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Friday 31 January 2020

Reviews: Moloken Big Scenic Nowhere, Sycomore, Groblin And The Ballistics (Manus & Matt)

Moloken: Unveilance Of Dark Matter (The Sign Records) [Manus Hopkins]

Shouldn’t it be ‘unveiling,’ and not ‘unveilance?’ Oh, well. It doesn’t matter too much, considering this mix-up with the album’s title has no effect on its music, which still rocks. And besides, this isn’t the first instance of something like this in metal history (see Slayer’s Repentless). Moloken’s fourth full-length is stuffed with elements of a plethora of different styles, enough that the result should sound muddled and crowded, but it doesn’t. While death and doom are its main sounds, Unveilance Of Dark Matter also makes use of black metal stylings, as well as containing experimental progressive passages and hints of pretty much any metal style you can think of. It’s impressive how Moloken have made such good use of an array of sounds, and this album is stronger for it. 8/10

Big Scenic Nowhere: Vision Beyond Horizon (Heavy Psych Sounds) [Manus Hopkins]

As far as psychedelic stoner or desert rock goes, this supergroup project is pretty typical, and what stands out about this record is that it sounds like its fun for the musicians involved. Most of the tunes are pretty jammy, and while jam music isn’t everyone’s bag, this is at least well-done enough to be enjoyable, if not particularly exciting or fresh. Still, for what this is, it’s done well. There are some pretty catchy riffs, and there’s a good amount of variety on the record, with songs ranging from the aggressive “The Paranoid” to the gentle and atmospheric “The War Years.” Most of the songs contain some kind of trippy psychedelic passage as well, which is where a lot of that fun jam feel comes from. Overall, Big Scenic Nowhere have put out a solid album, even if it’s just a fun supergroup project. 7/10

Sycomore: Bloodstone (Argonauta Records) [Manus Hopkins]

French extreme metal trio Sycomore has a massive sound for three musicians, a true power trio in every sense of the term. Each member does more than pull his weight, all bringing a different intensity and character to these aggressive songs. The production also lets each instrument hold its own; nothing is buried in the mix and nothing is overbearing. It’s particularly nice to hear the bass, which is clean and precise, while articulate drum and guitar work are anything but predictable. A definite highlight on this album is “Power Of Romance,” which has probably the best riffage of any track on here. At nine tracks, the record is the perfect, not taking the risk of getting repetitive or running out of steam towards the end. It’s a promising album from a promising band. 8/10

Groblin And The Ballistics: S/T (Self Released) [Matt Bladen]

When I saw that this band blends Deathcore, Metalcore, Nu-Metal and Djent I must admit a little trepidation did come over me as this pretty much a list of my least favourite genres all together however I'll give anything a chance so I pressed play and the synths built up into a chunky palm muted riffs and roaring vocals, first track Sweet Dreams is a bit all over the place changing between fast and slow with breakdowns upon breakdowns as things shift wildly. This is typical djent/deathcore schtick frenzied and sometimes sounding like it's out of control, the more straightforward The Ordeal comes next again cut through with dense synths as Hollow Way is more atmospheric moving towards the end of the record. I didn't hate this as I thought I would with the exception of the first track this sits more in the djent style than that of deathcore and even Nu-metal. It's still not something I would listen to frequently but it's well played and produced by a band with obvious talent. If grunting grooves and breakdowns get you stomping then Groblin And The Ballistics will be your latest pit starter. 6/10

A View From The Back Of The Room: Insomnium & Conjurer (Live Review By Rich Oliver)

Insomnium & Conjurer, Thekla, Bristol

With it being a gloomy and rainy Sunday evening the perfect soundtrack was the Finnish melancholy merchants Insomnium who were bringing to an end a fairly extensive UK and Ireland tour. The final show of the tour saw them packing out the Thekla in Bristol with support coming from Rugby filth merchants Conjurer. It was a fairly late start with doors at 19:30 and the first band hitting the stage at 20:00 but the evening ran smoothly with no technical hiccups.

With no local support Conjurer (8) hit the stage at 20:00 and delivered roughly 45 minutes of absolutely sublime and crushing metal. I’ve gushed about how good Conjurer are live many a time and this night was no exception. They incorporate so many different influences into their sound from a splash of Neurosis to a sprinkle of Opeth and a big dollop of extreme metal. It is a recipe that fully delivers from crushing monolithic riffs to frenzied blastbeat assaults to more relaxed introspective moments. Conjurer are absolute masters of bringing a song right down to a chilled relaxing atmosphere and then dropping back into the heaviness with the subtlety of a lump hammer to the jaw. The set was a mix of material from their EP and album with Retch and Choke being particular highlights. There was a slight dip in momentum about two thirds of the way into the set but that was soon righted with a crushing finale.

After a short turnaround the nights headliners Insomnium (8) hit the stage to frenzied enthusiasm from the crowd. The band were clearly showcasing their new album Heart Like A Grave with six of the thirteen songs being taken from the new album. This was no bad thing though as it is a fantastic album and these songs translated to the stage phenomenally with And Bells They Toll and Heart Like A Grave ensuring that the hairs on my arms were standing rigidly on end. The rest of the set was a mix from their discography though nothing from In The Halls Of Awaiting or Since The Day It All Came Down was played and some of the setlist staples were replaced with some different songs from the older albums. We got treated to performances of Into The Woods, Change Of Heart, Ephemeral and one of my absolute favourites In The Groves Of Death. The band performed slickly and effortlessly performed complicated music and having fun whilst doing so.

The sound in Thekla is always a bit hit or miss but applause to the sound engineers for this show as they did a superb job. Conjurer sounded absolutely devastating and people up on the top deck could apparently feel them as much as hear them and Insomnium were perfectly balanced with all instruments and both vocalists having fantastic clarity. This was a great first gig to get 2020 going.

Thursday 30 January 2020

A View For The Back Of The Room: State Of Deceit (Live Review By Paul Hutchings)

State Of Deceit, King Kraken, Neckbrace & Beyond Oblivion, Fuel Rock Club Cardiff

The final Saturday of the first month of the year and a free gig at Fuel. With the doors open, movement was fluid throughout the evening as the four bands on the bill moved back and fore from the bar to the stage area. A decent number decided to watch each band and hopefully all involved gained some new admirers.

New to the scene, Beyond Oblivion (6), a five-piece from the area had the task of opening the evening. A decent crowd watched their fiery metal, and for a new band they were impressive. Having checked out their music on Spotify since seeing them, it’s a shame that the notorious Fuel sound hampered the sound with the lead singer’s vocals weak in the mix, which was dominated by bass and drums. The band play a mix of groove ridden metal, with a gothic haunting angle, which had me pining for the now defunct Black Moth. Their new single Defiant and songs from first EP Hand That Feeds worked well, the chopping duel guitars managing to break through on occasion to good effect. The addition of gruff vocals blended nicely with the clean leads. Five on the Fuel stage is always a challenge and it’ll be good to see the band again with a better sound and more room to flex their show. The band are also making their debut at M2TM Heat 3 on 10th April back at Fuel.

Newport’s Neckbrace (7) reek of old school. Reformed after many years’ hiatus in 2019, the band played a handful of gigs last year. With Richard ‘Scriv’ Scrivens leading their firepower, the five-piece decided that pure brutality was needed and then promptly roared through a set which proved that you can’t keep an old dog down. The band may be gnarlier, wiser and older but they remain as heavy today as the were two decades ago. Chainsaw guitars, roaring vocals and blisteringly aggressive drumming, it was all wrapped up in a snarling ball of anger. Ferocious from start to finish, it’s good to see them back on the scene and the solid numbers in the room suggested that others felt the same way.

There are plenty of hard-working bands out there, but few can match the effort that King Kraken (8) are investing now. Two stage banners (very pretty by the way) ensured that there was even less room on the stage than normal, but this didn’t stop them hammering through a set of now familiar songs. An encouraging crowd pushed forward to catch The Grey, War Machine, Kidnap and Castle Of Bones, all tracks that come across heavier in the live arena. Despite the lack of room, the band never provide a show with less than 110% effort. Bathed in green lights, and with the sound a mere average, it was at times hard to catch the searing lead work of Adam Healey. Kraken’s constant gigging and practising means they are incredibly tight, something that will stand in good stead for the next few months with some massive gigs and a week in the recording studio to come.

Headlining the night was State Of Deceit (7) whose Retribution EP was a favourite of mine late last year. The band had a last-minute change with drummer Matt Toner replaced by former Incursion drummer Robbie. This didn’t affect them, and they roared through a vicious set which incited some pit action for the first time in the evening. State Of Deceit are pushing their music hard and Pete Scammell once more towered above the stage, his roaring vocals and immense stage presence working well. Whilst the sound was muddier than a farmer’s field at times, guitarist Jon Russell was able to let rip whilst bassist Matt Wilson held things tight. Full of punishing riffs and hooks, State Of Deceit are burning nicely. They will bring their noise to M2TM heat 1 on 6th March.

Reviews: Lorna Shore, Amberian Dawn, Novelists FR, Redeye Caravan (Reviews By Matt Bladen)

Lorna Shore: Immortal (Century Media)

Stirring strings and choirs open this album by New Jersey band Lorna Shore but if you're expecting Behemoth or Dimmu then you'll be in for surprise as the title track kicks off this album, this isn't black metal, yes there's blast beats moving at warp speed, guttural screams and frenetic tremolo picking, but Lorna Shore have always been tagged as a 'deathcore' and yes the remnants of deathcore still exists as the title track breaks down into a low slung riff made for crushing people in the pit. However over the course of their career Lorna Shore have moved away from the deathcore tag adding more symphonic and blackened elements to their sound as witnessed on this third release.

You get a full range of styles just on the first song as the instrumental triumvirate of Adam De Micco (guitar), Austin Archey (drums) and Andrew O'Connor (guitar) take their respective instruments to the limits of their capability, in fact I'm surprised Austin's drum kit survived the recording sessions, this album is the first to feature C.J. McCreery (ex-Signs of the Swarm) on vocals and though he is no longer in the band as of December 2019, due to various accusations of sexual misconduct, his vocals are move from deathcore grunting to black metal screaming. I won't say more than that as I feel it will detract from the genuinely mind-melting mechanical riffs, the swathes of orchestration and sheer unmitigated force of this record. Ten tracks, no compromise, nuff said. 8/10

Amberian Dawn: Looking For You (Napalm Records)

The self professed originators of ABBA-metal Amberian Dawn are a symphonic metal band from Finland. They have an operatic female singer, they have lots synths and symphonic elements layered over pumping heavy metal, it's very familiar though Amberian Dawn do add some more progressive elements such as Symphony No.1 Part 3 – Awakening which is the final part of a trilogy over their last two albums where frontwoman Capri Virkkunen duets with Fabio Lione (ex-Rhapsody Of Fire) in the climax to this suite. The record moves along at a fair pace culminating with the reason for the ABBA-metal tag a cover of the Swedish pop legends track Lay All Your Love On Me which obviously suits the bouncy style of this genre turning disco into power metal, I can't say that this is new as Helloween have done a cover of this song themselves a while ago. Looking For You is a grandiose symphonic metal album, the proggy edge adds some variation to the songs but it's symphonic metal with operatic vocals, you know what you are going to get. 6/10

Novelists FR: C'est La Vie (Arising Empire)

From Paris France (as if the name didn't give it away) Novelists are a metalcore band with progressive touch to their sound they build their career firstly on a series of singles that culminated in a debut full length in 2015, this led to them touring with such genre leaders like While She Sleeps and Northlane, on the back of this came another more mature conceptual record in 2017 but with yet more tours, however it was here that they had to add the FR to their name due to legal issues but they have now returned with their geographical location added to their name and a third album of progressive metalcore.

