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Saturday 29 February 2020

Reviews: Antipope, Sons Of Sounds, Oddious, Thor (Rich, Simon, Matt & Paul H)

Antipope: Apostle Of Infinite Joy (Fertile Crescent Productions) [Rich Oliver]

Apostle Of Infinite Triumph is the fifth album by Finnish band Antipope. Originally formed as a black metal band back in 2004, Antipope have steadily incorporated different elements into their sound and progressed away from their black metal origins. The music on Apostle Of Infinite Joy is very much a mixing pot with trace elements of black metal mixed with melodic death metal, gothic metal and progressive metal. It is a mixed sound that works very well on certain songs but not so well on others.

The album takes a while to hit its stride with the first couple of songs being fairly unengaging but things pick up on the title track with its strong almost folky melodies and Red Goddess with its sharp riffs and blackened edge is the best song on the album. 0=2 also impressed with its somber, atmospheric yet epic feel. The rest of the album whilst decent suffers from the lack of memorable parts and at some points the mix of disparate sounds and elements comes across as a bit jarring instead of having a natural flow. Apostle Of Infinite Triumph is a decent album. I like the direction of the album and the mix of sounds and styles is something I wholly appreciate and enjoy but the execution on the whole misses the mark. 6/10

Sons Of Sounds: Soundsphaera (El Puerto Records) [Simon Black]

You see us journo’s love a pigeonhole. From the point where our esteemed Editor works out which one of us is best to review a release, to this poor slave to the keyboard looking to find a hook to hang his coat of words on. So when you get an act that don’t easily fall into a genre, then we need to up our game a bit and invent one. So I’m going to christen this ‘Familoprog’, and see if it sticks (although they apparently prefer ‘Free Metal’ as it doesn’t tie them down stylistically, which is a fair assessment of what this album is trying to do). Sons Of Sounds are three brothers, originally hailing from Russia, but now located in Germany and although this is the first time I’ve come across them, Soundsphaera is their sixth release, and their fifth full-length album. Musically, you can hear the progressive influence, but as a 3-piece this is a very stripped back sound without the kind of layering or broad mix of instruments that normally comes with a prog band. That said, tracks like On Fire sound quite Maidenesque in their instrumental sounds, and I have to keep reminding myself that I’m listening to 3 musicians, not 6.

Judging from their gig history, these guys mainly have an audience in Germany and Switzerland, hence the fact that they don’t stick to singing in English. That hasn’t stopped other acts from selling out stadiums, so no problem as far as I am concerned, but the German songs seem to scan better than the English ones melodically, so perhaps they should not be afraid to do more for their core market, because I haven’t seen it holding the likes of Rammstein back. This album has its strengths, and the parts that work best are the least progressive ones - check out Kriegerherz, which is definitely the most accessible song on the album, and pure power metal in structure and content (the title translates to Warrior’s Heart if you’re interested). I’ve also got a liking for the final track Are You Ready?, as it’s got the kind of energy that you can tell is going to work well live, and again works best being for being more stripped back. 

Personally I find myself torn when it comes to the more prog tracks, because although the musicianship is fine, that pigeonhole needs a little more stuff to be going on, and it seems that vocalist /bassist Roman Beselt works best when he has less to do. Maybe they just need an extra pair of hands in the line-up for this to properly tick my prog box, but as an experimental album showcasing some quite talented chaps, it’s an interesting listen. 6/10

Oddious: A Mind Full Of Secrets And Thoughts (BLB Records) [Matt Bladen]

 I couldn't find that much information about Oddious other than they are from Athens and were formed by Alex Savvidis (guitars and lyrics) and Evan Stromatias (bass) in 2008 when the two met in university. Now this collaboration evolved into a band that now features Antonia Mavronikola on vocals. I think A Mind Full Of Secrets And Thoughts is their debut release but what I can say for certain is that this band have definitely been under the learning tree of Maynard James Keenan as Oddious have a definite Tool vibe with some touches of A Perfect Circle too. What this means is that they have a progressive rock sound that is driven by Evan's bass with low polyrhythmic grooves  pairing with the spiraling psych guitar lines from Alex, add to this the haunting vocals of Antonia and you get a band who have certainly nailed their influences to the wall. This is atmospheric progressive music with very strong alternative edge to it. Unfortunately they exist in the same time period as both a re energised Tool and Wheel, but Oddious are very much a band that fans of Maynard's favoured style will enjoy. 6/10

Thor: Rising (Cleopatra Records) [Paul Hutchings]

There is clearly no stopping the juggernaut Canadian, as the mighty Thor returns with his millionth album, less than a year after the awful Hammer of Justice. Whilst the steel bending destroyer of hot water bottles can still write dreadful substandard metal songs, the overall quality on Rising is a slight improvement on past fare. Don’t get me wrong, he still can’t sing, but at least the production has moved to the indoor toilet at long last. Defend Or Die contains some decent musicianship, but the vocal delivery is abysmal. The Game Is On (Stadium mix) has a Rob Zombie style feel, albeit on a budget of $10. The blurb that comes with this album suggests that Thor has retained his classic ’80s metal sound ‘combined with modern influences’. Having managed to squirm through this album, I’d suggest that the classic 80s metal sound is one of the reasons why this album will swan dive like most of his other release. The Rut is almost average but Rising Through The Flames stinks worse than a dog turd rubbed all over your carpet. 

The worst is yet to come though, as The Party Never Ends, possibly the worst song I have ever heard in my life follows. Apparently, this song ‘pays tribute to Thor’s tireless love for his fans and his music that has driven him to continue to record and perform well into the years when most mere mortals have begun to make preparations for their journey into the hereafter”. Holy shit! What a load of bollocks. When the chorus declares he is “too old to act my age”, commanding that we “dim the lights and hit the stage, turn the Marshall up to 10, pack this auditorium!” it’s impossible not to laugh in utter pity. But if that is dire, the bilge that follows with Power Mask is unbelievably worse. In my review last year, I questioned how this guy had managed to keep going. To make an album which is as bad as Hammer Of Justice is impressive. To make one that is worse is just spectacular. If this guy played in my garden, I would shut the curtains. Avoid at all costs. 1/10

Thursday 27 February 2020

Reviews: Lunar, Dead Serenity, We Sell The Dead, Framing Hanley (Reviews By Matt, Alex & Rich)

Lunar: Eidolon (Divebomb Records) [Matt Bladen]

Formed back in 2013 by  Alex Bosson (drums/percussion) and Ryan Erwin (guitar/vocals), the band have had numerous members in that time but have managed to release an EP (Provenance) that led to their expansive debut album Theogony based around Greek mythology, Alex and Ryan fleshed out the recording ranks for both their EP and their debut with numerous guests but the finished result was a sublime progressive metal album perfect for fans of Opeth, Haken and Devin Townsend, a majestic hour long journey through the various Muses in Greek mythology, it was a cinematic truly progressive metal release. Unfortunately in 2018 Ryan passed away unexpectedly throwing the bands future into the air leaving it in the hands of just Alex, he decided to continue it, using this tragedy of Ryan's death to inspire their next record Eidolon it is based around the cycle of life and death and the
stages of grief that the ones left behind feel.

Emotional stuff from the Sacramento native Bosson who brings in Balmore Lemus to take guitars here while bringing back Ryan Price (bass) and Chandler Mogel (vocals) from the debut record. He has added to the guest appearances on this record totalling 18 at the final count including members of Haken, Leprous, Caligula's Horse and others. To the record and it once again invites you into the world of Lunar, a theatrical, cinematic journey through grief. About an hour in total length The Cycle Starts Again has massive bass riffs that move into the top flight progressive metal Lunar displayed on their debut. So it's business as usual Alex's drumming leading the charge, Mogel's shows off his wide range as the riffs fight for superiority though sometimes less is more on Comfort which has that latter era Dream Theater melody. Eidolon is proof that you can triumph in the face of adversity, Alex has continued Lunar into its next phase (I did try to avoid a moon/lunar pun honest) with yet another high quality progressive metal album. 8/10

Dead Serenity: Beginnings EP (Self Released) [Rich Oliver]

Beginnings is the debut EP by Finnish melodic death metal band Dead Serenity. For me this EP ticks a lot of boxes - it is some very well written and composed melodic death metal, it was a nice symphonic undertone to it giving it that epic edge and it has that Finnish melancholy to it which I am a complete sucker for. The EP is made up of five songs (including the intro song The Final Dawn) and features all the classic components of Finnish melodic death metal such as forlorn melodies, a mix of harsh and clean vocals and a wholly melancholic feel to the music. Godless We Are and Betrayed definitely lean into the more symphonic and epic side of the bands sound whilst Dying Sun and Darkness Within have more of a classic melodic death metal sound to them.
The influences of the band are abundantly clear with nods to Insomnium and the works of Tuomas Saukkonen such as Before The DawnDawn Of Solace and Wolfheart and whilst the material on this EP is wholly unoriginal it is done very well. A short and sweet EP of gloomy Finnish melodic death metal which serves as a great introduction to the band. 7/10

We Sell The Dead: Black Sheep (earMusic) [Matt Bladen]

More doomy metal now with the second album from We Sell The Dead. Now look that I said doomy metal and not doom metal. This is because We Sell The Dead have stepped out of the shadow of doom in this sophomore album. Formed around the nucleus of Niclas Engelin (In Flames, Engel), Drömriket’s Jonas Slättung, Apollo Papathanasio (Spiritual Beggars, Firewind) along with  Gas Lipstick (former HIM), here there have been shifts in the line up with Engel drummer Oscar Nilsson taking the drum stool, while Petter Olsson rounds out the band on keys. Now their debut was a pretty neat piece of doom metal heavily influenced by Sabbath, Candlemass and bands such as Deep Purple. These influences come through on Black Sheep with the Purple sounding organs bubbling away on the title track.

