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Monday 30 September 2019

Reviews: Insomnium, The Neptune Power Federation, Implore, Children Of The Sun (Paul H, Matt & Rich)

Insomnium: Heart Like A Grave (Century Media) [Paul Hutchings]

With the Finns previous two albums rightly heralded as modern-day classics in the world of melodic death metal, and both receiving straight 10/10 ratings from me back in 2014 and 2016, the eighth release from Insomnium was anticipated with some wariness. What if they couldn’t follow Winter’s Gate and Shadows Of The Dying Sun? Well fear not, for Insomnium are back with another beautifully melancholic and crafted release containing more stories of bleakness from the North. Bolstered by Jani Liimatainen’s permanent addition to the band as third guitarist, Heart Like A Grave is ten songs and an hour of deep enjoyment. Four composers now reside within the band, Liimatainen’s addition adding to the consistent line up of Markus Hirvonen (drums), Ville Friman (guitar and vocals), Niilo Sevänen (Vocals and bass) and Markus Vanhala (guitar and vocals).

A lone piano opens Wail Of The North, slowly combining with subtle keys which build atmospherically before a wave of crashing riffs add texture. Sevänen’s familiar growling vocal kicks in as the track accelerates, the rest of the band unleashing their fury, with the guitars picking their way through the maelstrom. Hirvonen’s thunderous double bass kick underpins everything. A drop back to the piano before the segue into the full throttle of Valediction, and here we have Insomnium at their most glorious. Like their countrymen Amorphis, Insomnium combine heavy roaring battle metal with wonderful melody, sweet harmonies and intricate passages which warm the heart despite the raw and desperate themes. Neverlast continues the passionate assault, a pummelling intense driving song which you can’t help but nod the head to; the slick changes in tempo and the triple guitar harmonies working in unison.

Having delivered three short tracks, Pale Morning Star arrives. A nine-minute epic which starts with a wall of blast beats and heavy riffing over a solitary piano, before incendiary tremolo riffing blends with choral sounds to rapidly give way to death growls and another high-tempo song. The benefit of the three-pronged guitar assault is clear here, Insomnium now possess a muscular sound that enhances their melodic side rather than smothering it. Pale Morning Star builds in grand style, subtle breakdowns and calmer passages combine with some exquisite lead guitar and rampantly aggressive sections. Five and a half minutes in and the pace slows, a welcome chance to gain oxygen whilst appreciating the gentle acoustic guitars that embrace all, allowing time for the atmosphere to build once more before the song reaches its monumental climax. And Bells They Toll follows, and by now I’m totally sold. Another massively detailed and structured song, the keys are utilised once more to great effect before doom laden riffs kick in. Backed by soaring keys and orchestral arrangements, this is the first track where the clean vocal harmonies arrive on the chorus and they work magically.

It’s an emotional ride on The Offering, a heart string tugged by the perfect melody, which is both catchy and melancholic, whilst Mute Is My Sorrow contains similar hooks albeit at a faster and heavier pace. The use of subtle guitar patterns is evident, the band continuing to flex their song writing structures to excellent effect. Although there is crushing heaviness throughout Heart Like a Grave, the underlying themes are beautifully accentuated using shade and light. Each song contains gentle interludes which provide not only a blueprint for their song structures but allow the listener to truly appreciate the technicality on display. Mute Is My Sorrow contains everything I want in an Insomnium song.

Three seven-minute plus monsters conclude this immensely enjoyable and refreshing album. Twilight Trails starts the trio, a blasting epic with passages of sheer intensity, spiralling riffs once more balanced by slower, calmer sections which once again provide the atmosphere to rebuild. The title track follows, a gorgeously constructed song which starts with the lilt of acoustic guitar and synths before an all-encompassing wave of melancholy washes in, clean harmonies combining with the growling vocals superbly. Symphonic elements join in the middle section before a blistering breakdown strides atop a wall of textured layers. This is a track that demands repeated listening, such is its ethereal beauty. We close this gargantuan release with Karelia, an instrumental track that sits just shy of eight minutes. Karelia begins with acoustic elements that combine with electric riffs and synths, followed by a thunderous doom-laden passage which slowly progresses into a majestic piece. Sweeping and soaring along mountainous segments, this is Insomnium in full flight, the musicianship grandiose and imposing without arrogance. All I can hope for now is a tour to support this magnificent album. It’s time. 9/10

