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Sunday 30 June 2019

Ranked & Rated: Porcupine Tree (Alex)

Ranked and Rated: Porcupine Tree

Porcupine Tree did not officially announce their decision to finish making music together. To this day, we see prog fans clamouring for a reunion. However, in the words of their esteemed frontman, Steven Wilson ‘I don’t go backward, I want to move forward. I’m proud of the catalogue: It exists, but it’s closed, finished.’ Although I can see this upsetting some, to me that’s a completely understandable position. Wilson has a solo project, Harrison has become notable for his work with The Pineapple Thief, and Edwin lends his guitar skills to projects from across the musical spectrum. Porcupine Tree made ten albums and have some excellent achievements outside of them. For the purposes of this article, I have chosen to focus solely on the studio releases.

Still, dig deeper and you find an even more experimental, tentative and enthused body of work. Voyage 34 is a beautiful and entrancing piece, proving essential for any lover of progressive music. Beyond that, I particularly recommend Staircase Infinities – a psychedelic B-side collection, Recordings – an assortment of unreleased acoustic tracks and the Stars Die compilation – a unified release which brings together the best pieces of the delirium years. So expansive are the multiple projects of Porcupine Tree, and indeed their members, that you could potentially get multiple articles out of them. For the purposes of this one though, let’s move on to the list

10. Signify (1996)

Laying at a weird crossroads in Porcupine Tree’s discography, Signify is aptly titled. With the psychedelic era in the past and with the determination to move the music in new, interesting directions, there’s an uncomfortable nature at the heart of their fourth album. We definitely see potential lurking here. The title track proves an exciting, if muted exploration into gnashing, forceful territory. The sleep of No Dreaming has a spacey, explorative feel, a foreshadowing of experiments to come. Sever remains gut-wrenchingly strange. Still, there persists a lingering sense that these are scraps of decent ideas, yet to be copiously realized. In a discography so sparsely flawed, execution matters. Incidentally, I do not find myself returning to this record often.

9. On The Sunday Of Life (1991)

Without a doubt, the debut is indeed odd. Charmingly so, one may add. Composed of material from absurdist EP’s Wilson created with early collaborator Malcolm Stocks, On the Sunday Of Life is one part parody and one part experimental. Jupiter Island and Linton Samuel Dawson show our frontman adopting a childlike squeal and taking a wild approach to effects, defying all principles of conventional songcrafting. Third Eye Surfer and Footprints are blatant nods to early Genesis and Floyd, while moments in the vein of Message from a Self-Destructing Turnip show early attempts at crafting elaborate concepts. Yet, aside from the incredible weirdness on display, there are hints of greatness peeking through. Radioactive Toy shows an initial effort to be emotional and blues-laden. The Nostalgia Factory has multiple layers and undulating synth textures, while Nine Cats is a fine acoustic piece with intriguing lyrical curiosities. Ultimately, the perplexing nature keeps me sporadically returning. Although far from flawless, a unique quality pervades here

8. The Incident (2009)

Before I justify the list position, let me add that I like the Incident a lot. A concept album, the larger part is composed entirely of a 55-minute song split into fourteen separate movements. Underpinning the record is the idea of ‘incidents’ as a sterile, dehumanising term for destruction or trauma. Based on real events, all the sections are told from the perspective of one or more characters encountering their own ‘incident’, be that a strained relationship, a brush with death, or the pressures of aging. Understandably, the accessibility may come as a surprise. While you can find plenty of intensity on Occam's Razor and The Blind House, Drawing a Line and Great Expectations would not seem out of place on our frontman's pop-orientated works. Indeed, in keeping with his expertise, Time Flies, Kneel and Disconnect and Your Unpleasant Family are wistfully thoughtful. Problematically, however, there are few distinguishable features to be found. Every preceding studio release had a unique identity and sphere of influence, while this one sees them conforming to a trademark template of how they ‘should’ sound. Steven Wilson knew this as well. A few years later he would disband Porcupine Tree and focus his eyes on his solo career. A decision which, despite risky, proved to be fruitful.

7. Stupid Dream (1999)

Taking a massive leap away from the worlds of Psychedelic Prog, and upsetting a few devotees in the process, Stupid Dream’s positive reputation has certainly outweighed any initial controversy. Unencumbered by overly complex instrumentals and massive compositions, here’s an attempt at candid songcrafting. There are definite nods to ‘creative mainstream’ acts in the vein of early Radiohead, and R.E.M, while still being unique. Openers, Even Less and Piano Lessons are outstanding, the potent interplay between Edwin’s guitars and Barbieri’s keys proving incredibly uplifting. Meanwhile, lyrics are sharp-witted, being given a chance to stand out, perhaps for the first time. Luscious contrasts between quiet and loud weave their way throughout, particularly prominent on Pure Narcotic and This is No Rehearsal, where subtle dynamic flourishes are allowed to blossom. My issues with these experiments derive from foresight. Many of the ideas seen here would be executed in more emotive, enticing and fascinating ways on future albums. Slave Called Shiver and Tinto Brass are clear examples of decent songs, whose ideas of bringing together accessibility and strangeness, would later be refined to perfection. Look no further than Don’t Hate Me, a deeply emotional piece, which would later appear in a reworked form on Steven Wilson’s 4½ EP, proving how our songwriter has honed his craft. To clarify, was Stupid Dream a vital album for exploring new sonic concepts? Of course. Were these notions sharpened and enhanced later? Absolutely.

6. Up The Downstair (1993)

Perhaps the most unexpected view I discovered in my listening stage, was liking Up the Downstair so much. Don’t misunderstand, I’ve heard these four compositions before yet never granted them the patience they deserve. Spellbindingly frolicking with different synth and guitar palates, the pieces here are hypnotically beautiful. ‘What you're listening to are musicians, performing psychedelic music under the influence of a mind-altering chemical called…’ sounds the opening monologue. From there, an outlandish yet detailed wave of diverse instrumental loops, effects, and flourishes flows from your device to your mind fuzz, entering you into a trancelike state as you undertake a diverse exploration of everything dark, enchanting and dreamlike. Contributing to the allure, every song was composed and performed by Wilson. Unlike On the Sunday of Life, the album discards of superfluous, paradoxical and inane aspects, while keeping intact the puzzling and abstract qualities. Do not make the same mistake I did, in relegating Porcupine Tree’s second album to the archives of your memory. Although not quite the greatest album from the psychedelic era, the work stands as proof of the importance of experimentation.

5. Deadwing (2005)

Originally intended as the soundtrack for a ghost movie – an idea which was later killed off, and only now faces the possibility of being resurrected - Deadwing occupies a distinctive place in the Porcupine Tree canon. Characters are vaguely alluded to, and there is a skeleton of a narrative distinguishable. Even so, ambiguity aids in cultivating a sense of mystery. With such elusiveness surrounding the story, the music takes on an altered identity for each listen. Look to Lazarus, where gorgeous piano arpeggios and subtle poetry, never fail to provoke a tearful response. Arriving Somewhere but not Here takes on a restless wanderlust, summoning visions of one running from their past, forcing you to reflect on all the times when you have ended up in the same state as before - ‘drinking down their poison the way you were taught’. Aside from the live staples, there’s lots of darkness and tension. A subtle reverb effect and dissonant synths open Deadwing, creating a frightening atmosphere, before slowing to a haunting dirge, the strange effects, and overall aura, complementing the ethereal motif. Halo and Mellotron Scratch prove mellow yet unsettling, artistic instrumentation and eerie lyrics creating entrancing friction. Meanwhile, moments in the vein of Open Car and Glass Arm Shattering have a schizophrenic, unsettled composition – furthering a ghostly aesthetic. Rumours of a film project resurfaced a few months ago. I hope that any visual accompaniment which does emerge can live up to the atmosphere and personality fashioned by the album.

4. Lightbulb Sun (2000)

Lightbulb Sun was Porcupine Tree’s first real attempt at bridging the divide between accessible songwriting and progressive complexity. In doing so they ushered in a new era for themselves and created one of their finest albums. From the gorgeous interplay between acoustic and electric instrumentals on The Rest Will Flow and Where Would We Be, to the sardonic sarcasm which drips from Four Chords that Made a Million, there’s an earnestness prevalent. Shesmovedon is perhaps the most renowned anthem here. Indeed, the subtle eeriness of the memorable melodies would soon become fundamental. Even in taking on cherished tactics such as adopting a carnival-esque style on How Is Your Life Today?, or playing with folk influences on Last Chance to Evacuate Planet Earth Before its Recycled, there’s a charming quality. Whatsmore, the two long-burners here are excellent. Hatesong shows our narrator's anger growing, as the piece escalates in intensity, making the mind stir. Later, Russia on Ice beguiles with a gentle yet elegant progression, the strings and keyboards contributing to an overall sense of outpouring. Strangely, the album allows me relaxation, nurturing my occasional need to hide, allowing the curtains to stay closed ‘on my little retreat’

3. The Sky Moves Sideways (1995)

Finishing the psychedelic era with a truly astonishing work of art, The Sky Moves Sideways is intriguing. Vitally, we see a large step up in both compositional maturity and sound quality. Admittedly, part of that can be attributed to the presence of a four-piece, featuring Colin Edwin on Bass, Chris Maitland on drums and Richard Barbieri on Keyboards. Even so, given the gorgeous ebbs and flows, the fuller, richer quality is certainly needed. Beginning with ambient textures, The Sky Moves Sideways Phase 1 takes us through moments of mesmerising melancholy, blissful bewilderment and chaotic cunning. I could liken the opener to a tidal wave or hurricane - sometimes slowing, often quickening, and never once ceasing a capricious course. Dislocated Day continues with ominous guitar/bass descants, and an equally menacing lyrical palate, seeing our frontman whisper ‘I will find a way to make you say, the name of your forgiver’.

The Moon Touches Your Shoulder begins a contemplative moment, the slight discrepancies in tone allow the mood to sway from peaceful to saddened, persuading the listener's emotions and sparking ideas which would continue to influence Wilsons songcrafting. Following a dark interlude simply titled, Prepare Yourself we move into The Sky Moves Sideways Phase 2, where the transitions are even more natural, the melodies more magnificent, and the progressions more dramatic. Carried entirely by the power of the instrumentals, the closer ties together the threads introduced on the opener and makes the album feel like an experience. Distinct from both of the preceding releases, there a lot of unity between all the different ideas and notes, allowing them to come together into one cohesive epic, solidifying Porcupine Tree’s place in progressive music. Perhaps testament to their bravery, they continued to evolve past Floyd-esque psychedelia

2. In Absentia (2002)

‘A mother sings a lullaby to her child, sometime in the future the boy goes wild’ opens Blackest Eyes. Although not a concept album, there are dependable ideas present relating to the loss of innocence, regret, and sociopaths. One interpretation is that these songs are about the dangers of disenchantment. In keeping with the depressive themes, the music takes on surreal textures, seeming beautiful yet otherworldly. Marking the one and only lineup change for Porcupine Tree, Gavin Harrison took over drumming duties here, his signature grace and presence fostering a tauter sound. Trains acts as a pensive acoustic song, the familiar metaphor taking on poignancy as our narrator reflects on how fast the summers of his youth passed. Gravity Eyelids is a shiver-inducing piece, which despite sweet on the surface, has a haunting backstory. ‘If I left the stage would that be wrong?’ a character asks on Prodigal, confronting the fleeting nature of life against a warm and comforting melody. Heartattack in a Layby introduces us to an unnamed commuter, who we meet on their journey home, after deciding to apologise to a loved one – the title of the song illuminates the reason for the mournful harmonies and fraught instrumentals.

