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Monday 11 November 2019

Reviews: Tribulation, Lionize, Wilderun, Vikram (Paul H, Matt & Alex)

Tribulation: Alive & Dead At Söndra Teatern (Century Media) [Paul Hutchings]

Recorded before a seated audience at one of the most prestigious and revered venues in Stockholm, Tribulation delivered a two-part set which would have been an exciting event to have attended. The first half of the show focused on 2018’s album Down Below, the album delivered in full before a mix of songs from their catalogue completed part 2. Whilst the audience is relatively muted throughout the album, there is nothing wrong with their dark, gothic style of metal. Of the nine tracks from Down Below, the ten-minute Here Be Dragons is the epic standout track, the darkness permeating through the speakers as the track unfolds majestically. Elsewhere, The Motherhood Of God hits the gothic elements perfectly and there is plenty elsewhere to get the hearing weapons engaged. It’s a good introduction to a band whose slightly obscure style may well cause a few scratches of the head when they link with Ghost in the next couple of weeks. Whether it’s as epic in terms of live albums as their press release say is of course down to personal tastes. To me it isn’t anywhere near the legendary live albums of years gone by, but it captures the essence of a wickedly underrated band. 7/10

Lionize: Panic Attack (Electric Reckoning Music) [Paul Hutchings]

I’ve been waiting for this one for a while; well, since shortly after their last album Nuclear Soul landed to be honest. I am completely absorbed by the groove and funk of this band. Their mix of genres, styles and general approach just tick all my boxes. Lionize has also been drip feeding this release to social media, almost to the point of irritation so it’s been a joy to final receive the signed CD that I ordered months ago. If you don’t know who Lionize are, the band hail from Maryland with the current line-up being Nate Bergman (guitar and voice), Henry ‘Hank’ Upton (bass) and Chris Brooks (keys). Drummer Chase Lapp left the band at the turn of the year and the assured beat master Jean-Paul Gaster of Clutch, a band indelibly linked with Lionize, stepped in to add his unique drumming style to the album. This is full length album number 7 and it’s another cracker to add to the discography.

Soaked with the blues groove of previous albums, rich with harmonies and Brooks’ thick Hammond organ and Rhodes piano sound, it’s a 35-minute adventure which is soaked with punchy, addictive songs that demand your attention and movement. Upton’s bass lines fuse funk, reggae and rock, Bergman hits the high notes on the vocals in that sweet style of his, whilst adding deft touches on the guitar. The Loneliest Whale is a fabulous opener, building in tempo to explode into a right old rocking tune as the story unfolds; we’ve all been that whale, looking for our pod but not being on the right frequency to find it. The title track grabs the attention. Throughout the album the clever lyrics weave tales and stories which engross the listener. Giant Spiders Of The Universe wins on title alone but it’s also a stomping funk fuelled fist pumper, guaranteed to get the head nodding.

Andy Kaufman’s Not Dead allows the reggae funk to kick in while penultimate song Break Out keeps the tempo high, with some lovely keyboard work before final track Heavy On The Mind slows things down with a reflective feel. Lionize can do no wrong in my book. Their seventh long player is technically clever, intuitive and instantly recognisable. A band who deserve wider exposure, this is a late entry into the top ten for 2019. 9/10

Wilderun: Veil Of Imagination (Century Media) [Matt Bladen]

This album is a masterpiece. An absolute masterpiece. I could end the review there give a score and be done with it but you probably want me to quantify why I think this record from Bostonian prog metal band Wilderun will be very near the summit of my Top 10 of the year. So I want to take you on a journey similar to the one the album itself takes you on, imagine a place where Opeth didn't grow into the 70's worshipping progsters they are today imagine if that at the time of Blackwater Park where they brought in more of the pastoral folk sounds to their death metal assault they also began to forge a partnership with Blind Guardian and add huge a full orchestra to everything they do.

