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Tuesday 31 March 2020

Reviews: Solothus, The Sonic Dawn, Dawn Of Ouroboros, Imonolith (Paul H, Paul S, Matt & Rich)

Solothus: Realm Of Ash And Blood (20 Buck Spin) [Paul Hutchings]

Slow, crashing riffs carrying the weight of the world introduce you to Father Of Sickness, the opening track on Realm Of Ash And Blood, the third record from Finnish death doom titans Solothus. Moving with a steady but unstoppable force, there is much to explore as the track expands. With roots deep in the doom and death metal scene, the demonic guttural groans of founder member vocalist Kari Kankaanpaa vary between death and black metal. As can be heard on The Watcher, the second track which increases pace halfway through and where echoes of Bathory can be heard. Searing guitar work emanates throughout, with Veli-Matti Karjalainen and now departed Sami Iivonen adding their haunting sonic elements. It’s been seven years since sophomore record Summoned From The Void appeared, and the Finns are keen to restamp their mark.

The monolithic The Gallow’s Promise groans under the weight of gargantuan riffing, a nine-minute sprawling effort of bone crushing heaviness. In comparison, the delicate two minute The Last Breath, despite the darkness of the title, allows a pause, the gentle guitar work providing sanctuary from the falling masonry which erupts on the following Below Black Waters, another mammoth pulverising beast. Chasm Of Shattered Bones may not only be one of my favourite song titles of the year but also one of my favourite tracks, the sheer intense explosive style, the Sabbath-esque riffs and lead break and the slight increase in pace combine into an absolute massive track which provides the gateway to the suffocating Rain Of Ash, a spine splitting ten minute giant, with a monstrous feel, huge riffing and an enormity that one rarely discovers.

An album that promises much from the opening minutes, and which more than fulfils every expectation by its conclusion. If you like your doom beyond heavy, then I strongly recommend seeking out this stunning piece of work. 9/10

The Sonic Dawn: Enter The Mirage (Heavy Psych Sounds) [Paul Scoble]

The Sonic Dawn are a three piece based in Copenhagen, Denmark. The Danes have produced 3 albums before Enter The Mirage, the last being 2019’s Eclipse. The band play a style of music usually associated with much hotter weather than Denmark; The Sonic Dawn play a style of psychedelic rock that is so Southern California it has So-Cal stamped on every note. The sound is fairly simple, clean electric guitar, bass, drums and vocals, with the occasional addition of Hammond organ or sitar guitar. There is a pop sensibility to a lot of the tracks, Hits Of Acid, has this poppy feel to it, in some places this sounds a little like Beck. Another clear influence on The Sonic Dawn are The Doors. Loose Ends has a closing section that features a Sitar Guitar and gives the section a similarity to the song The End.

There are elements of other late sixties music featured on the album as well. Children Of The Night and Sun Drifter sound quite country rock, reminding me of The Eagles or maybe a little bit like Gram Parsons. Sun Drifter in particular is a beautiful piece of soft psych rock mixed with some lovely finger picked country rock. Both the tracks I mentioned have a beautiful blissed out quality that after a couple of listens really gets into your head. Although I’ve emphasised the softer, poppier elements of this album, there is some slightly harder rock on here as well. Soul Sacrifice is a taut, uptempo rocker with lashing of Hammond Organ, that is driving and enjoyable. The band can do funky as well. Join The Dead is a minimalist piece of funk rock, again with bags of Hammond Organ, and a huge swagger.

The album is brought to an end by UFO, a soft ballad that is a mix of psych and country rock. The track is soft and lilting, with lots of keyboard. UFO is a very relaxed, smooth way to end the album, which is a great way to bring this very enjoyable album to its conclusion. Enter The Mirage is a cracking piece of sixties psych rock. In many ways it reminds me of the Temples album I reviewed last year. It’s relaxed and emotive, packed full of sunshine (sometimes melancholy sunshine, but sunshine all the same), bluesy psych rock that after a couple of listens will get into your head have you humming the tunes for weeks. It’s a very well written, played and produced, and will give listeners lots of enjoyment. 8/10

Dawn Of Ouroboros: The Art Of Morphology (Rain Without End Records) [Matt Bladen]

Rainfall and ominous chords open up the debut record from Californian blackened metal band Dawn of Ouroboros. A slow build really shows the bands progressive nature before you get the flattening double kicks and tremolo picking for the rest of Revivified Spirits which blitz's past with a more traditional sound, however they never stay in one style for long switching between ambient post-metal, bludgeoning death metal, doomy passages while employing the vocals of Chelsea Murphy to the full on Pinnacle Induced Vertigo shifting between whispered cleans and roaring harsh growls as it slows towards the end leaving Gateway To Tenebrosity as a piano driven instrumental that leads into the acosuit beginning of Lunar Cathexis which has the rhythm section of David Scanlon (bass) and Ron Bertrand (drums) working at full force while it's Tony Thomas' guitar playing and compositions that this album really highlights. A stimulating mix of progressive death metal and post-black metal The Art Of Morphology is an ideal listen for fans of Alcest, Advent Sorrow and Agalloch with songs like Sorrow's Eclipse the first single, showing exactly why I've made these comparisons. 7/10

Imonolith: State Of Being (Self Released) [Rich Oliver]

State Of Being is the debut album from Canadian band Imonolith. Formed by drummer Ryan Van Poederooyen and guitarist Brian “Beav” Waddell following the disbandment of the Devin Townsend Project they are joined by vocalist Jon Howard (Threat Signal), guitarist Kai Huppunen (Methods Of Mayhem) and bassist Scott Whalen (Econoline Crush).

Though formed from the demise of the Devin Townsend Project this band is a completely separate entity with its sound rooted in early 2000’s alternative rock and groove metal. This has a very straightforward mainstream metal sound and as a result ends up being a very generic sounding release. There are half decent riffs scattered about throughout the album and the drumming by RVP is at its usual excellent standard but the vocals by Jon Howard are in that grating metalcore style complete with the whiny sounding cleans. It’s not a complete disaster though as the heavy groove throughout the album can get your head nodding and your foot tapping and sometimes it is used to great effect such as in the pummelling Dig and the brutality of The Reign.

State Of Being is a disappointing release. It sounds like a throwback to the horrible generic rock and metal which infested the scene in the early 2000’s. I wasn’t a fan of this style back then and my opinion of it has not softened with age. I’m glad that Beav and RVP are trying something different and forging their own path after their time with Devin but I found this album to be extremely underwhelming and very disappointing. 4/10

Reviews: Buffalo Summer, Beggar, Intense, Deus Mori (Reviews By Matt Bladen)

Buffalo Summer: Desolation Blue (Silver Lining Music)

West Wales hard rockers Buffalo Summer's second album (2016) saw them add a more mature edge to their NWOCR sound, adding to the foundations they laid down on their debut (2013). Since then they have toured regularly refining it on the live stage for the last four years (and before that) leading up to the release of their third full length record Desolation Blue. Here they haven't just matured again, they've upped their game massively evoking those classic rock founders, through the murky skies of 90's Seattle with a glistening modern edge to it as well. The moody rumbling of The Power & The Greed is how Desolation Blue kicks off and it's more an ode to Soundgarden and AIC than Zep or Free, Hit The Ground Running brings some sweet slide guitar prowess from Johnny Williams on the country sounding number as Darren King's bass rumble drives If Walls Could Speak.

Three totally independent tracks start off this album showing that there's very little predictability, something that plagues a few of NWOCR scene. When You Walk Away has some Eastern flavour to it reminding me of The Cult, Andrew Hunt's soulful voice adding mysticism here and emotive power elsewhere. His brother Gareth's drumming is deft displaying percussive power on Last To Know. What's impressive about this record is the breath of styles that this record has, it keeps you guessing constantly surprising you with tracks such as Dark Valentine which is a smouldering song that is very different to the Buffalo Summer many will know. Desolation Blue is Buffalo Summer's renaissance, finally free of the genre shackles they may have incurred in their past they have reinvented themselves on this third album with an eye to the ever-changing future. 8/10

Beggar: Compelled To Repeat (APF Records)

I'm not sure what I can say about this album, in fact I was tempted to just copy paste the PR that came with it as a review as Hold Tight PR's Boss loves this band and I quote: "more than my husband". So what sort of music makes her go weak at the knees? Well it's quite...violent, groovy but violent similar to those nutters in Pist but with the aggression ramped up to Vinnie Jones levels (one for the dads). This London four piece play what can only be described as extreme sludge, or indeed fighting music, monolithian riffage opens the record on Blood Moon which has fuzzing riffs on top of black metal drumming from Bertrand Sautier who used to play in deathgrind band so knows how to abuse a kit. A trio of six stringing from Abe Whitworth, Jake Leyland and Charlie Davis who has a voice from the depths of Hades.

Blood Moon shifts between low slung riffs and blistering extremity, it's kind of schizophrenic, with a duality to it that's both interesting and bloody frightening. Anaesthete is woozy as Charlie Davis barks like a demented Captain Beefheart, The Cadaver Speaks brings hardcore savagery on top of crawling doom, the cadaver manages to drag itself into Black Cloud which is reminiscent of Eyehategod with it's distorted sludge grind that brings a little Orange Goblin bluesiness in the last moments. This is probably the most simple song on the record, it's unfussy sludge but it works well when followed by Trepanned Head Stares At The Sun a song that fuses swirling space rock and the antagonistic metal. Compelled To Repeat is an uncompromising slab of molten fury, with some syrupy NOLA swagger spread over the top. 9/10

Intense: Songs Of A Broken Future (Pure Steel Records)

I remember the first time I heard UK power/thrash metal band it was as part of compilation that used to come with Powerplay Magazine and I immediately loved the band as their Nevermore/Iced Earth sound was right up my street. I actually purchased their album As Our Army Grows at the first Download festival I attended in 2007 (this is a nostalgia trip), it blew me away with it's mix of dark downtuned heaviness and melodic choruses. Since then I've been following every release with baited breath, as The Shape Of Rage came in 2011 and it's been a long time but finally their fourth album Songs Of A Broken Future has arrived. Recorded at Karl Groom's, Thin Ice Studios, Surrey, in the Spring/Summer of 2019. So have they suddenly adopted djent stylings or gone rap metal? No. They are still mining that prog/power/thrash but doing it at a high level.

