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Friday 29 November 2019

Reviews: Verthebral, Dawn Of Disease, Rhodium, Tribe Of Ghosts (Rich, Manus & Matt)

Verthebral: Abysmal Decay (Transcending Obscurity Records) [Richard Oliver]

One of the joys of this reviewing lark is discovering bands from countries you didn’t realise had a metal scene. It’s known that South America has a fervent and devoted base of metal fandom but when you think of metal in South America you generally think of countries such as Brazil and Chile so it’s very promising to hear some absolute kick ass music coming from Paraguay in the form of death metal band Verthebral and to hear music this damn good. With their second album Abysmal Decay Verthebral have one mission statement and that is complete and utter savagery.

Verthebral don’t break the wheel by any means when it comes to death metal but just play what they know at an astonishing level. This is death metal very much in the vein of relentless old school brutality such as bands like Cannibal Corpse and Blood Red Throne. The album is aided by a huge sound with a savage guitar tone and a production that is equally raw but also absolutely massive sounding. These songs positively leap out of the speakers and grab you by the throat. It is pretty much a non stop bombardment of cut throat riffing and rhythmic demolition overseen by the thick and intensive roar of frontman Cristhian Rojas.

This album rarely gives you time to catch your breath with the only moments of calm being the acoustic interlude Obsidian Tears and the unusual acoustic section of The Art Of Perversion. The rest of the time it is armageddon for your senses with brutal tracks such as Coronation Of Envy and Testament Of Hate. Abysmal Decay is a phenomenal death metal album by a fantastic band from a country I have previously never heard a single band from. Maybe Paraguay has more metal gems hidden away to be discovered. 9/10

Dawn Of Disease: Procession Of Ghosts (Napalm Records) [Manus Hopkins]

Germany’s Dawn Of Disease are back with a strong effort for full-length album number five. The combination of brutality and delicateness is uncanny, but still seems to be pulled off effortlessly by these talented musicians. The songs are no doubt heavy, but even with chugging riffs, booming drums and aggressive, growled vocals, there’s still a sort of fine beauty to each song, contrasted expertly with the heaviness. The album has a good cohesiveness to it as well, with each song almost naturally leading to the next. Not to say this is a full-blown concept album or anything, but it definitely has a nice flow to it that all bands should aim to have on their albums. Because of its dual nature, this album would work in pretty much any setting, and it’s worthy of a spot in any melodeath arsenal. 8/10

Rhodium: Sea Of The Dead (Sliptrick Records) [Matt Bladen]

Rhodium have only been a band since 2017 but Sea Of The Dead is their second album, with their first being released last year. Now Rhodium are a little bit different to most bands, yes this Greek progressive power metal play the kind of music Helloween originated back in the early 80's, in fact singer Mike Lee is in Keepers Of Jericho a Greek Helloween tribute, thus why he squeals like Kiske at his best. They have brought it in more modern sounds without sacrificing any of the that classic metal melody. Now they are different in the way that Mike is not the bands lyricist that honour falls to Aspa Feanor who draws from numerous themes for the bands songs all linked with the idea of "man and his battle for survival."

Here A Path Of Wrath and Man Of Honor deal with paedophillia, the title track is a tribute to the many who died in the Aegean Sea fleeing Greece, she also has historical themes on The Emperor which is about Emperor Konstantinos Palaiologos. So a very eclectic lyrical base for these songs means that musically they have to live up to it and thankfully they do as Man Of Honour speeds out of the speakers with a thrash sound before Delirio brings a more modern sound as Mike shows his wide vocals range, once again this appears on First Light Of Day which could be a Nevermore song as Loukas Wolv and George Theofilas trade guitar riffs and solos as the rhythm section of Vasilis Sotiriou (bass) and Stelios Pavlou (drums). The mid point of the album is the epic The Emperor which is a cinematic song where the whole band show off their chops as Sister Of Fate features some soprano vocals in a great duet. If prog power metal with a powerful singer and riffs on the heavier end are your bag then I suggest you seek out this Athenian band, I really enjoyed this album which is a far too advanced for just a second release. 8/10  

Tribe Of Ghosts: EP 1 (Self Released) [Matt Bladen]

This EP is the first musical stirrings of Tribe Of Ghosts, a band that employs deafening post-metal soundscapes, full of film samples, ambient waves and crushing riffs. The band features Adam Sedgwick formerly of King Leviathan and he has brought his keen ear for misery to this new band which also features his wife Abby on drums as well as Ben Kitching (bass) and Rob Kuhler (guitar). This three track EP deals with mental health and recovery, channelled through some very loud noise and brooding songwriting. It opens with Ruination which drags it's knuckles across the floor as the samples play over the distortion, it moves into a nice quiet/loud dynamic for the main part of the song as Adam shows off both his emotion drenched clean vocal and the harsh screams as the song writhes into various forms that are all bubbling with rage below the surface.

Sunburner brings more ambient sounds in it's middle section but it also has a very thick chug to it as it climaxes, leading into Nemo which is probably the most straightforward song here built on big riffs and a relentless drum beat. Though it does move into sparse ambience in its middle section as things build again with yet more samples before the cathartic shouts ends the track. You can hear the outright passion in these three tracks, Tribe Of Ghosts clearly have an affinity for loud noises and the more experimental side of metal music, on the back of this EP I will be keeping an eye on this band as they continue to mature as a unit. You should too if post-metal is your bag. 7/10    

Thursday 28 November 2019

Reviews: Lindemann, Edenbridge, Junkyard, Hyperborea (Paul H, Matt & Rich)

Lindemann: F & M (Vertigo Berlin) [Paul Hutchings]

Four years after Skills And Pills was released, F & M heralds the return of Rammstein’s Till Lindemann and Hypocrisy/Pain mastermind Peter Tägtgren and album number two for Lindemann. Unlike Skills And Pills, Till delivers the whole of this release in German. As to be expected, the finished product is polished and neatly produced. The deluxe version includes a Pain version of Ach So Gern and the original version of Mathematik. Now without being super lazy in my analysis, the betting is that if you are a fan of Rammstein, then this album with its fusion of industrial rock and metal will appeal. Tracks like the pumping opening song Steh Auf (Stand Up), the brooding Blut (Blood) and the sinister Knebel (Gag) are both familiar and different to the standard fare offered up by the Rammstein family.

Knebel in particular with Till singing against a single acoustic guitar provides a different approach until a huge riff kicks in and the whole thing gets a bit angsty. The title track is one of my favourites, an underlying Mexican pop feel which makes it almost joyous. There are a few curved balls mind. Ach So Gern is an old school foxtrot, as bizarre as it is infectious, whilst Schlaf Ein (Go To Sleep) could be beautiful or horrifying. Take your pick. If you dislike the coldness and clipped way in which Rammstein and Lindemann deliver their music, F & M won’t change that one bit. However, if you like your industrial with a bit of craziness and a bit of the circus bizarre, this album will certainly be in the list for an essential purchase. 7/10

Edenbridge: Dynamind (Steamhammer) [Matt Bladen]

I know what you're thinking another day, another symphonic metal band with a female singer right? Well Dynamind the latest album from Austrian band Edenbridge who have been in this game since 1998. They are part of the original wave of bands of this type, though it was Nightwish that broke out into the big time, it's Edenbridge who have stuck most rigidly to the sound pioneered by these bands it means that the songs are still driven by the soaring vocals of Sabine Edelsbacher while Arne "Lanvall" Stockhammer provides guitars, keyboards and orchestrations. These are all present from the beginning with the heavy Memory Hunter kicking things off as On The Other Side brings the folky sounds as Sabine's vocals lead the charge not as operatic many in the genre it's still powerful and dramatic on the galloping All Our Yesterdays as the The Edge Of Your World brings thicker progressive metal sounds similar to fellow Austrians Serenity, which continues on The Last Of His Kind a 12 minute epic, as Tauerngold is the album's big ballad. So yes it is another symphonic metal album with a female singer but Edenbridge are one of the originators of this style of music and they have stuck to it meaning that they are still in the upper echelon. 7/10      

Junkyard: Old Habits Die Hard (Acetate Records) [Paul Hutchings]

It was just over a year ago that Junkyard kicked open a can of whoop ass as main support to Blackberry Smoke at the Tramshed. Their punk-fused Country rock got the place warmed up a treat that night before the main event. Having released their first album in 26 years in 2017 with High Water, they’ve clearly got the bit between their teeth with Old Habits Die Hard arriving a mere two years later. The band has picked up where they left off, from the sleazy Blue Sin which allows David Roach to do his best Bon Scott impression through to the powerhouse adrenaline rush of Fall To Pieces, all muscular spit and brawn. I Come Crawling borders on Nirvana style grunge whilst One Foot In The Grave closes the album in traditional fiery style. Good fun when driving fast, excellent for working out to, Junkyard’s punchy songs are certainly worth a listen. 7/10

Hyperborea: Umbra (Art Gates Records) [Rich Oliver]

Umbra is album number three from Bulgarian death metallers Hyperborea and it is also their first album since 2007. The band have a clear love of old school death metal but mixes that with a more contemporary death metal sound ensuring that this album isn’t just pure early 90’s death metal worship. The band mix it up with varying tempos mixing the speed, aggression and brutality with plenty of groove and even some more progressive, technical and melodic moments. Hyperborea certainly don’t sit still on this album with the highlights for me being the relentless Silent Stream and the melodically leaning Atavistic Fear. Umbra is a very solid and enjoyable death metal release which whilst not breathtaking certainly got my head nodding. 7/10

Wednesday 27 November 2019

Reviews: Taylor Hawkins & The Coattail Riders, Tygers Of Pan Tang, Angel Sword, Northerion (Paul H & Rich)

Taylor Hawkins & The Coattail Riders: Get The Money (Colombia) [Paul Hutchings]

I’ve never especially liked Taylor Hawkins. I have no basis for this dislike other than he’s a genuinely good drummer, he’s got rock star looks, he drums in a band where he’s almost as good as the frontman who still allows him sing during their shows, and he keeps appearing in virtually every rockumentary ever produced. He’s also friends with huge swathes of rock royalty and he’s drafted in some big guns on the third album which he’s produced with The Coattail Riders.