They seem to have branched outside of the doom trappings with this second album adding some more classic rock influences to this record as well as the stoner sounds of Apollo's day job, Carved In Stone shows this the most. There's also a lot more use of acoustics on this record, from the opening track Caravan to The Light which brings some Moody Blues sounds due to the layered vocals/acoustics and laid back ethereal hippy sound. The one thing that was missing on their debut was the experimentation, with much of the album just riffs upon riffs where as here they have spread their gloomy wings to more varied songwriting. The crunchy River In Your Blood brings the Sabbath sounds back but as I've said before this a much more well rounded album than their debut, from the progressive notions of Nightmares And Dream which also seem through on the closing 8 minute epic Shallow Grave but they bring heavy rockers like Across The Water. A major step up Black Sheep shouldn't be shunned but welcomed with open arms. 8/10  

Framing Hanley: Envy (Thermal Entertainment) [Alex Swift]

Confession time. This is the first time I’m sitting down to listen to a Framing Hanley album in its entirety. Let me clarify, I’ve heard this band before. How could I not when my early exposure relied to music relied on mainstream alt-rock channels and magazines. Ah, Good times when we didn’t have the convenience of streaming services to choose music at an instant. There’s still a certain reminiscent spot in my head for sitting through tonnes of Limp Bizkit’ in the hope that they might play one of my favourite bands next. Yet from that era in my life, Framing Hanley is one of those bands that just refuses to stick in my head. After listening to Envy and revisiting their debut album I can utterly see why. For lack of a more eloquent metaphor, they are about as exciting as a plank of wood and induce the same feeling of comatose tiredness that being knocked out by one elicits. This is a hard review to write. 

After listening to the entire 46 minutes of this album, I do not remember a single aspect, If you ask me to describe how some of the songs sounded, the best I can do is tell you that Say You Ever has nothing other than three minutes if ambient noise, that Forgiveness Is An Art, has some rave-esque synth textures overlayed with Whoa Whoa oh Whoa’s, and that the closer, Baggage Claim is a forced love ballad. Perhaps one of the most distracting elements of this record is that the instrumentals are pushed far back in the mix, as if to hide the fact that they’re not doing anything interesting. If there’s one way I can sum up my first real exposure to Framing Hanley it’s that they seem to combine the worst traits of late 90’s soft rock acts struggling to define rocks place in the mainstream, with the worst traits of modern alternative. Utterly bland. 2/10

Reviews: Mondo Generator, Toundra, CB3, Night Crowned (Reviews By Simon, Paul H & Rich)

Mondo Generator: Shooter’s Bible (Heavy Psych Sounds) [Simon Black]

OK, that was a surprise. Having only just got the use of my ears back from reviewing Nick Oliveri’s most recent Mondo release Fuck It a couple of weeks ago, you can imagine my surprise when Matt sends me a second Mondo full album release this month. But no, it’s true – nothing happens for 8 years and then two come along at once…Shooter’s Bible is a very different beast. For a start it was recorded in 2010, and then not released and is far more full on punk throughout than the desert / stoner approach that we got with Fuck It, and a level of studio polish to go with it. The story behind it was that Oliveri did not have a full time guitar player, so what we have here are his own playing here alongside the usual bass, so the whole thing has a more pre-production/demo feel to it, which to be honest adds to the effect. Content wise, we have a lot of remastered and remixed material that eventually made its way onto the Hell Comes To Your Heart album, some new pieces (We Are Mondo Generator deserves calling out here). The highlight of the album is definitely the cover version of Iggy Pop’s Dog Food, which is far tighter than other tracks, and benefits from having Dave Grohl pounding the drum skins. As you would expect from a multi-source archive clear-out, the sound mix varies enormously and clearly was recorded at different times. Either way, for a completist Oliveri fan, it’s an interesting addition to your collection, but personally I will stick to the Fuck It release this month. 5/10

Toundra: Das Cabinet Des Dr. Caligari (InsideOut Music) [Simon Black]

OK, this is a difficult one. One the one hand, I am torn by the fact that this is four clearly very technically able and talented musicians from Madrid playing some complex and moody progressive music, on the other it’s intended as a highly experimental instrumental soundtrack for a 100 year old German Expressionist silent horror film which I have never seen. But hey, we don’t try and limit ourselves here at MoM, so I am happy to push beyond the usual metal envelope and see what I find.
What I do find is an incredibly moody and atmospheric album, which makes great ambient background listening. And others clearly agree, because these guys are currently touring this all over central Europe, with quite a few sell out shows already, although it would be a brave move to put them on somewhere like Bloodstock. The challenge is giving this a fair review when you can’t see the context that it is intended to support, but either way this has sufficiently piqued my interest to see what else these guys can deliver. 6/10

CB3: Aeons (The Sign Records) [Paul Hutchings]

CB3 (Charlottas Burning Trio) embark on a sonic journey of explosive rock jams and psychedelic soundscapes on this 32-minute voyage into a world which ranges from heavy psych rock jams through to delicate atmospheric passages. The band channel the spirit of Hendrix, Floyd and Tangerine Dream as they develop and expand their musical exploration. Having been together for seven years, the trio who hail from Malmö, Sweden, appeal to many with several albums already under their belt. Led by Charlotta Andersson - Electric Guitar, with Pelle Lindsjö - Electric Bass and Natanael Salomonsson – Drums, CB3’s unique approach allows forays into rock, jazz and psychedelia. Five tracks mean lengthy meandering passages, but there is direction on Sonic Blaze, whilst the nine-minute centrepiece Acid Haze provides just the platform for a heavy psych trip. I would imagine live, the band who have supported numerous big hitters like Monolord would induce trance like states around the floor. It’s certainly expansive and soporific. Probably not the best to listen to whilst on that long drive at night but if you are sitting comfortably then enjoy the ride. 6/10
Night Crowned: Impius Viam (Noble Demon) [Rich Oliver]

To a lot of metal minded folk melody can be a dirty word especially in the realms of extreme metal where heaviness and aggression can be seen to be the driving forces in these genres. For me extreme metal really works when the heaviness and ferocity can work side by side with fantastic melodies with neither being compromised as a result and Night Crowned achieve exactly that with their debut album Impius Viam. The band is made up of seasoned musicians from various Swedish metal bands such as Nightrage, Cipher System and Dark Funeral and their skill, experience and expertise really shows in the sheer quality of music on display throughout the album. Impius Viam is the perfect marriage of melodic black metal and melodic death metal with the cold bite of black metal and the bludgeoning of death metal gift wrapped with luscious and catchy melodies. 

 The extremities of each genre are on full display such as on the ferocious Reborn which serves as the first proper song of the album with a cacophony of blast-beats, tremolo picked riffing and those damn melodies which stick in the mind long after. This winning formula is retained throughout the entirety of the album though there are slight deviations from the symphonic keys in Your Sacrilegious Flesh, the moments of acoustic guitar in Black Bone Cross and the clean vocals featured on Ira and Ego Sum Bestia. As well as the sparse cleans the vocal approach on the album is a mix of black metal shrieks and death metal growls with all being used to great effect. There is also a use of keyboards from piano melodies to symphonics to subtle atmosphere. 

They have a presence throughout the whole album but are used sparingly and kept mostly in the background. On the whole though Night Crowned stick to a tried and tested formula which means some songs can fall off the radar especially when there are 12 of them but the songs that stand out more than make this album worth its while. Night Crowned have a fantastic debut album here and if you are an extreme metal who isn’t adverse to melody then this comes highly recommended. 8/10

Wednesday 26 February 2020

A View From The Back Of The Room: Babymetal (Live Review By Liam True)

Babymetal & Creeper, Great Hall, Cardiff

About three songs into their set I realised that Creeper (3) aren’t for me. I can understand why they have such a big fanbase and following because they do have a couple of catchy numbers. But apart from that they’re just a bland, stripped down AC/DC sounding rock band. I also thought they were quite ignorant toward the crowd, based on the fact that they only introduced their two last songs by name, had barely interaction with the crowd apart from small talk, which was barely audible, during the set. Frontman Will Gould was either too far away from the microphone being barely audible or to busy swinging the microphone by the cord to acknowledge the fact that he had technical issues. Nonetheless they delivered a set they’re happy with and that’s all that matters really. I can safely say I'm not a fan at all. But that’s just my opinion.

Having already seen Babymetal (10) at Download 2018 I already knew what to expect, but nothing could have prepared me for what was about to be performed tonight. With a massive LED screen as their backdrop, the lights cut out. Static and a pulsating dance/trap beat begins to fill the Great Hall. As the instrumental band members get to their stations blue lights are shined upon the crowd blocking our view of the stage as the three front-women take their places on stage. And without warning the band launches into DA DA DANCE with a fury of techno backing tracks and the band themselves taking point. No one is stood still as everyone is either head banging or dancing along with the contagious beat. Heading right into their breakthrough single Gimme Chocolate singer Su-Metal screams ‘What’s up Cardiff? Everyone clap!’ To which everyone politely obliges and there’s not a single pair of hands that’s not in the air. Not enough credit is given to the actual band themselves as they’re stood in the back in the shadows. I found it rather fitting that they were each given a moment before Kagerou to have a solo moment. Joakim Brodén makes a swift but sweet appearance on the giant screen behind the band for Oh! MAJINAI as both himself and an animated version doing the Can-Can as a part robot/part human version.

Beyond all the theatrics (Including footage from their concerts back in their motherland of Japan spliced into the songs for added effect) they have tonight the band are incredibly tight as a unit and Su-Metal & Moametal are having as much fun as we are tonight, and you can’t wipe the smile off their faces as the look into the sold out crowd tonight. After the blistering Road Of Resistance the band leave the stage while a small video plays showing their dates for this tour, including a spot on the main stage at this years Download Festival. If you’ve missed the band on this tour, you can catch the magic there this year. I know I'll be looking forward to when they next return. Hopefully in a bigger venue with full a full stage production.

Reviews: Dark Fortress, Polaris, Tombs, H.E.A.T (Paul H, Rich, Alex & Simon)

Dark Fortress: Spectres From The Old World (Century Media Records) [Paul Hutchings]

Late last year we got to relive Stab Wounds, the seminal 2004 release from the German black metal legends. That was merely to whet the appetite of what was to come. Spectres From The Old World has loomed into sight, its imminent release blocking out the sun. Six years since Veneral Dawn cast its considerable shadow, V. Santura and brothers have returned with the eighth album in the Dark Fortress story, and it is epic in every aspect.

It’s only when you look for reasons that you realise why it has taken so long for this opus to emerge. “Drummer Seraph works as drum tech and he is fantastic at his job, so he is on the road a lot,” says guitarist V. Santura. “Morean is a renowned contemporary classical composer and almost constantly busy and our new keyboardist Phenex is also involved as sessionist in several bands like The Ruins Of Beverast and Satyricon and works as light technician. I run a studio in Germany called Woodshed Studio and work with other bands and music in general almost every day. And, of course, I’m also playing guitar in Triptykon and even started a new band with friends from Finland called Rootbrain that I’m pretty excited about.”

