on offer range from turbulent rock compositions to more sentimental pieces of music. The opening title track is one of the harder edged songs, whilst One Day has a guest solo from Alex Lifeson of Rush. Beggs also enlists Craig Blundell from Steven Wilson’s band, multi-instrumentalist Rob Townsend and his daughter, Lula Beggs for the delicate and essential backing vocals. Knucklehead is a poppier track, dominated by a gorgeous melody and some delicious keyboards, the subject matter aimed at those idiots in power around the world.

If you follow Beggs on social media and can get past the random naked shots whilst he is on tour, you’ll be aware of his views of the environment, society and politics. His despair at the way the world This is evident on Envy The Dead, which opens with a crunching riff, is underpinned by King’s thick keyboards and which meanders its way to a natural conclusion. Beggs vocals as ever are clear and smooth, whilst the musicianship on display throughout this release is of course, top drawer. Calm and gentle is the order of the day on Old Men, a reflective acoustic piece, which contrasts with the industrial feel of Iridium Heart and the eight-minute anger of Twisted World Godless Universe. The album concludes with the delicate, fragile I Think Of You. Clever, astute and superbly composed, The Mute Gods third album is every bit as good as its predecessors. With a world careering towards calamity and chaos at an alarming rate, there will no doubt be even more material for album number four. 8/10

Rival Tides: My God Is Fire (Self Released) [Alex]

Rival Tides describe themselves purely as ’rock’. Not as alternative, or traditional or any numbers of labels you can suffix to the genre, just ‘rock’. This was probably a smart move for a number of reasons. First and foremost, if you begin getting too specific with your labels, you immediately draw comparisons to a myriad of other acts, thus taking attention away from the music. Secondly, if I were to label them off the impression I get on My God Is Fire, the combination of distinctive guitar parts and strong choruses doesn’t really lend itself to any genre better than rock. Taken together, we a given a record which is enjoyable, if not enthralling.

We open on some impressive interplay between lead and rhythm guitars, as All My Friends Are Stoned proves an energetic opener, with a strong chorus melody. These musicians do show a precise ability to use contrast effectively though as the song enters an airy, ambient and mellow section as a means of taking the listener off guard for when the fast-tempos decide to kick back in. Vultures follows, its rhythmic verses, euphorically gliding hooks and wildling guitar solos making it one of the most stand-out moments here. Deeper Cuts and Sour Milk, show Rival Tides gloomy side using chaotic instrumentation, violent juxtapositions, and darker tones. On a different note, Bread For Thieves and Sore Neck demonstrate their concern with societal issues, dealing with wealth disparity and homelessness. Overall, this results in quite a mixed bag of anthems, each of them catchy and commanding in their own right.

Going back to the notion of genre labels, there seems to be a variety of influences at play here, some of them more modern some of them grounded in classic rock. While there is nothing wholly revolutionary or different, My God Is Fire certainly succeeds in creating feelings of elation and excitement. Sound like your sort of thing? Give it a listen. 7/10

Colt 48: Negatives (Self Released) [Paul H]

Formed in June 2017, London based two-piece Colt 48 have apparently snared a loyal fanbase in the Capital. The duo of Adam Jerome (Guitar/Vocals) and Matt Savini (Drums) make no disguise of their love for the churning low nu-metal sounds of SOiL and Korn and add to their sound with a touch of melody in similar vein to bands such as Three Days Grace. Having already released two EPs, I and II which have forced the management at venues such as The Black Heart and The Borderline to put up the ‘Sold Out’ signs.

With a number of high-profile support slots including Puddle Of Mudd and Glamour Of The Kill to their name, the star is clearly in the ascendency for the band. Now, having spent a summer with producers Colin Richardson (known for his work with Slipknot, Machine Head and Trivium) and Chris Clancy (of Mutiny Within and Wearing Scars), Colt 48 drop EP number three, Negatives. Full of a barrage of riffs, grooves and choruses which are instantly catchy, Negatives is five songs of totally polished and infectious hard rock which will appeal to many. Short and sweet, the five tracks barely get over the three-minute mark but sometimes less is more. Jerome’s vocal is suited to the band’s sound, and their high energy impressive. They may be a bit repetitive but that is often the style. It’s not my bag but Colt 48 are a band clearly on the up. 7/10

Anthem: Nucleus (Nuclear Blast Records) [Manus]

Japanese heavy metal quartet Anthem have been cranking out albums at a breakneck pace since the early 80s—aside from being broken up from ’92 until 200—and Nucleus as an album sounds like it will fit nicely into the group’s catalogue. It’s the same, straight up heavy metal, only this record’s slick production makes it sound much more modern. It’s a bit of an odd juxtaposition, the old style song-writing with the modern studio sound not particularly complementing it will.

Some rawness and character is lost for the better sound, but had the band turned out a record in 2019 with the production of the 80s, it probably would have also sounded strange. The songs themselves do sound a little dated. This isn’t always a bad thing, if they are still great songs, but most of these ones are just alright. Venom Strike is a jumpy tune, Awake adds nice touches of melody and Black Empire has the catchiest chorus on the record, but at 13 tracks, the highlights are too few and far between. 6/10

Friday 29 March 2019

Reviews: Cellar Darling, Waylander, Enterprise Earth, Blood Youth (Rich, Sean, Mark & Liam)

Cellar Darling: The Spell (Nuclear Blast) [Rich]

The Spell is the second album by Swiss progressive metallers Cellar Darling. The band is comprised of ex-members of folk metal band Eluveitie though those expecting folk metal in the style of Eluveitie should look elsewhere as Cellar Darling are a completely different beast altogether. Based around the concept of a young girl who is searching for the meaning of life and ends up falling in love with Death and the album very much has the aura of a dark fairytale about it. The music is complex and atmospheric with all the nuances of a progressive metal record but with the addition of folk instruments such as flute and hurdy gurdy which whilst not dominating the music are a very welcome and subtle presence.

The songs range from the aggressive to the morose to the haunting and it’s this range of moods which kept me in awe throughout The Spell.  Songs such as the title track, Death, Insomnia And Drown are utterly mesmerizing. Considering they are only a three piece there are a lot of different sounds and instruments on display and special mention must go to frontwoman Anna Murphy. I always enjoyed the Eluveitie songs where she took on the lead vocals but her vocals on The Spell are just something else and she is really able to flex her range and abilities with her own music and she sounds simply stunning. The Spell is a fantastic album.  It is a slow burner that may take multiple listens to fully appreciate but the time spent on this album is ultimately rewarding as it is a beautiful conceptual piece of music that is magical, hypnotic and alluring. 8/10

Waylander: Ériu’s Wheel (Listenable Records) [Sean]

Being of Welsh/Irish stock, I’m always up for sampling the many delights of the the Emerald Isles. Even more so, when said delights combine two of my favourite things. “But Sean, you are so well traveled and cultured. Why be so enthralled by such a meagre combination?” Well, random snob, said combination contains the most potent of ingredients for starters! “Ah foolish me, I withdraw my foolish words. I beg you, temper my ignorance with the flame of you prodigious wisdom!” But of course! Irish folk music with a sizable dollop of BIG FUCKING RIFFS! Having excited since 1993, Gaelic gladiators Waylander have been steadily sharpening their blades for over two decades, releasing solid slabs of pure Irish Folk Metal. Along with fellow Celts and Irishmen, Cruachan, Waylander remain unbent, unbowed and steadfast to their musical vision in a world besieged by change. Returning with new album Ériu’s Wheel (matron goddess of Ireland), Waylander return with 9 new offerings pagan power. Considering that Kindred Spirits was released in 2012, does Waylander’s fire still burn?

Embers crackling oven an open flame begins this tale, long sombre notes ringing out into the mournful night. Folky instrumentation builds layer upon layer, recited verses of summer’s passing floating above the dancing embers. As Samhain Comes” soon take the lead, with blasting blackened riffs brought to bare. The tempo slows, the sombre air returning and Waylander paint a vivid picture of winters inevitable arrival. A strong start indeed, with Shortest Day, Longest Night quickening its advance. Doomy chords echo out until the pace quickens, replaced by a mixture of brawny chugging and blackened strumming. Things loosen up a touch too much towards the end, though it’s an enjoyable number all the same. Imbolc is a rousing battle hymn, the ever present tin whistle providing ample melody above the icy riffs. The Vernal Dance’s bodhrán led intro neatly transitions Waylander’s folkier side, the change of air and key welcome as we progress to Ériu’s Wheel halfway point. A bouzouki can be heard amongst the din, neatly fitting in with the powerful metallics. Beltine continues the folky frolics, it’s upbeat spirit a pleasant contrast to the stern grimness that came before. As The Sun Stands Still and To Feast At Lughnasadh are anthems through and through, both practically exploding with infectious potency. It closes with Autumnal Blaze, completing natures cycle and Ériu’s Wheel’s parting war cry. Their final stand and mightiest stroke, Autumnal Blaze finishes Waylanders fifth chapter with suitable clout.