Unlike many metal acts around at the moment Intense's line up hasn't changed since Second Sight, their first full length, it's this longevity that means the band all know each other well enough to create numbers like the classically influenced Until The Memories Fade where Neil Ablard's drumming creates space for Nick Palmer and Dave Peak's intricate guitar playing, it's a muscular ballad that Intense do very well, but it's with mid-paced numbers like Children Of Tomorrow and thrashers such as End Of Days that they show their mettle, Ablard blasting away as Steve Brine's bass gallops Palmer and Peak duelling away with their axes on Head Above Water. The key factor for Intense though are the incredible vocals of Sean Hetherington who has a booming vocal carrying so much weight on the title track and others. Songs Of A Broken Future has been a a long time in gestation but it's come out of the other end as another quality metal album from Intense. 8/10

Deus Mori: Umbra Mortis (Self Released)

Not long after forming in 2018 Manchester black metal released their debut EP 2018 And From The Trenches Bore Darkness, we gave it 8/10 citing it's amalgamation of blistering black metal with punk edge as the reason why it scored this. Deus Mori treat every release and show as a battle so you could class this as 'War Metal' albeit without the Nazi-overtones, in fact quite the opposite as Deus Mori use the themes of war to preach songs of loss, death, rage and desolation something which they have amped up on this second EP Umbra Mortis. Umbra Mortis means "shadow of death" and it opens with Rendezvous With Death a reciting of the Alan Seeger poem "I Have A Rendezvous With Death" as a stirring string backing gives it gravitas.

A shotgun blast leads into Obsequies On Earth a crawling doom-like song Dødsklokken's vocals sounding more vicious than ever before while Krosis' drumming is extremely dextrous, with lots of broad fills adding a cinematic touch. Under The Sigil Of Death is a blackened death sounding track the meaty bass of Skogan and rampaging guitar of Enecate adding the black metal ferocity that also appears on Ritual Silence which breaks into a militaristic drum beat in the middle before coming back with metallic fury, Exigne's lead guitar The title track is once again set in the trenches and is an epic one that blends everything that has come before together. Born in battle Umbra Mortis is the sound of Deus Mori in nearing their third year of existence and developing their own take on extreme metal. 8/10   

Monday 30 March 2020

Reviews: Live Burial, Unholy Desecration, Wvrm, zhOra (Rich & Paul H)

Live Burial: Unending Futility (Transcending Obscurity Records) [Rich Oliver]

Unending Futility is the second album from Newcastle death metallers Live Burial. Live Burial are a band I have heard plenty of good things about but until now I hadn’t got round to checking them out. Well I’ve given myself a smack on the wrist for taking my time about it as Live Burial are completely 100% my thing. Live Burial are pure old school death metal worship with Unending Futility sounding like it was released in the early 90’s rather than in 2020. Pummelling grisly death metal with plenty of nods to thrash it is seven songs of grizzled ferocity from the chaos of Condemned To The Boats, neck wrecking ferocity of Cemetery Fog and the unbridled rage of Rotting On The Rope this is essential listening for old school death metal fans. The only oddity on the album is Winds Of Solace which is an instrumental acoustic piece. Unending Futility offers nothing new to the world of death metal but pays homage to the glory days of death metal with nods to bands such as Death, Massacre, Asphyx and Malevolent Creation. Death metal may be a constantly evolving subgenre but you still can’t beat a bit of old school filth and Live Burial delivery the rotting goods. 8/10

Unholy Desecration: Unholy Horde (Confused Records) [Paul Hutchings]

The follow up to 2018’s Born Of Evil EP, it would be fair to say that Texas blackened death metal outfit Unholy Desecration’s raison d’etre is to level everything their sound touches. The sonic maelstrom that you find yourself directly engulfed by as opener Praise My Hell crashes in soars to new levels of brutality that few bands can match. The entire album is a pummelling fist to the face; crushing riffs, down tuned frantic guitars and a drum/bass division that could push through the Western front it’s so feisty. With a sound that is closer to the blacked metal of bands such as Behemoth, Immortal, Belphegor and Dissection, it’s only when you realise that the band are from the cartel-infested region of the Texas-Mexico border that things become clear. This is music born out of necessity against a backdrop of unrest and punishment. Reflected in their sound, the barking roar of vocalist Fremitus Diaboli and his five band members doesn’t allow for any escape. It’s a bludgeoning assault which hurts from start to finish. Tracks such as Born Of Evil and As She Walks contain sinister overtones. It’s not a comfortable listen but then I doubt that Unholy Desecration would want it any other way. 7/10

WVRM: Colony Collapse (Prosthetic Records) [Rich Oliver]

Colony Collapse is the third album from South Carolina grindcore band WVRM. There are a legion of grindcore bands out there I am completely unfamiliar with and WVRM fall into that category and so Colony Collapse is my first exposure to the band. Grindcore is generally a very single minded subgenre of extreme music and on the whole you know what you are going to get on a grind album. Short songs, blast beats, socio-political lyrics and extremely violent music. WVRM tick all these boxes very much displaying their influences from some of the prolific grindcore bands such as Napalm Death, Brutal Truth, Wormrot and Rotten Sound. The same can be said for a lot of grind bands and whilst WVRM do what they do really well there’s not a whole lot here that particularly stood out for me. Colony Collapse is a decent grind album but I’ve heard better. Saying that I’ve also heard a lot worse. Colony Collapse isn’t a bad grind album, just a bit of an uninspired one. Great for a short sharp blast of violence down your earholes but not one I will be rushing to listen to again in a hurry. 6/10

zhOra: Mortals (Hostile Media) [Paul Hutchings]

Whilst this brutally heavy driven outfit from County Tipperary have been pounding eardrums for the best part of a decade, I’d not come across them before. This is their fourth release, and it’s a bit of a nasty bastard. Ferociously aggressive, angry and hostile, it’s overall style ranges from the sludgy mania of early Mastodon and Neurosis through the metal country to the technically industrial slant of Gojira. The main theme behind the album is frustration, mainly caused by numerous worlds colliding around their previous release and some unfortunate personal situations (their original bass player had to leave due to a brain tumour). Fortunately, the band appear to have channelled those frustrations into a piledriver of an album that explodes with blistering ferocity on Coke Vulture.

Things get even more feisty on Hellfire, with the music written in 90 minutes according to Drummer Tom Woodlock. Punishing to the point of extremity, the haunting roars summarize the sheer angst that threads throughout this album. With connections about the pointlessness of life linking the tracks, Mortals is not a happy record. But the rage that has been released is undoubtedly cathartic for the band. Demotivator captures the vibe within the album, angry and belligerent, references to the meaning of life and suicide are ideal subject matter for such dark sounds. As Woodlock says, “the song has the message of ‘Yes, life is absolutely pointless; don’t worry about it too much’.” It’s evident that zhOra have drawn deeply on personal experiences. The result is 30 minutes of bludgeoning thick heavy riffing and raging which ultimately is healthy for body and mind. 7/10

Sunday 29 March 2020

Reviews: Voodoo Six, Desolation Angels, Newman, Crosson (Reviews By Simon Black)

Voodoo Six: Simulation Game (Explorer1)

I’ve never had a lot of exposure to this band, but it really does seem that their glory days may be behind them. In a market where retro HM is suddenly fashionable again, many hard rock bands who have been at this for a while are struggling to make any impact, as younger, fresher acts are hitting the same scene and capturing that nostalgic 70’s and 80’s hard rock feel far more effectively than many of those who have been at it a while. I’ve just reviewed two of them this week alone, and sadly this upping of the game means the older acts need to react accordingly.

The endless line-up changes probably aren’t helping, and although the musical performances on this record are fine in and of themselves, the album as a whole fails to grab you. Having run through it twice, I would struggle to name a stand out song, which is a shame because they’ve obviously worked hard on this and the overall sound of the band is strong, with some lovely crisp production throughout. Ballad Never Beyond Repair is a good example of this – it sounds like it should have all the right ingredients – bluesy tone, nice underpinned keyboard melody, solid rhythm work (the drums in particular are a master class in restraint and tight control) and soulful vocals, but it just fails to gel as a cohesive whole.

So it’s ticking the individual boxes, but not the big one that counts and what is missing is the infectious energy and enthusiasm which is like rocking horse droppings in hard rock world right now. Would I feel the same way if I hadn’t been so blown away by Stallion and The Wild! earlier on this month? Possibly not, but overall I am left feeling somewhat disappointed with this this one, which does feel more like a simulation in the face of the real deal currently available elsewhere. 5/10

Desolation Angels: While The Flame Still Burns (Dissonance Productions)

Desolation Angels are another piece of history brought back to life recently – definitely a trend of the moment. Having been part of the early NWOBHM movement in the early 80’s these guys ditched the UK early and took advantage of the opportunity to completely relocate to the West Coast of the USA for a few years before fizzling out altogether a few years later. Lost in that period of history was this album, recorded in 1990 and ditched at the time as the industry lost interest in Metal in favour of Grunge. This record had only previously been accessible as a bootleg, and now gets a much delayed and needed re-release, since their planned new album and tour are probably on hold until the current pandemic burns itself out..

Their mongrel genetics of half British NWOBHM and half L.A. Sleaze Metal is absolutely fascinating, thoroughly refreshing, and sounds like a gene splicing between Diamond Head and Quiet Riot, with a little Leatherwolf thrown in for good measure. The album itself at eight tracks and forty minutes running time is to the point and full of energy and has the stripped back sound of that bygone age perfectly without just sounding that way because the production had been done on the cheap. From thundering opener Only Time Will Tell through to track 7, Killer – this record punches kicks and screams its way, closing with a cracking power ballad in Feels Like Thunder with its moody, trippy instrumental break, although oddly the title track whilst being the weakest of the bunch, but still evokes the period very effectively. This would probably not have made much impact if it had been released as intended 30 years ago, but right here, right now it’s like finding gold buried in your back garden.

Quite often when bands resuscitate themselves and start recording again decades later the end product sounds more expensively produced, but with the band members still on life support and that is absolutely not happening here. This really does have that energy from a much younger bunch of guys trying to kick the door down and has left me with a huge smile on my face. Let’s hope that they can keep that energy in their new recordings. 8/10

Newman: Ignition (AOR Heaven)

Steve Newman has been churning out well written, well-crafted and well-polished Melo-Rock/AOR music for a while now, and this album is no exception, leading me to ask not for the first time why so few people seem to know about him and his writing. There’s still a huge following for this sort of stuff, but he’s far from a household name even within our community, which is a shame, as this album is eminently listenable. From opener End Of The Road you get solid riff’s, strong clean vocals, catchy rhythms with keyboards subtly adding to the mix, rather than drowning it out by overstating the melody.

The production is really clean and very well mixed, with instruments and vocals where they need to be in the mix, with no-one hogging the limelight, even when the well-crafted solos raise pop to the fore, they aren’t doing so at the expense of the ensemble. The highlights include Worth Dying For, with its clap-along chorus, some thundering rhythms and a top notch vocal performance and the very funky and instrumentally experimental break in The Island. When it sticks to its stereotype, such as the ballad Promise Me it fails, and this track in particular steps into predictable AOR Keys-Follow-The-Chorus territory, but to be honest it’s the only ‘meh’ point in an otherwise excellent bunch of songs.