With such busy schedules, it’s a cause for celebration that this album has arrived. And yet it is organic, flowing and cohesive. Intro Nascence and Coalescence blend neatly, the latter aggressive and explosive, a release of pent up energy that should generate nods of approval everywhere. Icy, dark, brutal and full of flowing riffs, Coalescence leads naturally into the massive The Spider in the Web, one of many majestic tracks contained in this hour-long release. Brooding, it hurtles through time and it roars with savage malevolence. The juxtaposition with the intricate and peaceful mid-section fulfils the intention, a calm, serene moment before the slicing guitars and essential hook kick back in. Spectres From The Old World sees the Bavarian Quintet reborn, the time absorbing other projects channelled into a riveting release. The expansive title track pulls hard, tremolo riffing and pulverising drumming meld with keys and luscious melody. 

Further tracks like the massive Pali Aike and the lengthy Isa ensnare and captivate. The former containing crushing riffs whilst the latter’s slow burning feel disguises an elaborate, epic piece of work. This is an album that demands attention, time and total absorption. There is the promise of detailed packaging, with the album’s gatefold inner artwork a picture taken by Morean whilst the vocalist holidayed in Chile and beyond. Engineered, mixed and produced by Santura, Dark Fortress have returned with an album that is sure to feature highly come year end. 9/10

Polaris: The Death Of Me (Sharptone Records) [Alex Swift]

Polaris occupy a space between metalcore and modern progressive metal. At its most supremely executed, the combination results in immersive albums that combine the accessibility and openness of alternative genres and the methodical mastery of technical metal. On their second full-length release, The Death Of Me, the Sydney originating five-piece combine the volatility of Jamie Hails vocal contrasts with the equally changeable presence of fierce guitar textures, courtesy of Rick Schneider and Jake Steinhauser. Meanwhile, the rhythm section lays down thick and menacing grooves to complement the huge production and composition. All this results in a piece that is an authoritative addition to the acts discography, while not cutting out any new influence in the genre.

Pray For Rain proves an insanely commanding way to begin a record. A few echoing notes sound before Hail’s tortured vocals break the ambiance. This is an especially spine chilling moment and scarily complements the artwork of a burning man stood alone on a desolate beach. The ambient synths that overlook the entire track, never prove overpowering, simply lurking in the background creating a seductive soundtrack to the battling guitar resonances, which alter between melodic and crushing. The vigor continues on to Hypermania – two minutes of sheer and unbridled anger, laden with distortion and chaos, keeping the listener in a state of excitement. By contrast, Masochist is exquisitely harmonious. Still bringing a ton of power and command to the table, it does so in a way that progresses the album forward, through huge choruses, sweeping instrumental descants and a sense of fiery emotion, which matches the scale and determination of the song. Only on Landmine does it begin to feel as if the record might be treading water. Don’t mistake me here, there’s still enough skill in both the playing and writing here to drive the forcefulness and motivation of the album forward in a way that feels convincing. Again, in executing its aims, The Death Of Me is laudable, yet anyone looking for vast musical exploration here may be disappointed.

Moving into the second half of the album, I was enthused if feeling the strain of fatigue creeping up on me. Vagabond actually really excites me by bridging the difference between viscerality, and soaring theatrics. A stampeding riff features prominently during the verses, while the chorus proves one of the most distinctive and memorable. There’s still little here that hasn’t been done before yet there’s an earnestness and sincerity to the idea. In the same way, Creatures Of Habit excels through exaltation – from start to finish, it feels like everyone here is emptying the contents of their heart on to the track, in a way which proves affecting and poignant. Even as we lurch into Above My Head, there’s still a feeling of spirit present in the enthralling composition and the stabbing cries of ‘some things never change’ which allow you to see past the somewhat predictable alt-rock pastiches. Vitally – and here’s something which began to stand out to me more and more as the album went on – you may need to be of the right mind-set to listen to the album in full, without the whole piece blurring into one. That’s not to say there aren’t some great songs here, as there absolutely are! Look to the constantly progressing Martyr (Waves) which begins on a slow and subdued note before swelling into a heartfelt and profound epic which caresses the listener in a wave of passion, aided by the skilfulness of the percussion, the altering rhythmic textures, and the grandiosity of the guitars and the dynamic range of the vocals.

Finishing on All Of This Is Fleeting and The Descent, both of which are dramatic anthems of exaltation – we are certainly left with the impression that Polaris has poured their entire being on to these ten tracks. Will this be one of my defining moments of 2020 or win over detractors of the genre? Probably not. However, it’s a great effort by a band rapidly earning their place next to the greats of progressive metalcore. 7/10

Tombs: Monarchy Of Shadows EP (Season Of Mist) [Rich Oliver]

Monarchy Of Shadows is the new EP from Brooklyn black metallers Tombs. Their last release was 2017’s The Grand Annihilation album which saw the band experimenting with their sound mixing their black metal stylings with a number of differing influences but Monarchy Of Shadows sees the band harking back to their black metal roots in spectacular style. Founding member Mike Hill is the sole survivor from the line up on the previous release and joining him are Drew Murphy (bass), Justin Spaeth (drums) and Matt Medeiros (guitars) all making their recording debut with the band. This new line up of Tombs definitely makes a statement with Monarchy Of Shadows. The EP kicks off with the title track with its atmospheric keyboard driven intro before dropping into some crushing riffage which builds up nicely to a full on black metal assault of tremolo picked riffs, blast-beats and just full on ferocity before dropping into a mid paced atmospheric section which is no less effective.

Once Falls The Guillotine continues this momentum with its more melodically led but still suitably savage riffing. Necro Alchemy is another ripper but is suitably catchy for a black metal song and memorable for its chunky death metal mid section which is just punishing. Man Behind The Sun follows a similar format to the title track in that it starts off all guns blazing but switches before the end to a slow, creepy and atmospheric section dropping down to almost doom metal lack of speed. The Dark Rift brings back some death metal elements especially in the riffing style and Path Of Totality (Midnight Sun) switches back to black metal ferocity albeit over a variety of different tempos during the songs duration. Monarchy Of Shadows is a fantastic EP. Although I have really enjoyed the more experimental nature of the more recent albums by Tombs, this collection of songs just made me want to bang my head. There is still some influence from other genres than black metal prevalent throughout but this EP very much sits on the more extreme side of the Tombs sound. 8/10

H.E.A.T: H.E.A.T. II (earMusic) [Simon Black]

A new H.E.A.T. album and suddenly it’s 1987 again in my office. I’ve been aware of these guys for a while but for some reason never heard any of their stuff before today, so not being familiar with their back catalogue may be an advantage. If like me, you are new to this, then H.E.A.T. hail from Sweden (who doesn’t in rock circles nowadays, it’s like Stockholm is the new L.A., just with lots of fika, rather than coke binge parties). For a moment I was wondering if I was listening to a remastered compilation of old tracks, and was pleasantly surprised to find that these guys have only been around since 2007 and that this was an album of originals.
As an album, I get the sense they are trying to carry on in the vein of their first album (hence the title). I can’t tell you if they are successful in that aspect, but I can tell you that this album is definitely a cracker in its own right. There isn’t a song on hear that doesn’t show a robust and mature song-writing process, and this is a bunch of musicians who clearly know their craft from the cheesy sounding but punchy opener Rock Your Body to the unashamed fist-punching We Are Gods. This isn’t about blistering musicianship, it’s about fist-punching club to stadium rockers – solid rhythm and structure, a soaring vocal turn from the lungs of Erik Gronwall.

The production values are high too, with lots of layered reverb in there to emphasise their influences and that melodic radio rock sound everyone was striving for 30 years ago, but so few managed. Is there a place for 80’s hook-based melo-rock? Well yes, because I for one found this an uplifting foot-tapper of a record, which would have been huge if they had borrowed a TARDIS and got it out before Bon Jovi’s New Jersey. This is an album that doesn’t fail to deliver and stand out tracks for me are the single Come Clean and the more even-paced One By One, which shows a little more subtlety on the instrumentals and a lively vocal high note, and resists the temptation for the keyboards and vocal melodies to just follow each other. 8/10

Tuesday 25 February 2020

A View From The Back Of The Room: Napalm Death (Live Review By Rich Oliver)

Napalm Death, Eyehategod, Misery Index, Rotten Sound & Bat at Tramshed, Cardiff

For the first time in an age there was a metal show at Cardiff’s Tramshed to satisfy me and my fickle tastes and this was an absolute belter of a line up. Dubbed as The Campaign For Musical Destruction Tour 2020 this was an apt title for the calibre and sonically destructive capabilities of all the bands involved in the tour.

With a total of five bands to get through doors did open at the early time of 18:00 and with this being a Wednesday the crowd was pretty sparse when openers Bat (6) hit the stage. Featuring Ryan Waste and Nick Poulos of Municipal Waste plus drummer Chris Charge this was a half hour set of pure 80’s speed metal worship. The sound wasn’t great to start but things improved as the set progressed with Rule Of The Beast and Cruel Discipline getting the crowd warmed up nicely for the carnage to follow. A decent if slightly repetitive set.

The audience numbers swelled considerably in time for Rotten Sound (8) to play their first ever show in Cardiff. I think a good many people in the crowd were unaware of Rotten Sound but they had definitely gained new fans from the blistering half hour set they delivered. Opening with the crushing The Effects The Finnish veterans delivered song after song of raging HM-2 grind which had the first mosh-pits of the evening and definitely got the audience absolutely pumped up and ready for more devastation. With a mix of blasting speed and slow groove laden breakdowns Rotten Sound showcased why they are just so revered in grindcore circles.

Next up were Baltimore bruisers Misery Index (8) who carried on the momentum set by Rotten Sound and proceeded to batter the audience with their deathgrind attack. Mosh-pits swelled, heads were banged and necks were windmilling to songs off latest album Rituals Of Power such as New Salem and Hammering The Nails alongside older cuts such as Conjuring The Call and Traitors. Misery Index are always cited as a must see live band due to the ferocity of their shows and this brutalising 40 minute set proved just that.

Landing the main support slot were NOLA sludge legends Eyehategod (7). An interesting choice considering they had followed three bands who basically operate on speed and aggression but Eyehategod proved to be a nice break between all the grind carnage. Not that this was a relaxing set by any means. Despite playing in a completely different tempo to the previous bands Eyehategod spewed chaos and intensity. From the filthy groove laden riffs of guitarist Jimmy Bower to the maniacal screams of frontman Mike Williams, Eyehategod showed that speed and aggression isn’t everything when it comes to pulverising your audience with intensity.