So to revisit my earlier question, does Waylander’s fire still burn? Throughout Ériu’s Wheel running time, I think it’s an emphatic yes! Sure, there’s a few wee things that could dampen their flames. The drums could be less gaunt and the overall performance could be a touch tighter. The clean choruses, whenever they do make themselves known, are muffled and struggle to gain a solid foothold in overall mix. Quibblings aside, Ériu’s Wheel is a solid, well balanced offering from the Gaels and a worthy entry into their discography. Time has not yet ravaged Waylander’s spirit and Ériu’s Wheel is testament to that, proving that all one needs is a solid melody, some loud ass guitars and a will of steel to see it done. In closing, Waylander have planted their feet deep into the ground, marching ever onwards unburdened and uncontested, their gaze permanently fixed towards their inevitable victory. Sláinte! 8/10

Enterprise Earth: Luciferous (Entertainment One Music) [Mark]

USA based Enterprise Earth are a deathcore outfit that I’ve somehow missed, I listen to a fair amount of deathcore, it’s like easy listening for death metal fans, it just does everything you’re expecting it to do, with added breakdowns, perfect for driving or on headphones when walking the dog. Behold Malevolence opens the album and it’s heavy, really heavy, four minutes of stomping around with lead boots on heavy, but there’s a persistent noise in the background, a high pitched wail that is not very nice and I wish it wasn’t there. Sleep Is For The Dead reminds me of The Acacia Strain in pace and tone, that’s no bad thing, they’re a fantastic example of deathcore done right, this hits all the hallmarks, dripping with spite and groovy to go with it. Scars Of The Past arrives with some clean guitars and an eerie build up then drops into an intergalactic space battle between titans riff before changing pace again then again, halfway through we get a build up into extremity with blazing kick drums and a heavy breakdown, all leading into a melodic outro, great track.

Ashamed To Be Human kicks the damn doors through, blast beats and breakdowns, just rename the track fellas, it is absolutely top notch though and probably the album highlight. The second half of this album definitely feels busier and even has more melody, dropping into a different groove to the first half, Requiem seems to be a departure point, almost like it’s two EPs stitched together. The title track Luciferous has a great intro, sounds like there’s some black metal influence in there, maybe even some Akercocke, this is a great track and doesn’t follow the modern day deathcore mould at all, a very surprising track on this album and one I thoroughly enjoy listening to, more like this would be great. Overall, this is a great release from Enterprise Earth, they’ve managed to put together 12 songs that will keep deathcore fans interested, the almost split sound helps there. This is going to make it into my rotation and I have already recommended some of my friends who like this sort of material keep an eye out for its release. 8/10

Blood Youth: Starve (Rude Records) [Liam]

I'm a bit on the bridge about this album. It's a few genres in one. Such as influences of hardcore & metalcore and a few samples here and there. But overall, it's a very strong album. Starve shows you what the album is made of right off the bat, just straight relentless hardcore, with a small hint of melody in the chorus, nice touch. Cut Me Open is as brutal as it sounds. More on the metalcore side of the spectrum, but not less heavy. I'll give you a tad spoiler alert, the whole album is like this.

Crushing hardcore with blistering chorus'. Such a good combination that not many bands can pull off but Blood Youth nails it and takes it to the atmosphere. If anything, the album as a whole is actually pretty beautifully done. There's enough here to satisfy your metal needs. There's no one to compare these to really because they make the hardcore sound their own and slightly improve it. Well done boys. 8/10

Review: Devin Townsend (Rich)

Devin Townsend: Empath (InsideOut Records)

Easily the most prolific Canadian musician in modern day rock and metal Devin Townsend has had a long and varied career in which conformity and predictability has been completely abandoned and creativity and uniqueness has been key driving factor. Devin has been an artist who rarely repeats himself. When you find him getting into a bit of a groove he then suddenly throws you a curveball and either reinvents himself or does something utterly bizarre and genius which is exactly what has happened here with Empath. After a string of highly successful and well received albums and huge tours including some of the most prolific shows of his career (including the Royal Albert Hall and playing with a symphony orchestra in the Plovdiv Coliseum Stadium) Devin decided to disband the Devin Townsend Project much to the shock and surprise of his fans and has decided once again to go it alone. I can understand the reasoning behind it.

Transcendence was a fantastic album but it was quite safe and samey sounding and I think it was more Devin writing the music that was expected of him rather than what he truly wanted to release. So with Devin going it alone with Empath there were many questions posed. Not only what would the music sound like but who would be playing on the album. Devin has managed to collect together a bunch of musicians who all have specific roles on the album with no less than three drummers, several guest vocalists and an array of other musicians and friends including a women's choir and an orchestra. 

The range of different musicians is needed to pull off Devin’s complex vision for Empath and it certainly pays off. So where does Empath stand musically? My hopes were that with Devin solo and untethered that we would get his pure undiluted crazy genius and that is certainly what we get on Empath. It is a mixing pot of all the previous sounds and styles of Devin Townsend’s past recordings as well as going into some new and unexplored territories. This is a complete mash up of different genres, styles, moods and soundscapes which if anyone else had tried to mix together would probably sound like a convoluted mess but with the genius of Devin at the helm it works magnificently. 

This album is a complete wild ride from start to finish. Things start off with Castaway where we start on a beach with the sound of waves lapping up on the shore. A very clean jazzy piece of lead guitar work starts before it switches to some calypso music and then we are introduced to the choir. This track is merely an intro but still has more style changes than the average song. The first proper track is Genesis which was released as a music video a few weeks back. This song is pretty much the mission statement for Empath encompassing a whole myriad of different styles and variations from the peaceful to the chaotic to the catchy to the utterly epic. 

This is just the opening song and really sets you up for the journey you are about to take. Next up is Spirits Will Collide which is a calmer and more accessible sounding song than Genesis that makes heavy use of the choir with big melodies, a nice chorus and a general feel of hope and positivity. What follows are Evermore and Sprite which are two of the more complex songs of the album with a mix of styles, complex interchanging rhythms and varying themes. Following those is Hear Me which is the most extreme track Devin has done since the Strapping Young Lad days. The frenzied insanity of this song is kept grounded by the guest vocals of Anneke Van Giersbergen but it is the heaviest thing Devin has written for years. 

The next song Why is the polar opposite of what has come before sounding like something which could come off a musical with the majority of the song comprised of just Devin with the orchestra. It is probably the finest vocal performance from Devin in his career and whilst something completely different is just jaw dropping in its delivery and ambition. Hear Me and Why are two songs which are definitely gonna have the fans talking. Next up is Borderlands which is one of the most discordant songs of the album with the song jumping between conflicting styles and moods but yet somehow it just works. From a happy go lucky start to some mad electronics and zany guitar noodling the song then goes leftfield and we are back on the beach at the start of the album. 

We then have some of the most soulful and gentle material from Devin since Ghost before pulling us back into the craziness for a bit and then leaving us with an ambient outro very reminiscent of The Hummer. Echoes of the choir part from Castaway bring to an end of the most diverse and brilliant songs Devin has ever done in my opinion. The choir and orchestra come back in true moving and epic fashion on Requiem which sounds like it could come from a movie soundtrack. Pure arm hair raising stuff. The album is brought to a close by the whopping 23 minute 6 part epic Singularity. Songs of this nature can sometimes get lost in their own ambition and pretentiousness but Devin does not let us down. A whole mish mash of what Devin does best with so many styles under one roof plus a wonderful guest appearance from guitar maestro Steve Vai. 

