Thursday 5 September 2019

Reviews: Sons Of Apollo, Paganizer, Ov Lustra, Wills Dissolve (Matt, Paul S & Val)

Sons Of Apollo: Live With The Plovdiv Psychotic Symphony (InsideOut Records) [Matt Bladen]

Live albums...they can be hit or miss, especially if you've seen the show live before. Some bands thrive on record and others are built for the live arena, I can tell you that progressive metal 'supergroup' Sons Of Apollo are both. Their Psychotic Symphony debut album of one of my top albums of the year in 2017 and their live show in Bristol 2018 also ranked just as highly. So I had a massive grin on my face when the three disc CD version of their performance in Plovdiv Bulgaria dropped and I was able to review it. The show takes the shape of those legendary "Evening With.." shows that Dream Theater have always been known for however here there is a little difference. The first disc is the most of the brilliant set we saw from Sons Of Apollo when we saw them in Bristol, songs from their debut album are played with the virtuosity that you'd expect from some of the best players in the world. Mike Portnoy and Billy Sheenan are the muscular, deft rhythm section that allows the organs of Derek Sherinian to encompass you with their regal majesty as Ron "Bumblefoot" Thal plays some of the best guitar work you'll ever hear. 

Opening with the majestic God Of The Sun it's Jeff Scott Soto who commands the stage throughout his vocals powerful and dramatic aided by both Thal and Portnoy who are good vocalists in their own right. Crystal clear production from Sherinian and Portnoy means that every riff, solo, key change and audience call back can be heard, it's almost as if you were there. Now unlike Bristol the set is little more split up with only one Dream Theater appearing on the first half of the show that being Just Let Me Breathe however we do still get the Sheenan bass solo, Soto's Queen tribute and the Pink Panther before Opus Maximus closes out the first part. Now this is where things get very interesting the second half is performed with the Plovdiv Symphony orchestra meaning that the songs have been picked wisely to work in an orchestral format that's why we get one Sons Of Apollo songs in the shape of the phenomenal Labyrinth which is bolstered by the strings and choirs, the rest of the songs ae covers (and a keyboard solo), two coming from Dream Theater, Lines In The Sand and Hell's Kitchen (the only DT songs played were from Falling To Infinity) and the rest from the bands influences. 

The set opens with Kashmir probably one of the songs best suited to an orchestra ever written, it's majestic and leads into equally mesmerising Gates Of Babylon by Rainbow. Now these aren't slavishly copied the band have put their own spin on them with Soto and Bumblefoot especially stretching themselves, Bumblefoot adds new depth and technicality to 'that' solo on Comfortably Numb as Portnoy gives the Waters vocal. The issue I have with some live albums is that it seems to be a band going through the motions here it sounds as if Sons Of Apollo are enjoying every single minute of being on stage, there is banter between the members that brings a humour while Soto gets emotional about his adopted homeland (his wife is Bulgarian) addressing the crowd in their native tongue, going as far as to share a drink with them during Thal's guitar solo spot that turns into And The Cradle Will Rock by Van Halen , before the final encore of the anthemic Coming Home, where Soto does a call and response mic-less and it's still audible on the CD.

Obviously to get the full effect you'd probably need to also watch the accompanying Blu-Ray (or DVD) but listening to the audio alone is enough to get your pulse racing and help experience just how good this band are live. I could have done without the individual solos on the CD version, as these are usually more enthralling live, though Derek playing Eruption on an organ never gets old. However Live With The Plovdiv Psychotic Symphony is a brilliant live album from a band that transcend that 'supergroup' tag, with the promise of a new studio album in 2020, this album is the perfect way to build your excitement. 9/10

Paganizer: Tower Of The Morbid (Transcending Obscurity Records) [Paul Scoble]

Paganizer have been in existence since 1998, when they grew out of the ashes of the band Terminal Grip. The 4 piece led by Death Metal legend Rogga Johansson, have released 10 albums and a compilation before this album. So, how does the Swedes 11th album stack up? Well, as you’d expect we get 11 tracks of old school, Swedish Death Metal. No surprises there, when a band has been making this sort of thing for over 20 years, a sudden change in direction would have been odd. Tower Of The Morbid is an extremely good old school death metal album. The style is pure Swedish Death metal, so think Dismember, Early Entombed, Grave and if I said they sound a little like Johansson & Speckmann, would I be being too obvious? The riffs are fast, quite tremolo picky, de-tuned and remind me why the early nineties were so exiting. There is a lot of fast simple blasting with a little nod to d-beat, that keeps the album energised and moving along at a great pace. The vocals are obviously harsh, Johansson’s voice reminds me a little of Chris Reifert of Autopsy, but in a slightly lower register. It’s a style that isn’t that up to date, but is packed with energy and is so much fun.