As much as I am reluctant to say it, Get The Money is a massively enjoyable album. Plenty of Queen style harmonies as expected, but The Beatles feel of CU In Hell where he duets with LeAnn Rimes is unexpected. Alongside Chris Chaney (bass), Nate Woods (guitar and vocals) And John Lonsteau who produced the album with Hawkins, we get Dave Grohl, Pat Smears, Roger Taylor, Duff McKagen, Nancy Wilson, Chrissie Hynde, Joe Walsh and Perry Farrell. Middle Child features Grohl and has a delicious Cheap Trick flavour whilst the electro pop of Kiss The Ring is as self-deprecating as they come. Get The Money starts softly but soon succumbs to a gentle reggae beat, unsurprising given Hawkins’ love of The Police, Hynde’s smoky vocals combine with Hawkins own tones along with a neat bit of guitar from the Eagles veteran Walsh.

I could do without the Yardbirds cover of Shapes Of Things which features Queen’s Roger Taylor and fellow Foo Fighter Pat Smears, but it’s okay as covers go and you can feel the fun oozing out of the speaker. Elsewhere Mark King pops up on Queen Of The Clowns, and the short sharp I really Blew It sees Dave Grohl, Hawkins and Perry Farrell go for it big time. Get The Money is a quality release. Plenty of variation, pop mixed with rock and yet one more reason to despise Taylor Hawkins. 8/10

Tygers Of Pan Tang: Ritual (Avalon Label) [Paul Hutchings]

Their 2016 eponymous release was a reasonable affair; I gave it a 7/10 at the time and Ritual continues the ride. The Tygers line-up remains stable, guitarist Robb Weir at the helm, along with Micky Crystal on guitar, bassist Gavin Gray, drummer Craig Ellis and Jacopo Meille on vocals. The album starts in rip roaring style, Worlds Apart a crashing melodic metal track which gallops along. First single Destiny is clearly aimed at radio airplay, another melodic fist pumping song that has enough hooks to be memorable. (It also features the song on a car radio as an intro, and we all know that there is only one song that should have this style of intro, and that is Detroit Rock City by Kiss).

Spoils Of War stands proudly as the centrepiece of the album, a solid emotive track followed by White Lines, its typical 80s intro leading to a song about life on the road rather than cocaine use. The Mandatory ballad Words Cut Like Knives follows, as usual a ghastly affair which begs the question why bands bother doing these songs. The remainder of the album is rather generic although the nearly eight-minute Sail On bucks the trend, a brooding simmering track and is possibly the best track the band has written for a long time. The reworking of 1980s Don’t Touch Me There from Wild Cat closes the album and has all the class its title suggests. It’s classic Tygers. The fact that the band continue to work and produce music is to their credit. Robb Weir’s drive undeniable. This is a genuinely decent hard rock album. 7/10

Angel Sword: Neon City (Self Released) [Rich Oliver]

Neon City is the second album by Finnish NWOTHM (New Wave Of Traditional Heavy Metal) band Angel Sword.  Much like the vast majority of other bands in this genre they play old school heavy metal like it is still 1982. A loving throwback to the heavy metal pioneers of yesteryear. Angel Sword don’t particularly have anything about them to make them stand out but Neon City is simply just under 32 minutes of competent old school heavy metal. The songs are punchy and anthemic with plenty of twin guitars and the gruff vocals of Jerry Razors who sounds like a cross between Chris Boltendahl and Rock ‘n’ Rolf with hints of Udo Dirkschneider and Lemmy. The main influences here are NWOBHM bands and a considerable influence from Judas Priest. It’s not original by any means but like all the other NWOTHM bands it is a homage and a throwback to the glory days of heavy metal. A perfectly enjoyable listen for those who love old school heavy metal. 7/10

Northerion: Sky Above // Sea Below (RecordJet) [Rich Oliver]

Northerion are a heavy metal band from East-Frisia in Germany and Sky Above // Sea Below is the second album from the band. Described as a melodic heavy metal band Northerion incorporate a lot of different influences into their sound from classic heavy metal to power metal to melodic death metal to folk metal. This is a real mixing pot of sounds and styles which sounds good on paper but unfortunately isn’t delivered too well. There are two things really holding this album back - the first is the sterile and flat production which sucks the life out of pretty much every song on the album and the second are the vocals by Tim Grögor which have absolutely no passion or enthusiasm to them whatsoever. It really sounds uninterested and just like he cannot be bothered.

 The songs themselves are generally lifeless and boring but there are a couple which stand out above the rest. Valkyries Wings and The Omen Of Fire are the more melodic death metal inspired songs of the album and they have much more energy and urgency to them and also have some added harsh vocals (which also aren’t too good). Sky Above // Sea Below although played well is just a rather dull affair. Aside from the two songs previously mentioned there was little that caught my interest. Apart from the odd moment here and there the rest of the album in general just failed to inspire much of a reaction from me. 4/10

Reviews: Skyblood, Blood Eagle, Agnostic Front, Sorgelig (Matt & Manus)

Skyblood: Skyblood (Napalm Records) [Matt Bladen]

Skyblood is the debut solo album from vocalist Mats Leven who has lent his voice to bands like Candlemass, Therion, Yngwie Malmsteen and is a frequent collaborator with Firewind guitarist Gus G. It has been in works for a while now, as he is kept busy with other projects, Leven has said that this album represents him as a musician and the theme is to "Wake up to the truth, the dark and hypnotic" As soon as a saw this I wondered what sort of style of music it would be due to the eclectic nature of Mats work, well it seems he has thought he same thing by throwing various different genres from classic metal to doom, melodic rock to industrial metal, into one big progressive crock pot and stirring it into one big politically charged record, that thematically reminds me of Queensryche on opener The Voice which displays Mats incredibly versatile vocal prowess as he rages, The Not Forgotten is more doomy, with choral swells and a huge chorus hook. 

The album was recorded/mixed/produced by Leven himself and he's done a great job here compiling the performances from the numerous guest musicians to make these songs complete ready for his Kiske/Tate/Sammett styled croaking lows and soaring highs on the dramatic Once Invisible which is built upon a a persistent piano. This is a very dark, mature metal album from Mats Leven, it dwells in darkness revealing some glimpses of light, it is an angry rallying cry against the current state of the world with a dramatic metal background. If you have any interest in Mats Leven's vocals or any of the bands he's been in then you'll find a lot here to enjoy but if not it won't change your mind, still a worthy addition to his catalogue. 8/10

Blood Eagle: To Ride In Blood & Bathe In Greed III (Nuclear Blast) [Matt Bladen]

So finally the third part of Danish Supergroup Blood Eagles trilogy of EP's that make up their debut album is released. The previous two have moved from old school nasty death metal on the first part into the more modern style on the second. So I was interested where they were going to go on this the final part of their debut release. It all kicks off with A Life That Rots Away, a thunderously heavy number with some more crunching riffs and yet more aggressive vocals. This one has a lot of groove to it and is quite proggy twisting and turning as Worship The Wolf is slower taking a grinding approach the rhythms section slamming the noise into you as it beats you down. Wall Of Hate is the final number and it brings back the old school vibe providing a galloping end to the EP. My advice is play all of these together, as this third one is probably the weakest but as an entire piece it's a very strong, heavy death metal release. 7/10

Agnostic Front: Get Loud! (Nuclear Blast) [Manus Hopkins]

Band’s in Agnostic Front’s position are at a good place, career-wise. The New York hardcore group has been at it for nearly four decades, but has maintained a steady output of albums through its career, meaning there is no anxiety surrounding the idea of them having lost their touch during extended time off or anything like that, like there is with many of their peers. Agnostic Front is as loud, aggressive, and purely punk as ever on Get Loud!, with track after tracking packing mean swings and hard punches. Before the first track is even over, any listener should know what the rest of the album will consist of. It’s all raw, simplistic punk, and that’s all it needs to be. Agnostic Front has been doing this for ages—they know there’s nothing they need to change.7/10

Sorgelig: We, The Oblivious (Independent) [Manus Hopkins]

Black metal can be excellent when it’s done right, but it can also be disastrous when it’s done wrong. It seems Greek group Sorgelig has managed to concoct a formula for consistently well-done black metal. It’s easy to see their influences; everything from their riffs to their cover art is dripping with Darkthrone worship. This isn’t a bad thing, because they still manage to take the music in their own direction and update the sound and atmosphere a little bit, while staying true to the raw black metal feel. The album starts off with punchier, to-the-point songs and ends with two nearly nine-minute epic tracks, one of which being the album’s real standout tune, A Thousand Skies To Drown In. That’s not to discredit any other song on the record—it’s a solid album throughout, and though it can be enjoyed again and again, will still leave any black metal fan eagerly waiting for new music from Sorgelig. 8/10

Tuesday 26 November 2019

Reviews: Scarleth, Noctem, R For Renegade, Coilguns (Stief, Rich, Matt & Liam)

Scarleth: Vortex (Casket Music) [Stief Illingworth]

As soon as the album starts, it’s obvious what Scarleth are all about; Speed, heaviness and melodies,and they rarely stop through the entirety of the album. Feel The Heat opens with synths by Yana Kovalskaya, before Victor Morozov starts to riff, joined by Igor Chumak and Philipp Kharoukadding even more heaviness on bass and drums respectively, and then Ekaterina Kapshuk’s voice kicks in. Her voice fits perfectly with the dark, gloomy atmosphere the band seem to emanate. There’s a gothicness to the band’s sound, giving vibes of early Lacuna Coil in places, while still retaining their own style, even adding some middle-eastern influences with the guitars. Although many could easily compare Scarleth to their peers in the Melodic female-fronted section of our vast metal world, it’s obvious that Scarleth are paving their own path. Definitely keeping an eye on these guys! 8/10

Noctem: The Black Consecration (Art Gates Records) [Rich Oliver]

Noctem are a name I’ve heard somewhere along the line but not a band I have previously heard anything by and so The Black Consecration which is the fifth album by the Spanish black metallers is my first exposure to the band. The Black Consecration is an apt name for the album as it definitely ordained me into the church of Noctem. On this album Noctem play a very visceral style of black metal which feels equally vast, epic and melodic as it does raw and violent. As with most melodically leaning black metal bands the melodies here are not pretty and seep a malevolent atmosphere.

There are some acoustic passages which give off the same ominous vibe as the heavy distorted parts. The classic black metal traits - tremolo riffs and blastbeats - are used to full effect with the drumming by Voor being especially manic with some insane speeds reached with his blastbeats. The vocals by Beleth are a mixture of black metal screams and guttural growls with both used to good effect. The Black Consecration is an excellent album by Noctem and a very impressive introduction to the band for me. It’s black metal which whilst melodic in nature has a wholly oppressive and sinister atmosphere about it. A great listen. 8/10

R For Renegade: Who We Are (Self Released) [Matt Bladen]

We...ok I, review a lot of Greek bands on this blog. This is mainly due to my other half being from the country originally so, we do get inundated with bands wanting reviews, as well as that I do also like to actively seek out Greek bands, who if they are playing the country in future I could go and see. It’s not often that I have seen any of the bands from the country I review, but there are few exceptions most notably Scars Of Tears and Κούπες both from my partners home city of Kastoria in Northern Greece. I’ve now got another name to add to that very small list in R For Renegade a band I saw supporting Scars Of Tears and Κούπες in Kastoria.