And then it was onto the headliners and a band that really needs no introduction if you listen to extreme music - Birmingham grind pioneers Napalm Death (8). With around an hours set Napalm Death kept the chat to a minimum and let the music do the talking with a ferocious career spanning set including some material which hasn’t been given an airing for quite a while. Kicking things off with the double whammy of I Abstain and Silence Is Deafening the audience were whipped up into a frenzy with a mosh-pit that barely stopped for the entire set. Frontman Barney Greenway stalked the stage like a man possessed barely keeping still and looking like he was expelling some serious demons out of his system whilst legendary bassist Shane Embury and long standing drummer Danny Herrera provided the crushing rhythm section with touring guitarist John Cooke bringing forth those wonderfully disgusting riffs. 

We got treated to new material with the title track of the bands latest 7” Logic Ravaged By Brute Force bringing a change of pace amongst grind staples such as Scum, Suffer The Children, When All Is Said And Done, Mass Appeal Madness and Unchallenged Hate. They even managed to squeeze in those lengthy songs You Suffer and Dead (a whole 10 seconds of material there). The band finished on a couple of covers - the set staple Nazi Punks Fuck Off by Dead Kennedys followed by the B-side to their new 7” a cover of White Cross by Sonic Youth. Napalm Death showed that despite doing this for nearly 40 years they have by no means lost their touch and are still one of the most vibrant and energetic live bands you will see on a stage.

In summation this was a fantastic evening. We don’t get enough good extreme metal shows of this size coming to Cardiff very often so it was refreshing to see a damn good turn out for the show. The sound wasn’t great for the whole evening. I’ve seen bands sound far far better in The Tramshed but it wasn’t bad enough that it spoiled the evening in any way. It was five great bands for around £27. That was definitely money well spent.

Reviews: Beneath The Massacre, Audrey Horne, Lost Society, Red Method (Reviews By Paul Hutchings)

Beneath The Massacre: Fearmonger (Century Media Records)

A release that should burst the hearts of die-hard technical death metal fans, Fearmonger is the first album from Quebec four-piece Beneath the Massacre since 2012’s Incongruous. The nucleus of the band remains the centrally locked core of the Bradley brothers—Christopher (guitars) and Dennis (bass)—and their lifelong friend in vocalist Elliot Desgagnés. Drummer Patrice Hamelin left to focus on Gorguts in 2018 and was replaced by Anthony Barone whose blistering performance is simply astonishing. So why the break? Eight years is a long time. Desgagnés explained. “We just needed some down time after our last album. Some of us were busy with school, careers, other musical projects and Dennis and Elliot had to undergo surgery so even health became a factor. Life got in the way. We really thought that it would be it with the band, but every now and then, we met up and wrote tunes and the tunes became an album.”

The result is nothing short of devastating. 30 minutes of explosive, extreme and maximum effort death metal which leaves little to the imagination. Desgagnés guttural barking delivery is brutal, Barone’s drumming punishing, pushing the BPM to the max with an intensity that drives straight for the jugular. With the slicing guitar work of Christopher Bradley supported by his brother’s concrete solid bass giving the album a clinical edge that few can match. Tracks such as Flickering Light, Return To Medusa and the pulverising Bottom Feeders are intense aural experiences. The bludgeoning opener Rise Of The Fearmonger festers with its rage at the frustration against populism and anti-intellectualism. “Most nations now have their very own homegrown morons preaching hate and getting votes from uneducated masses. It’s sad yet so predictable” commented Desgagnés.

There’s a natural flow to the album, retaining the extreme feel throughout. With Fearmonger lyrically focused on Desgagnés’ existential nightmares, specifically on the human condition or rather the state of it, it could well be the soundtrack to the revolution although the band are at pains to point out it is not a concept album. What Fearmonger is, however you view the intensity demonstrated here, is an album of passion, drive and sheer brutish abuse. It’s astonishingly good. 8/10

Audrey Horne: Waiting For The Night (Napalm Records)

Another live album to consider and this time from one of the most underrated bands in Europe, the fabulous Audrey Horne. It seems ages since Blackout was released, but in fact it was a mere two years ago. Having managed to see the band once, way back during Sonisphere 2010(on the Jagermeister stage no less, I’ve had to content myself with their studio offerings due to their paucity of UK visits.

From my hazy recollections (it was the Jager stage you know), the band were on fire that day in the sun and this 16 track live show recorded in their hometown of Bergen over two nights in 2018 demonstrates why they have continued to forge a reputation as one of the most energetic live hard-rock bands in Europe. With a mix of tracks from all six albums, Waiting For The Night is an excellent summary of the band’s career in one live set. Unsurprisingly the set is heavy on songs from Blackout, with seven included here. The raucous opener This Is War and the title track among them. There is plenty from previous albums too, with Out Of The City from Pure Heavy racing along. Sail Away slows the pace, one of two tracks from the self-titled release, highlighting the talent in the band as they can change tempo without killing the atmosphere.

Built around the talent of Toschie (vocals), Ice Dale (guitar - Enslaved) and Thomas Tofthagen (guitar - ex-Sahg), with drummer Kjetil Greve and Espen Lien (bass) completing the line-up, Waiting For The Night is a tasty reminder of a band whose classic hard rock appeals across a huge range of genres. It’s been six years since they hit these shores. Whilst the opportunity to see them live may be limited, after listening to this, one can only hope that they will once again play the UK. 8/10

Lost Society: No Absolution (Napalm Records)

When I saw this album in my list for review, I was immediately excited about an old school thrash album to review. If you expect that then I’m afraid, you’ll be disappointed. Extremely disappointed. The evolution of the band’s sound from those early Exodus and Death Angel influences on Fast Loud Death and Terror Hungry has moved them light years away. Moving towards a more mainstream sound is clearly the direction the band have chosen. One change of personnel since 2016’s Braindead, with drummer Ossi Paananen replaced by Taz Fagerström. Opener Nonbeliever confirms that the band have continued with their change from the Bay Area thrash style that was such a definitive feature of their play, replaced by a more metalcore groove ridden approach. Opener Nonbeliever sees the band utilising more clean harmonies, some thick keys to underpin the choruses and more melody to widen their sound. This is followed by the title track, the use of repeated chord patterns and the clean singing a somewhat confusing progression.

Thankfully Blood On Your Hands is a gnarly, punky slab of aggression with vocalist Sammy Elbanna reverting to his screaming style. It doesn’t last though, with Artificial returning to the Trivium/BFMV metalcore style, mixing clean and screaming vocals, duel guitar harmonies and choppy riffs. The direction that Lost Society started to explore on Braindead continues to develop throughout No Absolution. The playing is of a high standard, and it is still good honest metal. There is plenty of groove here with crunching riffing and opportunity to head bang. Pray For Death, however, could sit on an album by numerous other bands, with nothing to distinguish it. Outbreak (No Rest For The Sickest) echoes Parkway Drive, which given the Australians worldwide domination may be the path that the Finns have decided to follow.

Worthless at least delivers a bit of thrash, with the djent groove underpinning a scorching track which provides faint echoes of their earlier material. Most surprising on this album though is the final track, a haunting ballad featuring Apocalyptica. Into Eternity starts slowly before cascading into some crushingly heavy riffs intertwined with the strings of their fellow Finns. Whilst No Absolution isn’t a bad album by any stretch, the change in direction leaves little trace of their roots. Whether their old school fans will embrace it remains to be seen. 6/10

Red Method: For The Sick (Depraved Records)

Red Method formed out of UK bands Ted Maul, Meta-Stasis and The Defiled and have been building a sizeable murmur within the metal community over the past 12 months. For The Sick is a punishing chunk of metal, with plenty of thundering riffs and deep groove infected breakdowns. Combine it with guttural vocals and use of keyboards and samples and you have a melting pot of influences and styles. It’s interesting that for all this, there is only one band that really comes to mind when you listen to For The Sick and that is Slipknot. As powerful and impressive as this album is, the Iowa outfit’s shadow looms large over virtually every track. From the blistering opening of Cycle Of Violence through to the closing cover version of Nirvana’s Heart Shaped Box, there is plenty to get your teeth into, just don’t think of Corey Taylor and co as you are listening to it.

If you like the combination of extreme, nu-metal and industrial groove then Red Method are likely to be of interest. It is well-composed and delivered, the duel guitars of Quinton Lucion and David Tobin combining with the bludgeoning hammer of drummer Fred Myers and bassist brother Will, whilst the samples provided by Alex Avdis work well. Vocalsist Jeremy Gomez possesses a decent range, able to bring the cleans alongside the rougher style. Utlising the presence of Akercocke’s Jason Mendonca on Narcissists Prayer and Mikee Goodman from SikTh for penultimate track The Absent add gravitas. With dates to support the album coming soon (Cardiff in Mid-March) this music should be brutal in the live arena. It’ll be interesting to hear feedback. 6/10

Monday 24 February 2020

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

TREP, Endeavour & Throwing Knives, Fuel Rock Club

“Get out of your house and out to the halls and clubs. Stop listening to the same music over & over and dreaming about “the good ol’ days”. The best days are now! There is incredible music being created out there! Join us don’t fight us!” The wise words of one Dee Snider, frontman of Twisted Sister a couple of weeks ago on Twitter. Whilst I think Snider is a bit of a hypocrite, his words ring true. Oh so true.  Whilst Cardiff braced for the next storm, which I think was actually happening in the Tramshed as the Napalm Death event drew punters from far and wide, a few hardy souls ventured to the ever windy Womanby Street and the sanctuary of Fuel Rock Club for a night of new and original music. And for those that made the effort, the rewards were ample.

Throwing Knives (7) have been around for several years and play a combination of dirty punk rock with a bit of metal core and rap thrown in for good measure. Whilst the band’s music doesn’t do that much for me, their stage presence combined with humour and an approach that says “fuck it, we’re doing this regardless” wins me over. The first award of the night went to bassist Steve Hubbard, breaking his string after the first song but soldiering on regardless, although cursory glances at the set list determined what he could play. Playfully cajoled by vocalist Brett Davies, “you don’t need four strings anyway” the band ploughed through their set at pace and with a vibrant tempo, their songs cutting a vicious swathe. Throwing in a new track towards the end prompted a solid response from the audience and as Hubbard decided to enter the pit area for a bit of ‘kick my foot about a bit’ the small gathering cheered their approval. Throwing Knives are certainly improving and are well worth checking out.

There was disappointment that Pembrokeshire metallers In Which It Burns had to pull out due to illness. In Which It Burns are normally very entertaining, but we have it on good authority that for one night only frontman Stretch decided to be a right cunt. So, a big fat 0 for them!

