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Tuesday 30 July 2019

Reviews: Billy Sherwood, Formicarius, Hyvmine, Forlorn Hope

Billy Sherwood: Citizen - In The Next Life (Frontiers Records)

If you are a Yes fan or indeed an Asia fan you'll have heard of Billy Sherwood. He was the guitarist and keyboardist from 1997 to 2000 and featured on albums such as Open Your Eyes and The Ladder as well as contributing production and various instruments since then, he rejoined Yes in 2015 covering for and replacing original member Chris Squire on bass, he also was asked by Geoffrey Downes to replace the late John Wetton on bass in Asia in 2017. So basically if it's Yes related (or William Shatner related) then Billy Sherwood hasn't been far from it for a while. Citizen: In The Next Life is the continuation of the concept started on the 2015 album Citizen, here he has written songs about real and fictitious characters from history.

The beautiful Monet is about the impressionist painter and follows the naturalistic style of the paintings, meanwhile Mata Hari is a bit sexy and dangerous, on the other hand Skywriter is much poppier and reminds me a lot of It Bites with it's kooky pop edge. Sherwood plays pretty much everything here even doing the vocals which sound an awful lot like John Mitchell, a comparison that is aok with me as readers will know about my affinity with any project he is involved in, however it does a little bit of the emotional gravitas of Mitchell's work. There are both Yes and Asia hallmarks here as you'd expect from the ethereal vocal harmonies (Via Hawking), heavy use of keys, clean guitars and melodic progressive music. Sherwood is an exceptionally talented musician, his songwriting, playing and production all deserve kudos, if you're a fan of melodic prog then I'd say you'd better invest in Citizen: In The Next Life. 7/10

Formicarius: Rending The Veil Of Flesh (Schwartzdorn Productions)

They return from the darkness of the abyss, with yet more tales of horror and terror. After basing their debut album on the witchburnings conducted by Matthew Hopkins et al. This album has been carefully crafted to once again fight against the hypocrisy of Christian dogma, Rending The Veil Of Flesh is an ode to devilment, witchcraft and the occult performed by a band who are rapidly becoming one of the premier black metal acts in the country. This is anti-religious black metal that features croaked vocals from Lord Saunders that barks dark incantations and is joined by bassist Hægtesse's growl as the dual guitars riffs with the now de-rigueur tremolo shredding of Saunders and Nazarkardeh (lead guitar) cutting at the throat as often as possible, with Inherit Our Sickness going as far as having an brilliant guitar solo section that would fit on a power metal record.

The rhythm section brings the unnerving low end, one that bludgeons with its aggression, probably due to Kevin Paradis of Benighted taking the drum stool but it's the gothic keyboards and orchestral swathes from Morath, who also adds some haunting voices to tracks such as Dieu Et Mon Droit, that make Formicarius a bit more rounded and grandiose as a band. Often bringing them in line with acts such as Dimmu Borgir, Emperor and even Rotting Christ who's Sakis Tolis lends his chanting voice to the spoken word opening on Early Will I Seek Thee a track that is a stand out of the album also featuring the violin of Aklash's Nicholas Miller at it's climax, a progressive, track that manages to fit in a lot of light and shade in it's 5 minute runtime, even bastardising the Lord's Prayer. The band have clearly learnt a lot from their tours with bands such as Hate, Hecate Enthroned and Noctem, as Rending The Veil Of Flesh, is not only more accomplished than it's predecessor but also a leap forward creatively for the band who have now firmly taken their place in the UK black metal scene.

A more powerful and confident band now, they take risks on this album that really help them to rise above the countless bands in the black metal scene. Fans of Dimmu, Emperor and COF will lap up this album of epic symphonic black metal, the beast has returned from the pit and once again Formicarius slap the face of god. 8/10

Hyvmine: Retaliation (Seek & Strike)

Led by guitar virtuoso Al Joseph, Hyvmine are now on their second full length album following a full length and EP from last year. As you can read in those previous reviews, I raved about Earthquake their debut so will this second album live up to the debut? Well it opens with Assassins which has everything that drew me to this band, it's chocked full of technical riffs and storming guitar solos which remind you of Al's mastery of his instrument, however what I did get very excited are his superb vocals, similar to those of Shinedown's Brent Smith, it's these that really make this band with soaring powerful cleans ideal for the American modern rock style of bands such as Shinedown, Alter Bridge et al. 

Musically too they skew tracks such as Imitator towards that sound but with added chunk and the skillful guitar playing. They slow the album down on Born To Wage which is a bit more anthemic, even breaking down into a aggressive coda before the more rockier sounds come back with the defiant Retaliation. However where the debut really really shone in it's brevity this album is longer and less progressive in nature meaning that it does suffer from bloat as many of the songs here are quite generic American radio rock. Still with the virtuosity on display it's got an advantage on so many similar bands. 7/10

Forlorn Hope: Over The Hills (Self Released)

So what if Sabaton were from Merseyside not Falun? Well then they'd probably Forlorn Hope. The band categorize themselves as 'historical metal' their debut album Over The Hills is a concept record that deals with Peninsular War of 1807-1814 which pitched Napoleon's France against former ally Spain over control of the Iberian Peninsula after France betrayed Spain (who were then allied by The UK and Portugal), it intelaps with the Spanish War of Independence and was only resolved in 1814 when a coalition of Spain, United Kingdom, Portugal, Sweden, Austria, Prussia and Russia defeated Napoleon in what was one of the biggest conflicts in the Napoleonic war, and one of the first cases national liberation.

So history lesson over and to the album itself, a stirring instrumental Introduction gets the album off to a heroic start with military march readying you for the warfare that is about to come. The album starts proper with Vive L'empereur which retains the marching pace, the rhythm section of Chris Simpson (rhythm guitar), John Roughley (bass) and Danny Kelly (drums) keeping the pace of that of a artillery barrage, accentuated by Jade McKenna's keys. At this pace it means that Alex Bishop's lead guitars can, fly in and out at will. Now I mentioned Sabaton earlier and thematically their similarities but while they draw from European power metal Forlorn Hope's debut is more in line with NWOBHM sound, in fact they sound a lot like one of my favourites Fury.

Although I said NWOBHM but Rifles is a very power metal sounding track that gallops along showcasing Chris Simpson's brilliantly over to vocals that remind me a lot of Saracen (there's an obscure one for you), in fact Forlorn Hope sound a lot like Saracen due to the big keyboard presence. War In The Shadows is an epic fist pumper, The Eagle Hunters a more traditional galloping metal track and Die Hard is almost thrash (and not about Bruce Willis in a skyscraper), Badajoz meanwhile is very theatrical, opening with a solitary acoustic guitar, before exploding into some blistering speed metal. By far the most recognisable number on here is Over The Hills And Far Away, which is not a Gary Moore cover, but the traditional folks song from the time of the Napoleonic War that the older readers may know as the end theme from TV's Sharpe.

Now I will say that the album is very good joyous heavy metal, it's also very, very historically accurate, denoting a lot of research, however it is a little thin production wise which is quite noticeable meaning that it hasn't got the bold sound that their Swedish brethren have. On the other hand it is a very strong debut album from a D.I.Y metal band from Merseyside. Now if we could get them down to South Wales that would be a great excuse to break out the red tunic and rattle my saber to the sky. 8/10   

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