Now I guess you could call it djent but I'd say the band have more in common with bands like Erra, Currents or even touring partners, tapping ambient guitar passages from Florestan and Charles-Henri give way to crunching breakdowns as electronics fuzz in the background. Somebody Else shows this the best opening the album with a epic feel as the soaring clean vocals shift into screamed harshness, however both are done brilliantly by singer Matteo who's voice is very good, similar in tone to that of Dan Tompkins from Tesseract. Deep Blue is a lot heavier showcasing the start stop rhythm playing of both guitarists and bassist Nicolas as Amael brings a thumping beat.

Things shift a little on Lilly which has some rap-like vocals while Modern Slave is pure djent as aggression mixes with technicality. I wasn't sure what to expect with C'est La Vie but I actually enjoyed this album mainly due to the interesting compositions and the expert performance from all involved. Three albums in and no sign of resignation here Novelists FR are improving with every release. 7/10

Redeye Caravan: Nostrum Remedium (Self Released)

Remember the show Deadwood? It was a very dark, bloody, realistic Western series starring the guy who was in Lovejoy, it was brooding and brutal with a very stellar soundtrack. A soundtrack that sounds not too dissimilar to the debut album from Redeye Caravan, they have concocted a record of occult themed country music. Nostrum Remedium is Latin for "Our Remedy" and their songs are written as folk tales, genesis of the band came when Akis Kosmidis (vocals, acoustic guitar) formed the band with Valantis Dafkos (vocals, bass), together they began to craft songs before seeking out Panos Makoulis (electric, slide, acoustic guitars, keys, vocals) to make these songs really begin to come together they added Eleni Paraskevopoulou haunting vocals, the parping harmonica of Stefanos Strogylis, the mournful violin of Thanos Giamarelos and finally drummer Paris Gatsios.

With the band all together they set about bringing their tales of murder, merriment and the occult, layered by acoustic guitars, some slide and clean electric playing there's a lot of density to these numbers, there's a lot of piano here too the kind you'd hear in a saloon, right before there's a fight. Tracks like El Muerto are full of good soulful sing alongs that build with the layers of instruments and the gang vocals, Ozymandias has clap and stomp of gospel, while At Gallows End is a brooding Morricone-esque monster, as does the evil Old Debt, both with cinematic qualities as The Road North takes a bit of Waylon and the other outlaws. Now while not a rock or metal album, this is cast in the same mold as so many metal bands, so if, like me you were brought up on Westerns then you'll enjoy much about this Greek band's music. 8/10

Wednesday 29 January 2020

Reviews: Serenity, Deathwhite, Dirty Shirley, Davey Suicide (Reviews By Matt & Alex)

Serenity: The Last Knight (Napalm Records) [Matt Bladen]

Serenity's last album was about the much maligned figure of Richard The Lionheart, here they've not strayed from the heroes of the Catholic Cross with a concept record about Holy Roman Emperor Maximilian I. He was the ruler of the Holy Roman Empire between 16 February 1486 – 12 January 1519 and increased the influence of the House Of Habsburg, especially into Spain. He was a slightly divisive figure as all historical leaders were but here they have chosen to tell his story loosely focussing on his love of the art of armour and the wars he fought. It's full of heroic numbers enriched with the anthemic symphonic metal that Austrian act Serenity have been playing for nearly 20 years. This album continues Serenity's journey in to being a more grandiose act, ramping up the heaviness but also the cinematic aspects of their sound, spreading into more modern flavours on tracks like Keeper Of The Knights.

One of the things that I've always enjoyed about Serenity are the vocals of Georg Neuhauser, who's stellar voice has been a constant for the band since their debut, unlike their American contemporaries Kamelot who have numerous changes it's his voice that makes me certain that this is Serenity record. As normal founder member Andreas Schipflinger's drumming is the backbone of these numbers adding a heavy touch even to more epic dramatic songs such as Souls And Sins as the string duo of Fabio D'Amore (bass) and Chris Hermsdörfer (guitars) show their mettle with the thick grooves of Fabio bolstered by the usual Serenity "wall of sound" production as Chris gets to move between electric/acoustic and classical guitars for a very varied guitar sound, he also adds growls to the heavier tracks which work well with Georg's more soulful, soaring cleans on My Kingdom Comes.

Despite the historical lyrical content, for many this will be akin to fantasy and like with Sabaton, you may learn something but mostly it's just a romp of symphonic power metal. Serenity continue to be one of the leading lights in their style of music and they show that they are the battle hardened band they claim to be. Ride with Maximilian and with Serenity, Gloria In Excelsis! 8/10

Deathwhite: Grave Image (Season Of Mist) [Alex Swift]

Few things are more compelling in music when an act achieves exactly the tone they were aiming for, despite not reaching faultlessness in every aspect. That’s why Deathwhite impresses me. Their music may not be the apex of dark metal or stoner – indeed their influences in that field are strong, yet with its lofty ambitions and embrace of the brooding and ominous, they wrap the listener in a cloak of darkness that they may not easily find an escape from. Funeral Ground opens with a riff that commands a sense of beautiful bleakness to swirl around and encircle, while the beating drums, subtle reverb on the guitar, and contrast between growled and melodic vocals continue to add to that enthralling sense of mystery and chaos they create across the opening track. In Eclipse proves a more throttling number with dueling electrics that gnash and bite, yet then slows in the verses to a drowsy, melancholic, ode to despair, the sudden sting of screaming and flailing instrumentals keeping a state of tension present.

Taking us further down the rabbit hole, Further From Salvation embroils you in blissful turmoil, the towering wall of noise, paired with our frontman’s soothing if strangely disquieting vocals, just absorbing everything in its path. True, there’s a sense of tedium that can come from the muddy production blurring everything into one, yet crystal clean production has a tendency to wreck experiences that get their immersive aspect from an uncompromising, mesmerizing, assault on the listener's comprehension. And furthermore, contemplative moments in the vein of Grave Image prove that Deathwhite is more than capable of giving the listener pause and allowing for allowing for rich, emotional introspection.

Among Us bridges the gap between those moods – its huge, juggernaut sound, yet its tendency to stay harmonious and to inspiringly soar, makes for one of my favourite moments on the entire record – still unpersuaded by static structures, the anthem takes us to visceral peaks and expressively piercing troughs. Meanwhile, Words Of Dead Men, builds its progressions around a mournful descant, providing the perfect soundtrack to the lyrical anguish, which stands out more here than at any comparable point throughout. No Horizon further takes me off guard with percussive and guitar elements that feel symphonic in the genre, as if these musicians have been seized by a bout of theatricality which even moves outside of the typically dim and ruminating nature of previous tracks. That element is still very much here, yet it’s challenged and lengthened by the sheer risk on display. Plague Of Virtue is probably the closest we get to a traditional metal anthem, yet even saying that feels like I’m damning with faint praise, given how all these songs sturdily refuse to settle into anything that could be considered generic or archetypal.

Finishing with the strongly composed Servant and the excellently written Return To Silence, we once more get to witness the full extent of ability at stake, before Grave Image leaves its final and lasting impression. Taken as a dark metal album this is brilliant, taken as a wider piece of art in the musical landscape it’s very well-executed if not absolutely flawless. Still, given my sporadic nature towards metal of this kind, and the lengths by which Deathwhite try to set themselves apart, there’s far more to admire here than to shrug off. 8/10

Dirty Shirley: S/T (Frontiers Records) [Matt Bladen]

An absolutely shocking name and a worse cover, it wasn't looking great for the debut album from *shudders* Dirty Shirley (the adult alcoholic version of a Shirley Temple cocktail). As with a lot of the bands on Frontiers it's a collaborative effort from musicians that are signed to the label, this time, the names involved are: Animal Drive vocalist Dino Jelusic and Mr Scary himself George Lynch (Dokken/Lynch Mob). With a man so respected on guitar this album is chock full of intense six string mastery and Lynch at his creative best due to Dino's very expressive vocals range. He's part Jorn, part Coverdale and part Myles Kennedy too a soulful husky nature to his pipes hits immediately on the driving opening track Here Comes The King a Dio-like rocker that swaggers as a "here we are, get ready", it's a fist pumper for sure followed by Dirty Blues which nods to the mid 80's era of Whitesnake where they revamped many of their older blues based rockers with virtuoso's like Steve Vai giving their chops, I Disappear on the other hand is much more modern even dragging things into the realms of Alter Bridge. As I said earlier the styles here are very diverse with Lynch penning most of the tracks as well as producing, Alessandro Del Vecchio is on mixing duty of course, giving numbers like The Dying more depth sonically. This is actually quite a good hard rock record though there are a few too many slower tracks and I'm sorry but points deducted for the band name. 6/10

Davey Suicide: Rock Ain’t Dead (Out Of Line Music) [Alex Swift]

If you’re going to win me over on an industrial metal album, the artist in question is going to have to bring exciting concepts to the table which move beyond the deliberately controversial ‘edgelord’ antics, splicing riffs and full-throttle loud production that constitutes the stereotypical view of the genre. NIN and early Rammstein might seem like a lofty standard to set, yet in my case – as someone who considers industrial to be one of their least favourite genres in metal, barely eclipsing Grindcore – precautions must be taken. Hell, much as I despise Ministry, I’ll give them their due for being clever. However, as his unfortunate namesake suggests, Davey sewer-side has no such regard for atmospherics, subtlety or well thought out messages.

From the assault on the eardrums that is Rock Ain't’ Dead, you know exactly what you’re in for. The entire song is….BWAAA!!! DEAFENING PRODUCTION, NOISE! NOISE! NOISE! F**K POSERS AND THE RULES! AREN'T WE JUST SO EDGY! This utter lack of talent continues on to Animal, featuring Young Guns who are also boring and insipid, for the exact opposite reasons. One Of My Kind has synthesizer elements that just do not interact well with the melody and make the track a tedious mess – a mess made more sickening by our frontman’s insistence on undercutting his mildly thoughtful lyrics in moments such as ‘There’s so much pleasure and pain, yet you still drive me insane…and the sex is great uh’. Death Won’t Tear Us Apart continues the war of vapid stupidity being waged, with an uninspiring set of melodramatic features, not aided by the fact that Davey-insensitive cannot conceive a coherent note, let alone convince his audience that he’s capable of showing emotion when thus far all he’s done is whine about how he doesn’t care if he offends or hurts your feelings. Not that it’s impossible to be shocking and emotionally compelling. Marilyn Manson achieved both, yet unlike the artists he probably admires, Davey *redacted*, does not care for artistry or slow, quiet consideration.