Now ok it’s not a great name and in the live reviews I was a little harsh on the band noting that the vocalist didn’t have the best voice so with a little trepidation I pressed play on their album. I was pleasantly surprised with what came out of my speakers as R For Renegade’s album is really enjoyable, emotional alternative rock album. Soaring guitars clean guitar lines are boosted by a crunch while some modern production techniques mean that the record has definitive contemporary edge. Nowhere To Run has a touch of Karnivool as brand New Start brings a more emotional edge as the title track pairs ambient acoustics with rippling electronics and Back To You is a proper ballad sitting in the middle of the album. Who We Are is very good record from these Greek rockers and while they have yet to wow me live, this album made me want to reconsider. 7/10

Coilguns: Watchwinders (Hummus Records) [Liam True]

I’m not into the Hardcore scene that much but there are a few bands I'm fond of. I can safely that that Coilguns are not in that select list. The album is an odd one as it’s experimented with Hard Rock and Hardcore. But the sound of the album and the horrific vocals just destroy the atmosphere for me. If that’s the sound they were going for then that’s completely their choice, but for me I'd rather a more polished and coherent sounding album. To me it’s just a sludgy mess of incomprehensible bashing of instruments. Let down by this as I was looking forward too it. Shame really. 1/10

Reviews: Grand Slam, Fleshgod Apocalypse, Taraban, Quiet Riot (Reviews By Paul Hutchings)

Grand Slam: Hit The Ground (Marshall Records)

Initially formed as a touring project by Phil Lynott when Thin Lizzy disbanded in 1984, Grand Slam were never able to create a permanent record of their music before Lynott’s death in 1986. Guitarist Laurence Archer (formerly of Stampede) had stepped in to replace John Sykes when Whitesnake came calling and he had been pivotal in reforming the band. Vocalist Mike Dyer delivers a strong performance, resembling Lynott in his style without attempting to clone the Lizzy frontman. Songs that Lizzy fans will be familiar with here include Dedication and Military Man, the harrowing song that saw Lynott in the grip of his demons during performances with Gary Moore shortly before his death. A combination of new material and older tracks should please Lizzy fans and Archer, who also had a stint with UFO gives a solid effort alongside Praying Mantis drummer Benjy Reid and ex-Quireboys bassist Dave Boyce. Whether there is a need for Grand Slam is a question for another day. Alongside the Black Star Riders, Grand Slam fill the void that was so beautifully filled for those 12 years from 1971. 7/10

Fleshgod Apocalypse: An Evening In Perugia (Nuclear Blast)

Recorded in their home city of Perugia in 2018, this recording was released as a bonus disc with this year’s phenomenal Veleno which was released back in May. 13 tracks which highlight the sheer intensity and power of the symphonic death metal group. Tracks include Healing Through War, Minotaur and a blistering Gravity which allows the classical style and the bruising death metal of the band to merge in perfect harmony. Veronica Bordacchini’s soaring soprano complements the gruff style of Francesco Paoli and Paolo Rossi. The audience participation is impressive, such as The Violation where the home crowd join in the with intro. No doubt heavily overdubbed and polished, this release still offers a fascinating insight into one of metal’s most intriguing bands. 7/10

Taraban: How The East Was Lost (Self Released)

Named after an Eastern war drum, How The East Was Lost is the debut album from Polish three-piece Taraban. The band have released two EPs prior to this long player following their formation in 2013. The album is about the eastern state of mind, the epic struggle it brings and the romantic side of being born to lose. Opening with the ten-minute plus Last Laugh, Taraban embark on a psychedelic journey which transports the listener far away. The track climaxes in a raging crescendo of Macieji Trojanowski’s fiery guitar work. Along with Trojanowsi, haunted vocals from Daniel Suder who also plays bass and Kris Gonda’s elegant drumming are supported by guests Kuba Jaorski (keyboards), Wiktoria Tabak (backing vocals) and the saxophone of Alex Clov. Their sound ranges from trippy psychedelia to more ferocious stoner rock, such as the rage of Backseat Driver whilst the space trip of White Lies takes influence from Hawkwind, Ozrics and the rest. It’s a competent debut in a field where competition and quantity can sometimes overwhelm quality. Taraban have produced a decent release for their first album. 7/10

Quiet Riot: Hollywood Cowboys (Frontier Records)

Forever to be tainted with the motormouth Dubrow era of Metal Health, the awful Slade cover and of course the legacy of Randy Rhoads, Quiet Riot are much more than that, and the band have stoically pushed forward over the past four decades. Their history is blighted by numerous legal fights over the name and publishing rights but Hollywood Cowboys, album number 14 is a reasonable piece of work. Featuring James Durbin before he left the band to be replaced by Jizzy Pearl, it is also the first release since drummer Franki Banali’s diagnosis of pancreatic cancer. Banali, now 68, gives a solid performance, anchoring 12 songs which vary greatly. Durbin’s vocal delivery is one of the highlights of the album, alongside Banali’s steady beat and the slick guitar work of Alex Grossi. Songs range from the glam rock of opener Don’t Call It Love, the sleaze rock of The Devil You Know and the explosive guitar work on Insanity, which drives forward at a colossal pace. It’s polished and well-delivered and about as much to my taste as John Smiths Smooth. Yet there are some highlights and Quiet Riot demonstrate that there is life in one of rocks oldest dogs, now at least. 6/10

Monday 25 November 2019

Reviews: State Of Deceit, Novembers Doom, Moonskin, Bad Wolves (Paul H & Manus)

State Of Deceit: Retribution EP (Self Released) [Paul Hutchings]

Although still in their infancy, Retribution is an EP of such massive stature that you could easily be forgiven for thinking that State Of Deceit were entering their second decade as a band. The opening, muscular riffs of Tattered Life leave no shred of doubt that the band mean business. Thunderous double bass drumming from Matt Toner, guttural roars from Pete Scammell and some crunching guitar work tick all the boxes. You want groove? You’ve got it in spades here. Clean vocals mixing with the rough growls? They are here too. Everything from Machine Head to Pantera to Architects mixes cohesively in this incendiary package. Vengeance accelerates with more cranial crunching. Riffs are raining down as the band power through. It’s catchy, it’s thrashy, it’s infectious. I’m not over keen on the sudden application of the brakes as the band slow things slightly, but it does provide Jon Russell to spill a sweet solo before the band ramp up the pace again as the track gallops to its conclusion. Two down and four still to come. This is already impressive stuff.

When Worlds Fail utilises Matt Wilson’s powerful bass lines, the deep rolling linking with powerful drumming to propel the track forward. Visceral and malevolent, State Of Deceit add social observation into the melting pot to great effect. Track four is a beast. No Solace offers a blend of Sabbath and Pantera, Scammell’s clean vocals providing an interesting contrast with his beastly howling. The simple crunching guitar work bringing all the heavy. The Black changes pace and tone, the vocals centring on clean melodies to good effect. A lighter punkish tone to this one, but it retains the meatiness that is a signature sound. Onto the final track and Vipers is set to pulverise from the off. It’s rough, tough and brutal. This is pit inducing mania, roaring vocals, a ferocious combination of blistering drums, burly riffage and maximum power, melody retained and hooks once more sinking deep.

State Of Deceit have played Fuel several times this year. They were unlucky when I saw them at M2TM with Matt Toner absent. Further reviews of the band on the blog have been favourable and if they can capture the blistering form of Retribution, I would expect them to be powering towards the final next summer. For now, ensure that you grab a copy of one of the most exciting EPs to hit South Wales in recent times. You won’t regret it. 9/10

Novembers Doom: Nephilim Grove (Prophecy Productions) [Manus Hopkins]

Novembers Doom are long enough into their career and have a steady enough input that there’s no cause for worry when it comes to a new album. The doom veterans clearly know what they’re doing at this point, and hopefully fans know what they’re in for at this point too. The chilling riffs and the duality of calm and aggressive vocals blend together incredibly throughout the record, while the intricate drumming goes beyond keeping a beat and adds another layer to the sound. The songs would translate well to a live setting, but the record is more than just a batch of songs one or two or two of will be played a live. A thorough listen and any number of re-listens to the entire record are worth it, and recommended. 8/10

Moonskin: Farewell (Self Released) [Paul Hutchings]

Six years since Moonskin formed, and we finally get their doom-soaked debut Farewell. Featuring the moody vocals of the enigmatic Delora, this riff-heavy album focuses on dark poetry and fantasy from the 18th and 19th centuries. Lengthy, slow crushing tracks are interspersed with short musical segments which segue each track. Dramatic and emotional, Delora bears a striking similarity at times to Harriet Hyde, singer of Black Moth. Dead Cursed Lands is switches styles and tempo several times during its near ten-minute journey. Huge riffs dominate the explosive Suffer which careers along like an angry bull before the haunting intro into Queen Of Misery switches the mood with sinister almost evil intent. Crunching guitar, variety of vocal styles and a gothic overtone which improves with every listen. Moonskin may be new on the scene but I’ll be keeping a keen ear for their future developments. 7/10

Bad Wolves: N.A.T.I.O.N. (Eleven Seven) [Manus Hopkins]

Bad Wolves is known as a band whose best song is a cover—and unfortunately, sophomore album N.A.T.I.O.N. fails to do anything to change that. Their radio-metal sound is at best derivative of Five Finger Death Punch and at worst a poorly-executed Slipknot imitation. The pop choruses that are meant to be catchy are instantly annoying, and the guitar suffers greatly due to unnecessary low down-tuning and an overly beefy tone. There’s really just not a whole lot to enjoy on this record. Listening to just a few songs gives a feel for the rest of the album, and there are no hidden gems here. What might be good news, is that Bad Wolves isn’t worse than any of the other bands making this exact music. There’s actually a scene they fit right into it despite the quality of their songs. Great work on the production, though. 3/10

Reviews: Cattle Decapitation, Dark Fortress, Project Ruins, Necrotted (Dr Claire/Charlie, Paul H, Zach & Rich)

Cattle Decapitation: Death Atlas (Metal Blade Records) [Dr Claire Hanley & Charlie Rogers]

It’s been 4 whole years since The Anthropocene Extinction. No wonder the 3 months since Cattle Decapitation first teased us with their new material has felt like a lifetime. We knew we were in for something a bit special but had no idea the extent to which the band were going to level-up on this record. Known for their lightning fast riffs and precision blast-beats, this album more than delivers on that front, but the band have clearly evolved and we’re treated to a more coherent sound this time around. The production quality is second to none. Dave Otero is a master of the mixing desk and showcases his ability to capture the full spectrum of the bands vision for this record. From eerie melancholic laments through to brutal skull-bashing riffs, this album is an absolute rollercoaster – taking you through a myriad of dynamic tempo changes and atmosphere-building interludes.