Where the album works is that it has all the tropes you would expect of the genre but it doesn’t rely on them and consequently (with one exception) isn’t predictable, with some nice musical twists that you don’t expect – an unexpectedly heavy as fuck drum fill, a virtuous little bass bar or a side-step into an unusual genre tone like funk before pulling back to the core and taking the performance up a notch. A really good effort  8/10

Crosson: Rock ‘n’ Roll Love Affair (Galaxy Records)

Crosson hail from down under and whilst physically looking like what would happen if Steel Panther were allowed to enter the Eurovision song contest, actually sound far more on the Hard Rock end of the spectrum, with a vocal style tipping the hat more to 80’s indie/goth acts. I’m always a bit wary of bands that categories themselves in the Glam bucket because it really is a movement best left in the history books, notable only for being a springboard spawning acts that went on to do better things by either completely changing direction (Motley Crüe), or ditching it completely and distancing themselves as quickly as possible (Guns’n’Roses). This album seems to be trying to saddle both of those extremes of approach…

The album has got a very slick production, which you would expect given that it’s been mastered by Dave Donnelly (who’s worked with most of the acts these guys are aping) and I understand that Crosson are something of a hit in their native Land Of Oz, being the home grown version of Steel Panther. Track-wise, Everyone’s A Star is a good introductory track, has a nice entry point and mix of vocal styles. Rest In Piece is the obligatory ballad, and actually one of the better songs on here, as it feels more genuine than parody. Much the same can be said for We All Need An Enemy, which has a simple riff, with effective chorus and melody lines, and whilst lyrically is a harsh commentary on the divisive politics of this decade, echoes a simpler time of anthemic singalong rock’n’roll. It’s an absolute cracker of a song, and has made it to one of my ongoing playlists, which is about as high a piece of praise as I can give.

But then we come to the Panther-style parody. One of the parts I hate about Glam is its insistence on sticking to sleazy sexist subject matter and whilst tongue in cheek titles like Weak At The Knees (For A Hot Brunette) might be acceptable in the Antipodes nowadays, they really have no place in this day and age. Merry Go Round is just basically lick for lick Bon Jovi’s You Give Love A Bad Name sung with different lyrics, and whilst this would have been an opportunity to go Weird Al Yankovic and rip the wee-wee, it’s just sounds like plain plagiarism here. Where I am left on this album is a stuck between utter disdain for the parody and utter respect for the material where they try and be their own band. If this album was full of tracks of the calibre of We All Need An Enemy then this would be scoring much higher. 6/10

Reviews: VV, Solitary Sabred, Beneath My Sins, Mindtech (Reviews By Matt Bladen)

VV: Gothica Fennica Vol 1 (Heartagram Ltd)

Look at the cover of this EP, you'll see a very familiar symbol on it. A Heartagram. Well a version of a Heartagram featuring a more pronounced VV. That VV means it could only be a record from Ville Valo, the former frontman of HIM. The Love Metal founders hung up their eyeliner in 2017 after a farewell tour but it seems like the urge to goth was too much for that band's frontman/founder as he has launched his solo career with this EP called Gothic Fennica Vol 1. It starts with Salute The Sanguine a track that just oozes HIM coming from the middle period with driving guitars, twinkling synths and Valo displaying that crooning baritone as it breaks down into more industrial tones at the end. Run Away From The Sun comes next and it's a beautifully layered ballad that sounds like Vampire AOR due to the shimmering synths while the final song on this three track EP is the romantic Saturnine Saturnalia which sways as Valo bewitches, this is the most interesting song here as it evolves into fuzzy space doom in it's final moments. Valo is back, praise his infernal majesty. 7/10

Solitary Sabred: By Fear & Brimstone (No Remorse Records)

Cypriot heavy metal band Solitary Sabred have one major influence, it jumps out at you throughout this album but Disillusions gives you the best indication that it's Manowar who this band owe such a debt to. Asgardlord's vocals have that almost schizophrenic Eric Adams quality moving between dramatic spoken word, roars, gritty singing and massive ear piercing screams. It's a great impression throughout going fully cinematic on The Scarlet Citadel (Chronicles Of The Barbarian King Pt.I) and Fyres Of Koth (Chronicles Of The Barbarian King Pt.II) the mini concept piece in the middle of this album, it's on final number Blestem that they move into some doominess to close the record. Big, ballsy speed/power metal songs litter this record as does chest beating machismo you can smell the baby oil and feel the muscles. If you like Manowar then play By Fear & Brimstone (on 10 of course) if not then you won't really find much else here to enjoy. 6/10

Beneath My Sins: I Decide (Pride & Joy Music)

Formed by guitarist Clement Botz and singer Emma Elvaston, Beneath My Sins are a symphonic metal band from France. Now I know what you're thinking female singer, symphonic metal, tours with Kobra & The Lotus, Pokerface and Imperial Age, I've heard this all before! Well yes, yes you have, but you also haven't. When I first pressed play on this record it was Emma's vocals that intrigued me, she has got a natural operatic style that many of the bands in this genre have, but she also has developed her harsher vocals with a vocal coach meaning that she has a expressive range but seems infinitely more comfortable when in full operatic flight like on Your Muse. Musically there are a lot of Celtic/Folk influences throughout and the production of Serenity's Fabio D'Amore makes it come alive. It is however about as generic as it gets and unfortunately Emma's vocals never really sit right. 4/10

Mindtech: Omnipresence (TriTech Music)

Mindtech are a melodic/progressive metal band from Norway. Omnipresence is their second full length record with their first coming back in 2013, though they have made an EP in 2016. Formerly known as Beyond Flames they changed there name and have been producing progressive/melodic metal as Mindtech since 2008. So what does Omnipresence sound like? Well it's the kind of melodic progressive metal that you may have heard before from bands such as Pagan's Mind, Vanden Plas and even Kamelot, the band members are vocalist Mathias Moland Indergård, who has a soulful range that fits the style of music ideally. Guitarists Marius Belseth and Thor Axel Eriksen who switch between heavy and clean with numbers like These Are The Days having those soaring leads along with the crunchy heaviness bolstered on tracks such as Through The Veil by, bassist Ola A Øverli and drummer Ole Devold. Now the issue here is that everything here has been done before, so after a few listens nothing was really retained in my memory unfortunately. It's delivered well but their countrymen Pagan's Mind have been doing this style of music with a bit more charisma and memorability for about as long. Not bad by any stretch but not life changing. 6/10

Saturday 28 March 2020

Reviews: Aodon, Void Of Sleep, Age Of Emergence, Enzo & The Glory Ensemble (Paul S, Matt, Simon & Paul H)

Aodon: 11069 (Willowtip Records) [Paul Scoble]

Aodon are a three piece based in France. The band, who formed in 2016 have released 1 album before in 2016’s Sharphood. On the face of it the band plays a fairly simple style of Black Metal, however the sound that Aodon have perfected on 11069, once you have given it a closer look, is far more complex and interesting. The first track on 11069 is Les Rayons, it opens with driving tremolo picked riffing and blasting drums. When I say blasting I mean it. The drumming is very aggressive throughout the album, the snare in particular batters the listener, an insistent machine gun burst, hostile and violent. After a couple of minutes one of this albums key features comes in. The addition of a melody lead guitar that is very echoey and haunting, as a counterpoint to the aggressive tremolo picked riffs. This guitar gives the track a beautifully realised atmosphere, so aggressive and nasty riffing is tempered by this guitar part giving the track a cathartic depth. The second half of the song reveals the other strong stylistic feature of this album, doomy slow riffs that combine with the echoey guitar to reinforce that fantastic atmosphere.

This mixing of harsh black metal with doom and maybe a little gothic is a style that has gained some popularity in recent years, particularly in the European scene. Regarde Les Hommes Tomber have recently released an excellent album in this style, and probably the best exponent of this style is German band Ultha. The elements of doom help to temper the harshness of the black metal riffing, giving massive depth. The black metal is fairly aggressive and blasting, reminiscent of Wiegedood or Sun Worship.

The album as a whole has very pleasing ebb and flow. Each song has sections that are blasting and nasty, counterpointed with slow, hypnotic slower sections, all of which have that echoey melody lead guitar over it, creating a bridge between the two main styles. Over the course of the album the mix of these two main styles slowly shifts from mainly blasting aggression for the first couple of songs, and then bringing in more doom elements, so L’echo is about half blasting juxtaposed with hypnotic, gothic doom. By the time we get to the last track on the album; Le Parfum Des Pluies, we are dealing with much more doom and gothic, although there are still blasting black metal passages, and that incessant, nasty snare. The song ends in a soft and dreamy way.

11069 is a very good album. As I said earlier there are other bands doing this style, so there isn’t that much that is groundbreaking or original. Where this album shines is in the execution. The atmospheric elements are done so well, the echoey guitar manages to create such an interesting ambience, that this is one of the best albums I’ve heard that combine Black Metal and Doom. So, maybe not originators of this style, but they have pretty much perfected it with this near perfect execution. 8/10

Void Of Sleep: Metaphora (Aural Music) [Matt Bladen]

A lilting acoustic guitar is not the way you'd expect an album by a band named after a Sabbath song to start but Metaphora opens like this but before long it's steeped in progressive heaviness, huge riffs swell creating big grooves but unusually the addition of synths really adds an occult style making it quite Opeth-like at times. This Italian band have released two critically acclaimed EPs and an full length concept album before this and you can hear immediately why they have been held in high regard. The first song proper on this record is Iron Mouth a ten minute plus number that twists and turns between Mastodon styled aggression and Floydian soundscapes never letting you get totally comfortable before it goes somewhere else. 

It's a towering opening salvo one that many bands would not be that comfortable with yet Void Of Sleep make it sound almost too easy. This epic is followed by Waves Of Discomfort which adds a level of electronic discord similar to that of Vangelis on the Blade Runner soundtrack, as it bleeds into the doom riffage of Unfair Judgements which is followed by the hard hitting Master Abuser the most Mastodon sounding track on the record. Metaphora is an album for anyone who likes their grooves a bit more technically challenging, it's 7 tracks of progressive heaviness for you to enjoy. 7/10

Age Of Emergence: The War Within Ourselves (Self Released) [Simon Black]

This Australian Prog Metal 3 piece have been around since 2014, and this is their second EP and I’m guessing they haven’t been too far outside their home territory yet. The 5 tracks on this EP have a very distinctive sound and although there are definitely strong progressive/technical touches in there, this record is a solid metal one first and foremost, but which isn’t afraid to throw lots of other styles into the mix. Opener Stone Cold Icarus is definitely in the prog camp, but compare that with the almost Stoner sounding Your Kingdom Dies, and you would hardly know that you were listening to the same band.

