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Friday, 8 November 2019

Reviews: King Hiss, Lamassu, Horizon's End, Life Of Agony (Matt, Paul H & Alex Swift)

King Hiss: Earthquaker (Self Released) [Matt Bladen]

Belgian band King Hiss take their name from the villous king of the snakemen in He-Man and the Masters of the Universe, but unlike their name they are not at all slithery, it's actually quite the opposite as this is an album of rock solid stoner riffs. Belgium has quite a pedigree when it comes to stoner rock so it's only fitting that they would produce a band like King Hiss. Earthquaker is their third full length album and it's a record that deals with "the story of modern man, our protagonist loses all his bearings in an overload of stimuli, feeds his thoughts on the delusion of social media and walking a thin line between manipulation, stereotyping and polarization" so it's a record that deals with what a massive clusterfuck the world is at the moment, as we can all relate to the protagonist.

King Hiss guide us through with some heavy riffs from Joost ‘Josh Fury’ Noyelle (guitars) that right balance between being technically impressive and primal. He gets the back up from Dominiek ‘Visioene’ Hoet (bass) and Jason Bernard (drums) meaning Revolt! punches you in the guts as it rampages along urging you to "stand your ground" before exploding into guitar solos as explosive as a firework display. Singer Jan Coudron’s expressive voice lives every single lyric his wide range perfect for when he needs to roar, shout or croon as the band switch between stoner grooves of Butcher, classic rock bounce of Kilmister and doomier sounds such as GTWHREarthquaker is tough, intelligent record from the Belgian riff monsters, that gets the head nodding and the mind thinking. 7/10

Lamassu: Into The Empty (Self Released) [Paul Hutchings]

Haunting, despair ridden vocals ride over a deep throaty doom stomp on Lamassu’s debut album, Into The Empty. The Australian four-piece play it heavy, with lumbering tracks that traverse from pulsing stoner songs to almost funeral paced crawling, for example, Under the Watch of a Crow. From the opening bars of Chokehold Companion, all sombre desert doom with Chris Fisher’s Cornell-like plaintive cries, through to the bass heavy intro of closing track I Die, a rumbling, lengthy voyage which subtly pummels at the senses whilst clean layered harmonies hover over thundering heavy riffs, there is more than an element of Soundgarden here. At times spine breaking in its intensity, Into The Empty is a pulsating piece of work. 7/10

Horizon's End: Skeleton Keys (Steel Gallery Records) [Matt Bladen]

Yet more progressive metal this time from Thessaloniki with the recently re-activated Horizon's End. This album was recorded between 2013 and 2019 but it has taken this long to see the light of day. So is it any good? well it opens with 7 minute instrumental and closes with a 22 minute track so it most definitely in the progressive realm, though Horizon's End are in the prog/power metal realm as the virtuoso guitar playing is augmented with classical keys and some galloping heavy riffs from the rhythm section. You get to know the instrumental players on this album quite well as it goes almost 10 minutes from the start of the album before you hear any vocals and every track has elongated sections ready for solos and numerous time signature changes, take a number such as Land Of Decay, it's the shortest track on the album but still has break for a fluid guitar solos in the middle of it.

If I was making comparisons I would say they sound a lot like Shadow Gallery or Fates Warning as the keys undercut the melodic metal riffs. Vocally it's pretty good with the lower tones of Vasilios working well as Beast In Black's Yannis Papadopoulos lends his pipes to two tracks but it's the backing compositions that really see this album sparkle especially when they can keep your attention on the final 22 minute colossal closing number. Skeleton Keys is a good prog/power metal album from a Greek band who are now in the second part of their career and coming up with some very strong material. 8/10

Life Of Agony: Sound Of Scars (Napalm Records) [Alex Swift]

Specifically drawing on the ferocious, angered side of Grunge perfected by acts in the vein of Alice In Chains and Stone Temple Pilots, Life Of Agony powerfully channel the angst suggested by their name, despite not making originality their focal point. Scars open convincingly, the down-tuned distortion and thrashing guitars, initially making me question if this is a grunge album at all until Mina Caputo’s dingy vocals roar in and the anthem takes on a stamping rhythm. Lay Down is similar in tone. The emphasis on stints of tension contrasted with sections of brooding melancholy, certainly proves exciting, if slightly repetitive after a while. No doubt there are elements of metal, or even classic rock here, yet a seething moodiness underpins the entire experience. These ideas are continued onto Black Heart where the fast-paced chugging, makes for a throttling hook to the track, while the melodies and bass work makes for an entrancing atmosphere.

Empty Hole is where the record starts to become tiresome. It comes right after an interlude which contributes nothing, and while the more upbeat nature is beguiling, it does not make up for the increasingly noticeable presence of the muddy production – a problem which wears on throughout most of the back half of the album including on closer Weight Of The World and Surrender. Don’t misunderstand me, I realise that in this genre, retro production and an aversion to cleanliness is sort of the point yet that was classically compensated for by fantastic songwriting and production value, which while respecting the artists ‘authentic approach’ to songcrafting, also brought out their strengths – ‘Ten’ anyone?, ‘Dirt’ going-going gone! How about ‘Nevermind’? The Sound of Scars is far from a bad piece.

It’s very well performed indeed, and the band clearly has a love for their home genre and all associated styles. Still, there is still a pretty bad case of same old syndrome going on here, and until Life Of Agony can incorporate reinvention into the mix, or simply fix the issues which are holding them back from truly replicating the Seattle sound, I will continue to find a myriad of excuses not to return to their music, 6/10

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