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Tuesday, 15 October 2019

Reviews: Officium Triste, Alcest, Angel, Wayward Sons (Paul S, Paul H, Steve & Matt)

Officium Triste: The Death Of Gaia (Transcending Obscurity) [Paul Scoble]

Officium Triste have been making Death/Doom since 1994. The dutch band released their first album Ne Vivam in 1997, and their last album, Mors Viri in 2014. Officium Triste play a very melodic, melodious brand of death/doom, with the emphasis on the doom; they play in the same ballpark as Paradise Lost, My Dying Bride or Anathema, but with a little bit more Death in the guitar sound and the (main) vocals. The album starts with The End Is Nigh, which opens with a huge expansive feel, featuring mournful guitar and strings, it’s heavy but very beautiful. The track is filled with melody despite feeling dense and woeful. The track feels more purposeful as it builds, the guitar and strings seem more staccato, the track ends with strings and keyboards.

World In Flames opens with a sad little piano riff, before the rest of the band come in for a guitar riff that mirrors the piano. The track has a melody lead guitar through most of it, which helps to drive the track along, the keyboards temper this. The track feels controlled and measured, the interplay of rhythm and melody lead is a little reminiscent of Paradise Lost. The track boasts a slow, clean passage that is restful, and tranquil, before the distorted guitar comes back in. The feel for this track is mainly quite relaxed and restful, but for the final quarter the track feels more determined and direct, till the end. Shackles starts with a slightly droning guitar and organ, making the track feel huge, but tranquil. The almost dreamlike tempo makes this a beautifully brooding piece of work. The bands name means a very sad and sombre religious service, this track could have been written for this sort of event. Again we get a sad, almost distraught melody guitar lead. The track ends with a very soft passage that gets more and more menacing till the end of the song. A House In A Field In The Eye Of The Storm is a soft, expansive, melodic instrumental, that reminded me a little of some of Devin Townsend’s more huge and expansive moments.

The Guilt starts with keyboard swells, hash vocals and slow riffs. The track features the fantastic vocals of Marska Van Der Krul, giving the track an extra vocal element that is very interesting. There is a very soft part in the centre of the song that gives way to some very dramatic drums, before the harsh vocals come back in. This gives way to a huge melodic part with lead guitar coming to the fore. Marska is back for the end of the track, bringing it to an end in a breathtakingly beautiful way. Just Smoke And Mirrors, feels more like a piece of Post Rock rather than Death/Doom, clean rhythm guitar, with guitar harmonies. The track gets bigger at times, but it is always pulled back to the Post Rock sound. The track features vocals from Vigo Van Dijk and Chiara Kwakernaak, the 2 clean voices juxtapose the harsh vocals very well.

Like A Flower In The Desert feels more purposeful and direct than most of the other material on the album. The melody lead guitar helps to drive the track forward. The song does have a slow, expansive, heavy section, before going back to the faster and more purposeful feel again. The track ends on the sadder, softer feel, which feels in keeping with the album as a whole. The album comes to an end with Losing Ground. The song has a soft, introspective feel at the beginning before going into a slow and very heavy section that feels darker than the rest of the material on this album. We get another soft, introspective section before things get ridiculously heavy again, before a soft, slightly discordant piano riff comes in to disturb the introspection. The song is then heavy till the end, but as we get closer to the end of the track, more melody is added.

The Death Of Gaia is a fantastic piece of Death/Doom. This is an album made by a band that are clearly masters of their craft. Every track has been painstakingly put together, to create a whole that is stunning. It’s expansive, heavy, beautiful, melodic, dreamlike, effecting, mournful, sad, uplifting and exquisite. This album is so beautiful and so heavy at the same time, and that is quite a trick to pull off. 9/10

Alcest: Spiritual Instinct (Nuclear Blast) [Paul Hutchings]

If you thought that 2016’s Kodama was a beautiful piece of work, then album number six from French duo Alcest will have you thinking once again. Niege (vocals, guitars, bass, synths) and Winterhalter (drums) avoids any chance of pigeon-holing on Spiritual Instinct. This is an album of quality which exceeds what they achieved three years ago. Niege is at his most personal, with six songs that are both darker and heavier than the previous two albums. There is the spectacular pace of Les Jardins De Minuit, complete with multiple changes of pace and style, whilst Protection offers heavy metal tremolo riffing, a total contrast to the ethereal harmonies which overlay the indie back beat of Sapphire’. It’s clear now that whilst the band’s roots were and will always remain loosely in the black metal genre, Alcest have slowly and subtly separated themselves from the genre, without losing the fan base. Indeed, they have gained many new fans with their delicate yet at times blasting intensity.