Occasionally, the fictionalised elements are drawn back and we see glimpses of our songwriter’s anxieties and obsessions. The Sound Of Muzak paints a dystopian image of a future in which creativity has become irrelevant, the infectious nature of the anthem becoming insatiably acerbic. Even the Creator Had a Masterpiece, seems widely focussed on the maddening way being imaginative can lead one down a path of fixation. Consciously, In Absentia is made to be an uncomfortable listen. By placing you in the minds of people whose thought processes you might not desire to occupy, you are compelled to find relatability in the strangest of places. Through the enchanting yet scathing playing, a nervy sensation prevails, startling the listener while compelling them to fascination.

1. Fear Of A Blank Planet (2007)

Truly immersive, Fear of a Blank Planet was a piece designed to be experienced as a continuous whole. Dealing with concepts of social isolation and allowing every song to flow perfectly into one another, everything reverberates with a sorrowful poignancy, so that by the end the listener is left reflective yet shaken. ‘Sunlight coming through the haze’ sounds the first line as we experience a dissection of our (protagonists?) thought processes and fears. Reality blurs into imagination as the guitar tones and rhythms take on a gnashing yet apocalyptic feel. We fade into My Ashes where the melancholic acoustics compliment the lasting sway of the violins, providing the perfect soundtrack to escapism. Anesthetize, from the sombre harmonies in the bridge to the anger in the finish, stands as Porcupine Tree’s most elegant long burn. Every instrument states a case, notably Harrison’s drums, and Edwin’s bass, without which the tension and unexpectedness which carries the song, would not be present. Subtle trappings and embellishments worm their way throughout and you notice yet more upon every listen.

Meanwhile, an ever so gradual evolution forces you to feel every hint of doubt and insecurity which plagues our narrator. Soon, all the subtle detail melts into a pretty piano ballad titled Sentimental, where instrumental intricacies are discarded of and we are granted a sympathetic look at one dealing with all the stresses and traumas of moving forward in life. Each line proves meaningful, yet vague enough to keep you guessing, such is the case with Way out of Here, which often allows personal release and pouring, in spite of the ominous overtones. We finish on Sleep Together: a ferocious development distinguishes the piece, bringing the album to a vivacious close, as the chief character is confronted with a choice between soldering on, or retreating from the world. Central to the beauty of the entire experience is the ambiguity, allowing us to apply the concepts to our own blank canvas. Through the mediums we use, we portray an image of ourselves, yet we’ve all felt the need to retreat, to hide away, to find a way out. ‘And in this way, we wish away each day’

Friday 28 June 2019

Reviews: The New Roses, Nitrate, Janet Gardner, Jailbirds (Paul H & Pascal)

The New Roses: Nothing But Wild (Napalm Records) [Paul H]

Now well into their second decade, German outfit The New Roses has been a favourite of the Ed for the last couple of years. Their One More For The Road release in 2017 earning a 9/10 for their soulful bluesy swagger. They were good value at the HRH festival in 2017 but to be honest they’d faded from my memory, mainly due to the sheer volume of music we get through here. Nothing But Wild is album number 4, and it’s a reasonable effort. The challenge for any band is to keep their music fresh and interesting and whilst the band’s earlier works edged towards The Black Crowes, Aerosmith and The Temperance Movement in style, Nothing But Wild has shifted somewhat towards the Bon Jovi lighter end of the hard rock scale.

Tracks such as Running Out Of Hearts and As The Crow Flies are full of melody and harmonies, but lack the killer riffs that previous music provided. I can’t argue with the direction of the band; this is the route that many bands of their genre now take and filling HRH, Planet Rockstock and the many other classic/hard rock events that occur across Europe. And in that respect, this album is perfect; crafted rock songs, a perfect mix of heavy riffs, pleasing melodies and the odd ballad to balance out the album in the traditional way. The unplugged duo of Down By The River and Fight You Leaving Me show the bluesy side of the band and overall this is a pleasing if not earth breaking release. 7/10

Nitrate: Open Wide (AOR Heaven) [Paul H]

The follow up to 2018’s debut Realworld, Nitrate return with another 11 tracks of melodic rock in the style of 1980s heroes Def Leppard, Bon Jovi, Europe and Motley Crue. New members Marcus Thurston (Vega) handling lead guitar duties and Swede Philip Lindstrand (Find Me, East Temple Avenue, Strong) on vocals, joining founder member Nick Hogg (bass/Keys), rhythm guitarist, producer and co-writer Rob Wylde (Midnite City, Tigertailz) and drummer Pete Newdeck (Midnite City, Eden’s Curse, Blood Red Saints) to create a formidable melodic rock outfit. Its saccharine coated as one would expect, but with a harder edge in places than might often be found on such albums.

Heart Go Wild oozes sleaze overtones, with some slick guitar work from Thurston. I Don’t Want To Live edges back into dramatic rock ballad territory, with the usual broken heart lyrics that plague this genre and some delicious chorus work whilst Never Surrender is weepy but ghastly. This is all usurped by Bad Girls, an utter pile of vomit inducing music that should be removed with every trace destroyed. Pinching the riff from Livin’ On A Prayer this undoes any good work before it and whilst melodic music is good when done right, it can be quite abysmal. Nitrate have the quality to deliver, but Open Wide contains several flaws that weaken it considerably. 5/10

Janet Gardner: Your Place In The Sun (Pavement Entertainment Inc) [Pascal]

Janet Gardner is the former vocalist and rhythm guitarist of Vixen, a glam metal band from the 80’s who like many others arrived on the success of solo pioneer artists such as Lita Ford or Lee Aaron. I don’t remember their music too much but they were part of a wave of all female led bands that appeared at that time. Most of us wouldn't listen to it out of choice preferring inserting a copy of their Venom LP. Hard FM or AOR was a guilty pleasure not destined to be in the public domain. Most of those bands split, reformed for a reunion tour or even recorded new material before some of their most prominent musicians opted to add a solo career, Vixen is no exception.

I was expecting something soft and not overly interesting but Your Place In The Sun the first track took me by surprise. It's AOR alright but it’s powerful especially on Standing, Kicks Me Back or Flamethrower where the guitars are having fun supported by smoky vocals. Ok its not overly original but its efficient and there is a genuine effort to come up with 12 distinctive songs as opposed to 12 average tracks. Overall it's a good hard rock album apart from the electronic touch on You Said. It’s honest and unassuming. Its cohesive and solid probably due to the close collaboration with her husband Justin James. Feet are stomping and they never lie. 7/10

Jailbirds: The Great Escape (Golden Robots Records) [Pascal]

Just 8 tracks because less is more I suppose. Jailbirds is another one of those excellent Australian bands who have inherited the talent, musical ability and no thrills attitude from their most famous predecessors. Think Airborne, INXS, Choirboys and obviously AC/DC thrown in a shaker and you obtain a cocktail of pure hard rock alongside some heavier moments including some more obvious blues influences. A smoky and raw vocalist is adding the necessary traditional Aussie stamp to produce the perfect rock template. Epic on Loose Cannon or nervous on the Great Escape, Nothing Good Lasts Forever intro on the other hand is an obvious tribute to AC/DC but its so well delivered that it’s all forgiven. Listen guys, its an interesting full length, this band is not the finished article by any means but it's a band that is well worth keeping an eye on even if they only just perpetuate the great Aussie rock tradition. For that alone 7/10

Thursday 27 June 2019

Reviews: Supersonic Blues Machine, Plague Of Carcosa, All Hell, Hollywood Vampires (Matt & Pascal)

Supersonic Blues Machine: Road Chronicles - Live! (Provogue Records) [Matt]

I Am Done Missing You is a pretty slow way of opening this live album, it's got a lot of bubbling hammond and even some harmonica, soulful backing singers come in and we get the first hint of what Kris Barras can do as the new frontman of Supersonic Blues Machine, it doesn't really set you alight, however I Ain't Fallin' gets a bit rockier and shows Barras' gruff vocals when he sings alone towards the end of the song in front of a baying crowd. The setlist of this album is based upon their two studio albums West Of Flushing, South Of Frisco and Californisoul with the tracks culled from  the final show of their European tour in Brugnera, Italy on 20th July 2018.

The tour was Barras' first official appearance as a member of the band joining the original members Fabrizio Grossi (bass) and Kenny Aronoff (drums), along with Alex Alessandroni Jr. on keyboards, Serge Simic on guitar and Andrea and Francis Benitez Grossi on background vocals. Now what you have to remember here is that Barras is basically filling in the role of :Lance Lopez but he handles himself well both vocally and on the six strings playing tracks that are bit more laid back than his own music. It does mean that the first part of this record is a bit slow with only the funky Whatchagonnado, the soulful Elevate and Bad Boys picking up the pace a little, but their own material for the most part is measured slick blues.

Where this album really shines though is when The Reverend Willie G (Billy Gibbons) comes on with a bit of La Grange, he sounds in fine fettle and this is the first really blues rocker on the album with Gibbons giving his all. Gibbons stays for the remainder of the show playing Supersonic Blues Machine songs and covers such as Elmore James' Dust My Broom, Muddy Waters' Got My Mojo Working and Freddie King's Going Down. When Gibbons is fronting the band there is a star quality and it feels a lot more cohesive, that's not a slight on Barras at all but these are probably the biggest shows he's played, with a SSBM album under his belt it could be so much different but as an introduction Road Chronicles -Live! is the first part of a new era, a different voice, but the same old song and dance. 7/10       

Plague Of Carcosa: Ocean Is More Ancient Than The Mountain (Sludgelord Records) [Matt]

This two track album is is inspired by H.P Lovecraft and much like those Eldritch Horrors, both of these numbers are slow burning monolithic slabs of droning sludgy metal where everything is down tuned to a point it just being distortion, the guitars fuzz with every note it as the drums are mainly cymbals crashing with the snares building a concrete base. That's pretty much all you need to know about this record Ocean Is More Ancient Than The Mountain has no vocals to it at all relying on the sheer force of the instruments.