From this point, I was pretty much burnt out on my distaste. For a quick summary, the second half of the album is the same combination of unconvincing shows of sentimentality – Disappear, I Need You - badly mangled combinations and half-ideas, stuck into amorphous blobs – Flyaway, Addict – and pathetic moments designed to be deliberately offensive and upsetting – Bad Reputation, Riot. Suffice to say, none of this reassures me that the state of industrial is currently one worth admiring. Don’t get me wrong, I’m sure there are artists in the electronic, alt-metal vein who deserve our support, but if artists like Davey dislikeable are getting attention instead, through shallow controversy antics, and an inbuilt immaturity towards their audience, we need to be asking serious questions about who we let rise to fame. 1/10

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

Monster Magnet & Those Damn Crows, Kentish Town Forum, London

Playing Powertrip in full, Monster Magnet dropped off in the UK for three dates, one of which was at the 02 Forum in Kentish Town. Support came from rising Welsh stars Those Damn Crows (7) who were a surprise choice given the stoner rock of the headliners. With a decent amount of time for their slot, TDC hit the stage promptly at 8pm and despite a far from full venue, demonstrated why their stock has risen so rapidly in the last 18 months. They are virtually unrecognisable from the band that I saw play in Pwllheli in 2017, but that is to their credit as their hard work on the road has turned the band into a polished machine. Focusing their set on songs from Murder And The Motive this was a win win for the Bridgend boyos and they took it with open arms. Shane Greenhall rarely stops for breath, a human dynamo as he scurried stage left, stage right, photo pit, front barrier and upper tiers of the balcony. It was a relief when he finally hit the piano towards the end of the set and slowed down for a minute. Whilst TDC’s music is certainly aimed at the Planet Rock audience there is enough muscular riffing to encourage much nodding around the filling venue. New album Point Of No Return is due out on Feb 7th and the new songs sounded good. Snippets of classic music in the shape of Pinball Wizard and Live And Let Die were weaved into tracks, knowing nods identifying the homage. Those Damn Crows are heading skyward and whilst their music isn’t always to my tastes, I can only applaud their ethic and effort.

Monster Magnet (9) have been ploughing their trade for over 30 years, with founder Dave Wyndorf the sole survivor from those early days. Powertrip was their fourth album and the one that pushed them forward commercially. It’s amongst my favourite all time releases, crammed to the brim with classic songs. With a solid line-up since 2013, Monster Magnet may not have anything to prove but they were intent on putting yet another marker down. Wyndorf may have added some wood since those early days, but he looked fit, located centre stage with red spotlight focused on him so providing an eerie image. Around him guitarists Phil Caivano and Garrett Sweeny worked tirelessly, shredding for fun. With three guitars the riffs rained down and the intensity of the pit slowly increased. Crushingly heavy on songs like Tractor, Magnet raced through Powertrip, daring to vary the order to provide additional depth.

After Atomic Clock, Crop Circles and Tractor had raised the temperature, the band eased into cruise and threw out classic after classic. Baby Götterdämmerung was superb, the sludgy waltz of Bummer a real flash back to 1998 whilst the closing part of the set was inevitably the monster duo of Space Lord and Powertrip which ensured more flailing limbs in the pit. The four track encore included Twin Earth from Superjudge, a cover of Robert Calvert’s The Right Stuff before the anthemic Look To Your Orb For The Warning and a blistering Negasonic Teenage Warhead concluded a mighty evening. Sometimes you don’t need a massive setlist. This was ample and more would have just been greedy. They may be in their latter years, but even at 63, Wyndorf and Monster Magnet show little sign of stopping.

Tuesday 28 January 2020

A View From The Back Of The Room: South Wales Showcase (Live Piece By Matt Bladen)

So I was going to review this as a normal gig but to be honest it wasn't a normal gig. There was a lot of pent up emotion spent at this show which saw eras ending and new ones beginning. As such I won't be scoring the show rather I'll be giving a run down of what happened as an overview.

This was probably the biggest room that many of these bands had played in, the upstairs room of Clwb Ifor Bach is a reasonably big space and with the looks of the crowd it was going to be quite sparse, probably due to the Slipknot gig earlier in the week and the fact that it was for many a week until payday, still more than a handful of intrepid adventures moved upstairs into the room gathering closer to the stage as Democratus hit the stage the improved sound meaning you could pick out every instrument rather than the usual muddy sound they get in smaller shows. Steve is still the driving force behind this band his wrecking ball voice leading them through a set that was pretty much exactly the same as the one they played at The Gryphon supporting Wretched Soul. A worthy opening to the night they warmed the crowd for the emotion to come.

Yes we got to Agrona a band I've been following since the beginning and as with most of the local acts I obsess about they are beset by line up changes. However tonight it was a seismic shift due to it being the final show of founding vocalist Taranis who has been a mainstay behind the mic from the outset. As such no new songs, this was a death or glory classic set serving as a finale to this iteration of the band. Most of their debut album was played including Apotheosis a song that had long been out of the set list for a long time. It was dramatic, spectral and loud as fuck in the bigger room as more turned up for this very special sermon, with the synths finally audible and the whole band filled with equal parts emotion and aggression they laid waste to Clwb with a ferocious show far removed from last one I'd seen at Fuel at Winter Eradication. (It may be because of Steve from Democratus' guest slot who knows) Not only was this a farewell but a statement of defiance that this band will carry on into the next chapter slimmed down yes but a focus on the next page of their story.

Finally the night was rounded out by Sodomized Cadaver now a two piece of just drums and guitar their filthy death metal was pretty much what you'd expect from the band grunted vocals and horrific lyrics were the order of the day as they blasted through older material and a new song from their upcoming new release unleashed on a Cardiff crowd. It was here that for the second time during the night the sound went totally off cue, the first being the sudden crank of bass during Agrona's set, Sodo were plagued by quite a lot of feedback which threw them off their game a little. Always a little chaotic Sodo rounded out a night of South Walian metal, and although the crowd had all but disappeared by the final strains of their show the entire evening felt a little special as much as it did weird.

It was a night of transition that will hopefully lead on to bigger and better things for all involved, was it a little too early to be playing a show this size? Possibly but if you don't try you don't know. Let's see where this new journey takes Agrona as Sodomized are a unit that have always shed and gained members and are still plugging away while on the other side of the coin Democratus keep getting bigger and bigger with every show. Add to this the influx of Welsh talent around and a looming M2TM its going to be a great year for the South Wales scene.

Monday 27 January 2020

Reviews: Nero Di Marte, Drive By Truckers, Gorilla Riot, Revolution Saints (Paul S, Paul H & Matt)

Nero Di Marte: Immoto (Season Of Mist) [Paul Scoble]

Nero Di Marte have been quiet for quite a long time. Their last album Derivae, which was very well received with some critics ranking it as the best of that year, was released in 2014. Before this the band had released their first, self titled album in 2013. So, it’s not surprising that after releasing 2 albums in consecutive years, the protracted delay in releasing Derivae’s follow up had led some people to think that Nero Di Marte were no more. However the Italian four piece, who formed in 2012, are back with an album that has taken 6 years to make. Has the wait been worth it? Nero Di Marte’s sound isn’t the easiest to describe. It’s a very individual mix of Progressive Death Metal and Post Metal. The Progressive Death Metal isn’t like Opeth or Rivers Of Nihil, extreme metal with softer influences; this is Progressive Death Metal more in the vein of Gorguts, Dysrhythmia or maybe a little bit like Imperial Triumphant. This is deeply complex, highly technical music. It’s the kind of thing that shares the same feel as experimental Jazz or Classical. Complex guitar and bass riffs swirl around your head as you are pounded by intricate blast beats. At times this can feel chaotic, but it always has an underlying order; it feels chaotic because that is exactly what the band wanted, chaotic but with a definite intent.

The vocals feel impassioned and dramatic, on another album they would feel over the top and out of place, but on this album they fit perfectly. I should also point out that this is a very well produced album, in many ways it had to be well produced. There is proper separation of all the instruments; something that is so important with this style of Death Metal. You can hear what each of the guitar, bass or drum part are doing, which is essential as they are all doing different things. A less well produced attempt at this sort of thing would be a muddy, unlistenable mess. This is so important on the more extreme tracks like opening song Sisyphus, guitar and bass parts swirl around your head, but you can hear every note clearly, so it all makes sense (pretty complex sense, but it does make sense). The album isn’t all about extreme, there are some very interesting softer tracks as well; Irradia features a very long, soft opening section, which despite feeling quite dissonant, is lilting and hypnotic. 

Some of the quieter sections have some very enjoyable repeating motifs that are a little reminiscent of Philip Glass. The are parts of this album that are closer to a Post Metal sound. Title track Immoto has a part that is very heavy, but in a more direct, simple way that is much closer to Post Metal than Death metal, giving the album a nice amount of variety, ebb and flow. Immoto is a great album. It challenges the listener, but if you give the album a little time (don’t expect something as complex as this, to be immediate) it will open up, and you’ll get a lot out of it. Yes, it’s very intricate and elaborate, but don’t be put off by that, that is the albums strength. If you like your Death Metal to have some depth and complexity to it, you should give this a go; also if you like ultra technical music like Animals As Leaders, this should also interest you as well, even if it is a little bit more extreme, it’s coming from the same kind of musical mind. Highly recommended for people who like their extreme metal difficult and complex. 9/10

Drive By Truckers: The Unravelling (ATO Records) [Paul Hutchings]

You probably know their name. Formed in 1996, Drive By Truckers play alternative Southern rock and The Unravelling is their 12th studio album. The band’s fluid line-up in the first years has settled in recent times with the current members consisting founders Patterson Hood (vocals, guitar, mandolin) and Mike Cooley (guitar, vocals, banjo), drummer Brad Morgan, Jay Gonzalez (keyboards, guitar, accordion) and bassist Matt Patton. Based in Athens, Georgia, Hood and Cooley originate from the Shoals Region of Alabama whilst the band also has roots with Richmond, Virginia.

Now, I’m not going to risk upsetting the band’s vociferous and loyal following one iota. I’m unfamiliar with their back catalogue so I’ll focus on this album with little reference point. What immediately strikes is that despite the laid-back mellow feeling that the band’s music generates, their lyrical content is the complete opposite. 21st Century USA, with its easy Americana feel is a dig at the state of the nation, whilst Armageddon’s Back In Town reflects the current nightmare of normal accepted in the US. Babies In Cages is traumatic subject matter and includes some impressive electric washboard contribution from Cody Dickinson from the North Mississippi All- Stars. Despair and darkness echo on the closing song, the eight-minute Awaiting Resurrection.

