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Saturday 31 August 2019

Sound & Vision: Rush - Cinema Strangiato (Film Review By Paul H)

Rush - Cinema Strangiato

It’s been four years since the R40 tour snuffed out the candle that was Rush in the live arena. Four long years since the most impressive live band I’ve ever seen ceased to be. And whilst yes, I can fully understand the reasons that Neil Peart gave for putting away his sticks, cymbals, gongs and glockenspiel, the void still hurts. I was lucky enough to catch the band five times over the years, from 1988 to 2012. The R40 tour never made it across the pond, something that caused distress to thousands of Rush fans in Europe. The R40 DVD and CD release didn’t help to ease the pain, as the stunning three-hour show was crammed full of goodies and showed a band on the form of their lives. Watching it on your TV just isn’t the same. But the next best thing was to watch it on the big screen and for one night only Cinema Strangiato arrived at the Vue, Cardiff. Along with the Ed, 40 or so diehard fans dutifully spread ourselves across the spacious seats and enjoyed two hours of the finest band that has ever performed on earth.

First up was a short film about the making of Geddy Lee’s Big Beautiful Book Of Bass. Down the Rabbit Hole provided a rare insight into the collaboration and creation of a beautiful book. This 20-minute piece provided background, interviews and showed how the bassist’s collection expanded from a couple of Fenders through to an assembly of hundreds. Lee is an articulate, gentle soul whose inner determination is often masked by his slightly nerdy exterior. If you get the chance, this is a book which is well worth perusing. The photos are superb, many of them pieces of art and with a range of bassists from the world of rock interviewed as well, it is an enjoyable coffee table slab which you can easily dip into when the mood takes you.

The main event for this show was the best part of two hours from the R40 show recorded in the Air Canada Centre in Toronto on 15th and 19th June 2015. Whilst the live footage was faithfully replicated from the R40 DVD, the bonus material was worth the admission fee on its own. The soundcheck performance of Jacob’s Ladder showed the behind the scenes warm up, cut across several shows and spliced neatly – you couldn’t see the seams at all. The foolish intermissions, the cartoons and all the other paraphernalia which go towards a Rush show were also front and centre, including the classic South Park intro to Tom Sawyer. The show cleverly started with the most recent material from Clockwork Angels (The Anarchist and Headlong Flight) and worked backwards through time, with the removal guys from Moving Pictures systematically stripping the stage set back to the basics by the time the band hit Working Man. Highlight of the evening for me was the spectacular Xanadu, the epic centre piece of the Rush show which allowed the release of the twin neck guitars to great effect. That combined with a stirring 2112 showed that whilst he may have arthritis, Alex Lifeson is still one of the most astoundingly brilliant guitarists in the world of rock. And who said Rush weren’t heavy. This simply crushed.

Elsewhere the introduction of Jonathan Dinklage to play his electric violin on Losing It was a heart stopping moment, the track that Ben Mink added to so beautifully on Signals finally brought to life in the live arena. Wow! Dinklage was a member of the Clockwork Angels String Quartet and returned to add his own take on one of the most perfectly crafted Rush tracks. Roll The Bones, not one of my favourite Rush songs was made much more tolerable by the addition of the accompanying video for the rap section that had lip synching cameos from Jonathan's brother Peter, Chad Smith, Jay Baruchel, Les Claypool, Tom Morello, Paul Rudd, Jason Segel and Trailer Park Boys actors John Paul Tremblay, Robb Wells and Mike Smith. Whilst the vignettes from the likes of Taylor Hawkins and Billy Corgan were largely pointless and Tom Morello’s gushing contribution was just painful, Eugene Levy’s cameo as a rock DJ who thought that this band “might be ones to watch” is always hysterical.

Whilst it’s fair to point out that Lee’s vocals struggle somewhat 40 years after first hitting those high notes on Fly By Night, there is no doubting the musical ability of the trio, with Peart demonstrating once more why he is still ‘The Professor’. Lee changes bass every other song, using upwards of 25 guitars and stretching each to their limit and Lifeson is just amazing. With the massive surround sound enveloping us, this was an evening to appreciate, reminisce and hope. As the credits rolled, a slightly cryptic message appeared amongst the rolling words. “See You Next Year”. Could it be? We can but hope, and even new material with no tour would be most welcome.

Friday 30 August 2019

Reviews: Suicidal Angels, Pandemonium, The Contortionist, Ark Ascent (Paul S, Val D'Arcy, Liam & Matt)

Suicidal Angels: Years Of Aggression (Napalm Records) [Paul Scoble]

Suicidal Angels released their first album in 2007, six years after forming. Although it took them 6 years to release an album, the 4 piece have made up for that by releasing loads of material since then. In fact Years Of Aggression takes the album count up to seven. The quality of work from these Athens based thrashers haven’t always been on a par with their prodigious output. So, has quality lost out to quantity with this new album? Well, the short answer is a very loud clear NO; there is plenty of really high quality thrash on this release. The album doesn’t have any duff tracks, so you won’t be leaping for the skip button. There isn’t that much that is new, novel or trailblazing; you can hear the influences quite clearly. However, with a template as tight as thrash, innovation isn’t always easy, or necessary. What we get is what most thrash fans want; fast, tight riffs, pounding fast drums insane shredding in the solos, and lots of screaming- and this album has that in spades. For me, the highlights are: Opening track Endless War opens with a blast. We are dropped strait into a fast, ridiculously tight, choppy riff which is at a perfect tempo for thrash.

There's a slightly slower, chugging midsection, a brilliant solo, and then its back to the ridiculously fast and choppy till the end. Born Of Hate appears to be a homage to modern Kreator. It’s fast, but incredibly melodic and tuneful, the driving pace is tempered by the mellifluous melodies. Bloody Ground is slower, more of a mid-paced chugger. The tempo, although slower than some of the other material on the album, is powerful and driving, so it batters the listener, slowly pounding you into the ground. There is no other way to describe D.I.V.A. than so say; it sounds like Altar Of Sacrifice by Slayer. But as that is one of Slayer’s best songs, and Suicidal Angels have done a great job, that doesn’t really matter, what a blast! The Roof Of Rats is another fast track, it’s aggressive in the best sort of way, tighter than me in a medium sized t-shirt and has an awesome screaming solo. The album isn’t all about fast, The Sacred Dance With Chaos starts with an acoustic intro, before a slow, brooding riff kicks in and it becomes a powerful, heavy chugger. Yeah, it’s slow, but with so much driving power it’s like a runaway bulldozer. Awesome. Years Of Aggression is a great album. Ok it’s not going to create any new sub-genres, but if you are looking for an absolute blast of a thrash album, then this is for you. Sometimes what you need more than anything else is fun, and that is what this album is: it’s fun. It puts a huge smile on your face, and I can’t think of a better recommendation than that. 8/10

Pandemonium: Monuments Of Tragedy (Black Lodge Records) [Val D'Arcy]

Swedish death metallers Pandemonium return after over a decade with their follow up album Monuments Of Tragedy, a full length (very full, just under an hour) album to be released at the end of the month. Playing their own style of theatrical, technical, blackened melodeath (yes that's a big ol' mouthful of sub-genres) Monuments Of Tragedy is both relentlessly heavy as it is cinematic. The intro and first song And Death Was The Way sets the mood well, like the opening to a horror film, before continuing it's hour-long onslaught. That's twice I've mentioned the length of this record now, appreciating there's nothing particularly outlandish about an album clocking in at 59 minutes and some seconds. That said, it does feel a bit long. I think this may be to do with the fact that whole album is quite relentless; a tumultuous barrage that gives little opportunity to come up for air. Again, not necessarily a bad thing, but it lost me somewhere around the 7th and 8th tracks, before the awesome The Only Catharsis kicks in and I was very much back in the room (a personal favourite upon closer inspection).

Despite the torrential pace of Monuments, there are a number of nuances in style that present themselves, from the technical riffing and odd time signatures to the overtly symphonic passages, industrial electronic openers all underpinned by a drumming masterclass from Jacob Blecher which really adds a richness and texture to what is otherwise a fairly average production quality. Although thematically there is a consistency present throughout, it did at times feel a little disjointed. Again, I wonder to myself if this is symptomatic of the extended duration, maybe I lack stamina in my old age, a credible possibility. Vocally, there is a brilliantly executed scale of styles and dynamics that morph and adapt to the ever-shifting soundscape, from deep guttural growls to the higher pitched, blackened shrieks they sound great. I mentioned the technical elements earlier, they're unmissably present, but not overbearing nor do they crop up in a constant and uninvited fashion as with more generic 'tech death' bands.

It's used here as a pinch of seasoning, rather, sparingly and not to unashamedly show off musical prowess for the sake of it, which can be quite tedious. Instead, it's the melodic and theatrical elements which are are the fore here and to the benefit of this record; it makes for a great musical experience. One to sit down comfortably and listen to, with a strong cup of tea and no distractions. 7/10

The Contortionist: Out Bones (eOne) [Liam True]

Some beautiful Prog Metal from America, more specifically Indiana. The three track EP is a gen in the rough in the genre dominated by giants such as Dream Theater and Symphony X, but the band make themselves stand out with Follow and Early Grave being the big hitters. The vocal abilities of Michael Lessard just brings the album together whether he's using his lullaby inducing cleans or his raspy chainsaw growls he is an astonishing vocalist and a perfect fit for the bands sound. The band itself is just an array of instrumental heaven. With the dueling battle guitars of Robby Baca & Cameron Maynard being the forefront of the record. The drumming of Joey Baca in itself is hypnotising as he works his way around the kit like he was born to do this. The three track EP then closes with a 4th track. A cover of 1979 by The Smashing Pumpkins. While I'm not a fan of the original band, the cover is wonderfully done and would be praised by Billy Corgan himself. Keep an eye on these guys because they'll become big in the Prog Metal scene. Trust me. 8/10

Ark Ascent: Downfall (Ascent Records) [Matt Bladen]

Ark Ascent are a progressive metal band from the UK formed by multi-instrumentalist Jack Kirby who has made music on this debut album that is powerful, progressive metal with a lot of guts behind hit and while it never really breaks out of the Dream Theater/Symphony X (The Aftermath) mould we do get some bits of Queensryche along the way. Along with Kirby who plays the guitars and i think keyboards as well, we have former Shadowkeep vocalist Rogue Marechal, current DGM bassist Andrea Arcangeli and Sirenia drummer Michael Brush to create some really top class prog metal. The gutsy rock of Point Of No Return opens the album with numerous time and style changes before things get a bit more aggressive on Sanctuary which has some great key work cutting through it. The guitarwork is phenomenal, in fact all the performances here are top level really bringing these compositions to life, though the production of the band with Rich Hinks (Annihilator, Aeon Zen). Along with co-production and mixing he also contributed the bass performance on the epic closing track The End Of Time. Downfall is very confident prog metal album that sits comfortably in the style of those bands mentioned earlier, great performances and songs combine for a wild ride of prog metal mastery. 8/10

Thursday 29 August 2019

Reviews: Ardours, Betraying The Martyrs, Moron Police, In Search Of Solace (Alex & Paul H)

Ardours: Last Place On Earth (Frontiers Records) [Alex Swift]

Last time I had a Goth Metal album to review, as little as two weeks ago, I was largely uninspired, criticising the lack of ambition. Thankfully, one week later I have been reassured of the potential and significance of the genre. Last Place On Earth is everything Goth should be, reverberating with a kind of enchanting darkness, yet retaining a sense of ambition and scale. The word ardour derives from the Latin, meaning ‘to burn’, so in English, the word means to show fiery passion or emotion – a task this Italian act, formed by Tristania singer Mariangela Demurtas and multi-instrumentalist Kris Laurent, pour their talents and emotions into. A cascade of glorious violins opens What Else Is There? Perfectly accompanied by whirling, potent guitars and completing keyboard melodies. Here’s a perfect start to an album, which captures the brooding if beautiful textures lacing the experience. Catabolic is equally as serene, the unceasing drum gallops, heartfelt vocals, as well as the hiss and bite of the guitars, supplementing the gorgeously apocalyptic themes on display. Last Place On Earth continues on an ominous yet optimistic feel, the tone of the anthem complementing the album artwork of an aurora-borealis type phenomena, reflected in the throes of a deep and seemingly unending sea.