You get a sense of foreboding with the opening track as newscasts from across the globe deliver warning of our impending doom. Slightly too laboured but it more than sets the tone. Then, out of nowhere, you’re dropped into oblivion. The Geocide is a total gut-punch, a visceral display of brutality. Travis Ryan’s vocals are on-point and as grotesque as ever, and David McGraw delivers his usual earth-shattering double kicks, particularly during the intro. This is a relentless freight-train of a track. Be Still Our Bleeding Hearts highlights Olivier Pinard’s prowess as one of death metal’s top bassists; a welcome new addition to the line-up since the previous record. From first listen, Vulturous was a standout track, featuring a number of catchy riffs and killer hooks from dream team Josh Elmore and Belisario Dimuzio. There’s a much fuller guitar sound throughout the whole album, which will no doubt be due to Belisario being made a permanent member of the band; after touring with them for a number of years. The track closes with an air of decompression; it literally feels like you’re melting. Gradually disintegrating into nothingness.

After a brief interlude with The Great Dying, we’re into more familiar territory with One Day Closer To The End Of The World and Bring Back The Plague. The former takes the meaning of groove to a whole new level, while the latter is reminiscent of material from The Harvest Floor (specifically the track A Body Farm) with an almost Flamenco style breakdown. You could tango to this shit. One of the slower tracks on the album, Absolute Destitute isn’t your average Cattle Decapitation track. It’s definitely intense but not because of break-neck speed. Following The Great Dying II, Finish Them is another lesson in groove. Its driving pace demands your attention. There is a real sense of purpose, echoing the theme of the album, and you can’t help but take notice.

By the time, With All Disrespect graces our ears, despite a solid performance on all fronts it feels a bit samey, but Time’s Cruel Curtain turns things around, with its sense of devastation. It’s all about the atmosphere and the aura of beautiful destruction, which leaves you repenting for your sins. This is matched by the following track, which further emphasises this haunting melancholic beauty. The Unerasable Past even features a clean vocal performance, which works perfectly in this context - highlighting Travis’ versatility and showcasing his ever impressive talent. Flowing seamlessly into Death Atlas, this 9 minute long track is your last helping of pounding drums and aggressive riffage, which ties the album together with the effect of leaving you amongst the smouldering ruins. A premonition of our ultimate demise - a funeral for all mankind.

On reflection, the overall standard of the material is very high. There is a real sense of purpose and the message is clear. There are certainly highlights but consistency can sometimes be a poisoned chalice, with some of the tracks blending into the background. Nevertheless, Death Atlas is a fine addition to the Cattle Decapitation discography - certainly worthy of a place in the top-5 albums of 2019 so far. 8/10.

Dark Fortress: Stab Wounds - Reissued (Century Media) [Paul Hutchings]

Ahead of their new release Spectres From The Old World, which is in its final stages of production, what better time than to revisit the epic third album from German Black metallers Dark Fortress. Originally released in 2004, this is 69 minutes of brutal darkness and contains some of the band’s seminal tracks. Vocals from Azathoth sound as good today as they did fifteen years ago, his haunting delivery throughout chilling and potentially underrated. Three members of the line-up on Stab Wounds remain with the band to this day; guitarists Santura and Asvargr and drummer Seraph and their performance also stands the test of time with ease. Pivotal to the whole album is When 1000 Crypts Awake, the classic track from a phenomenal release. Flanked by the bludgeoning title track, the frenetic Despise The Living and the spellbinding closing track Endtime, this reissue is a welcome reminder that the return of Dark Fortress in 2020 should be a highlight of the metal calendar. 8/10

Project Ruins: Closing The Season (Self Released) [Zach Williams]

Let's face it, we all do weird stuff on the Internet. Whether it's freely releasing your sensitive personal data or having some 'alone' time, it's undeniable that we spend a hell of a lot of our lives online. It was only a matter of time that the power of the internet was harnessed in service of metal. Enter Project Ruins and their long awaited second album Closing The Season – an album written, recorded and produced by musicians from all four corners of the globe. Project Ruins is the brainchild of musician David Beaumont who scours the internet for co-collaborators to help him bring his vision to life, and for the most part they do it justice.

The guitar work is great. It’s blisteringly fast and technically impressive while remaining catchy enough to get stuck in your head. They’re backed by a rhythm section so tight it bewilders me that they haven’t spent the last ten years practicing together, let alone never even met in person. For the most part the vocals are a Randy Blythe-esque barrage of growling fury which lend themselves nicely to the heaviness on display. There are clean vocals that crop up throughout the record that I felt could have been stronger, but for the most part this is a genuinely impressive display of what can be achieved by total strangers on the internet. Unlike 4chan. 7/10

Necrotted: Die For Something Worthwhile EP (Rising Nemesis Records) [Rich Oliver]

Let’s get this out of the way first. I hate slam. It’s dull, repetitive, uninspired and just a bit stupid even for death metal. Necrotted are a German slam death metal band with Die For Something Worthwhile being the new EP from the band following a previous EP and three albums. Now with this being a slam release I fully expected to hate every second of it but whilst I didn’t particularly enjoy the EP it is not the worst slam I have been subjected to. Necrotted definitely have far more musical skill than the average slam band employing influences from technical death metal into their sound as well as the standard simplistic chuggy riffings and stupefying breakdowns the slam genre is known for. The breakdowns themselves are actually fairly restrained and used to a minimum with the intent of this EP to bludgeon with riffings and blastbeats instead.

There were even tinges of melody throughout as well to my complete surprise. There are two vocalists in the band with one doing death metal growls and the other a more hardcore style. Neither particularly stand out but neither are they unlistenable. Necrotted have released a surprisingly ok EP here. The tech death influences surprised me and I hope this is an area they build upon rather than the stagnant idiosyncrasies that slam death metal usually has to offer. There isn’t enough here for me to revisit the band but in future I won’t completely write off a band when I see the word slam. 5/10

Sunday 24 November 2019

A View From The Back Of The Room: Hawkwind (Live Review By Paul Hutchings)

Hawkwind and The Black Heart Orchestra, Tramshed, Cardiff

It’s a sad reflection on society, or maybe that should be on the scumbags in our society that Hawkwind’s pre-gig backdrop projections is aimed at drawing wider awareness to the plight of lost and stolen dogs across the country. Heart-breaking pictures of several hounds, some long gone from the family home are displayed along with their names, and contact numbers. Futile maybe, but if it made one person a little more aware then I’m all for it.

Just as disappointing, were Mancunian duo The Black Heart Orchestra (4). Having endured the complex looping and samples of this strange ethereal outfit last year, I was gutted to find I was in way before they took the stage. The volume of chatter during a support band tells you everything and at times it was difficult to hear Chrissy Mostyn and Richard Pilkington's tunes. Not a lot to get excited about. Twee and a little dull.

There’s something about Hawkwind that draws an eclectic audience. Celebrating their 50th anniversary on this latest tour, a bursting Tramshed saw a cross section of crusty rockers, younger curious metal heads and a fair spread of ‘normal’ generally ‘older’ folk. So many acrylic jumpers poured into the venue that after about 45 minutes of soaring heat, the powers that be deigned to fire up the air conditioning for fear that the spontaneous outbreaks of ferocious ‘dad dancing’ that erupted in pockets around the venue might cause a) material combustion and b) cardiac arrests.

My first review of the band for this esteemed publication was over six years ago when the band played The Coal Exchange. Since then I’ve seen Hawkwind (9) at the Tramshed and twice on their sojourn across the UK with the Mike Batt Orchestra last year. Not my first viewing of the band who were spawned in Ladbrook Grove half a century ago though, that dates to the mid-1980s. 50 years and the band show no signs of slowing. Date ten of a 15 strong tour across Britain which culminates in a show at the Royal Albert Hall on 26th November, the band were in fine form and delivered a two-hour set that combined five tracks from their excellent All Aboard The Skylark with a perfect scattering of old school songs.

A collection of banners, representing some of their most well-loved album covers flank both sides of the stage, a large backdrop projects visual stimulation throughout, and the usual mind-blowing laser set ensures that those who still dabble can enhance their rocket ride. For those of us who now rely on a simple beer to get us to special place this is no less effective. The band casually amble on in semi-darkness, Levitation’s ageless Motorway City complete with racing highways on the screen opens the evening. After last year’s absence, a welcome return for Tim Blake, whose battle to ‘tame’ the Theremin across the evening became an addictive bizarre focal point. The alien themed Flesh Fondue follows, one of the best tracks the band have written in years in my opinion but lost on at least 60% of the audience. Magnus Martin takes centre vocals for Last Man On Earth, another of my favourites from All Aboard The Skylark; annoyingly much of the Hawkwind crowd are still parked in 1978 with the handbrake on and sporadic chatter starts. It soon fades as the Robert Calvert cover The Song Of The Gremlin (from Calvert’s 1974 album Captain Lockheed And The Starfighters) segues into an extended Born to Go, the first opportunity for those with the urge to cut those dangerous shapes; Captain Dave Brock and crew hit the space accelerator and the bloke in front starts to twitch. Ominous signs.

It’s Spirit Of The Age that really ignites the crowd and forces the introduction of the sweet cooling air. Sing-a-longs galore; this is a fan favourite and it races along, the Calvert penned lyrics and the underlying rhythmic electronic pulse as heady now as they were on 1977’s Quark, Strangeness and Charm. The bloke in front has stopped taking photos of the light show, wrapped his coat around his waist and rolled up his sleeves. He means business and warms up with a few lightweight moves. It’s coming. Meanwhile on stage the banter between Brock (shall I mention here he’s now 78!), drummer Richard Chadwick, Martin, Blake and Niall Hone remains light and humorous. The band is totally at ease.