Formed by cult leader Eric Zann and taking cues from Bongripper, Plague Of Carcosa are now a two piece with Zann on all guitars and ZM on drums they have brought in Andy Nelson and Bongripper's Dennis Pleckham to aide with this primal sounding record that as I've said is based on Lovecraft's tales of The Great Old Ones. First track, the slumbering The Crawling Chaos is about Nyaralethotep and creeps along with a harsh drone to it while Madness At Sea is about everyone's favourite squid monster Cthulhu with an almost slimy riff that gets wilder towards the end as the sailors lose their minds when they gaze upon Cthulhu. Dark and imposing Plague Of Carcosa's latest release is an elemental force which will appeal to any fans of Bongripper and Sunn O)). 7/10

All Hell: The Witch’s Grail (Prosthetic Records) [Pascal]

All Hell are a blacktrash/metal punk trio from Asheville North Carolina. Their bio states that Jacob Curwen (vocals & guitar) Kurt Henderson (Drums) and Erik Ballantyne (Bass) draw their influences from dark & horrific literature, art and history. The Witch’s Grail is their fourth album based on what I can gather. Musically you can detect influences such as Celtic Frost, Bathory and Venom obviously but also the likes of Misfits and Samhain (Danzig if you don't know). 10 tracks, well actually 9 if you consider La Bas (Reve Noir) the beautiful acoustic intro. Sorcery & Sanctify sounds punkish, Tonight We Ride adheres to a more traditional black metal template while Black Blood has trash riffage introduces some variety to a vintage underground sound. I like most of the titles including the rapid tempo based Marbel Embrace and the Danzig influenced track Where Devils Once Danced. Overall it’s a solid and efficient underground full length. I think perhaps the addition of a second guitar would beef up their sound while I may understand they may not want to compromise the integrity of their sound. 7/10

Hollywood Vampires: Rise (earMusic) [Pascal]

Hollywood Vampires are a super group formed by Alice Cooper with Johnny Depp and Joe Perry to allegedly honour the music of past rock stars who died of excess. Unlike their debut effort it mainly consists of original material bar three covers namely Heroes from David Bowie, People Who Died from Jim Carroll’s band and Johnny Thunders' You Can't Put Your Arms Around A Memory. Like any super group it can be actually super or plain average. I am not a big fan of any of the band members or their previous work and apart from the covers I am not overly receptive to the raucous tunes from Rise.

At a push I appreciate their first single Who’s Laughing Now and the anthemic The Boogie Man Surprise but that it is probably more than I can bear. Don’t get me wrong its not bad, it is actually OK but overall this full length is too long (16 tracks) and too predictable to capture the imagination. To me it sounds more like a recorded rehearsal session. That said If you like musical documents you may appreciate the collaboration aspect of musicians coming from a different background if not I suggest you pass your way. 5/10

Wednesday 26 June 2019

Reviews: Eternal Storm, 3Teeth, Merging Flare, Dorja (Matt, Paul H & Sean)

Eternal Storm: Come The Tide (Transcending Obscurity)

This...this is special haling from the sunny climes of Spain Eternal Storm bring a darkness that I have not felt in many a month. Apologies for sounding like Obi Wan Kenobi but Come The Tide effortlessly bounces between hellspawn heaviness and angelic melodies along with numerous curveballs to keep you on your guessing. There are a lot of progressive elements in this melancholic record which is the band's debut after releasing both an EP and a split release, it's technically brilliant without surrendering any accessibility the four piece band are steadfast in their commitment to play music that inspires you to lose yourself in this record that shifts between extremity and beauty. You can hear the likes of De Profundis, Opeth, Paradise Lost and even early Katatonia in this music especially on the opening mini-suite Through The Wall Of Light has everything you would expect from a band that have been compared to the bands I've mentioned.

Blastbeats come at warpspeed from the off, from Mateo Novati (drums, additional growls), on Pt.1 (The Strand) with some intensely guttural vocal grunts in opposition to the cleaner guitar melodies from the skillful guitars of Daniel Maganto (guitars, additional growls, composition) and Jaime Torres (guitars, additional clean & growl vocals, composition) who are the real stars of this record adding euphonious guitars as they slow things down on Pt.2 (Immersion) which flows into a sax break (see told you it kept you guessing) as the growls return for the punishing death metal ending. Only two songs in (though it's really one in two parts) and you're already hooked, gasping for breath as the overwhelming sorrow hits you with a death metal punch. Detachment is the third track on the record and has yet more intricate riff structures as Kheryon (lead vocals/bass) unleashes his throaty roar over the death metal blasts before Javier Fernández's (Nexusseis, The Heretic) keyboard swathes takes over the slower section where it all gets a bit more atmospheric as we get taken through more primeval tones of The Mountain which ends with a brilliant piano outro leading into the acoustic fireside intro to Of Winter And Treason which is 10 minutes of some of the finest music you'll hear this year.

A slow building number that gets better with every passing minute as it segues into some fluid jazz moments as Drifters brings yet more ambient synths. As Scarlet Lake takes you back to the traditional blackened death metal sounds this album reminds you what Amon Amarth could sound like if they tried a bit harder. By the time Embracing Waves closes the album this musical journey reaches it's fulfilling conclusion with the first use of clean vocals and yet more flowing riffs for a moody finish of the album. Come The Tide is an accomplished, virtuoso record from this Spanish band. Buy it! 9/10   

3Teeth: Metawar (Century Media Records) [Paul H]

Industrial metal outfit 3Teeth is a Los Angeles based five-piece. Their vision is uncompromising. “From day one, the whole project was intended to be more of a multimedia art project built on the chassis of a band,” explains frontman Alexis Mincolla. As well as vocalist with the band, he is the creative director of downtown LA’s infamous tech noir club night LIL DEATH. It was here that his flair for visual art met with Xavier Swafford’s keyboard and production skills and they began creating together. Filling in the gaps with Andrew Means (modular synth / bass), Chase Brawner (guitar), and Justin Hanson (drums), the band soon released their self-titled debut album in 2014. The album gained the attention of Tool guitarist Adam Jones and an invitation to join Tool and Primus on a full US arena tour in 2016 followed. The band’s sophomore release, <shutdown.exe> was released on their own imprint, OMF Records. The record hit #23 on the Billboard and landed them tours across the US and Europe — headlining, and supporting acts such as Rammstein, HIM, and Danzig.

3Teeth’s live show is described as “a mix of state-of-the-art sensory overload with a take-no-prisoners level of aggression.” Mincolla once described the aims of their live show as “an ontological one-night stand,” and encourages his audience to protest their own conditioning. “Our debut album was man vs the world, our sophomore album was man vs himself, and now our forthcoming third album is world vs world.” Mincolla muses how if man doesn’t create his own world, then he’s to be crushed by the world of another. Which brings us to Metawar an album which is exactly that — a sonic attack on the wide scale perception management systems that currently grip our worlds. The introduction on Hyperstition leads into Affluenza, all thumping bass and grinding industrial attack with snarling vocals which rage against the machine. The next 40 or so minutes ask and challenge. The intensity of President X and the angst of ALTǼR all delivered with a jagged, in your face attitude.

The pace is haunting on Surrender, whilst the brooding introduction on Sell Your Face 2.0 quickly segues into a moody smouldering track, punctuated by melody and a hook to die for. Slick and professionally delivered, there is ample chaos to appeal to those who like their industrial metal with edge, and for those whose tastes are more driven by social commentary, this should also be of interest. The band are supporting Ministry shortly and it will be an experience to catch these guys in the live arena as I suspect that they will be impressive. 7/10

Merging Flare: Revolt Regime (Ram It Down Records) [Sean]

Man, that cover’s fucking awesome. Goats and corpses are all brilliant and all that, but sometimes nothing screams HEAVY FUCKING METAL like a mech (or titan, for you 40k aficionados) stomping seven shades of shit out of all in it’s path. I mean, come one! What other genre of music would ever announce it’s intentions in such brazenly awesome fashion? Matching those HUGE guns with equally HUGE riffs are Finnish heavy/power metallers, Merging Flame. Despite being around since 2001, “Revolt Regime” is only their second full length release, their first in 8 years. Not exactly the best track record is it? Still, there’s some seasoned vets piloting this warmachine, proving that time matters not in the face of pure heavy metal firepower. As if it that weren’t enough, Kai Hansen is on here too! Well, what yah waiting for? Let us begin!

 sets the octane (and cheese) on high, trad riffs and synths reminiscent of every kickass 90’s anime intro. I can totally picture in my head, each character introduced in turn, wistfully looking to the sky before the logo appears……bliss. It’s tight, as one would expect these proficient Finns, keeping things relatively straightforward and unburdened. A standard song structure is employed but with plenty of shreddy ammo to spare. Alliance In Defiance gets down and dirty, (somewhat) toning down the cheese in favour chunky riffing, all the while channeling their inner Judas Priest with unabashed glee (they’re even signed to Ram it Down records!). And by the Omnissiah, those solos! Lead guitarist Kasperi Heikkinen (also of Beast In Black) dances across his fretboard with deadly dexterity, unleashing burst after burst of shredtastic (yes, that’s a word now) virtuosity. Clarion Call shifts gears, its mid paced tempo somewhat reminiscent of Running Wild, whilst The Abyss Of Time draws slightly more from the pomp and pageantry of their fellow country men. 

It’s all rather silly but in the face of such amiable energy, I am far from uttering a single complaint nor frown. Minds Eye gets a wee bit cosmic, it’s slightly porgy chords progression once again reminding me of early 90’s Gundam anime (give Stardust Memory a go). War Within briefly conjures shades of Megadeth, flirting with that Mustaine like staccato riffing, though still very much sticking to Merging Flare’s muscular melodramatics. Midwinter Magic is moderately more serious, relenting on the cheese though this isn’t really saying much in the grand scheme of things. A big chorus helps propel it along, though that’s rather the whole point isn’t it? Devestator sounds like latter Accept, bringing all the chunk and blasting all foes into oblivion. Hell, frontman Matias Palm isn’t a away million miles off Mr.Tornillo’s gruff bark, either! 

The teutonic vibes continue on Sin Against The Sinner before Revolt Regime ends on the unexpected Van Halen vibes of The Lucky One. Would probably have been better placed elsewhere but it’s a solid, if slightly underwhelming closer all the same. Let’s break it down quickly; If you of the more serious disposition, chances are this will make you vomit blood. I get that, can respect that even. However, if you don’t give a hoot about most things and enjoy no nonsense heavy/power metal, you will find no shortage of sweet sustenance here. The performance is spot on, the songs are and catchy and overall, Revolt Regime is just simply fun. Even if the vocals feel ever so slightly phoned in at times, Merging Flare have put a solid slab of heavy metal goodness. Go and get shredding! 8/10

Dorja: Gemini (Dakini Records) [Paul H]

Three years after their debut single Fire, the five-piece outfit from England, Belgium and Kazakhstan are now able to release their debut album Gemini. I first saw the band almost three years ago, opening the proceedings on a wet and windy first day at the Amplified Festival in Gloucester. The band played to about 25 hardy souls who stood there watching Dorja give it everything. I must be honest, they’d slipped from my radar completely, but it was pleasing to get this album to review. Steeped in classic rock of the 70s and 80s, this is 43 minutes of competent and enjoyable hard rock delivered to a high standard as one would expect. 