Design keeps me enthralled, the synthesizer touches and charging, ceaseless feeling, gripping me in a perpetual state of chilling exhilaration. I'm quite cautious about rock ballads, as they can scupper the tone of an album with a stint of phony sentimentality, yet I’d be lying if I told you that Last Moment wasn’t making my emotional side win out by out, the soaring instrumentation and subtle though present percussive elements, discerning the song. Five songs in, the experimentation and excitement continues, with The Mist providing a unique and immersive use of atmosphere, and Therefore I Am unexpectedly altering the sound of the alum slightly, in order to maintain a sense of grandiosity while granting a greater role to the electronic elements – a new trick in the deluge of ideas these musicians utilize.

Truths, along with much of the debut, belongs firmly in the symphonic, orchestral subgenre. Finally, No One Is Listening and Totally, close the album by showing the two sides of Ardours personality. Somber yet multifaceted, sanguine yet dark, elements constantly reinforcing each other and combining to create a gargantuan, powerful and gigantic record which doesn't so much as set the tone for a career as it does display the talents of the two band-leaders in full force and make you wonder how they will rival their first effort in future. 8/10

Betraying The Martyrs: Rapture (Sumerian Records) [Paul Hutchings]

Album number four from French deathcore outfit Betraying The Martyrs, and the first to feature lead guitarist Steeves Hostin. It’s a rage filled release, in the typical style of most deathcore outfits, but with Victor Guillet’s keyboards and programming adding an interesting twist to the sound. Snarling vocals, big time changes and heavy riffing are all present and correct. I didn’t mind opening song Eternal Machine but following track Down, despite a deep groove has the horrible mismatch of growls and clean singing that I despise of this genre. Similarly, on Imagine, another groove drenched song that is badly mauled by the clean vocals which add little.

There are some beasts on this record mind, with the brutal Parasite hitting hard, the echoing keys adding to the bludgeoning drumming and massive riffs, whilst Monster and The Swarm deliver in much the same way. As with most metalcore and deathcore, by midway through the album I’m having to check the track listing to ensure I’m not on repeat. I’ve said before that this genre bounces off me with no impact, and the repetitive nature of the music masks what is undoubtedly a technically excellent outfit. Whilst there are moments that grab my attention throughout Rapture, overall, it’s another album which will be unlikely to get another play. 6/10

Moron Police: A Boat On The Sea (Mighty Jam Music Group) [Alex Swift]

Moron Police? Seriously? I’m reviewing a band called Moron Police? One quick search reveals how this band has songs with titles such as T-Bag Your Grandma and…um…Stomp That Goomba (Super Mario Bros obviously - Videogame Ed). I figured I was in for a kind of derpy, stupid comedy album that I could thrash out a review for in minutes without having to do too much insightful analysis or anything complex. Maybe a 4/10 if the album was unfunny or a six out of 10 if the songs made me smirk, how good could A Boat On The Sea possibly be? After thirty minutes and multiple repeated listens, I’m extremely pleased to say I’m now taking cooking lessons to find the finest way to eat those first few words. One thing I was not expecting was an epic album with influences from Jazz, prog and Disney Soundtracks. I mean that in just about the greatest way as well. Much like the exuberant art, the whole experience bursts with life and colour. Exaggerated though strangely contemplative, the album is packed with anti-war anthems – a long shot from their early ridiculousness. All these elements combined make for a record which ticks every box in my book – that is, except for one, which we will get to later.

Hocus Pocus begins on a light patter at a piano, already setting the tone for a vastly more impressive experience than previous albums. The Phantom Below takes us off guard with a sprawling and detailed keyboard, guitar combination which sets the tone for the ambitious musical themes while creating a sort of twisted joy for the albums main antagonist – an arms dealer – to revel in. Halfway into the opener a saxophone solo cuts in, filling me with a sense of charisma and joy, which proves especially ironic considering the lyrical themes at play. The Invisible King has a huge and danceable chorus, yet the song excels and subsides in the right measure to create a journey-full and changeable experience. In moments, wartime radio broadcasts crackle into the mix – an experiment which despite risky, pays off excellently in keeping the listener perplexed yet enraptured. ‘We don’t sell guns, we just provide a little service, hey that’s all’ our lead character smoothly croons on Beware The Blue Skies, just after a wild and animated instrumental piece, and just before subdued and peaceful harmonica tangent. The Dog Song is equally as memorable, making greater usages of brass instrumentals, and bearing hints of musical theatre.

Captain Awkward is an anthem I find particularly relatable, the strong Jazz as well as Middle-Eastern, 8-bit, swing and traditional prog influences, creating a confused though engrossing and euphorically catchy juggernaut of a centrepiece. Two songs from the end, The Undersea up’s the ambition with use of strings, towering guitar layers and another hook which hits you with the force of a tidal wave…or a bomb! Closing on the winding and epic Isn’t It Easy, I leave thinking I’ve just been treated to one of 2019’s biggest and greatest surprises, and before I make my one minor criticism, I would like to point out that A Boat On The Sea is another shoe-in to appear somewhere on my album of the year list. Still, could it have hurt the Moron Police to make the album a bit longer? I’m just saying given the style choices, 30 minutes doesn’t feel nearly long enough. Nevertheless, you could interpret my clamouring for more as a sign of greed – ‘’Moore! The Boy Wants More!’’ - And an endorsement, rather than a negative point. For my surprise and my clutching at straws for bad things to say, I award a strong. 9/10

In Search Of Solace: Enslaved To Tragedy (Sharptone Records) [Paul Hutchings]

The latest release from the Minnesota metalcore outfit appeals to me in the same way a dog shit sandwich does. Another band that have been plying their trade for some time, since 2012 in this case, I remain completely devoid of emotion listening to Enslaved To Tragedy. Whereas I can dig Atonement, the new release from KSE, this release left me just annoyed I’d wasted 34 minutes listening to it. The vocals of Jonny LaDuke are particularly irritating, and whilst people will throw that I enjoy death and black metal, I will argue that there is much more to those genres than metalcore. The compositions here appear repetitive, routine and despite the pumping bass there is little to enjoy. I really need to stop taking metalcore albums to review. They do nothing for me whatsoever and this one is more abject than most. 4/10

Reviews: Mortem, Baest, Idolatry, Ewigkeit (Paul H, Val & Rich)

Mortem: Ravnsvart (Peaceville Records) [Val D'Arcy]

Although a relatively recent announcement, the return of Mortem carries with it high hopes. 30 years since their demo Slow Death, Marius Vold (Thorns, Arcturus) and Steinar Sverd Johnson (Arcturus, Covenant) come together with Hellhammer (Mayhem, Covenant) and Tor Stavenes (1349) to create surely, one of the most anticipated Black Metal releases of 2019. Mortem formed amidst the underground of the then new Norwegian Black Metal scene but never went any further, with members splitting to form primarily, Thorns and Arcturus and moving in distinctly different musical directions. That said, with production and artwork on their demo from Euronymous and Dead respectively, plus the individual successes of their future musical endeavours, Mortem went on to become a highly regarded name in the formation of the genre.

Fast forward some 30 years and we have Ravnsvart (Norwegian for Raven), a full length album full of atmosphere, darkness and cold. Although Ravnsvart is, at its heart true to its roots in terms of style (albeit worlds apart from the almost inaudible low-fi sound of their demo) there is ample variation here to satisfy black metal fans of all generations and schools. In particular, the extensive use of melody and synths will appeal to fans of Emperor and Dimmu Borgir. The production is also of its current time; clean and deliberate, creating a polished and accessible sound. If you were expecting a low-fi 4-track recording then this is about as far from that as you might imagine.

The musicianship is as you'd expect from the pedigree in this band, hard to fault. There's an array of really pleasing riffs on offer here, the songs are a mix of mid and fast paces with beautifully interwoven synths and even the odd solo thrown in for good measure. Although I struggle to fault this album in any major way, there are some fleeting proggy interludes that do feel somewhat unnecessary and out of place, and in my opinion, add nothing to the overall experience. There's a grandness to the album as well as a continuation from song to song that gives the feeling of a soundtrack to an epic journey, which I personally love. Its the sort of album that leaves an imprint on you, not in the way that cheesy, catchy tunes do. Rather in the more subtle way of infiltrating the darkest corners of your mind, permeating your subconscious to create a lasting association with your current state and being.

Of course the formation of supergroups and reunions are nothing new. Particularly in recent years. Sceptically, this may be symptomatic of the fact that bands are looking to this as a reliable means of making some additional income. Equally sceptically, it may also be telling of the fact that its been whole decades since the genre defining bands and albums came to light and we live in an era of nostalgia. The more I think about it, I also think its musicians' way of obtaining a temporary creative license to play something contrary to what their established trademarks dictate they should. There is indeed a feeling of nostalgia present here, but it's not so much of late 80's dawning of second wave (although I can hear threads of Bathory hidden in the fabric) but rather the late 90's and early 00's. This is by no means a bad thing as that period was a real coming of age of many bands, graduating from the early years of black metal and evolving to take on the forms they continue to display and grow today. This may divide some listeners who favour a truer, more traditional early 90's sound. However, if you're of a certain age like me, then this, along with other bands (such as Nordjevel to name one), resurging the sound of my teens is too good and satisfying an indulgence to turn down, particularly when done as well as this. An expansive, immersion of black metal, thoroughly enjoyable. 9/10

Baest: Venenum (Century Media Records) [Paul Hutchings]

I’ve been to Aarhus in Denmark. Back in 1989 it was a bleak, industrial city which would serve perfectly for a death metal backdrop. Enter Baest, the powerhouse quintet who have been establishing themselves one of the country’s most promising metal acts in recent years. Winning awards for best metal album and best newcomer, subject of a documentary about their tour with Decapitated (Den Satans Familie) and hitting numerous festivals this year including Summer Breeze, Ruhrpott Metal Meeting, Copenhell, Roskilde, Royal Metal Fest, Eurosonic, as well as huge support slots with Abbath, Hatebreed, Dying Fetus, Entombed A.D. and Decapitated.

That’s all well and good but do these Danish bastards deliver? In a nutshell, yes. Album number two, Venenum, which follows 2018’s Danse Macabre, opens with savage waves of HM2 pedal driven riffs, pounding drumming and guttural vocals, a trademark sound which has propelled the band to the top of the Danish death metal tree. Think Morbid Angel, Bolt Thrower and elements of Death and you have Baest. Venenum evolves from the strong Swedish death metal influences of their first release and takes a more diverse approach, focusing on the impact of slower, more crushing anthems. Following the frantic Vitriol Lament, Gula is a knuckle dragging ape in comparison, wearing a beater and devastating all in its wake with its sheer weight.