The songs are direct and pointedly provocative. Musically, there is plenty of Springsteen, Eagles, Tom Petty and Counting Crows included in the mix and it’s provided in sparkling style. Slick and polished, with a perfect production recorded at the famous Sam Phillips Recording Service in Memphis. The Unravelling is a comment on dark days, and having suffered writers block for some time, Cooley and Hood, backed by the longest serving line-up has returned with an album that is sure to please their fanbase as well as scooping up new fans along the way. 7/10

Gorilla Riot: Peach (Off Yer Rocka Recordings) [Paul Hutchings]

Something new is blowing through the world of rock. It’s a little sleazy, certainly gritty, but also bluesy hard rock. This is Gorilla Riot, a five-piece three guitar pronged outfit from Manchester. Following on from their 2017 EP Six Shots Down, their debut album combines elements of grunge (Half Cut) with dirty blues rock such as Riders I with its high octane, slow burn with a wailing guitar cutting through the combined heavy riff and repetitive bass drum beat, allowing a soaring refrain to cascade through. Riders II, Mind Your Head and Young Guns add enough variety to keep it interesting before the band get into their stride on Riders II. The instant groove and swagger provide a heady mix, the edge of stoner adding to the whiskey-soaked style. This combined with enough crunching riffs to last a lifetime alongside the drawling vocals of Arjun Bishma conjuring images of the Deep South’s legends as well as Alice In Chains, Screaming Trees and Soundgarden.

For a debut album, Peaches is difficult to dislike, such is the fresh and confident approach. The band deliver glorious part-harmonies and add a stoner style which merely enhances their quality. Tracks such as Mind Your Head combine The Black Crowes with the harder style of bands like Massive, with an underlying groove and feel that is deliciously enticing. Part of the Off Yer Rocker stable, Gorilla Riot don’t bring anything original to the table, but they do provide new blood to a genre that is saturated with wannabes and poor imitations. I’d wager a few notes that Gorilla Riot will be much bigger this time next year. This is an album that doesn’t disappoint in any way. 7/10

Revolution Saints: Rise (Frontiers Records) [Matt Bladen]

The third album from the melodic rock 'supergroup' Revolution Saints, doesn't break any new ground that hasn't already been tread by the band before but if you're a fan of the bands previous releases or indeed their other bands then you'll find much to like here. Now that could be the end of the review but in the name of journalistic integrity I'll tell you all a bit more about the album, it starts with When The Heartache Has Gone a pumping rocker kicking things off with big melodic rock riffs to get the heart pumping, it's followed by Price We Pay a track overwrought with emotion. Now the band membership may shed a little more light on the bands sound (if you haven't heard either of their previous two records).

Revolution Saints are made up of Deen Castronovo (The Dead Daisies, ex-Journey, Bad English), Doug Aldrich (The Dead Daisies, Burning Rain, ex-Whitesnake, Dio), and Jack Blades (Night Ranger) along with producer/keyboardist Alessandro Del Vecchio, tinkling the ivories and in the studio chair. Castronovo is the main lead vocalist here showing why he was a valuable member of Journey on the mic along as well as their skilled drummer, his rhythm section foil and co-lead singer for a few tracks is Jack Blades, the creative mind behind Night Ranger, while Doug Aldrich is Doug Aldrich, his licks and solos flowing as freely as his golden mane. Songs made to bother FM/DAB mainstream radio as much as possible, Rise doesn't change the world of rock, it sticks to a pretty well worn formula (admittedly one co-written originally by it's membership) and if you're into that go with it, if not look elsewhere. 6/10

A View From The Back Of The Room: Slipknot (Live Review By Neil Lewis)

Slipknot & Behemoth, Motorpoint Arena Cardiff

Unfortunately I have start this review by having a(nother) very well-deserved moan about the venue. If you’ve ever been to Cardiff’s Motorpoint Arena for a metal show you probably already know that the venue hasn’t exactly got a reputation for having great sound. On the other hand, the electronic based bands I’ve seen there (such as The Prodigy, Enter Shikari and Nine Inch Nails) have all sounded great, but that’s likely because of the venues propensity for seemingly only amplifying the low frequencies and a touch of the mid-range, discarding any and all semblance of detail along the way. So, the elephant in the room on this occasion is less an elephant and more the room itself - both figuratively and literally.

So, when I got in to see that Behemoth (5) were already part way through their set the piss poor sound didn’t raise my eyebrows too much as support bands often get short shrift in the audio department. The fact that they were permitted to have what looked to me to be a full stage show, replete with fire and everything, but still sounded bloody awful should have been a warning of what was sonically to come but I didn’t give it much thought, more fool me. Admittedly black/death metal isn’t really my thing, but the band were still a good watch, aided by that rather impressive stage show and an alert lighting op which is something else that not every support band gets the luxury of having. I very much doubt that I would go to see the band as a headliner but in this setting, they were perfectly enjoyable to watch, albeit somewhat of a chore to listen to – but that wasn’t necessarily their fault.

A bigger chore on the night was attempting to figure out what exactly the headliner’s front Corey Taylor was singing and saying between songs during Slipknot’s (6) set. Honestly it sounded like he had a mouth full of cotton wool such was the absolutely dire sound quality. His vocals during songs were frequently lost in the mix, being drowned out by all the bottom end the evening’s sound engineer was pushing on us. Oddly the mix slightly improved during the latter part of the bands’ performance but by then the damage had already been done: I heard numerous people around me complaining about the sound, which would have had to improve by leaps and bounds to even reach the sub-par level.

The fact that the sound quality improved a little during the bands set (only around ten(!) songs in mind!) somewhat proved that it wasn’t solely the venues PA or acoustics that were to blame for the muddier-than-a-swamp sound mix; they certainly didn’t help but whoever was in charge of sound engineering on this night needs a lesson or two too. The additional fact that the approximately 7,500 in the totally sold out crowd had paid north of fifty quid each for their tickets felt like another insult after hearing the aural abomination that was the sound mix for the show. The further fact that the bands would have performed sound checks and therefore someone must have signed off the nights’ sound board configurations is just baffling to me. Maybe it actually sounded amazing when the room was empty? Who knows.

All of which was a bloody shame as Slipknot’s actual performance was excellent. The band certainly do know how to put on a memorable show and this night’s was another example of just how entertaining they are when they hit the stage. I personally enjoyed the set list that was chosen which featured a good smattering of classic ‘Knot tunes (such as Disasterpiece, Eeyore, Before I Forget, Psychosocial and Eyeless - during which the crowd went certifiably crazy) nestling alongside future classics taken from my own favourite album of 2019 We Are Not Your Kind (Nero Forte, All Out Life and show opener – and in this writers’ opinion the bands current best song – Unsainted). The familiar encore trio of (sic), People = Shit and Surfacing closed out the show.

It was a hell of a show too with plenty of explosions and pyro to catch the eye along with very impressive LED screens behind and above the band plus the same LED tech wrapped around the two elevated platforms that the band’s percussionists were perched on. If I could score the stage show separately from the sound (horror) show, the scores would definitely be at completely opposite ends of the scale. Unfortunately, and to put it mildly, the sound is kind of an unavoidably integral part of a gig and thus I can’t really do that. This is a shame as being essentially forced into giving this show such a low score somehow doesn’t seem fair, but that utterly abysmal sound mix really detracted from the excellent stage performances. Hopefully the proposed new Cardiff Arena in the city’s Bay area will get things right, but we’ll have to wait and bleed on that one until the place is actually built. Overall this was a memorable gig in the Welsh capital for sure, unfortunately it was mostly for the wrong reasons.

Reviews: Heathen, Thy Catafalque, Ben Poole Trio, Lordi (Paul H, Rich, Simon & Matt)

Heathen: Evolution Of Chaos (Mascot Records) [Paul Hutchings]

It’s been ten years since San Francisco thrashers Heathen released their third and to date last album. If you were around in the late 1980s you should remember them as part of the Bay Area thrash movement, alongside the likes of Testament, Exodus, Death Angel, Forbidden and Vio-lence. Whilst the band never reached the heights of their counterparts, their three albums are all worth a listen. Reforming in 2001 after an eight-year break, it took another eight years for Heathen to release the follow up to 1991’s Victims Of Deception. An album that was most definitely worth the wait, Evolution Of Chaos is certainly a fine album with some classic thrash tracks that stand as tall today as they did back then.

The album opens with Intro, which includes a sitar (played by Steve DiGorgio) before all hell breaks loose on the pummelling Dying Season, a genuine statement of intent and a big middle finger to all the doubters. Dying Season follows the classic thrash style and has the advantage of the chops of vocalist David White whose soaring range is comparable with Bruce Dickinson. Thrash lives or dies by the quality of the vocalist and in White, Heathen possess an ace. The mid-section chug is overwritten by some soaring lead guitar work whilst the rhythm section of Jon Torres and Darren Minter hold everything tightly in place. It’s a great start to an album that improves on every listen.

Whilst Heathen haven’t released many albums, Evolution Of Chaos ranks highly in the all-time thrash listings and it’s easy to see why when you listen to this album again. Control By Chaos rages from the start, a bulldozer which smashes its way through anything placed in its path. Razor sharp riffs, memorable choruses and a heaviness that can’t fail to get you moving. It also features a shreddingly hot solo from Exodus’ Gary Holt. This leads to the centrepiece of the album, the 11:10 No Stone Unturned. Now there is no denying that the riffs are reminiscent of Metallica’s Don’t Tread On Me, and as the track unfurls into the massive instrumental middle section, more Metallica style ‘quiet’ parts, but I don’t care. This track is a monster. Intricate playing, subtle and measured guitar which then leads back into thick chunky riffing as the track enters the frantic final third. I realised at this point that it had been far too long since I’d listened to this band.

With 12 tracks on the album, and several of them kicking in at way over six minutes a piece, Evolution Of Chaos is an absolute beast of an album. It’s 68 minutes long but at no time does the attention wane. Arrows Of Agony follows No Stone Unturned and once more the dual assault of Lee Altus and Kragen Lum’s guitars leads the charge. Arrows Of Agony is almost traditional metal, White’s clean but gritty vocals and the melodic style of the song provide a concrete base for some blistering guest solos from Terry Lauderdale. Lauderdale, a guitar virtuoso also adds a viciously feisty solo on final track Silent Nothingness.