Some of the highlight of this album are- opening track Flesh Tornado feels like Clandestine era Entombed (best era Entombed) mixed with a little bit of Dismember. Fast and flowing, it feels like there is so much inertia and speed to this song, an absolute blast! Cannibal Remains has an opening that is massively heavy and slow before blasting off with some super speedy riffing. The song also boasts a great solo. Drowning In Sand is a mix of fast and mid-paced. The track is fairly simple but that gives it a direct feeling that works really well. Redemptionless has a slow and grinding opening, showing that these guys can do slow and incredibly heavy as well. Before getting all mid-paced and driving for the rest of the song. Rot Spreads is stunning! It’s a blast of fast aggressive death metal that reminds me of how exiting this stuff was when it was new! The Tower Of The Morbid has a slow intro that Bolt Thrower would have been proud of before going into a fast uptempo mid section before getting slow and nasty for the end. The final track Demented Machines brings the album to an end with an incredibly enjoyable blast of flowing death metal with a great solo. 

I have massively enjoyed The Tower Of The Morbid. I have to admit to being a big fan of old school death metal (I remember it when it was just called ‘Death Metal’), so for me this album is stunning. It’s taken the best the early days of Death had to offer and has honed it to near perfection. Everything is done so well, ok it’s not a particularly original album, but with Death Metal this good, quite frankly, who cares? 9/10

Ov Lustra: Tempestas (Black Lion Records) [Val D'Arcy]

It's a bitter-sweet thing, to review Tempestas, the follow up mini album from Arizona's Ov Lustra, or rather, Sun Speaker as they were. Sun Speaker released their debut album only last year in 2018, titled Ov Lustra. It became one of my most played albums of the period, a truly fantastic debut. I honestly thought this band were set on a podium to go on to do great things. Then, early in 2019 they faced a legal challenge to the name Sun Speaker, which, although detail was scarce I understand was something of a personal attack on the band. They rebranded under the name of their first album and forged on, releasing Tempestas, a four track mini album plus some remasters from the debut, as well as instrumental versions of the four new songs. However, shortly after the completion of Tempestas and merely hours after the physical records had shipped, the band announced that Ov Lustra could no longer continue. The reasons given were along the lines of having been damaged beyond repair by the legal issues and deciding to close the book on this chapter. A sad day indeed.

That aside, let's look at what this record has. Four tracks of original, excellent material. If you're a fan of blackened melodeath with some symphonic and technical elements, you'll love this. Familiar sounding sub-genres? Yep, I believe I used the same adjectives only last week to describe the sound of Swedish band Pandemonium, it's no surprise they share the same label (Black Lion Records). Another comparison often levelled at Ov Lustra's sound is that of Fleshgod Apocalypse, again, it won't come as a surprise to learn that the Orchestration on this record has been handled by their very own Francesco Ferrini. That said, their sound is very different, albeit they share some superficial characteristics at a sub-genre level.

The basis of Tempestas is a continuation, rather than a sequel, of the conceptual subject of the debut album. An adventure following the hero of Ov Lustra, a character known as The Speaker. Even without knowing the content of the songs there is enough atmosphere and feeling to give the listener the sensation of being on an epic journey. The moderate use of symphonic elements together with the pace and energy of the melodies creates a captivating momentum. Whilst the crushing heaviness of the riffs, superb modulating vocals, and relentlessly tight drumming entirely devour you along the way. It's brief, over before you know it and it really works best listened to as a second act following the first album. Ov Delicate Rage is a personal favourite on this record. Alas, don't enjoy it too much as there's no more where that came from. 9/10

Wills Dissolve: The Heavens Are Not On Fire (Hypnotic Dirge) [Paul Scoble]