Bristol based Endeavour (8) have been around for several years and have established a strong reputation with their powerful brand of progressive metal. Led by the energetic Chris Hawkins whose vocals it has to be said struggled at times to cut through the maelstrom, the band demonstrated that their reputation is fully deserved. Iain GT Davies’s fluid guitar work added to the band’s work, whilst the linked foundation of Ben Hands (bass) and Jake Stone (drums) provided a solid base for Endeavour to work from. I’d last seen the band at Bloodstock in 2017 when their Bring Upon The Rising Day EP had not long been released. Their songs tend to be quite long and complex, but despite this the sparse crowd (mainly members of Trep and Throwing Knives and a smattering of paying customers) were engaged, responding to Hawkins constant urging for horns, banging of heads and engagement. Funnily enough, the on-off battle that Hawkins had with his beanie hat was one of the most amusing sights of the entire evening. Was he struggling with the follicle challenges that portrayed him as Strapping Young era Devin, or just cooling down? I’ll leave that open to debate. Endeavour are a solid band who I understand are working on new material.

It’s been a mere three months since I last saw Trep (9) in the same venue. The band impress every time they play and deserve a larger crowd than the one they pulled, although the presence of Pritchard (Dirty Sanchez) surely equals two punters. In fact, it was alumni heavy, with the front row comprising Power Quest guitarist Glyndwr Williams, Democratus bassist Stu ‘Spoon’ Rake, and the axe slingers from Blind Divide, James and Adam. Despite the presence of such legends, Trep seriously don’t care and put on another masterclass in their progressive rock and metal. Bassist Sam Green excels on stage, never stops with the one liners, and appears to be tolerated with resigned acceptance by drummer Max Hill and guitarist and vocalist Rhys Evans. Musically Trep continue to develop, their strong Lucian EP once more providing the foundations for a set that whizzed by despite the late start. If you haven’t seen these guys yet, you really need to sort your life out. Progressive, measured and yet with a vibrancy you cant always capture in words, Trep should be seen live. They are that good.

Reviews: Biff Byford, Kvelertak, Runescarred, Saturnalia Temple (Paul H, Paul S & Matt)

Biff Byford: School Of Hard Knocks (Silver Lining Music) [Paul Hutchings]

It’s been a long time coming but the Saxon frontman has finally released his debut solo album. 11 songs, a mixture of self-penned and co-written track with Opeth guitarist Fredrik Åkesson, and Saxon bandmates Nibbs Carter and Paul Quinn. As well as personal reflections, Byford continues to explore the themes of the Middle Ages and Medieval history which he has dipped into with regularity during his time in Saxon. Byford has charted a new band, with the bulk of the music performed by Åkesson, drummer Christian Lundqvist and bassist Gus Macricostas.

There’s plenty of Saxon spirit in the two songs that open the album. Welcome To The Show is an enthusiastic introduction and a delightful old school heavy metal feel, and whilst Byford’s distinctive vocals immediately associate him with the band he’s fronted for 45 years, the polish of more recent Saxon albums which has seen them modernise their sound is deliberately absent. “I’ve been waiting for this for ever, and now we’re here” he sings. The autobiographical School Of Hard Knocks is next, charting the harshness of his upbringing in the English North through to the challenges of being in a rock band.

“I was brought up on the streets, British working class, my mother played piano, it echoes from the past, my father was a drinking man working all his life, Keeping us together through the trouble and the strife.” [Byford’s mother died when he was 11 and his father, a violent alcoholic lost an arm in an industrial accident just two years later] School Of Hard Knocks charts his desperation to escape from the grim industrial boiler houses of the pits into the world of rock and roll. At 69 years of age, he’s also well positioned to consider his mortality as his peers pass away at a rapid rate. “Playing in a band, it’s harder than you think, trying to keep away from the drug abuse and drink, I last of friends but I had to make a choice, to find another path and hear my inner voice”. Echoes of Live To Rock are undeniable, but this is not Saxon and a bluesy solo from Phil Campbell enhances the track superbly.

The first collaboration between Byford and Åkesson is the interesting arrangement Inquisitor, which has Byford narrating Edgar Allan Poe over Åkesson’s exceptional flamenco style guitar work. The Pit And The Pendulum is Byford and Åkesson’s take on Poe’s short story of the same name. A dark feel to the track, with the definitive overtures of Opeth a feature as Åkesson’s explosive guitar work takes the lead. It’s on the science fiction themed Worlds Collide which sees the first real steer towards Saxon, with Byford in full flow, Åkesson’s fluid playing and the second track to feature drummer Nick Baker (the other being The Pit And The Pendulum, both of which also feature Nibbs Carter on bass). And then we reach Scarborough Fair. The traditional folk song made famous by Simon and Garfunkel as well as a million others and although the arrangement by Byford and Åkesson is clever, if you cannot stand this song, no amount of sexing it up will make it any more appealing. And anyway, I can never hear this without being reminded of Bill Bailey’s Rammstein version.

Pedal To The Metal sees Nibbs Carter join Byford as co-writer and it’s a typical head down Saxon track, written very much in the vein of Wheels Of Steel. Classic heavy metal, but nothing that wouldn’t be out of place in the middle of a Saxon album. Solid drumming from ex-Rhapsody Of Fire’s Alex Holzwarth and a charging riff are the highlights whilst Byford’s screaming vocal at the end shows that at 69 his voice is still strong. The second Byford/Carter collaboration is Hearts Of Steel with its focus on the Medieval realms of knights and battles. Again, a solid song with a searing solo from Åkesson, but if you told me this was from a new Saxon album I would not be surprised.

The Medieval theme continues on Throw Down The Sword, a fabulous cover of the Wishbone Ash song from 1972’s Argus, and in reality, a showcase for Åkesson’s superb playing, Byford’s smoky vocals just about coping with the highest notes but elsewhere providing a smouldering performance. It’s penultimate track Me And You (The Anniversary Song) which is for me one of the best on the album. A complete diversion from the usual heavy metal thunder, this is a love song in the true sense of the word and it’s bloody good. Co-written with Saxon guitarist Paul Quinn and featuring saxophone and keyboards from Dave Kemp, it obviously mushroomed from something quite different. “I didn’t mean to write a love song, it’s not what I’m supposed to do” Biff sings ironically. 

The album concluded with Black And White, a fine melodic slab of rock, and one that provides the perfect summary to an impressive debut. Biff’s life hasn’t been easy, he’s had tragedy and hardships but Black And White is a song of hope, and one that sums up Byford’s approach since those early Son Of A Bitch days. “This is my life, this is me, Nothing’s easy, nothing’s free … Nothing’s ever black and white”. An album that will grow on you with repeated plays, overall, this is really rather enjoyable. 8/10

Kvelertak: Splid (Rise Records) [Paul Scoble]

Kvelertak have been in existence since 2007, and since their self-titled debut was released in 2010, have been making a lot of noise on and off stage. The Norwegians have made headlines, sometimes not for the right reasons, since that release. The band have some very famous fans (most notably James Hetfield of Metallica), but have also made headlines due to volatile inter-band relations. In 2018 those volatile relations broke down completely when lead singer and original member Erland Hyelvik left the band. So, Splid is the first Kvelertak album to feature new vocalist Ivar Nikolaisen, it’s also the first album to have english lyrics on a couple of tracks. so, how have the band dealt with the changes? Well, if this album is anything to go by; very well. The eleven track album is a mix of short metaly punk (or possibly punky metal) tracks, and several much longer songs that have a very varied mix of styles.

Out of the shorter tracks, opener Rogaland is a cracking piece of taut Metal/Punk, it’s driving and powerful, whilst at the same time being tuneful, melodic and has a very strong chorus (something Kvelertak excel at). Crack Of Doom features Mastodon’s bassist Troy Sanders, and is an uptempo blast of punky metal. This is one of the songs that features english lyrics, which was probably easier than getting Troy to learn Norwegian. The other track to feature english lyrics is Discord (which is what album title ‘Splid’ means in english). Discord is a fantastic piece of driving punk, in places very reminiscent of the Therapy? track Going NowhereUglas Hegemoni is a short burst of new wavy punk, that is fast and has a fairly pop-punk styled chorus. Stevnemøte med Satan is aggressive mid-paced punk that is tuneful and melodic, and features a fantastic guitar solo.

The longer, more complex songs are interspersed between the shorter tracks, giving the album a very pleasing ebb and flow. Bråtebrann has a seventies feel to it; some of the riffs in the first half feel a little like Rush, if Rush were a punk band. There are also some very nice layered vocals, which in the second half of the song are joined by layered guitars and piano, by the end the song is sort of punky country rock, which might sound odd, but is in fact brilliant! Fanden ta dette hull! opens with mid-paced rock, and features some harmony guitars that are reminiscent of early Queen, and has a great chorus. Then about halfway through, this all stops and we are dropped into a blast of hardcore punk that is very similar to Suicidal Tendencies first couple of albums, in fact it’s similar to Won’t Fall In Love Today. The track then goes back to mid-paced rock for the last minute, as if the insane piece of hardcore had never happened.

Delirium Tremens has a very soft opening, which then builds until it is a forceful rock song, the track then ups the intensity and we are now in aggressive punk territory. The song then takes another turn back to driving melodic rock, and then we end on punk aggression. Delirium Tremens is a really great track, it never allows the audience to relax (in a good way). Splid is a fantastic album. If the band were nervous of their first album without Hyelvik, it does not show. The album is massively varied, whilst having a very consistent level of quality. The album shows a huge range of influences, some of them quite disparate, but nothing feels out of place or inappropriate. Splid is full of great riffs, amazing tunes and huge choruses; and all of them are eminently hummable. Kvelertak have had a lot written about them over the years, some good, some bad, but when you get past all the hype, what you get is a great band, who have made a fantastic album full of really great songs, and at the end of the day, that is what really matters. 9/10

Runescarred: The Distant Infinite (The Label Group) [Matt Bladen]

Now if you just listened to the title track of this record you'd be forgiven for thinking that it was an ethereal, Floydian prog band full of soaring guitar leads, even Sorrow Is would give  false impression with it's acoustic Blind Guardian approach but no this Texan mob are a metal band through and through, in fact with this variation they sit very firmly in the Nevermore/Iced Earth style of muscly USA power/prog metal that both those bands embody. There are thrash metal riffs throughout due to the distorted guitars and face ripping fretwork of Tim Driscoll and Skunk Manhattan who peel off lead breaks and stomping riffs with ease allowing Payton Holekamp's propulsive drumming and Josh Robins' dexterous bass playing to shift these songs into the progressive style the band strive for.