Empath is not an album for the faint hearted. It requires several listens and it’s one of those albums where you will discover something new which each listen. It’s a vastly complicated record but wow what a rewarding experience. I felt such a range of emotions whilst listening to Empath that I felt genuinely exhausted by the end. For people who prefer Devin’s albums such as Addicted, Epicloud and Transcendence this may be a tough listen but for those of us who like his overly crazy and complicated material such as Infinity and Deconstruction this might just end up as your favourite Devin album of them all. For me the top tier of Devin’s work are Infinity and Terria and this album matches those albums and might just even surpass them. Empath is gonna be a massive talking point upon its release and will definitely be seen as a pivotal moment in Devin’s career. It’s not gonna be for everyone but those who love it will absolutely adore the shit out of it. 

If I was to compare this album to anything it would be the classic literary work by Charles Dickens A Christmas Carol in that it is the past, present and future of Devin Townsend. It is an accumulation of all he is done before, the material he wants to write at present and also gives a glimpse into what is to come in the future especially with the prevalent use of an orchestra with Devin also currently working on a symphonic piece called The Moth. I’ve listened to this album a ridiculous amount of times and I can’t see myself stopping any time soon. Devin Townsend at his most mind bending and genre defiling best. 10/10

Thursday 28 March 2019

A View From The Back Of The Room: The Pineapple Thief (Live Review By Paul H)

The Pineapple Thief & O.R.K. - SWX, Bristol

A return to SWX three days after Polish band Riverside had put on a masterclass in progressive rock for another serving of progressive music and to be honest, as much as I love the Poles, this was another level again. Part of my reason for stating that was the support act O.R.K. (9) were worth the admission fee alone. If you read this blog on a regular basis (and why wouldn’t you??) you may have seen my review of the band’s third album, Ramagehead which was released last month. It is a superb piece of work and earned a deserved 9/10 rating. The band comprises award-winning composer /vocalist Lorenzo Esposito Fornasari, King Crimson's Pat Mastelotto, Porcupine Tree's Colin Edwin and the crafted guitar work of Marta Sui Tubi's Carmelo Pipitone. We were treated to 50 minutes of quite breathtaking music, with their range of intricate and technical rock mixed with a steely hard edge lapped up by the appreciative and large audience. Delightfully, the crowd in the SWX appeared able to hold in the chatter, and as a result there was silence for the calm and complex sections, plenty of nodding heads for the hard rocking sections and a buzz of pure enjoyment throughout.

O.R.K.’s well balanced set mixed tracks from Ramagehead, which included the Serj Tankian-less Black Blooms, the raging Signals Erased and a fabulous Kneel To Nothing with tracks from Inflamed Rides (the awesome Pyre) and a couple from 2017’s Soul Of An Octopus, including a storming Dirty Rain. Unassuming, but with a warmth that is often missing, most of the chat between songs was led by Mastelotto, his Californian drawl perfectly complimenting the beautiful Spring Day that preceded the gig. Edwin, quiet and unassuming joined in whilst Esposito Fornasari contented himself with the odd word and a sublime vocal performance. His ability is exceptional; hitting the notes on Beyond Sight was just incredible. Backed by a simple but efficient light show and crystal-clear sound, this is a band I could watch for hours. Whilst many in the audience may have been unfamiliar with some of O.R.K.’s work, the queue at their merch stand at the end of the gig suggested that this would not be the case for long.

Having turned to Matt and suggested that The Pineapple Thief (10) may have met their match with this quality of support, the next 100 minutes then proved I know nothing as Bruce Soord’s band delivered a set of the most astonishing perfection. Eighteen months ago, we’d watched the band deliver a masterful show a mere stone’s throw away at the sadly defunct Bierkeller. The initial booking for the latest tour had been at The Fleece, but the swollen crowd on this final night of their European tour demonstrated just how far the band’s popularity has increased. Soord, calmly spoken, but totally engaging, coped admirably with several technical challenges with a humour which kept attention focused. Laughter all around as he introduced his guitar tech, who played his cameo to perfection.

As on the Your Wilderness tour, The Pineapple Thief demonstrated their quality with simple yet technically flawless musicianship. Behind the kit sat Gavin Harrison, a man who makes drumming look effortless. His range is majestic, fills, rolls, hard hitting snare and gentle timpani, it’s all in the locker and he appeared to have hardly broken sweat at the end of the set. Alongside Soord, the ever-reliable Jon Sykes on bass and backing vocals, his headphones firmly in place on top of his shaven head. Energetic, consistent and always effective, it was at times hard to take your eyes off him as he bobbed around the stage, bouncing on the spot, running back and fore and adding those beautiful harmonies that make the band’s sound so distinctive.

The last tour saw Godsticks Darren Charles handling guitar duties but here we had the talents of George Maios, whose sublime lead work was captivating. With a band as talented as this, it is sometimes hard to know who to watch first and whilst all eyes naturally centred on Soord, Maios added deft touches to flesh out the intricate songs. Behind Maios, keyboard player Steve Kitch, another reliable player whose rich keys are integral to the band’s sound. Of course, this is Soord’s party, and whilst he delegates most lead work to Maios, he still leads from the front, with his acoustic guitar work enchanting.

The larger stage and venue allowed the band to be a bit more expansive in their stage set, with subtle clever lighting adding quality to that already on stage. We often forget to absorb the extras at gigs, but the simple blues, greens and reds mixed with spotlights matched the various moods differently. A sixteen-song set was heaven for many with the bulk of the songs unsurprisingly from 2018’s magnificent Dissolution and the previous Your Wilderness release. Seven songs from Dissolution in total, highlights including the tub-thumping Threatening War, the delicate Shed A Light and the acoustic duet of first encore Not Naming Any Names. Meanwhile, old favourites were greeted with roars of approval by those of the older fan-base, including a fierce 3000 Days from Someone Here Is Missing and probably the heaviest track of the evening, Part Zero from 2003’s Variation On A Dream.

Whilst there are lengthy tracks in the band’s catalogue, many of them are surprisingly short, keeping the interest there. Pacing was perfect, short track mingling with the longer epics, and new songs sitting comfortably with the older tunes. A three-song encore concluded with Snowdrops, a firm favourite from 2006’s Little Man, and once more you could but marvel at the incredible show just witnessed. The Pineapple Thief may be in their 20th year, but it looks like the band are finally getting the recognition they so richly deserve.

A View From Another Country: John 5 And The Creatures (Live Review By Manus)

John 5 And The Creatures, Jared James Nichols, Dead Girls Academy, Lee's Palace, Toronto, Canada

John 5 seems to be pretty busy most summers hitting a bunch of big festivals with Rob Zombie, but he’s finally gotten some time this spring to do an extensive North American tour with his own eponymous trio, John 5 And The Creatures. One of a whopping 10 dates in Canada is at legendary Toronto venue Lee’s Palace.

A late addition to the bill is opener Dead Girls Academy (3). With one opener already along for the entire tour, it would have been better to leave this band off. You could say this group is a blast from the past, but it wouldn’t be a compliment. Specifically, they’re reminiscent of the time around 2013 when bands like Pierce The Veil and Sleeping With Sirens were thought to be the next big thing. The screamo music, angsty teenage lyrics and dinosaur-like poses coming from a bunch of grown men is just pathetic, and actually kind of gross. Most of the audience doesn’t get it, and gives confused half-hearted courtesy applause when the band finishes each song. Probably because this is a 19+ even, not 14 and under. This band is truly awful—but no different than any of those other scene bands from earlier in the decade. Apparently, the band only formed in 2016, so maybe someone should let them know they’re a little late to the party. Pretty good drummer, though.

On to Jared James Nichols (7), a much more appropriate and grown-up choice for this evening. His stage energy gets the crowd going, and his guitar chops are undoubtedly impressive, even if some of his solos go on a bit long. Still, his bluesy-rock and party attitude sit way better with the crowd. At one point he jumps off stage and walks through the crowd while shredding, some good people holding up his chord for him as he does this. It still manages to get unplugged at one point, but he recovers from it quickly and only misses a couple of beats. Nichols gets the evening back on track and leaves on a strong cover of Mountain’s Mississippi Queen.