The punishing riffs may be slow, but they lose none of their impact, whilst the rhythm section is locked tight. Simon Olsen’s demonic roar is immense throughout, a vocal delivery from within the very bowels of hell. The groove infestation on Nihil demands movement, with the underlying duel guitar duels of Svend Karlsson and Lasse Revsbech adding an almost Egyptian feel to the track. This is Lamb of god meets Nile in one massive collision. The track As Above So Below pays tribute to the late Chuck Schuldiner, combining his melodic style with Baest’s own brutal ferocity whilst the remixed and remastered No Guts, No Glory cover, originally recorded in 2017 pays homage to Bolt Thrower. With a European tour supporting Aborted and Entombed AD coming shortly, Baest are one powerful machine. If you get to one of those shows, be sure to get there early. This is a death metal album at its most raw. 8/10

Idolatry: In Nomine Mortis (Humanity's Plague Productions) [Paul Hutchings]

Canada isn’t instantly recognisable for black metal. Enter Idolatry who hail from Edmonton, Alberta. In Nomine Mortis is their second full length album, following on from 2016’s Visions From The Throne Of Eyes. With a sound that combines the old school, think Emperor, Bathory, Inquisition and Necrophobic, this sophomore release sticks closely to the black metal blueprint at all stages. Punishingly heavy blast beats, intense tremolo riffing and rasping vocals that suggest pain was induced to achieve the result, this contains a meaty middle. Whilst there is little new to grasp, there is enough for the talons to at least break the skin. The Canadians drive their sound forward with some strafing groove ridden demonic tunes, bookending the album with instrumental tracks, and favouring a mixture of epic six minute plus beasts alongside more immediate, ferocity.

Take opening track Towards The Widening Eye and the blistering horrific The Serpentine Possession which feature multiple changes of direction, vicious riffing and a pummelling so ferocious that you almost miss the underlying melody, albeit one with clawing hands that have dirt under the nails. These are complimented with fiery shorter passages of play which cause tremors. Listen to Revelations In Black, sample the girth that comes with Breathing Dust including the ponderous doom laden middle section and you’ll understand. Vocalist Ba’al Berith (Nick Gartner to you and me) has one hauntingly croaking evil vocal. Drummer Daemonikus Abominor (Chuck Murphy) switches with ease between pulverising blast beats and a more restrained mid-tempo approach, underpinning the whole album and locking it tight with bassist Tormentus Prometheon which allows the swirling riffing of Lycaon Vollmond (Tommy Kirby) and Sludge to explore and reign unfettered. There is something intimately enticing about this album. It may not be the most original release in the past 20 years, but there is a niche that still needs filling from time to time. 7/10

Ewigkeit: Starscape 2.019 (Death To Music) [Rich Oliver]

Starscape was the second album by British experimental black metal project Ewigkeit released back in 1999. Mr. Fog (the brains and sole member of Ewigkeit) has 20 years later given Starscape a reimagining and rerecording much as he did back in 2017 with the rerecording of the debut album Battle Furies. Starscape 2.019 isn’t a replacement for the original but simply a tweaked and improved version. The production and sound quality is vastly improved over the original. The guitars are squarely up front along with the keyboards having been quite buried in the original version and really lets the fantastic tremolo black metal riffs shine throughout. The keyboards retain their spacey sound and 100% add to the atmosphere of the album. The keyboards are also well utilized in the more symphonic and electronic influences moments throughout the album. 

Mr. Fog also employs more of an array of vocal stylings in the new version from blackened shrieks, death metal growls, spoken word narration and the always fantastic baritone clean vocals. Starscape 2.019 is a very enjoyable update. The original version of Starscape whilst an enjoyable and original piece of 90’s experimental black metal hasn’t aged too well especially to the poor sound quality but this rerecording definitely does these songs justice and shows just how ambitious Mr. Fog was so early on in his career. 8/10

Wednesday 28 August 2019

Reviews: Nemesea, Astrosaur, Isole, Prophecy (Matt & Paul S)

Nemesea: White Flag (Napalm Records) [Matt Bladen]

Now I said in recent review that I was getting a little sick of the symphonic metal that is so often badged as 'female fronted' metal. Well Nemesea aren't a symphonic metal band anymore giving that up in 2007 and they are more in the vein of alternative rock pairing big, rock riffs with electronic elements and fist full of anthemic choruses. At times they almost sound like some of the acts that are in the mainstream charts using the synths to their advantage. Where they really shine is with the brilliant vocals of their new singer Sanne Mieloos, who replaced founding member Manda Ophuis. Sanne has a powerful, smooth almost jazz infected tone ideal on ballads such as Sarah which sounds a lot like a Sara Bareilles song (which if know me, you would know makes me feel a little funny), but also perfect for rockers. The torchlight ballad (Angel) comes after 3 thumping rock tracks the best of which being The Storm.

They have a number of sounds on this record White Flag is a massive anthem, Don't Tell Me Your Name is a defiant electronically driven number while Fools Guard fizzes with energy, as Nothing Like Me is driven by some choppy riffs and a snarl from Sanne. I didn't know what to expect from Nemesea as I had name recognition with them only but this Dutch outfit have really surprised me with an album of passionate music, at 14 songs it is probably too long, leading to some bloat, though not through an over-use of ballads as the band employ them sparingly. They are more interested in industrial punches on songs like Rise. White Flag is a really interesting record that pricked my ears up, in a world where there are so many bands that sound the same Nemesea are refreshingly different, hopefully Sanne sticks around and we get many more albums from this great Dutch rock act. 8/10

Astrosaur: Obscuroscope (Pelagic Records) [Paul Scoble]

Astrosaur are a 3 piece from Sweden, made up of graduates from The Conservatory Of Music in Kristiansand. The group (Steinar Glas on Bass, Jonatan Eikum on Drums and Eirik Kråkenes on Guitar), have released 1 album before Obscuroscope, in Fade In // Fade Out. You might have noticed the lack of a singer, Astrosaur are an instrumental act. The album starts with Poyekhali, and we are dropped strait into fast progressive metal, there's similarity to technical, proggy metal instrumentalist’s Animals As Leaders, as well as a little bit of Voivod, the originators of Progressive Metal. The solo’s are great, technical but beautifully melodic. There is also a slight jazz feel to this as well, there are a lot of the type of chords that made people in the mid eighties think Voivod were ‘Weird’. Next we get Karakoram II, which feels a little heavier that the opening track. The overall impression is halfway between Doom and Psychedelic Rock. There is a faster section, but it is quickly scared away by huge and heavy.

The album returns to fast and technical with White Stone, which feels a little Djenty (there are elements of Djent on this album, but this has so much more scope and variety than a pure Djent album). The track is really melodic, again with great solos, the solos are quite technical, until we get to the last quarter of the song, where a lot of blues is added to the feel of the solos. Elephant Island is quiet at the beginning and at the end, the middle is suitably heavy and huge with a definite sludgy / doomy feel. Beautifully apt, considering the title of the song! Supervoid, has a bit of different mood to the rest of the album. It’s driving and purposeful, whilst also feeling quite Drone like and discordant. There is a more measured middle section, before the track goes all Black Metal for the ending, with some blast beats and tremolo picked riffs.

The album is brought to an end by the track Homewards. The song takes a very long time to get going, with a really long, quiet introduction. When the music does get going it’s slow heavy and doomy. The slow build might be a little too much, as I found my attention drifting a little, build up to huge riffs is great, this just takes too long. Obscuroscope is a very good album, it’s full of great tunes, riffs and solos. Sometimes I found some of it a little samey, and the final track would be improved by being a couple of minutes shorter, but that is probably me being a little bit picky. Don’t be put off by the lack of vocals, for the most part this is a great album that I enjoyed a lot! 7/10

Isole: Dystopia (Hammerheart Records) [Matt Bladen]

Dystopia is the seventh album from Swedish Epic Doom Metal band Isole. Now If you're Swedish and you play this kind of music you will always be compared to Candlemass who were the originators, especially if you are from the same country. Previously known as Forlorn until 2004 as I mentioned Isole have released six records previous to this and a bit of research shows that they have not really deviated from their doom metal base since 2004. Led by the resonant but melodic vocals of Daniel Bryntse, Isole open their seventh release with the seven minute Beyond The Horizon a Gothic sounding number that brings to mind Paradise Lost but with JB from Grand Magus singing.

It's doom metal yes but with hooks and lots of beautiful guitar work from Bryntse and Crister Olsson as Jimmy Mattsson and Victor Parri lay down the knuckle dragging riffs on the doomy numbers like Written In The Sand and The Beholder both of which owe a debt to the Swedish doom master Candlemass as does You Went Away which is replete with a tolling bell. Dystopia doesn't do anything that new with the epic doom metal sound, it's not a reinvention just a tribute to their influences done very well even dabbling in black metal blastbeats on Forged By Fear, it's a great album for doom fans, perfect to listen to while holed up inside on a sunny day. 7/10

Prophecy: Forbidden Scriptures (Self Released) [Paul Scoble]

There are a huge number of Metal bands of one sort or another, who use the name Prophecy. This one has been going since 1991, so probably one of the first bands to use the name, and were based in Louisiana, before relocating to Texas. This prophecy can be forgiven for having such a common band name; when they chose it there were less bands using it, and it was before the internet, so it was much harder to check if you are using someone else’s name. Even though the five piece have been going for so long this is only the bands fifth album. Prophecy play a very brutal style of Death Metal. Surprisingly, it’s not that old school in style, as you might expect from a band that has been going for as long as Prophecy have. The ten tracks included here, have a more recent Brutal sound, with a little bit of Slam Death Metal added in for good measure. The Slam feel is down to some of the songs being quite Breakdown heavy, and the use of Pig Squealing vocals. I must admit to not being much of a fan of Slam Death Metal, I like riffs that go somewhere, and constant breakdowns don’t go anywhere. However, this album has elements of Slam, rather than being pure Slam.

There are bags of very dense and brutal riffs, similar to Nile, or Dying Fetus. The band are clearly great musicians, as everything is handled very well. The riffs are brutal, but detailed, the solo’s are fantastic, the drumming is tight and technical and batters the listener, the bass thunders and backs everything up beautifully, and the vocals are ultra guttural. This is demonstrated brilliantly by opening track Foreseen Scriptures, as well as on the track Infuriate, which also has some grindingly heavy slow sections, showing that the band can also do some very heavy Death/Doom as well. The aforementioned breakdowns are quite common. In many ways they aren’t that intrusive as they aren’t used on every track and they aren’t the whole track. Although, for my tastes the tracks Infinite Deception, Redemption and The Awakening are a little too Breakdown heavy. But, if you like slam death metal, those are the tracks that will excite you. The Pig Squealing is less of a problem for me as they only use it occasionally, again, if you like Pig Squealing it won’t be a problem for you.