Altus and White wrote virtually all the songs on this album but there is nothing stale on any of them. In fact, it becomes increasing hard to find flaws as the journey continues. Fade Away races along, punchy and crisp, A Hero’s Welcome sees White sound like Ricky Warwick as the song builds and echoes a heavier Iron Maiden whilst the crunch of tracks such as Undone and Bloodkult is reassuringly Bay Area thrash. So, despite being a definitive thrash album there is certainly variety which is often lacking elsewhere. With Altus a permanent member of Exodus since 2005, time has been against Heathen but the good news is that there are rumours of a new album in the near future. Regardless, this is one of the thrash metal masterpieces of the past thirty years. One that deserves higher recognition. Hopefully this remastered copy will assist. 9/10

Thy Catafalque: Naiv (Season Of Mist) [Rich Oliver]

There are some albums that defy classification and Naiv is one of them. The ninth album by Hungarian avant-garde metal project Thy Catafalque it is a melting pot of hugely varying styles and sounds. I have been aware of Thy Catafalque but never had a chance to check out any material. I’m aware that they are founded on black metal albeit of a very experimental nature and that as they have progressed the albums have become far more musically diverse. Diverse is certainly the right term for Naiv as it is packed full of varying musical ideas and styles through its nine song duration. Opener A Bolyongás Ideje is very much rooted in black metal albeit of a more playful and psychedelic nature but it is from the second song Tsitsushka that musical boundaries become completely blurred with it’s mix of post-punk, funky bass lines, saxophone and horn section. It sounds completely bizarre and you’re right it is but it is also unapologetically fantastic.

Embersólyom follows and is another complete left turn with its neofolk backbone, lush synths and spine tingling vocals from Martina Veronika Horváth. The experimental nature of the album continues to the very end with the synthwave plus added flute of Kék Madár (Négy Kép), the atmospheric keys and crushing metal of Vető and the hugely melodic closer Szélvész. Despite all these alternating and varying styles the songs have great flow to them and the changes are pretty much seamless. Credit is due to the brains behind Thy Catafalque and the projects sole member Tamás Kátai. His writing skills allow this album to be wildly creative and eccentric but without sounding forced or jarring. 

There is a natural flow throughout which makes this album a hugely enjoyable listening experience. Having not heard any previous Thy Catafalque albums I don’t know whether the sound and style of Naiv is business as usual or an experimental detour but I am most certainly going to be exploring the Thy Catafalque back catalogue to find out. A fantastic album recommended for those who like their music of an experimental nature. 8/10

Ben Poole Trio: Live '19 (Self Released) [Matt Bladen]

A self explanatory title this is live album from the Ben Poole Trio recorded last year over the course of 3 nights in such lavish surroundings as the Old Schoolhouse in Barnsley, The Half Moon in South London and Bootleggers in Kendal, Cumbria, this is a double live album featuring 14 tracks at 90 minutes of live blues rock tracks in front of reasonable small crowds making it seem like you are earwigging on intimate show. The album serves as a greatest hits taking songs from both of Ben's most recent albums 2018's Anytime You Need Me and 2016’s Time Has Come, Poole is the smoky vocals and smoking guitar playing backed by Wayne Proctor (drums- formerly King King), Steve Amadeo (bass - Aynsley Lister), with such an experienced rhythm section behind him it gives Poole a chance to impress properly and he lives up to the praise heaped upon him by luminaries such as Jeff Beck, Beth Hart and Kenny Wayne Shepherd, his guitar playing is excellent the ease with which he can peel of intricate blues rock riffs and solos, smoldering on Found Out The Hard Way and Don't Cry For Me but also rocking things up with Take It No More and Start The Car. Still reasonably fresh on the scene you can hear from this album that Ben Poole is a name to watch. 7/10

Lordi: Killection (AFM) [Simon Black]

OK, so I was aware of Lordi, but really had not done much other than raise a bemused eyebrow at their Eurovision win many moons ago, because quite frankly GWAR made the latex monster joke first a long time before and Kiss have probably trademarked everything else. This is their 10th album, and it is a spoof compilation, which despite saying so clearly on the cover is going to catch someone out. So with some trepidation I sling the tracks on, and find myself pleasantly surprised, because the opening track with its spoof of every practically major hard rock and metal act of the 70’s and 80’s was spot on. Imagine you are listening to a cheesy fake USA rock radio station (complete with periodic DJ interruptions and phone ins), throw in spoofs of the greats, and tracks that are intended to create the impression of a compilation act going back decades but are in fact piss takes of artists we all know well. The DJ links don’t work too well beyond the opening one (which is hilarious), but mostly the songs do.

Lordi have literally become their own tribute act with this one … or Weird Al Yankovic in latex. You decide. Either way, the tongue is firmly in someone else’s cheek. Shake The Baby Silent, sounds more like Rob Zombie than Rob Zombie does, Rob Halford ought to receive scream royalties at several points throughout, Zombino acknowledges the love for Kiss by reminding Paul and Gene just quite how bad I Was Made For Loving You’s faux disco was and Fire It Up sounds like it could actually have been recorded by Accept (although Evil will never make up for the fact that Slayer aren’t around anymore). What makes it work is that the musicians do a cracking job of emulating their heroes playing, vocal and production styles whilst still sounding like Lordi, so it’s a wink and a nudge piss-take rather than full on parody, but it works … up to a point. To be honest it runs out of steam about two thirds of the way through.

I’m aware that the current ‘played for laughs’ version of Lordi has alienated many of those who supported them from the get go, and this disc is unlikely to win them back. I guess they tried to be more subtle back then, but I get the feeling this incarnation has its fans too. This is the sort of album you play for a chuckle on your own, or a bigger laugh with mates over beers who share the joke, but is never going to get world domination and that many repeat plays, because let’s face it comedy albums don’t have that many plays in them. Not that Lordi seem to care. And neither do I, so pass the beer please. 6/10

Saturday 25 January 2020

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

Witch Tripper, Gévaudan & Six Sins Till Sunday, The Gryphon, Bristol

Such is the work that Mansfield’s Witch Tripper have put into their career, it was no surprise to find that The Gryphon was much busier than the band’s debut show back in early 2019 for their return which was originally planned for August last year. A solid support card helped with partisan fans of Six Sins Till Sunday and Gévaudan swelling the numbers. Apologies to Statue Kings, I just didn’t make it across the bridge in time but a full room slowly emptying as I arrived suggested good things.

Six Sins Till Sunday (6) hail from Plymouth and have been plying their trade with various line-ups for some years, their Facebook biog suggesting as far back as 2012. The five-piece play a sludgy groove-soaked metal which features big riffs, bellowing vocals and enough variation to make each song interesting. Tracks from their 2019 release Masks were impressive, as was the taster from the forthcoming EP Unmasked, the memorable Road To Redemption which was being performed live for the first time. The band fed off the energy of their following in the room, warming up as their slot progressed, vocalist Chris Newman very much the focal point as he prowled the pit, his vocals slightly off key at times but his passion pulling him through. Whilst the limited space in the venue prevented Six Sins Till Sunday from really unleashing the fury physically, their brand of muscular, honest metal was roared on by the audience, and by the time they concluded their set with an obvious crowd favourite Allegory Of The Cave most of the room was converted. Six Sins Till Sunday are touring their EP throughout 2020 and are worth catching.

A total change of pace and style followed as Hertfordshire’s Gévaudan (8) brought their visceral Sabbath infused doom metal to the West Country and totally pulverised the venue. Rarely have I seen a band so intensely heavy or powerful. A 40-minute set delivered four massive pieces, each a behemoth of a track. Vocalist Adam Pirmohamed’s mournful vocals which range from gothic despair to almost roaring death metal mesmerised the crowd, and the segments of subtle yet powerful mellowness contrasted strongly with the brutal, down right spine crushing doom which threatened to buckle to floor of the upper room. Bruce Hamilton’s guitar work echoed the man in black; yes, there was enough flair to emulate an obvious idol in Tony Iommi, down to the style and choice of axe but Hamilton is far from a clone, with his frequent flamboyant shapes (including some neat behind the head riffing) and fabulous gurning not distracting from some intense guitar work. As ever, the key to massive doom is a massive rhythm section and bassist Andy Salt and drummer Dave Himbury delivered huge slabs of devastating power to keep the beast moving. Opening with Dawntreader, we were treated (and that is the correct word) to three other songs from 2019’s Iter; The Great Heathen Army, the shortest track of the set Maelstrom and the stunning 15-minute Duskwalker. By the time the band left the performance area (I think stage is a bit generous) they had rekindled old friendships and warmed those new to the band. It was quite something.

I think I saw Witch Tripper (8) seven times live last year. Each time they were fucking ace. The year in which drummer Gary Eric Evans sat on the drum stool was possibly the most successful for the band, 88 gigs across the country and a massively popular Sophie Lancaster stage performance at Bloodstock 2019 being just one highlight. Finishing the year on a slightly sour note, Evans decided to step down and once more ‘Stoff (Chris Daughton – bass and vocals) and Richie (Barlow – vocals and guitar) were looking for a drummer. Enter Christopher Reed, backpacking around the world a year before but now fully committed to the challenges ahead. And fuck yes, the Tripper machine rolled back into position, engaged warp drive and picked up where they left off before Christmas. Sure, there were slight pauses as the guys worked out the timing, sure, Reed played it a little safer with his rolls and fills; this was his first gig with the band FFS! But with a front two that Witch Tripper possess, you don’t really need to rely on defence. Richie simply oozes everything you want in a frontman, stripped to the waist, his long hair shaking, his tattooed torso wowing both sexes whilst his smoking reverberating guitar work is insane.

Alongside him, the ever reliable Stoff, whose rampaging bass lines shake the very foundations. Shaking off any rust spots, the band roared through an hour long set stuffed full of those songs we are now so familiar with, but which still get the heart pumping, the pulse racing and the head banging. White Lines, Shout, Attitude Adjustment, You Get What You Pay For and Roll The Dice … you know the score by now. Witch Tripper are up and running in 2020, and with the promise of a new album at some point, it might even top 2019. I’m in it for the long haul. Miss them at your peril. They truly are Fucking Ace!

NB: You can catch them in Cardiff on 12th February supporting Evil Scarecrow at The Globe. They will blow the crab lovers off the stage.

Friday 24 January 2020

Reviews: Annihilator, Napalm Death, Decarlo, Last Frontier (Paul H, Rich & Matt)

Annihilator: Ballistic Sadistic (Neverland Music Inc) [Paul Hutchings]

Few things are guaranteed in life. Death. Taxes. Not a lot else. But, you can always rely on the thrash of Canadian’s Annihilator whose 17th album Ballistic Sadistic is about as solid a thrash album as you could wish for. With the line up lead once more by Jeff Waters (vocals and guitar) and supported by bassist Rich Hinks, guitarist Aragon Homma and drummer Fabio Alessandrini for the first time [2017’s For The Demented was almost entirely played by Waters with additional bits from Homma], Ballistic Sadistic is cohesive and fluid in a way that Annihilator albums sometimes fail to be.

There’s never been a doubt about Waters skills as a guitarist and Ballistic Sadistic contains sufficient solos and flashy add ons to maintain the faith of those with a six string fetish. Vocally, Waters is on fire, with a strong and forceful delivery which harks back to those early days of Alice In Hell and Never Neverland. Waters stated recently that he feels this is Annihilator’s best album since 2005’s Schizo Deluxe. I can’t agree with that; it’s actually on a par with those early 1990s classics in my opinion. Raging with an anger that has been burning for some time, Armed To The Teeth and The Attitude are ferocious from start to finish, with some vicious guitar work, the constant link between Alessandrini and Hinks providing a concrete foundation which never ever sounds like even chipping throughout.