The setup break takes a while, but seeing the stage for John 5 And The Creatures (8) come together is pretty cool. Giant inflatable witches, ghosts, monsters and castle walls decorate the stage, the exact same ones you’d find in the Halloween section at Walmart (or Asda, depending where you are). They’re cheesy, obviously, but the look fits perfectly with John 5’s cartoonish spooky atmosphere. There also are screens in front of the amps that play clips from horror movies and Scooby Doo episodes throughout the performance. It’s the rhythm section that takes the stage first, before the man of the hour himself comes on ripping Season Of The Witch. From there, it’s a non-stop high velocity set, and 5’s music gives him a lot more room to show off his virtuosity than anything he’s played with Rob Zombie or Marilyn Manson.

There’s some bluegrass picking, and one solo where John 5 swaps out his guitar for a mandolin, and then that for a banjo, all seamlessly and seemingly effortlessly. John 5 is used to playing much bigger venues as a member of Rob Zombie’s band, and the larger-than-life stage presence he brings to this small space almost makes this show seem like it should be on a bigger stage as well. But these fans are lucky, getting to see such a grandiose performance so close-up.

Wednesday 27 March 2019

A View From The Back Of The Room: Cellar Darling (Live Review By Rich)

Cellar Darling, Blanket & Appearance Of Nothing, The Globe, Cardiff

Before this last week I had never heard Cellar Darling but upon being offered a chance to review this gig I gave their material a listen and was instantly furious at myself that I hadn’t checked this band out before as musically they are right up my street. So it’s safe to say I was very much looking forward to this gig plus with the added bonus of it being a Saturday night there was no pesky work to worry about getting up for the following day.

Starting the night off were Swiss progressive metallers Appearance Of Nothing (7) who impressed with their rhythmically and riff driven style of progressive metal. Throughout their short set I heard definite influences from bands such as Opeth and Amorphis and frontman Omar Cuna employed a mixed use of harsh and clean vocals. Cellar Darling frontwoman Anna Murphy also joined the band on stage for an enjoyable duet during the song Storm. By the time the band finished with the fantastic song The Huntress I was suitably impressed.

In the main support slot were Blackpool post-rock band Blanket (6). Post-rock is a very hit or miss genre with me in that I enjoy it initially but soon find my attention and interest wavering after a short period. Though they had a cool cinematic take on the post-rock sound with a big shoegaze influence my interest has started to wane by the end of the third song and I think the same had happened with a good portion of the audience. They were an unusual choice for support act sandwiched in between two progressive metal bands and I don’t think it was the right audience for them.

Being a fairly unknown band I was concerned that the turn out for Cellar Darling (9) would be very low so it was very reassuring that there were a healthy amount of people in attendance at the gig and witnessing the utterly fantastic set that Cellar Darling played. Opening with Black Moon the band played a good chunk of material from debut album This Is The Sound including Hullabaloo and the utterly mesmerizing Avalanche. The band were on fantastic form with a good sound enabling you to hear all the instruments clearly. The vocals by Anna Murphy were utterly stunning and it’s nice to hear her full vocal potential after being so underused in Eluveitie. As well as beautiful vocals she also switched between playing the hurdy gurdy and flute with both instruments being an integral part of the bands evocative sound.

Having released new conceptual album The Spell the previous day the crowd were treated to a good chunk of the album with utterly magnificent renditions of new material such as Pain, Death, Love, The Spell, Insomnia and Freeze sending jaws agape and arm hairs standing on end. The new material is just as magical and potent live as it is on record. After a short break the band returned for an encore and performed an utterly spellbinding rendition of the Queen epic The Prophet’s Song. I’ve been a massive fan of this song for many years so I had a massive grin on my face for the entire duration.  The evening was then brought to a close by the brilliant Redemption off the debut album. I hope that Cellar Darling get a lot of good coverage and recognition off the back of this tour and the new album as they sure as hell deserve it.

A View From The Back Of The Room: Dead At 27 (Alex)

Dead At 27, The 501's & Chris Morgan, Fuel Rock Club Cardiff

Dead at 27 has a sizeable following – a fact evidenced by the amount of gig-goers sporting branded t-shirts tonight. Of course, that’s totally understandable. They are, in many respects, an alternative rock act, as are their support acts. Yet they bear just a tint of that classic rock flair, which shines through in both in their Songwriting and showmanship.

Chris Morgan (7) opens the night. Unperturbed by the hustle and bustle of the crowd as they cram into Fuel, he makes his way through half an hour of acoustic indie rock, packed with power and emotion. Considering his act consists entirely of one man and an acoustic guitar trying to please a crowd that is still far from heaving, his songs pack a whole load of energy and punch – almost the same sort of feeling derived from a traditional band set-up. Particularly memorable moments come with the addition of covers of Small Black Flowers That Grow In The Sky by Manic Street Preachers and Drop The Pilot by Joan Armatrading, rounding off the set.

Next, it’s the 501’s (8) turn to impress, a task which they wholeheartedly succeed at. Despite the influx of fans of the headline act, these certainly make an impression. Performing an acerbic type of pop punk which melds well with the freneticism of the act topping the bill, they elicit a loud reaction. The epic interplay between the rhythm section and both the guitars, certainly lend the performance a lot of gusto. Quite professionally, these musicians glide seamlessly from one song to the next, barely pausing for breath, except for the occasional shouts of ‘Cmon!’ and ‘Is everyone having a good time?’. In regard to that last point, by now the answer from everyone is a straight yes! Yes, we are!

Finishing off the night on a particularly high point is, of course, Dead At 27 (8). Like I mentioned earlier their style of rock is a catchy alternative, meets gritty, energetic rock n’ roll. By that, I mean that nearly every song has a hook for the audience members to sing along to, yet there is a distinguishable amount of fuzz on the guitars as well as a lot of roughness to Nathan's voice, giving the music a lot of presence. Despite lightheartedly expressing their discontent with the sweltering heat of the venue - a feature which regular goers to this bar are almost certainly used to by now – they play quite a long set, never letting up the intensity, even slightly. By the end of the night, everyone has that warm, buzzing feeling of exhaustion, which only comes from an exciting gig!

A View From The Back Of The Room: The Rock N Roll Circus Mencap Charity Fundraiser (Paul H)

The Rock And Roll Circus Mencap Charity Fundraiser, The Doll’s House, Abertillery

A journey to the Ebbw Fach valley on a warm spring day is not something I do that often, but this was an event we’d had in the diary for some time. A couple of local bands supporting a few bigger names who had travelled some distance to play this charity fundraiser for the worthy Mencap cause. Full marks to the Rock and Roll Circus team for putting this event together and massive applause to every band who made the event a success. It seems a bit mean to cast a critical eye and ear over each band but that’s what we do so here goes.

Opening the evening was The Philo Beddoe Band (7), from Merthyr Tydfil. The five-piece play a highly entertaining style of Southern Welsh rock which was perfect to start the evening. Despite having the first on the bill slot, the band played as if they were headlining, their confidence and quality soon drawing a larger crowd as people slowly arrived for the event. I’d not seen the band before, but any group who are named after a character in Any Which Way But Loose is alright with me (although ‘Right Turn Clyde’ is an even better name for a band in my opinion). I’d happily see the Merthyr lads again.

Next up, Who Knows Didley (7), another South Walian outfit whose image suggested they were intent on destroying the venue with some meaty hardcore but who sounded more like Ratt!! The four-piece were up for it from the start, new bassist Glyn Mason fitting in comfortably. The band have a solid, conventional sound but their music was well performed and by now the party was in full swing. Tracks from their debut album Mindless Suburbia worked well and in vocalist Pete Matthews, the band have a bit of a gem. His vocal style is straight up rock, but his energy and enthusiasm enhance the show as he forayed into the crowd and slowly ripped apart his vest. Things were warming up well.

Soon got even hotter as Cardiff’s finest Fallen Temples (9) hit the stage. The powerhouse trio had wowed a recent heat of Metal To The Masses In Cardiff with their no-nonsense hard rock, and once again the band proved that there is no substitute for class with a fantastic 40 minutes which got the crowd moving and prompted hearty applause. Tracks from The Future We Left Behind EP mixed with newer material, Euphoria and Phoenix sounding brilliant, the latter having only debuted in recent weeks although you’d never have guessed it from the cohesive delivery. Closing with the anthemic Cut The Wire, Fallen Temples once again proved a quality act. It was later revealed that guitarist/vocalist Adam Vaughan played the gig with a broken ankle sustained skiing. What a hero!