The last track on the album is very long; over 14 minutes. But, there is only about 4 minutes of music on it. The other 10 minutes is the band thanking, just about everyone involved in making the album. The band referred to this as “This Album’s thanks list”, so this is clearly something the band have done before. Personally I think this is really sweet. It’s possibly down to music being shared digitally, so less people reading thanks lists. It was great to hear the band thank people, I’ll probably only listen to it once, but it’s nice to see that this band see making music and albums as a privilege, and feel the need to thank every one involved in making that happen. Forbidden Scriptures is a very good album, If I was a fan of Slam Death Metal I’d be saying great. For me, this is a 7 out of 10; but if you love a bit of Pig Squealing, and some breakdowns, then it might be an 8 or a 9 for you. 7/10

Reviews: Sacred Reich, Freedom Of Fear, CoreLeoni, Prime Creation (Paul H, Sean Morgan & Matt)

Sacred Reich: Awakening (Metal Blade Records) [Paul Hutchings]

For those of the old school, this is something that we never have thought we would hear or see. Yes, the first Sacred Reich album since 1996’s Heal has finally arrived and whilst it’s only just over half an hour in length, the wait has been worth it. Dripping with old school thrash, it certainly provides a workout for those neck muscles. The departure of founding members Greg Hall and Jason Rainey technically leaves Sacred Reich with no original players, the presence of vocalist/bassist Phil Rind and lead guitarist Wiley Arnett is enough authenticity for me to accept. It’s the return to the fold of the mighty Dave McClain from Machine Head that gives the band massive cojones whilst new rhythm guitarist Joey Radziwill makes Sacred Reich 2019 a highly powerful beast. If you go back in time, it was the band’s debut release Ignorance in 1987 which spearheaded part of the second wave of US thrash movement (alongside Testament, Dark Angel, Death Angel and the like). Awakening is an appropriate title for the re-emergence of one of the thrash movement’s most revered bands.

They have hit back with renewed energy and drive. The title track roars its intent, with McClain’s drumming exactly as we have become accustomed to follow his many years with Flynn and co. Rind’s distinctive strong voice soars above the heavy riffing. Thrash the old school way always contained lots of melody and Awakening is no exception. Divide And Conquer unleashes the speed, with Arnett in ferocious form, his guitar work razor sharp. Killing Machine is destined to get the circle pits moving, the underlying groove demanding you move your head whilst the blues-ridden Death Valley changes pace and demonstrates a style often absent. The band show their metal with two killer tracks to close the album. The pacey Revolution clocks in at 2:48 and once again allows the band to really let rip whilst the monster Something To Believe is a thumping old school classic which closes out an album that must be amongst the most welcome of 2019. 8/10

Freedom Of Fear: Nocturnal Gates (EVP Recordings) [Sean Morgan]

Do you like it tech and/or prog? Do you like it black/deathy? Of course yah do! Do you also like being plainly surprised by unknown bands? YES AND DOUBLE YES! Freedom Of Fear are a brand spanking new act, straight out of Australia. Okay, a slightly porky as they’ve beer around since 2015 but still. It’s now 2019 and their debut album, Nocturnal Gates is an absolute blinder. I ain’t joking, it’s bloody great! Let’s not waste anymore words on a lengthy preamble, let us journey through the Nocturnal Gates.

The Consciousness Of Misery get things blasting, suitably technical yet melodic riffing moving things onward with much gusto. Screeching black metal vocals sit well above the dextrous melo-deathly din, as Freedom Of Fear move from one section to the next with much fluidity and grace. The leisurely pacing gives each section it’s due, creating little in the way of wasted movement or clutter. Dense chords make for a change in dynamic, shifting gears into more blackened territory before retracing the steps to its deathly beginnings. At least that what I thought, until I’m treated to tons of reverb and a sombre sax solo. Still, great start. The Abstract Venom, our second 7 minute song, moves into chunkier territories with the tempo quickening in pace. That compositional fluidity is still ever present, even as these talented Aussies warp across fretboard and form. Seriously, these boys and girls are fucking water tight! Hello again first riff! The closing sections makes way for some tasty grooves, as Freedom Of Fear display EVEN MORE stylistic variety. 

Christ, where are we going next!? Into a symphonic interlude I suppose, via the aptly tiles Gateways. Purgatroium dispense with the theatrics as things get mean and downtuned, punctuated by Gojira-like grooves and blackened death metal blasting. It segues into almost atmospheric black metal, which ironically compliments the dazzling lead work. Seriously, it’s like Woods Of Desolation meets Yngwie Malmsteen! Just how did we get here!? Hello again first riff! Nocturne, another interlude, is two and a have minutes of soulful, maudlin melancholy. Jeez, the versatility on display is just……wow. Amorphous closes Nocturnal Gates, with Freedom Of Fear pulling out all the prog they can muster, reminiscent of Individual Thought Patterns era Death. Then Opeth and then…christ, I have no idea! There’s so much going on here but it matters not, it’s completely flawless in its construction and execution.

That was awesome. I truly mean that AND it’s one of the easiest reviews I’ve ever had to pen! Freedom Of Fear posses skill FAR belying their meagre years of existence. Quite frightening when you think about it, as Nocturnal Gates is a fantastically realised piece of work, all killer and absolutely no filler. No really, I can’t find a single damn thing to complain about! In weaker hands, wielding so many styles at once could have cause untold levels of musical disaster. Not so here. Young they may be, Freedom Of Fear posses a firm (and balanced) grip on their prowess and a steady gaze. A gaze that has already foreseen their inevitable glory. 9/10

CoreLeoni: II (AFM Records) [Matt Bladen]

Gottard founding member Leo Leoni with his second album that focuses on the early days of Gotthard. The debut was released to commemorate the 25th anniversary of his previous band, he brought ex-Lords Of Black/current Rainbow vocalist Ronnie Romero in a s singer along with current/former members of Gotthard and released through Frontiers Records. The album did surprisingly well, even I rated it quite highly, but I did think how far they could take the concept of replaying Gotthard numbers. So when this second album came through I put it on and yet again I find myself drawn into the slick hard rock as Romero stretches his vocal muscles driven by the riffs of Leoni as Hena Habegger (drums, Gotthard), Jgor Gianola (guitar, ex-Gotthard/U.D.O./Jorn Lande) as well as Mila Merker (bass, Soulline) fill out the rest of the band, providing the rock steady backing on these hard rock numbers.

They've broadened their reach a little on this album as it opens with a guitar rendition of Waltz No. 2 by Dmitri Shostakovich (featured in Eyes Wide Shut), as well as a shuffling cover of Boom Boom Boom by John Lee Hooker and Il Padrino originally by Nino Rota (The Godfather theme). These covers sit with the thumping hard rock numbers such as She Goes Down, Love For Money, the bluesy I'm Your Travellin' Man along with ballads like Angel. All of these songs are taken from the early Gotthard albums but they have also attempted some of their 'own' material with the rocking Queen Of Hearts and the grinding Don't Get Me Wrong. With these new songs they prove that there is more to this band than just retreading old ground, let's see if they can write more of their own songs to keep their longevity. 7/10

Prime Creation: Tears Of Rage (Self Released) [Matt Bladen]

Featuring members of Morifade and $ilverdollar, new Swedish metal act Prime Creation have been compared favourably to Masterplan and Evergrey. So as a fan of both of those bands I pressed play and some tough chunky riffs came out of my stereo, Fingers Crossed is cut with some massive synth waves and is really Evergrey-like, similar to their last few albums.  These are songs written to be emotional mini-epics built around the dramatic vocal style of Esa Englund. Tracks such as A Beggar's Call are anthemic with big shout along choruses but numbers like Tears Of Rage are a bit faster bringing thrash and power metal touches to the bands normal progressive metal sound that has a mix of symphonic and electronic sounds as witnessed on the closing number Endless Rains a ballad based around tinkling ivories and orchestral swells ending this song with the requisite drama. Tears Of Rage is very 'adult' metal album, it deals with some mature themes and delivers them with virtuoso musicianship that is heavy in both senses of the word. If you were a little vexed by the new Evergrey release Tears Of Rage will redress the balance. 7/10

Tuesday 27 August 2019

Reviews: Domination Inc, Vitja, The Cosmic Trip Advisors, Damnation Defaced (Matt & Liam)

Domination Inc: Memoir 414 (SPV) [Matt Bladen]

Domination Inc are a thrash band originally from Athens Greece and originally called Domination. They are now based in the UK and they play aggressive, hard hitting thrash metal, that has seen them share the stage with Sakis Tsolis of Rotting Christ, played Europe tours and supported some big level bands all while still in their late teens/early twenties. Since their debut (Mostly Greek only) release they have been picked up by SPV and this is their first album on the noted heavy metal label. It's probably this that has elevated their sound above that on their debut, this is a more nuanced thrash assault from Domination Inc, it's still got blistering speed metal of course but tracks such as the almost prog/thrash of Day VIII Deus`Ignorance has big grooves that Machine Head rely so heavily on, think The Blackening

Memoir 414 is buoyed by the thick production of Fotis Bernardo (SiXforNinE) giving these songs guts without losing any of the ferocity on numbers such as The Sickening which is all double kicks and shredding riffs, but also adding the gravitas to numbers like the moody fury of Dark City which has some Gojira styled groove and fret slides. The bands that hold sway over Domination Inc's listening habits are clear to hear on this record and it makes for a very rewarding album as they take you some of the best thrash has to offer throwing in some groove, classic metal and hardcore undertones as well. A major audio leap from these UK based Greeks and an album that could be one of the sleeper thrash releases of the year. 8/10

Vitja: Thirst (Arising Empire) [Liam True]

This is a strange album. The album is Metalcore, but not at the same time. On times it’s a mixture of Hard Rock, Post Hardcore & Pop Punk either on different tracks or multiple times on the same songs. It’s mildly frustrating but also pleasing in a very weird messed up way. Don’t get me wrong, the album is great and I'm happy to see such experimentation happening. It’s just not has consistent as I'd like. The heaviest song on the album Silver Lining is where the rest if the album needs to be headed. And with a guest feature from Breakdown Of Sanity frontman Carlo Knöpfel it’s just a sublime piece if Metalcore madness. I just with the rest of the album was done in that way. It’s a big shame because this band has some serious talent. They just need some work and they’ll be in the big leagues. 7/10

The Cosmic Trip Advisors: Wrong Again, Albert (Self Released) [Matt Bladen]

There have been a few rock n soul bands around recently, they are always bands with slinky blues riff, bubbling organs and smoky vocals that take their cues from Big Brother And The Holding Company with the blues rock sound. The Cosmic Trip Advisors are the newest such band and yet again it's soulful groovy rock music with it's roots in the 60's American sound dueling guitars and organ a funky rhythm section and the gritty vocals of their frontwoman. From the psychy Oh My My My to the sorrowful Lonely Since I Met You it's a an album full of great rock n soul music, yes the lyrics are a little cliche and the musical style has been done numerous times but this album is fun and most importantly authentic with the country Such Is Life really hitting home lyrically, Ledz Boogie reminds you of Zep, while Tongue Tied steals the riff from Shut Up And Dance by Aerosmith wholesale. Wrong Again, Albert is a groovy album from these Scottish bluesers that plonks you right in the late 60's. 7/10

Damnation Defaced: The Devourer (Apostasy Records) [Liam True]

Aggressive. In your face. Pushing the boundaries of what is considered Death Metal and Deathcore. This is what a Death Metal album should sound like. From beginning to end it just showcases the brutality that the genre and dish out at it’s peak. Lead by the putrid snarls of frontman Phillip Bishoff the band demonstrate how to perfectly initiate a Death Metal album and make it hit high. Through the record itself you’ll notice a few things, the main point being a small electronicore element on a couple of songs, making them heavier and more intense in the process. It’s hard to distinguish Deathcore & Death Metal at the moment, but The Devourer does a good job of dancing on the fine line and pulling out a Death Metal classic for the ages. 8/10

Reviews: Cult Of Luna, The Drowning, Risen Prophecy, Esogenesi (Lee, Paul H & Rich)

Cult Of Luna: A Dawn To Fear (Metal Blade Records) [Lee Burgess]

A dawn to fear is Cult of Luna’s latest and arguably their finest album. When I was first given this record to review, I downloaded it track-by-track, meaning that I didn’t really listen to it in sequence. I just let the tracks wash over me. This band is by far the most influential of all the many post-metal outfits doing the rounds right now. With every album they manage to build to an ever-reaching, increasingly lofty height in musical talent and ability. Their music is just so cinematic. This album just feels so right. It sits easily with Somewhere Along The Highway and Salvation. But and this is important, A Dawn To Fear is unique. It is unique because it goes places Cult Of Luna don’t usually go. Take for instance Nightwalkers. It has a continuous doom-like quality that shows us that this band can take genre music and incorporate these themes into their own material. These themes soon become lost in a swirl of seamless changes in mood, speed and tone. This is heavy stuff, but it’s also achingly pretty and emotionally arresting. Each track has its own signature-sound; however, it is unmistakably COL.