Psycho Ward appears to be the mandatory ‘mental health’ song, a thundering track with an unusually mellow melody in the middle and some neat guitar work to boot. It wouldn’t be Annihilator without one song like this. Elsewhere the usual heads down thrashing is everywhere, with songs like I Am Warfare and Dressed Up For Evil destined for live favourites. Lip Service is the one song where the usual Megadeth’s comparison could be focused, Hink’s pumping bass intro and Waters snarl over an infectious riff conjuring up comparisons with a certain Mr Mustaine, but otherwise this is a fine track with some quality interplay. Annihilator have produced a contemporary thrash album for the 2020’s. It’s not fussy, over complicated but it is superbly delivered. Mixed, engineered and produced by Waters, Annihilator show no sings of slowing down. Few would argue that they should. 8/10

Napalm Death: Logic Ravaged By Brute Force EP (Century Media Records) [Rich Oliver]

Logic Ravaged By Brute Force is the new 7” EP from Brummie grindcore legends Napalm Death. It is being released prior to their upcoming European tour with Eyehategod, Misery Index, Rotten Sound and Bat. It is a very short release comprised of only two songs and sees the band venturing into more experimental territories. The first track is the title track and very much has a post-punk feel to it although post-punk given the Napalm Death treatment. It has a slow to middling pace to it with very discordant riffs giving it a very desolate feel. Barney Greenway mixes his trademark roar with some pained and anguished clean vocals adding to the desperate feel of the song. The second track is a cover of White Kross by Sonic Youth and is similar in style to the title track being very dissonant and bleak. Having not heard the Sonic Youth original I am unable to compare it. Being only two songs and under 8 minutes in length it’s over before you know it and whilst not an essential release being more of a collectors only item for the Napalm Death fanbase it is interesting to hear Napalm Death experimenting in other realms of sonic depravity. An interesting but non-essential listen. 6/10

Decarlo: Lightning Strikes Twice (Frontiers Records) [Paul Hutchings]

I suppose if you like melodic rock then the likes of Boston, Foreigner, Survivor and REO Speedwagon will all be in your favourites. Decarlo will fit neatly into that list. I don’t mind a bit of AOR; Boston’s debut album remains one of my favourite records of all time, but I struggled with Lighting Strikes Twice. It’s certainly polished, smooth as velvet and perfectly produced. Decarlo are unsurprisingly fronted by Tommy DeCarlo (who has been performing with Boston since 2007 after the death of singer Brad Delp; Decarlo’s arrival as singer of his favourite band is the stuff of dreams) and son Tommy DeCarlo Jr on guitar, with Dan Hitz on drums. When the band hit the harder rock vein it’s not bad at all. The title track, heavily laced with thick keyboards, opener A Better Day with its Boston feel and Rock N’ Soul all comfortably stand their ground with DeCarlo Jr adding some neat guitar. Songs you could hum along to on a road trip with the top down and the wind in your hair (yes, I can remember that feeling before you say anything).

It’s when the band move into the creepy love songs with the sugar-coated harmonies that I start to feel nauseous. I find that quite astonishing, given my love of cheese, but this is more challenging than a camembert three-month’s past its use by date. Three absolute belters at least on this album which pushed well into the upper echelons of the upchuck scale. Still In Love brought a lump of bile to the back of the throat, There She Goes added to the pain but it was The One which forced a full discharge of stomach contents. It’s grim stuff indeed and something almost impossible to listen to more than once. I’ll give it half marks but anything that makes me feel so bilious doesn’t get anything better. 5/10

Last Frontier: Aether - Equivalent Exchange (Revalve Records) [Matt Bladen]

From Italy I couldn't find a huge amount of information on Last Frontier until with a bit of Googling (or Binging if that's a thing) I came across their record company page where they have a comprehensive history of the band. They were formed in 2005 by guitarist Mimmo Natale and keyboardist Cyrion Faith who remain in the band to this day after going through two previous full length releases and multiple members they hit the studio in 2018-2019 to record this record suspending their intense live activities and gaining new singer Marco Cantoni (Cyrax, ShiversAddiction) to bring their third record to life. So what does it actually sound like? Well it's what I would call atmospheric/epic heavy metal, a mixture of traditional and progressive heavy metal categorized by heavy riffs, crunching rhythms, odd time signatures and a layering of impressive keys/synths. Many of the songs here have an epic feel to them Wings Of Stone is almost operatic, with choirs and the range of Marco on display, he's got a powerful range but does go a little mad occasionally where it's not needed and sometimes the songs do tend to plod along a little as it runs out of puff towards the end. Aether is a competent third album from this Italian metal act, for me they were a passing curiosity that did pay off. 6/10

Thursday 23 January 2020

Reviews: Mark Morton, Doomed To Fail, Blessed Black, Skull Koraptor (Paul H, Simon & Matt)

Mark Morton: Ether EP (Rise Records) [Paul Hutchings]

Produced by Josh Wilbur (Trivium, Lamb Of God, Gojira), the Lamb Of God follows up his 2019 debut solo album Anaesthetic with this five-track release, comprising two covers and three original compositions. Whilst I enjoyed his debut album, it was the opportunity to see him deliver the tracks acoustically at The Thekla recently which really opened the eyes to Morton’s wider talent. Ether opens with All I Had To Lose, one of two songs to feature Mark Morales, whose voice fits the song perfectly. Morales was superb at the live show, and he gives a stellar performance on this original song. A delicately composed track, Morton’s playing is understated, allowing Morales to take centre stage with an emotion-filled performance. The Fight follows, for me the weakest song of the five. An electronic drumbeat echoes in the background, John Carbone of Moon Tooth delivers the vocals and the track transfers from acoustic to electric but the whole thing is just a little bland in comparison to the other tracks.

Now, I’m not a huge fan of Lzzy Hale. I’m one of the few who struggles to find anything exciting about her band. However, on She Talks To Angels, we get a powerfully honest cover of The Black Crowes song from their sensational 1990 debut Shake Your Money Maker, Hale plays the perfect foil to Morton’s guitar work and whilst it’s impossible to match the original, this version is a quality cover. Love My Enemy features one of the best voices in the business, that of one Howard Jones (Light the Torch, ex-Killswitch Engage). Love My Enemy opens with Jones hitting the higher notes, a measured approach before the electric riffing starts, Jones opens the pipes and we are treated to a blast of those legendary soulful sounds. Morton’s playing once again sits in the background, but his song writing is solid, and he also gets to let rip with a meaty, if slightly truncated solo. Love My Enemy might well be my favourite song on this release.

But it is pushed all the way by the closing track, a fine cover of Pearl Jam’s Black. Not an easy song to cover, Morton and Morales make it sound easy, with Morales’ performance impressive. Attempting to replicate Eddie Vedder would be pointless, so Morales heads off a different path, his gritty vocals don’t struggle as he ensures that his delivery sits comfortably but also pushes him all the way. Having seen him sing the song live, I have no doubt that this is a genuinely heartfelt effort. Five tracks, all different in style and delivery. An EP that is well worth listening to. 8/10

Doomed To Fail: Fury (Self Produced) [Simon Black]

This first full-length album from Austrian 5 piece Doom/Melodic Death outfit Doomed To Fail shows more promise than the cynical self-doubt in their choice of name implies, although at 6 tracks it still feels a little short. Short, but very punchy...They’ve been around for a couple of years, and this is the first release since their original 2016 EP The Grey and although I can see that the original 3 tracks have been re-recorded here, however there is a massive step forward in all round cohesion between the two versions of the songs. If I was looking for a likely influences, I would say early Amon Amarth with a good helping of mid-90’s Paradise Lost on the instrumentals, particularly the lead guitar work.

Tight, catchy, with some nice really tight riffs and hooks, really skilful solo licks and that rarest of rarities an engaging and comprehensible death vocal style, you get the sense that this is an outfit with a future, and I would be interested to see if they can pull it off live. If I had a criticism, it’s that the production values seem a little low for the age we live in, but these guys are self-produced, the song-writing punches above its weight, and the musicianship is top notch, so fair play to them. An impressive debut, but a shame they couldn’t have moved away from The Grey with a full batch of new songs. 7/10

Blessed Black: Beyond The Crimson Throne (Self Produced) [Simon Black]

When Matt sent this over and I saw the name of the band, I thought he was having a giraffe, but I’m glad he did. The second of two self-produced debut’s in my swag bag this month, Blessed Black hail from Cincinnati in the Mid-West USA, and don’t seem to have been around for long. This is a promising slab of stoner rock, definitely in the C.O.C. vein, but with tighter musicianship, so you get the sense that the stoned part is for after the show. Starting bravely for a debut with the instrumental track The White Wolf, the band show their influences, slab-like approach to riffage and technical skill in that first 3 minutes. And then it gets better, with vocalist (and guitars) Joshua Murphy adding a powerful, haunting timbre to the whole thing, and quite frankly is spot on with his performance.

Unlike some self-produced debuts the production on this album is very strong, and what is surprising is the complex technical production and layering going on here – the kind of technical harmonies you don’t expect to hear in this sub-genre, but which create a lovely hypnotic feel to the record, and I can see this working well live as long as they can get someone on the desk who gets their sound. The downside? Well, at 7 tracks and 35 minutes, it’s short for an album, but as I always say to my kids don’t speak if you have nothing to say. There is a sense that there is a sameness to the pace through the tracks but they are so well overlaid with innovative guitar layers that it really doesn’t matter, and three listens in I’m still raising thumbs (and of course horns) in appreciation. 8/10

Skull Korpator: Chaos Station (Ragnarok Records) [Matt Bladen]

Ah thrash, it's one of those things that when done well it's a brilliant, when it's not done well it can be very stale and repetitive. Athens thrashers are more on the positive side of things thankfully despite their terrible name, they manage to bring some classic metal chops to their thrash attack, the Intro is built around some marching military drum beat as it moves into the first track proper Hatred which gallops with trad metal riffs bolstered by the thrash tenacity. It's a pretty good way of opening the record as it's followed by the much thrashier Blast It Out and Burnt Society which channels the Big Four but mainly Anthrax along with Testament due to the incredible drumming on display. Skull Korpator are a trio, which makes this album even more impressive as it never stops being heavy but they also have grooves on Breakthrough along with bounce to Fatal Wrecking. Raging thrash metal undercut with trad metal melodies (Voices Of DespairChaos Station is decent thrash metal album and worth your time. 7/10  

Reviews: Kirk Windstein, Anti Flag, InMe, Rat King (Rich & Alex)

Kirk Windstein: Dream In Motion (eOne) [Rich Oliver]

Kirk Windstein is a figurehead in metal and especially in the NOLA sludge scene. From fronting Crowbar for 29 years to his work with supergroup Down to his collaboration with Jamey Jasta (of Hatebreed) in Kingdom Of Sorrow the man is pretty much universally revered in metal circles so it was high time the man did a solo album. Dream In Motion was recorded in Louisiana (where else) over the past two years in between tours and commitments with his other bands and despite being in that quintessential Kirk Windstein style he has forged over the past 30 years this album also has its differences to his main outlet Crowbar. Whilst Crowbar is dense sonic destruction with the subtlety of a brick to the face, Dream In Motion is a far more relaxed and melodic experience. The dense NOLA riffage is prevalent but is delivered in a far more mellow format with a cleaner sound and throwbacks to the classic rock and metal that Kirk listened to in his formative years.