West Midlands Left For Red (7) were faced with a real challenge following Fallen Temples fiery set. The five-piece had made a real effort to get to the event, never easy negotiating the motorway network from the UK’s second City to South Wales but the band gave a good account of themselves with tracks from their forthcoming Human Complex album segueing with 2015’s All Things Known And Buried. The band’s complex sound may have confused a few of the watching crowd, the switches in style between stoner, straightforward thrash metal and more progressive elements probably a little bit of a challenge for those unfamiliar with their sound. Opening with Switchblade Romance from Human Complex, Left For Red pushed hard and by the time they had wrapped up their set no doubt a few new fans had been secured.

Little sign of the pace slowing as the evening progressed and with Black Tree Vultures (6) up next the classic rock style continued. The Bournemouth band had oodles of energy and what their rather routine rock lacked in originality they were able to make up with a passionate performance. Vocalist Celyn Beynon was a bundle of energy, hopping on and off the stage as the set progressed. With influences including the excellent King Creature it was no surprise that they followed the hard rock blueprint to the letter. My enthusiasm waned a little as their set progressed, but the crowd seemed pleased and they received a good ovation at the end.

Penultimate band was White Raven Down (5) who I must be honest were probably the most underwhelming band of the entire event. With an arrogance that at times verged on insulting, the Southend based outfit were unimpressive, their songs routine and average. A big entourage which had made a huge effort to deliver a professional approach (their merch section dominated the back of the room) was impressive, unlike vocalist Bill Taylor whose long cardigan and beanie cap was probably the fashion faux-par of the day. His constant heckling of the crowd for being too quiet was okay to a point, but his frustration at not gaining the reaction he wanted wasn’t welcomed and many in the room were talking to each other. Not my favourite of the day, but kudos to the band for making the long trip and I wish them well.

I suppose headlining a charity event isn’t necessarily a big deal but Nottinghamshire face-melters Witch Tripper (8) take their metal seriously. One of the hardest gigging bands on the circuit, the band were on fire from the start, ripping through tracks from their 2018 I, Of The Storm album along with several favourites from their fine debut release. Witch Tripper are a band I’d want playing at my funeral, their dogged groove infected hard rock solid and pleasing. Frontman Richie Barlow never stops moving, his snarling vocals and riffing guitar captivating, whilst bassist Christ ‘Stoff’ Daughton is a ball of fury. Drummer Gary Eric Evans hold the chaos superbly. A huge ovation was well deserved, and the band will be back in South Wales playing Chepstow in the summer. A well-attended event, a deserving cause and a good amount of funds raised, this was an enjoyable event with full credit to all the bands, the volunteers and of course, The Rock And Roll Circus Events who organised a very fluid evening.

Tuesday 26 March 2019

A View From The Back of The Room: Kamelot (Live Review By Nick And Stief)

Kamelot, Evergrey & Visions Of Atlantis, O2 Academy 2, Birmingham

We've talked about the Birmingham O2 Academy before. It's a venue plagued by endless clubnights meaning early finishes for most of the gigs there. Even in rooms 2 and 3 a 10pm curfew is enforced for Ramshackle or some such student baiting drinkathon. Because of this Birmingham is not always feasible for gigs in weeknights however this was a Friday so with a hotel booked a few minutes away it was and early finish and 2hr drive up to the 'second city' for a night of melodic, symphonic, bombastic metal. We arrived about two hours before the 6pm kick off time so it was over to Subside Bar for a few light ales and to check it out for the Bloodstock Metal Forums Easter Massacre. With Roadcrew on cask and Lilley's Mango on tap I'm sure we can get ourselves nicely pickled come Easter Sunday.

However back to a Friday in March and after a few swift halves (maybe more than a few) we walked over to the venue just as Austrian symphonic metal act Visions Of Atlantis (7) were starting the night off. Formed by drummer Thomas Caser in 2000 the band have had numerous line up changes but Caser is the constant, they like Nightwish and Lacuna Coil have dual male/female vocal interplay. Taking the mic for the ladies is Clémentine Delauney who has been here since 2013 and having seen her perform with Serenity I'm no stranger to her talent, for the guys former Temperance man Michele Guaitoli is the latest addition to the band. VOA are a standard symphonic metal act using the vocal mix to their advantage, the songs bounced along, Guaitoli becoming the MC for claps and chants, in between his harmonies. They were packed a little tightly on the stage but no one seemed to notice as the already filled room were going wild. The pace broke a little for the ballads on which Delauney displayed her impressive range but it was a frothy, dramatic way to begin the evening, getting everyone in the right frame of mind for what was to come.

Probably the odd band out on this bill, it was Swedish prog metal act Evergrey (7) up next. Led by Thomas S Englund they came to the stage with little fanfare and ramped up the volume as the heaviest act on the card. Much of their set came from their most recent album and of I'm honest they were the weakest tracks as it seemed like Englunds voice was struggling though when he played the older material like A Touch Of Blessing and even tracks from the previous release like Distance, there was nothing wrong with his muscular baritone. As I said they were the heaviest band of the night by a mile and as they concluded with epic King Of Errors I couldn't help but think that maybe the new material has yet to settle in. Still the throng of humanity in the small room were at booking point so it was about time for the headliners to take the stage.

Say what you will about the international (but mostly American) symphonic metal act they are certainly a slick unit. Everything from the lighting, to the stage moves was choreographed down to the last detail ensuring that when there was a guitar solo band leader Thomas Youngblood was given all the spotlight, but equally when giving a heartfelt performance on a track like End Of Innocence Tommy Karevik is front and center. It's him you're drawn too, not as theatrical as Roy Khan but a consummate professional with a heck of a voice whether along or with Lauren Hart, who gets probably the highest praise of the evening effortlessly braking both the operatic harmony duets and the harsh roars, most effectively on March Of Mephisto. Kamelot (8) were probably the best I've seen them and with set list that balanced new tracks from Haven and The Shadow Theory with classics from Black Halo (When The Lights Are Down) and Ghost Opera (Rule The World) it was perfect for fans of both periods showing that Kamelot are still very much relevant and also in a league of their own, in terms of their sound. Personally I think the set should have finished (as always) with Forever but as Liar Liar faded out, we went off into the night for a bit more liquid refreshment before retreating to our hotel content with an evening of great music. Next time though it would be nice to see them a bit closer to home.

Metal To The Masses South Wales 2019 Heat 5 Preview

Bloodstock Metal to The Masses – South Wales Heat 5

After a three-week break, we are back at Fuel on 29th March for Heat 5. Five bands battling it out this week so let’s start with Eulogy and I asked them to provide us with a potted history of the band


"Eulogy are a melodic/ classic rock three piece from Cardiff, UK formed in 2013. We play original melodic rock music with a dark, lyrical twist. We completed our three track EP December 2017 called Back To Life which contains two rock tracks and one acoustic track which emphasises the various influences and musical variations within the band. The EP was recorded at Coda Recordings which is owned and run by Neil Garland (Kooga, Hand Of Dimes) and supported by Nev Mcdonald (Kooga, Skin and Hand of Dimes). "

Their wealth of experience has helped produce and develop the three tracks which are now available through our website or CD Baby as well as to stream on Spotify. "We have now had over 140,000 plays on Spotify and Reverbnation. We have also played several gigs across South Wales including reaching the final at a battle of the bands competition at a local music venue in 2018. Our new single You’ll Die Alone is due to be released on 28th February 2019 along with a list of gigs across South Wales.” Anyone that has the double duo of Neil Garland and Nev McDonald is alright with me so I’m looking forward to these guys.

Introduce us to the current line-up: “Neil Thomas – Main vocals and bass guitar, Darran Goodwin – Drums and Backing vocals and Mike Williams – Guitar and backing vocals”.

How would you describe the band’s sound? “Melodic hard rock.” And who are the main influences for the band? “We are a melting pot of influences as each member brings their own ingredients. Mike enjoys listening to Alter Bridge, Mastodon, Clutch, Uncle Acid and the Deadbeats. Neil loves Queensrÿche, Metallica, Scandinavian melodic rock. Darran loves Kiss and Motley Crüe.” Plenty of good stuff included in these influences.

Lemmy once said “if we moved in next door your grass would die”. If you moved in next door, what would happen to my lawn? “It would turn into white snake root.”

