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Thursday, 16 April 2020

Reviews: Metal Church, Oranssi Pazuzu, Abysmal Dawn, The Ditch & The Delta (Rich, Paul S, Dr Claire & Paul H)

Metal Church: From The Vault (Rat Pak Records) [Rich Oliver]

From The Vault is a new compilation from Seattle metal legends Metal Church. As the title implies this is a collection of rarities and leftovers from the Metal Church vault. The album itself is split up into four sections - we get some newly recorded material, leftovers from the Damned If You Do sessions, some previously recorded cover songs and a couple of live tracks. The most effective part of this compilation is the newly recorded material. The three brand new songs are pulsing with energy with Dead On The Vine certainly set to be a live staple when Metal Church hit the road again. For No Reason and Above The Madness also ripple with that infectious energy channeled by the sublime vocals by singer Mike Howe. 

 The re-recorded version of Conductor from the Hanging In The Balance album is also suitably energetic and holds its own against the 1993 original. The leftovers from Damned If You Do are also very solid with False Flag and Mind Thief having that bounciness and catchiness. Things lag a bit with Insta Mental and 432hz being both instrumental tracks that lack the urgency of the material beforehand. The cover songs are all decent with Nazareth, Sugarloaf and Ram Jam getting the Metal Church treatment and the live songs taken from a show in Japan are well performed and recorded. Overall I would say that From The Vault is a decent collection of material from Metal Church. It is odds and ends collected together with the new material standing head and shoulders above everything else on the release. It is definitely a release for the Metal Church fans though and not one I would recommend to new or casual listeners of the band. 7/10

Oranssi Pazuzu: Mestarin Kynsi (Nuclear Blast) [Paul Scoble]

Black Metal is no stranger to experimentation. In fact with the genres dislike of conformity, experimentation is one of the most vital parts of black metal (despite what Norwegian Second Wave obsessives might think). Without constantly mutating and evolving Black Metal would have only ever been a footnote in Heavy Metals history. Some of the most creative and inventive music to come out of Heavy Metal has sprung from Black Metal's love of innovation. Although the Norwegian Second Wave Black Metal fandom has become a byword for close-minded individuals that haven’t listened to anything made after 1994, the second wave black metal bands themselves were doing something very different and innovative at the time they were writing and performing music. Just look at Ihsahn, still making challenging music and never settling on one particular sound; constant change is SO Black Metal.

So, I was very excited when I was asked to review the new album by Oranssi Pazuzu, the Finnish band that describe their music as Psychedelic Black Metal. The band have been well known for pushing boundaries since their first album; Muukalainen Pahuu came out in 2009. The Finnish five piece have been refining their sound through 2011’s Kosmonument, 2013’s Valonielu and 2016’s Värähtelijä. Over the years the bands sound has moved away from what would be called a ‘classic’ Black Metal sound, but with Mestarin Kynsi they are close to leaving it behind altogether. The album is incredibly heavy and extreme in many places but it’s not in an obviously Black Metal way (we’ll come back to ‘obviously’ later). There are only a couple of tremolo picked riffs on the album, the guitar is mainly quite low in the mix and the lead is taken by other instruments, a lot of them electronic.

The album is opened by Ilmestys, which starts with a simple, clean guitar, which feels brooding and builds; drums and bass come in, and it feels like slow industrial. Then harsh vocals are added, which are very Black Metal, the band might have taken a few steps away from classic Black Metal, but the vocals are still pure nastiness, they are like this most of the way through, very little nice, clean progressive vocals. Keyboards then join in the fun, and they sound very ‘dance’ like something you would expect from Techno, Trance or Drum and Bass, more layers are added until this is starting to feel fairly complex. Just as this you realise how complex it is, the whole thing calms down and we are left with the simpler feel that was apparent earlier. Suddenly, everything is back but much louder, and more complex, the bass-line is now the highest thing in the mix and drives everything along. The track is still mid-paced, but there are now many many layers of sound. The track slowly disintegrates in its last minute.