Musically Matt Neilson’s guitars are far more down and dirty than you would expect from anything progressive, and the real technical brilliance is Benn Baxter’s almost hypnotic drumming and the heart of the band’s sound, but coiled tightly round the a lovely heavy rumbling bass feel from Dean Holmes. The recording has an intimate, home-cooked feel about it, but I can’t fault the engineering or mix at all which despite there only being three instruments to play with doesn’t leave any of them feeling too exposed in the mix.

If I had to pick a favourite, I would go for Ascender, as it toys with the listener – alternating between the subtle and lighter tones, before smashing your brains out with a slice of lemon wrapped round a large steel brick. This track in particular showcase all of the instrumental skills at work here without looking overtly showy. The only criticism is that after six years only two EP’s seems like we’ve been sold short, and I really would like to hear what happens when these guys get their heads round writing a full album. 8/10

Enzo And The Glory Ensemble: In The Name Of The World Spirit (Rockshots Records) [Paul Hutchings]

On the weekend that the Pope decided to ask God to stop the spread of the Coronavirus (bad decision mate, when it doesn’t work you look a bit of a spent force), good old Enzo Donnarumma returns with his Glory Ensemble for the latest installment, In The Name Of The World Spirit. Once again, the Neapolitan gathers his cast of hundreds and teams up with Gary Wehrkamp (Shadow Gallery) for the production. Let’s get the rogues gallery out of the way first. The line-up this time around includes: Marty Friedman, Kobi Farhi (Orphaned Land), Ralf Scheepers (Primal Fear), Mark Zonder (Fates Warning, Warlord), Gary Wehrkamp & Brian Ashland (Shadow Gallery), Nicholas Leptos (Warlord, Arrayan Path), Derek Corzine & Amulyn Braught Corzine (Whisper From Heaven) , David Brown (Metatrone), Alessandro Battini (Dark Horizon), Maria Londino and Francesco Romeggini (S91), Mr Jack, Claudia Coticelli and Clara People. As well as this, we also get Steve Vai bassist Philip Bynoe joining the exalted throng.

I gave both In The Name Of The Father and In The Name Of The Son a fair crack. I really did, but both were bloody awful, a cross between some ghastly West End show and a Disney musical. Well, without wanting to revisit those two albums, I can safely say that In The Name Of The World Spirit stinks just as much. Sure, there are some elements of the progressive rock and ethnic crossover that don’t rancor, and the musicianship is at times impressive if totally chaotic and shambolic. But, and it’s a big but, tracks such as Just In My Heart The Blame, and the fucking awful showtune I’ll Add More add absolutely nothing.

The latter immediately coming across as a mix of Beauty And the Beast and Madam Butterfly without any of the redeeming features of either. In fact, take out the Jebus praising and it’s still utterly dire. Warbling female vocals, an attempt at some operatic bollocks that fails miserably and a vain attempt at a guitar solo to help rescue it. Too fucking late. It’s plunged any semblance of hope deep into the pit. I had to stop to throw up. I managed to get through another couple of tracks, but Psalm 13 (Tell Me) got me completely, like musical chairs without the stopping. An out of control fairground ride which never looked like stopping. Shit, it sounded like an orchestra tuning up and that was before it exploded into a thrash montage with gruff vocals.

We can at least be thankful that this is the final chapter in the trilogy. Perhaps Enzo will take his gospel metal (bbarrfff!) and retreat up the mountain for a period of solitude and reflection. About 20 years will do it. 1/10

Reviews: The Medea Project, Overlaps, Fós, Death On Fire (Reviews By Alex Swift)

The Medea Project: Sisyphus (Self Released) [Alex Swift]

Harsh, drawn-out tones bearing ritualistic and medieval influences fortify Sisyphus – this can only be Goth Doom. That’s not to say they sound comparable to every act in this vein I’ve ever heard. The trudging bass and guitar combos, laden with distortion and revered and reinforced by a dose of sinister imagery, certainly make their influences clear. Still, there are illusions to psychedelic in the hazy and distant production, or even melodic death metal in the discernibly erratic drumming and the murky, harrowing vocals. In fact, as I delved deeper and deeper I noticed an increasingly experimental side to The Medea Project, and they are all the more unique for incorporating cerebral, often strange textures into their style.

Babylon has a slow, stomping progression towards when the verse finally starts, yet feels powerfully effective in setting a dark, oftentimes dusky tone for the album – furthermore, with the small alterations in drum patterns or the chaotic melodies being commanded by the guitars, the experience becomes enthralling. At first, I didn’t care for Brett Minnie’s vocals, yet they grew on me when I noticed that A. Their contrasting nature, between quiet and loud brilliantly works with the elusive tone of the music and B. he has a range which despite not being incredibly impressive, allows him to growl or sing melodiously, dependant on what the anthem requires. To Know Us Is To Fear Us sees him thrillingly growling, as a venomous riff plays out, and the percussive elements embrace volatility. In the final seconds, we tip over into pure thrashing territory with a riff that sounds lifted straight out of the playbook for any number of defining metal acts.

Changing the formula, The Ghosts Of St. Augustine's feels audacious in the way it begins on a mournful synth, before diving into a megalithic instrumental which paves the way for the beautiful opening melody and later for the arresting majority, which never ceases to enthrall this reviewer with the bombastic playing and sinuous rhythmic changes. All this creates an effect which places The Medea Project above such arbitrary labels as sludge and Goth, while allowing them to stand on the shoulders of giants if you will, by aptly paying tribute to Sabbath or Sleep, without tarnishing their legacy. Gloam furthers the risk by turning down the distortion to make for a piece that takes the listener on a voyage through their own psyche, by being scarily pulsating and lashing, while never tipping over into expected or ‘we’ve already heard that’ territory.

Reaver gets back into crushing territory, with a lead part which is as prevailing as menacing. Though, as we may come to expect, halfway in the track lurches into experimental territory with the tempo rearing into overdrive and our vocalist taking on a weird and perilous snarl, before the track comes thundering to a commanding crescendo. I’ve got no idea what the title stands for, or indeed who Geoff is but, G.E.O.F.F is made perfect by its tongue in cheek, retro-style persona and it’s clever illusions to Desert rock, giving off a distinctly QOTSA vibe, while still being very much its own, distinct creation. Fear switches between moments of charming euphoniousness and aggressive catharsis on a dime, once more contributing to that authoritative sense of uncertainty which the record uses to its advantage incredibly well. We close out on the Desert Song which stresses these musicians' love of soundscapes and psychedelia by creating a wall of sound over a long period using different textures and sounds, which collide and clash on chaotic beauty.

I won’t try and decode the connection between the word ‘project’ and the Greek tragedy where a former princess of the barbarian kingdom and wife of Jason, Medea, murders her two kids after he leaves her for another princess. With the album name Sisyphus – a god who continues his punishment of forever pushing a boulder up a hill as we speak - maybe there’s a message there about determination and tyranny, but it’s probably just a cool name. What I will say is that I hope this particular project is a long one with lots of twists and turns along the way – in that sense, it would be much like an ancient Greek tragedy – maybe that’s the connection. 8/10

Overlaps: In Your Room (Time To Kill Records)

The prevailing feel of Overlaps is a distinctly sassy, attitude-ridden alternative rock. Everything stands between the frustrated post-grunge elements of Breaking Benjamin, crossed with the angsty, and to be honest somewhat outdated elements of an act in the vein of elastic or garbage. It’s clear where Overlaps is drawing their influences from, and if you’re into that scene you will probably get some value out of In Your Room.

On opener Your Eyes, the instrumentals, and rhythms are executed with razor-sharp precision, while the melodies and hooks are made to hit with forcefulness – they’re aided by the mixing, which treads a line between grimy and crystal clear. Can I say that the piece left a particular impression on me? Not really – I would have liked to have seen the groves stand out a little more and for more of that angry, unleashed side which shines through in places, to reveal itself. To their credit, these musicians definitely know their audience. Tracks in the vein of the smirking Mr. Right and the relentless I Don’t Need, stamp their marks with distinctive tempos and chorus lines that feel refined. Each aspect is very well performed. These anthems are almost perfectly treading the line between solid, unfiltered rock while still appealing to an accessible sensibility – speaking as somebody who loves that in their music, I can definitely respect that path.

So why am so discernibly ‘not fussed’ on this record? Well, it all comes down to the fact that treading exquisitely well thought our line is sort of all that Overlaps are achieving. They’re not doing anything creative with the idea, just appealing to those who love them. While there’s still nothing wrong with that, I don’t doubt that they could really impress if they felt the need to. Take a song like Wasted – a brilliantly paced rager that haunts with a lurking sense of dread before exploding into a rapturous chorus. A decent technique but think of all of the ways they could have played with this idea by throwing the listener curveball after curveball and using the tenseness as an opportunity to have the instrumental flourishes play with our expectations. Alternatively, look to the closer Queen Of Peace, which actually does experiment with unexpectedness in the way that I mentioned, yet stops short of trying to create an atmosphere of excitement, where each twist and turn remains a mystery.

I don’t want to make it seem that I’m criticizing Overlaps for not catering to my delicate taste for complexity, yet I can’t help feel something is crucially missing from the formula, and that they’re capable of far more. This is not bad by any stretch. There’s plenty of aspects here that I would normally absolutely adore. Still, they won’t win me over by appealing to a fanbase that I’m not already a part of 6/10

Fós: Rinne mé iarraidh (Self Released)

The beautiful vocals of Orla Cadden Patel, like opera with a Celtic tinge, set the tone on Rinne mé iarraidh. In the background, layers of distortion offset by the maddened guitar textures of multi-instrumentalist Fionn Murray, whirr and hum creating cerebral chaos. The makings of a rhythm, lending a vague sense of cohesion to the intangible opener that is An raibh tú ar a Gcarraig, are defined entirely by the hammering drum beats that heave and pulsate from start to finish!

When An buachaillín bhán begins, I feel like a stranger who has witnessed a ritual not designed to be seen by the eyes of the uninitiated! I’m not familiar with drone metal, yet like a work of art that I may not be able to fully comprehend I can’t help but appreciate the artistry. If indeed music that intends to create an atmosphere can be understood on a scale of great to weak, then I would argue that the experimentation with different textures, the contrasts of the melodic with the chaotic, and the affluence with which the changes progress. My understanding of music may initially cry out against the way a track in the vein of Gabhaim molta Bride, rejoices in structureless serenity, yet over time I will become hypnotized by the multifaceted imagination of such a piece. The EP bows out on A chomaraigh aoibhinn ó – the instinctual electronic textures, and bone-chilling clashes between the peacefulness of the vocals and the primitiveness of the instrumentals, leaving us on a somber if mesmerized state.