Opening track Chainbreaker starts the album well, a smouldering song which segues neatly into the fiery Target Practice. The title track is an immaculate piece of work, with an extended progression allowing vocalist Aiym Almas to open up and show her quality. Elsewhere, there is solid interplay between bassist Becky Baldwin and drummer Anna Mylee, and some neat guitar work from Sarah Michelle and Rosie Botterill, especially on the blues rock of Use You and the original single Fire which closes the album in foot stomping style. Worth a listen, should you get the opportunity. 6/10

Tuesday 25 June 2019

Reviews: Valis Ablaze, Ulysses, Lightning Born, Love Your Witch

Valis Ablaze: Render (Long Branch Records)

I've made no secret about how much I love UK  modern prog metal act Valis Ablaze, I've been following them since their debut EP Singularity and I've seen them evolve into a band on the forefront of the the progressive scene. Since their debut album Boundless they have a new rhythm section welcoming Dayle Williams on drums and Dan Brotherton on bass and they have honed their chops around Europe with bands such as Monuments, The Contortionist, Dead Letter Circus and Vola ready for their second album Render. Starting off an album with 80's sounding synths and a solitary guitar arpeggio brings you in immediately and also displays the technicality of this band then while the fluid playing continues the palm muted riff kicks in and Neon Dreaming a song that blends harmony and chaos equally, starting off this sophomore with some impressive guitar workouts from Tom Moore and Ash Cook.

It's as this album starts that you can hear how Valis Ablaze have once again evolved as a band, there's a maturity here that sees them creating some of the most breathtaking soundscapes you will hear this year. A track such as State Of Decay has as much depth to it as the Marianas Trench, blending the beastly and beautiful seamlessly. They have brought a new level of, I hate to say accessibility, but there is a bigger melodic presence on this album which is notable from Boundless, which by no means was a death metal record but on Render the mood of the record is very upbeat and mellifluous, the tracks sound simplistic but they are actually very complex Infinite World exhibits this the best, while the heaviness is shown on The Convincer which has a tasty breakdown full of fret-slides, it's a track that will go down a storm live due to the thick grooves. It's Saturation for me that shows the most evolution from this band starting off with electronic ambient textures before the riffs kick in for the shortest but for me most affecting songs on the record.

Elsewhere they have added some soaring radio baiting tracks such as Keyframes which despite having the heavy riff powering it, it's dramatic and emotional, leading into the more melodic Ascent, which features guest guitars from Mask Of Judas' Sam Bell. Both of these songs display the brilliant vocals of Phil Owen which have a fragility but also a powerful passion to them that once again rears its head on the muscular Proxy which sees it juxtaposed with atmospheric guitars and thumping low end that breaks into a tapped solo section. Sam Bell is not the only special guest on the record either as the final track Elevation features Danish singer White Dove duetting with Owen. From what I have read an upon repeated listens Render has a conceptual nature but this doesn't overwhelm the album in anyway, anyone can pick out a song as a favourite without knowing the rest of the concept around it. Render is the natural next step for Valis Ablaze, musically interesting, lyrically intelligent and brimming with compositions that will give them a broader appeal without sacrificing their core audience of modern prog lovers. A simply superb album! 9/10

Ulysses: On Safari (Black Glove Recordings)

Bath/Bristol band Ulysses previous album Law & Order was released in 2016 and between then and now Ulysses have yet to leave their time machine, that has kept them stuck between the psychedelic and glam eras. On Safari is chock full of the sounds of Wings, The Beatles, David Bowie (Ziggy-Era), T-Rex et al, it puts them in the same kind of category as Supergrass, Super Furry Animals and even The Darkness. They are very much an analog band with Rickenbackers linked up to valve amps while also taking walls of analog synths for big epics like Situation Man which could be a Jeff Lynne track due to the multiple layers of orchestrations, the drumming to has a lot of shakers and percussion which gets your booty shaking. It's a soundtrack that requires you to pick out your best cheesecloth and stacked heels as you kick out the jams to rockers such as Let's Move, but also the sitar-infused Looking For A Guru which could be from the concert for Bangladesh, the propulsive Married Woman which channels Syd Barrett.

The album is 15 songs long but many of the the songs are 3 minute stompers so you don't really notice the number of songs due to the smorgasboard of sounds this record produces, much like a real Safari, you get glimpses of things that you may have only previously encountered briefly. Some of the sounds on this album may have come through your parents record player but Ulysses are on a mission to bring them to a new generation. They do it brilliantly with tongues planted firmly in cheeks for flirty numbers like Doctors & Nurses they are not a joke though as they treat these styles with reverence.  Ulysses are Luke Smyth (vocals/guitars), Denny Peppers (guitars/vox), Jimmy Peppers (bass) and Shane Maxymus (drums/vox), hopefully they will be touring this year so you can join their Magical Mystery Tour, until then though play On Safari as much as you can preferably on vinyl through a retro system to get the full effect. 8/10

Lightning Born: S/T (Ripple Music)

Lightning Born are a collection of vintage riff worshippers from Raleigh, North Carolina. Formed by Mike Dean (Bass - Corrosion Of Conformity), Erik Sugg (Guitar - Demon Eye), Doza Hawes (Drums - Colossus, ex-Bloody Hammers; ex-Hour of 13) and Brenna Leath (Vocals - The Hell No). This self titled record has a big slab of heaving doom and some proto-metal sounds akin to Lucifer, The Blues Pills or Blood Ceremony, blues riffs are ramped up with fuzzy distortion, grumbling bass licks and Brenna's wailing vocals, tracks such as Oblivion are psychedelic head trips ideal for stoners, while Wildfire is a more direct riffer with a punk influence as Shifting Winds brings crushing doom. With the thumping Silence having a chunky bassline and Breanna in full flight as Renegade picks up the pace, it's very much what I thought it would be and to be honest when I saw the membership of this band I wasn't expecting AOR. Lightning Born is a record that has has some thick chops to it so if you're waiting for your next proto-metal fix then put your golf club in the air and await the lightning! 7/10

Love Your Witch: If You Love Your Witch Kill Her (Reality Rehab Records)

This trio from Tel Aviv play what they call 'stoner thrash' which to be honest sounds like two things that really shouldn't work together, but as soon as opening track The Headless Rider starts off you can see why this genre tag works. It's the first of two 13 minute songs on this record that bookend the shorter numbers in the middle and it moves between some classic stoner riffs building and building until suddenly it changes it's mind and a thrash metal assault breaks out, before things start to move between both styles effortlessly, the grooves guiding things on before it's blast beats galore. It may sound a little insane but I promise you it works really well.

Michael Kozlovzky (guitar), Mor Gal (bass/vocals) and Amit Abrahami (drums) have crafted an album that pairs Motorhead-style madness Conspiration Confirmed and the title track with some Down-like stoner grooves on Blind Solution. If You Love Your Witch Kill Her is something of a unique album but one that intrigues me, the only thing I could critique is that the production is a little thin so the songs themselves don't have the level of power they deserve however it's a small quibble on what is otherwise an album that stands out as one that comes from left field. 7/10

Monday 24 June 2019

Reviews: Rain Monkey, Gygax, Trench Warfare, Varg (Matt & Paul H)

Rain Monkey: Passing Storms & Fleeting Chances (Self Released) [Matt]

Behind the D.I.Y production UK rockers Rain Monkey are quite a decent band, despite not having been a band since 1985 when all the members were in their mid 20's. Fast forward 33 years later to 2018 and this collection of musicians were finally in a place to become a band, knuckle down and record an album of their old songs and some new ones. Drawing from the NWOBHM scene where everything was an anthem, all the tracks were written by bass player Jon McNicholl (in true NWOBHM tradition) and they all are very chorus heavy allowing you to sing along almost instantly. Right To Sanity will stick on your head for hours if not days afterwards, while they take broader strokes with the opening to Could Have Been The Devil which builds like a Maiden epic with McNicholl and drummer Pete Crouch (not that one) steering this odyssey away from monotony. Tony Adams' guitar cuts through giving distorted Sabbath riffs to Squalid but also some classical guitars to Could Have Been The Devil and plenty of solo action everywhere else (Silver Plains).

Tom Hall too is no slouch in the vocal department, he hasn't got the widest range in the world but sits well with Brian Ross (Satan, Blitzkrieg) or Bryon, Lawton and Shaw from Uriah Heep it's mid ranged and soulful ideal for this band. I would have said this album is a meat and potatoes but there is much more too it than just NWOBHM, though Can't Get Started and Road To Nightfall gives you some of that. There's a bit of prog, some space rock (Silver Plains again), some country slide playing (I Can't Stand It) and a whole lot more on this record that has been over 30 years in the making. Sometimes we can be a bit cynical with these bands that return from the grave when all the members have a much smaller mortgage, probably have grown up children, and more free time on their hands, a lot of them show you why they broke up in the first place, now I'm not going to go full Marlon Brando and say they could have been contender's but Rain Monkey are pretty more than that, had they continued they could have been quite big deals, but hopefully here's to a reinsurgance on the back of Passing Storms & Fleeting Chances. 7/10

Gygax: High Fantasy (Creator Destructor Records) [Matt]

Just when you thought it was safe to put the wizard hat back on Ventura, California band Gygax return with their third release a second full length. Born out of the ashes of Gypsyhawk, they are named after Dungeons & Dragons co-creator Gary Gygax and as such most of their lyrics are about the tabletop board game and the fantasy genre in general. Their debut Critical Hits came out in 2016 and ever since the band have been cranking out classic rock/metal in the vein of Thin Lizzy, UFO and Saxon. In fact it's Lizzy who make the biggest influence on this band as they have the twin-guitar leads on every single track Bryant and Wes emulating that legendary Robbo/Gorham line up trading off solos on The Eyes Have It.