Tyhjyyden Sakramentti has a slow fade in of keyboard swells, before a trip hop beat comes in with additional electronic bleeps and bloops. A simple clean guitar riff in addition to the layers of sound that already surround the beat. There is a feeling of menace, which is amplified by the vocals, and more and more layers of electronics. Suddenly everything speeds up, the guitar and bass come up in the mix and we are dropped into swirling chaos. The bass and guitars in this passage have a slight droning quality that helps increase the feeling of chaos and hypnotic psychedelia. Then, everything stops for a moment, before a much more simple set of riffs come in, and for the first time in this track it feels like everything is pointed in the same direction, there is much more purpose and direction. As this goes on, the band start to add more layers, so it slowly builds back to the feeling of swirling chaos, but with a little more intent than before. The track then slows down for a big, powerful ending. 

Next comes Uusi Teknokratia which opens with urgent mid-paced drumming and layered flutes, guitar and keyboards, but with the main instrument being the Flute. The feel in this opening part is insistent and unrelenting, the vocals are harsh and exigent. This section has a hypnotic, hallucinogenic feel to it. This goes into a more direct part where the guitar is the main instrument and it feels much more riffy and metal. This then goes into a softer breakdown, where there are layered clean vocals that are strangely reminiscent of the sort of thing that Devin Townsend would do. Again this is blasted away by a much heavier guitar driven part, with the Flute returning for a solo over the top of all the chaos, which then gives way to a fairly harsh guitar solo. The track then gets fairly ambient till the end, and we are halfway through the album!

The second half of the album opens with Oikeamielisten Sali. We are greeted by a simple guitar lick, tout, minimal trip-hop style beat and eastern sounding strings. There is that hypnotic, layered feel that is all over this album, it’s a little Philip Glass. The track slowly gets more urgent and the simple elements of the track are pulled this way and that, it feels as if we are building to something….. Suddenly the track has far more purpose, the drumming becomes more direct and simple, the eastern feel is still there, but it is being driven forward. As the harsh vocals return the track has much more drive and has a more standard metal sense to it. This heavy part also has many elements and feels expansive and huge, like the entire universe jamming a Black Sabbath track. The track ends in a beautifully creative way, by basically removing elements until we end with a single keyboard riff, that becomes the start of the next track. 

Kuulen ääniä maan alta opens with said keyboard riff, before a tight, simple drum beat arrives, and shortly after a pulsing, droning bass line. The sound on this track is part industrial, part gothic, part harsh techno, simple driving drumming, droning guitar and electronics. In some ways it remind me of Killing Joke. There have been experiments mixing Dance with Black Metal, probably the most successful is Australian band Mesarthim, who on their last album Ghost Condensate, mixed Black Metal with full on Psy-Trance, but this is a far dirtier dance sound. The track slowly fades into droning keyboard swells, before fading out. Taivaan portti is the most Black Metal track on here. We are dropped strait into a blasting mass of tremolo picked riffs, pulsing bass and keyboard lines and harsh vocals. It’s nasty and hypnotic, as it swirls around your head. Harsh electronic noises jostle with the unpleasant riffs and vocals making this a multi dimensional head fuck of immense proportions. This insane chaos starts to slow, one by one individual instruments are removed, the track deconstructs itself until it fades into silence, and the album ends 

Mestarin Kynsi is quite simply spectacular. No matter how good you thought Oranssi Pazuzu were before hearing this album (and I for one thought they were an amazing, brilliantly creative band), Mestarin Kynsi surpasses anything I thought they were capable of. The band have gone the same way as Sigh, Solefald, Dødheimsgard, Enslaved or Ulver. Please don’t think I mean that they sound like any of those bands, because they don’t; all those bands have striven to make their work interesting and creative, with no thought to obeying convention, or doing as they were told. All those bands have let the music take them where it needed to go, rather than force it into any particular form. I did say earlier in the review that this album wasn’t ‘Obviously’ Black Metal. What I meant by that is how a lot of the tracks on this album are constructed. In Black Metal the riffs don’t tend to be massively complex as they are in say, Death Metal. In Black Metal the complexity comes from layering simple riffs together so the whole track has a complexity that is built out of many simple parts. 