I cannot see myself returning to Fós often. However, should I ever wish to hide from the rules of this world and immerse myself in the disarray of elements that lay outside of many people's understanding, their work, and that of others like them, may provide that tranquil escape. 7/10
Death On Fire: Ghost Songs (Self Released) [Alex Swift]

Displaying a comprehension of scale and ferocity that is needed in selling a melodic death metal album, Death On Fire Pack many of the elements of a great band. Guitars gnash and battle oftentimes eviscerating to the sound of our frontman’s snarls, other times climbing with a sense of magnitude and glory. Where Ghost Songs falls short is in some of the compositional and production elements. In the brutal, fast moments such as opener Lies We Eat, you may have intersecting grooves happening in the backgrounds, yet without bringing them to the fore, there’s little for the listener to sink their teeth into, leaving a feeling a cold dissatisfaction to prevail. Furthermore, pieces in the vein of the End Complete will attempt to come across as epic and theatrical, while leaving a weird muted effect to rein over the instrumentals and percussion, and - an aspect which really infuriated me – pushing the screams so far into the foreground that it drowns out any detail or nuance that may be present.

Ultimately, the aspects dragging this record down are a massive shame. These anthems, in and of themselves, are far from bad and demonstrate all the elements that are required for a truly enthralling experience. Take Withering Away as an example. From what I can make out the song is backed by an arpeggiated guitar riff that rises and falls in heroic fashion, and a drum rhythm which despite not being awfully spectacular intends to nail down an intense and ceaseless feel for the track! Why then, am I so tediously disinterested? Perhaps it’s due to the fact that a demo-esque quality pervades throughout. We all know the purpose of demo recordings, its cutting edge floor material that a band writes when trying to get the basic idea for a song, which they will later flesh out and develop in the studio. Nothing, across all 10 of these songs feels fleshed out, which again, is such a pity – I feel had more time and thought gone into crafting and refining every little detail, you could be reading a very different review.

Do I have any inclination to return to Death On Fire? I don’t know, I suppose I would be interested to hear if they work on their failings, but I can’t say anything here left me an aching desire for more. I fully understand that melo-death often has a delicate line to tread between well-oiled accessibility and unbridled aggression, but without the shade to make that debate worth happening, all that’s left is a disorganised scrap heap. Finding anything value requires digging. 4/10

Friday 27 March 2020

Reviews: Dakesis & Fury (Reviews By Matt Bladen)

Dakesis: Fractures (CapsAArx Records)

Third album from Birmingham band Dakesis is probably their most accomplished and varied so far. Their progressive symphonic style is rammed up to the highest point here with the power metal gallops, thrash riffing still featured heavily. It's the scope of the record that at times leaves you breathless. It's always brave to start an album with a suite but Dakesis have done exactly that with Ends Of Time Part 1 & 2 the first proper songs on the record, there's a huge nod to Dream Theater here, though Gemma Lawler's operatic style is far superior to James LaBrie, she impresses throughout the record with a wide range that gives the album a Lloyd-Webber like drama.

Musically the band are just as adventurous as their vocalist though, Aime Chatterley (bass - who also provides backing vocals) and Adam Harris (drums) are a lean mean rhythm section sometimes driving along the blasting tracks like Kairos, which has double kicks for days but at other times they are a chunky technical counterpoint (bass especially) to the swelling orchestral swathes and the mind blowing guitar playing from Matt Jones (who also produced this record). Things get darker on Surrender Your Fears which takes a left turn at the middle section turning into some African inspired rhythms and a simmering string section into a massive choral build before the chorus comes back for the end of the song. It's brilliant song (no wonder it's the major single) that shows the bombastic style Dakesis have nailed on this record. 

Personally though I think the dramatic Hold Forever is one of the best songs on the album, it's followed by a Manowar (or should that be Womenowar?) like ballad called Legacy In Memory. Everything culminates with the 14 minute plus title track that evolves from its electronic beginnings into the most epic number on the whole record, showing what a 21st Century retelling of Jeff Wayne's War Of The World's could sound like, and personally I could see Dakesis being able to do it (maybe the next duet with Fury should be The Spirit Of Man?). I digress but Fractures the song is compelling and astounding in equal measure while Fractures the album is the best Dakesis have put their name to, it's brilliant! 9/10

Fury: The Grand Prize (CapsAArx Records)

It's no secret that I love Fury! I've been a supporter of the band through every EP/Album, stylistic change and iteration of their line up. After a few changes to their membership since their last record Lost In Space, their third full length The Grand Prize once again they have added new layers to their sound moving further away from the thrash sounds of their first EP's as well as cutting back the track lengths to make shorter, bolder tracks that on the whole have a hard rock edge. The opening 1-2 of You're The Fire and Galactic Rock have an 80's vibe to them You're The Voice is a joyous rocker all about love, while Galactic Rock is a galloping number with a sweet bass break from Becky Baldwin who drives the grooves along with Tom Fenn behind the kit. 

This album has a huge wider range of frontman Julian's influences some are harder to notice (see if you can spot the Genesis influence) others such as We Will Sing practically beat you around the face (it's about Freddie Mercury by the way) yes the Maiden style is still there (title track) as are brief nods to Metallica but much of this album could easily be on a Y&T record due to the mixture of thumping heavy metal and hook-laden hard rock. JJ's vocals are still unlike any in the metal sphere while his riffs link with Becky and Tom allowing Jake Elwell to peel off some tasty solos that move between bluesy fingerstyle and speed metal sweep picking. 

JJ's obsession with Pirates/The Sea comes through again with Upon Lonesome Tide which is up there My Heart Goes On in terms of overwrought balladry. The proggy Road Warrior ends the album in proper Fury style as the 6 minute rockers keeps the pace high until the final moments. Fury are one of the best UK bands on the circuit and their albums are always chock full of tracks that cry out to be played live. The Grand Prize is another album that takes pole position! 9/10

Thursday 26 March 2020

Reviews: Omega Infinity, Torchia, Raider, WuW (Paul H & Liam)

Omega Infinity: Solar Spectre (Season Of Mist) [Paul Hutchings]

As if reviewing the confusing, abstract and mesmerising release from Igorrr wasn’t enough, the Ed in his wisdom dropped the debut release from Omega Infinity in the review list as well. An album defined as ‘extreme void metal’, Omega Infinity combines the unimaginable blackness beyond the known universe with the endless cycle of birth and death, of creation and destruction. Formed in 2018 by Tentakel P after Todtgelichter was put on ice, Omega Infinity was initially as a studio project to serve as an outlet to his own musical and conceptual vision. When Xen, vocalist from Australian progressive metallers Ne Obliviscaris joined, it was evident that this project would be an opportunity for both musicians to explore and expand their desire for extremities through music, in a way that would have been too dark and aggressive for either’s mothership.

Solar Sphere is firmly rooted in the black metal of the 1990s. Breakneck blastbeats, jarring spherical guitar lines reign supreme, whilst the exploration of the darkness between galaxies leads to an intensive journey through our solar system and beyond. The album begins with Uranus, a gentle opening that leads to the fiery fury of Mars, seven-minutes of raging, boiling emotions. Then we have jarring Jupiter, its crashing echoing funeral feel occupying a central position, the jolting percussion and the guttural roaring screams from C.Kolf (Valborg, Owl, Gruenewald a.m.m) never reaching a crescendo but maintaining a cacophony of unnerving noise. Sol is bone crushing in intensity, the croaked agonised vocals scream in anguish, the blastbeats fuel the fire and the riffing explosive and incendiary. 

By contrast Neptune is captured as vast and cold, the haunting vocals of Marta (Todtgelichter, Vyre) echoing in the cavernous void before the colossal heaving eruption of crushing doom merges. Saturn spans electronic beats with terrifying black metal explosions, Xen’s raging howls adding to the sheer frightening maelstrom. Concluding the album, Omega Infinity provide a cover of the bleak Killing Joke classic Hosanna from The Basements Of Hell. It’s as dark and frightening as you’d have expected by now but fascinating in its sheer power and force. Solar Spectre promises to be merely the start of the duo’s explorations into The Deep Dark Void. It’s a journey many may not wish to take. 8/10 

Torchia: The Coven (Rockshots Records) [Liam True]

Given the name, the artwork & the putrid vomiting of harsh vocals of Edward Torchia, you’d expect this to simply be either a Death Metal or Black Metal album. Think again. Being an album that twists genres so seamlessly from the riffs and song writing of Melodic Death Metal to the evil vile Black Metal vocals, it’s a wonder how this band isn’t bigger than they already are. Only on their second album the Finnish quintet just unload into this alum. Full of big riffs that have you air guitaring and drum work that’ll have you failing your arms to the beat. The part I find more interesting is how well the vocals collide with the instrumental portion. With fretwork destined for the big stage you wouldn’t think harsh vocals have a place beside it. That’s where Torchia keep themselves from the crowd by being able to distort them together to churn out this impressive & truly experimental sounding release. If anything, these guys are aiming for the big arenas. And they’ll be there one day. And I'll be looking up in awe. 10/10

Raider: Guardians Of The Fire (Self Released) [Paul Hutchings]

A fiery debut album from the death thrashers from Waterloo, Ontario, Raider who have been in existence for around three years. This is a brutal combination of Testament, Lamb Of God and Overkill and Raider (one of a gazillion bands with the same name) have merged those influences into a snarling, feisty 47 minutes which will satisfy most thrash fans desire for slashing, gutsy and aggressive metal. Duel guitar work always allows the power to remain at maximum, with Gabe Rosa and Ira Lehtovaara trading vicious riffs and solos to good effect. Elsewhere, Kevin Withers drumming is intense, varying from blistering blast beats to steady thrash timekeeping with ease. Locked in tight with Withers, bassist Brandon Sanders is concrete steady. Whilst the visceral musical assault is relentless, a decent thrash band always lives or dies by the vocal delivery and in Angelo Bonaccorso Raider have unearthed a gem, his range switches between D. Randall Blythe and Chuck Billy [get well soon dude] with ease, the snarling roars decisively to point. Guardians Of The Fire doesn’t disappoint in any department and tracks such as Endless Dawn, Ravenous Hydra and the punishing Destroyer which ends the album are all blisteringly heavy, chunky slabs of death thrash. Plenty to get your teeth into, this is a ferocious release which should be on your playlist. 8/10

WuW: Retablir L’Eternite (Prosthetic Records) [Liam True]

Avant-garde. Doom Metal. Space Rock. A few genres that WuW fit into. And I'll be brutally honest. It isn’t my cup of tea at all. With 5 songs clocking in at 49 minutes, it feels like the French two-piece is just dragging it out and building to something. Only for you to be let down when the entire album just falls flat. I like experimentational music, don’t get me wrong. But there’s a fine line between being experimentative with music, and just slapping a few elements into an album that don’t go together just for the sake of it. I did like a few parts of the album as it did start to groove for me, but alas, it just fell very flat again. If you’re into Avant-garde or even Space Rock, then by all means give it a try and see how it affects your musical palette. But for me it does nothing and leaves me with a sour taste in my mouth. 1/10

Reviews: Absolva, Ayreon, Master Boot Record, Irist (Matt, Simon, Alex & Liam)

Absolva: Side By Side (Rocksector Records)

They're back! The band with the hardest working membership on the UK scene return with their fifth record as Absolva. That's not to mention the three albums Chris Appleton (guitar), Martin McNee (drums) and Karl Schramm (bass) have been a part of with Blaze Bayley and the two Iced Earth records featuring Luke Appleton (here guitar, there bass) as well as the four Fury UK albums back in the mists of time. Luke returned to the ranks of the the band on Defiance (mainly due to the Iced Earth hiatus) and he has really amped up the bands sound, again not to say their previous guitar players, but the link with his brother and also with McNee dates back to those proggier Fury UK days. It means that the grittier style of the earlier albums has been refined into wider scopes but they are still proper heavy metal.

