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Wednesday 4 September 2019

Review: Ashborn, Monarch, Picture, Botanist (Matt, Paul S, Paul H & Rich)

Ashborn: Awakening (Self Released) [Matt Bladen]

Hailing from that metal heartland of The Midlands Ashborn were the winners of the 2018 Milton Keynes Metal 2 The Masses, citing their influences Machine Head, Decapitated, Vader and Sepultura you've got an idea that they are going to be a band who play the heavy end of metal on this their debut full length record. Awakening has 10 tracks of head banging chest beating heavy metal full of double kick battery, solid grooves and tonnes of aggression. It opens with Mute a piano piece that swells into an orchestral number opening the album with a bit of class, but before long the grinding riff of Monsters which sees Marcin D barking up a storm as the instrumental trio of the band Mietek (guitar), Peter (bass) and Marcin K (drums) supply heavy downtuned riffs.

Ashborn aren't a one dimensional act however, they have a lot of progressive elements in their music as it shifts gears multiple times in the first track, however on Crushed Ant things stay technically precisie with some blistering thrash/death riffage before it breaks down into a solo section, as if it couldn't get any heavier If The Walls Could Speak ramps up the dial that bit more into straight up death metal battery that's continued on Light That Creates Darkness which features some brilliant drumming, though they do drag their knuckles a little on the groove metal of Awakening From Death which is more atmospheric in sound giving another dimension to Ashborn's sound as do the clean vocals on This Is Slowly Killing Us. A ripping tearing slab of hostile heavy metal, Ashborn's debut release is a one to keep an ear out for! 8/10

Monarch: Beyond The Blue Sky (El Paraiso Records) [Paul Scoble]

Firstly, this is not the fairly extreme Doom act from France called Monarch; this Monarch is based in San Diego, California. The two bands are miles apart in style as well, Southern Californian Monarch play a fairly jazzy, form of Psychedelic Rock. Beyond The Blue Sky is the bands second album coming 3 years since their first album Two Isles. The album opens with the track Hanging By A Thread, and after a short quiet intro we are dropped into some very blissed out and melodic psychedelic rock. There is a melody lead guitar that drives the track along, which manages to be up-tempo and relaxed at the same time (neat trick if you can pull it off!). Next track Divided Path starts with an uptempo clean guitar, and is a softer proposition than the track that preceded it. It has a certain amount of drive, but also has loose feel that is really enjoyable. The track then goes into a beautiful jazz part with saxophone break, that John Coltrane would have been proud of. After going back to the softer looser feel again, the jazzy sax takes the song to the end. Up next is the track Pangea, which opens with a nice Mellotron riff, before going into a some uptempo psychedelic rock, featuring a fantastic central riff.

The second half of the song is quieter and much more introspective. On Beyond The Blue Sky the band are channeling The Allman Brothers. The other band this reminded me of was Primal Scream on some of their albums after Screamadelica. This track is a driving rock track with some really great solos, it also reminded me a little of Elder. Phenomena is a short instrumental that has a very dominant harmony guitar section. In many ways it reminded me of some of Queen’s early work, in particular some of Brian May’s playing on Queen IICounterpart opens with some fantastic guitar before smoothing things out for the verse section. The chorus is still heavy and hard rock. There is another really great solo, which this time reminds me a little of Frank Zappa. The album is brought to an end by the track Felo De Se, which starts in a soft acoustic style, in many ways most of this track is a ballad. The song has a dreamy feel to it that is very enjoyable, a Hammond organ helps this. The track gets more heavy and taut as the song progresses, but that relaxed, soft, blissed out feel is there up until the end of the song, and album.

Beyond The Blue Sky is a fantastic album. The pacing is relaxed, none of the songs feel rushed, and that's a good thing. The level of musicianship on this album is really high; the album is packed with great riffs and solos, vocals that fit the music perfectly and have loads of personality. The mellotron, hammond and whatever it is that is making lots psychedelic noises, play their part very effectively. It all comes together to form a brilliantly melodic, relaxing, enjoyable album. Ok, there isn’t that much that is new, but when it’s this good, I’m happy to forgo some ground breaking. 9/10

Picture: Wings (Pure Steel Records) [Rich Oliver]

I consider myself a knowledgeable fan of hard rock and heavy metal having been listening to this music for a good chunk of my life and researched as many different genres and bands as I can, which is why I find myself aghast when I find a band who have been going since 1979 that I have never heard of.  This band is Picture who are mainstays of hard rock and heavy metal in the Netherlands and Wings is their tenth album. Wings is very much an amalgamation of classic rock and classic metal sounds and as such there is a mixed bag of songs on offer throughout from pure heavy metal belters such as Line Of Life, Is It Real and Empty Room which bring to mind bands such as Scorpions and Saxon, hard rockers such as Little Annie with its bluesy leanings and Never Enough with its AC/DC influence to the hammond organ drenched title track and its vibes of Deep Purple and Uriah Heep.

The variations of style and sound make the album an interesting listen as you don’t know what is coming up next but at the same time it gives the album an inconsistent feel. The band put in great performances overall.  The vocals by frontman Ronald van Prooijen whilst not outstanding are perfectly serviceable and definitely compliment the music. The songwriting is consistent and tight but not wholly memorable throughout though there are a few stand out moments. Wings is a decent hard rock and heavy metal album which will appeal to those who prefer the sound of yesteryear. 7/10

Botanist: Ecosystem (Self Released) [Paul Hutchings]

Botanist play highly creative experimental Avant-garde Black Metal or, as they term it, Green Metal. Their latest album is a concept about the ecosystems of redwood forests on the West coast of the United States. Ecosystem deals with mankind's impact on them, particularly calling into question whether humanity has an operating 'ecosystem' of its own It’s an album that at 33 minutes flies by, with a variety of soundscapes that are challenging, welcoming and soothing in equal parts. Eerie and mystical, harsh vocals contrast completely with clean harmonies whilst the musicianship handles the difficult time changes and complex patterns to make for an interesting listen. The songs of Botanist are told from the perspective of The Botanist, a crazed man of science who lives in self-imposed exile, as far away from humanity and its crimes against nature as possible.

In his sanctuary of fantasy and wonder, which he calls the Verdant Realm, he surrounds himself with plants and flowers, finding solace in the company of the natural world, and envisioning the destruction of man. There is much to agree with in the messages here and at a time of rapid acceleration towards mankind’s destruction of itself, the view that Botanist hold rings true. Humanity cannot destroy nature permanently. Nature will bounce back. A complex and though-provoking release, Ecosystem is a very intriguing and compelling listen. Botanist is Otrebor - vocals, Hammered Dulcimer, Harmonium, Lyrics, Daturus – Drums, Davide Tiso – Bass and Cynoxylon - additional Vocals. 7/10

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