2014’s Shelter focused on a lighter tempo and production. Here, Niege has delved deep to emphasise the darker heavier feelings which he experienced when fighting to reconnect with his spiritual essence; with a message to seek balance in nature. His angst-ridden vocals and riffing on L’lle Des Morts is balanced with gentle sections; Niege’s inner conflict and desire for self-betterment fuels the spectacular penultimate track Le Miroir. The album concludes with the title track, iridescent, majestic and impressive in equal measure, Spiritual Instincts is the latest stunning chapter in the continuing journey of one of rock’s most consistent and intriguing bands Spiritual Instinct was described by Niege as a ‘cathartic process’, with his own internal pressures fuelling his anxiety. Once you have heard this album, you’ll understand why this was so important for him; but he can rest assured that he has achieved his goal. Just beautiful in every respect. 9/10

Angel: Risen (Cleopatra Records) [Steve Haines]

Before I talk about this album, let me just explain the three broad categories of albums that I have: the first is where an album is so good that it demands my attention. Secondly, an album can pique my interest and sound perfectly pleasant – you can listen to it quite happily but it doesn’t astonish you or have that certain something that elevates it. The final category is an album so execrable that I have to turn it off and curse the gods for allowing me to put that shit in my ears. When I first saw the band picture and album art I feared we may be going down the execrable route – at best I imagined a parody, a poor man’s Steel Panther and at worst a depressing offering from some wannabes stuck in the past. I’m pleased to say I was wrong. This album could quite easily have been plucked from the early 80s in the heyday of glam metal. (Though the band have been going since the mid-70's after being discovered by Gene Simmons - Ed)

It is musically sound – very melodic with great musicianship throughout. In terms of my categories, it is most definitely an album that I can listen to very happily – but does it have something that elevates it? Yes and no. There is nothing in the band’s style and overarching vibe that stands out so in general terms while it is a good album, it isn’t great. But, and like Nicki Minaj, it’s a big, unavoidable but – there is one standout track that is truly exceptional. 1975 meshes the sensibility of 80s glam metal with the finesse and introspection of modern rock. I genuinely had to stop and listen – then listen again. So, while this album won’t blow you away, it is a good album that warrants a few listens, if only for the great 1975. It really feels comfortable, like an old pair of spandex pants! 7/10

Wayward Sons: The Truth Ain't What It Used To Be (Frontiers Records) [Matt Bladen]

Now I really liked the debut from Wayward Sons, the latest project featuring former Little Angels, Fastaway and Gun vocalist Toby Jepson, it had a great mix of hard rock songs on it with some really big hitters. S because of this I was interested to see what their second album was going to be like. Well it turns out that the band have tried to broaden their horizons a little creating a concept album that deals with "fury at the state of the world, and fury at our leaders" That fury is evident in the first three tracks especially on As Black As Sin which deals with Jepson's fury over Brexit and Joke's On You the album's first single where the stupidity of human beings is highlighted.

There are some big ballsy rockers here as you'd expect from this band fronted by a revitalised hard rock troubadour, he takes a more of melancholic, introspective approach on Little White Lies where it has almost a Queen style guitar solo, as does Fade Away which is another slower number with that's theatrical built around just a piano going all a bit Jim Steinman meets Mott The Hoople. It is a shame that Feel Good Hit is no their reimagining of QOTSA's Feel Good Hit Of The Summer but perhaps it's for the best. Like the first album there are different styles featured on this record, with traditional hard rock tracks, ballads, glam stompers and even some punk rock styled fury on (If Only) God Was Real which of course is a song about challenging religious dogma.

The story of the album concludes with the title track full of pitch black humour about 'alternative facts' with the choppy Punchline as it's companion piece to bring things towards a close. Yet again a good record from Wayward Sons this one is not as immediate as it's predecessor but it shows more dimensions to the bands sound that before. 8/10 

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