The opening title track delivers the riffs and groove in plentiful servings and Toxic is the closest to Crowbar the album gets whilst Enemy In Disguise and instrumental The Healing ably display the more emotional and soulful side of Kirk’s writing. With all instruments (bar drums) performed by Kirk this is very much the epitome of a solo album and a very good one. It’s not a million miles from Kirk’s other output but is a far more relaxed, soulful and introspective release from the NOLA legend. It is a bit on the repetitive side and doesn’t stray from its mid paced tempo but is an album well worth checking out if you love that NOLA sound. 8/10

Anti-Flag: 20/20 Vision (Spinefarm Records) [Alex Swift]

We begin on radio static before one of the many worrying comments from Trump crackles in ‘In the good old days this doesn’t happen because they used to treat them very rough, and when they protested once they wouldn’t do it again so easily’. From there we charge into Hate Conquers All, a seething, mocking anthem with quickfire shouts of dystopian slogans, followed by equally commanding stints of machine-gun fire guitars and percussion. It Went Off Like A Bomb is more pointed in its critiques the tense and angered melodic phrasing excellently matching the songs messages of anti-fascism and learning from history. The title track feels infinitely more positive in the optimism in which the huge melodies, double harmonies and inspiring instrumentation, yet brings the listener back down to earth by asking ‘Which side are you on?’. Living up to Justin Sane and Chris #2’s typical penchant for triumphant, fist in the air anthems, Christian Nationalist and Don’t Let The Bastards Get You Down, prove rallying cries, imploring fans to stand up in the face of hatred, never getting crushed by catastrophic defeat.

The same could be said for the powerfully confident Unbreakable, which confronts mental hardship and the everyday toil we endure just to feel worthwhile, especially in the face of a political environment which feels increasingly hostile towards the natural world, and the rights of minorities. Even on the throttling and visceral Disease, the infuriated A Nation Sleeps, and the humorously poignant, You Make Me Sick, the record retains that sense of trying to empower the listener against adversity. We finish on Un-American which utilizes horns and crescendoing phrases to dismiss fallacies that questioning society, and standing against violent nationalism, constitutes disrespect or treachery – ‘No peace comes from a greedy hand. Who is un-American?’ While 20/20 Vision is in many ways an expected Anti-Flag album, the passion which they pour into every single moment of their records makes them one of the finest punk acts still around today. Far from shying away from social issues, they confront them with honesty and precision. 

Music may not be able to change the world, yet in hearing the hope or indeed anger that records in this vein convey, you come to realize we are not indeed at the end of the road as a species and that fairness and righteousness will survive, as long as there are people ready to stand up and act! 7/10

InMe: Jumpstart Hope (Killing Moon) [Alex Swift]

InMe very much emerged as part of the early 2000s tradition of modern rock acts, and while their melodic alt-rock stood apart from the nu-metal and metalcore of the time, make no mistake their brand of loud riffs, huge production and emphasis on emotion-driven choruses integrated them well into the scene of the time. 20 years later, how have they adapted to meet the musical landscape of today? Well, put simply, they haven’t. Let me be clear, while these anthems are powerfully performed, the synth and guitar work contemplative, and the moods carried in a way that makes them appear realistic, nothing on Jumpstart Hope makes these songs raise above the lofty heights of competency. ‘I’m waiting for something to happen’ frontman McPherson sings on the track of the same name, and frankly, I couldn’t have described my thoughts better myself. Everything here leaves me with a cold sense of tedium. 

There are moments as on the brisk I Swear or the vigorous Blood Orange Lake where I find myself nodding my head in quiet harmony with the admittedly sharply performed grooves, and sprightly rhythms. Yet I never feel my emotions lifted to the point of exaltation that these songs are aiming for. There’s a tone that’s incredibly reminiscent of acts in the vein of Breaking Benjamin, or Young Guns. The album kills 40 minutes or so, without presenting any degree of replay value. The entire piece can be summarised in one word: Serviceable. Perhaps if you are a huge fan of their particular brand of sentimental alternative, you might get something of value from InMe. For everyone else, take or leave. You won’t be missing out on anything impressive by giving this one a miss. 5/10

Rat King: Vicious Inhumanity (Self Released) [Rich Oliver]

What do you get when you combine the two dirtiest and filthiest sounding subgenres of metal and combine them together? The answer is Rat King with their combination of squalid sludge metal and festering death metal. Vicious Inhumanity is the second album by the Seattle filth merchants. Seeing as I am partial to the dirtier and scummier side of metal Rat King have plenty on offer to appeal to my repugnant tastes. This is an album that knows when to slow things down to a crawl but also when to be blisteringly fast and these changes in pace are used to great effect throughout. As you can imagine with a combo of sludge and death metal, the sound is dank and murky with a wonderfully revolting guitar tone which is the aural equivalent of rancid offal leaking out of your speakers. Whilst the album does have a fabulously rank sound to it, the songs can get a bit on the repetitive side but with an album duration of just over 33 minutes nothing really outstayed its welcome. Vicious Inhumanity is an enjoyable release which perfectly marries sludge and death metal together in disgusting harmony. 7/10

Wednesday 22 January 2020

Reviews: Blasphemer, Machinations Of Fate, Frozen Dreams, Aggro (Reviews By Paul Hutchings)

Blasphemer: The Sixth Hour (Candlelight Records)

Not to be confused with the Dewsbury outfit or the many other bands who also use the name, this is album number three from the death metal band from Lombardy. Formed in 1998, the band waited until 2008 for their first release, before following up a mere eight years later with Ritual Theophagy. This is uncompromising death metal very much in the vein of Ex Deo and Kataklysm, with an underlying anthemic quality that is overlaid with traditional brutal approaches. Blistering blast beats, guttural vocals and distorted tremolo riffing are all very much in evidence. Opener Let Him Be Crucified leaves you in no doubt what the band’s subject matter focuses on whilst Hail, King Of The Jews continues the anti-religious themes.

Although only guitarist Simone Brigo remains from the original line-up, Blasphemer are a cohesive unit, who deliver intensity at machine gun speed. There is sufficient interest and quality to satisfy the death metal devote, whilst the basic pattern of style also provides enough interest for those whose palette may require a wider menu. The searing solos in The Robe Of Mockery for example, cut through the wall of sound with a. Clarity rarely heard. The range is narrow, with Blasphemer focusing on their strengths. And that’s okay with me. It’s solid from start to finish. 6/10

Machinations Of Fate: Self-Titled (Redefining Darkness Records)

Formed in 2012, Machinations Of Fate hit hiatus in 2014. The Kentucky outfit had released Tyrannous Skies in 2012 but having reformed in 2019, this release sees Ash Thomas revise the drum sound and blend it with his original vocals, guitars of Jason Pate and lead work of Brian Henn. When it rolls what we get is some ferocious death metal that pounds hard with bludgeoning effect. The album is interspersed with some quieter moments, such as the two-minute instrumental Planetary Chaos (A Dirge For The Cosmos) but it’s where the full-frontal assault commences that the real meat on the bone is revealed. Tracks such as Bedlam in the Far Reaches and the seven-minute The Malformed Archetype are ferocious, punishing and sound fresh from start to finish. Revised, renamed and with a facelift on all fronts, Machinations Of Fate have punched hard and will no doubt appeal to those who dine on Dissection, Kreator and the like. Whether they can make an impact on an ever-shrinking pond of opportunity is debatable but for now, this is a solid thrash/death metal album. 6/10

Frozen Dreams: Awaken The Darkness (751075 Records DK)

Yet another multi instrumentalist who clearly needs to get out a bit more. Frozen Dreams is a project comprising of Weird, or as his mum probably calls him Markus (Sjodahl). Formed in 2017, Awaken The Darkness is the sixth album released since Journey Through The Realms. Badged as atmospheric black metal, with topics including nature and adventure, what the album does have is a slightly different take on a genre which is saturated with average music. If there is one genre that is struggling to provide inspiration at present, then it is this one. Heavily reliant on the synths and effects, Sjodhal brings a lighter touch to his music with some distinctly Eastern sounds, such as on End Of Life where there are alternative percussive approaches. However, there is a repetition in the song writing that leads the listener to drift away and on my first listen the album went round on loop three times before I realised. Self-production often leads to a tinny sound and that is the case here. Whilst Sjodhal has talent in spades, taking time to refine his craft may well be of benefit in the long run. 5/10

Aggro: The Shift Of Balance (Self Released)

Despite only forming in late 2018, Surrey based metal outfit Aggro’s debut five-track EP The Shift Of Balance demonstrates a maturity in writing and a pleasingly solid approach to song structure. Opener Ruins pins the KSE influence up front and central whilst the chug of Your Turn, complete with Dan Gallop’s snarling vocals oozes groove. The band sound tight and together, the interplay of guitarists Phil Williams and Rob Joyce focused and sharp. Whilst Aggro stick closely to a tried and trusted formula, there is plenty to enjoy in this EP. This Burden gallops along, the mix of clean and gruff vocals working well whilst the riffs rain down. Drummer Jon Moore and bassist Ant Rosher keep everything tight in the engine room. The music is short, sharp and in your face. No Fucks Given with its Dan Lilker bass lines is closer to the metal core style I was expecting but with a twist in the delivery. It’s no surprise that the filthy Sambucca bastards Gutlocker are on the bill for the EP launch as there are similarities between both outfits. The Shift Of Balance is completed with Stalemate, a Machine Head/KSE hybrid with enough meat to get any room bouncing. This is a decent release. 6/10

Reviews: Marko Hietala, Konvent, Temperance, Yoth Iria (Reviews By Matt Bladen)

Marko Hietala: Pyre Of The Black Heart (Nuclear Blast)

A name that should be familiar to you Marko Hietala is the vocalist/bassist for both Tarot and Nightwish while also being an in demand guest vocalist for acts like Delain and Northern Kings. His distinctive vocals phrasing though has been at it's best when paired against any of the three brilliant lead singers of Nightwish, with Nightwish now at the biggest they have ever been at their career Hietala has turned his focus on creating a solo album, he had a huge backlog of music in conjunction with his writing for Tarot and Nightwish (though most of their material comes from Tuomas Holopainen) that was more personal to him, it's music that wasn't right for Tarot due to it's darker more reflective nature. The dramatic romanticism of I, Dream and Death March For Freedom are very obvious choice with some Dio-era Sabbath and Deep Purple organs creeping in on the latter, while the former is a softly spoken acoustic record.

