Iced Earth: S/T (Century Media Records) [Matt Bladen]
When you're Jon Schaffer you have a huge amount of music in your vaults, having written, performed and many times produced most of the albums by his legendary heavy metal band Iced Earth. It does mean that even though the band's last full length Incorruptible was released in 2017 they have managed to many releases since then. Having already revisited the bands demo with a new remaster, the Covid-19 crisis has obviously left Jon with some time on his hands. So not content with doing a Christmas album with former Iced Earth singer Matt Barlow he has set about getting Iced earth's debut full length a 30th Anniversary re-release. The record has been remastered by Zeuss (Overkill and Queensrÿche) and will be released as 180 gram vinyl, CD digipak and on digital but there are no additions you just get the original eight tracks with improved overall sonics.
When you listen to it you can hear even to this day that Iced Earth were going to shift into the monster they are today across 11 following albums. Any band that effortlessly mixes NWOBHM, progressive notions and thrash metal to create that American Power Metal sound that has become synonymous not just with the band but with the USA in general. Yes Iced Earth is a lot more raw than albums that would follow but it's still packed with those choppy, galloping riffs of Schaffer that have become an Iced Earth hallmark, as the solos of Randy Shawver shows why he was their second longest serving guitar player at 10 years. The vocals of Gene Adam (who left the band after this record) are great but limited to the thrashy snarls which is why Schaffer re-recorded tracks of this album and it's follow up Night Of The Stormrider with the bands best vocalist Matt Barlow on compilation Days Of Purgatory. Is it required? If you have the original only the remastering makes it worth picking up but If you want to delve into the history of Iced Earth then it's an ideal record to do that with (because what's better than working chronologically through a discography - OCD Ed). 7/10
Daniel Tompkins: Ruins (Kscope Records) [Alex Swift]
Expectations are strange. In some instances they are completely unfounded and false, in others, they are entirely correct. When Tesseract frontman Daniel Tompkins released his debut solo album, Castles
. In 2019 I was not expecting the overly mellow, frankly tiresome sound which he brought the table on that record. Hell, given the fact that I’ve always admired his main project, the extremely low score I gave that piece shocked even me. Naturally, I wasn’t expecting much from Ruins
. Drawing on my limited memory of the last record, I expect more lacklustre rhythms, uninspiring synth work, and a far too tamed sense of ambience. However, I was pleasantly startled by the dramatics permeating this album. Seriously, despite technically being a sequel a la the title, Ruins
has far more focus on huge guitars and intricate rhythm sections. While tempting, I can’t compare this to Tompkins's most notable work, as the style is very distinctly his – the vast soundscapes and attempts to create an atmosphere are still present, yet executed far more convincingly this time around.
Sanguine keys open Wounded Wings
. Staccato guitar stylings create an ominous feel, and ethereal harmonies are heard circling, providing a perfect crescendo moment into the liberating chorus. All the while, the musicianship changes tempo and feel, ensnaring the listener in a myriad of sensations. Virtuoso, Plini features on this track so naturally the specifics are amplified and executed with precision. Yet it’s not just the lead work that’s magical. The whoosh of the synthesizers, the affecting presence of the drums, and even Tompkins vocals blend into an emotional experience which his last solo effort so tragically failed to achieve. ‘Castles don’t survive’ runs the opening line on the title track, which appropriately feels like a massive salute to how to do this style right, the alluring instrumental loops, the layers upon layers of melody, and the exultant chorus proving amazingly striking, not to mention relieving. Tyrant
seizes the hearer with a commanding bass line and marching percussion, which steps convincingly towards the visceral yet weirdly calculated sequence at the centre of the track. By contrast, Stains Of Betrayal
is a loosely conceived and abstract composition that leaves you contemplating, it's sometimes gentle, often aggressive ebbs and flows. Empty Vows
gives the impression of a song that was meticulously written and then created with the same level of diligence, the complexity contained within the intricate patterns, and the exactness of the impassioned timing, lending an admirable fascination. Something I do like about these songs is that they challenge and stimulate me. Sweet The Tongue
was a track that I initially struggled with, yet came to admire through the clever combinations of electronics with traditional elements. Also, let’s be honest, who could resist those final few moments where our ambitious frontman screams against a wall of sound which had been gradually growing in nuance since the beginning. A Dark Kind Of Angel
seems to have a wistful waltz at play, which the repeated phrases and the beautiful yet poignant sense of melancholy, which seems to prove one of the most emotionally affecting elements across the entire album. We finish on The Gift
featuring Matt Heafy of Trivium. It’s a passionate closer that brings the musical motifs and lyrical themes of death, loss and temporality crescendoing to a determined finish!