A couple newer songs entertain me but the energy dips slightly in the venue. Many are a bit confused when Motorhead’s Phil Campbell arrives on stage. His Bastard Sons only blew the roof off the venue 11 days earlier after all. Not that many in the room were there that night. Still, we get an excellent homage to Lemmy with a blinding version of The Watcher followed by a frenzied Silver Machine, sung with style by Richard Chadwick. The venue roars. An image of Lemmy on the screen after The Watcher is poignant and a demonstration that after all these years, there was no malice towards the much-missed legend. A moment to savour. Assault And Battery segues into The Golden Void and Right To Decide (from Electric Tepee no less) and the band troop off. Cue the venue’s most distinctive security guard perched high on the crash barrier at the front, conducting the “Hawkwind” football chant with his torch. The bloke in front leads the way. It’s all a bit surreal. And fitting.

The obligatory return to the stage, band introductions from Captain Brock probably unnecessary but completed. A rip-snorting Hurry on Sundown hurls the bloke in front into a frenzy, his Bucks Fizz moves now complemented by a Rhondda two-step; this is 11pm wedding reception quality sharpness; he makes Danny Bowes look utterly ponderous with his MC Hammer finisher. Master Of The Universe is immense. It finishes the bloke in front; he’s spent in a sweaty heap, regretting that tomorrow morning he will be back at his dentist’s surgery, thinking about last night and then switching thoughts to his next trip on his yacht. “Somewhere sunny? But where” he muses. We may not have had as good a time as him, but for the rest of us that was Hawkwind at their most sublime.

Setlist: Motorway City, Flesh Fondue, Last Man On Earth, The Song Of The Gremlin (Robert Calvert cover), Born to Go, 65 Million Years Ago, In The Beginning, Spirit Of The Age, The Fantasy Of Faldum, The Watcher (feat. Phil Campbell), Silver Machine (feat. Phil Campbell), Assault & Battery, The Golden Void, Right To Divide

Encore: Hurry on Sundown, Master of the Universe, Welcome to the Future

Saturday 23 November 2019

A View from The Back Of The Room: Veil Of Maya (Live Review By Tom Bladen)

Veil Of Maya, Y Plas, Cardiff

The last time I'd seen Veil Of Maya (8) a technical issue meant that the last few songs (which are usually the most recognised) were played with just the rhythm section and vocals as the guitars cut out completely. As they are one of my favourite bands myself and my mate made our way to the Cardiff university's smaller venue where they were supporting metalcore band Attila. We had missed the support act due to outside issues but we arrived just before the band we wanted to see. Now the more hardcore influence style of Attila isn't something I particularly enjoy so I was there purely for Veil and they made the trip worth it by playing a very tight set of their top level brand of technical metalcore opening the night with 20/200 and Whistelblower they got the crowd moshing like hell from the first thicc riffs of Marc Okubo, his playing was fluid throughout though sometimes it became distorted due to the mix, as did the vocals of Lukas Magyar who flawlessly moves between growls and clean singing easily though when he was at the top of his clean range the feedback was a little annoying.

The sound throughout was muddy meaning that some of the more intricate passages were lost, as Sam Applebaum's drums and Danny Hauser's bass dominated the mix. Still not many seemed to care as they brought out big hitters like Doublespeak, latest single Members Only and Mikasa getting the smallish crowd moving on a night where Ghost had the majority of the audience over at the Motorpoint Arena. VOM are a band that are technically solid, infusing their metalcore some tech-death mastery and massive grooves. They were playing to a partisan audience (the room became a lot more sparse as changeover took place) so it was very clear that Veil Of Maya washed away any bad taste from their last gig with this storming support set. 

Friday 22 November 2019

Reviews: Liberty Lies, Work Of Art, Eskimo Callboy, Void Vator, (Alex, Stief, Liam, & Matt)

Liberty Lies: It’s The Hope That Kills You (Self Released) [Alex Swift]

Liberty Lies. Where do I remember that name? That’s right, the first time I encountered this band was in 2010 when they were performing in Treforest’s Green Rooms. They were touring an EP at the time, and while I don’t remember everything about the show, I do recall the distinctive chorus of The Wire and the band giving me some drum sticks, for my services to moshing during the gig. It’s the Hope That Kills You, has a distinctly modern if commanding sound. United Nothing opens strongly, the battling guitar melodies and stampeding rhythm section, lending a sense of determination. The lyrics, not wrought with angered political commentary, perfectly compliment the rage and passion at the heart of the album. Four Walls is swaggering, yet no less memorable or forceful in nature.

Mouth Breathers denounces empty rhetoric and is ridden with tension, and clever dynamic alteration. Keeping the dynamism firmly in place is the towering Different Tongues, which continues to prove Liberty Lies penchant for pairing acerbic commentary with spiraling melodies and strong hooks. Even on the balladry of the acoustic-led letters, the sincerity and precision with the instrumentals, see’s us mightily into the second half of the record. A Thousand People commands with a verbose, marching sound and wordplay which evokes the apocalypse. Continuing on this theme, The Day The World Is Done is almost funk-inspired, in the decidedly minimalist, yet strangely engrossing composition. Once again, Family Tree shows an artful use of contrast, with the colorful way it sways from stints of stomping poposity, to mid-tempo grooviness. Combing Home marks a return to that colossal sound which these musicians do best, while These Dark Days is nearly progressive in the way that it develops. across seven minutes from a smoldering anthem, to a gigantic epic.

As the album draws to a close, we are left with the thunderous Are You Listening? and the contemplative Align. By combining such a wide array of influences, while pouring do much heart into their music, they create an impressive combination that eloquently conveys the themes of finding solace in a world gone mad, and make themselves stand out in a diverse and unsettled musical landscape. A lot has happened since that gig I saw them, though Liberty Lies have maintained all their integrity and passion. 9/10

Work Of Art: Exhibits (Frontiers Records) [Stief Illingworth]

It’s been five years since Framework, but it’s clear from the outset that Sweden’s Work Of Art have only improved. Right from the outset of Exhibits, you know what you’re getting. From Misguided Love, which feels like it was marinated in Don Henley’s back catalogue to the quite frankly up lifting If I Could Fly, every song is laced with synths, riffs and great vocals. Of course, there’s the cheesiness, with brilliant lyrics like “Feels like a rush/10,000 volts of love/I’m charging up/Shooting straight to your heart” in Be The Believer and it definitely wouldn’t be AOR without a ballad (Let Me Dream) Lars Safsund’s vocals are perfectly suited to the band’s sound, with him doubling up on keyboards alongside Robert Sall, who also continues providing top level riffing. Herman Furin’s drumming sounds like it could be from the soundtrack to any 80’s movie and as if to make themselves sound anymore 80’s, the band bring in synth maestro Vince DiCola (of Rocky IV and Transformers: The Movie score fame) for This Isn’t Love. An excellent listen for any fan of AOR! 9/10

Eskimo Callboy: Rehab (Century Media) [Liam True]

I’ve heard a few things about Eskimo Callboy. None of them particularly good. But I kept an open mind with Rehab. And to be honest, it’s a solid sounding album. Now it’s not going to be everyone’s taste. Metalcore mixed with electronic elements is always a tricky thing to get the hang of, but ECB hit it on the head. Starting off strong with intro Take Me To and hitting hard with Rehab it sets the pace of the album. It’s not as heavy as most Metalcore, but it hits hard where it needs to. And where it does lack in heaviness, it makes up with in catchy chorus’, foot tapping rhythms and a sort of Pop vibe to it, which does add a certain tone to the album which helps improve it. While the album overall is hit and miss, it’s a strong contender to their previous effort. While they do have a ways to go to make a name fir themselves, they’re on the right track to do so. 7/10

Void Vator: Stranded (Ripple Music) [Matt Bladen]

Initially recorded as 6 track EP, earlier in 2019, Stranded now features two additional tracks and has been released through Ripple Music as the debut full length of Void Vator. Touted as “punk metal” the LA mob certainly have that snarling punk sound as they start things off with Put Away Wet a punchy opening that gets the pulse racing but I’d say that the band take more influence from the Bay Area and NWOBHM seen as Stranded has all the vigour of those early thrash albums as well as the down tuned grooves of 90’s grunge, this is also where the band sit vocally. It means that Void Vator have sound similar to the alt-thrashers Prong and even classic period Foo Fighters especially on Toxic Waste although The Foos never had this many solos!

Stranded is relentless, it never drops in pace for a bit galloping along with some sweet choppy riffs, double tapped solos and shout along hooks, the 8 tracks don’t stick around too long before your caught up in another riff-friendly frenzy! As the twin leads of final track Monster keeps the head nodding until the end, I wanted to spin this album again straight afterwards. It’s not big or clever but it successful merges alt-rock with trad metal, a D.I.Y attitude that I would compare to The Foos playing thrash! Now there’s a comparison! 8/10

Reviews: KING, Despised Icon, Lionheart, Silked & Stained (Matt, Zach, Liam & Stief )

KING: Coldest Of The Cold (Indie Recordings) (Matt Bladen)

Aussie Blackened Metal anyone? Not the country that would make you think of the frozen tundra, usually associated with the genre but KING are an Australian band who clearly have ice in their veins. Coldest Of The Cold is their sophomore album three years in the making and it’s full of the frostbitten black metal anthems but with moments of melody rather than just automated battery. Think Immortal or Satyricon and you’ll on the right iceberg as the destructive blastbeats and tremolo riffs give way to folkier and clean passages on the title track, these more melodic moments returning throughout the record giving you time to take breath during the frenzied attacks of glacial force. KING’s debut was critically acclaimed with many mistaking the band for one who were deep into their discography not on their debut.

However Coldest Of The Cold ups their output again bringing a bigger musical scope, at times it’s almost cinematic One More War especially begs to be played through good speakers. What’s remarkable is that KING are just three men Tony Forde whose scream are pained and raw, David Hill who abuses the fretboard like politicians do the truth and David Haley, who is a one man artillery barrage. They slow for the moody opening to King but soon it builds again, layered with blackened metal trappings on the albums most atmospheric song, that brings to mind Alcest while Ways Of The Forest has a bit of Amon Amarth to it mixing extremity with traditional metal twin axe harmonies. Coldest Of The Cold is brilliant blackened metal album from a band still early in their career, if they evolve from here then they may be real force to be reckoned with. 8/10

Despised Icon: Purgatory (Nuclear Blast) [Zach Williams]

If I had to choose between METAL bands and CORE bands (death metal vs deathcore, for example) I would choose metal every single time. I must have once heard a grindcore band I didn’t like and simply dismissed the whole genre, even though that type of generalisation really winds me up when it comes to heavy music. I have unwittingly reduced myself to the level that person you work with who ‘doesn’t understand how you can listen to shouty bands’. What I am trying to say is that Purgatory – the latest offering from Canadian Deathcore legends Despised Icon – made me realise I’m a hypocrite.

