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Monday, 13 April 2020

Reviews: Grim Ravine, Sydney Fate, Dictator Ship, Shyyne (Lee, Alex. Paul H & Simon)

Grim Ravine: It's A Long Way Down, To Where You Are (Hostile Media) [Lee Burgess]

Here we are on a bright, sunny day. The birds are singing and the Covid-19 is hanging unpleasantly in the spring air. What better way to spend such a time than by locking down, drawing the curtains and listening to the bleakest, most raw and draining blackened doom the world is ever likely to experience. It’s with that thought I bring you Grim Ravine and their debut album joyously entitled It’s a long way down to where you are. If your idea of metal is galloping twin guitars and soaring harmonic vocals, then you my friends should have vacated the area some time ago. This is grim as all hell, like really. And that’s why I love it. Some bands pretend to be grim, some bands try really hard to sound miserable as fuck and try as they might, miss the mark by a mile. Grim Ravine are not playing around here. To make this much misery and heaviness takes a real knack. But what really is mind-melting here is the way this lot can scream, growl and pummel us, and then, magically blend in a clean vocal not unlike that of Field Of The Nephilim.

This doesn’t happen often. Mostly we are battered with long slow chords and clobbered with harsh drumming. But suddenly, out of nowhere comes this unexpected melody. It’s still miserable, still murky and still heavy, but it’s refreshing, in a murky miserable sense. What is so brilliant here is that what we seem to be listening to is traditional crusty old sludge, straight of the swamps of Louisiana, but with little sprinkles of doom-laden awesomeness and the odd tortured section where GR mix in industrial scratching and an almost 80’s style Gothic tinge. The way this album is arranged allows for maximum impact in that most of the melody happens very early on in proceedings. Opening with The Weight Is Upon You, we get lead down a pathway of lead guitars and at least a sense of pace, but by the closer, Earth To Dust, there is little but darkness and an awful sense of the end times. This is truly exhausting, crushing and a must for those who like their music a little more extreme than usual. 9/10

Sydney Fate: Silicon Nitrate (Eclipse Records) [Alex Swift]

I’m proud and honest to be from South Wales, one of the UK’s most thriving areas for live music (In normal times). Artists of all genres owe some respect to venues closed and open: TJ’s, Clwb Ifor Bach, Gwdihiw, and relatively new venues such as Fuel are earning their place in that heritage. Sydney Fate is a brilliant example: with the combination of complex though rhythmic instrumental work, and a gigantic sense of presence, their debut Silicon Nitrate cuts out a unique sound for the act while drawing son some of the most enticing aspects of alternative metal and melodic hardcore to make a gigantic first impression.

‘Lately, I’ve been fighting wars and demons in my head’ sings vocalist Bailey Edwards against a mournful backdrop, that you can just tell are part of an upsurge to an epic main section. Sure enough, the scope of these musicians’ abilities is divulged, the electrifying, gnashing guitars exquisitely complementing the visceral contrasts between the severe growls and emotive clean vocals. Their writing style is one of developing multi-faceted hooks that require multiple listens to fully latch on to, yet which reveal themselves in dramatic style. ‘Save yourself cause I’m not worth dying for’ runs the emancipated refrain to the track, adding yet another layer of awesomeness to the already teeming opener. Sound Alive is more of a straightforward forthright piece, with an insatiably memorable hook and cascading instrumentals that lend a sentimental value. Over its five minutes though, the riffs drum patterns and melodies constantly alter, creating a feeling of ceaseless excitement.

Falling Forward must be one of the most arresting moments on the entire record – the fast-paced tone, and seemingly constant changes from melodic to devastating, chaotic to subdued, encircle you in a sensory experience, which sets your emotional psychic networks, on a mission to fulfill everything demanded of them. I don’t know if this is just my reaction or something Sydney Fate is naturally adept, yet every mood they try and convey on this record: anguish, contemplation, mourning, all feel brilliantly concocted into a candid and therapeutic recipe. Courthouse Problematic heartfelt texture at play, the emphasis on higher frequencies and synthesizers, making for an earnest change of style, which seems genuine as opposed to cynical or tacked on. Furthering this idea, Chelsey Grin is definitely the slowest song here. Yet while the instrumentation is sparse, the lyricism feels immersive and strangely psychedelic – even if they do leave the listener to attribute their own meaning.