As Eric Harris gives the bass and vocals, a song such as Spell Shaker is an ideal showcase for Harris with it's rampaging bassline and rough vocals, it's got a punk snarl too it while Mirror Image has a lot more of those Jailbreak days as does Something So Familiar. Gygax are part of the retro metal revival that is still currently so hot harking back to the glory days when rock music ruled the world. High Fantasy has 8 brilliant tracks that gallop along in a blaze of guitar riffs, bass rumbles and tracks that will get your fist in the air. High Fantasy is an album that has so many rock anthems that it may even entice even the most hardcore D&D player to leave his basement and get to a show. 8/10    

Trench Warfare: Hatred Prayer (Transcending Obscurity) [Paul H]

One of the snarliest, ugliest albums I’ve heard this year, Hatred Prayer is the disgusting debut release from Texan outfit Trench Warfare. An absolute wall of riffing guitars, grunting vocals and hammering drums, all with the production value of a 1980s demo. 33 minutes of brutality, old school death metal with no frills, no flash, just open assault and battery. Standard topics of hatred, death, destruction, war and perversion are all included. Reading the band’s Facebook page, the two-piece of Tony and vocalist Jay suggest these guys may not be the nicest people to have a pint with, and their music certainly is nasty. Beheading Mohammed isn’t going to win awards for race relations and leaves a bitter taste, whilst Sate My Lust and the title track don’t give any quarter. A band that clearly delight in their aggressive attitude and approach, it’s a little too uncomfortable for me. 5/10

Varg: Wolfsziet II (Wolf Metal Records) [Paul H]

Paganism and Norse mythology delivered in German. All part of the ritual of Varg, kicking around since 2007. Hailing from Coburg, Bavaria, there is quite a history to the band whose Germanic roots link tightly with their Swedish brethren and whose main member Philipp ‘Freki’ Seiler is organiser of the annual German Pagan Metal Festival Wolfszeit. Wolfszeit II (Time Of the Wolf or Wolf Time II) is the sixth studio album from the band. Let’s get the obvious question out of the way to start. The focus on Norse mythology rings alarm bells about whether Varg are associated to any NSBM movement. However, despite their name (which is Wolf in German and Swedish) the band have publicly stated they are anti- fascist and anti-racist and find music the wrong place for extreme political viewpoints. Having taken advice from a close friend whose knowledge far exceeds mine I’ll rest easy for now. Musically, Varg is a combination of folk, Viking and black metal. Vocally, it’s average at best, with nothing to distinguish it from the mainstream. Screaming chanting at times, and strained at others, it really struggles throughout.

Musically it’s all a bit frantic and tracks like Skăl unsurprisingly has more in common with Finns Korpiklaani than black metal brothers. Without translating the entire album, I have little idea about what the band are howling about. However, Donareiche refers to an oak tree dedicated to the German god Donar or Thor, and Blutdienst (Blood Service) tells the tale of a warrior who returns home from battle to find his family slain, hence the blood lust for revenge; so even a quick bit of Google translate suggests that this is typical Pagan and Norse fare. I’ve played the album several times. It thunders along, riffing in all the right places. Yet it has the same effect that Wintersun often have on me. I appreciate the technical ability, the complex and the integrity, the passion and the fire that burns but it just leaves me cold. Accordingly, having lost a couple of hours listening to it, I’m obliged to mark it with considerable resentment. Sorry. 5/10

Sunday 23 June 2019

Reviews: This Gift Is A Curse, Combichrist, Warrior Soul, Kavara (Liam)

This Gift Is A Curse: A Throne Of Ash (Season Of Mist)

This is an album of pure destruction. Right from the off the record is a perfect blend of Full Of Hell, Anaal Nathrakh & Behemoth, spitting pure anger at you from all directions to make sure you're not sitting comfortably for some 'easy listening'. The album starts with slow build up Haema which takes it's time, but as soon as album opener Blood Is My Harvest it's a 45-minute assault on your ears, but it's mind-blowingly amazing. Until the closer Wormwood Star you're in for a swirling vortex of putrid vocals, distorted guitars and pounding drums with enough force to give you whiplash without even moving your neck. The Swedish death/black Metal outfit prove that even though they're on their third full length, they show no sign of slowing down. Just more destruction. 9/10

Combichrist: One Fire (Out Of Line)

I've never listened to Combichrist before so I didn't know what to expect. But I did not expect Industrial Metal, so that took me by surprise. From first track Hate Like Me I'm hooked with the distorted guitars, catchy chorus and electronic elements. From then on out the record only gets better showcasing that you don't need riffs to make a great Industrial record. The raspy vocals of Andy LaPlegua make the record come together in a harmony like no other. The record does fall short on some areas, as there are a few times where the band builds up a drop, but falls flat. Whether or not that's something the band was going toward, I'm not sure. But from my point of view a drop would have made the record. Standing out in the same genre where Ministry are on top on the game right now is a hard genre to get right and make yourself noticeable, but Combichrist do it effortlessly. The Industrial group just smash the roof and extend their reach further toward the top. 8/10

Warrior Soul: Rock n' Roll Disease (Livewire)

With a band name like Warrior Soul, you're either expecting power metal or just straight up hard rock. With this album it seems to be the latter. And it's executed flawlessly. From opener Up The Dose to closer After The Show, the record is full of hard hitting riffs and sing-a-long chorus'. With the raspy vocals of band leader Kory Clarke reminiscing of Lemmy, the band plough through the album that sounds like it's ripped straight from the late 80's, fitting in with the Sunset Strip vibe. Title track Rock N' Roll Disease and Melt Down are both riff rides through hell and are bound to make you bang your head. Through the record the band are on too form. And even though it's been 2 years since their last record, it still sounds as fresh as their first back in 1990. With the right direction, the band will stay on track and continue to release some bangers. That is if the line-up stays this way for more than 2 years. 7/10

Kavara: Weathered & Lost (Self Released)

I love everything about this album. The sound, the vile gutturals, the instrumentals. Everything. The record makes you think it's another metalcore record. But god no. It's a sublime melodic death metal assault. On par with Children Of Bodom's Hexed, it's one of the best Melo-Death records released so far this year. From start to finish it's a wild ride full of face shredding riffs, scorching vocals and heart pounding drums. From the moment A Mind Betwixt kicks in, you're in for a treat. A non-stop rollercoaster led by vocalist Serene Dorton the Canadian Metal crew launch into a fury in their first full-length record. Not many bands get it right on their first full-length, but Kavara get it spot on laying waste to the current Metal scene, and forging their own path and crushing anyone in their way in the process. If these guys don't make the rounds of the scene and blow some minds, I'll eat my own shoes. 8/10

Saturday 22 June 2019

Reviews: Teramaze, Rogga Johansson, Fuming Mouth, Casto Volor (Reviews By Matt & Paul H)

Teramaze: Are We Soldiers? (Mascot Records) [Matt]

Having always delivered the goods on record Australians Teramaze are now here with their sixth album are we soldiers, their second fro Mascot records. It's a weighty record that delicately balances progressive metal density with a pop mentality something founder, guitarist, producer Dean Wells is immensely proud of. He believes that the album "captures the true essence of what (the band) is artistically and lyrically" and you can't really argue as Are We Soldiers? brings together all the years of work Teramaze have under their belts on to an album that is full of complex yet accessible music and thought-provoking lyrics that deal with the pressures of life and what we choose to believe. It builds on the foundation of 2015's Her Halo and embellishes everything. It's an album that saw the band going through a few changes bringing back original vocalist Brett Rerekura replacing there previous singer who appeared on Her Halo.

Shimmering guitars and rippling keys give way to big djent-like riffs on the title track with a thick rhythm section kicking out the grooves for prog metal feasts such as Control Conquer Collide but also giving space on melodic numbers such as excellent Weight Of Humanity layered with acoustic guitars and a lot of piano it shifts itself into one of the best solo sections on the record. Are We Soldiers? is the sound of a band who are reaching the nadir of the talent, having been at the forefront of Aussie prog metal, along with Karnivool and Cog, for a while now and with acts like Voyager nipping at their heels Teramaze have once again displayed how good they are! 8/10

Rogga Johansson: Entrance To The Otherwhere (Transcending Obscurity Records) [Paul H]

Entrance To The Otherwhere is the second full length death metal album from the prolific multi-instrumentalist Roger Johansson. One glance at the Swede’s discography on Encyclopaedia Metallum (www.metal-archives.com) and you wonder why the hell you’ve never heard of the man. And the reason is because the majority of his work is solo stuff: see Humanity Delete; Eye Of Purgatory; Dead Sun and The Cleaner and Mr Filth’s Van Murders. Most of his other work appears to have him shouldering the majority of the guitar, bass, keys and vocals. Anyway, taking Entrance To The Otherwhere on its merits, what do we get. Well, opening song The Re-Emergers starts at blistering pace, tremolo riffing and double layered guitar front and centre, punishing drumming, a pulsing bass line and some gravel soaked vocals all wrapped up into a tasty combination. Additional subtle synths are probably unnecessary as the song rampages along. A chunky stomp on Till Bergets Puls appears routine but appeals massively with its crushing heaviness, albeit with the riff apparently transferred from track one. Again, the keyboards add little and sounds a little lightweight.

When The Otherwhere Opens is a pulsating and exciting track, a blend of power metal and death metal, blast beats driving the whole song forward and by now I’m warming to this album substantially. Massive riffs propel track four, the pulverising Giants Walking At Night. You can indeed imagine the huge creatures thundering across the landscape. Whilst I rarely warm to solo projects, Johansson has created a fine death metal collection which purists may well dismiss but it floats my boat. As Evil Seeps Out is a blistering tune, his roaring vocals and memorable hooks pulling you closer and demands involvement. And then a curved ball. A simple atmospheric keyboard instrumental called Berget Vaknar, which allows breath to be caught. It’s back to full steam ahead though with the title track next, underpinned by a single keyboard note and some frenetic riffing. With two tracks to finish the album, Johansson goes for the pulverising finish and hits hard with the bone crunching A Journey Into Fear before rounding off a really enjoyable album with the doom filled In The Grip Of Garpedens. This album has restored my faith in solo projects, such is its high quality production and compositions. 8/10

Fuming Mouth: The Grand Descent (Triple B Records) [Paul H]

Milford, Massachusetts, United States of America. Home of Fuming Mouth, a death metal with crustcore edged band. I have no idea if anything else has ever come from Milford but with a population of 28,000 folks according to Wikipedia, and the most interesting sites listed including Ted’s Diner, then it’s likely that the ferocious noise that this three-piece deliver may have been born out of frustration. 12 songs of sheer aggression, the odd bit of atmospheric build up (Visions Of Purgatory), and a death inducing battery which is virtually relentless in its delivery, with the exception of Distant Voice which veers into industrial territory. Put your head into the path of this brute and you are likely to find yourself immediately detached from the rest of the torso. Transfiguration is just one of several absolute beasts which could peel paint. Short, sharp and punishing, Fuming Mouth won’t be for everyone but should you like your metal disgustingly angry, snarling and played at balls out velocity, you may find your new favourite band comes from Milford, Massachusetts after all. 7/10

Caster Volor: A Prelude To The Freakshow (Self Released) [Matt]

Remember the 80's? Well it seems Castor Volor do as well. Billing themselves in their hyperbolic pr as a mixture and also the natural successor to bands such as Alice Cooper, WASP and Judas Priest. From the opening simplistic riff, to the scream and abysmal vocals, which I'm not sure whether they are trying to be gruff or indeed death grunts, this whole EP just screams pastiche letting them sound like a sub-par Lizzy Borden. The production sounds as if the album was recorded into cassette and the songs here are basic and lack much imagination. If you're a die hard American sleaze/schlock rock fan then this might have you reaching for you can of hairspray but I turned it off after 2 songs. 4/10

Friday 21 June 2019

Reviews: Deflore & Jaz Coleman, Barbe-Q-Barbies, Hydromedusa, Atlas Infinity (Paul H, Matt & Pascal)

