For all the Tool fans bemoaning the fact that they have had to wait 13 years for a new album please spare a thought for the Exhorder fans who have been waiting for a whopping 27 years with the previous album by the band being 1992’s The Law album. With such a long wait between releases Mourn The Southern Skies could be crushed under the weight of expectation but thankfully this album is damn good. If you are expecting Slaughter In The Vatican Part 2 then you may be disappointed by Mourn The Southern Skies as this isn’t an all out thrash attack being a far more varied and well rounded album than expected. Being the purveyors of the use of groove within thrash metal there is plenty on offer. Being from New Orleans this album is chock full of down and dirty swampy NOLA groove which sits perfectly alongside the savage thrash riffing. It is a testament to the strength of the songwriting that these two styles can intermingle together so seamlessly. The album kicks off with My Time which is a definite mission statement from the band being an all guns blazing thrashing assault which is guaranteed to have moshers inflicting injury on each other when performed live.
This is then followed by the absolutely sublime Asunder which is a filthy groovy riff-fest of a song with bagfuls of southern swagger. A song that is guaranteed to get people banging their heads. Hallowed Sounds is a song that sits halfway between the thrash and southern grooves and is a good indication of how this album sounds with a good chunk of the songs following this formula. There are also a few other all out thrashers such as the furious Beware The Wolf and the absolutely raging Ripping Flesh. The band save the most different and (in my opinion) best songs of the album until last and that is the crushing title track which is a near ten minute opus of melodic southern groove and doom. The album itself sounds huge and crushing thanks to a stellar production by Jens Bogren and the band themselves sound energised throughout with absolutely furious performances from all involved. Guitarists Vinnie LaBella and Marzi Montazeri deal out a barrage of awesome riffs and killer solos whilst the rhythm section of bassist Jason Viebrooks and drummer Sasha Horn pound the listener into oblivion and holding court over all this is frontman Kyle Thomas who dominates with his furiously aggressive yet melodic vocals.
Mourn The Southern Skies is a fantastic return for Exhorder. One or two songs slightly overstay their welcome but there was definitely no weak points throughout the duration. Fans expecting them to pick up exactly where they left off in 1992 may be a bit disappointed but I’m glad Exhorder haven’t made an album to please the old school fans but have made the album they wanted to make in 2019. The results speak for themselves as the band sound invigorated and like they had a hell of a time writing and recording this awesome album. Welcome the fuck back Exhorder. 9/10
Dragonforce: Extreme Power Metal (earMusic Records) [Matt Bladen]
So eight albums into their career and Dragonforce don't show any signs of slowing down (at least not in the notes department). It's their fourth album with Marc Hudson on vocals and it will be their last album to feature long time bass player Frédéric Leclercq (who was a major contributor to their previous album) and is a continuation back to the sound they pioneered in their early career which was dubbed 'Extreme Power Metal' (thus this albums title) they have been doing this since The Power Within where they became a lot more streamlined playing shorter songs, however since then their song runtimes have crept back up as founder members Sam Totman and Herman Li trade off with fret wankery. Never fear synth fans though as even though Vadim Pruzhanov is no longer a part of the band the keys are here in massive numbers provided by Epica ivory tinkler Coen Janssen with epic swathes of synths and the obligatory gaming bleeps all present and correct.
Highway To Oblivion kicks things off slow and epic before the booster is pressed and Gee Anzalone begins to blastbeat away as Li, Totman and Leclercq all bring the faster than lightspeed riffs that explode into guitar duels as Hudson gives his best vocal performance of any of his records, he is now 'the' voice of Dragonforce banishing any memories of their previous frontman, as he sings of fire, fury and victory. Cosmic Power Of The Infinite Shred Machine keeps the pace at maximum with it's sci-fi theme and flowing middle section as they go a bit prog, however it's not all pedal to the metal mentalism The Last Dragonborn is an ballad inspired by Asian sounds, the Leclerq penned Heart Demolition is a bouncy AOR number that breaks down into some virtuoso guitar playing, the 80's AOR continues on the slick Strangers. Troopers Of The Stars (a song about the seminal Starship Troopers) brings back the classic Dragonforce sound, although with some Gothic piano, it goes on from there until the final two songs really shake things up with the bagpipe laden Remembrance Day and a frenetic cover of My Heart Will Go On, yes the Celine Dion song, which is such a stupid idea it actually works, especially the 8-bit intro!