What you would have is a band who dive between lilting folk passages, death metal aggression, power metal gallops all finished of with a cinematic orchestral score and the mournful introspective . What you would get is Wilderun. From the spoken word segments that are readings of works by William Wordsworth and T.S Elliot, to the music itself an awful lot of time, thought and passion has been put into this album. I said earlier it was a journey and like with all great conceptual pieces this record seamlessly flows between each song segueing one into another as the blastbeats explode before turning into deft jazz drumming while guitars grind with tremolo picking then in a instant lull you with some acoustic fireside melodies.

It's a huge heap of praise that needs to be levied on the mixing and mastering of Dan Swanö and Jens Borgen along with the bands own production ear with additional assistance from Justin Spaulding and Andrew Greacen. Vocally the low lilting clean vocals carry emotion well and the harsh style is from the bowels of hell (very Akerfeldt) as Evan Anderson Berry casts magic with his vocal prowess along with bringing guitars (mainly rhythm/acoustic) along with piano, though due to the classical overtones of this record there are also two additional piano players on the album. Bookended by a 14 minute and an 11 minute track this 8 song record is breathtaking from the spoken word first moments of The Unimaginable Zero Summer through to the last spoken words and acoustic refrains of the final track When The Fire And The Rose Were One. We get the a dynamic boiler room from Dan Müller (bass/synths) and Jon Teachey (drums) who lead the huge sounding Far From Where Dreams Unfurl, a song Amon Amarth would raid a thousand villages for, as Joe Getter's lead guitar prowess is brilliant when he's left to shine on O Resolution! and Far From Where Dreams Unfurl.

But even on more delicate moments such as Scentless Core (Budding) and Scentless Core (Fading) the instrumental mastery is at the highest level aided as always by the thrilling orchestrations of Dan Müller and Wayne Ingram which fortify's these compositions with huge walls of classical instrumentation, choirs and all manner of tricks to make sure Veil Of Imagination keeps you enthralled for it's one hour plus runtime. My advice is clear your schedule and settle in for this record, if you do you will be rewarded with quite possibly one of the best albums of 2019, well worth it's four year gestation period, Veil Of Imagination is as I said at the beginning a masterpiece. 10/10

Vikram: Behind The Mask I (Rockshots Records) [Alex Swift]

In ambitious, progressive fashion, Behind The Mask I is the first part in a trilogy of stories, the details of which will be laid out in three novels of the same name. Speaking as someone who admires the multimedia experience and really appreciates when acts take their work to that next level, the ethos here really excited me. Thankfully, the music on display. So does the music impress? Well, yes and no. I appreciate the scale on display and from the opener, The Mortal Dance Of Cali, it’s abundantly clear that these musicians are aspiring to create a bombastic and different sound that honours their influences in prog and metal while trying for a weird middle-eastern play on those concepts. Alas, the baffling composition or lack thereof, mixed with the questionable performances leaves much to be desired. Requiem For Salem tries to give flight to a medieval, gothic feel, yet fails to pin down the instrumental and vocal tones, that would stop the instrumental passages clashing at visceral force - the prevailing sensation is one of watching a train crash, while generic, middle-east inspired music plays in the distant background.

Burn In Hell has an extreme, metal theme prevailing, yet the gnarled vocals of Siervi, don’t so much as add to the sense of bombast, as to make Behind The Mask seem yet more embroiled in a deluded sense of epicness and grandiloquence. In fairness, this piece actually has decent piano and electric guitar breaks, and Andaluzia makes beguiling use of acoustics. However, the insistence on taunting you with excruciating extremities resumes on Hassan Tower and Forsaken Death. The worst part, when the album isn’t force-feeding you with self-importance, it's boring you with clichés and tropes. Occasionally a glimpse of ambition shows through, yet I need to be able to pick the technicalities and subtleties out from the barrage of jarring melodies and phrases, that drag these songs from the plain of competence, straight into the gaping mouth of hell. If this is only part I in their adventure epic, I wont be clamouring for the complete experience 3/10

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