This record really has a lot to offer. The first thing that stands out to me is the drumming. I had no idea the human body could move that fast. I am not a fan of the overuse of breakdowns in metal but these feel warranted just to give poor Alex Pelletier a break – and he STILL blasts through most of them. I also like the duality of the vocals. It’s a really great mix of guttural pig squeals and old school hardcore vocal patterns (fun fact - the vocals are so blisteringly heavy I was halfway through the track Vies D’Anges before I realised they were singing in French). If you like your music fast, technical and uncompromising in its brutality then Purgatory is not an album you want to miss. 7/10

Lionheart: Valley Of Death (Sharptone Records) [Liam True]

Hardcore music. Real lyrics. World domination. Two of these things have already been conquered by Lionheart. The third is well on it’s way. I don’t really like Hardcore music, but Lionheart change the tape for me. It’s Hardcore without being Hardcore. The build ups, lyrical content and brutal bone-smashing instrumentals are there. They one thing they need to do now, is tour this absolute banger of a record. From start to finish it’s a blood pumping adrenaline ride through the Californian five piece wrecking crew. ‘If I said it, then I meant it!’

Screams frontman Rob. Calling out music reviewers, bloggers and everyone else on For The Record, they don’t shy away from making their feelings toward the entire world known. There’s not a single bad song on the album which makes it hard to pick a favourite song. If you’re going to listen to this album make sure it’s in a single sitting. No breaks or distractions. It’s a testament to the Hardcore scene and you’ll owe it to yourself to play it. Dropping an album during a tour (Lionheart currently being on their European album release tour) is a bold move, but LH work it in their favour and hold the title, for me personally, the best Hardcore record of the year! 10/10

Silked & Stained: Goes Up To Eleven (Lions Pride Music) [Stief Illingworth]

Silked & Stained are an interesting one to listen to. Seamlessly shifting from solid hard rock in How Many Miles To Heaven to the brilliantly synth filled opening of Come Closer, each song is a new outlook on heavy rock, and keeps you looking forward to what’s coming. Haris Mos’ vocals are great, never pushing himself too far, and he’s backed up by guitarist Tony Gavalas and drummer Orpheus Lazz on many of the songs, giving a great layered effect. Tommy Fotiadis's chugging bass gives a great underlying groove to the album, and Gavalas’ riffs and licksare almost filthy in places (in a good way of course!) While many people who know me are aware of my feelings on too much hard rock, Silked & Stained are one of those bands that make me want to take a step back and maybe delve into it again.Top notch music from start to finish! 8/10

Thursday 21 November 2019

A View From The Back Of The Room: Ghost (Live Review By Matt Bladen)

Ghost, All Them Witches & Tribulation, Motorpoint Arena Cardiff

Now it's no secret that we try to avoid Cardiff's Motorpoint Arena by choice, it's an absolute of a shed of a venue, poorly maintained, expensive beer and constantly middy sound no matter what band are playing there. However every now and again we are drawn back in on the strength of a line up and in this case it's a band who have become probably the next arena headliner in the rock genre. Touted by Metallica and all manner of major acts they have rapidly risen up the bill to their own arena shows, now this has happened to a number of bands in the past and not worked out as a lot of the venues are half full at best. This was not the case here but I'll go into that later.

The stage dressed in black with Celtic crosses everywhere the band themselves are mostly in shadow but that's pretty much what you'd expect from the Goth N Metal of Tribulation (8). A band who owe as much to Danzig as they do The Cult, using thrashy adrenaline charged riffs with doomy sections, harsh vocals and soaring clean guitar solos the band never seemed to stand still for the entirety of their 40 minute set with only a short time to impress they picked songs mainly from their two most recent records with Nightbound and Motherhood Of God impressing most. Due to the headliners eclectic appeal it would be safe to say that most of the crowd probably didn't know who they were but as the number increased and the set wore on Tribulation were met with applause that turned into cheers by the final song. As this was a Sunday sermon the visuals resonated and happily so did the music so these Swedes had done an ideal job of whipping up the crowd.

Next were a band out of place on this bill, no occult sorcery here just three Americans, three instruments and lots of lovely noise. Nashville trio All Them Witches (9) blend reverb drenched fuzz, with wide expressive drumming and some tasty blues licks. They were so unlike anything on the night that you couldn't help be mesmerized though a lot of the audience were bewildered as they waited for the headliners. Again they relied heavily on their most recent material and with the stripped back set there was nowhere to hide as the vocals wailed over the wall of noise they created. For me they were brilliant for many others they were met with indifference, however this may be due to their lost as being so radically musically distant to both other bands. Still they left to a warm applause but we were gearing up to the moment everyone had been waiting for.

As the curtain was put up while the changeover took place so as not to ruin any mystique, choral music came over the PA to heighten the mood, then after 30 minutes the lights went dark Ashes played over and we were off with drop of the curtain and a punch of the opening riff to Rats the sheer majesty of a headline Ghost (10) performance was realised, a Gothic, all white, church stage set up with numerous staircases, housed an expansive drum kit, keyboard set up and also some tasteful foliage. What was immediately evident was that the number of Nameless Ghouls had increased, there were now two Female ghouls on keys, one also taking the gospel backing vocals and percussion. Along with the three guitarists (1x bass & 2x six) there was now an additional Ghoul on acoustic guitar, percussion and backing vocals. The majority of the audience though had their attention firmly on vocalist Cardinal Copia, resplendent in his red outfit who belted out Rats with gusto as they moved through Absolution and Faith, extending the songs so members could switch and costumes could be changed. What was noticeable was that the Ghouls were more animated than I've ever seen them interacting with each other and the Cardinal throughout the night.

Though not as much as on Devil Church a solo guitar duel between the two guitarists which saw them egging each other on as the one who belittles his opponent was finally dragged to the front of the stage and forced to show his skills. With baited breath and a wee bit of impatience that the black guitar toting guitarist pumped out the opening riff from Motorcycle Emptiness by The Manics to illicit a loud but very cheap pop from the crowd. Cirice came next with the Cardinal now in his ceremonial robes leading another mass sing along, before instrumental Miasma had the crowd jumping up and down and featured Papa Nil on Sax as it segued into the always dramatic Ghuleh/Zombie Queen as Cardinal Copia decked himself out as a vampire. This middle part of the set featured numerous changes of pace and instrumentals which meant that Copia (Tobias Forge) could save his voice for the big final part of the show.

As Helvetesfönster brought this part of the evening to a close, it was full on rock mode with Spirit, From The Pinnacle To The Pit, Ritual, Satan Prayer and Year Zero all got the audience bouncing and shouting back to the band, it was truly religious experience of He Is that brought the Welsh to full voice. In between a few of the songs Copia spoke to the audience largely to whip up them up, albeit with limited success. He promised to wiggle are asses and tickle our taints (ooer missus) on their heaviest song Mummy Dust, everyone was thoroughly tickled though it was the more recent Kiss The Go-Goat, Dance Macabre and their breakthrough Square Hammer that closed the set and brought the house down.

Ghost were at the most regal and majestic I've ever seen them and it was a fitting way to see them move into a bonafide arena headliner from a band who I've been following since their debut UK show, they are definitely ready to take on festivals bigger than Bloodstock now, they have the scope, the staging and most importantly the songs to almost sell out venues such as Motorpoint in Cardiff. If this was an experiment, in the bands appeal then consider it a success, this is one Ghost that does not need busting.

Reviews: Red Death, Kamchatka, Fit For An Autopsy, Rising Insane (Liam, Zach & Matt]

Red Death: Sickness Divine (Century Media) [Zach Williams]

It’s 13:15 on a Tuesday afternoon and I am still in my dressing gown. Mucus runs from almost every hole in my head. My first cold of the winter and boy, oh BOY it’s a doozy. I have so much housework I need to get on with, but the idea of getting off the sofa is enough to make me want to weep. I press play on Sickness Divine – the third album by Washington, DC’s crossover titans Red Death – and instantly something changes in me. I don’t want to just get up and hoover the stairs; I want to ride down them on a door I’ve pulled off the hinges. And I want to chug a beer while doing it. This, my friends, is the power of the thrash this record brings to the table.

The album opens a beautiful, if not haunting, acoustic guitar piece like so many other great thrash records (Beneath The Remains by Sepultura and Conformicide by Havok are the first two that spring to mind). Apart from this and The Anvil’s Ring - which is pretty much a minute and a half of the most triumphant sounding guitars you’re going to hear on an album this year - the album is just balls-to-the-wall crossover thrash. Fast, chuggy, angry and in your face. Production was handled by the incredible Arthur Rizk who also produced Nightmare Logic by Power Trip, and it has that same kind of feel that pays homage to the early days of thrash, without trying to sound purposefully dated. If I could be knit-picky I would have preferred a bass tone with more bite, but that’s about the only criticism I really have. This album kicks an alarming amount of ass. 9/10

Kamchatka: Hoodoo Lightning (Border Music) [Matt Bladen]

After taking a hiatus in 2017, Swedish retro blues rock masters Kamchatka came back to the live circuit last year with their classic power trio sound of The Jimi Hendrix Experience or Cream back expanding minds it was only a matter of time that a new album would come and here it is ready to land on your record player as you dial up the volume. Hoodoo Lightning is the bands seventh full length and it is the sound of a band with a renewed vigour, throwing some grit down as the swaggering rhythm section of Tobias Strandvik (drums) and Per Wiberg (bass) bring deep grooves ripe for the explosive guitar prowess of Thomas "Juneor" Andersson to walk all over.