I've mentioned before how Absolva have no melting pot of sounds they are a straight up classic metal band in keeping with the traditions laid down by Maiden, priest et al. They have Maiden tropes on songs such as Burning Star and End Of Days which even has the Maiden bass intro that they use on their more cinematic tracks (you know the ones). End Of Days is probably the best song on the record, which is saying something as there is so much to enjoy here. They bring some hard rock hooks to The Sky's Your Limit and lot of emotion to From This World an ideal way to close out this great record. Absolva have always been a band who do everything well, McNee and Schramm's engine room drive galloping songs like the title track where Luke locks in for riffs and Chris explodes with frantic leads.

Much of this record is full of fist in the air anthems for all fans of heavy metal fans, especially Legion which is a marching fist up kind of song, one that will do well on stage as Eternal Soul rumbles. There's also two covers on the at the end which are 2 Minutes To Midnight and Heaven And Hell both of which have been done to death but hell let them have their fun. Side By Side is another top level heavy metal album from one of the UK's best metal acts. 8/10 

Ayreon: Electric Castle Live And Other Tales (Mascot Records) [Simon Black]

Dutch Prog Rock outfit Ayreon may have the distinction of being the first to create the concept of the modern rock opera, but I would argue that Avantasia have probably become the market leader. Having a large ensemble cast of musicians and singers started here, but whereas Avantasia’s songs are crafted to echo the glory days of the guest musicians, Ayreon is all about Arjen Anthony Lucassen. However, Avantasia got there first in taking this out live as an ensemble piece and so this release sees Lucassen finally taking the marathon double concept album from 1998 to a live audience on the 20th Anniversary of its release, although it’s taken a while to hit the shelves. Despite loving a good concept album and rock opera, I’ve never been a great fan of the spoken narrative passages bands are often tempted to insert, as frankly they sound cheesy.

So having a full four minute one at the start of this album before you actually get to the music really is overkill for an introduction, and nearly turned me off completely. And they keep popping up throughout, which really kill the pace. For me if you can’t tell the story through the lyrics, then you’re missing the point. Musically this has got all the prog rock tropes. I cannot fault any of the playing, and the recording quality is excellent, with clearly audible performances and a cracking mix, but it does go on rather. This doesn’t seem to bother the audience, they are clearly loving it and their energy stop this from being a dull affair. Normally I would be all over this sort of thing, but I found this to be a slow affair unfortunately. 5/

Master Boot Record: Floppy Disk Overdrive (Metal Blade Records) [Alex Swift]

Finally! I’ve wanted to talk about industrial metal in a capacity that doesn’t involve lamenting hoe overly generic the genre has a tendency to be for some time now! Despite their nerd-core name, and album and song titles that only reinforce that image Master Boot Record uses multi-layered electronic textures, paired with juggernaut guitars wonderfully. There’s a tangible feeling that these musicians understand their instruments and how to utilize them to maximum effect, rather than being abrasive and coarse to fall within genre restrictions or convey a particular image. Throughout, I felt as if I was riding on the crests and peaks of the sonic frequencies as they ebb and flow, bringing together the values of disorder and musical harmony.

I must concede the first 20 seconds of ANALYSIS had me worried, with a synth line that initially seemed to be creating false tension by progressing to a piece we’ve heard a million times before, It’s not until that wonderfully retro keyboard chimed in the foreground that my ears started to prick up – vitally, engaging such a characteristic, archetypal instrument and tone could have been a mistake. However, rather than coming across as cheap or dated the sensation is one of uplift. You’re flung into a world of arcade games and science fiction left to battle aliens and evil robots in a quest. Remember how I hinted at the geekiness on display? Well that’s exactly the feel Master Boot Record is embracing here and as a fellow geek, I love their commitment to the style. EDIT continues on a gamer’s gone wild note with a medieval-style opening section before spilling over into full-throttle metal territory, with the tone of the affected instrumentals retaining a ferociously nostalgic feel. One criticism I will dole out here is that the marching percussion can feel like a little much at times. Luckily, the third track, FDISK scales back the more passé industrial elements in favour of letting the players divulge their complete, uninhabited skill.

CHKDSK proves earth-shattering in the way it rises and falls constantly, in true compositional style – Master Boot Record may be industrial in their choice of instrumentals, yet I’m convinced they could easily compose for progressive or symphonic metal, with the ambitiousness they display from start to finish. As if to prove that last statement, DEFRAG brings back the traditional elements alluded to earlier in an immersive way, feeling like the soundtrack to royal battles and ancient conquest, albeit if King Arthur and the Knights of the Round Table had Casio's instead of lyres and lutes. Changing the notion from one of heroism to one of ghostliness, RAMDRIVE hypnotizes with dark, ethereal and haunting soundscapes, only losing the momentum later in the song when dubstep inexplicably creeps in. Whatsmore, sadly DBLSPACE lapses back into those obnoxious that elements I dislike in a lot of modern electronica, regardless of the clever flourishes surrounding them. SMARTDRIVE commits the same mistake, chucking disparate elements into a mixer without any guiding light for their creative choices.

Thankfully, DISKCOPY gets us back on track, proving adventurous in tone as if inspired by cowboys or pirates. Everything synths together neatly and each change feels like a logical progression from the last, albeit with unpredictability still playing a huge part in MBR’s winning formula! EMM386 is by far the most serene and contemplative piece on the entire album, in the larger part and the change in mood certainly feels refreshing after what can be, let's face it, quite a demanding sit. We finish on the ten-minute HIMEM, contributing to those grandiose, lavish textures which I praised earlier and proving an epic closer to a unique experience. 7/10

Irist: Order Of The Mind (Nuclear Blast) [Liam True]

To be in a Metalcore band and to stand out from the crowd has become difficult as Metalcore has become more prominent and in the spotlight since the late 2000’s/early 2010’s, and the same sound has been produced across those years and bands. So to stand out you have to make a unique sound. Take Irist for example. On their Debut album, might I add, these guys are blending Metalcore with modern day Metal riffs and Punk-like vocal backgrounds to create a bludgeoning sound that hits the nail on the head for what they’re going for, while it rips you apart with the crushing riffs in between the breakdowns. The vocals are pretty standard for a Metalcore band. Being in your face while also taking inspiration from their Punk forefathers before them to create a different vocal style from frontman Rodrigo Carvalho. The guitar style, while remnant of Gojira, creates a blistering work of originality while laying tribute to the past of metaldom. The ear shattering drum work of Jason Belisha creates the war-like sounds of him laying waste to his kit while producing a twisted sickening back drop to this new wave of modern Metalcore. And what new way to usher in the new decade with this frantic record full of twisting genres and repulsive sounds. 8/10

Wednesday 25 March 2020

Reviews: Igorrr, Thanatos, Witchfinder, Ferocity (Paul H & Matt)

Igorrr: Spirituality And Distortion (Metal Blade Records) [Paul Hutchings]

Back in 2018 Rich caught Igorrr at Metal Days and described them as “a massive head fuck of a band”. I probably couldn’t have described it much better myself. This album defies pigeon holing, crossing multiple genres and styles to the point where only the insane have any idea of what is about to happen next. The band’s last album was 2017's Savage Sinusoid, one that I’m not familiar with but which by all accounts was a truly unique musical force. Spirituality And Distortion certainly cements that reputation. The flamenco guitar work on the opening track Downgrade Desert segues into a crunching industrial section before the emotional soaring vocals of longtime collaborator Laure Le Prunenec join the fray. Thick riffing, screaming vocals, blast beats all combine. The immediate change of style to French Baroque on Nervous Waltz is as stunning as it is surprising. More operatic vocals, all interspersed with harsh guitar riffs and explosive death metal elements that slam against strings and random pieces of electronica in a swirling maelstrom. Very Noise is next, as different and unique as every other track, a duel of high-strung bass, electronic synths and staccato drumming all in your face for a mere 1:47. By now I’ve released that reviewing this is basically a track by track exercise. There is no pattern to follow.

The disparate musical styles here range from death and black metal to breakcore, Balkan, baroque and classical music, the delivery as unconventional and unpredictable as it is thrilling. The mind fuck is happening. Igorrr are unlike any other act I’ve listened to. The emotions are as wide as the sounds on this album, something that band architect Gautier Serre has noted. "Getting stuck in only one emotion is very boring to me; life is a wide range of emotions - sometimes you're happy, sometimes you're sad, angry, pissed off, nostalgic or blown away. Life is not only one color. These 14 tracks are a journey through different states of mind I've been through." Traditional eastern flavours saturate and elements balance with unusual and highly rhythmic contours on Camel Dancefloor, a song that builds into a manic frenzy. Parpaing changes pace and style completely, a crushing, grinding death metal slab which is as explosive a track as there is here, interlaced with random blasts of cheap 8bit music, surfacing through the ranging blast beats and growling roars thanks to the guest vocals of one George ‘Corpsegrinder’ Fisher from Cannibal Corpse. It’s totally eccentric and even after six songs, I’m completely bemused. This is either genius or the work of a madman. Musette Maximum features assault level drumming with an accordion, and this is just bonkers stuff. I am however, starting to embrace the styles, the anticipation of what comes next like a musical selection box.