What prompted you to apply for the M2TM competition? “We wanted to promote welsh rock and have a night out in Cardiff. And play with some other cracking Welsh bands currently on the scene.” And what can we expect from you at Fuel? “The same as always good honest hard rock music, no gimmicks no bullshit, just good songs ...fucking have it!!!”

There is a strong line-up this year and the competition will be fierce. It’s great to have a healthy Welsh Metal scene. Playing this event always seems to raise the game. Tell us a few highlights for the band since you started. “We have currently been streamed +140K on Spotify and played a variety of gigs across the UK. The next single released on 28th February will hopefully take our online status to another level.”

Have you been to Bloodstock before? If so, tell us some of your experiences; why is it such a great festival? “Yes...last year’s event was fucking awesome...loved Democratus set who we played in the same heat as us last year in Fuel M2TM. Great mixture of genres ... love it.”

And finally, tell us something unusual about each band member that you feel needs to be shared with the rest of the metal community. “Mike Locks his studio so when he comes home pissed up, he can’t get hold of his guitars and wake up the street. Neil can’t stop fiddling with any knobs or buttons he can find on his bass or PA system. Keep him away from the mixing desks please. Oh, and more reverb on vocals please. Darran enjoys wanking in any new hotels he visits. typical drummer...”

Well, you can’t say you haven’t been warned. Keep your knobs in your pockets and Darran out of hotels. Thanks to Eulogy for their time and do check them out on Spotify – good stuff.


Next up is the post-black metal despair of Levitas and bassist Liam Wolf gives us the main information about the band’s background. “Levitas was formed in Swansea in 2013 by Helen and Rhys, following an open mic night that descended into Darkthrone covers and fucking about with reverb pedals. After about a year working on early material, Rhys moved to Cardiff and Helen to Bristol, which is when Liam joined as bassist. We got to know Sam when we toured with Agrona in July 2017. When we parted ways with our then-drummer, Sam offered to fill in for a few gigs we had booked, and he’s been with us since!”

Introduce us to the current line-up: “Liam Wolf- Bass/vox/samples, Rhys Williams- guitar/vox, Helen Kinsella- Guitar and Sam Heffernan – Drums”

How would you describe the band’s sound? “It’s a fusion of atmospheric, post black metal with a ton of progressive elements. We enjoy drowning the listener in spaced-out reverb, but there’s plenty of brutality there too.” Having seen these guys a few times I think that’s as good a description as you could have.

Who are the main influences for the band? “The list is vast, and it varies between all of us, so we’ll give you a brief list: Red Sparrowes, Isis, Godspeed You! Black Emperor, Dying Fetus, Amenra, Wolves In The Throne Room, Agalloch, Akercocke, Rwake, Swans.”

Lemmy once said “if we moved in next door your grass would die”. If you moved in next door, what would happen to my lawn? “It would overgrow as nature reclaims all. And our cats would shit on it.”

What prompted you to apply for the M2TM competition? “We wanted to bring our style of atmospheric black metal to a wider audience, but we also just wanted the experience. Competition helps drive development and thought this was a good opportunity refine our live performance to be the best it can be.” 

Another solid answer and one that captures the whole essence of the event. This is about experience, networking, wider exposure and of course, one band will get that fantastic opportunity. It’s not about contracts or money and if you think that then this is the wrong place for you!

What can we expect from Levitas at Fuel? “Atmosphere, and lots of it. Don't expect much conversation on stage as it would only end badly. For those who have seen us before, there might be a couple of new elements too.”

There is a strong line-up this year and the competition will be fierce. It’s great to have a healthy Welsh Metal scene. Playing this event always seems to raise the game. Tell us a few highlights for the band since you started. “Supporting A Forest Of Stars was great for us as it put us in with bands more akin to ourselves, and with our sound that can be a rare thing. Touring with Agrona in 2017 was also brilliant as we got to bring our music to new places and meet a lot of cool people. Most recently we performed at one of Atmosfest's shows in Nottingham, which went well and resulted in us being booked for this year's edition of the fest, so we have plenty more to look forward to.”

Have you been to Bloodstock before? If so, tell us some of your experiences; why is it such a great festival? “Some of us have. Always a great time regardless of line up. The festival is home to so many different genres of metal and it's always a good place to discover new bands, meet new people, and just feel part of the metal family. Rhys went in 2010 but all he remembers is Meshuggah and a friend trying to get the frontman of Fear Factory to sign his sandwich.” I can just imagine Burton C Bell’s face. At least it wasn’t Dino. He’d have just eaten it.

And finally, tell us something unusual about each band member that you feel needs to be shared with the rest of the metal community. “Sam likes to collect toys from his childhood. Rhys failed his PhD in computer science but uses his skills to make weird inventions and instruments. Helen enjoys listening to DSBM whilst knitting clothes for her cat. Liam likes ducks.” And who doesn’t to be fair. Many thanks to Levitas for their answers. Plenty to look forward to in their set.


Despite my money on not receiving a response, at the 11th hour Greg Fleming from Ablated came up trumps and here is the info you need (or maybe don’t need) on the bludgeoning death metal outfit.

Asked for a potted history of the band, Greg provides the detail. “After a number of line-up changes Ablated finally became complete in December 2016. Formed by Glenn Thomas, former Guitarist of Desecration and Mark Jenkins, taking up the role of bass player. Mike Johnson was recruited to occupy the drum stool whilst at the studio where his previous band Thorun rehearsed. Although Thorun’s style focused on D#doom Mike's background was thrash based, however he was quick to adapt his playing to suit Ablated's old school style of brutal and heavy death metal.  The vocal mantle was filled by Greg Fleming, spotted fronting his band Cryptophile when they were a support band for Malevolent Creation at a local show.  Although he was not approached at the show he was tracked down and offered the position of fronting Ablated. He immediately agreed and writing for the debut album began in earnest. At this point it was decided that a second guitarist would be added. After a half an hour phone call to long-time friend of Glenn's Stuart Woodland - former Guitarist of Necrocest, the line-up was complete."

“The current line-up is Greg-Vocals, Glenn-Guitar, Woody-Guitar, Mark-Bass. Mike-Drums.” I think we know from the opening paragraph about the band’s sound and Greg confirms “Relentless old school death metal.” Unsurprisingly the band’s main influences included “Suffocation, early Cannibal Corpse, Immolation, Obituary and so on.”

We move onto the lawn question. “What would happen to lawn if we moved in next door. We’d dig it up looking for corpses to fuck.” Okay, one of the more extreme answers but it’d save on the mowing. Moving swiftly on, what what prompted the band to apply for M2TM? “Our guitarist Woody spurred us on.”

As if you didn’t know by now, it’s clear what we are going to get at Fuel. “Death metal savagery and a blistering live assault.” As for personal highlights of band, “the band is still in its infancy, so every show is a highlight.”

Has the band been to Bloodstock before? Greg confirms “I have been several times, thoroughly enjoyed it. Especially the bin jousting.” And finally, with some trepidation, what about something unusual about each band member? “Greg - Hates Dogs. Glenn - can make an entire room puke in just a few seconds. Woody-is a cunt. Mark - Speaks several languages; all variations of hilltop or Blaenavon tongue. Also has a micropenis. Mike is English” So there you have it. It’ll be brutal, it’ll be intense.


Next up we have the heavy metal sound of Swansea’s Cadacus. Rhythm guitarist Ceri Noble gives us the lowdown on the band who have not long released their debut album. Let’s start with some background. Give us a potted history of the band. “Joe and Luke met in late 2012 in their first year at Swansea University and became friends through a mutual love of Iron Maiden. They both decided to form a band together and began to form their own material. Gradually they recruited other members: Tom in 2013, first drummer Ghazi in 2014 and guitarist Ceri in 2015. Since then we have gigged extensively around the Swansea. We released our debut EP The Invasion in 2016. More gigging then followed and subsequently we began work on our full-length album Virtual Salvation which was then released in late 2018. We have recently welcomed the newest member, Charlie, as our new drummer after Ghazi’s sad departure from the band earlier this year.”

The current line-up is “Luke Roberts – Lead Guitar, Joe Heaton – Bass, Ceri Noble – Rhythm Guitar, Charlie Barraclough – Drums and Tom Gapper – Singer.”

How would you describe the band’s sound? “We would describe our sound as “traditional metal” but with perhaps with a slightly more aggressive edge than that of Iron Maiden, Judas Priest etc. We also have prog like tendencies much to some of our members’ dismay.” Nothing wrong with a bit of prog – providing it isn’t Genesis of course!