Oceans sets the album alight once more, without losing that meditative backdrop – in this case, it’s the liberating chorus line that provides the impetus for the ambitious compositions and erratic shifts in tempo and feel. With the brooding and monstrous feel, the anthem proves especially personally affecting, which is a high compliment indeed, considering the scope of sensitivities that have already been drawn on. Into the final stretch, Home exudes eerie tenets, the twisting musicianship, and the snarling panache espoused by our vocalists, summoning an otherworldly yet weirdly inspiring vibe. The concluding chants of ‘Not coming, not coming home!’, sum up their flair for going the extra mile in their writing i.e constantly throwing curveballs, relentlessly one-upping themselves, forever taking risks! Nowhere is this better demonstrated than on the outstanding closer, Sweet Anticipation, where the harmonious and harrowing aspects join together into a layered and larger-than-life catharsis. Everything feels serenely tied together, with the anticipation firmly in place for album no. 2.

At only 35 minutes, it would have been easy for Silicon Nitrate to feel thankless and slow in places, yet Sydney Fate leaves no room for any squandering, focusing solely on writing huge, anthemic songs. The thought process that went into this album was sure to make a big impression and leave the listener savouring for more. I’d say they explosively achieved that. 8/10

Dictator Ship: Your Favorites (The Sign Records) [Paul Hutchings]

Raw, punchy and fiesty. That’s how I’d describe the soulful rock n’ roll of Dictator Ship in this short, sharp outburst of an album. Setting their roots deep from within the soul bands of the 1960s, adding in a sharp blast of 1970s rock and blues and you’ve got the key ingredients. Unsurprisingly Dictator Ship hail from Sweden with the album recorded in a small cabin in Värmland, Sweden by band member John Sijbren Leonard who has managed to capture the power and energy of the band in as live a situation as possible. In fact, it’s the live lo-fi feel which makes this album so enjoyable and vibrant to listen to. It’s almost impossible to resist the underlying grooves and rhythms, from the raucous opening song In The Heat Of The Night through to the explosively addictive From The Womb To The Tomb which closes off the album in triumphant style. It may only be seven tracks and 27 minutes, but the energy is such that you will be sweating by the end, just listening to it. With all four members sharing the vocals, there’s also plenty of different styles to savour. Your Favourites is filled with the kind of energy that when you get to my age is simply a distant memory. It’s exhausting just to listen. If you can keep the pace, this is a debut album that smiles with pure excitement. 7/10

Shyyne: Go Your Own Way (WDFD Records) [Simon Black]

This is the second album from Wolverhampton 80’s Glam/Sleazesters Shyyne, but it’s been a good five years since they delivered anything new, So let’s face it Wolverhampton in 2020 is hardly L.A. in the 1980’s, and the problem is ‘anything new’ is going to be always going to be a challenge for this genre - given that it is harking back to something that I struggle to make sense of now, even though I was very much a part of it in the mid to late 80’s. But there’s a refreshing honesty about this bunch, and despite my reservations I have really warmed to them as I’ve listened on through. I can’t criticise the performances or the song-writing as generally these are well structured songs, with some solid playing behind them. That said, the album does suffer somewhat from not having the greatest production values, which always bugs me nowadays given the ease of access to technology, but again having the tech and knowing how to use it (or being able to afford those who do) remains an issue for so many bands. 

The vocals and drums are clear and fine in the mix, but the guitars sound very flat and far too low in the mix, which is an absolute shame as there’s some solid playing going on here - which is far too technically proficient to really fit in the Sleaze bucket, and far more good old fashioned riff-driven rock’n’roll for me. …And a quick look at YouTube proves to me that this bunch are in their element on a stage with an audience to thrive off, hence the slight flatness of the album as recorded. If these guys can capture that energy from the stage and lay it down then this album would be scoring much higher – they come close on title track Go Your Own Way,  which may well have been recorded or mixed out of synch with the rest, as the guitar sound works much better here. Get the lightning into the bottle, and your onto a winner chaps, but nevertheless if this genre is your bag, you will likely enjoy, and for me it was a nice trip down memory lane. 6/10

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