In terms of artists progressing and correcting past mistakes, Ruins
is an excellent example of exactly that process taking place. There’s a sense of earnestness throughout that shows Tompkins developing his influences and charting his own course with his solo project whilst also eliciting a genuinely emotive reaction. I welcome the fact that I can finally get excited about his solo project. 8/10
Pillory: Scourge On Humanity (Unique Leader Records) [Paul Scoble]
Boston based band Pillory have been making nasty music since 2003. In fact Pillory have two different incarnations since that date. From 2003 to 2008, Pillory were a full band with 5 members, who released one album in 2005’s No Lifeguard At The Gene Pool. The band split in 2008, but were resurrected by the now single member Darren Cesca. The one man band version of Pillory released a second album in 2014 with Evolutionary Miscarriage. Scourge On Humanity is the first new material to be released since Evolutionary Miscarriage. The main style on Scourge Of Humanity is ultra technical, and very brutal death metal. The sound relies on fractured rhythms, dissonant guitar, a constant need to change and very intricate and introverted riffs. The songs seem to refuse to settle on one style of nastiness. Fast riffs quickly turn to slow and dissonant riffs, blast beats start and then stutter to a halt before blasting again. The rhythms and tempos are constantly changing and lurching, all of which seem to be to unsettle the audience and make everything uncomfortable and difficult.
There is a similarity with bands like Pyrrhon, Atræ Bilis, Imperial Triumphant or Gorguts. Pillory use their technicality to produce nasty, viscous music, and it is very effective. The vocals are also designed to be nasty as anything, guttural and viscous, Cesca also uses a small amount of pig squealing as well, personally I can’t stand pig squealing, but that's my issue, not Pillory’s. That all sounds great, the individual elements of Scourge Of Humanity are very good, it’s designed to sound nasty and off putting, so that's not a bad thing. However, the songs themselves are strangely unsatisfying. The problem is that it’s difficult to tell the songs apart. All the elements within the songs constantly change, from fast, to mid-paced and lurching, to slow and staccato, so the songs are in constant flux.
Unfortunately the parts themselves are very similar, there are lots of very similar fast riffs, mid-paced riffs and slow riffs, so the songs all feel very similar, in fact I had a hard time telling the songs apart, it’s almost like one constantly changing song that gets faded out and back in eleven times. This isn’t helped by the the songs feeling like they don’t have any structure, just constant change. It’s a real shame as Cesca is clearly a very talented musician, it just ends up feeling like an overlong mess. Scourge On Humanity is a mass of interesting ideas, impressive musicianship and brutal death metal. It just feels like it needs to be more controlled to be really effective. If Cesca can focus what he does, and get all the impressive elements to face in the same direction, he could make something really special. 6/10
Wombbath: Tales Of Madness (Transcending Obscurity Records) [Rich Oliver]
Although not one of the most well known death metal bands out of Sweden, Wombbath have been forging away for 30 years releasing several albums, EP’s and splits worth of festering death metal filth. With their fifth full length album and first album for Transcending Obscurity Records, Wombbath celebrate their 30 year milestone with an album that celebrates their past and future. Tales Of Madness mixes six re-recorded songs from the bands back catalogues and two brand new songs representing the band’s current sound. The six songs that have been re-recorded mainly stem from the band’s early days with songs from their 1992 demo Brutal Mights given a fresh recording as well as the The Grave which was the first song the band ever wrote.
It is gnarly old school Swedeath drenched in that glorious HM-2 tone that is very much of the sound and style of the early 90’s (and a sound that countless bands are emulating still in 2020). The two new songs also follow the same style with the title track being a glorious piece of Swedish death metal violence whilst The Fleshy Existence Of Man varies it up slightly with the inclusion of operatic vocals and strings mixed in with the HM-2 carnage. These two new songs show great promise for what is to come from Wombbath in the future. Wombbath have a great release with Tales Of Madness.
Old school fans of the band should appreciate these 21st century renderings of old school material whilst the new material gives an appetising taster of what is to come from the band next year. If you haven’t heard of Wombbath then you are probably better off checking out their older albums first but this is a good album showing where Wombbath have been and where they are going next. 7/10