It's a very atmospheric record and built upon layers of keening acoustics mostly some excellent 12-String playing from Hietala which has Marko bringing some Finnish folk flourishes to a heavy prog sound that he has been able to take in any direction due to the continued success of Nightwish. It means that on The Voice Of My Father is a dark ballad with moody bass and piercing synth showcasing the range of Hietala's voice. The spirit of prog looms large on Pyre Of The Black Heart the songs with Marko stretching his creative muscles aided by Tuomas Wäinölä (guitar) and Vili Ollila (keyboards), who helped compose the album adding the atmosphere to the Floydian For You, the big riffs to Star, Sand And Shadow, the band is rounded out by drummer Anssi Nykänen who shows off on Runner Of The Railways driving it like a nuclear powered locomotive. This is a look into the musical soul of Marko Hietala and it's one that is brimming with creativity, if your only exposure is Nightwish or even Tarot then it's time to expose yourself to the other sides to this Finnish musician. 8/10

Konvent: Puritan Masochism (Napalm Records)

If I were to describe Puritan Masochism in one word it would be terrifying. If this music was a colour it would be Vantablack, unaffected by any sunlight that shines upon it, the Danish band that have created clearly imbued by the moribund spirit of Paradise Lost, Mythic and My Dying Bride. Not what you would expect from a band that come from the birthplace of Lego. Formed in 2015 the band is made up of Heidi Withington Brink (bass), Sara Helena Nørregaard (guitars), Rikke Emilie List (vocals) and Julie Simonsen (drums) and this is their debut album. All I can say is that they must have been in a dark place when they wrote it as it's death/doom at it's spine-tingling best, the guttural vocals of Rikke is jarring but perfectly fits in with the down-tuned morose doom riffs form her bandmates.

Trust is particularly abrasive with the whispers behind the main vocal all the more upsetting when listened to on headphones, while World Of Gone has a repeating riff that forces you to nod along at a slow speed of course, though not as slow as the devastating Bridge which crawls along ripping and tearing towards it's climax. The riffs here range from mountainous to cavernous as it peaks and troughs across nine tracks of which the final two are part of a suite called Ropes which close the album with two songs that are 4 minutes and 7 minutes apiece. A monumental opening gambit from Konvent, they've been called the band that may kickstart the new class of death/doom, it's difficult to argue on the basis of Puritan Masochism. 8/10 

Temperance: Viridian (Napalm Records)

Yet more symphonic metal from Italians Temperance, Viridian is their second album with new vocalists Alessia Scolletti and Michele Guaitoli who serve as the clean vocalists in conjunction with founding guitarist Marco Pastorino's harsh vocals. So yes they sound like Amaranthe, as they merge crunchy metal with bouncy pop and ripples of electronica throughout. Alessia, Michele and Marco's vocals all meld well on numbers such as I Am The Fire and the rampaging My Demons Can't Sleep, it goes full pelt from moment one bringing hook after epic hook, the title track being a prime example of songs written for the live stage, even on more romantic songs like Let It Beat are made to get you bouncing as the three voices trade off though here it mainly the two clean singers, Nanook brings more folk influences to the standard modern symphonic sound. Now I have a problem with bands like Amaranthe is that the songs to tend to blur into one another and I found that with this record as well I was writing this review while listening and what I thought was track 2 was actually track 7. It gets a bit blurry and I find myself losing interest, still it's big business so good luck to them. 6/10

Yoth Iria: Under His Sway (Repulsive Echo)

In the annals of Hellenic Black Metal the name Jim Mutilator is about as revered as they come, a founding member of both Rotting Christ and Varathron he is the one of the originators of the Hellenic black metal sound, his dirty bass sound was so integral to those early RT records. Ferocious and biting in it's frantic fuzz, Under His Sway is a record that harks back to those records while continuing this style of music into another decade. Jim has been joined by some more former RT alum in the shape of Magus Wampyr Daoloth on vocals along with George Emmanuel on guitar. Musically it doesn't stray from the Hellenic Black Metal blueprint as the title track builds up with Emmanuel's guitar showing why he was such a major part of Rotting Christ's sound until recently.

The title track builds up into multi-layered black metal tremolo picking ripping your face off with the mixture of aggressive riffs, swathes of synths, it's heavy hitting and a great opening for the album. The almost-symphonic Sid-Ed-Djinn and has some Greek traditional touches, that are ramped up fully towards the end. At just three tracks it's a sharp shock of Hellenic black metal that is closed out by a cover of Visions Of The Dead Lover from Rotting Christ's Thy Mighty Contract bringing things back full circle. Under His Sway is Hellenic BM from one of it's inventors, play loud and worship Satan! 7/10

Tuesday 21 January 2020

Reviews: Pyogenesis, Orochen, Mr Bison & Spacetrucker, Märvel (Rich & Paul H)

Pyogenesis: A Silent Soul Screams Loud (AFM Records) [Paul Hutchings]

It shows how much music is out there that it’s only now that Stuttgart’s Pyogenesis reach the tomes of this blog. The band, who had a lengthy hiatus between 2002 and 2014, returned with A Century In The Curse Of Time in 2015 and 2017’s A Kingdom To Disappear. As they approach their 30th anniversary, album number eight, A Silent Soul Screams Loud completes the third and last part of their Steampunk trilogy. Originally part of the gothic metal movement, the band toured the UK in 1994 with Anathema and like the Liverpool outfit, have changed their style substantially through the years, morphing into the current melodic melancholic alternative rock that is possibly the best description for them today. A Silent Soul Screams Loud follows on from the two previous parts, dealing with the change of the society in the 19th century. Topics highlighted include Napoleon’s reign, Sigmund Freud, Frankenstein and Karl Marx. Not your usual demons and wizards! Musically, the band’s sound ranges between strong, crushing riffs, wider more melodic rock and even soaring symphonic elements. The album opens explosively, a blistering riff and pounding drums giving way to a more melodic style on the chorus which is upbeat and with a great hook.

This Is Survival Of The Fittest, and a powerful opening song. Clean vocals and high-pitched harmonies give it a more AOR feel than is perhaps warranted Mother Bohemia strays into power metal territory, a high-paced opening giving way to a symphonic middle section before accelerating once more, echoes of Helloween flitting through the memory. Modern Prometheus also featuring a guest appearance from Lords of the Lost singer Chris Harms. With the first seven tracks all short in length, the album spirals toward the closing 14-minute opus, The Capital (A Silent Soul Screams Loud). Constructed in three movements and based on Marx’s Das Kapital. Impressive and challenging subject matter, the song is an interesting piece, gruff singing intertwines with the cleaner style of founder member Flo Schwarz. 

The first movement a galloping power metal race, before things slow right down in a semi-acoustic segment reminiscent of Blind Guardian, the duel guitars and keyboards aided by subtle percussion and more high-pitched harmonies, a crisp guitar solo breaking through. Eventually the song moves to the third movement, building in intensity to reach what I found to be a slightly underwhelming finale. Whether it is a masterpiece or vastly overblown is a matter of opinion. I sit somewhere in the middle, with the pace never recovering and the song losing its direction somewhat. Stan W. Decker’s cover art is impressive, a detailed piece which is worth seeking out. The production is crisp and fresh. Pyogenesis certainly follow their own path, and for that they deserve credit. It is an album that is certainly worth a listen. 6/10

Orochen: Mechanical Eyes EP (Self Released) [Rich Oliver]

Mechanical Eyes is the second EP by Swedish post-rock outfit Orochen.  Comprised of four songs Orochen are kind of a middle ground between post-rock and neofolk with touches of post-metal in their sound as well.  Although influenced by bands such as Neurosis or fellow countrymen Cult Of Luna this is a far more relaxed sound rather than the sonic denseness of the aforementioned bands.  Although there are heavy moments this release relies far more on creating atmosphere and soundscapes.  The folk moments snugly fit in and go hand in hand with the aura created especially on the title track with the wonderful inclusion of banjo. The vocals by Jonas Mattsson are nicely understated yet highly effective being used to stunning emotional effect on Shiny String Of Lies. Mechanical Eyes is a very enjoyable little EP.  Whilst not immediate this is great music to have on in the background and I think the more you listen to this release the more it will grow on you. 7/10

Mr. Bison & Spacetrucker: Turned To Stone Chapter 1 (Ripple Music) [Rich Oliver]

Turned To Stone Chapter 1 is a split release from Italian heavy psych band Mr. Bison and US stoner rockers Spacetrucker released through Ripple Music. Both bands I am wholly unfamiliar with each band has three songs each and both bands whilst in similar musical territories also have notable differences. Starting with the Mr. Bison half, we are offered up some psych rock with a mix of chilled stoner rock vibes and mellow psychedelic passages with some hints of prog rock. There is a part in The Stranger which sounds very Pink Floyd. These songs very much have a warm and organic feel to them and it is surprising to learn after listening that the band are minus a bass player being made up of two guitarists and a drummer. You wouldn’t know unless told as there is plenty of low end on display to make up for the lack of said bass player.

Whilst not a style I am wholly convinced by this was an enjoyable first half of the split although the three songs don’t really stand out from each other. The Spacetrucker half is far more in your face being a far more riff driven affair. Dirty fuzz over pulsating bass and some pounding drums, this is very much 90’s stoner rock worship. Two of the songs are very blunt and straightforward rockers whilst the other is a more loose instrumental. The rockers are the most effective for me though the instrumental Distant Earth does have some sweet moments. This is a very nice split EP with a good bunch of bands from two bands who have similar but also opposing styles. Stoner and psych freaks will 100% enjoy this split. 7/10

Märvel: Märvellous (Sign Records) [Paul Hutchings]

With little information to go on I took a punt on this EP to review. If follows their 2019 album Guilty Pleasures reviewed by Alex in these very pages in April last year. Although there is nothing special about Märvellous, repeated plays do worm their way into the external acoustic meatus, the catchy hooks and pleasing melodies forcing their way in deep. Formed in Sweden in 2002 when John Steen (The King), Ulrik Bostedt (Speedo) and Tony Samuelsson (The Vicar) spent a high school exchange year in Colorado, USA, the band has subsequently released several albums, playing garage rock n’ roll. From what I’ve read, they’ve avoided lawsuits from Marvel comics as a result of a well-placed umlaut.

This EP is drenched with classic 1970s KISS style, from the undulating bass lines, the shiny guitar work and the harmonies on the choruses. Now, as I love early KISS this works well from me. From opener Amaze-O-Digi to the high school stomp of Public School, this is rooted deep in 1975. Following the footsteps of Swedish rockers Turbonegro and the Hellacopters, Märvel bring a sound which when done right is addictive. A mix of hard rock and pop, this EP is enjoyable to say the least, Oh, and apparently, they play in face masks and have stupid names. 6/10