Deflore & Jaz  Coleman: Party In The Chaos (Subsound Records) [Paul H]

This may well be the best EP released all year. Recorded in Faust Studios in Prague in December 2017 and mixed at Enem Studio in June 2018, Party In The Chaos sees a collaboration between Killing Joke’s Jaz Coleman and Italian industrial duo Deflore  which followed their support to Killing Joke in Rome. Opening with the title track, the electro industrial vibe paints a soaring soundscape which is brutal in its expression. Coleman’s angst ridden haunting roar sits superbly amidst the maelstrom that rages around him. Explosive and cinematic, this is merely a taster before Sunset in the West which has an epic soundtrack feel to it. Coleman’s piano sits amidst the swirling synths and slowly beating drum machine. Soothing and yet unworldly, it suddenly erupts with a crunching guitar riff beat. Talking of riffs, there is a massive one at the start of track 3, Transhuman World, which echoes Killing Joke at their most destructive. Coleman’s monotone delivery sits amidst a driving drum beat, punching guitar and swirling keyboards as the track pounds relentlessly to its crescendo. Deflore is Christian Ceccarelli (bass, electronics and synths) and Emiliano Di Lodovico (guitars and synths) whilst Coleman adds synths to the opening and closing track as well as vocals and piano to Sunset in the West. With any luck this may be the start of something bigger, but for now enjoy the Party in the Chaos. 9/10

Barbe-Q-Barbies: Borrowed Time (Dissonance Productions) [Matt]

Borrowed Time is the fourth album from Finnish hard rockers Barbe-Q-Barbies an all female hard rock band who, weirdly open the record with the funk-rock number Diz-Funk-tional all Nile Rodgers, is the highly anticipated fourth album by the all female rockers. They have tried to rally against the numerous auto-tuned bands with some proper au-naturel hard rocking that owes as much to AC/Dc as it does bands like Halestorm. There's a maturity to this band that acts such as The Amorette's or Tequila Mockingbyrd lack a little, despite Alive being a ballad that comes so early on. The remainder of the album has a lot of big riffs, swaggering tracks and attitude laden vocals all laced with a pop edge on tracks such as Innocent and the shout-along Radio which name checks a few songs from this bands influences. Borrowed Time doesn't break many barriers, nor will it break any records but it is a competent rock record, played by a band who have some proper chops. 7/10

Hydromedusa: Long Live (Self Release) [Pascal]

Did you know that an Hydromedusa is a turtle from South America but since we are talking music here I would like to introduce you to a psych-rock band from Adelaide Australia of the same name. Power the third track is a travel (and the whole album in fact) in time to where playing rock was a more simple affair. The intro is a killer with his dirty 70’s guitars sound, keyboard line a la Jon Lord and a great traditional rock vocalist. Mama’s Boy is a fast tune with some punk and boogie influences, People Like You sounds like a wild version of a Rolling Stones track, while Lovin’ Man is a possessed incarnation of The Doors. Star Song and Leaving respectively opening and closing the album alternate a mix of contemplative and rock statements that add some nuances to the album. The production is on the low end of quality but it works really well on the 8 tracks. Overall a nice surprise, not that the music is innovative by any stretch of the imagination, Hydromedusa will not compete for the best album of the year, yet it’s albums like this that keep the spirit of music alive. 7/10

Atlas Entity: Beneath The Cosmic Silence (Atlas Entity Records) [Pascal]

Self described as prog death metal , the first few notes of the opening track Adorned In Red is a clear indicator that we have talented musicians and clever composers. But is it enough to attract the masses? Murmurs Of Dissent and Visions Of Gold are decent efforts and if you are a fan of the genre (which I am not) you will probably think they are masterpieces but in absolute terms they just lack that spark that would make you come back to it again and again. Hardcore fans would probably call me an heretic when I say I got bored when listening to the Florida based band. Its very well produced and well delivered but unless you are really into this type of music I cannot see why this band would reach beyond its core audience.  4/10

Reviews: Chaos Magic, Breath After Coma, The Lord Weird Slough Feg, Steignyr (Matt & Pascal)

Chaos Magic: Furyborn (Frontiers Records) [Matt]

Chaos Magic was formed after ex-Stratovarius guitarist Timo Tolkki discovered Chilean vocalist Caterina Nix, recruiting her for the 2nd Avalon record as well as also writing and producing the debut Chaos Magic record. Now Nix returns with Chaos Magic, this time without Tolkki involved having aligned herself with Chilean producer, singer, and musician Nasson. His influence on this record has meant that Nix can experiment with more soundscapes than she did on the first more traditionally symphonic metal styled debut. There it was almost by the numbers Tolkki fayre, here though things are heavier and darker with Nix's vocals style moving from soaring, powerful highs to more sultry lower reaches.

You Will Breathe Again is a big symphonic metal track which casts a link to the debut, where as Like Never Before brings a lot more electronic touches, which reappear on the delightfully devilish My Affliction a track that could have come from In This Moment, while the processed drums on ballad Beware Of Silent Waters which has keyboard extraordinaire Mistheria adding his talents. He's not the only guest though as Tom S Englund (Evergrey) adds his soulful approach to the title track which is as epic as his dayjob, Bravely Beautiful features Ailyn (ex-Sirenia) duetting with Caterina while Ronnie Romero (Rainbow, ex-Lords Of Black) gives his voice to the crunchy Path of The Brave where he's in full Dio mode. As the synths give way to absolute chaos (magic) producer Nasson sings on Falling Again showing his vocal prowess on one of the best tracks on the album, mixed by Midas himself Jacob Hansen it all pops like freshly opened champagne bottle. With Nasson now involved properly in this project really is a vehicle for the excellent voice of Nix, it seems the future of Chaos Magic is secured by this great second record. 8/10

Breath After Coma: Woke Up In Babel (Ikaros Records)

Breath After Coma are Orestis Tentzeris (vocals/guitars), Theo Matthaios (guitars), Kostas Karapanagiotis (bass) and Vagelis Karapanagiotis (drums), they hail from Athens Greece and play a style of music that has alternative influences of The Royal Blood  (Faces To The Floor) but also brings the more 90's grunge sound of Alice In Chains (Self Titled) which is built on some swaggering riffs that move into some psych sections. The AIC comes back in on the ballsy Fireball while For Better Or Worse is a stoner styled number with a lot of ringing guitars. I'd never heard Breath After Coma but I really enjoy their alt/grunge hard rock, it's an organic sound that you can hear, built out of their beginnings as a jam band. Woke Up In Babel is a dirty piece of grunge from Athens. 7/10

The Lord Weird Slough Feg- New Organon (Cruz Del Sur) [Pascal]

The Lord Weird Slough Feg or Slough Feg for the fans, are an American band originating from Pennsylvania but based in San Francisco. They started in 1996 and New Organon is their new album after numerous releases and multiple changes in their line up. Scalzi is the only original member and is also a qualified Philosophy Professor apparently. But back to the album itself, on track 3 The Apology the bass intro moves into more folky-celt metal while Headhunter has a more classic metal/stoner stamp and is pleasant enough I must say. it sounds uncannily like an early demo from Iron Maiden while Exegesis Tragic Hooligan reminds of Elf or Trapeze at times. Overall its an intriguing record. It's a bit stuck in a time warp but it does not sound dated, actually the sound is more underground driven and very similar to bands like Castle. The guitars are good if not great, the vocals in line with expectations not overly demonstrative but efficient. In terms of style homogeneity the songs are a bit disjoint but the mix between classic metal to more folky influences is pleasant at the same time. I have a bizarre sentiment about this musical item I must say. I don’t dislike the album but I am not mad about it either. I was actually thinking it will probably age better than many current overproduced albums. Go figure 6/10

Steignyr: Myths Through The Shadows of Freedom (Art Gates Records) [Pascal]

Described as energetic and fierce. Steignyr is an epic celtic death metal combo hailing from Barcelona -Spain. It is said the band has been founded by vocalist and lead guitarist Jon Throgrimr. Style wise it’s all about Celtic melodies, beautiful harmonies powered by a strong guttural voice. It's very well produced I must say, its epic in a way, but out the 13 tracks Frozen In Time is probably the one (and only track) I like the most because I have frankly not really bought into the folk metal thingie scene. Arrows Of Time and Calling The Immortals are OKish tracks but are not ground breaking tunes by any means. I have really listened to all the songs but still no good. If you are a fan of the genre you will probably like this band if not I don’t see any compelling reasons why your curiosity should bring you towards this full length. 4/10

Thursday 20 June 2019

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

Duel, Cybernetic Witch Cult, White Parker, The Old England, Bristol

Monday nights are invariably a challenge for gigs and coming off the back of the blistering Clutch gig in Cardiff a trip across the bridge to the Old England may not have been the most appealing option. However, the Ed and I are made of stern stuff and we duly crossed the Severn and headed to the small pub/venue tucked in the heart of Bristol for a night of stoner rock. To be fair to the people of Bristol, a turnout of over 20 was sufficient to fill the main room and ensure all three bands received a decent response.

White Parker (6) promised a mix of Thin Lizzy and Motörhead according to their social media. Well, the Motörhead was certainly in evidence as they crashed through a six song set to warm the venue right up. The three piece consisting of Ben, Kit and Andy are local and well known to some of the crowd. Their aggressive punk tinged rock n’ roll certainly left no place for the faint hearted and they played with a power and passion which was impressive. Given the low key nature of the gig they weren’t above the odd slip up but with endearing between song banter and enough grit in their music, they earned at least two new fans.

With the running times slipping into the chaosphere, it was close to 9.30 before Cornwall psychedelic doom merchants Cybernetic Witch Cult (8) finally got their shit together and ambled onto the stage. Once they were there though, the cosmic funk and time travel took hold and for the next 40 minutes the room was transported to an alternative galaxy. There is something about a band that can transport you into another dimension and Cybernetic Witch Cult’s extended forays did just that. Alex, Doug and Lewis are as ferocious a three-piece as you could wish to find, and with some additional effects the band took the audience into the sonic stratosphere. With songs fuelled by science fiction and topics including Sand-Worms, dinosaurs and existential dread, the room was awash with swaying punters all enjoying the trip. Much heavy riffage and thundering bass as well, with Alex’s humour between songs well appreciated.
Texan’s Duel (7) have been on our radar since their debut album Fear Of The Dead in 2016. Their latest album Valley Of The Shadows is an excellent album, full of snarling riffs and thick stoner overtures. Live, they are a wall of noise. Keeping things heavy and simple, the band blasted through a selection of tracks from their releases with limited interaction. Heads down, no nonsense, this was just a stoner doomed bludgeon to the head and it felt good. Furry frontman Tom Frank is a blur of action, his high line guitar style proving an interesting alternative to the lower traditional positioning of fellow guitarist Jeff Henson who threw out the solos like they were smarties. Meanwhile drummer Justin Collins hammered seven shades out of the kit. Whilst we were unable to stay until the end due to early starts and late finishes, Duel proved to be sufficiently entertaining to warrant the trip.