Wills Dissolve are a 4 piece based in Houston, Texas. The band, who formed in 2015 features Nick Block and Andrew Carvana on Guitar and Vocals both formerly from the band Act Of War, who are joined by Branson Heinz on Drums and and Shaun Weller on Bass and Vocals. The band play a very interesting style of progressive extreme metal. It’s mainly progressive death metal, but there are elements of Black and Pagan metal in their sound as well. So, progressive extremity then, but in many ways this band are unique, so trying to push them into genre boundaries seems a little pointless. There are similarities with bands like Opeth (metal era), Enslaved (progressive era), Ihsahn, Rivers Of Nihil, or last years excellent album by Chapel Of Disease, but don’t take that as meaning they sound like any of those bands. 

The similarity is in how the bands mix different styles and allow the music to take them where the music needs to go, and aren’t constrained by genre conventions. Although I’ve mentioned those other bands Wills Dissolve are also totally original and not in any way derivative. The Heavens Are Not On Fire tells the story of the 1833 Leonid Meteor shower, which was erroneously interpreted by American Christians as the beginning of the Biblical Apocalypse. This miss-interpretation was also a tipping point between older, more credulous interpretations of stellar occurrences, and modern astronomy. The band have described the album as being a ‘Meditation On Religion, Violence and Cosmic Chaos’. It is a reissue of their debut album released last year, this time on Hypnotic Dirge records in preparation for a new album coming soon.

Structurally this is a very interesting album. The album contains 5 tracks, 4 very long songs and a 3 minute piano, clean guitar and bass instrumental. The titles of the tracks (and album), form a sentence that describes the subject matter of the album. So, it goes like this: The Heavens Are Not On Fire (track 1), So Do Not Mistake These Ashes (track 2), For Signs From On High (track 3), On This Cold November Night (track 4), 11-13-1833 (track 5). Tracks 1 - 4 all come in at a little over or under 10 minutes, they also seem to merge together, so the last riff of one song becomes the first riff of the next track. This makes the album feel like one huge, nearly fifty minute track, I would be fascinated to learn if they wrote the album as one long song, and then split it into individual songs, or if it was written as 5 separate tracks. 

As I’ve mentioned before the music isn’t really one specific style. The album opens very slowly, with individual tones slowly fading in, in a manner that is very reminiscent to Pink Floyd. Military style drums crash in, announcing a 6:8 riff, that reminds me a little of Primordial. The song speeds up, and harsh death metal style vocals blasts in feeling heavy and expansive. After this, the track changes direction and goes into a clean, folky section with amazingly good clean vocals, with some very impressive vocal melodies. This section, although folky in style, has a little jazz in its sensibilities. After a beautiful clean section the track gets heavy again, but this time it's more extreme, faster with more blast beats, but still melodic and tuneful. This feels huge and heavy, and gets more extreme as the song nears the end, but with an underlying tunefulness that is fantastically melodious.

That's the first track, I could go on describing each track, but this already overlong review would become ridiculous. The other 3 long songs have a similar structure in the sense that each track is multifaceted, constantly changing piece of genius. In the other tracks there are elements of Black metal, in that there are some tremolo picked riffs (some of which are insanely beautiful and melodic), there are huge doom riffs, melodically amazing folk sections, driving death metal riffs that pound you into the ground, and some of the best guitar solos I’ve heard in a long time. What Wills Dissolve also have, is one of the best vocalists in metal. 3 of the members of Wills Dissolve are credited as vocalists; but I haven’t been able to find out who does which voice. The harsh voice is great, very good death metal vocals, but the clean voice is stunning, genuinely one of the best clean voices I’ve heard in extreme metal. The vocal melodies are amazing, they are great on the clean parts, but when the band mix heavy music with clean vocals, my god, it just soars.

The Heavens Are Not On Fire is a staggering album. It’s incredibly diverse in its influences, each track constantly changes, but all the transitions between disparate elements are seamless and so well realised you forget this is a the bands first album. This album has so many massive melodies that get stuck in your head, I’ve been humming this album pretty much nonstop since I got it. The Heavens Are Not On Fire is an astonishing, confounding, remarkable piece of work. It’s going to be a definite contender for my favourite album this year, I have a feeling it will be at the top of a lot of other End Of Year Lists as well. Do yourself a favour and get your hands on this album, it’s spectacular! 9/10

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