So, having given us the sound, who are the main influences for the band? “Iron Maiden have certainly set the foundations in this band, but we have also taken inspiration from bands such as Avenged Sevenfold, Trivium, Dream Theatre and Megadeth.”

Lemmy once said “if we moved in next door your grass would die”. If you moved in next door, what would happen to my lawn? “Umm… probably not very much, generally speaking I would say we’re quite civilized and would make excellent neighbours. I think your lawn is safe.” That might be a preferred option to those nasty Ablated chaps! Unless you are seriously into necrophilia. Each to his own as they say.

So, what prompted Cadacus to apply for the M2TM competition? “We played last year, and it was one of the best gigs we’ve played. M2TM always pulls a good crowd which makes for a great atmosphere. Fuel is always a great venue to play and we have been able to play there a few times now. We also like seeing other bands from the area competing who we have met playing the South Wales circuit. Also, Bloodstock… duh.” Well, quite!

What can we expect from you at Fuel? “We’ve got a set full of short, punchy, high energy songs lined up for Fuel, so we’re expecting a great crowd reaction. You can also expect a sweaty Welshman shredding guitar as well as the first gig with our newest member Charlie, who before joining us, hadn’t played metal before, and he has brought such a varied and dynamic style of drumming, so we’re excited to see that is action.”

There is a strong line-up this year and the competition will be fierce. It’s great to have a healthy Welsh Metal scene. Playing this event always seems to raise the game. Tell us a few highlights for the band since you started. “After releasing our album at the end of 2018, we played our album release gig in Creature Sound in Swansea in the company of M2TM 2018 winners Democratus which made for a great night. Did also help that it was our guitarist Luke’s birthday, so many beverages did follow.” Sounds like quite a night. “Finally completing our album which did take nearly two gruelling years to complete and we thank our wonderful producer Tobi Gough for his time, patience and many car repairs throughout this time. Before finally graduating we did manage to wangle a set at Swansea University’s Summer Ball and we can proudly say that we were the first metal band to ever play this event (and probably the last).” Now that is true commitment to the cause. Good work!

Have you been to Bloodstock before? If so, tell us some of your experiences; why is it such a great festival? “Our bassist Joe (and almighty leader – or so he thinks) has been to Bloodstock on numerous occasions by now. The atmosphere at Bloodstock is always excellent as there always seems to be a sense of community amongst metal fans and you can make friends with just about anyone. The festival is brilliant at offering a wide range of bands playing the event spanning from the metal leviathans such as Judas Priest, Slayer and Trivium to fresh, new, up and coming talent such as the bands who play M2TM, which is a brilliant opportunity to get your name recognised.”

And finally, tell us something unusual about each band member that you feel needs to be shared with the rest of the metal community. “Luke’s job involves cutting rodents up and harvesting their organs, which to be fair sounds pretty metal, but we promise that it is for the furtherance of medical research. He also enjoys exposing himself to large crowds of people when celebrating a Welsh rugby victory. Joe hired a guitarist for the band for his own personal gain as he then subsequently started going out with her – you sly dog. Tom is currently engaged to Cicely from Tennessee. As she is currently out of the country, he now tends to sing with a southern drawl because he misses her. Ceri has played two sets with Cadacus with a broken leg after breaking it last November and is the band’s resident Uber – and is a girl. As the newest member of the band we’re not too sure as to Charlie’s quirks but I’m sure he has his secrets.” Well, whatever is lurking in Charlie’s cupboard, it’s surely only a matter of time before the rest of the band find it. Our thanks to Ceri and Cadacus for being great sports.

Friday also has Infernal Diadem playing their own brand of thrash and you can find out more about them by searching for their Facebook page. We wish all the bands playing on Friday the best of luck and look forward to another intense and entertaining evening. See you there!!

A View From The Back Of The Room: Riverside (Live Reviews By Paul H)

Riverside & Lesoir, SWX, Bristol

The dark days of 2016 appear to be buried at last. A period of grieving and contemplation concluded, this was an evening where the ‘new’ Riverside showed their style, quality and commitment to making music. Full of joy, smiles and genuine excitement, this was a rebirth in all but name. A move to the bigger SWX from their previous Bristol venues (two previous shows at The Marble Factory and 2014’s gig at The Fleece) an indication of how Riverside are progressing. I welcome gigs at this venue. The elevated stage provides a view of the band from wherever you are, the sound is crystal clear and the staff friendly enough. The beer selection is abysmal, but you aren’t there on a CAMRA night out so deal with it. It’s a club at the end of the day.

Matt had eulogised about support band Lesoir (8) and their fourth album Latitude way back in late 2017 when it first was released. Comparisons to Anathema, Tool and Skunk Anansie were drawn and rightly so. The Dutch band is a complex engine, combining sweeping cinematic passages with intricate middle sections and raging hard rock which when it is unleashed, really motors. Dressed in simple black tops and jeans, the band took the stage with minimal fuss. With limited space to move around, the band maintained a visual presence throughout, aided by ample and effective lighting and a decent sound that allowed their detailed and stimulating music to be heard with a clarity often not afforded to support bands at other venues.

The bulk of Lesoir’s set unsurprisingly was drawn from Latitude, with a couple of numbers from third album Luctor Et Emergo included towards the final third of the set. This was a wise move given that most of the audience were unfamiliar with the band. That will have changed now though, with those sensible enough to get in early (and there were a good few who did) treated to a sublime 45 minutes of, well, progressive, post, alt and hard rock. Yes, it’s challenging to put a label on this band and that’s probably the way they like it. Vocalist Maartje Meessen possesses a stunning voice, her powerful vocals rendering the microphone almost unnecessary, but this is no bellowing, oh no, a subtle and controlled vocal delivery, able to switch between high tempo and calmer, gentle passages with ease. Her flute and keyboard playing aren’t bad either.

Behind Meessen, drummer Bob Van Heumen maintained the beat and added backing vocals with a simplicity that only those skilled in their art possess. Lead guitarist Ingo Dassen’s shimmering work was a highlight, the unassuming guitarist again making his playing look effortless. To his right, newish bassist Ruben Hiejnsbroek, a flurry of movement despite the cramped stage, and alongside him the rhythm guitar and backing vocals of Eleën Bartholomeus, her wide grin and laughter infectious; apparently Bartholomeus is one of the main song writers within the band and this shows, as she was always a step ahead along with Meessen. Including a couple of instrumental tracks within their set not only took some of the pressure off Meessen but allowed the band to demonstrate the high quality of their musicianship. With a respectful crowd lapping up every minute, the generous 45-minute set flew by and the queue at the band’s merchandise stand shortly afterwards testimony to the effect that the Dutch band made.

When we last saw the Poles at The Marble Factory on May 20th 2017, the gig felt like a wake. The opportunity to mourn their fallen comrade, the chance to evaluate the longer-term longevity of the band. Riverside (9) were a band consumed by grief which was shown in various outlets; not least the solo work of bassist and vocalist Mariusz Duda in the latest album by Lunatic Soul, Fractured. Almost two years on from that gig, the band have released one of the most perfect albums of 2018 in Wasteland were clearly ready to exorcise those demons. Laughter, smiles and much interaction with the audience including a sing-a-long after only the second track demonstrated the new life that the band now has. Unsurprisingly, the main bulk of the set was drawn from Wasteland, but there were some interesting additions as well. Three tracks drawn from debut album Out Of Myself linked past and present whilst a smattering of tracks drawn from albums in between was a winning approach. Favouring a simple stage outfit of black tees and jeans (the theme for the night), the biggest change from that May 2017 show, apart from the mood on stage, was the progression in stage set up. An extravagant and highly impressive lighting show accentuated the emotion which Riverside’s songs contain, atmosphere perfectly pitched according to song with the spotlights picking out the band as they delivered their superb performance.

Duda looked as relaxed and engaged as I’ve ever seen him, the process of being back on the road clearly a cathartic one for him, drummer Piotr Kozieradski and keyboard player Michal Lapaj. Although Duda referred to Riverside as a trio, there is now an acceptance of guitarist Maciej Meller, as an integral part of the band, at least whilst on the road. He’s also a stunningly gifted guitarist whose composed and layered work aided the complexity of this brilliant band’s material. At times it was confusing to accept the joviality on stage, especially from Duda and Lapaj, but given the challenges the band have faced over the past couple of years, it’s unsurprising that they are taking the opportunity to enjoy their work.

