The Offering: Home (Century Media Records) [Matt Bladen]
Paul H reviewed the debut EP from Boston metal band The Offering back in 2017 giving it 8/10 and calling it a "maelstrom of sounds and influences". Well I happen to agree with him on that one, he also compared them to noted Century Media artists Iced Earth and Nevermore which is high praise indeed. However this praise is warranted as The Offering favour an "all-in" approach to their music having influences as varied as black, death, heavy metal right the way through to modern, thrash, power metal and even (god help us) nü-metal and hardcore. Home is their debut full length album produced in Stanford, CT by guitarist Nishad George, then mixed and mastered by Fredrik Nordström (who has pretty much produced every major metal band.) it's yet again a furious coalition of musical styles delivered by a band who have a intense depth of sound, a major factor of this album and a huge surprise given that they are a four piece.
Complex and engaging Home is a brilliant debut, ambitious and clearly personal to the band. With Spencer Metela laying down the foundation linking in with the percussive power of Steve Finn who leads the frequent time changes with his skillful drumming. I mentioned Nevermore earlier in the review, as did Paul, and to my ears they are the band I would link most to The Offering. If any of you had read my review of Warrel Dane's last album you'll know Nevermore are a massive love of mine so any band that brings that fearlessness to their music will prick up my ears, also though there is a nod to experimental artists like Devin Townsend. Waste Away opens with some technical guitar playing from Nishad George who has is a virtuoso make no mistake, filling the song with as many lead guitar runs and explosive solos as he can fit in, however on Lovesick things get groovier mixing power metal with metalcore letting Steve Finn (drum) and Spencer Metela (bass) bring big breakdowns and thrash metal battery that explodes into a yet another solo masterpiece.
With such diverse sounds on show here they need a heck of a vocalist, thankfully Alexander Richichi has a unbelieveable vocals range easily reaching stratospheric highs and guttural roars, take for example A Dance With Diana which has some Pantera-styled riffs before it gets more progressive towards the end leading into the Failure (S.O.S) which brings the nu-metal sounds mentioned earlier, although with some fret-slide ala Gojira and of course some Nevermore-esque choruses. Home is an all you can eat buffet of metal music, it does mean it can be a difficult album to take in at times but it's also musically impressive especially when it ends with the awesome 14 minute title track that combines everything that has come before into one stunning conclusion. The Offering return Home with a magnificent debut album. 9/10
Unprocessed: Artificial Void (Long Branch Records) [Matt Bladen]
My first exposure to German modern metal band was when they featured on a co-headline tour with Valis Ablaze and I must say they really impressed me with their more aggressive style that worked well counteracting the more ambient flavours of Valis Ablaze. Unprocessed rely more heavily on harsh vocals, fast paced progressive riffs and fleet fingered virtuoso shredding than a lot of their compatriots with the big djent grooves sometimes coming second to the wild guitar explorations. Artificial Void is the bands second album and it’s a step up in their evolution, especially when you consider how young this band are, the musicianship on display here is at times unbelievable, extra kudos go to frontman/guitarist Manuel Gardner Fernandes who not only duels with Christoph Schultz (guitars) and Christopher Talosi (guitars), bringing a triple guitar attack to the table, has also improved the quality of his clean vocals.
Now he can move between the growls and melodic cleans with ease, so much ease in fact that it could be two different singers. Obviously groove is still important but more so here are the time changes and shifts in style conducted by the rhythm section of David Levy (bass) and Leon Pfeifer (drums), check out that palm-muted bass on Prototype it’s properly thick. Unprocessed have evolved since their 2014 debut and it shows as they bring an industrial edge to the title track along with the normal choppy guitar riffs that djent-styled bands are known for they also have some more ambient themes on Abandoned and even some great repeating synths for the euphoric House Of Waters. Unprocessed have found a way to balance the djent expectations with the more ethereal textures and intense musical dexterity, it means that Artificial Void could be one of the most intriguing modern prog records of the year. 9/10
Once Upon A Winter: Pain & Other Pleasures (Snow Wave Records) [Matt Bladen]
In all of classical fiction we only have, the surviving tragedies of three Greek playwrights: Aeschylus, Sophocles and Euripides and while the genre changed during their lifetimes it was during the era of Euripides that the heroes became more tragic, giving the stories more realism. Now the Greeks as whole love music that is on the morose side, a lot of their Greek language music is very downcast and gloomy but especially in their metal/rock. Look at how much they worship Sivert Hoyem/Madrugada as well as Crippled Black Phoenix, Steven Wilson and I could go on and you'll see that if it's miserable and emotional, there's probably going to be an audience for it in the Hellenic isle. So it's only right that Thessaloniki based band Once Upon A Winter have taken all of this indulgence in misery and crafted it into this beautiful third album.
It's draws on influences of black metal, gothic doom and progressive instrumentation, but it's more than that, bringing the traditional guitars, bass and drums but with violins, keyboards and on the title track there are some whispered female vocals on top of some atmospheric ambient, as does Nepenthe. It's a mostly instrumental with huge swathes of post-rock dissonance but when the vocals are used they mix the aforementioned haunting female vocals with the more traditional black metal croaks. Nepenthe is probably the best example of this band's sound as later they on the bring more of the blackgaze influence as the blastbeats come through on Reynisfjara as the album is closed by Forgotten which has the piano and strings winding us out. For fans of Alcest, 65daysofstatic and God Is An Astronaut, Once Upon A Winter is a gothic, atmospheric masterclass. 8/10
Halshug: Drøm (Southern Lord Recordings) [Liam True]
Crust/Punk/Hardcore music isn't really my style as I've been based more toward the Rock side, but I can respect what the artists are trying to do. Drøm (Danish for dream) doesn't do much to change my opinion. With their third length album more dynamic sounding and more importantly clear sounding vocals, it's not my thing. I can respect the musicianship and what they're trying to do. I mean good punk these days is hard to come by, and it's ever rarer to see it blow up. But if these guys keep their heads down, consistently tour, promote and keep writing progressively better material, then they stand a decent chance being a stand out band in today's ever-changing face of music. But with Drøm it's a start. A start of Crust Punk taking over and making waves. Just not for me. 5/10