Dragonforce do Dragonforce, nobody else ever really comes close in terms of the originators of 'extreme power metal' Totman and Li are the cornerstones of the band and while the rest of the line up is fluid with these two on board they will never stray too far, for many they will always be 'that band from guitar hero' but personally they have always been a band I really enjoy and Extreme Power Metal is yet another great Dragonforce album. 8/10
Obsidian Tide: Pillars Of Creation (Self Released) [Matt Bladen]
Formed by Tel Aviv in 2012 by guitarist/vocalist Oz Avneya, Obsidian Tide are progressive metal band with death, folk and classical influences. Now as they are from Tel Aviv you may think that they would incorporate the sounds of Orphaned Land, drawing on their Middle Eastern influences as an addition to the progressive metal sounds. You would however be wrong, as Obsidian Tide owe much more to the Swedes especially Opeth a band who they are obviously heavily influenced by. Now their sound runs from Orchid right through to Sorceress (and probably In Cauda Venenum as well), bringing those sonorous, soulful clean vocals mixed with the harder edged death growls on a musical palette that has numerous textures to it.
Haunting post-metal ambience, some keyboard driven classic prog sections, technically precise riffs, heavy metal fury and even some jazz flourishes. It's obvious from the opening title track that it's Mr Akerfeldt and co that are the main style here, the cleaner off kilter hypnotic opening moves into the heavier aggressive sounds of the chorus, where we get that darkness that creeps into second song Seven, which could have come from Ghost Reveries and has some really classy jazz flute and tabla drums. Along with Oz, Obsidian Tide is made up of Erez Nadler (drums and programming) and Shachar Bieber (bass and harsh vocals) so they are a trio. I'll let you read that again. This album was created by a trio! A 55 minute conceptual piece that also features some guest playing from Symphony X's Mike LePond was written and produced by three men with the assistance of Jamie King for mixing and mastering.
As I said there is a very Scandinavian sound here but it's not all Opeth, there's the gothic resonance of Katatonia on Kings Of A New Realm which opens with some solitary strings before it ramps up again, however the grand piano in the middle section of the song should be jarring but sits comfortably in the diverse nature of the bands sound, as the bass comes back in with some jazz fingerstyle playing. There's also some Enslaved heaviness on Hireath which evolves into a Camel song with more 70's prog overtones. They do spread out to the USA for the complex solos and riffs of Cynic. Pillars Of Creation is an album that is well sequenced (one of my pet peeves is an album that doesn't flow) you can hear there has been time and attention given to it. On The Harbinger And The Millenial Vengeance they bring everything together in 7 minute plus opus that features Mike LePond though it is followed by the explosive 11 minute Magnanimous which has acoustic scrubbing and even a sax break. Pillars Of Creation is a truly excellent album that will keep your excitement at a high level for In Cauda Venenum, however it also lays down the gauntlet for the Swedes. 9/10
Hope Drone: Void Lustre (Moment Of Collapse Records) [Val D'Arcy]
Void Lustre is the latest musical output from Australia's Hope Drone and comes four years since their first album Cloak Of Ash. Black Metal isn't something immediately associated with Australia by most people, save perhaps the few well known acts such as Destroyer 666 (laxly included in the genre), Woods Of Desolation and more recently, Advent Sorrow. That said, Australia's extreme metal output is growing particularly in the blackened death and death metal scenes. Nonetheless, for the most part it's a black metal album, with enough of trademarks to allow it to pass as such; tremolo picking, blast beats, minor keys and depressing themes. That would be a fair categorisation at a high level, but it's a little more complex than that. The vocals are more blackened death with even some hardcore influence. There are regular helpings of atmospheric and post black portions along the way too, which do affect the overall sound of this record, resulting in it being something of an ugly duckling. That's not to say its lacking in self awareness, but it certainly doesn't fit in. At over an hour, this is a long album and it's by no means an easy listen, it requires a degree of both concentration and stamina. The words void and drone are both fitting here, hope and lustre maybe less so; its an overwhelmingly sombre record. The extended post black passages are introspective and at times desolate.
There's a synthetic echo that comes and goes throughout that doesn't quite allow the sporadic returns to traditional black metal to achieve anything that comes close to optimism or even real aggression. Rather, these heavier passages feel emotionally more akin to outbursts of desperation than anything else. The third track, In Floods And Depths is one such interlude and a personal favourite of mine, a beautiful mix of deep, rich melodic riffs and blast beats, punctuated with high pitched, reverberating tremolo picking and intermissions of post black respite; a concentrated distillate of the whole. Interestingly, I listened to Void Lustre on a sunny Friday morning and a rainy Monday morning with distinctly differing experiences. Having struggled to connect with each other on the Friday, emotionally, I was glad to have revisited three days later. The despondency of this album had something of a catalytic effect, triggering a reaction that fused together the grey, misery of the weather and my own sense of hopelessness in returning to work after a weekend at home. I wouldn't be so dramatic as to claim this album to be the soundtrack to despair but aligning it with your own negative associations does bring out the best in it. Put on your moody face and give it a listen. 6/10