Thursday 9 January 2020

Reviews: Dawn Of Solace, Kassad, The Driftwood Sign, Acid Mammoth (Rich, Paul S, Paul H & Alex)

Dawn Of Solace: Waves (Noble Demon) [Rich Oliver]

Being a fan of the dark, gloomy and melancholic side of metal I have long been a fan of the work of Tuomas Saukkonen and his associated music projects from Before The Dawn to Black Sun Aeon to his latest venture Wolfheart. There is one project of his which seems to have bypassed most people and it’s the one that I found the most compelling and that was Dawn Of Solace and the solo album released from the project back in 2006 The Darkness. When Tuomas formed Wolfheart and announced that he was discontinuing all his other projects I will slightly disheartened that there would be no second album for Dawn Of Solace so it came as a total and very pleasant surprise at the tail end of 2019 when a new song surfaced online with a new album following in January 2020. It appears that Tuomas cannot confine his ideas to just one outlet.

So with a 14 year gap between albums how does Waves fare? Well the first big difference is the addition of vocalist Mikko Heikkil√§ whose stunning clean vocals dominate the album. The vocals on The Darkness were a mixture of harsh and clean but apart from the odd harsh moment here and there Mikko’s cleans take the lead on Waves. The other difference is a slight change in tone. The Darkness was well a very dark album being a far gloomier and bleak affair compared to the Before The Dawn and Black Sun Aeon albums but the music on Waves whilst having that very distinctive Finnish melancholy is just that slightly more optimistic sounding. 

Yes the sadness and melancholy are very much driving this album but the bleakness that was at the core of The Darkness is now gone. The songs are all highly melodic and all have the same middling pace to them but that distinctly Finnish melancholy makes these songs all achingly beautiful and highly memorable to these ears. Things start off in fantastic fashion with the sublime title track (which was released at the end of 2019) but other highlights for me included the beautiful Silence and the bleakest song of the album Tuli which is entirely sung in Finnish and has the return of the harsh vocals. Being a fan of this style of music it was hard for me not to thoroughly enjoy. I would have liked to have heard more harsh vocals and considering it has been 14 years the album is a little on the short side but these are just minor criticisms. On the whole Waves is a stunning album and Tuomas again shows he is one of the best songwriters out there when it comes to melancholic FInnish metal. 8/10

Kassad: London Orbital (Hypnotic Dirge Records) [Paul Scoble]

Kassad is a 1 man Black Metal project based in London, which is appropriate. London Orbital is Kassad’s second album coming 3 years after their debut Faces Turning Away, and 4 years after their debut Ep Humans. The feel on London Orbital is slightly less Black Metal than the bands debut, so we are closer to Post Black metal territory with this album. The album has a very modern feel as well, there are lots of electronic and ambient elements on offer here, and they are seamlessly blended with Black Metal elements, and there are a lot of those on here as well. This album features some exquisite tremolo picked riffs, with fairly smooth, trance inducing blast beats. There is an innate melodic musicality about these riffs that is very enjoyable, in some places it’s downright uplifting; the riffs on the aptly titled The Hope are a case in point, maybe a little bit like Deafheaven or Archivist, although I’d be doing Kassad a disservice to not point out that this artist has a very unique feel to them.

The subject matter of this album is based on urban decay and looking into the near future where cities are personified, malevolent beings. There is a darkness to this album that is an interesting juxtaposition to some of the uplifting guitar parts. Some of the ambient and drone sections carry a lot of this darkness, this is demonstrated by the final track The Hollow, which is the only track with no metal parts to it. The Hollow has a very slow build up to droning ambient noises, when a beat does come in it’s more like Trip-hop rather than anything you would associate with metal. There are Post Rock elements as well, some of the riffing on the second half of the track The Hopeless has this feel to it, and once it comes in the track gets bigger and bigger to a great ending. I used to live in Stockwell in South London, and this album does remind me of that period of my life and the juxtapositions of living in a big city. London is a very dark place, particularly when it comes to urban decay, and the squalid, neglected aspects of modern life.

However, London is also a vibrant city that is full of life, and I think that's where the mixture of feelings on this album come from. The album is full of the darkness, but also registers that from that darkness can come vital and life affirming things. This all ends up feeling cathartic and balanced. London Orbital is fantastic album. It’s enjoyable and immersive, a modern take on Black Metal and has sprung from living in a city. London Orbital is dark, dank, depressing whilst at the same time uplifting and life affirming, just like London itself. 8/10

The Driftwood Sign: Broken Times (Self Released) [Alex Swift]

Formed in perhaps the most organic way possible, that being as the result of a ‘very good jamming session’ – The Driftwood Sign have quickly raised through the ranks of melodic hard rock, supporting Tremonti at a Copenhagen show. It’s easy to see why they would take up a place in that scene as well. The combination of traits from various metal genres, with a strong melodious core and a theatrical production feels reminiscent of acts in that vein, if somewhat tedious, by the amount of times the style has been aped. What the Swedish four piece lack in originality though, they make up for in skill and affability. The songs bear the clout and muscle needed to carry them, with the bass and drums playing a particularly prominent role in commanding moments such as Polarize and Faceless. The ever present guitars take you on a journey, gliding from moments of serene harmony with the vocals to crushing distortion, lock and step with the marching rhythms. 

The vocals, although one of the weakest of the aspects on Broken Times, warm up to you after a while, as their reserved, reticent nature gives the instrumentals room to breathe or be noticed, while the soaring melodies themselves feel more lush and free as a result. Another aspect which took my head out the experience slightly – and its one I’m noticing more and more as a music critic – is the production, which despite clean and crisp by debut standards, breaks the bombastic, exhilarated tone that many of these tracks are shooting for. Perhaps the aspect I like most out of all of them is the fact that you can sense that these musicians decided to forma a band after jamming together. While, as I have outlined, it’s difficult to ignore the influences at play here, you can tell that each member is bringing his own unique tastes to the table, making for a listen which – despite lacking in uniqueness - feels warm and exciting. 7/10

Acid Mammoth: Under Acid Hoof (Heavy Psych Sounds) [Paul Hutchings]

Lumbering from out of the Pliocene epoch, there is no doubt that Greek doom outfit Acid Mammoth’s name links aptly with their quite incredibly heavy sound. This five-track release really sounds like a mammoth on acid and opens with Them! A mere four and a half minutes, the wall of noise and riffs almost asphyxiating whilst the down tuned fuzz the duel guitars is astonishing. The Athenians double the length on Tree Of Woe, slowing down the pace to that of a fully laden proboscidean. Chris Babalis has just the right vocal delivery for the sheer intensity that awaits you. Tusks Of Doom and Jack The Riffer (haha!) both bludgeons, the lack of speed more than adequately compensated by the crashing tsunami of sludgy riffing. If there is one complaint, it’s that the tracks tend to merge into one after a while, despite the subterranean bass of Dimostheris Vankos rattling the filings. The title track closes off 35-minutes of heaviness in typical style. If you like your doom slow, thick riffed and suffocating in its power, Acid Mammoth may well be worth checking out. 6/10

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