Far too many excellent moments to list from the entire setlist, but a failure to highlight a couple from Wasteland would be remiss. The blistering opening duo of Acid Rain and Vale Of Tears complete with early crowd engagement, the emotional Guardian Angel where Duda swapped bass for acoustic guitar with ease and the epic The Struggle For Survival which allowed the band an extended showcase of their talent is all worthy of mention. Panic Room, the opening encore from 2007’s Rapid Eye Movement was superb, and final song The River Down Below, which followed an emotional commentary from Duda about the band’s struggles over the past two years, allowed the memory of Piotr Grudzinski to continue as you fought back the tears. As a band, Riverside, now 18 years and seven albums into their career, are finally on the verge of attaining deserved and wider recognition. Fully deserved, one can only hope that the band stay true to their admirable approach and continue to produce some of the most excellent music in rock for many years to come.

Monday 25 March 2019

Reviews: The Raven Age, A Stellar Master Elite, Dark Rites, Acid Brigade (Alex, Paul H, Liam & Mark]

The Raven Age: Conspiracy (Corvid Records) [Alex]

I have a strange relationship with Metalcore. On the one hand there are plenty of acts who eloquently contrast melody and harshness: Architects, Whitechapel Parkway Drive, even Slipknot (I have mixed opinions on Killswitch Engage) Yet for every act who commits to the idea, and performs the genre well, you get acts who are prepared to play by numbers, and churn out a generic combination of chugging riffs, predictable breakdowns and ill-executed vocal contrasts. Of course, I was intrigued to see if The Raven Age would take the former path, and crossed my fingers for an album which would subvert prototypical generics. Sadly, we get neither with Conspiracy. Far from being the most atrocious metalcore album I’ve ever heard, it certainly doesn’t do anything innovative, intriguing or mind-bending.

Deceptively, the introductory song, Bloom Of Poison Seed, catches you off guard. Subtly dark acoustics creep in, while mellow strings stir and sway, making you think that we might be in for an experience which draws from Classical or Gothic inspirations. Sadly, that expectation is short lived as those ideas are never returned to across nearly an hour of runtime. While Betrayal Of The Mind and Fleur De Lis do fine enough work at summoning up a dark atmosphere, they offer little in the way of enthralling guitar work or erratic rhythms, to enthuse the blackness with intrigue and suspense. What do we get instead? A trawling bringing together of phony angst-ridden vocal passages, insipid riffs, and colourless cadences. Where we do hear a creative use of suspense, as on The Day The World Stood Still or Seventh Heaven, they either fade away into oblivion or become meaningless through repetition. ‘I will keep this fire burning in me’ sounds the opening line to The Face That Launched A Thousand Ships, becoming one of the many lyrical platitudes we hear repeated throughout. Any deeper meanings these may hold are again swallowed up by generic delivery and tantalizing lack of emotion.

Please do not think that I don’t respect the Raven Age as musicians, they can certainly play and as I mentioned before, they don’t do an utterly terrible job at setting a mood. In fact, I will go a step further and say that conspiracy is performed and produced very well, with each note distinguishable and everything clean-cut and precise. Yet isn’t that, in a sense, the exact problem? Everything about this release is too predictable, too generic and too afraid to take risks, not possessing enough intrigue to draw my attention and keep it there. Remember, decent performances will only get an album so far, and without the element of surprise, a well played trick is pointless 4/10

A Stellar Master Elite: Hologram Temple (Unholy Conspiracy Deathwork) [Paul H]

Atmospheric black metal is a strange beast. Complex, confusing, uplifting and crushingly heavy, all feed into the same simmering cauldron from which we often sup. Hologram Temple, the fourth album by German outfit Stellar Master Elite is an album that slides comfortably into the foul brew that smokes and belches on the hearth. A lengthy, detailed and often absorbing listen, this is the band’s first release in four years since 2015’s III – Eternalism – The Psychospherical Chapter. The four band members go by the mysterious initials M.S (drums/vocals), D.F (guitars/bass and programming), T.N (bass) and vocalist E.K. But aside from the ridiculousness of the names, this album is indeed a stellar release. 

Opening track Null mushrooms organically, a crushing intro, cavernous drums and an ungodly roar with a funeral march tempo which slowly escalates into the devil’s finest work, roaring, fiery and spewing forth aggressive riffs. The demonic gargling is increased on the fine Freewill Decrypted, another scraping killer track which allows the blast beats loose, whilst E.K. merely sounds possessed, such is the bile and anguish in his delivery. Razor sharp guitar work and a soaring increase in the temperature, this is only track two but already the band are stoking the fires with relish. Swooping effects add to the unearthly nature of a track.
Apocalypsis maintains the fire and the core temperature, swirling guitar and swathes of unnatural feeling. Deep synths lead into Ad Infinitum, complete with historical clips. A massive sounding song with a slow, brooding build up which ultimately segues into vicious and unrelenting guitar riffs and machine gun style drumming. By the time you arrive at Black Hole Dementia your mind should already be blown, but that cannot prepare for a double whammy at the end of this majestic album. The Secret Of Never Ending Chaos is a bulldozing black metal track, an evil melody lurking underneath the cacophony that rages. 

It’s the stunning 15-minute Tetragon, which is the piece de resistance. Building with a futuristic industrial soundscape, the momentum creeps slowly but inevitably towards an explosion of blast beats, slashing riffs and roaring vocals before changing pace once more. The use of sci-fi style effects is a clever addition which allows Stellar Master Elite to deliver one of the most intense and interesting songs released this year. An album that demands repeated listens, you must go in deep to work with this album but what rewards. One of the most impressive albums of the year so far. 9/10

Dark Rites: Welcome To Eternity (Dark Rites Records) [Liam]

Some melodic death metal very reminiscent of of Children Of Bodom (HCDR Era). Title track starts us off and it just blasts in your face when you press the play button giving you a hint of what’s to come. In all honesty, melodic death metal is becoming a bit stale as of late, but Dark Rites may be able to bring it back to life, but steer it to where it was about 4-5 years ago. There are a couple of tracks I'd pick that stand out with the main one being Starving For Violence. And Ants being another. A strong album. The only criticism I have is the sound. It sounds kind of muffled. Whether or not the band was going for that I don't know, but it kind of ruins the sound and feel of the album. Shame really. 7/10

Acid Brigade: Storming Into This Land (Electric Funeral Records) [Mark]

Acid Brigade hail from Londrina, in Brazil, they’re a three piece thrash band according to their Facebook page, with no drummer listed, pretty sure there’s a drummer on this record, maybe the page needs an update or they used a session drummer, hard to know for certain with no liner notes, not the end of the world. All Order Shall Fall opens the album and is eight minutes long? That’s a bit much, especially when it all sounds very similar, even the stops and what kicks in after it sound similar. By the time the eight minutes was up I was hoping that was it for long tracks and we were about to be treated to short, sharp thrash numbers, but no, checking the playlist, eight tracks, five of which clock in at over six minutes. 

Gonna Get Me Some reminds me of a thrash version of The Beastie Boys, no bad thing, and it has a good bouncy Bay Area thrash feel. Bitter End is on the heavier end of what Acid Brigade produce with a one two one two thash beat, a Kirk Hammett in his early days inspired solo and some great vocals, this is more like it. Raging War is another song that wades its way into similar sounding waters we’ve already heard on Storming Into This Land. When Flesh Wants More Power is one of the catchier songs on the album, has a real 80s thrash feel, but then again, it all does, sporting a chorus that would sound great with a crowd chanting it in a venue. Acid Brigade rounds out this album, upped intensity to close out. 

The musical performance on this album is overall quite good, but the production is not stellar, it’s a bit loose, I don’t mind that for thrash, it makes sense sometimes to leave things sounding raw, it keeps that feisty live feel, but there are errant noises from wobbly sounding toms and the kick drum is weightless, not 100% convinced the guitars are always in tune either. Unfortunately this all feels familiar, like I’ve heard it before, with little in the way of moving the thrash sound into modern times, I’ve said it before nothing wrong with just being a thrash band, people love thrash, but I like music that challenges me in ways I wouldn’t expect, and this doesn’t do that at all. 5/10