The Neptune Power Federation: Memoirs Of A Rat Queen (Cruz Del Sur) [Matt Bladen]

The Neptune Power Federation (TNPF) plays high voltage psychedelic heavy rock born out of Australian dive bar culture but enrobed in the occult nature of bands such as Ghost. It’s the bands fourth full length and it’s their first for Cruz Del Sur music, guitarist Inverted CruciFox stated that the album took a lot longer than expected but it sounds so huge that they can be forgiven, there are literally layers here to peel back on every listen. The swirling Hammonds vie for superiority with Fox and Search & DesTroy’s swaggering guitar prowess as bassist Jaytanic Ritual and drummer Mr Styx give the album its beating heart. The tracks vary wildly from the woozy psych of Pagan Inclinations which is followed by the galloping proto- metal of The Reaper Comes For Thee, to the Queen-meets-Toto sound of I’ll Make A Man Out Of You through the stomping glam of Can You Dig which opens the record.

As the ethereal Watch Our Master’s Bleed adds Wolfmother-styled riffs to some Enya ambience, finally we have songs such as the heavy rocking, cosmic blues of Rat Queen. The one linking factor being the bewitching vocals of their powerhouse vocalist the Imperial Priestess Screaming Loz Sutch, she has voice bigger than a planet crooning, wailing and conjuring magick with every note. Memoirs Of A Rat Queen is a mind-altering rock n roll album the likes of which I’ve not heard for a long time, it’s 8 tracks of near perfection and should be enjoyed loud but through headphone to truly take in the journey. 9/10

Implore: Alienated Despair (Century Media) [Rich Oliver]

Grindcore is a genre I don’t listen to a whole load of but it’s nearly always a satisfying experience when I do listen. Don’t get me wrong when it’s done badly grindcore can sound bloody awful but when you find a band that does it so right it’s nice to take comfort in the musical equivalent of having your face smashed into a wall for half an hour. Implore are very much a band that grind the right way and with their third album Alienated Despair they are on truly vicious form. Their sound isn’t straight up grind mixing in bits from death metal, black metal and hardcore punk and all the nastiest bits of course. 

Throughout the albums 31 minute duration there is absolutely no respite from the onslaught from opener Faculties Of Time to the aptly titled The Constant Dissonance to the teeth grinding intensity of Never Again (which features Tomas Lindberg of At The Gates on guest vocals). Alienated Despair is a short sharp attack of pulverising intensity that despite its short length leaves you breathless with its sheer intensity. If you like grind that is skull pulversing in its extremity but with moments of dissonance and punishing groove then this album comes seriously recommended. 8/10

Children Of The Sun: Flowers (The Sign Records) [Matt Bladen]

Hey man let's go on a trip, back to the time when the world was experiencing the Age Of Aquarius. I'm talking cheesecloth, peace, free love and flowers in your hair. Children Of The Sun encompass those heady days of 60's San Francisco and the 3 days of Peace & Love that took place in New York. Much like countrymen The Blues Pills Children Of The Sun have a folkier sound that reminds me of Fairport Convention or Buffalo Springfield with occasional hints of the early blues Fleetwood Mac. The title track really makes this hit home with it's rhythmic drumming, simmering organ and the passionate vocals, it's a song that must have been recorded while sitting on the floor in a commune surely?

It's a beautiful song which is part of bigger release that has really nailed that Woodstock vibe. Self proclaimed Hippies Children Of The Sun features 5 ladies and two guys who play as well oiled machine but with the feeling of the late 60's where much like today the political climate was red hot and desperate, however young people managed to gather together with music as their guide and got inspired to make their voices heard. Perhaps Children Of The Sun are looking towards a bigger picture reminding us, the listener that, music unites us so maybe we should focus on our similarities rather than our differences. Or maybe it's just really good psychsoulfolkrock. 8/10

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