Track five is a high point. Lights On The Hill almost sounds like it would be at home on a reboot of Jeff Wayne’s War Of The Worlds in its eerie escape into an empty void that then explodes into a dark vision of haunting beauty. I cannot and will not overstate just how much this band have worked on scale and vision since Vertikal and Mariner, their joyous collaboration with Julie Christmas. There is a sense of structure here that you sometimes miss with post-metal. Each track is less of a song and more a collection of classical movements. To properly understand and appreciate this album, I would urge you to build your COL collection right from the very start and work your way towards this devastating masterpiece. After seeing them live a few years ago and learning that there was a possible break-up on the cards, I feared the worst. I need not to have worried, for they have risen again in an almost biblical sense. I am hoping that the track title We feel the end, is not a coded message for fans, like, this is the end of the road, because this band just knows how to give and give. Every time I’ve wondered where they can go, which direction they can take, they have returned stronger and more refreshed.

This is a band who have a knack for reinvention and connecting with their listeners. I didn’t manage to see them at ArcTanGent last weekend but from all I can glean from this album, any live show is going to be an exhausting experience. I saw them once at The Fleece, Bristol and it was life changing. The sheer scale of their musical ability is mind boggling. There will of course be those who don’t get this unusual sub-genre, and that’s OK I suppose, but COL really don’t need to be pigeon-holed because they are so, so much more than just a type or genre, they are the Gods, one of the true greats and A dawn to fear really is something to worship. I truly am in awe, and if you don’t mind, I think I need to clean up after myself. 10/10

The Drowning (UK): The Radiant Dark (Transcending Obscurity) [Paul Hutchings]

16 years into a career of death/doom metal and Cardiff’s The Drowning show no signs of fatigue. Three years since their last release Senescent Signs, their latest impressive slab of metal has slammed onto the stereo with full force, shattering ear drums but also engaging the grey matter with some of the more thoughtful and delicate compositions. This album marks the debut for bassist Richard Moore, although he’s been with the band for three years (and he’s just joined Desecration as well). With eight songs and just under an hour in length there are some behemoths on this album, which allows the band time to expand and explore their death doom style. The massive The Triumph Of The Wolf In Death symbolises all that is good about this brutally excellent band. Pounding blast beats, spine pummelling heavy riffage, an atmosphere of malevolence and huge guttural vocals. Matt Small is a machine, working with The Drowning alongside his other commitments. His performance on The Radiant Dark is outstanding.

Prometheus Blinded brings groove to the proceedings, gothic synths signalling a change in direction which doesn’t lose one iota of heaviness. Indeed, this is one of the most crushing albums of the year. Steve Hart’s drumming is exceptional, tight and driven whilst the twin guitar work of Mike Hitchen and Jason Hodges lacerate and chop at will. As the album ebbs and flows, attention never wanders, such is the captivating spell cast. More gargantuan riffs on Harrowed Path pummel the senses before arriving at I Carve The Heart From The Universe, spellbinding and enchanting in equal measure. Classical guitar rules the middle section, the opening is more standard death metal fare whilst the closing third morphs into a dramatic Behemoth style black metal conclusion. It is an astonishingly good piece and leads perfectly to the final track, the melancholic and melodic intensity of Blood Marks My Grave. Few albums will stir the emotions like The Radiant Dark. A stunning release from another essential UK band. 9/10

Risen Prophecy: Voices From The Dust (Metal On Metal Records) [Rich Oliver]

Risen Prophecy fall into a category of band I call ‘Why the hell haven’t I heard these before?’. Hailing from Sunderland, Voices From The Dust is the third album from the band who have a sound that that is somewhere between thrash metal and the US style of power metal so you have the combination of savage riffs, epic melodies and the over the top theatricality that is synonymous with power metal. That theatricality is delivered in spades in the vocal performance by Dan Tyren who has a commanding presence throughout the album whilst the gnarly riff work by guitarist Ross Oliver and the uncompromising rhythm section of bassist Ben Oliver and drummer James Charlton ensure that the album had a gritty nasty underbelly.

Whilst Voices From The Dust is quite a lengthy album it retains its quality for its duration with plenty of epic yet crushing songs such as Eternity In Script, The Waters, The Tower In Shinar, The Eye Of Hades and the colossal title track which closes the album. This album impressed me massively and if you like your power metal with plenty of crunch in the style of Iced Earth and Demons And Wizards or like your thrash with a melodic edge like bands such as Artillery and Forbidden then this album is a must hear. 8/10

Esogenesi: Esogenesi (Transcending Obscurity) [Paul Hutchings]

Formed in Milan in 2016, this five-track 44-minute album marks the debut release for the Italian death/doom merchants. A sole down-tuned guitar opens Abominio, it’s melancholic feel soon crushed by the bludgeoning riffs which cascade down. The impressive Decadimento Astrale provides another display of muscular riffing, the roaring vocals of Jacopo fitting perfectly to the ambience and tempo. Oltragenesi allows guitarists Ivo and Davide opportunity to shine, the short instrumental opportunity the band to flex whilst Esilio Nell'Extramondo (Exile In The World) is a piledriving wedge of doom, massively thick with riffs. Original? Maybe not. Exciting? Definitely. In a crowded genre it is becoming more difficult for bands to deliver something different but there is ample quality to explore on Esongenesi. 7/10

Monday 26 August 2019

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

Control The Storm, Callus & Land Captains, The Gryphon, Bristol

Temperatures soaring again for the bank holiday so where better to sweat on a Friday night that the sauna above a metal bar also known as The Gryphon in Bristol. This was a triumphant return for the headliners following their impressive set at Bloodstock just two weeks earlier.

A crowded and sultry room greeted us as we arrived to catch opening band Land Captains (8) start the evening. An unexpectedly good start too, with the Bristol four piece impressing with their groove based hard rock. Confident from years of gigging in other bands, the nucleus of the band, vocalist Sarah Lewis and guitarist Hugo Bowman (Fragile Things) are ably supported by the large presence of bassist Justin Cool and drummer Jamie Gilder. Roared on by a healthy and supportive crowd, Land Captains proved to be excellent entertainment, their thumping hard rock versatile and engaging. The band could take it down a notch mid-set, with Lewis’ smoky tones capturing the attention. The band’s first video single Automatic was worth the entrance fee alone, a perfect rock pop track that should enable them to gain a higher profile very quickly.

Back in March Hogpocalypse, the self-released album from Callus (5) received a lukewarm response from our reviewer Mark, who called it “ambitious but flawed”. The Lancaster trio certainly have the energy to drive their music forward, but like Mark, after a couple of songs their hybrid mix of thrash, sludge, doom and stoner became a little repetitive. Fewer punters in the room at least allowed the watching to be slightly less moist and whilst I couldn’t fault the band for their effort, especially on the elongated instrumental towards the end of the set, little of it was particularly memorable on the night.

Control The Storm (7) somehow crammed into the venue leaving about 20 feet for those interested punters to squeeze in. The band were in buoyant mood, and with good reason. Their show at BOA was superb, with tons of pyro and the band maximising the wide expanse of the Sophie Stage. So, it was down to earth with a bump but this was a party night and it showed in a rather slipshod performance, built on fun and celebration more than anything else. A very muddy mix with levels all over the place didn’t help but with the vocal support of their fervent fans adding to the chaos, the band blasted through old favourites and tracks from the excellent Forevermore album. I’d really like to see Control The Storm in a larger venue, such as The Fleece or The Exchange where their intricate symphonic metal blend would work with a better sound system. It’s hard to be critical on a night like this. I hope the band can push on and look forward to seeing them again when the environment is more suitable.

Reviews: Soleil Moon, Throbbe Englund, Vokonis, Vermis (Matt & Manus)

Soleil Moon: Warrior (Frontiers Music)

I've never heard Soleil Moon before but it seems that Warrior is their third album. So what style of music do they play? Well very slick AOR/soft rock in the vein of Toto, Styx, Michael Bolton and the non-Steinman Meat Loaf with some really soulful vocals from band founder and multi talented singer/songwriter Larry King (who isn't the talk show host). Now normally that would make for a sarcastic, acerbic review from a metal blog but there is a special kind of magic on this album that made me grin and smile all the way through and by the second playthrough I was singing along heartily, even on throwaway numbers like 420.

King has a brilliantly rough vocal for the powerful ballads such as Just So You Know but also gives tracks like 72' Camaro a blue collar rock sound while also being able to handle funkier numbers such as You And I. He's managed to bring together a really tight band made up of band co-founder John Blasucci (keys), Khari Parker (drums), Alan Berliant (bass) and Chris Siebold (guitars) but in the studio he has prolific session guitarist Michael Thompson adding the soaring six strings rather than Siebold. The band turn their hand to several styles on the album, but mainly it's soft melodic rock with a level of virtuosity that is unmatched even by some progressive rock bands, the music is boosted by the sterling production job which lets everything shine brightly and clearly.

Yes it's a bit ballad heavy but much like those glory days of Bolton and co a massive power ballad such as Nothing Matters is enhanced by a singer with the talent and power of King. Despite this being their third album, they are a band comprised of experienced musicians (their debut was in 1999) with numerous credits under their belts and Warrior is an excellent showcase of their collective talents. A rock album that could easily climb the charts even today, let's hope it does as even though I have lambasted albums similar to this in the past, for being overblown or saccharine in their sweetness, there is something about Warrior I really, really adored, put prejudice aside and just enjoy it.  8/10   

Thobbe Englund: Hail To The Priest (Metalville Records) [Manus Hopkins]

The first thing to appreciate about this tribute to the Metal Gods is the song selection—it’s no obvious greatest hits collection. While many metal bands are in serious debt to Judas Priest, and thus their songs have been covered by many acts, former Sabaton guitarist Thobbe Englund has chosen songs that aren’t overdone or overplayed for this piece of homage. The covers are all very faithful to the original songs. This is a good thing and a bad thing. It sounds like an impressive tribute band, and there are many reasons to go see a good tribute band live.

Maybe the real band isn’t around or as good anymore, or maybe they don’t perform any deeper cuts. None of these are the case with Priest, but a tribute band might be a good thing for someone who just doesn’t have the opportunity to catch Judas Priest live. Now what’s bad with Englund’s tribute is that there’s no real point to it. Fans might listen out of curiosity, but these covers are played just the way Judas Priest play them, but without the magic of the chemistry between the guitarists or Halford’s unique vocals. It’s not bad, but this record might not get an awful lot of second listens. 6/10

Vokosis: Grasping Time (The Sign Records) [Matt Bladen]

Swedes Vokonis say their influences range from Baroness and Pink Floyd to Elder and from the off you can hear that they are at the heavier end of the progressive spectrum as their jazzy, space rock sounds are underpinned but sludge metal riffs and dual vocals that pairs wild shouting with Akerfeldt-style crooning on the psychedelic Sunless Hymnal. It's a bit like Mastodon playing Hawkwind with songs that shift dynamically between light and shade, cuts like Antler Queen are driving distorted metal numbers that betray that this band are a three piece, despite their lack of numbers they make a very forceful racket, dragging their musical experimentation over 42 minutes and 8 songs. 