Both parts of Blues Science the two that open this album are exactly what you would want from these retro styled rockers as they take that explorative sound nailed by Bruce, Baker and Clapton to the 21st Century, Thomas and Per even share the vocals on this album, making it a much more rounded record as both are suited to certain styles. Hoodoo Lightning has some analogue production which benefits the record and it's got a "live-in-the-studio" vibe to it as the band kick out the jams, but without any of the audio loss that you get from early vinyl releases, every virtuosity note is audible, showing just why the band are revered, as well as being a regular touring partner of Clutch, who know a thing or two about what it takes to be a great band! Hoodoo Lightning is a rocking return from Kamchatka with some psych touches on Stay In The Wind, heavy blues on A Drifter's Tale and a boat load of jam rock anthems, welcome back Kamchatka, stay groovy! 8/10 

Fit For An Autopsy: The Sea Of Tragic Beasts (Nuclear Blast) [Liam True]

Before I wrote up the review for this album I had to listen to this album a few times. Not because I had too get my head around it, but because the album is that damn good. From start to finish it’s an adrenaline filled absolute diabolical sounding album. And that’s the best part, on TSFTB the sound is as dark and downright filthy as Deathcore is right now, and it adds to the aesthetic of the next 44 minutes of ear-destroying breakdown glory. FFAA are one of those bands who get progressively better with each album and learn from previous records evolving their sound while staying true to their roots. The revolting growls of vocalist Joe Badolato mixed with the stomach churning down-tempo fury makes the album more enjoyable than it already is, as the production is impeccable. I only have one point of criticism here. The cleaner vocals just feel like they don’t belong on the record, and they were a bit rushed into the songs. Apart from that, the album is just a rollercoaster of destructive breakdowns and unearthly vocals. 9/10

Rising Insane: Porcelain (Long Branch Records) [Liam True]

This band is exactly what we need right now in the Metalcore scene. I’m not going to run the genre into the ground again. That schtick is old now. Rising Insane are a powerful Metalcore group with the intensity of a flaming inferno, but can be as melodic and soothing to tame the most harsh beasts. The album itself is full of the classic Metalcore elements, breakdowns, build ups and beefy growls. The main thus that sets this record out from the crowd is that’s mainly riff based. Somewhat unusual in modern day Metalcore. But Rising Insane know what they’re doing with it and perfect their craft while laying on the massive dose of heavy as cinder blocks dropping on your balls meaty instrumentals. Vocalist Aaron has no issued navigating the deep gutturals and high impact cleans that bring the record together like glue. The only issue i have with the record is the production. You can’t really hear the riffs buried under the bass filled record. But other than that, the record is, simply put, a Metalcore revival. 8/10

Wednesday 20 November 2019

Reviews: Eluveitie, God Alone, Singularity, MSRY (Lee & Manus)

Eluveitie: Live At Masters Of Rock (Nuclear Blast) [Lee Burgess]

I recently learned the correct way to pronounce Eluveitie, but that won’t help us here. Seriously, the new album, Live At Masters Of Rock is a great starting point if you’ve never heard them before. It also shows you just how good they are in a live setting. What you will discover is wonderful collection of folk metal. Unlike a lot of bands who wait until the end of albums and smack a few very badly recorded live tracks on the end of a record full of mediocre fare, Eluveitie have given their all and shown us all what can be achieved if you care enough. We all know being in the metal scene can sometimes be quite difficult. We go to gigs in shitty little venues, giving our cash to bands that often have to haul ass in less than glamorous vans and busses only to play to small crowds for less money than it costs to tour.

So, it really is a gift when bands like this put out live performances of such magnitude. There really is nothing not to like here, unless of course you hate folk metal, then I think you need to stop reading. Many of these songs are not performed in English. This adds to the mysterious nature of the music and the traditional folk that is the bedrock of so much European extreme music. This is vital in an age when us metal heads find it far too easy to cry elitism when listening to the more savage end of the metal scale. These seem to have gained a large commercial following, which pulls them away from the elitist label somewhat. Having said that the music here is full of complex mystical wonder that takes us through magical journeys across lands we would never see if it weren’t for the music which carries us above dark plains and through cursed valleys.

What makes this so special is the talent these have for their craft. The music is just something to savour. It is both blistering and cloaked in tradition. The folk instrumental passages have an infectious anthemic quality and we become lost in them as they show us a long-forgotten time and place before giving way to crushing, pounding melodic death metal that acts as a battle cry to the hoards. Anyone who has seen this band do what they do will know that to see them is close to worship, which is quite apt, as it is with their track entitled Worship that this band really show what they are made of. A brilliant melding of historical European melody with an unfathomable sense of violence and bloodshed. This is just a beautiful album. 9/10

God Alone: God Alone (Cosmonaut) [Lee Burgess]

God Alone do post-rock and/or prog mixed with suggestions of heavier sub-genres and bugger me they do it well. I say suggestions because rather cleverly they often sound like the score from Italian genre flicks of the 70’s and 80’s, with riffs coming straight from the likes of Goblin or John Carpenter, and then we go batshit crazy with black-metal tinged insanity. In some ways, this is very similar to the experimentation of early Mike Oldfield, had Mr. Oldfield downed one too many cans of cheap pop and added breakdowns and DM growls to Tubular Bells. Actually, in parts there is no telling just what these weirdos are going to give us. It’s best if you just pop this on and be prepared to expect, well just don’t expect anything, because you’ll just get confused and nobody wants that. Right now, as I hear this, I’m not sure just what the fuck I’m listening too, but I really like it. It’s prog, it’s jazz, it’s rock, it’s metal, it’s all and none of the above. If only more records sounded like nothing you’ve ever heard before.

It’s really blissful to know that there are bands out there who want to give listeners something referenced in the past, but with a unique spin. I’m so in awe of people that can put art like this together. It’s really just so good to hear something so utterly bonkers, but also breath taking in the way it’s put together. The production is almost perfect, as if somebody paired a band with a higher power. The sheer balls of this lot, taking post-rock and adding pinches of other styles and genres is something that we don’t get enough of in what can seem a bit of a tedious or just pretentious field of music. I could listen to this band for hours, because although it sounds at times like you’ve stepped into a strange time warp, within the vortex is a whole dimension of fully formed ideas that just keep on giving. The only negative point is that at times the change between one style to another seems a little clumsy. This is the only reason this gets a point deducted, and it does feel a bit mean. It’s hard to find a more descriptive way to tell you just how God Alone manage to pull off something so expansive. 9/10

Singularity: Place Of Chains (The Artisan Era) [Manus Hopkins]

Rather than bludgeoning listeners to death with excessive technicality just for the sake of it, Singularity build complexity from simplicity on Place Of Chains, approaching the music from an interesting and ultimately effective angle. It’s still technical, of course, but the songs are composed with technicality, rather than having layer upon layer added to convolute the music. The excellent riffwork combined with piano-led passages throughout the record does a great deal to shape the sound—but the vocals are impressively haunting as well and the versatile drumming serves each song well. Like many others of its style, Place Of Chains is best listened to front to back, without any skipping or any breaks. 8/10

MSRY: Loss (Self Released) [Lee Burgess]

MSRY are a straight-forward, simple old-fashioned outfit. It’s pretty much a say it as you see it affair. The hard-hitting post hardcore riffage is fun and unrelenting. There is no real imagination on show here. This is a bunch of guys having the mother of all teen hissy fits. It’s all about how hard life is and how people will just have to cope with what life throws at them. Listening to them, you can almost see the gurning and the base-ball caps dripping with sweat and spit. It’s not bad. It’s just not really giving us anything very meaningful. It’s a bit old, well OK, really old. This sound is something that has always kind of annoyed me, because at one point just about everyone and next door’s dog was doing it. Chunky riffage, spitting vocals, thundering drums and an all-out barrage of angst. Think Terror, Madball, Agnostic Front and Biohazard and you’ve pretty much got the idea of exactly where this record is going.

Then think of a 14 year old boy ranting like a twat because he’s forgotten to put his P.E. kit in the wash and it’s everyone else’s fault. Then, you will have an exact idea of what this sounds like. This is not clever, mature or complex. It’s fast, break down galore and if we’re being honest quite amusing. Yes, I giggled. The trouble with bands like this is that they quite often become their own spoofs, and I’m afraid this is very much the case with this bunch. If MSRY were to make a concept album, it would probably be called something like A Bit Grumpy, or Grrr Go Away! It’s fun, or maybe funny. I’m not quite sure. The point being that there are far more interesting and grown up ways to make Hardcore music. Just because go around sticking the word post on everything doesn’t make it mature, or complex. This record is well made, but I’m not sure it’s good for the right reasons. 6/10

Reviews: Magic Kingdom, Kaine, Meshiaak, The Old Dead Tree (Paul H, Manus & Rich)

Magic Kingdom: MetAlmighty (AFM Records) [Paul Hutchings]

If you trawl through the pages of this esteemed website, you’ll find a review by the Ed way back in 2011. Already immersed in the world of ridiculous power metal, a retrospective review of 2004’s Metallic Tragedy laid bare that this was quite fantastically crazy neoclassical symphonic power metal, showcasing the virtuosity of Belgian guitarist Dushan Petrossi. Fast forward eight years, past 2015’s Savage Requiem and we arrive at album number five, MetAlmighty (see what they did there? Very clever!) Once more it’s frenetic, over the top shred heavy and quite ludicrous in many parts. High pitched harmonies, the blast beats at about a million beats per minute and acceleration that even Lewis Hamilton evading the tax man would be proud of. Lyrically, the songs are the typical fantasy bollocks, with the opening Unleash The Dragons, all 8:45 of it introducing us to new singer, American Michael Vescera who has a set of pipes to rival all those who went before him, including Christian Palin whose sole work with Magic Kingdom was Savage Requiem. Vescera can hit those high notes with ease, his soaring vocal on the silly In The Den Of The Mountain Trolls matching the quite phenomenal noodling of Petrossi.

