Wheel: Moving Backwards (OMN Label Services)
There are occasions where you listen to an album and are instantly able to review it. There are other times when you really need to spend some time getting more intimately involved and spend time before you can consider your words. Moving Backwards is one such album. Wheel comprises James Lascalles on guitar and vocals, bassist Mikko Määttä, lead guitarist Roni Seppänen and drummer Santeri Saksala. Lascalles relocated to Helsinki from England to pursue his career and having met the other members of the band, formed Wheel in 2015. Two EPs, The Path and The Divide has led to their debut album, released a couple of weeks ago.
This is a superb album, full of twisting and expansive progressive rock which switches instantly from bone splitting heaviness to gentle melodic passages. Opener Vultures is instant in its appeal; the title track less so with its ten-minute plus path interchanging melancholic elements with screaming ferocity. With seven tracks included in this release, and a running time of 48 minutes, it is a well-balanced (no pun intended) album, three lengthy tracks countered with four shorter but no less intricate pieces. Tyrant changes the pace completely, another ten-minute track ebbing and flowing with a creativity that recalls Tool, Karnivool and even Radiohead. The album features some sublime guitar work, with the band fluid and cohesive whilst Lascalles vocal delivery provides that haunting style which works so well with the style of music.
Up The Chain with its choppy guitar, rolling drums, anguished vocals and schizophrenic time changes varies the style again, some heavyweight elements adding to the dark themes. The subtly crafted instrumental Skeletons allows a pause for breath before a rampant riff opens Where The Pieces Lie; an aggressive track which crashes hard before pulling back to allow the vocals to take centre stage. Intense and passionate, the repetitive riff working in synergy with the rhythm section to add groove and texture to an explosive track. Wheel closes with the intelligent and beautifully sculpted Lacking, another track that shifts in pace, texture and ferocity as it develops.
This is an album that you need to listen to several times to fully appreciate, with the band holding their magnifying glass up to censorship and institutionalised mind control throughout. Lascalles explained that “rather than looking at environmental or economic dystopia, we’re anticipating more of a more social one.” This is a truly stunning debut release and will be likely to feature highly in my end of year list. With the band having supported Amorphis in Europe and forthcoming dates with Swedish art-rockers Soen [featuring ex-Opeth drummer Martin Lopez] in the diary, 2019 could well be the year of the Wheel. 10/10
Sisters Of Suffocation: Humans Are Broken (Napalm Records)
“Hell hath no fury like a woman scorned …” the quote which is attributed to 17th century playwright William Congreve and also to fellow playwright Colley Cibber. Well, a recent article in Loudersound.com, the online site that took over from Team Rock and which is the home of Metal Hammer amongst others, recently ran an article which had the heading WE GOT TWO OF METAL'S BEST FRONTWOMEN TO TAKE DOWN SOME ANGRY SEXISTS. This article allowed Svalbard’s Seena Cherry and Ithaca’s Djamila Azzouz the opportunity to respond to some of the typically offensive and misogynistic comments made by male metal fans. The response was to be expected, with a flood of sexist comments pouring in from the Neanderthals that follow metal. It was a sad indictment that even today, in 2019, such meat heads continue to use this approach. Well, I’d give them five minutes with Els Prins, vocalist with Sisters Of Suffocation. Formed as a fully female outfit but now incorporating drummer Kevin Van Den Heilrgenberg, Humans Are Broken is the band’s second full release, and follows on from 2017’s Anthologies Of Curiosities. Prins’ delivery here makes Alissa White Gluz sound like Stevie Nicks, such is the ferocity and aggression contained within her growling performance.
From the opening pulverisation of Humans Are Broken, this is a savage affair. Van Den Heilrgenberg’s blistering drumming underpins the whole thing, his beats per minute excelling at times, whilst the intensity of the riffing of lead guitarist Simone Van Straten and rhythm guitarist Emmelie Herwegh is lacerating. This is direct for the jugular in approach, Prins death growls inhuman and savage. War In My Head demonstrates the softer side of the band, with some clean haunting vocals juxtaposed with the controlled wildness of Prins usual style. The Next Big Thing takes a measured approach, a single guitar picking out individual notes before the track explodes in a bloodbath of jagged death metal. There is plenty of melody, carefully threaded through the album, but the overriding approach is pure intensity. If you think the sisters can’t do it for themselves, then you need to get your head around this album. It’s just brutal. 8/10
Fallujah: Undying Light (Nuclear Blast)
Fresh from their brutal main support with Obscura, the Californian progressive death metallers return with their first album with new vocalist Antonio Palermo. The follow up to 2016’s excellent Dreamless in terms of chronology, this isn’t so much a continuation of the journey as an abrupt departure necessary and essential to move forward. This is Fallujah stripped down and raw, with a mark razor sharp and emotionally changed release. The scene is very much set with opener Glass House, which cuts deep, such is the jagged ferocity with which it is delivered. Ultraviolet maintains the intensity, Palermo’s screaming vocals are a sharp contrast to the styles on Dreamless, which featured clean guest vocals. No such worry here, but also reassuringly Palermo sits comfortably with the Fallujah sound and having seen the man live I know he can deliver.
