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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

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