It’s guitar masturbation at its finest; is there is such a thing?. And it continues from start to finish; fast paced air guitar heaven, the guitar work quite astonishingly brilliant to the point of excess. With English drummer Michael Brush (ex-Control The Storm and current Sirenia sticksman) and Russian bassist Vasilli Mochanov, a stalwart of both Magic Kingdom and parallel band Iron Mask which also features Petrossi, nailing down the engine room, this allows their bandmates to shine. Fear My Fury has added synths whilst Rise From The AshesDemon benefits from some orchestral symphonic arrangements. If you like this sort of thing, then you are probably living with your mum, your clothes smell of damp and you fear the opposite sex. If you think that power metal is overblown dungeons and dragons by ugly blokes who still read Tolkien at least once a year MetAlmighty really isn’t going to change your mind. Choose a side, take your choice. 7/10

Kaine: Reforge The Steel (Independent) [Manus Hopkins]

Ignore the somewhat unimaginative song titles—musically, the contents of Kaine’s Reforge The Steel are enough to prove that the new wave of traditional heavy metal is alive and thriving, and that Kaine deserve a spot as one of its frontrunners. The record definitely recalls the glory days of classic heavy metal, but it breathes new breath into the music at the same time, producing something fresh and exciting. There’s not a weak song among the album’s eight tracks. Between straight-ahead bangers like Loudwire and the title track and longer, more epic tunes like Black and The Dragon Reborn (Rebirth) there’s enough variety that the album doesn’t get boring or run out of steam. Kaine is an independent act with a lot of potential, and at least one great album out. Next, some promotion is in order. 8/10

Meshiaak: Mask Of All Misery (Mascot Records) [Rich Oliver]

Mask Of All Misery is the second album by Australian metallers Meshiaak. Three years after their debut album Alliance Of Thieves Meshiaak are back with an album of melodic groove/thrash metal which nods to old school heavy metal and contemporary mainstream metal. The album starts in great style with confident and ambitious instrumental Miasma which has progressive and symphonic leanings but this strangely ends abruptly and is followed by the title track which has a completely different feel and style to it. The songs that follow are definitely in a contemporary thrash/groove style and whilst having thrash based riffs none of the songs really kick into gear employing a steady pace and being reliant on the melodies and the verse chorus structure of the songs. This is definitely more aimed at modern Metallica, Machine Head and Trivium fans rather than Exodus and Sodom fan base. Whilst it is all played to perfection with some cool riffs dotted about the place this album didn’t do too much for me. My tastes are way too old school and this just leaned too far into mainstream metal territory to get a full appreciation from me. A great band for the kids but as an old fart I’ll slip back into the old school and the underground where I’m far more content. 5/10

The Old Dead Tree: The End (Season Of Mist) [Paul Hutchings]

This five-track release finally calls time of the band’s career, a final tribute to drummer Frédéric Guillemot, who took his life in 1999. Written before then, The Old Dead Tree had continued with Manuel Munoz (vocals, guitars) and Nicolas Chevrollier (guitars) following their creative approach with a mixture of progressive death and gothic metal combined with dark rock and alternating clean singing and death death growls. This final act is both classically impressive and truly melancholic. Drummer Raphael Antheaume and guest musicians Brice Guillon, bass and Pierre Le Pape on keys allow the band flesh out their tribute. Sorry opens the album with a haunting tone whilst Someone Should Know (The Truth) enables crushing riffs to blend with a delicate acoustic finish. Kids is a total change of direction, the rock/pop beats strangely different to the rest of the release. This final chapter ensures that all loose ends are tied. 7/10

Tuesday 19 November 2019

Reviews: Pretty Maids, Blood Incantation, Strigoi, Mustasch (Rich, Claire/Charlie, Paul H & Matt)

Pretty Maids: Undress Your Madness (Frontiers Records) [Rich Oliver]

Pretty Maids are a Danish institution having been going since 1981 yet seem to have a very minimal audience in the UK which is a damn shame as they are one of the most consistent bands in hard rock and heavy metal. In recent years especially the band have been on an absolute roll with a streak of absolutely belting albums (or as our editor terms it ‘a purple patch) and with Undress Your Madness which is the sixteenth album by the band this winning streak or purple patch continues.

The band pretty much pick up where they left off with previous album Kingmaker and deliver a bunch of really strong songs that straddle the line between heavy metal and melodic hard rock. After 38 years in the business these guys have developed a great knack of combining the two elements seamlessly with songs that are crunching heavy but with the hooks and sensibilities of melodic hard rock and AOR bands. You have songs such as opener Serpentine, If You Want Peace (Prepare For War) and Slavedriver which sit on the heavier send of the Pretty Maids spectrum alongside melodic hard rockers Firesoul Fly and Runaway World and we are also in rock ballad territory with Strength Of A Rose and Will You Still Kiss Me (If I See You In Heaven). The strength of Pretty Maids is that all these songs are bloody good and all sit comfortably together on one album.

Ronnie Atkins despite being the elder age of 55 still has a hell of a voice on him switching effortlessly from a gruff yet melodic voice to a smooth croon. The performances from the whole band are faultless with long serving guitarist Ken Hammer delivering badass riffs and sweet solos, some tasty keys work from Chris Laney whilst the rhythm section of bassist René Shades and (now departed) drummer Allan Sørensen provide the rock hard backbone of the band. Undress Your Madness doesn’t reinvent Pretty Maids by any means but it is another incredibly strong and solid album from the band. Ronnie Atkins is sadly currently battling cancer at the moment so have to wish him the best of luck with his fight and hope that the Pretty Maids purple patch will long continue. 8/10

Strigoi: Abandon All Faith (Nuclear Blast) [Paul Hutchings]

There can be fewer more apt names for your latest project than Strigoi, the troubled spirits in Romanian mythology who could rise from the grave and assume different forms. Having laid Vallenfyre to rest in 2018, Gregor MacKintosh and Chris Casket have indeed risen swiftly from the ashes onto their next band and Abandon All Faith is the brutal result. The Paradise Lost guitarist explores his love of old school death metal, grindcore and punk in this visceral 12 track album alongside his Vallenfyre and ENT buddy Casket. Ably assisted by Paradise Lost drummer Waltteri Väyrynen who contributed to the studio drumming, this is a punishing album, with Mackintosh’s trademark riffage and deathly growl linking with Casket’s punishing bass lines. Phantoms thrashes like a netted tuna fish, Nocturnal Vermin switches between doom laden heavy riffs, searing guitar work and frantic grind pace.

Things hot up with the pulverising Throne Of Disgrace, at under two minutes long the shortest song on the album. But it isn’t pace or power that is the real beast here, it’s the complexity and variety which stands out. Carved Into Skin is a behemoth of a track, massive doom with malevolent overtones, contrasts with the industrial introduction on Parasite, which then gives way to a proper old school death metal monster. Plague Nation and Enemy Of God follow suit and drive forward with real bite and venom. This isn’t an album for the faint hearted, but it is a release that should really be devoured with all the vitriol and pain that comes with it. Essential stuff. 8/10

Blood Incantation: Hidden History Of The Human Race (Dark Descent Records) [Claire Hanley & Charlie Rogers.

To say we’ve been eagerly anticipating this album is an absolute understatement. Countless solar cycles since the previous record, Starspawn, graced us with its intergalactic riffs, the Blood Incantation boys bring it home to Terra with a monstrous soundscape that presses you back into your seat; like Han just made the jump to lightspeed. A full speaker set-up is needed to enjoy this properly, ear buds just won’t do it justice and you’ll be left out in the coldness of spaaaaaaace.

There’s no messing around as you’re thrown right in at the deep end with Slave Species Of The Gods. Rumbling out of the speakers at breakneck pace, the song wraps a tentacle around your throat and pulls you out for the ride. Expertly composed, you can hear every musical brick in this sonic wall of sound. Blood Incantation’s song writing is impressive enough but when the layers of riffs from bass to solo in every section are clearly audible, and each element contributes effortlessly to the overall ambience, the result is out of this world. Resisting the urge to air blast along to the drum patterns is inconceivable - the sections are discerningly executed without overdoing it on the snare, which some extreme metal drummers have to rely on for heaviness. Definitely not an issue in this case.

The Giza Power Plant opens a wormhole to the groove dimension. Its epic guitar effects and pinch harmonics galore from the word go. Contrasting dramatically with the preceding onslaught, in true Blood Incantation style, the track evolves into something akin to material from Karl Sander’s 2004 release Saurian Meditation. You’re instantly transported to Ancient Egypt, imagining the Great Pyramids opening a gateway to beyond. A Stargate, if you will. It’s a completely immersive experience as you lose yourself in the soundscape. Your consciousness enveloped by a myriad of swirling atmospheric deliciousness.

With an equally trippy video to accompany this psychedelic masterpiece, Inner Paths (To Outer Space) binds the album together. This was the track that introduced us to the new material, and while it seemed like an odd choice to lead with an instrumental, the band are clearly confident enough in their song writing ability to do so, and in the context of the album it fits seamlessly. The balance of beautifully intricate moments, contrasted against the skull crushingly heavy sections, will leave you utterly spaced-out yet satisfied. It’s pure instrumental artistry, illustrating the evolution of the band and cementing their identity, as well as their ascent to death metal royalty. The whole of this record is, without doubt, far greater than the sum of its parts.

Before you know it, you’re catapulted back to the blastbeats. Harking back to Eqypt, the song title of the final track wouldn’t look out of place on a Nile record - “Awakening from the Dream of Existence to the Multidimensional Nature Of Our Reality (Mirror Of The Soul). It might be 18 minutes long but you’re going to wonder where the time went, during this riff buffet. Despite a strong start, the colossal track feels a little lacklustre around five minutes in; with an extended period of quiet ambience that could ultimately have been better filled, given the calibre of this band when it comes to composing killer instrumentals. 

Before long the track transitions into a very Melechesh style riff but possibly the biggest curveball of the entire album is a section reminiscent of Death circa Individual Thought Patterns but it absolutely works. Then you’re thrown back into the discordant chaos, like you’re spinning though a kaleidoscope, when you approach the twelve minute mark. The pace slows at this point to a sludgy trudge, collapsing into the bogs of Dagobah, leaving you feeling like you’re drifting through space, as the acoustic outro transports you back to the theme riff from Inner Paths, before fading into the unending blackness of the abyss. Sheer stratospheric bliss. 9/10.

Mustasch: Killing It For Life (Tritonus Records/Mustasch AB) [Matt Bladen]

Since 1998 Swedish riff monsters have been blasting out heavy rock music at full volume, their ship is steered by frontman/guitarist Ralf Gyllenhammar and bassist Stam Johansson who are the only founding remaining on board this lead bottomed ship. They have this obscure name as many of their musical heroes have moustaches, most notably Freddie Mercury who they have written a song about on this their 10th studio album Killing It For Life, now I've been on board this heavy freight carrier since their self titled record and there have been ups and downs in their catalogue but they were on hot streak from their last album Silent Killer so can they continue that with this 10th record. Well what's in place are the crunching riffs and powerful vocals of Ralf front and center along his rhythm guitar locked in with Stam's bass guitar.

The songs are fleshed out by David Johannesson's ripping solos and Robban Bäck's propulsive drums, kicking off with Where Angels Fear To Tread builds up into a bass lead verse as Gyllenhammar lets rip with his explosive voice as the riff kicks in proper. Mustasch have always had very clever lyrics along with compositions that have punk rock snarl, stoner grooves, progressive forays and even some orchestral washes. Ransacker is more straight down the line as it gallops along, Before A Grave balances as part ballad-part doom metal song. Now things get trippier on Go To Hell as Mustasch show the multifaceted nature of their sound, this song featuring some electric fiddle as well, yes they are all about the riffs but this is just the base of their sound, there's a lot more to Mustasch that worth exploring, after 20 odd years it seems they will still be Killing It For Life. 8/10