On this third album it seems they have pushed the boat out the band themselves saying they wanted to create their own Crack The Skye thus the dual vocal assault was born and they have expanded their musical scope adding a huge heaving drop of psych on their doom metal power as when Jonte is singing Simon is able to play more complex riffs, thickening this albums sound massively as you wonder where things are going next, the trippy I Hear The Siren builds into the explosive, propulsive Exiled a short instrumental jam session that morphs into the groovy instrumental Ashes before the shimmering start of Embers brings things back to the elongated riff monsters featured early in the record. A knockout record with a ballsy sound made bigger by the contrasting vocal and the elaborate but organic musical base. They maybe Grasping Time but this album gets a very firm grip! 8/10

Vermis: Misnomer (Independent) [Manus Hopkins]

Vermis’ Misnomer is an interesting mixed bag of metal styles. It’s thrash at heart, but it’s also infused with 90s styles—from grunge (see Only One) to nu-metal (see Throw Me Back). It sounds weird, but there is enough cohesiveness in the writing to keep the blending of genres from being disastrous, and actually, it’s pretty good. Not every song will strike every thrasher’s fancy, but fans of a wide variety of styles will most likely find something to appreciate on this record. 

The use of electronics on the album is also not typical of thrash but fits more with the 90s styles that shape the songs. They’re used just the right amount, never taking away from the guitar work. The songs are still very much riff-based, which is a good way to be. Vermis still has some growing to do as a band to develop their own sound, but this is a solid sophomore release. 7/10

Friday 23 August 2019

Reviews: Spread Eagle, Sinner, Vitriol, Frantic Amber (Paul H & Manus)

Spread Eagle: Subway To The Stars (Frontiers Records) [Paul Hutchings]

Formed in the late 1980s, New York outfit Spread Eagle released two albums before disbanding in 1996. Reforming in 2006, the band now return with their third album, Subway To The Stars. Spread Eagle will be most well-known thanks to founder member Rob De Luca, bassist and vocalist with the band but also a staple in the UFO line-up for the past decade, as well as having worked with a list of legends including Sebastian Bach, Joan Jett and Helmet. Alongside De Luca, cousin Rik on drums, long time vocalist Ray West and guitarist Ziv Shalev complete the line-up. Just short of 50 minutes of hard rock with a melodic twist and its decent stuff. There is plenty of variety, such as the strings opening to Dead Air which simmers with a gorgeous riff throughout.

Grand Slam could sit on a Phil Campbell And The Bastard Sons album, a high paced rocker which allows West to show his quality. Interspersed through the album are subway stops (from what I assume is the New York Subway). Little Serpentina changes direction again, shades of Soundgarden pulse through the song, along with a delicious hook and some shimmering guitar work whilst the Manic Street Preachers come to mind on the indie style Gutter Rhymes For Valentines, the song title also something that Bradfield, Wire and Morgan would use. Subway To The Stars is a polished, melodic hard rock album that was enjoyable from start to finish. Plenty to explore, and a welcome mix of styles that allow it to stand apart from others wearing the same badge. 7/10

Sinner: Santa Muerte (AFM Records) [Manus Hopkins]

Sinner has been releasing albums at a much steadier and more regular pace than many of its peers since the early 1980s. Unfortunately, the band has suffered from a lack of promotion throughout its long career, and its releases have often gone unnoticed or been largely forgotten. (In North America maybe - Ed). The band (or at least frontman Mat Sinner) has trudged on despite this, and album number 17 brings no big surprises but packs its share of punches. Santa Muerte consists of a healthy mix of heavy rockers like Last Exit Hell and Fiesta Y Copas and melody-driven anthemic tunes like What Went Wrong and the record’s title track. The biggest instance of straying from the straight hard rock sound on the album is the successfully country-infused Death Letter. Overall, the album is a solid and easy listen, and should fit nicely in Sinner’s ever-expanding catalogue. 7/10

Vitriol: To Bathe From The Throat Of Cowardice (Century Media Records) [Paul Hutchings]

I suppose it’s fair to say that with the title of the album and the name of the band, I knew this wasn’t going to be something from good ole boys Blackberry Smoke. Instead, a vicious aural assault from the violent trinity from Portland, Oregon. Vitriol is fronted by the dual vocal assault given from guitarist Kyle Rasmussen and bassist Adam Roethlisberger and driven by drummer Scott Walker. Having created waves with their 2017 EP, Pain Will Define Their Death, we come to the group's much anticipated debut record, To Bathe From The Throat Of Cowardice. Punishing, relentless and utterly destructive in terms of their assault and battery. Technically intricate, at times it’s astonishing that there are only three people making this immense wall of noise. Sincere and raw in its delivery, the razor blade assault slashes and gouges without mercy. For those who want their death metal with edge, variation and a change from the congested mainstream, check out Vitriol. It’s brutal. 7/10

Frantic Amber: Bellatrix (GMR Music Group) [Manus Hopkins]

Sweden’s Frantic Amber makes melodic death metal that is both unrelentingly heavy and insatiably catching at the same time, never sacrificing one of those attributes for the other. Bellatrix is a monster of a record and a triumph for the group as it prepares to enter its second decade of existence. At nine tracks long, lots of musical ground is covered on Bellatrix. Along with the sheer heaviness is an ambient atmosphere, adding depth to the masterfully written songs. The Ghost That Kills is a definite highlight, though there’s not one song on the album that falls short in the crushing riffage department, or when it comes to articulate drum work and throat-wrenching growls. 9/10

Reviews: Equilibrium, The Colony, Mortal Infinity, Excalion (Matt, Paul H & Rich)

Equilibrium: Renegades (Nuclear Blast) [Matt Bladen]

Equilibrium are a folk metal band who hail from Germany, over the course of a quite long career they have established themselves as one of the leading lights of the folk metal scene mixing sounds of their traditional music and mythology with symphonic black metal. Now despite their major billing you may not have heard of them, unless you are a fan of folk/pagan metal. This maybe because most of their albums are in German but Equilibrium and their leader/guitarist René Berthiaume have had a singular vision to make Equilibrium match his vision of what it could have always been. His drive to experiment with this band saw them move away from their traditional pagan metal roots to add some more cinematic elements and some more English language songs to broaden their appeal.

On this album though there has been a massive leap between Armageddon and Renegades, it's almost as if they have developed into another band, René has brought on board Skadi on keyboards and Skar on live bass and clean vocals, it's that last part that elevates this album. Robse's harsh vocals are still there growling as you'd want in a band built around pagan metal but now the myths and legends are gone giving way to more personal themes. As soon as you play this album you can hear that this is the sound of a band taking no prisoners at all the opening two numbers have big electronic synths cutting through the galloping power metal riffs and on Tornado the dual vocals gives things a feel of Amaranthe but with a bit more guts, though the Asian trance sound of Hype Train is almost exactly like it due to the additional vocals of Julie Elven. Himmel Und Freuer meanwhile almost sounds like AOR with the death vocals counteracting the joyous musical backing.

It's a lot to get your head around especially if you've heard the bands early work as this album is a lot different really amping everything up to 11, take a track like Moonlight which is anthemic and epic in equal measure like Amon Amarth playing a Sabaton song. I didn't know what to expect when I saw the pr surrounding this album but my god it blew me away, with some massive production it's one to play loud, if this is the sound the band have been aiming for then it's a vein they need to continue with as Renegades is a cracking release, unlike a lot of albums you will hear this year. 9/10

The Colony: Smoke & Mirrors (Self Released) [Matt Bladen]

Well this is a life affirming album if I've ever heard one, drawing from being tired and jaded with modern life The Colony's melodic metal  brings crunchy modern metal riffs and grooves the likes of latter-day In Flames, Killswitch and Trivium bring to the table but with some cinematics and industrial touches. It's the sound of those glorious latter noughties, early 10's albums from bands mentioned above building on the foundation of metalcore but bringing in some djent and more classic metal. Much of this is due to the vocals which are as you'd expect are aggressive screams but mainly The Colony use clean vocals to drive their point across adding a emotive level to their heavy riffing metal style.

The twin guitars of Aaron Hobkirk and Konnar Anderson work in glorious unison on Soul Saviour adding technical riffs and fluid leads as the rhythm section of Riki Hobkirk (drums) and George Struthers (bass) adds the heavy grooves but also manage to dial things back on the middle section on The Flood which is a really affecting due to the powerful vocals of Peter Cullen. Things get heavier on Here We Stand which has dual guitar leads running through it and that classic metal sound. The Colony have made an album that have passion and emotion mixed with crushing riffs and melodic hooks, it's a very mature, anthemic release. 7/10

Mortal Infinity: In Cold Blood (Self Released) [Paul Hutchings]

Two long players and one EP into a journey that started ten years ago, Mortal Infinity may only boast one original member in Marc Doblinger, but this band from the sleepy lower Bavarian village Zeilarn (located in the Passau region) are anything but a chocolate box cover. Opening track Fellowship Of The Rats gnaws and scratches at the door in a frenzied slashing of claws and teeth. Changes in tempo, razor like lacerating guitar work and a sound that switches from Testament to Exodus to Death Angel in one foul sweep all bode well. I’m not keen on the spewed vocal intro to Misanthropic Collapse, but the heads down thrash works well with some feisty chugging buzz saw guitar work from long time guitarist Sebastian Unrath and more recent recruit Sebastian Brunner.

Doblinger’s feverish vocals switch between guttural death metal and the higher shrieks of legends like Steve ‘Zetro’ Souza. Dream Crusher contains a melodramatic mid-pause before launching into a change of direction, all the time the riff counter is hitting the top of the dial. The changes in style work well on an album which demonstrates a maturity forged from adversity. With a history of struggle, challenge and line-up changes almost bringing the band to an end around 2014, it is to their credit that they have been able to continue. Adding Alexander Glaser on bass and Adrian Müller on Drums in 2014 their second-long player Final Death Denied breathed new life which was enhanced with the arrival of Brunner filling the gap on rhythm guitars in early 2016. Now, with In Cold Blood, Mortal Infinity have released the album of their career. A brutal mixture of death and thrash, there is much to enjoy. 7/10

Excalion: Emotions (Scarlet Records) [Rich Oliver]

Emotions is the fifth album by Finnish power metal band Exacalion and is ten songs of excellent melodic power metal. Much like a lot of Finnish power metal the keyboards are a very prominent instrument almost taking centre stage along with the guitars and they are used to full effect heightening the various melodies through the album. Another well used weapon in Excalion’s arsenal is singer Marcus Lång who has a voice very similar in sound and style to fellow Finnish metal singer Marco Hietala (of Nightwish and Tarot fame). Emotions is by no means a groundbreaking album but features great vocals, splendid guitar work, sterling melodies and quality songwriting.