Serre enlisted a small army of specialist musicians to help him attain his vision with all the acoustic instruments recorded traditionally. Nowhere is this more evident than on the album’s centerpiece, Himalaya Massive Ritual, by far the longest track on the album and one that contains contributions from many of the assembled artists. Spirituality And Distortion includes violinist Timba Harris, bassist Mike Leon, pianist Matt Lebofsky, Oud player Mehdi Haddab, accordion player Pierre Mussi, Kanoun player Fotini Kokkala and harpsichordist Benjamin Bardiaux, among others. As well as Le Prunenec, regular collaborator Laurent Lunoir also appears on a few tracks. Spirituality And Distortion is very much and album focused on sound, with Serre admitting "As with the previous albums, I'm entirely focused on the sound itself and how the sonorities of the voice speaks to the heart, not the intellectual meaning of the words." Indeed, much of the focus appears to be on contrasting elements, a grinding juxtaposition which provokes the listener to challenge the senses and broaden the listening capacity. The album’s concluding pieces continue to vary greatly in both substance and texture, and there is a real challenge when moving to provide a rating for what is probably the most unusual album you’ll hear all year. 8/10

Thanatos: Violent Death Rituals (Listenable Records) [Paul Hutchings]

Thanatos formed in 1984 and claim to be the oldest Dutch death metal band. Having split in 1992, founder member Stephan Gebédi (vocals and guitar) reformed the band and recruited guitarist Paul Baayans who remains with the band today. This album, their seventh full length, is the first to feature drummer Martin Ooms and bassist Mous Mirer and is the follow up to 2014’s Global Purification (a title more apt to the current climate!). Violent Death Rituals is a solid album. The playing is tight, the blend of death and thrash metal make it easy to listen to, and all the component parts are in place. Heavy, savage riffing, pounding drumming and thumping bass lines, all lined up to support the snarling, gravel throated roar of Gebédi whose voice appears to be as effective in 2020 as it was in 1984.

The album varies in style, with ventures towards black metal (The Outer Darkness) alongside the more punishing intense title track, The Silent War and the bruising As The Cannons Fade which epically closes the album. There is more than a hint of Slayer on the final track as well as in other parts of the album, and I’m good with that. Plenty then to get your teeth into, such as the brutal Burn The Books Of Hate which is a killer track hidden away in the middle of the album. Powerful messages, aggressive and intense, this is an album that is well worth spending an hour of your life with. 8/10

Witchfinder: Hazy Rites (Mrs Red Sound) [Matt Bladen]

Hazy Rites is the latest release on Mrs Red Sound records, the record label created by Mars Red Sound. It's a place for stoner/doom/sludge and psych so the perfect place for Clermont Ferrand based fuzz merchants Witchfinder. This trio play the kind of doom you'd expect from Electric Wizard, Dopethrone and Monolord, slow grinding distorted riffs and heavily treated vocals are the key ingredients to songs such as Satan's Haze which bring together this band's two major driving forces Satan and Weed. Hazy Rites is an album that probably requires you to draw a pentagram on your floor and grab your largest bong as you let the monumental riffs of songs like Sexual Intercourse on which gets quite primal as Wild Trippin gives you more stoner metal grooves. Doom/stoner metal from France that will take you to a higher plain of consciousness. 7/10

Ferocity: The Hegemon (Immigrant Species Records) [Matt Bladen]

Ferocity's new album The Hegemon is nine tracks of brutal Danish death metal. Reminiscence Of A Tyrant kicks the album off with 3 minutes and 55 seconds of vile extremity driven by explosive blast beating and some guttural vocals. Apparently this album has been in development since 2012 and the lyrical content is "centered on a dystopian and war-torn parallel reality in a nearby future where human and political ignorance will be the likely causes of the inevitable human demise" (sound familiar?), they've certainly used the time it;s taken to write, to try and make it the most brutal gut punching death metal album they could, there are melodic guitars at times but mostly the album is one that makes your neck hurt due to it's sheer...well Ferocity. Never has a name of a band been more on the money, The Hegemon is distilled fury, nine tracks, no let up, can get a bit tiring after a bit. 6/10

Tuesday 24 March 2020

Reviews: Rotting Kingdom, Sky Valley Mistress, Vulcano, Fool's Ghost (Paul S & Rich)

Rotting Kingdom: A Deeper Shade Of Sorrow (Boris Records) [Paul Scoble]

Death/Doom is a sub-genre that has been producing some really impressive albums over the last few years. Officium Triste’s last album was stunning, The Drowning’s Radiant Dark, released at the end of last year, is widely regarded as a masterpiece. So it must be a little daunting to be a new Death/Doom band, and to be releasing your first album. If Rotting Kingdom were a little nervous releasing A Deeper Shade Of Sorrow, it would be totally understandable. However, they don’t need to be nervous, as A Deeper Shade Of Sorrow is a great album.

Rotting Kingdom have been making music since 2016. The five piece from Lexington, Kentucky have released 1 self titled EP in 2017, before this album. The album opens with Sculpted Into Life By The Hand Of Death, which has a very big, powerful opening, taking us into some very enjoyable mid paced death/doom. It’s full of melody and has some very effective harsh vocals. The song also boasts a section that has clean guitar and feels a little post metal. The track builds back up from this quieter section to the huge feeling of the songs opening. Next comes Barren Harvest which is melodic, but slower than the track that preceded it. The song is deeply tuneful, it’s a sad, mournful melody, but it’s very effective and fits perfectly. This track also boasts a softer, clean part, but in this case it has more of a gothic feel to it.

Decrepit Elegance is a short instrumental that is acts as an introduction to the next track; Absolute Ruin. Absolute Ruin is fast, aggressive and pounding at the beginning, before slowing down to some ultra heavy Bolt Thrower style death metal. The track presses the accelerator again, and we are back in fast and pounding territory again, with maybe a little bit of punk in some of the riffing. The song ends with a section that has a Blackened Doom feel to it. The Antechambers Of Eternity has a brooding spookily gothic opening, before some crushingly powerful riffs come crashing in, with those very effective harsh vocals. There is a nice Post Metal part with clean guitar, before building back the heavy for a great ending section that absolutely drips melody.

The album comes to an end with the title track; A Deeper Shade Of Sorrow. This track has bit more swagger and groove in it. It’s got a little bit of a Black and Roll sense maybe a little reminiscent of Vreid. The track has a cracking driving tempo that is perfect for headbanging, and there is a little traditional metal in there as well. It’s a slightly different feel to the rest of the album, but it works very well as a closing track, and although a little different, still feels right, and isn’t out of place. A Deeper Shade Of Sorrow is a cracking album. The fact that it is the band's first, is very impressive. It’s full of huge riffs, great tunes and melodies that stick in your head. Death/Doom fans have another great album to get excited about. 8/10

Sky Valley Mistress: Faithless Rituals (New Heavy Sounds) [Rich Oliver]

Faithless Rituals is the debut album from Lancashire rockers Sky Valley Mistress. Following a chance encounter with Dave Catching (Eagles Of Death Metal, Queens Of The Stone Age) the band had an opportunity to record this album at his Rancho de la Luna Studio in California. Dave himself kicks off the album with a monologue before the rocking kicks off. Sky Valley Mistress perform a heady mix of stoner rock, hard rock and the desert rock that is the namesake of the band being named after the classic Kyuss album Welcome To Sky Valley. It’s a high octane album with punchy riffs, plenty of groove and bags of hard rock swagger. Songs such as Punk Song and Skull & Pistons deliver the rocking goods whilst songs such as It Won’t Stop and Blue Desert have a far more bluesy and relaxed sound to them. This band have been slogging it for years in the live circuit making a name for themselves in the North of England and this album has been a long time coming for their fanbase. It’s a sound and style that has been done by countless bands over the years but there is no denying that Sky Valley MIstress do it with brilliant style and it has hard not to be won over. A grooving hard rocking feast. 7/10

Vulcano: Eye In Hell (Mighty Music) [Paul Scoble]

When you think about Thrash, most people jump straight to thinking about American Bay Area thrash, or possibly European thrash like Kreator, Sodom or Sabbat. If you mention Brazilian thrash, people immediately go to Sepultura, which is understandable considering how influential and important Sepultura are. However, when it comes to groundbreaking, you have to hand the laurels to Vulcano. Vulcano have been making fast, exciting music since 1981. They have been playing a style of metal that is instantly recognisable as thrash since 1983’s EP Om Pushne Namah.

That was 37 years ago, in that time the five piece have made ten albums before Eye In Hell. The bands style has slowly morphed into what nowadays would be referred to as Black Thrash, so there's a similarity with more modern Black Trash bands like Toxic Holocaust, Hellripper or Aura Noir. Eye In Hell is packed with short, fast tight pieces of old school thrash. The sound is similar to early Slayer, Kreator Or Sodom, with vocals that sound a little like Tom G Warrior. The whole time I was listening to this album I was reminding myself that Vulcano were making groundbreaking thrash metal at the same time Slayer, Sodom and Kreator were doing the same.

The album opens with Bride Of Satan a fantastic piece of old school blackened thrash. Short, punchy, tight and fast, everything that Thrash should be. Sinister Road is another highlight, it’s similar to some Aura Noir material and has a great chorus. It’s not all about fast though; title track Eye In Hell is a slow, heavy, relentless beast that still batters the listener, but in a slow and insanely heavy way, less pneumatic drill, more wrecking ball. The band can do slightly more complex material as well. Evil Empire starts with a simple blasting section, before going into a very slow, heavy and dramatic section. The song then slowly builds back to the tight fast riffing before the song ends. The overall quality of this album is impressive as well. All the tracks on this album are great, ok it’s a fairly simple style, but they do it so well it’s difficult to single out particular tracks as the standard is so hi. Struggling Besides Satan is an early thrash blast with a brilliant screaming solo. Devil's Bloody Banquet is a taut, fast and battering, a real blast of a song.

Probably my favourite track is Inferno, the opening reminds me of Practice What You Preach era Testament, before going into a savage, ultra fast riffing. The feeling of speed and inertia is just fantastic, If you used this track to get to work every morning you’d never be late! Eye In Hell is a great, vital, energy packed blast of old school/black thrash. This album has the most important factor for any thrash album; it’s exciting. The album sparkles and cracks with razor sharp riffs, cracking atonal solo’s and great harsh vocals. Vulcano are one of the originators of Thrash Metal, the fact that they are still making great music 39 years after forming, is so impressive. 8/10

Fool's Ghost: Dark Woven Light (Prosthetic Records) [Rich Oliver]

It’s safe to say that humanity is currently sitting in some very dark times. Music can always be relied on as a coping mechanism for such times. For some people they need to fill their life with joyous music to counteract the darkness of reality but others like myself find solace in music which delves into those dark places. Dark Woven Light is one such album which very much delves deep into that darkness. It is the debut album from Kentucky duo Fool’s Ghost who are a new signing to Prosthetic Records.