Especially on tracks such as Poison Oasis and Mammoth the latter reminding me a lot of Sylosis too as do ragers such as Hexit and Legionem Eclipsem. The Distant Infinite has a lot of cleverness to it musically meaning that vocalist Ven Scott has to be very adaptive behind the mic, luckily he is moving between croons, growls and shouts singing powerful on the doomy Swallow Your Tail along with changing his style frequently on the djent-like Minor Progressions. It rarely strays from under the wing of Nevermore or Iced Earth but The Distant Future is a good album, although releasing it on the same day as the return of Demons & Wizards may not have been the best idea. 7/10

Saturnalia Temple: Gravity (Listenable Records) [Matt Bladen]

Categorized as "black magic metal" Saturnalia Temple emerge from the deep dark forests of Uppsala, Sweden as a trio bringing what they call "crushingly hard electric blues". I'd say that's a correct description as Gravity could have easily soundtracked a drug-fuelled, bikesploitation film from the 1970's. Hypnotic reverbed vocals, float over the fuzzy riffage with a lot of the songs way past the 5 minutes mark some towards 10 minutes. The organ drenched Gravity brings some deathy roars while Elyzian Fields has a space rock throb as Between The Worlds brings some ominous darkness. As I said it's a journey through a tortured mind, the ideal music to accompany a mind-bending sci-fi thriller Gravity like it's namesake is very dense but a little unmemorable. 5/10

Sunday 23 February 2020

A View From The Back Of The Room: HRH Metal (Live Review By Paul Hutchings)

HRH Metal, Birmingham O2 Academy

It rained, it poured but inside one of the country’s worst venues the music was equally as savage as the howling storms outside. Yes, Hard Rock Hell Metal in Birmingham’s 02 Academy. Three stages, god awful beer and a shortage of the fabled Viking Ale, utterly lacking in food options unless you wanted a pizza (seriously?) which was a bit of a shot in the foot as metal fans do like a bit of ale and decent grub. This would explain why for several parts of each day the venue was only partially full as people braved the elements to head into the City centre for better beers and grub. Regardless of this, the two days were a fantastic success, and there were some quite brilliant performances. Old and new alike, there is always something to discover at this event and with a great atmosphere and camaraderie amongst the fans, thoroughly enjoyable.

Day 1

Entering the venue to pick up the press passes early, we headed to the bowels of the venue to watch opening band Lullaby For A Unicorn (5) start proceedings with their ‘fun’ rum inspired metal. Slightly confused by their attire, the band’s bassist Baxter was uncomfortably dressed in a unicorn onesie, but the rest of the band played it straight with jeans and tee-shirts. Musically the band were entertaining enough, but the North Wales lads had a bigger mountain to conquer a few hours later.

The melodic death metal of Essen’s Nailed To Obscurity (7) kicked off proceedings on the main stage. 45 minutes of melancholic miserable and totally crushing music, and a better showing than their last appearance in the daylight at Bloodstock 2018. Back on stage 3 Eagles Vs Drones (6) from Burton-on-Trent gave a solid showing with their melodic metal style going down well. If you want classic muscular heavy metal, then Portsmouth’s Dendera (7) are your band. Solid, polished and pumping full of steel, the five-piece are never anything other than enjoyable, with frontman Ashley Edison a total showman and fine vocalist too. There is promise of some new material later this year.

As 4.00pm arrived, it was time for Stage Two to open and it was almost moved across the venue by the bone-crunching death metal from London five-piece Karybdis (6), whose severe attack had the venue wobbling. Vocalist Rich O’Donnell was the centre of the action, his roar raging above the pulsating blend of death metal and metal core. Teeside old school punk and metal hardcore crossovers Dogsflesh (7) decided to match Karybdis with a powerful display on the main stage, their gnarly songs dating back as far as 1982 when they first formed. Age was no barrier as Rob, Tim, Craig lead guitarist Dave put in one of the highest energised sets of the weekend.

London’s Helgrind (7) brought the first offering of fiery thrash metal to a hungry crowd, and two decades together was evident with their powerful assault back on stage two. If it wasn’t for Metallica then many metal fans wouldn’t have a clue who Blitzkrieg (6) are, but the NWOBHM outfit are favourites of HRH and pounded the main stage with their classic British heavy metal. Brian Ross flanked by son Alan on guitar and new recruits Nick Jennison (guitar) and Liam Ferguson (bass) can still hit those notes and when ‘that’ song completed the set, there was a lot of love once more.

With Lord Of The Lost forced to withdraw due to Chris Harms loss of voice, it was Lullaby for a Unicorn who drew the plum card of a main stage afternoon slot, much to the annoyance of four fifths of King Kraken who could have flexed their muscles. Elsewhere confusion reigned as Forgotten Remains apparently forgot to turn up whilst Stage Three also had a no show from Bristol death metallers Seprevation. A good time to head across the road for a tray of chips! Hardly had the tasty fried potato goods settled than it was into a rammed second stage to catch some crazy grindcore from nutters Raised By Owls (6) who were making many people very happy. As it was clearly parody o’ clock, it was no surprise to see the main hall filled with excited punters as Nottingham’s Evil Scarecrow (6) pulled the biggest crowd of the day. Having seen this band play tiny venues in the not so distant past, I’m still amazed at quite why they have mushroomed into the venue filling band that they have. Musically average, it’s their silliness that gets the punters laughing and I suppose these days everyone needs a bit of mindless idiocy in their lives. For me, Scarecrow are a little tired and their show predictable. Still, the punters loved them.

Unsurprisingly far fewer people were present for a real treat on Stage Two as the progressive rock of London trio Kyrbgrinder (8) was much more to my tastes. Three talented musicians playing original music. Johanne James is a frontman stuck behind a drum kit, but he’s also a fantastic drummer. Joined by Dave Lugay and guitarist Ben Glover Kyrbgrinder brought much needed quality to the proceedings. On stage three it was Bradford’s Valafar (7) who rocked the very intestines of the 02 with their pulverising death metal. Frontman Wayne Jackson was imposing, whilst guitarist Neil Blanchett took time away from My Dying Bride to shred mercilessly with fellow guitarist Wayne Jackson. Plenty from 2018’s excellent Wolfenkind made this a set to enjoy

The punishment to the knees showed no signs of stopping as the main stage trembled under the intense onslaught of Germanic epic metal from Germans Equilibrium (8) who were intent on bringing the party to the second city. The band made light of the absence of guitarist Dom R Cray with pneumonia with several guests including guitarists from Lord Of The Lost. 2019’s Renegades dominated the set list, whilst the anthemic of Born To Be Epic and Blut Im Auge proved to be massive highlights. One final trip to the basement allowed a viewing of Leicester stoners Mage (7) whose Sabbath heavy riffage provided a welcome contrast. Mage are a powerful outfit and live are heavy as hell. Great stuff. Final band of the day was Rhapsody Of Fire (7) who may look anything like they did back in 2006 but the Italians remain able to deliver fine power metal. A gargantuan 17-song set list saw the bulk of it drawn from 2019’s The Eighth Mountain. Closing with The Emerald Sword, Rhapsody Of Fire concluded an exhausting but excellent day.

Day 2

With our thoughts with our fellow metal heads in South Wales as heartbreaking pictures of floods in Pontypridd and surrounding areas filtered through on our social media (Climate change kids, this is reality – start to badger your politicians now) it was back to the metal with Black Country heroes Skull Fox (6) whose highly enthusiastic set was ideal lunchtime fare. Opening the main stage was three-piece thrash outfit Vice (7) from Manchester impressed greatly. Vocalist and guitarist Tom Atkinson could be a superb frontman in time whilst the band’s music is addictively good thrash. Meanwhile on stage three it was Stourbridge’s sludgy three King Corpse (6) crushing heads with their majestically slow riffs.

Possibly the best discovery of the weekend came in the shape of Japanese black metal six-piece Ethereal Sin (9) who were on tour in the UK with Skiltron. For those who made the effort, Ethereal Sin were simply superb. Pagan black metal delivered at ferocious speed, intense but with a real joy at being in the UK. The band were clad in corpse paint and ceremonial robes and they delivered a captivating set that was so absorbing that we missed Ashborn who were on the ‘must see’ list (sorry!)

As the little hand headed toward 4, it was suddenly time. Wading through the packed second stage to the front, it was evident that our friends in King Kraken (9) have created something of a stir in the water. Boom! Our heroes entered the stage following a personal introduction from one of the HRH bosses (something only two other bands that I saw received) and as the riff to War Machine cranked out and for the next 40 minutes the band delivered the best set I’ve ever seen from them. Tighter than a duck’s arse, full of thick, heavy riffs, Kraken were imperious. Confident without a hint of arrogance, all we had to do was sing along to those tracks we know so well now, as the Kraken simply levelled the room. Beaming faces, fists and horns aloft, the crowd provided the perfect response. I will be amazed if we don’t see these boys on a main stage very soon.

Re-entering the main venue, the Sabbath-infused doom filled the air. WitchSorrow (7) don’t mess about, they just batter you. Whilst Witchsorrow slowed the pace, there was only one thing guaranteed with the next band. Movement. Northampton extreme metallers Krysthla (9) excelled in 2019 with the superb Worldwide Negative and that set at Bloodstock and indoors with a decent sized stage they continued in the same vein. Two new tracks, My White Castles and The Gift both sounded immense. On stage, the constant flailing of bassist Carl Davies’ hair as he rocks back and fore maybe masks just what a superb bassist he is, his string plucking giving the band that gritty undercurrent which combines with Liam Turland’s powerful drumming. Meanwhile vocalist Adi Mayes rarely stops moving, cajoling the crowd who at times looked a bit stunned by the power of the band. Neil Hudson and Noel Davies on guitar complete the line-up and bring the riffing thunder, which is always so good. As they closed with Luminosity the crowd had woken up and the head banging towards the end meant job done.