 Apart from a couple of ballads the songs follow a similar style and structure but the album remains interesting and ear catching from start to finish with the highlights for me being Sunshine Path, Nightmariner and Callsign. I remember not being overly keen when hearing Excalion’s previous album Dream Alive but going off my enjoyment of this new album I definitely need to revisit that album and the other albums in the Excalion back catalogue. 8/10

Thursday 22 August 2019

Reviews: Superterrestrial, Sacrilege, Dialith, Mister Misery (Paul S, Matt & Alex)

Superterrestrial: The Void That Exists (Green Flaw Productions) [Paul Scoble]

Superterrestrial are a British 2 piece, who have released 1 album before this album 2018’s Ocean Of Emptiness. The band play Black Metal inspired by the dark, cold depths of interstellar space. The band class their sound as being Ethereal or Ambient Black metal. Although the bands sound is very reminiscent of what is becoming known as Space or Astral Black Metal. There is a definite similarity with some of the bands using that classification; bands like Voidshere, The Negative Bias, Stellar Descent or Starless Domain. The album pretty long at 42 minutes (in fact I thought this was an album until I saw everyone else calling it an EP, but is an album), and 7 tracks. Most of the tracks have the same basic template. The songs are a mix of very dense, harsh blast beats, with insanely taut tremolo picked riffs, and very ambient sections of synth-wave style dungeon electronica. The riffs are some of the best harsh riffs you will hear. If you thought Black Metal inspired by frozen tundras were cold, you need to hear some inspired by the frozen depths of space.

That’s Minus 50℃ versus Minus 273℃, space is so much colder; and so are these riffs. If you get excited at how cold the riffs are in some very well known second wave black metal albums, prepare to be re-educated on how cold a riff can be. The Dungeon Synth parts are very cold and void like as well, all warmth and feeling has been systematically removed from this album and the result is fantastically hostile. The vocals are very harsh and shrill, if a black hole had a voice this is what it would sound like. After saying all that, there is a little warmth; Earlier in this review is said ‘most’ of the tracks had a cold feeling to them. Final track Morton Wave, has a warmer, more melodic feel to it. The track is 10 minutes long and does have blast beats and tremolo picked riffs, but they are slower, with more melody. The keyboard sections have more warmth and tunefulness, the band have saved all the warmth till the end. In many ways the album ending this way emphasises the coldness of the rest of the record. The track also feature an amount of layering of riffs and keyboards, that gives the track a huge feeling of depth. The Void That Exists is a stunning album.

It’s cold and desolate (just like the depths of space), but does also have some warmth and musicality. It’s deeply original, and is a nice alternative to the orthodox style of Black Metal that usually attempts to be this cold and extreme. It’s harsh and uncaring, just like the void. Sometimes if you stare into the void the void stares back at you. Sometimes it screams blast beats and tremolo picked riffs. Personally, I’ll go for the Screaming Void. 9/10

Sacrilege: The Court Of The Insane (Pure Steel Records) [Matt Bladen]

Four years since their previous album the revitalised NWOBHM band Sacrilege who were inactive from 1987 and 2012, but since then they have been releasing records quite frequently. This is their third album on Pure Steel Records and it keeps their purple patch going with some excellent heavy metal. In their lifetime time they haven't tried to change their sound at all relying on the classic sounds of that glorious period of British heavy metal that spawned Iron Maiden and Saxon and has seen a resurgence through bands such as Hell and Satan band's who Sacrilege sound a lot like relying on historical lyrics from the 1600's where plague, witchcraft and fire were rife.

The ominous vocals of lead songwriter/vocalist/guitarist Bill Beadle are perfect for creating drama and conjuring doom on numbers such as the galloping Bring Out Your Dead, the anthemic I Can Hear The Silence, the crunchy Depression and the doom-laden No Bequeath. Beadle provides the rhythm guitars, keyboard along with the vocals but backing him are Neil Turnbull on drums, Jeff Rolland on bass who lock down the rhythm section with Beadle for proper heavy metal synergy as Paul Macnamara's lead guitar are technically sound add that extra level. In The Court Of The Insane is a very dramatic, dark album it's got a lot of theatrical elements to it with the keyboards on tracks such as Unhinged Mind which has a brilliant guitar solo outro. The Court Of The Insane is a very mature NWOBHM styled album, drawing from the original style with a distinctly modern edge, join the court of Sacrilege. 8/10

Dialith: Extinction Six (Self Released) [Matt Bladen]

Hmm does the world need another symphonic metal band with soaring female vocals, cinematic elements and metal riffs. It's been done before and to be honest it's been done to death. That's not to say Dialith aren't a talented band they are and their symphonic metal sound takes influences from Nightwish and Epica, blending the lighter classical sounds with a harder edged metal, Quiver Of Deception doing this the best with it's neo-classical style. However it's all very down the line and the vocals aren't that inspiring considering they are usually an integral part, I was 5 tracks in before I realised they were different songs and that's the point, everything is a little meh. I'm sure there will be people that disagree with me but maybe I'm just over this genre now! 5/10

Mister Misery: Unalive (Arising Empire) [Alex Swift]

On their debut, Unalive, Mister Misery present a gothic, dark style of Metal which, while abiding by the genre conventions, ultimately doesn’t roam outside of the limits of gothic alternative. Make no mistake, Mister Misery have a seamless production style which complements their spooky and ethereal nature, underpinned by their sound and image. Musically, they are talented, and have an excellent sense of dramatic flair which definitely shows potential: The sneeringly ironic ‘La, La, La’s’ on My Ghost, the huge choruses on Blood Waltz and Legion, the subtle piano and violin melodies which weave their way throughout the album – we are definitely presented with a consistent musical theme throughout, and I am sold on the idea that these musicians genuinely bear a lot of passion for the shock rock and horror metal genres. And yes, the influences are very present and there are illusions laced throughout the entire experience, to the tongue-in-cheek proto punk of acts in the vein of The Misfits or The Damned, not to mention the obvious, always present and continuously lurking My Chemical Romance comparisons, which rear their head whenever any alternative album attempts to achieve a grandiose yet gothic sound. I have said before how an act wearing their inspirations on their sleeve doesn’t necessarily bother me, unless there’s a serious defilement or dilution of those classics happening.

In the case of Unalive, there’s no desecration of the classics taking place, and indeed anthems the like of Valentine and Alive serve as apt, if not particularly breath-taking tributes to a tradition that has existed in music since even before Robert Smith decided to pick up a guitar and let the world know how bloody miserable, he tends to be. However, nothing happens here which you wouldn’t have heard a million times before. You don’t need to be a scholar in goth culture to know that a combination of pummelling guitars, ominous synths and angsty, snarled vocals, lends itself vividly to a generic form of the genre yet not to an innovative one. I can definitely understand that Mister Misery are just starting out as a band – Indeed, part of the point of a debut album is establishing a core sound. Most acts don’t want to try anything too risky or weird on their first outing, and I can respect that. Still, another aim of a debut is to give listeners a reason to return, to become fans. Acts who innovate to an unnecessary amount on their first album alienate people straight away yet failing to innovate enough also raises worries for an act’s longevity.

Don’t misunderstand me, I wouldn’t say that this Stockholm-originating four piece are at a point of murdering their career before the outset. As I said, there are scraps of intriguing ideas present throughout, yet the overall presentation of them is generic and unexciting. So, what should Mister Misery do on future albums? That’s up to them but from my point of view, I would like to see them expanding upon the theatrical and traditional elements in their sound, making music to truly complement their elusive image and living up to the ambition of their influences. I will wait with bated breath until then 6/10

Reviews: Saxon, Tungsten, Rebel Machine, Darkened (Paul H & Matt)

Saxon: The Eagle Has Landed 40 Live (Militia Guard Music) [Paul Hutchings]

Three CDs of live Saxon, personally chosen by frontman and metal legend Biff Byford. This could be awful I hear you say.Well, with the number of live albums and compilations that the Yorkshire outfit has released over the years, it certainly could have been. Fortunately, this release, which celebrates the 40th anniversary of the band and comes ahead of their much anticipated October shows, is anything but dull or packed with filler. Recorded at selected shows over a 12 year period, CD 1 opens with a number of lesser known tracks recorded in Berlin (2007, 2009 & 2011), London (2009) and Sheffield (2007). Mainly tracks that at the time were from the relevant new album at the time of the recording, the only irritation is that the introductions tend to follow the same patter: “this one is from the new album …” However, there are some gems hidden away, such as a raucous Witchfinder General from Berlin 2009, the emotionally charged Red Star Falling about the fall of communism, and a pumping Play It Loud from Berlin 2011, humorous in it’s Spinal Tap style as Biff tries to update some of the lyrics to reflect modern times, replacing ‘radio’ with ‘Youtube’.

Disc 2 brings us into 2013 & 2014 with the majority of the tracks recorded at Wacken Open Air 2014. This allows a bit more of the classic Saxon to come to the fore, with Crusader, The Eagle Has Landed, Power And The Glory, Dallas 1PM, Princess Of The Night and Denim And Leather all given the Saxon treatment. It’s only when you hear Saxon live that you appreciate just how heavy they can be. Shredding guitars, pounding drums and Biff’s soaring vocals all reliable and consistent. Bringing us up to date on Disc 3, with some neat guests joining in to add a bit of spice. Helsinki 2015 sees Phil Campbell join for 747 (Strangers In The Night), London 2016 captures the late ‘Fast’ Eddie Clarke jamming on Ace Of Spades whilst 2018’s show in San Antonio supporting Judas Priest enabled the band’s producer and current Priest guitarist Andy Sneap to join the band on a balls-out version of 20,000FT. With a smattering of the most recent songs from the Battering Ram release recorded in Manchester, Stockholm and London last year, the catalogue is completed with They Played Rock And Roll, The Secret Of Flight and Battering Ram.

Whilst there are some moments on here which I could do without, a drum solo for example during Conquistador, there is still a majestic feel to Saxon in the live arena. The Eagle Has Landed at Wacken, complete with string section gives me goosebumps with its steady build up and the opening meandering guitar work of Paul Quinn, the crunching riff a classic heavy metal style which no band does better. Still one of the hardest working bands in the World, Saxon have never taken anything for granted. They have a devoted fan base who will have lapped this release up. October can’t come quick enough. Saxon at 40. Still totally epic. 8/10

Tungsten: We Will Rise (Arising Empire) [Matt Bladen]

This is the debut album from brand new Swedish melodic power metal band Tungsten. It was formed by former Hammerfall and Yngwie J. Malmsteen’s Rising Force drummer Anders Johansson after his sons Karl (bass) and Nick (guitar) let him listen to some songs they had composed together. He then started to refine the songs with his sons bringing in Mike Andersson (Cloudscape, ex Planet Alliance, Fullforce) on vocals. The style of this album is odd with Anders' older school influences blending with his son's more modern styles, many of these come in the middle of the album bookended by the power metal sounds. There's a some jazz on the beginning of Sweet Vendetta which kicks into some industrial almost pop sounds giving a carnival feel, but much of the album is what I would call Hammerfall-lite, if the legendary power metal Swedes continued on their path started on Infected this is what they would sound like, power metal at it's heart but with modern sounds coming through.

