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Tuesday, 7 May 2019

Reviews: Steel Prophet, Tanagra, Sunn O))), Remete (Matt, Paul H & Sean)

Steel Prophet: The God Machine (Rock Of Angels Records) [Matt]

Americans don’t do things by half, especially American bands. Their metal bands tend to be the most bombastic of the lot with a natural confidence, even arrogance, around them that they are the best around. The complete epitaph of this is Manowar who outright refuse to bow down to anybody else’s opinion, however it does tend to make their music a lot more interesting especially in the case of bands such as Steel Prophet. Having been around since the 1980’s they have doggedly waved the flag for what I would call American Heavy Metal along with Jag Panzer, Iced Earth and Queensryche. Led by guitarist Steve Kachinsky Blakmoor, they have gone through numerous lineup changes.

Most notably vocalist Rick Mythiasin parting the band after a 13 year relationship in 2002, but somehow have released eight records previously to this, there last studio album was Omniscient which once again featured Mythiasin in 2014 but since then his place has been taken by R.D. Liapakis of Mystic Prophecy and Devil’s Train. His husky delivery is ideal for Steel Prophet’s muscular, thrash tinged heavy metal, but also work on the rockier numbers like Dark Mask (Between Love & Hate) which sounds like an Ozzy song due to the guitar rundown. It’s got that natural American confidence to it all the songs swagger or gallop with pitch perfect instrumentation and crisp production. There’s no chance of Steel Prophet changing any time soon, a confident American metal album. 7/10

Tanagra: Meridiem (Self Released) [Matt]

Tanagra is a town and a municipality north of Athens in Boeotia, Greece, not far from Thebes, and it was noted in antiquity for the mass-produced, mold-cast and fired type of Greek terracotta figurines named after it. Tanagra the band though are from Portland Oregon and play progressive power metal, which will be familiar to fans of Shadow Gallery and Fates Warning. Meridiem is their second album and at 7 tracks and over an hour long, it’s got a lot of music continued within in it all played by the five members of the band who are Erich Ulmer (bass), Josh Kay and Steven Soderberg (guitars), Tom Socia (vocals) and Christopher Stewart (drums) along with a couple of guest providing the classical instrumentation.

They are all virtuoso musicians but as much as the compositions on this album are complex, they are also compelling never sticking to rigidly to any groove for too long and broadening the soundscape with theatricality and a cinematic sound that any good prog metal band incorporates to show you their prowess. The record opens with the mammoth title track which is an overture for the rest of the album having a kitchen sink approach that works, especially when you compare it to the more straightforward power metal of Sydria. I sought out the band’s debut on the back of this record and Meridiem is better in every sense, it has much bigger scope, there are more risks but they pay off. A masterful emotional progressive metal album and not a pot in sight! 8/10   

Sunn O))): Life Metal (Southern Lord Records) [Paul H]

The eighth album from experimental American drone outfit Sunn O))), Life Metal is something of a change of style to anything I would usually listen to. Apparently, the title is an inside joke within the band. Life Metal is reportedly more upbeat than recent works, with “brightness and symphonic quality” in comparison with other works. Four years since 2015’s Kannon, Life Metal is one heavy beast. Oh yes. Cataclysmic riffs that can crack continents drawn out over long minutes, additional effects adding something to the distortion and crushing sound. Four tracks, 69 minutes long. This isn’t an album for car journeys, public transport or sitting down to with a cuppa.

Joining Greg Anderson and Stephen O’Malley on this journey is frequent contributor Tos Nieuwenhuizen (Moog synth), vocalist Hidur Guönadöttir who also adds cello and haldorophone and the pipe organ of Anthony Patras. Between Sleipnir's Breaths opens the album, Guönadöttir’s haunting ethereal vocals rising above the wall of noise; Aurora, at 19 minutes long not even the lengthiest track on the album sounds like an oil tanker scraping the harbour wall, the glacial speed of the chords either phenomenal or utter bollocks I suppose, depending on your point of view. It’s certainly something that should be incredible live but 16 minutes into track three and that was enough for me. As the foundations on the house started to crack, my bowels emptied without prompting and the dog disappeared into a pile of fur, I managed to knock Life Metal off before my spleen exploded and my skull caved in. I have no benchmark to compare this album against and for that reason I can’t give it a score. N/A

Remete: Into Endless Night (Cold Ways) [Sean]

There are odd moments in life, small instances where one craves to be smothered under a wall of guitars and shrieks. To be crushed both physically, emotionally, all desires fulfilled and all urges satisfied. To be cast into sorrows abyss, arising again amongst hopes burning embers. Or some bollocks like that, your own evocations may vary. In contrast to its more brutish cousins, Atmospheric Black Metal’s comforting ethereality has lately been a larger of my metallic diet. Whilst my usual intake largely consists of blastbeats, Satan, caveman riffs and wonky sound death metal, it’s not exactly nourishing at times. Returning to my opening words, I replace fury for feeling whenever I yearn for true musical sustenance, sustenance that only Atmospheric BM can provide.

Which brings us to Australia’s Remete, founded and solely operated by D, also sole proprietor of Woods of Desolation. Released through Cold Ways (his own label), D/Remete is finally set to unleash his debut, fittingly titled Into Endless Night. Shall we? Coiled Within begins with completely solemnity, it’s sweeping chords falling under the ensuing eruption, as every other instrument explodes into existence. The sound is dense yet crisp, swathes of huge sounding guitars piercing both ear and soul. Driving it onwards is D’s raspy snarl, echoing out into dynamic space over the thunder of drums. Everything is polished just enough allowing each individual element to be heard, yet never straying too far from the the genre’s raw aesthetic. A great start, resulting in many if not all of my (remaining) hairs standing on end. Ephemerality continues in a similar fashion, blasting along with aplomb but never sacrificing melody or mood. Melodies soar and swirl across a shimmering soundscape, as vast swathes of guitars fleshing out an already rich sound. Stillness induces a near meditate state in me, bathing me in thick layers of chords, synths and distortion. I close my eyes for a few seconds, allowing me to be swept away by it’s rolling waves. Ah….pure bliss.

It closes on title track Into Endless Night, clocking in at a whopping 13 minutes. Okay I lied, 12 minute and 56 seconds to be exact but such is it’s gloomy grace, it flies by in no time at all. Cold melodies ebb and flow, adding yet even more layers to the already gigantic aura being conjured. It may not differ too much form the preceding tracks but offers enough subtle variety, finishing as the album began and in suitable fashion. Now the hard part, accurately transcribing WHY I liked Into Eternal Night. It’s considerably harder to convey just how much joy I felt, despite the introspective and depressive elements the genre is known for. In it’s forlorn frailty, I found familiarity and comfort. Instead of sorrow, I felt a sense serenity, of relaxation and transcendental calm. I didn’t need to think but just…..feel, and Into Eternal Night is most certainly full of feeling. Sure, this isn’t the most varied of records but it doesn’t need to be, not when it’s core strengths are as captivating as they are. Remete and main-man D have succeeded in crafting a strong album that haunts and soothes in equal measure, as harrowing as it is wholesome and all the more enjoyable for it. Want more? Food for the spirit, so tuck in! 8/10

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