Wednesday 19 June 2019

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

Clutch, Phil Campbell & The Bastard Sons & Sigiriya, The Great Hall, Cardiff

With vast swathes of the South Wales metal community up to their tits in mud at the annual swamp also known as Download, one of the most loved bands on the circuit made a return to a packed Great Hall for a night which once more demonstrated their class. Clutch had played Download on Friday, and with a week or so gigging around the Euro festival circuit which culminates in a slot at HellFest, the band squeezed in a gig at The Great Hall. Something of a shock, but a welcome one as they obviously could have headed out to their next gigs in Greece a couple of days earlier where I’m sure the weather would have been better than another damp June day in Wales.

With a short five song set, Swansea based Mountain Rock outfit Sigiriya (7) took to the stage as the opening band and to be fair to them, did a sterling job. Formed from the ashes of psychedelic doom merchants Acrimony in 2012, the four-piece led by vocalist Matt Williams cranked out a five-song set list which shook the foundations of the building. Their stoner style went down well, the thick riffs of Stu O’Hara crashing down, as their sonic wall of noise reverberated. A typical Swansea delivery earned a warm response as the venue filled and by the time Whiskey Song was thundering out there was head banging and appreciative nods all around the room. With two albums under their belt and a third due shortly, Sigiriya are a band who are worth a view.

Pontypridd’s favourite son (ignore the LA crooner Jones) will always be one Philip Campbell and since the death of Lemmy and the demise of Motörhead he’s been slowly building momentum with The Bastard Sons (8). Constant gigging and a set list that comprises new songs with classic Motörhead has led the band to get huge support slots with Slash and Gn’R in recent times. As the crowd increased in size, this was inevitably something of a homecoming gig for a band who just deliver the goods time after time. Campbell remains unassuming, allowing his guitar playing to do the talking, except for the odd foray to the microphone. Vocalist Neill Starr holds centre court, all energy and hair but with a voice that is so well suited to the band’s songs. A decent number from The Age of Absurdity were complimented by Born To Raise Hell and a raucous Ace of Spades, whilst Campbell also debuted a solo track, which in all honesty sounded like the majority of the material on offer. Still, any material from Campbell is enjoyable and this was no exception. Some excellent audience participation ensued although it was clear that the crowd was in the main there for the headliners with a lot of the audience unfamiliar with the non-Motörhead material. With a headline gig of their own to come in November at the Tramshed, 2019 is looking like another good year for the Motörhead man and his sons.

As what is probably the largest stage backdrop I have ever seen hung over the stage. Neil Fallon reminded the audience halfway through the gig that Clutch (9) had played TJs in Newport ten years ago, almost to the day. That was my first encounter with the Maryland quartet, and I’ve enjoyed how the band have slowly gained momentum. Now commercially more astute, Clutch have headline quality and it’s no surprise that their UK tours usually sell out. But Clutch possess so much more. An ability to vary their set evening after evening means you rarely get the same set of songs. Opening with Escape From The Prison Planet (from 1995’s eponymous album), Fallon, Tim Sult, Dan Maines and Jean Paul Gaster never miss the opportunity to throw in the obscure and the rare, and as well as seven tracks from 2018’s Book of Bad Decisions and the two from the previous Psychic Warfare release, we were treated to Power Player from 2007’s From Beale Street to Oblivion, a roaring Willie Nelson from Slow Hole to China, Red Horse from Pure Rock Fury and the Bad Brains influenced Passive Restraints from 1992’s second EP. This delighted the hardcore who now are outnumbered by those sucked in by the success of 2013’s Earth Rocker.

Clutch are consummate musicians although the focal point of the band is always Fallon with his relentless movement, shape throwing and passionate delivery. Gulping water and towelling his head at regular opportunities, Fallon never ceases, and his between song banter is simple and commands respect from the seething throng before him. A set of 80 minutes allowed Clutch to fire through 18 songs and provide excellent value for money and when the house lights came up after a blistering How To Shake Hands there were no complaints.  This was music at its best. If you haven’t encountered Clutch live, you really should. If you don’t like Clutch, then you might want to seek medical help.

Tuesday 18 June 2019

Reviews: The Meads Of Asphodel, Kvelgeyst, Power From Hell, Starbynary (Paul H & Rich)

The Meads Of Asphodel: Running Out Of Time Doing Nothing (Godreah Records) [Paul H]

A band that I’ve been aware of for years but who I’ve never really paid much attention to. I’m probably guilty of a musical crime as The Meads, who hail from Hertfordshire and who have been plying their trade since 1998 are an intriguing outfit. Their early works were focused on elements of black metal but combined that with Medieval, Arabic, punk and progressive sounds. I’m not in a position to comment on their early works but this album, the first long player since 2013’s Sonderkammando is totally absorbing. With alumni including former Hawkwind bassist Alan Davey and the sadly deceased Huw Lloyd Langton the band have an element of space rock included in their style which strongly appeals.

Opening with a solitary repetitive mechanical beep which gives way to a freshly charged riff and the roar of “Wake up you wankers, It’s the end of the fucking world”, this is Bug Splat, an electronically industrialised pulsing two minute track which paves the way for an album quite unlike anything you are likely to hear for the rest of the year. Each song is completely different, but the band’s belief that everyone has the right to leave a life free from bigotry, racism and persecution resonates. Their anarchic and often humorous experimental extremes lift them far apart from the mainstream. From the chilling Souvenir Of Death, the Avant Garde style of Like Blood Shaped Flakes Of Snow through to the politically charged I Stood Tiptoe, Reaching Up To Heaven with an uncomfortable montage of political commentary with clips of Saville interspersed throughout, this is an album that draws you deeper in with every play.

Black Is Black And White Is White impressed with jazz drumming, elements of progressive rock and psychedelia, thrash and death metal all combined into one massive mix. Cockroach Marionettes adopts a similar complex and impressive kaleidoscopic soundscape, Spanish guitar, thick haunting keyboards, military style drumming and heavy riffing combining into a delicious mixture of chaos and drama. Joining the three permanent members, Metatron- Vocals, J.D. Tait - Guitar, Keys & Vocals and Andre Kjelbergvik Thung - Drums & Percussion, special guests include Alan Davey on bass, Iain Smith – Keyboards, Cristina Padovano – Vocals & backing vocals, Will Banyard – Vocals & Violin, Christina Poupoutsi, Charlie Noakes, Malcolm Tait – Saxophone and Steve Wallace – Guitar Solo.

There are times when amidst the huge numbers of albums that we review, you come across a band that you’ve never really considered of before. Whilst it isn’t necessarily a matter of pride there is a slight element of shame that you know so little about the band you are listening to. The Meads Of Asphodel are now very much on my radar and whilst the background and previous music has yet to be explored in detail, that delicious opportunity now awaits. So, with apologies to anyone who feels I’ve failed to provide a fully researched review, all I can add is that this is an album of surprise, enjoyment and exploration. Embracing it with open arms would seem the right thing to do. 9/10

Kvelgeyst: Alkahest (Self Released) [Rich]

Alkahest is the debut album by Swiss black metallers Kvelgeyst. Doing some reading up on the band they are part of the Helvetic Underground Committee who are dedicated to the advancement of grotesque, vile, depraved and putrid audio torment originating from Switzerland. That sounds very promising but does Alkahest meet up to that statement? Kvelgeyst play a style of black metal that is not only vicious but incorporates a great use of melody as well as a clear thrash influence. This album manages to be both aggressive and atmospheric in equal measure with some awesomely violent sounding tremolo riffs mixed with moments of evil and malevolence. The vocals are a mixed bunch from the standard black metal rasp to agonised shrieks, unholy roars and aggressive barks. Some of these vocal styles work here whilst others do not. Alkahest is an enjoyable debut album which whilst not having any wow factor to it is a perfectly competent album of black metal fury. 7/10

Power From Hell - Profound Evil Presence (High Roller Records) [Rich]

Blackened thrash metal and Brazil go hand in hand from legendary old school bands such as Sepultura, Sarcofago and Vulcano to more modern day bands keeping the blackened flame burning such as Power From Hell who have released their sixth album Profound Evil Presence. Power From Hell are a band I know of but have never got round to listening to until now and whilst the band are termed blackened thrash the music on Profound Evil Presence has a far more old school black metal feel to it. The thrash influences are clear throughout though not a prevalent and driving factor in the music. There is more of a classic speed metal influence running through this album mixed in with some classic black metal tremolo riffing and some dissonant song structures. The production on the album is made to sound very old school with loads of echo and reverb which whilst having the desired effect to me made the album sound very washed out and lifeless taking away a lot of the power of the music. I did find Profound Evil Presence initially enjoyable but the album was very repetitive and formulaic and by the fourth song my interest has waned considerably. This is a style I normally love but the lacklustre songwriting and lifeless production just made this fade into background music. There were a few moments that caught my ear later on in the album but it was too little too late. 5/10

Starbynary: Divina Commedia - Purgatorio (Art Gates Records) [Rich]

Divina Commedia: Purgatorio is the third album by Italian progressive power metal band Starbynary and the follow up to their 2017 album Divina Commedia: Inferno with this being a continuation of a musical interpretation of the Dante Alighieri poem The Divine Comedy. Starbynary perform very atypical progressive power metal with plenty of influence from many other bands within the genre albeit mixed with a very clear classical influence and heavy keyboard use. These guys are clearly very skilled musicians with the ability to produce some highly intricate music but whilst technically skilled the music on display here just isn’t very captivating. Whilst there are some very enjoyable moments throughout the album it just never escalates beyond good with very little that grabs your attention.

One clear drawback are the vocals of frontman Joe Caggianelli who whilst not having a poor singing voice does have a limited one and throughout the album tries to sing beyond his abilities and comes across as sounding strained at times. There are accompanying vocals from an unidentified female singer throughout the album who outshines and outclasses Joe’s vocals completely. Divina Commedia: Purgatorio is an album that falls into the trap that so many progressive bands do in that too much concentration is on the conceptual nature of the songs rather than the actual quality of the songwriting. This is a pleasant enough sounding album with definite musical ability throughout but flat songwriting robs this of much interest from me. 5/10

Reviews: Demonic Resurrection, Warcrab, Hex, Samantha Fish (Paul H)

Demonic Resurrection: Live At Bloodstock 2018 (Self Released)

This Bandcamp only release captures the sheer joy that Indian death metal outfit Demonic Resurrection experienced during their guest slot in the Sophie Tent at last year’s Bloodstock Festival. As someone who has seen the band four times, this recording captures everything that is brilliant about the band. Their nervous energy is caught with some clunky links and the odd mistake; but so is their power and passion. Led by The Demonstealer (Sahil Makhija to you and I), the band hammered through a six track set which included tracks from Dashavatar, The Return To Darkness and The Demon King. In between songs, Makhija’s banter and sheer enthusiasm at being in the UK to play are fabulous. If you want to read the review of their live performance then you can find it in our comprehensive BOA 2018 review elsewhere on the website. If you want to relive one of the best performances in the band’s career, buy this album. If Demonic Resurrection are to be no more, as it appears, then this is a fitting epitaph on which to finish. 8/10

Warcrab: Damned In Endless Night (Transcending Obscurity)

Active for over a decade, Damned In Endless Night is the third full length from Plymouth death/sludge beasts Warcrab. My only regret after hearing this quite majestic piece of work is that I didn’t get my backside to The Gryphon when the band played in Bristol a few weeks ago. In The Arms Of Armageddon may be one of the most blisteringly impressive songs I’ve heard for a long time; a sheer wall of crushing riffs, battery after battery of drums and an arsenal of thunder so impressive you’d swear you were under attack. A generous pause of pace mid-track allows you to recompose yourself, the sludgy side of the band enveloping you in a swamp of heavy Sabbath-esque riffage. Whilst the solo carves its way through the primordial soup that swirls, viciously gruesome lyrics are spat out with real venom. 

