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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

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