Animals has a goth metal meets SYL sound, but there is more traditional fayre on We Will Rise, Misled and The Fairies Dance which are all folk styled classic metal tracks more in keeping with the theme shown by “Volfram”, the man on the album cover who is holding a guiding lantern and a battle axe designed by the man who has drawn Hammerfall's mascot Hector. For a debut record We Will Rise is a strong statement of intent, it is a little all over the place but with a little refinement they could be a real force on the melodic/power metal scene bringing sounds that many wouldn't expect. 7/10

Rebel Machine: Whatever It Takes (Big Balls Productions) [Matt Bladen]

Hmm Brazilian four-piece from Brazil made up of bearded guys? It's going to be stoner rock right? Well actually no...Rebel Machine are more akin to Foo Fighters with some notes to Swedes The Hellacopters and Backyard Babies. It's full of sleazy hard rocking songs that are made for beer drinking and hell raising, though with a ear for a massive hook and an occasional ballad to show another side of the band. Now even though this band are from Brazil, they have a style that is very American sounding with nods to the European influences mentioned previously. I listened to this album twice fully and neither time it really stuck with me, yes the songs are good and they're catchy, hard rocking and encourage you to play them loud, but 10 minutes after you've finished listening to the record I struggled to recall any of them, maybe it's me, maybe a bigger fan of bands like this would be singing these tracks for weeks afterwards. Unfortunately for me this album is well executed and written but a little throwaway. 6/10

Darkened: Into The Blackness (Chaos Records) [Paul Hutchings]

Four songs. 15 minutes. Sufficient to lay a marker in the ground. Enter Darkened. A heady mix of death metal alumni. Drummer Andy Whale (Ex-Bolt Thrower/Memoriam) links with guitarists Hempa Brynolfsson (Excruciate) and Linus Nirbrant (A/Canorous Quintet/ The Ending), bassist Daryl Kahan (Dimsa) and the gruesome vocals of Gord Olson (Demisery). Into The Blackness is powerful. It’s imposing. Full of heavy riffing and thunderous blast beating drums, delivered with experience, maturity and confidence. Comfortably paced, controlled and yet with an air of menace and malevolence that leaves you slightly uneasy. How Death Metal should be. Become absorbed Into The Blackness. 8/10

Wednesday 21 August 2019

Reviews: Arctos, Skillet, Wicked Stone, Pathology (Paul S, Alex, Paul H & Liam)

Arctos: Beyond The Grasp Of Mortal Hands (Northern Silence Productions) [Paul Scoble]

Arctos are based in Edmonton, Alberta and have been in existence since 2014. The five piece have released one EP in One Silent Spire, which was released in 2017. The band claim to be inspired by frozen wastes and the mountains of the Canadian Rockies, which is appropriately grim and frostbitten as these Canadians play Black Metal, and it does have a little bit of Northern Darkness to it. The band refer to their sound as ‘Melodic Black Metal’ which is fine, but as a reviewer I feel I should go a little further than this in detailing the sound. There is a similarity to Sons Of Northern Darkness era Immortal in some of the material (The opening track The Ancestors Path features a sample of waves that sounds very close to the sample used at the beginning of Beyond The North Waves), there is a similarity in some of the riffing. However, classing Arctos as Immortal copyists would be unfair in the extreme. There is a touch of Immortal, but there's loads of other influences in here, as well as a lot of originality. The overall sound is a mix of Orthodox black metal, Atmospheric black metal and Epic black metal. The other thing that marks Arctos out from a lot of Black Metal bands is the use of Piano, something that gives that Epic feel I’ve mentioned. The album opens with the aforementioned The Ancestors Path, which kicks off with a blast beat that is fairly reminiscent of Immortal before going into a more mid-paced section with harsh vocals, which is driving and purposeful but always melodic.

These 2 moods are repeated before a blasting ending. Shattered Tomb is beautifully melodic, whilst also having a slightly thrashy feel to it. The song also boasts a slow and heavy section before the track blasts to an end. This is a massively energy packed piece of black metal. The first 2 tracks are great uptempo blasting but melodious pieces of black metal, but it’s track 3; Somnos Aeternus where things get really interesting. This track opens with a slow and very melodic segment, it uses keyboards and piano in a way that is much more reminiscent of Epic Black Metal, the style originated by Summoning. Epic Black Metal is just that; EPIC. Somnos Aeternus is huge and multifaceted, it isn’t all about blast beats, but rather about melody, and depth. The track also features some very effective chanted vocals that remind me of the album Echo’s Of Battle by Caladan Brood, and that's just about the best Epic Black Metal album ever released. The Spectre is a short, very quiet instrumental. Autumn's Herald… Interitus brings the epic back, again in a beautifully melodic and tuneful way. There are fantastic chanted vocals, and in the places where it does blast it has a bit more of an Atmospheric feel to it; more measured, less spiky and nasty, smoother blasting than orthodox black metal. The parts where we get piano and chanting at the same time are just sublime. A Realm Beyond is a shorter and more direct, but still has bags of melody. There's a great part to this song where there is blasting mixed with some very florid piano work, that pushes the epic to such levels that I found I couldn’t stop myself from smiling at how great it was, just fantastic.

The Light Beyond The Sky (The Passage II) brings the album to an end in a very pleasing way, as it brings all the different sounds used on this album, together. It opens with some very Orthodox Blasting, before going into an Epic middle section. After this we get more blasting, but it’s in an Atmospheric style, the track then feels more Epic till the end, which is slow and very dramatic. Beyond The Grasp Of Mortal Hands is a fantastic album, which features different styles of Black Metal, but the band manage to unify these different styles. Whether they are doing cold and frostbitten blasting, smoother atmospheric style blasting, or a more Epic and melodious mode of black metal, it’s always Arctos. If you like any of the styles I’ve mentioned, or you like any kind of black metal, or metal in general, there will be a lot to like about this album. The fact that this is the band's first album is amazing, this sounds more like a band that have been making music together for decades. Highly recommended. 9/10

Skillet: Victorious (Atlantic Records) [Alex Swift]

A reading from the book of Alex:

In the beginning, there was only metal. And the Lord looked down in shame at the genre, for he knew that the Metal-heads were wicked, and scornful of thy creator. In his wrath at these entanglements with Lucifer he created the Parents Music Resource centre to decapitate the serpent, Drum’ n Bass to dethrone the serpent and nu-metal to embarrass the serpent, yet with every miracle weaved the beast grew stronger and prospered. Until one fateful day an epiphany did appear to the Lord thy God. ‘Let there be Christian metal’ he commanded, and in scant numbers Christian metal acts petered out, year by year. After his work, the Lord looked at his creation and saw that it was satisfactory. Stryper did emerge yet to heavens woe became a meme. Creed did emerge, yet to Satan’s delight, formed a far better band, fronted by an atheist. Until, one day a band emerged whose copycat antics of the alt metal sound would grow so popular that the scene kids in their multitudes would be heard to sing such anthems as SICK OF IT, blissfully unaware that they were not singing about their parents, but their sin. Skillet would the band be called, ‘like the kitchen utensil but more edgy’ the Lord observed as these hormonal juggernauts of God grew in strength.

Yet a fact we must confide, dear worshiper, is that our heavenly father works in mysterious ways – a rationalisation for everything that doesn’t not quite make sense, and one we must apply for the review you read on your screen. For as the years wore on, Skillet wrestled with the changing of the times. First, the process was laborious as their angsty praises became tiresome to hear. In the year 2016, they damned the world and music with a new album. So vile is that piece that we daren’t often speak of its name in the chambers of music critics, yet many sacred monks were heard to observe at the time that even chapel choirs were more exciting than the dross strewn throughout Unleashed. Find fear though, in the fact that the full extent of Skillet’s decline has been witnessed on Victorious. I too have temporarily sacrificed my decent taste to write these words, for song titles in the vein of Rise UpReach and Finish Line, would surely be enough to make god himself cringe. In flogging this work, the band themselves promised an album with the bite of a crocodile – I dread to imagine the great lizards teeth being wrenched out. Truly though the worst to come was a performance by Skillet on Trump's favourite show, Fox & Friends. So vile and led astray was the act that writers more talented than I have correctly described witnessing the show as comparable to staring straight into the mouth of hell. I might add an addendum to those comments – Akin to hell, only with worse music

Only the fabled prophet Lemmy may ever truly know how the lord reacted on the day he first heard Victorious. Yet trending wisdom foretells, he wept at his mistake and cursed the day he created Christian metal. At his side Jesus – who, upon just returning from a Slayer concert, had no time for his dad’s holier than though crap – shook his head, as if to say ‘I told you so’. At admitting he was wrong for once, the Lord was left flabbergasted and speechless, yet saved the members of Skillet these words: ‘From obscurity you came and to obscurity you shall return, you shall crawl on your belly’s to the tune of Motorhead, and may never again set foot in the garden of heavy metal. I am well disappointed in you.’ From that day forth our master in heaven vowed to never again scorch the earth with a foe as destructive as Victorious by Skillet, to which he quickly added, ‘At least until I get bored’. Sat on his throne in paradise he contemplated how anyone should be able share in the joys of Metal regardless of their race or religion. He remembered how Lucifer, citing punk as an influence, had led a rebellion against the angels. Smiling his wry, godly smile the lord realised that the Devil might have the greatest music after all

Here ends the lesson

Note: No, but seriously, this album sucked 2/10

Wicked Stone: Devil In Me (Self Released) [Paul Hutchings]

Another day, another band from the New Wave Of British Classic Rock. One of a hundred or so bands tipped by Planet Rock as ‘ones to watch’, Wicked Stone have a generic riff heavy sound that is perfectly enjoyable but sounds like a zillion other bands. Big thick chugging sound, solid rhythm section and Joe Hawx’s crisp vocal delivery all point in the direction of Ramblin’ Man, Steelhouse Festival and Planet Rockstock as a future direction. Unsurprisingly, given a quick listen to single Unchained, and the rest of this five-song EP, the band are influenced by Black Stone Cherry and Alter Bridge. Yes, it’s a carbon copy of all the other bands who flood Wyatt Wendell’s faux New Rock Show on the digital station. I have nothing against Wicked Stone; I’ve never met them, seen them live or even listened to their music before. They can play, so I have admiration for them. Unfortunately, they are another band caught in what Matt described in his review of their debut release Ain’t No Rest in 2017 as the ‘Planet Rock Effect’. Two years later, and the ‘effect’ is working its magic once again. It’s just a bit mediocre and does little to light the fire. 5/10

Pathology: Reborn To Kill (Pavement Music) [Liam True]

This may be an odd review, but we’re going to give it a shot. I’m going to split this review into two sections. Instrumentally & vocals, because I need to talk about both.

Instrumental:

Musically, this is such a versatile Death Metal album. From your standard headbanging riffs to sweep picking and everything in-between, it’s got enough heat to melt your face and regenerate another before you can notice what’s even happened. With the ridiculous fret work from both Tim Tiszczenko and Daniel Richardson (Only being in the band since last year) it’ll take some talent to learn what they’ve plucked from their minds and laid bare on this record, but even more talent to do it as flawlessly and easy as they make it sound, with little to no effort at all. The majority of people either don’t care or don’t notice the presence of a bass guitar on Metal albums, but it would be a lonely desolate recording without one. Bassist Richard Jackson (Also in the band since last year) has hit it right on the head. The bass is neither too loud nor too quiet, but it’s there and you can feel its presence. Also not being to technical and not too simple, it’s in the right ballpark for a Death Metal bass sound, making it look and sound technical, but being easy to play. Very nice touch on that one. Then there’s founding member and drummer Dave Astor. The man behind the kit who’s creating the majestic sounding racket, and making it sound as devastating as humanly possible without being a show off. By the end if the album you’re either familiar enough with the music and into it. Or it’s not your cup of tea. It’s all down to your perspective. 7/10

Now we get to the vocals of the album. I don’t want to sound like someone who doesn’t know anything about Death Metal vocals, but I honestly cannot stand the vocals on this album. Forgive me for my blasphemy, but it is just 100% pure cookie monster vocals. You can argue that with me all you want, it’s what I hear. And whenever I hear that, I just can’t take it seriously. I wouldn’t necessary mind, but there’s barely any differential with the vocals on the record. Maybe once or twice on every other song or so it’ll be a different pitch for a few seconds, but that’s it. There’s no grisly tormented sounds. Just, the cookie monster yelling at me for 40 minutes. Shame really. 1/10

Album overall: 6/10