Heavy isn’t really the word for this band, such is their ability to crush with such passion. Blood For The Blood God contains massive chords, concrete laden drumming and an overwhelming crushing injury, whilst at the same time sparking the odd burst of speed which allows some of the stifling oppression to ease, even if it is with some bludgeoning death metal. With three guitars at their disposal it’s no wonder that Warcrab are able to create such a wall of destruction and no-where is this demonstrated better than on centre-piece of the album, the eight minute plus Abyssal Mausoleum. I’ve never experienced being hit by an avalanche but if there is a soundtrack to such an event, then Warcrab have clearly patented it. This is deadly and punishing. In the never ending quest to hear bands new and old, Warcrab has made it onto another list. Life will never be the same again. 8/10

Hex: God Has No Name (Transcending Obscurity)

Doom, darkness and death. The key themes of the sophomore release from Basque country outfit Hex, whose previous album Deadly Sin was released back in 2014. It’s a solidly crafted release, combining atmospheric sections drenched with misery with blisteringly heavy death metal. Simple yet punishing riffing provide the spine of the album, and there are some gems hidden within the 35+ minutes. The centre piece is the magnificent Daevangelis, which rampages brutally, enhanced by some crushing middle section doom and additional theatrical/movie clips. Pleasingly heavy, gruff vocals from new vocalist Jonathan Garcia (formerly editor of Spanish extreme metal online magazine Pitchline) work in symbiosis with the thick carpet of guitars laid down by Jon and Alfonso WB. The addition of ethereal vocals on Where Gods Shall Not Reign, complete with haunted background screams works well and overall this is a rather pleasing release. The combination of death and doom is impressive and there is plenty of potential to be enjoyed. 7/10

Samantha Fish: Kill Or Be Killed (Rounder Records/Proper Music)

Debuting her impressive blues style in 2009, Kill Or Be Killed is album number 5 for the lady from Kansas City, Missouri. Having seen her rather lacklustre show at The Thekla last month, I was expecting the album to be pretty much as it is. Kill Or Be Killed is a fine album, demonstrating that Fish not only has a command of the guitar that few can match, but also a superb husky and smoky vocal style that works with the music she delivers. Opener Bullet Proof is a demonstration of just that combination; smooth slide guitar and a raucous vocal exactly what one would expect. A foot stomping opening. The title track is boosted by the welcome addition of a brass section and a slower pace with some tender organ and piano starring alongside the ferocious lead break. Love Letters changes pace again, more of a pop song than the blues. 

And by now I’m at the point where I’m conflicted. It’s technically sound, the songs are well composed and delightfully performed. But there isn’t the depth that you might expect. Watch It Die picks up the pace once more, and it’s a song that you could quite comfortably hear Joanne Shaw Taylor knock out. It’s neatly delivered but just so generic. And this is a bit gutting because there is nothing wrong with it at all. My foot was tapping, but it had spun round three times on continuous playback before I even noticed. Is that good? I don’t know but what I’m saying is that whilst it was pleasing to listen to, nothing grabbed me. Nothing at all said “listen to this”. Maybe I’m being harsh, but if I hosted a dinner party and needed something inoffensive in the background, then this album would probably be one on the list. 6/10

Monday 17 June 2019

Reviews: Motionless In White, Perry Farrell, Freternia, Footprints In Custard (Matt & Neil)

Motionless In White: Disguise (Roadrunner Records) [Neil]

Motionless In White are a band that certainly wear their influences on their sleeves (even down to their name which is just one word altered from the Eighteen Visions song it’s taken from). Said influences are often pretty obvious as is evidenced a couple times on their fifth full-length offering Disguise. Let’s get those couple of times out of the way first: Headache the second track here does sound somewhat like a Korn song whilst track 4 Thoughts & Prayers sounds rather Slipknot-y. This is not to say that either are bad songs or anything but there is certainly a, shall we say, familiar sound to them. Stylistic appropriations are not the only thing on offer here though as Motionless also give us plenty of examples of their own trademark industrial/(nu-)metalcore hybrid stomp, although this outing leans slightly more towards the latter as was the case on their thoroughly enjoyable 2014 release Reincarnate.

The song which sits between the two aforementioned tracks and features plenty of electronics and heavy riffs in the style that fans of the band such as myself have come to know and love and is as good an example as any of today’s typical Motionless sound. There is also the amusingly tongue in cheek Broadcasting From Beyond The Grave which features the appropriately cheesy chorus lines “We are the weirdos / in your stereo” and is one of this writers’ favourite tracks on this one (along with the superbly heavy - and catchy - title track and penultimate track Brand New Numb, another electro-industrial flavoured thumper). The thrashy Undead Ahead 2 is a follow up to a song on the bands metalcore debut Creatures but frankly sounds far better then anything on that initial offering, even going so far as to featuring lyrics that actually rhyme and share similar structures across the verses (my biggest annoyances with their debut to be honest). There is also a larger presence of lighter songs here than on any other of the bands previous works which help demonstrate how far the band have come collectively as musicians and writers since that debut all the way back in 2010 when anything less than balls-out single minded metalcore seemed to simply not do. One of the finest examples of these, Legacy, features a proper earworm chorus and even a couple of “whoa-ohs” which is a first for a Motionless song if I’m not mistaken. 

Holding On To Smoke however is another slowish one but isn’t particularly memorable to these ears whilst Another Life is very radio-friendly so don’t be surprised to see that released as a single/video at some point during this album’s cycle. It is however the closing song Catharsis to which almost all plaudits belong, possibly maybe even usurping Eternally Yours (from what I consider to be their finest work – and my favourite album of that year: 2017’s excellent Graveyard Shift) as the band’s best song. It has excellent groovy verses, a fantastic chorus and on top of that features vocalist Chris “Motionless” Cerulli’s clean singing voice exclusively giving it a huge level of accessibility for those who may be hearing Motionless for the first time. The band have already come a long long way from their debut and even though this album doesn’t hit the same heights as their previous one in my opinion, it does feature a number of good to excellent songs and on the back of a song such as the superb closer they could quite easily go further still. 7/10

Perry Farrell: Kind Heaven (BMG Rights Management (US) LLC) [Matt]

On the year of his 60th birthday Jane's Addiction frontman Perry Farrell's new solo album (his first in nearly 20 years) is a cornucopia of different musical genres all wrapped up into one album that goes against any genre links (and mostly sounds nothing like Jane's Addiction folks sorry). Farrell sees this as a soundtrack to his Las Vegas show as he has handpicked the so called Kind Heaven Orchestra to support him such luminaries as with Foo Fighters Taylor Hawkins, The Cars’ Elliot Easton and Dhani Harrison, joining Farrell and his wife Etty who take the vocals. You get the Beatles-like psychedelia on (Red, White & Blue) Cheerfulness while the electro thump and Tom Morello-like riffs of Pirate Punk Politician rallies against the current POTUS. These are just two different styles as Snakes Have Many Hips has some jazz overtones and Machine Girl is the first to feature his wife prominently on a lustful electronic number, while More Than I Could Bear sounds a little Zep when they went Moroccan. This album is influenced by astral projection and having Donald Trump as the antichrist but what else would you expect from the frontman of one of the most idiosyncratic alt rock bands ever and the founder of the Lollapalooza festival. Treat this as a jukebox of songs sung by one singer and it's a lot easier to digest, moving blending genres throughout Kind Heaven is an album that constantly surprises but unless you've been on this ride with Farrell then you may get a little lost on this spiritual journey. 7/10

Freternia: The Gathering (Rock Of Angels Records) [Matt]

The third album from Swedish power metal band Freternia is their first since 2002 so you could definitely call it a comeback, apparently in 2003 the band dissolved, after numerous tours with Hammerfall and Nocturnal Rites, but never really broke up. After a drunken session the members came back together as a band again, probably due to the modern love of muscular Swedish power metal and their apparent popularity in South America discovered through social media. I mentioned muscular power metal because that of course is what Freternia do, this is fantasy influenced power metal with some nods to both real life and personal tragedy. From Eye The Shadow Of Your Sins which has the massive Hellchoir on the choruses and rampaging drums to the more melodic End Of The Line Freternia ease back into their musical groove effortlessly, changing very little since the early 2000's but it still sounds fresh perhaps due to their absence. This is a return to glory for Freternia as Reborn shows with it's 100mph gallop opening the record with a headbanger straight out of the gates. Musically this is very riff based with synths bouncing off the guitar fireworks and orchestral swathes coming through. The Gathering is a admirable power metal album, it's great to hear a band who had ceased to be 17 years coming back with such vitality, welcome back Freternia! 7/10

Footprints In Custard: A New Low (Self Released) [Matt]

It's parody metal, you know what's coming on A New Low, 13 songs of utterly stupid metal songs full of juvenile humour and song titles that would make Chubby Brown blush. Unlike Raised By Owls or even Evil Scarecrow, Footprints In Custard take a more straightforward thrash/punk metal sound rather than grindcore of black metal, though vocally it's just roars, lyrically there's no mention of witches or indeed robots (perhaps some crabs). There is however some battle metal ponies on Ride, My Little Pony, Ride! and more violence promised on Tequila Nips. In fact alcohol is a major factor in this bands lyrical content though the pain of the next day are witnessed on Motherfucking Hangover. Musically Footprints In Custard are actually very skilled musicians (shock horror), you could easily hear this style on any number of 'proper' bands so though they are a parody band they can play very well. (I know some of you are rolling your eyes, but I mean it). The tongue in cheek and sometimes even crass lyrics, My Granny's Gusher is probably the worst offender, are often Pythonesque meaning that they are far removed from the innate sexism of Steel Panther as this is so left field that it's offensive to everyone especially a certain orange president (Space ForceDon't Be A Cunt). Basically if you like Municipal Waste but with fewer zombies and a tongue planted so firmly in their cheek they'll get and ulcer, then I suggest you get A New Low and embrace the idiotic! 7/10