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Thursday, 23 April 2020

Reviews: The Alligator Wine, Elder, Sacramentum, The Used (Matt & Manus)

The Alligator Wine: Demons Of The Mind (Century Media Records) [Matt Bladen]

It's rock Jim but not as we know it! Dr McCoy would have shouted this at his Captain as soon as he heard this debut album from German two piece The Alligator Wine. Now I said two piece and somewhere in the back of your mind an alarm bell will be ringing that shouts The White Stripes, Royal Blood, The Black Keys etc. electric guitar and drum kits toting bands steeped in blues traditions. Well The Alligator Wine have a drum kit however this is where the comparisons stop, dipping heavily in the psychedelic Krautrock the pulsating drumming of Thomas Teufel brings the percussive propulsion to tracks like Voodoo and dictates the pace and atmosphere on the breathy Crocodile Inn.

However you will find no six string riffs here, Rob Vitacca sings with raw blues vocal but he is more John Lord than Jeff Beck manipulating the ear with huge Hammond stabs bringing a reckless disco vibe to Ten Million Slaves where frantic tribal drumming meets with spiraling electronics, hooked on a Moog bass. Yes folks The Alligator Wine play heavy rock music without any need for stringed instruments, yes you can hear The Doors, obviously but also there's the funk sounds of Electric Six-meets-Captain Beefheart on mind bending The Flying Carousel. Lorane burns with some smouldering attitude of Zeppelin post 1976, most notably Coda, unravelling itself into a torrent of organ driven finale. Lorane could possibly be the best song on the album but it's followed by the Dream Eyed Little Girl which has an EDM beat akin to Depeche Mode or Massive Attack.

The goal apparently was to combine "the vibes of experimental 70s music with a certain, modern pop appeal" and I'd say The Alligator Wine have achieved that here using the analog synths brilliantly (I do love a synth) along with drumming that brings to mind previous touring partners The Picturebooks. As Demons Of The Mind closes with Sweetheart On Fire, you get the feeling that you have listened to something very unique, it rocks as hard as any heavy rock band, encourages you to throw shapes but also gets you to feel at times, an ear to pop and brimming with excellent instrumentation The Alligator Wine have craved a winning niche for themselves in a crowded rock sphere. Do yourself a favour and try something a little different, I could even say boldly go! 9/10

Elder: Omens (Stickman Records) [Matt Bladen]

The guitars on this record languish, huge instrumental sections hold the labyrinthine songs together through their long run times, the title track does have huge riffs (of course) but also has some bleeping electronics and a string section. It's evocative and brings you in to their psychedelic world of woozy doom riffs, wild-eyed guitar freakouts and progressive textures that sit it in the glory days of double gatefold LP's, by which I mean the 1970's for all you young people. The fuzz is dialled up on on the first part of In Procession before it evolves into a bit of Krautrocking (yes more Krautrock), just check out those Tangerine Dream repeating synths towards the conclusion of it's 8 minute run time. Elder were formed in Massachusetts and over the course of five albums their sound has been teased and tested, shifting between various genres with every release.

This is the first studio album featuring guitars from Michael Risberg (along with keys) and untethered drums of Georg Edert. The main heart of the band are the stirring vocals and guitar of Nicholas DiSalvo, along with bassist Jack Donovan rounding out the four piece.  J. At just five tracks long Omens is not an album for anyone with a short attention span, Halcyon taking the most extended trip at 12 minutes of oscillating synths and scintillating Fender Rhodes from Fabio Cuomo. Halcyon is a far out centerpiece for the album, a perfect headphone moment as it soars to the stratosphere. Then like all good prog bands they take a left turn into some bouncy Coheed-like art rocking on Embers a number with jangly guitars and a driving bass line, it's actually a really odd song for the record in my opinion, sounding totally different to anything that features on the record.

Now this isn't necessarily a band thing but is a little jarring after the voyage of Halcyon, it does move into the space rock sounds in the last quarter where it gets a bit Hawkwind via Styx. The last song One Light Resurrection owes its opening to Anathema (listen for it) before bringing back the angst of Embers again. The last two songs on this album for me change the complexion of it a little, I much prefer the band's progressive/psychedelic space rock in the first part of the record (and at the very end with ELP phases) than the more direct/modern sound on the last two songs. A great album for anyone that enjoys expressive, progressive music with a wide scope of genres, Elder resume their position as a captivating band. 8/10 

Sacramentum: Far Away From The Sun (Century Media Records) (Manus Hopkins]

This reissue of Sacramentum's 1996 debut album is the type of reissue fans should actually welcome. It’s not some anniversary edition consisting of the same old record, re-packaged with some bonus material nobody really wants yet fans feel like they need for their collections. The Swedish group has typical roots for a 1990s Scandinavian black metal act, meaning their early work can be difficult to get a hold of, and sound like it was recorded with a microwave. The remastered songs still contain that black metal rawness it wouldn’t be real black metal without, but are also clear enough to decipher each instrument, and have a well-balanced mix. It’s often the early work of black metal bands that becomes the most desired for fans, and having Sacramentum’s debut finally available on vinyl and easy to obtain should please the most cvlt followers, even if others consider this “selling out.” It’s a strong record, and a relic of one of the most interesting time periods and places in heavy metal. 8/10

The Used: Heartwork (Hassle Records) [Manus Hopkins]

Yep, The Used’s new album is called Heartwork. Anyone reading this blog is likely well aware that there’s already a classic metal album of the same title, and is the more memorable album of these two by a long shot. The Used’s Heartwork is a blend of early 2000’s emo and 2010’s screamo, neither of which are styles that have particularly aged well or have much of a place in 2020, with so much exciting, non-whiny music coming out. The songs are meant to sound emotionally heavy, but come off kind of shallow instead. The album lacks a certain cohesiveness, with songs like Big, Wanna Be sounding like band were unsure whether to stick with their own sound or go full Imagine Dragons, and landed somewhere in between. Thankfully, there isn’t another song quite as bad on the rest of the record, but there aren’t any that are a whole lot better. Elements of other styles make their way into the band’s emo sound—but nine of them are desirable genres. Between radio rock riffs, poppy choruses and ill-fitting electronics, the album has just about everything a heavy music listener doesn’t want to hear. It’s a shame to say it, but this record isn’t even worth giving a chance. 1/10

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