So, what prompted the change from the more ambient progressive sound of the last album. Guitarist and primary writer Scott Carstairs commented that “I think the last couple of albums we spent a lot of time experimenting with different elements, such as clean guest vocals, synthesizers, or different kinds of instrumentals. This time around we knew from the get-go that we wanted this record to be raw and honest. We wanted to move the music further but still showcase the sound and emotions this band has always evoked.” Dopamine is the perfect illustration of what Carstairs means. Retaining that underlying melody and complexity, a touch of clean vocals juxtaposes with the guttural roar of Palermo, whilst the soaring lead guitar of Carstairs is given free reign whilst the engine room is completely locked down by drummer Andrew Baird and Robert Morey on bass. Baird excels with some unbelievably tight drumming, shifting from barrages of blast beats to the lighter ambient side of the band with an ease that one can only dream of. The Ocean Above sees him move without effort between full speed aggression and an almost jazz fusion style in the hauntingly ethereal middle section before re-opening the fire power once more whilst Hollow contains patterns and breakdowns to die for.
With over ten years now under their belt, Dying Light is an album that Fallujah needed to make. Utilising Palermo for the lyric writing ensured a fresh approach and as a result Undying Light centres on an ego-driven and apathetic society as a result of social media consumption and reliance. Bringing back their sound to the honest and raw style whilst retaining the complexity and challenge of their previous releases, this is a statement of Fallujah in 2019. A demonstration of what the band is about. As Scott Carstairs commented “We believe this is the truest sound we have honed on in yet.” It succeeds. Massively. 9/10
Mindlane: Darkest Matter (Self Released)
Progressive melodic rock with a melancholic twist, Mindlane hail from Skepplanda, Sweden and Darkest Matter is their second album following on from 2016’s debut Unspoken Silence. The band is a three-piece, which is somewhat surprising given the complex patterns and rhythms which feature from the opening track Light The Torch through to closing song Everlasting Mind Ghosts. Vocalist Reine Svensson has the right style of vocal delivery for the band’s music, varying from the type of introspective ethereal approach of Katatonia (If I Forget You) through to the more progressive bands such as Tesseract (e.g. The Filth In Your Words). Joonas Niskanen handles all the guitar work on the album and whilst there is a fair amount of loops and trickery involved there is no doubt that he is a fine player; some his intricate work is very impressive. Meanwhile drummer Hannu Mäkelä’s technical approach adds to the depth and quality. This is an impressive release, full of solid and intricate music which should appeal to a wide section of rock and metal fans. 7/10
Doro: Backstage To Heaven EP (Nuclear Blast)
A four track EP to coincide with the Metal Queen’s European tour, Backstage To Heaven features four tracks, two revised studio tracks and two live versions of songs from her last release, 2018’s Forever Warriors, Forever United. As I said in my review of that album last August, it’s hard to feel anything other than admiration for Ms Pesch, with her devotion to the metal cause unstinting since her debut way back in the early 1980s. However, this isn’t her finest hour. Of the four tracks on offer here, the highlight is probably the sublime saxophone solo from Helge Schnieder on the title track whilst Doug Aldrich appears to add a solo on the routine Heartbroken.
The live version of Blood, Sweat And Rock ‘N’ Roll captures Doro’s strong vocals in all their glory but oh dear, If I Can’t Have – No One Will merely reminds you that Johan Hegg from Amon Amarth really should not be allowed to sing with anyone else, his limited vocals on this live version of the duet from the album astonishing in their awfulness. Hegg’s vocals work with his own band but here he just growls inanely as the track comes to a chaotic end with enhanced crowd effects. Unless you are a die-hard fan of Doro, this EP is unlikely to end up nestled in your collection. 5/10