Back to the second stage for a quick shot of Death Valley Knights (6) whose solid heavy metal was gaining decent applause, before the bagpipe curse of Argentinian’s Skiltron (7). A high energy show was hugely welcomed, the band’s folk metal hitting the right notes despite those bloody bagpipes. Final visit to the third stage saw the brash punk rock of West Midlands’ Face Up (6) metaphorically punching those brave enough to get into the face of vocalist Roxx and her band. Metal core has never been my bag and heading back to the second stage a few minutes of Blackpool ‘core outfit Avarus (5) failed to impress, despite the glam rock image of Lucas Fletcher and Jay Wagner. And so, the final band before our journey home and it was the pummelling thrash of Preston’s Xentrix (7) which concluded our visit. Xentrix play it like you want it, and as a unit are now as tight and impressive as I’ve ever seen. Jay Walsh is a dominant front man and with tracks from 2019’s Bury The Pain in the list, this was a strong showing. With the weather still dominating, we decided to make an early retreat and headed out into the wind to drive home. An excellent weekend, some great bands and an ‘I was there moment’ for those fine Kraken boys. We shall return for more next time.

Saturday 22 February 2020

Reviews: Verikalpa, Intronaut, Duskwood, Shakra (Reviews By Simon Black)

Verikalpa: Tuoppitanssi (Scarlet Records)

Pausing only to dust down my favourite drinking tankard, this month sees the release of the second album from Finnish Folk Metal sextet Verikalpa. Not an act I have come across before, probably because they don’t seem to do much outside Finland and sing in Finnish, but I have to say I am pleasantly surprised. I’m always slightly wary of bands in this vein (because let’s face it Alestorm own this corner of the market), and anyone else using an accordion sound so heavily is bound to face challenges of plagiarism, but in reality these guys have been around a little longer, and just took a long time to get anything released.

I honestly can’t tell if this is intended to be humorous due to the language barrier, although as the album title translates to Pintdance, along with the 2 medieval types duelling with tankards on the cover leads me to believe that the tongue is more than likely firmly in someone else’s cheek lyrically. This is much heavier than many other acts in this vein, both musically and vocally (no clean vocals or faux piraticals on this bad boy), with a good dollop of power metal stirred in with the folk. There’s an outstanding, solid rhythm section at work here - check out Sankari, Saatana, Kostoja (which translates loosely to Here, Satan, Revenge) or Peikon Kieli (The Language Of The Troll) for a couple of real festival crowd-pleasers for a start which oozes heaviness from the outset, with some nifty speedy sections in the middle 8. And then there’s the pile-driving drumming on Karhunkaataja (Bear Hunter) to really hammer home how thundering and proficient this rhythm section actually is. Not afraid to dive into some well-polished instrumental breaks, this album has a nice lively pace and a polished production, indicating for me an act made up of experienced and technically proficient musicians who like to take their time to get things right in the studio.

If I have a criticism it’s for the decision to stick to the accordion setting on the keyboards throughout – a bit of variety here would have gone a long way, as in all other aspects the tone and pace of the music has plenty of variety to keep the listener interested. I could forgive this if a real accordion was in use, but this is minor niggling for an album that otherwise is a solid little cracker. Judging from the paucity of live footage outside of a tiny club in Finland, these guys need to get out and about a bit more, as this album is an explosive introduction to a talented bunch that the world needs to meet. 8/10

Intronaut: Fluid Existential Inversions (Metal Blade)

This little mouthful is the sixth outing for Californian prog outfit Intronaut. It’s got the elements you expect from an experienced progressive band – a trippy cover, complex and varied songs, with some serious musicianship on display - bouncing between their prog, metal and jazz influences like a pinball on an experimental drugs trial, but sounding far more planned and controlled than an out- and-out experimental jam. Musically these guys are good, but nowhere near as overt in their virtuosity as you might expect from say, a Dream Theater or as full on metal as a Symphony X. To be clear, this is not about skill, it’s about showing controlled restraint, with an undercurrent of anger just bubbling under that is far more effective than the more showy techniques employed by some other acts in this broadchurch.

This is a far more subtle beast, with some restrained ambient moments mixed in with the full on metal ones, often within the same song (the aptly named Tripolar being a great example), with the vocal styles proving as fluid as the instrumental ones. However, when they turn on the heavy, it’s a two tonne Mjölnir hammer on the ear drums and this album’s contrasts between light and dark work best when played up loud, giving the listener the opportunity to hear the lovely mixtures of tones from the instruments, with guitar sounds often changing several times throughout a track -particularly the guitars which veer from the technical harmonic to the downright sludgy mid song without jarring. And they are only a four piece to boot…

Underpinning this is a very strong bass sound, which is absolutely driving every twist and turn of the songs, without being in your face in a Steve Harris kind of way. The album carries itself well through its 53 minutes (so quite restrained for a prog album), although the final track Sour Everythings doesn’t seem to have the focus and polish of everything else on the album, and feels like it may have been included to get the running time up, rather than because it belonged there or had been as polished as its companions. The rest of the album holds up well though, and I found I had listened to it three times without writing a word, which is a sign that I’ve found an act I’m going to keep listening to… 7/10

Duskwood: The Lost Tales EP (Self-Released)

Clearly I need to get across the Bristol Channel more often. Duskwood hail from Yeovil in Somerset, and are very technically tight 4 piece desert/stoner outfit, with this EP being a conceptual follow up to last year’s The Long Dark, so for those in the know - more Space Cowboy adventures may be included. This is a lively little 4 track EP which has a lot going for it. Wasting no time kicking in the door with the punchy Kenosha, this track sets the tone for the EP with swirling guitars and back to basics solos from Greg Watts, solid, technical and moody rhythms from Aaron Tinsley and Hugh Landon, and an absolutely soaring vocal turn from singer Liam Tinsley - resisting the genre standard of the haunting growl to throw out some proper metal high screams, which really add to the atmosphere.

Second track The Watcher heads into more traditional stoner territory, with a more haunting atmospheric feel to it, and some nice time changes to go with the mood-mongering. The more rhythmically technical Oraculum builds an intense trippy mood and feels much more like a jam, even though there’s some really quite nifty controlled beat work underpinning it. This technical underpinning follows on into final track The Island, which more than any other shows that Liam has range and subtlety to his vocals. Oh and hold on for the hidden track at the end….

These guys seem to be building a good following out on the road, and these last couple of EP’s seem to be a conscious decision to keep the content coming out with quality of material definitely being higher on the list of priorities than quantity. Even if they may not have the resources to do another full album, one is probably overdue now. Either way, these guys have crafted an emotive little opus here and I would definitely like to see if they can deliver live. 8/10

Shakra: Mad World (AFM)

This is a tough business. Bands can be solid, on it and work their asses of over the years, but never really seem to get the big breaks. Although moderately successful in their native Switzerland and in Germany, where hard rock never went out of vogue (and believe me the mullet cut is still alive and well out there) Shakra never seem to have broken out beyond some promising support slots with more successful acts who have leap frogged them, probably not helped by the challenges of keeping a stable line up over their 25 years.

I’m not familiar with their extensive back catalogue, but judging from this album, this is an experienced bunch who know how churn out the solid rock tunes, and single Too Much Is Not Enough seems a good snapshot of their talents as any, albeit a bit by the numbers. The more moody and rockin’ A Roll Of The Dice or I Still Rock are far stronger tracks in my humble opinion, with some nice rhythmic foot tapping moments and may have been a better choice of single, proving that when bands are trying to be (or under pressure to be) commercial that they may be far better to just stick to what comes naturally.

Title track Mad World holds itself up well, and there’s plenty of tracks on here with catchy riffs and melodies (Turn The Light On, Son Of Fire and When It Comes Around to name but three). The production is crisp and clear, with a full fat sound you would expect from a band whose influences are firmly in the late 80’s, but despite all these ticks in the boxes the whole thing fails to grab my attention. If I put my mind back into how I felt in those long gone days, when a hard rockin’ band where what got my goat, I still think this will have fallen into the also-ran category and languished in the depths of an old indie label whilst contemporaries ran up lavish debts on major labels.

There’s a sense of recognition that the world has changed and not such a fun place in this album’s lyrics (Fake News in particular), but somehow that doesn’t quite translate into the kind of soul touching empathy and emotion that this genre can be capable of, even closing ballad New Tomorrow is just too formulaic and forced to really work and so ‘almost, but not quite’ seems like a reasonable summary of the album. 5/10

A View From The Back Of The Room: 3Teeth (Live Review By Dean Palmer)

3Teeth & <PIG>, Thekla, Bristol

3Teeth have very much owed Bristol this show following their last-minute cancellation from July 2019 when they were due to support Industrial legends Ministry at SWX (transpires they were a tad too lubricated to get through security at Heathrow which resulted in them being shipped back the mainland Europe from whence they flew in from) so it was really rather nice to see them safely in the country not to mention playing a venue whose décor truly fits their industrial wall of sound style such as the Thekla, despite the boat currently being a bit off-kilter in terms of mooring (it’s very, very obvious that the ship is leaning heavily to the right).

I ensured I arrived in plenty of time to see <PIG> (8) smash through a glorious set of post-industrial tunes as a heck of a bonus for the evening. Raymond Watts has either been in, collaborated or just hung out with pretty much every important industrial band you can think of since the mid-1980s and you can certainly tell as there’s not a Rockstar-move that he doesn’t have nailed down. Opening with The Revelation from the 2017 Prey & Obey EP closely followed by (relatively) new tune Mobocracy it’s very clear that this old dog has plenty of new tricks and he’s not afraid to smash them into our skulls to ensure we’re on board the <PIG> train for the evening. The decent attendance in place (particularly for an early start support band) very much get into proceedings and the dancefloor ahead of the Fluffy-jacket wearing frontman begins to writhe suitably. The set cumulates with a cover of KMFDM’s (whom Raymond has been a significant contributor to since the mid-80s) Juke Joint Jezebel), his own Prey & Obey and finishing the job with 1997’s Prime Evil. A corking set from a project which deserves way more love from the Industrial scene than it ever seems to get.

Onwards to 3Teeth (8) who take to the stage with minimal fuss and simply do what they do best: Make a lot of noise with a brilliantly harsh wall of distorted sound, fizzy guitars and huge drums, and right now they’re on absolute top form as they tear through a set comprised of a good balance from their 3 albums to date. Tracks such as EXXXIT, Shutdown, Pit Of Fire and Master Of Decay are delivered with precision aggression and an urgency which says that this band are determined to be recognized alongside more successful artists such as Rammstein, Nine Inch Nails and Ministry themselves and their take-no-prisoners approach to live shows truly backs this up. Frontman Alexis Mincolla patrols the stage with a level of menace and often hangs over the crowd from the speakers to give a true visual image (particularly since the stage setup is entirely backlit, a perfect look for a band of this nature). There’s more crowd interaction on this tour than via previous visits to our shores as Alexis snarkily comments that we’re all in luck as we’re on one of the few venues which will survive the rising sea levels over coming years (and to which a hasty retort of "OK Boomer" comes back from an audience member) so the gig is more than just business this time around.