Comprised of Nick Thieneman (Young Widows, Breather Resist) and Amber Thieneman (Liberation Prophecy, Sandpaper Dolls), Fool’s Ghost are setting out to challenge the very notion of what heaviness is within music. Whilst not sonically heavy in the denseness and destructive capability of the music they perform, this is heavy in the atmospheric sense with some very haunting and melancholic music. The music whilst being fairly stripped down still has a vastness and a cinematic scope to it. The stripped back guitars teamed with the atmospheric keyboards and the warming yet chilling vocals of Amber Thieneman make for a stirring concoction.

If you need music to sooth your spirit in these worrying times then let songs such as Touch, Chasing Time and All Hours help dispel the anxiety and sadness. At the time of writing this I’ll admit I wasn’t having a good day with an ever present anxiety sitting on my shoulder but Dark Woven Light definitely helped lift some of that weight off me. Sit back, close your eyes and let this music wash over you. It is mesmerising stuff. 8/10

Monday 23 March 2020

Reviews: Hyborian, In This Moment, Hällas, Forever's Edge (Matt, Paul H & Rich)

Hyborian: Vol. II (Season Of Mist) [Paul Hutchings]

Progressive sludge metal comes to you hard and heavy from Kansas City, Missouri courtesy of another riff-drenched power trio. Hyborian are Martin Bush - Vocals, Guitar, Synths Ryan Bates - Guitar, Vocals, Bass Justin Rippeto – Drums and Vol. II is unsurprisingly the follow up to 2017’s Vol. I. This is an album that assaults you from the start with Driven By Hunger followed by the battery of riffs that make up Stormbound, a bludgeoning Mastodon style track that has both grit and heft aplenty. Bush has the perfect voice for the band’s rampaging sound, the propulsive riffs that drive each track forward. The band are tight, the tracks containing enough variety to keep interest set to high. There’s the pulsing explosive attack of Planet Destructor, which is a real face melter, and the slower but just as heavy duo of The Entity and Expanse, the latter containing an addictive groove which underpins the track. The powerful Portal gets a massive nod of approval before the climax of the album, the 8:44 In The Hall Of The Travellers, a massive, groove ridden infectious beastie which suggests that in the crowded world of sludge, Hyborian have ample quality to emerge from the pack and push for the summit. 8/10

In This Moment: Mother (Atlantic Records) [Matt Bladen]

In 2017 In This Moment's Ritual record brought a more organic sound, bathed in witchcraft and the occult it was a big shift away from the bands from the Californian modern metal/metalcore past as they shifted back to the roots of Cali Americana with nods to Fleetwood Mac etc, but still retaining that fiercely modern sound. It also featured two covers one of Phil Collins and one which was a reworking of Billy Idols White Wedding (featuring Rob Halford). They've gone one better on their new album Mother which has more special guests and three (yes three!) covers. One is a pretty odd version of Steve Miller Band's Fly Like A Eagle with a lot of industrial elements from their pre-Ritual days Maria Brink's ghostly vocal echoing over the crunching industrial riffs. It sits between two instrumental interludes and makes for an odd start to the album.

These are just three of the 14 songs on the record the first original being The In-Between which has the heavy hitting sound of Black Widow or Blood having that Lady Gaga meets Rob Zombie effect due to Brinks vocals and Chris Howorth's songwriting style. Some may see it as a backward step after Ritual but it's just In This Moment bringing back their sound that made them a world beating metal act. However what I do think is that this album suffers a little from quality control issues. The covers are not needed especially We Will Rock You which which does feature Lzzy Hale and Taylor Momsen but is surplus to requirements, as is Fly Like An Eagle and their version of Mazzy Star's Into Dust. Without them this is a pretty decent In This Moment record full thumping modern metal that the band have always been so good at, it's just the covers aren't needed and the songs tread very well worn ground. 6/10

Hällas: Conundrum (Napalm Records) [Matt Bladen]

Coming two years after their debut full length Conundrum is the final part of a trilogy that started with their self titled EP. These have been mysterious journeys through 70's space rock soundscapes as Hällas conjure a sound born out of prog art rock, folk and psych. Some Lizzy/Wishbone Ash riffs from Marcus Peterson (guitar) and Alexander Moraitis (guitar) are met with swirling analog organ/synthesizers of Nicklas Malmquist who is probably the member of the band who adds his fuzzing sounds throughout. I've mentioned before how influential Jeff Wayne's War Of The Worlds was to me and as soon as Beyond Night And Day started, again I brought that album to mind, mainly due to Conundrum's evocative mid-70's sound. Strider brings more Vangelis sounds as Tommy Alexanderson (vocals/bass) has the brilliant varied vocals of Demis Roussos while he was in Aphrodite's Child a band who Hällas owe a huge debt to especially on Labyrinth Of Distant Echoes which spirals out into psych textures, Blinded By The Emerald Mist builds around Kasper Eriskon expressive drumming before freaking out in the middle of the track. The final track though is the oddest on the whole album reminding me of Styx in their most progressive moments

Forever’s Edge: HereAfter (Self Released) [Rich Oliver]

HereAfter is the second album from New York progressive power metal band Forever’s Edge. The band are clearly influenced by progressive power metal bands such as Symphony X and Angra and their influences are clearly heard. There is also an inclusion of melodic death metal influences especially with the inclusion of harsh vocals. On the whole the album is performed very well but the main problem with HereAfter is the songwriting just isn’t there. By the end of the album there was very little that stuck out in my mind about it which was a damn shame as the guys in the band are clearly very capable musicians. There is some fine guitar work on display and the clean vocals by Clay Barton in particular were a highlight reminding me of the mighty Russell Allen of Symphony X. HereAfter has been self produced and self released by the band and unfortunately at times it does sound a bit amateurish. The band don’t have any clear identity of their own. The potential is there but the band just needs to be steered in the right direction to meet their potential. HereAfter is a perfectly listenable but ultimately very forgettable album. 5/10

Sunday 22 March 2020

Reviews: Necrophiliac, Carnosus, Wardaemonic, Deathless Legacy (Paul H, Matt, Manus & Liam)

Necrophiliac: No Living Man Is Innocent (Xtreem Music) [Paul Hutchings]

These are strange times. The constant addiction to social media as the Covid-19 virus grips the world. Checking every couple of minutes for the latest news and then doubting whether the information can be believed. So maybe, just maybe, immersing oneself in a bludgeoning block of death metal is one way of coping with the chaos?

Necrophiliac is a Spanish outfit from Andalusia, who formed in 1988, releasing Chaopula – Citadel of Mirrors in 1992 before splitting. Reforming in 2016, they have finally released sophomore album No Living Man Is Innocent, and it is a punishing 55 minutes of total brutality. With ample variation, the music that Necrophiliac deliver varies between all-out old school death metal and the more complex, intricate and dare I say, challenging approaches. Multiple screaming time changes, variations in tempo and style all add to the swirling maelstrom. The Egyptian feel to When Mother Ate Son is just one example where the band blend their intensely aggressive assault with more nuanced styles to create a tasty piece. Opening track Piper Leading Innocents is the blueprint for this impressive release, whilst the added effects provides a real chill to the horror drenched Horseaters.

Full of crunchingly heavy riffs, the snarl of singer Bongo, the duel guitar assault of Sweich and Ery and the driving power of new bassist Ramon and drummer Sweich combine into a maelstrom of explosive death metal which should interest all but the elite edgelords. Powerful, corrosive and decently delivered, Necrophiliac are certainly making up for years of lost time and the 55 minutes absorbed in this release also helps to transfer focus, even if just for a short time. 7/10

Carnosus: Dogma Of The Deceased (Satanath Records) [Matt Bladen]

As Paul says above sometimes all you need is metal that beats around the head until your brains rattle. So may I present to you from Örebro Sweden: Carnosus a band prone to aural violence, their approach to melo-death is to ramp up the death and tone down the melo, making for a debut album that reminds me of At The Gates, Entombed and their biggest influences modern death/thrashers like Sylosis and Revocation. These tracks are extraordinarily technical, intricate guitar leads give way to blistering riffs and blast beats that are like an artillery barrage, while the vocals of Jonatan Karasiak start off guttural and stay there throughout grunting this albums conceptual lyrics. Yes Dogma Of The Deceased is a concept record about a "totalityrannic empire" (how apt at the moment?) it gets this point across through the frankly daft guitar prowess of Felix Ringmyr and Rickard Persson who duel on every track exploding into furious solos whenever possible as the rock hard rhythm section of Marcus Strindlund (bass), Jacob Hedner (drums) demolishing everything in their path. It's a savage, uncompromising record that hits you like a big smack to the chops. Crank up the volume on this one! 7/10

Wardaemonic: Acts Of Repentance (Transcending Obscurity Records) [Manus Hopkins]

Often, black metal albums either sound raw or well-produced. Black metal records with good production often lose a lot of what makes black metal what it is, and end up with a commercialized sound. But then, music that sounds like TV static with someone screeching over it isn’t everyone’s bag. With Acts Of Repentance, Australia’s Wardaemonic have pulled off the not-so-common feat of maintaining that black metal rawness on a record that sounds quite good. Throughout the five songs—or “acts,” as they’re titled—the music progresses into more and more atmospheric territory, going gradually from a pummeling, in-your-face wall of sound to slower, more sinister compositions, while maintaining that aggression on which the band pride themselves. Make no mistake—this is only a five-track record, but is absolutely a full album, and a fine one at that. 8/10

Deathless Legacy: Saturnalia (Scarlet Records) [Liam True]

Despite being labeled as ‘Horror Metal’ Deathless Legacy are a Symphonic Metal quintet from Italy. Released on the unluckiest day of the year, Friday 13th, the band unleashed Saturnalia. A 24 minute single that took over a year to put together from start to finish. Was it worth the wait? Personally, I think it was. Combining the elements of Horror Metal with a blend of Power/Symphonic Metal to create an atmospheric ambiance of the softer, calmer side of Metal than we usually see. This goes hand in hand with the more in your face hard hitting side full of riffs, arena filling chorus’ & duel vocal duties from both female vocalist Steva, and male vocalist C-AG1318 (Real name Michael Cavallini). Everything is blended together perfectly to create this 24 minute epic journey. And they also released a music video alongside it too which is sort of a mini film which is pretty cool. If you’re a fan of Symphonic styles, check these guys out. Not too be missed. 9/10