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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

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