The encore features President X, the fourth single from 2019s Metawar with Alexis in his full reptilian prosthesis as featured in the music video from the same and proceedings are ended with a very sweaty, satisfied crowd dispersing into the night. A great shame to not hear their excellent cover of Foster The People’s Pumped Up Kicks (particularly in a city where it has very much progressed to club-floorfiller) as that really would have really put the final bullet into the chamber, but overall a top-notch show from a band at the absolute height of their powers. If you enjoy industrial music in any of it’s forms you owe it to yourself to catch 3Teeth live.

Friday 21 February 2020

Reviews: Mondo Generator, Syteria, Starmen, Hounds (Paul H, Simon & Matt)

Mondo Generator: Fuck It (Heavy Psych Sounds Records) [Simon Black]

It’s been a while since we’ve heard anything from Nick Oliveri. It’s been a longer while since he was kicked out of Queens Of The Stone Age (taking their edge with him), and a good 8 years of a while since he put anything out under the Mondo moniker, so expectations may be high … I don’t think his followers will be disappointed. If other acts had put out an album that whilst keeping one foot firmly in the American punk camp, allowed the other to take a circular stomp in and out of the hardcore, stoner and speed genres, I would be moaning that they can’t make their minds up what they were about.

But this is Oliveri giving all his fans something they like from every era of his career, whilst still sounding fresh and innovative. And it works. Even when he slows the pace down, such as in the middle of the superb single Fuck It or Option 4, the controlled aggression and energy still boils and seethes angrily. It’s easy to be noisy and angry, it’s much harder to stay controlled, tight and focussed whilst retaining the essential dangerous looseness that makes any punk influenced band really tick, but Oliveri manages it here. A light touch on the production helps, and this is an album that just flies by leaving you wanting more. 7/10

Syteria: Reflection (Syteria Records/Cargo Distribution) [Paul Hutchings]

Their debut release Rant O Bot in 2017 did nothing for me whatsoever. 35 minutes of routine hard rock tracks which were at best unmemorable. Whilst Reflection isn’t going to threaten my top 300 this year, it’s initially an improvement on the debut. The band is tighter, and overall, it’s a better listen. 12 tracks compressed into another 35 minutes, but with a style which is neither classic rock or the pop-punk fuzz they claim. Use of four-part harmonies and some decent underlying melody are signatures of the band’s sound, with Girlschool guitarist Jax Chambers in solid form, her playing fluid. In fact, the band are all much improved, from the drumming of Pablo Calvo anchoring the tracks to the soaring vocals of sister Julia. The problem is that the songs are just not that good, throwaway and repetitive in formula and delivery. Plastic Fantastic is just one example, a godawful three-minutes of your life lost forever. Much like Girlschool, Syteria appear to have one structure and follow it slavishly. If you want something to put on whilst doing the ironing, maybe this’ll be okay. Or probably not. 5/10

Starmen: Welcome To My World (Black Lodge) [Matt Bladen]

Cast your mind back to 1987 the self proclaimed "Greatest Band In The World" Kiss have removed their makeup and released a number of albums, the most maligned though is Crazy Nights, boasting heavy use of synthesizers and a liberal dose of AOR songwriting, it remains divisive to this day. So imagine if you will that after this album Paul Stanley and Bruce Kulick left the band and formed their own using variations of the Starchild/Spaceman paint but retaining the sound of Crazy Nights. This is what Starmen sound like, the Swedish rock band have really honed in on that 80's Kiss sound. They are all former members of Cleopatra, Poodles, Friends and Stolen Mondays as well as a Kiss tribute band and they have taken this experience to a new project where they have hard rocking songs imbued by AOR taking elements of Def Leppard, Van Hagar along with a few of the Scandi glam bands.

Visually they are all colour coded Purple, Red, Silver & Gold using pseudonyms and dolling themselves in face paint like their New York influencers. So to the album, well the songs are catchier than coronavirus even on tracks like Mayday that deal with more serious issues (climate change) will have you humming them for days. They are all packed with guitar solos and sung by a vocalist who is dead ringer for Mr Stanley, meaning that if you are a fan of Kiss then you will get a lot out of this record. I like Kiss but I hate the Lick It Up - Crazy Nights period however that night have been because it felt like Kiss selling out (can they really sell out anymore?) Starmen however show that it would have been better to form another band playing this music. Catchy, slick AOR based rock. Welcome one and all. 7/10

Hounds: Warrior Of Sun (Punishment 18 Records) [Simon Black]

Hounds are a US Metal/Power outfit who have been around since 2016, and this is their debut album. Apparently, they started life as a Savatage tribute band before deciding to take things further, and you can definitely hear the influence of that erstwhile act, but they have their own distinct sound. I can’t really tell you much more about them, as like a number of debut acts I have reviewed recently, their internet presence is non-existent. Seriously guys, you need to fix this to have a hope these days. The album starts well enough with instrumental opener Madness And Rage, before launching into the title track. It’s fast, it’s pacy, it’s very energetic, but it’s also incredibly rough around the edges, particularly with the vocals, which sound like they have come from a live feed with only a bit of reverb.

It evokes a very early Iron Maiden feel (plus added mid-70’s rock keyboards), completely with sandpaper vocals, but I suspect this has more to do with the mechanics of how the album was recorded than the abilities of the singer, as this feels like one-take studio work than a laboured and polished recording process. But hey, it’s an expensive game and you have to start somewhere. I have to say, first listen out, it did not grab me, but I hate to write something off casually, and on second listen, I’m finding myself enjoying them much more, and I can see them working well as a live act, as the songs work well structurally and instrumentally. However, they are going to need to seriously work on the production values to move up the scales for me, as although it’s nice to hear the 70’s Classic Rock influence on the instrumentals, there is a world of difference between emulating 70’s styles, and using 70’s equipment, and production values from this century would have worked have definitely worked better. Keep going chaps. 5/10.

Thursday 20 February 2020

Reviews: Sonny Landreth, Serpent Noir, Empire Warning, Simplefast (Paul H, Rich & Matt)

Sonny Landreth: Blacktop Run (Provogue Records)

American, Louisiana to be precise, blues guitarist Sonny Landreth has been called "probably the most underestimated musician on the planet, and also probably one of the most advanced" by none other than Eric Clapton. High praise but as soon as the instrumental slide fest of Beyond Borders blares out of this record you can exactly why God himself has bestowed this honour.  This record is mixture of blues sounds pairing slide guitar driven electric rockers like Groovy Goddess with more acoustic traditional blues on Don't Ask Me, the experimentation works well as an entire record of either could have left people a bit cold, but when they are blended together it makes for a much more cohesive gumbo. Along for the ride are the powerhouse backing band of bassist David Ranson, drummer Brian Brignac and keyboardist Steve Conn who all shine equally here against the guitar mastery of Landreth. The searing instrumentals bring some Latin flavours of Santana (Lover Dance With Me) along with some jazzy flourishes, it's these instrumentals that split the album up almost into different sections as the vocal songs take the edge off with slower, more traditional sounds of blues and country, the title track is full of down-home chicken picking, with Mule also in that country sound. An experimental melting pot of Americana, Blacktop Run is an interesting engaging and enjoyable blues album. 7/10

Serpent Noir: Death Clan OD (W.T.C Productions) [Rich Oliver]

Death Clan OD is the new album from Greek black metallers Serpent Noir. Not a band I was aware of but from doing a bit of reading up on the band they appear to be a very well received band in the metal underground and Death Clan OD certainly is an enjoyable album. The style of black metal played by Serpent Noir sits somewhere in between the Norwegian style of bands such as Gorgoroth and the more melodic style by bands such as Dissection. The six songs (plus intro song) are a furious maelstrom of cutting black metal riffage with cold and evil melodies. There is a perfect balance between the chaotic and the melodic such as on Cutting The Umbilical Cord Of Hel and Astaroth: The Jaws Of Gha’Agsheblah with some beautiful melodic lead guitar parts worked seamlessly alongside the classic black metal tremolo riffs and blast-beats. The vocals are a mix of of black metal style screams and an almost spoken world style whilst the lyrics are all provided by Swedish occultist Thomas Karlsson who has also previously provided lyrics for Therion. Death Clan OD is an enjoyable melodic black metal release. It doesn’t have much staying power but it is executed and performed fantastically. 7/10

Empire Warning: Unite Or Die  (Self Released) [Paul Hutchings]

London Metal 2 The Masses 2019’s winners Empire Warning release their groove ridden EP Unite Or Die this week. Four songs of LOG style thrashing stomp which provide evidence why this band fought their way through a rather wide field of entries. Reflecting on the state of the planet and the instability we face in our daily lives, there’s also an industrial feel here, the band unafraid to branch out with their style. Heil To The Rat King opens the EP, whilst Stuck follows, the vocals of Elsio harsh and angry. With thick killer riffs Take From Me maintains the pounding momentum. EP closer Verge Of Sanity is sure to provoke chaos in the pit, the charging rhythm driven by thunderous drumming. A solid EP which suggests that their debut album will be well worth a listen. 6/10

Simplefast: Eternal (Sliptrick Records) [Paul Hutchings]

The second album from the Athens based outfit, Eternal is a solid if unspectacular release, plagued by one flaw that irritated me from start to …, well as far as I got. Following the traditional intro style, it’s The Liar’s Truth that gets things moving, with a melodic thrash approach that is easy to listen to. Nothing too jarring at all. New signer Yiannis Voulgaropoulos makes an immediate impact with a strong vocal performance, although the backing vocals on the chorus are unnecessary and detract from Voulgaropoulos’s clean delivery. Neat, intricate thrash played competently is however, always welcome, and the band are solid enough to make it enjoyable. Nero Reborn switches style, a punk fused Maiden approach which isn’t the best song, and disappointingly Voulgaropoulos’s tone is somewhat off. Again, the backing vocals are just frustrating.

There’s a bit of thunder on Destroyer, a thick heavy riffed song, gruff vocals jostling for position and by now I’m really pissed off with the constant dull backing vocals which are really to the detriment of the songs. Out of tone and tune, just stop it! But no, it continues and by Atonement I’m really fed up to the point where I reach for the off button. I’ll give the band some credit. The production is crisp and clear with Eternal having been mixed by Simplefast and Markos Samaras at Wudsound Studios in Athens, Greece and mastered by Jay Maas in Boston, USA. Overall though, it’s a shame as there is clearly talent in the band, and musically it is interesting enough. I wish them luck. 4/10