Well, this album is packed with multiple layers, ok they aren’t always, or even often guitar parts, but the album is constructed from a huge number of fairly simple Guitar, Keyboard, String and Flute riffs. So, an album that I had previously said doesn’t sound that Black Metal, is actually very, very Black Metal in its construction. That's a very clever trick to pull off. It’s also a staggeringly good album, that will be remembered as a significant moment in this bands career. If you love interesting and creative music, then this album is essential, people are going to be talking about it for years to come. 9/10

Abysmal Dawn: Phylogenesis (Season Of Mist) [Dr Claire Hanley]

There is nothing more satisfying than being scissor kicked by an opening track that is all kinds of nasty. Mundane Existence does not disappoint; unleashing a series of thundering riffs and enough groove to last you from now, until the end of lockdown. Add the ferocious, inexorable bark of a vocal performance into the mix, and the album is off to a tremendous start. The Path Of The Totalitarian continues to deliver extreme levels of aggression, leaving eardrums demolished by what can only be described as a drumming juggernaut. This is definitely one of the signature tracks on the album; the technical prowess of the band highlighted by an array of expertly crafted guitar parts, which also allow the listener to witness the intricacy of the bass. Further displaying their mastery of composition, the syncopation in A Speck In The Fabric Of Eternity is utterly delicious - nothing like being thrown out of the ‘headbang zone’ to recalibrate your interest.

The jarring opening riff and spattering of sassy drum fills featured on Coerced Evolution are equally disgusting; which is, of course, meant as a compliment of the highest order. True To The Blind sees the vocal savagery and instrumental precision we’re now accustomed to, flow together seamlessly. There is some serious momentum to this track, so much so that the remaining material on the record fades in comparison. However, the bonus track is a noteworthy addition. You’ve got to have some pretty sizable cajones to cover anything by Death but Abysmal Dawn throw down one hell of a homage, with an amped-up version of Flattening Of Emotions. As if I hadn’t been thoroughly ravaged by riffs already, it’s pretty much Chuck et al. on ‘roids.

The title of the record references evolution and Abysmal Dawn are certainly pushing the boundaries of death metal. The issue with establishing a winning formula is the reluctance to deviate from it, and my only criticism of the album is that some tracks felt slightly repetitive. Overall, an album that signals substantial progress with room for refinement. 8/10

The Ditch And The Delta: S/T (Prosthetic Records/Sludgelord Records) [Paul Hutchings]

The Ditch and The Delta hail from the basin of Bonneville - a prehistoric dead lake, in the heart of Mormon-country, Salt Lake City, Utah. There must be little to do there if you consider the ire that surges through opening song Maimed. Angry, raging, aggressive. The raw pain doesn’t ease up on the rest of the album. Exile screams with venom, the huge bass lines and jagged guitar work enhanced by the desperate howls of vocalist/guitarist Elliot Screist. It’s an album that follows their 2017 debut Hives In Decline. The power trio view their mission to deliver sludge without some of the usual clichés. They have achieved this on an uncomfortable and challenging release, one that may well defy expectations and challenge preconceptions.

New drummer Brian Fell adds to colossal hefting riffs and an all-consuming intensity. Yet they retain a melodic feel in parts which lifts them into the ranks of bands such as Zozobra, Mastodon and Sumac. With a lyrical content described as ‘absolute depression and desperation with hints of lucid clarity and awe’, there is no escaping that this is heavy stuff. Unsurprisingly given their location and environment, there are multiple dark, and rage filled moments although the album closer, Tectonic Selves provides a glimmer of brightness. The album has been waiting for release for some time having been recorded in 2018. Produced by musician and producer Andy Patterson (Insect Ark, SubRosa) at The Boar’s Nest Studio, Salt Lake City, The Ditch and The Delta isn’t going to fill you with joy. It’s a painful, crushing experience. 6/10   

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