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Thursday, 2 April 2020

Reviews: Pearl Jam, Kill Ritual, State Of Millenia, Devil's Dice (Alex, Simon, Liam & Rich)

Pearl Jam: Gigaton (Republic Records) [Alex Swift]

Believe it or not, I took some time to get into Eddie Vedder and co. I know that might sound strange, especially considering I loved Nirvana, Alice In Chains and Soundgarden as a kid. I don’t know why I was so late coming to albums such as Ten, Vs, and Vitalogy. Perhaps it had to do with the fact that Pearl Jam’s style was far more of a contemplative and ethereal one. The songs I would hear played would often be winding and adventurous, focusing on capturing a mood. While I would definitely come to respect that in my adolescent and adult years – seriously, just look at my reviews, I’m all about weirdness now – ridiculously, I never gave one of the most vital acts of the 90’s the attention they deserved. Now that I’ve embarrassed myself, I would like to say that I now absolutely adore this band. McCready and Gossards absolutely gorgeous grooves and solos are absolutely beautiful to behold, especially when heard in tandem with Cameron and Ammet’s diverse rhythms and Vedder's acquired yet fine vocal textures and melodies. As time has gone I have learned to love those first three albums, and while I don’t love the material I’ve heard from their mid-era catalogue quite as much, their past last three records have seen them making a sort of resurgence. Hey, I loved Lightning Bolt so much that I was incredibly excited to see where they would take their sound next, only to make us wait 7 years for what would become Gigaton! To hell with that though, cause this album was worth every minute of that wait and sees them relinquishing none of that spark that made them so brilliant, to begin with, while making my younger self vexed at how strange and different they could be!

Before we have a chance to mull over whether this album will be worth the delay, Who Ever Said and Superblood WolfMoon delivers that double punch that is needed to sell you on the record. Both these tracks eloquently set the dark tone, yet lose none of that expected dynamism and zing which these musicians together have always had a knack for delivering, Vitally, you don’t always know what direction you are going to be carried in next, with the guitars as frenzied as ever, the rhythm section walking lock-step with the march of the instrumentation and the vocals providing yet another jolt of energy behind the track. There are multiple moments like these throughout, notably the introspective while rock n’ roll laden Never Destination, the potent fuzz-fest of Take The Long Way. Honestly, if you’re looking to hear some of that traditional, six-string led sound which has granted Pearl Jam and acts like them so much charm in the past, you certainly won’t be alienated.

That said though it would be a shame to shun the experimental moments on Gigaton. Standing out amongst these is Dance Of The Clairvoyants – an electronic-infused piece which sees’ the expected instrumentation play a vital role in creating a spellbinding tone, while a brooding yet mesmeric synth line winds its way throughout, and Vedder alternates between barked and crooned vocals. It’s one of the most artistic songs these players have ever composed, and yet it’s magical. Quick Escape keeps us on an exhilarating journey, creating an infectious charm with its jazzy rhythmic furrows, danceable chorus and continued service of randomness to keep the listener locked in a groove that is entirely of our entertainers making. I especially love this track due to the line ‘Crossed the border to Morocco, Kashmir then Marrakech. The lengths we had to go to then, to find a place Trump hadn't fucked up yet’. Well said Eddie, well said indeed. Alright feels like a subtle continuation of the more contemplative ideas from the previous record. Seven O’ Clock is a beautifully orchestrated anthem about climate change seeing our frontman repeat the line ‘much to be done’. The last four tracks see them adopting a beautiful acoustic approach, much like the one they played with on albums like No Code and Binaural, except with more of a sense of grace, melody and overall elegance. Of all the tracks that will have to grow on you, these are the ones, yet after four listens I can firmly say that they are some of my favourites on the album.

Gigaton will not be everybody’s favourite record by this band, yet after a few albums of relative, if fantastic crowd-pleasing, this shows them spreading their wings and reaching into new areas once more. You can tell that those seven years were spent investigating and trailing how to do so in such a way that would show Pearl Jam displaying their full potential. Everything feels refined, no time feels squandered. In that sense, album no. 11 may be their finest work in decades. ‘You hear that sound in the background. It could be thunder, or a crowd’ 8/10

Kill Ritual: The Opaque And The Divine (Headless Corpse) [Simon Black]

This is the 5th album from Bay Area Californian Metallers Kill Ritual and the first with new singer Brian “Chalice” Betterton. Despite not having heard them before, I must confess to have been rather blown away by this album. It’s full on, well-crafted, well produced and doesn’t neatly fit into any pigeonholes, which is always refreshing to hear. Opening with Rest In Pain, the album starts with a full on blast of solid blistering metal, and clearly is designed as a set opener to scream “We’re here mutha’s!”. And scream it does, as Chalice has a hugely broad voice – soft and haunting at one minute, gravely and gutsy the next and then when you least expect it soaring up to those high notes with a vibrato and power that will rattle your delicates like castanets.

Dead God is a much more varied and technical track, verging on the Progressive and showing that this is a bunch of guys with some real musical nounce without letting themselves getting distracted by their own cleverness. By track 3, King Of Fools we’re into groovy, metal chugger territory, with a rhythm that got me looking for the circle pit, which isn’t easy when you’re self-isolating. There’s also some good riff-based content in tracks like World Gone Mad, which also manages in true prog-metal style to then take you in about 6 different directions whilst still keeping the fundamental hook that pulled you in. They don’t always manage that approach successfully however, and the prog can get in the way on occasions. Veil Of The Betrayer tries to do too much to the detriment of the overall structure, and although you can see that they’re trying to do an epic semi-instrumental set piece it unfortunately loses its way half way through, and lacks the overall emblematic stamp to keep it focussed.

That’s where they lose some points on an otherwise stonking album. Praise The Dead starts with a delicate acoustic guitar and string synch intro, before launching into one of the most solid and heavy tracks on the album, and probably the most thundering double bass middle eight I’ve heard on a straight metal album in a while, with a solo more akin to the Thrash roots that the Bay Area is most famed for. Definitely my favourite track on what was a really enjoyable album. More please. 8/10

State Of Millenia: Feel Alive (Self Released) [Liam True]

Pop Punk isn’t a genre I've ever been into because it’s just full of whiny vocals, ‘My hometown is shit’ lyrical content and just plain boring song development. However, Colchester's State Of Millenia have taken that formula and added more edge to it. More aggression. Not as much to be in the same league as say A Day To Remember, but with enough to give the Foo Fighters a run for their money. Musically the band are tight, heavy and light at the same time, and there’s no doubt it’ll have you bobbing your head and air drumming on your second listen. The vocals of Jordan Capone mixed with the fretwork melodies of Reece Boulton & Danny Russell make the perfect element for Jules Marrison’s energetic drum work to work it’s magic. While not being something I’d normally listen to, myself being into the more extreme and more downright filthy gutturals of Deathcore/Metalcore it’s a massive change from my usual style and perfect down tune to what I’m going to open myself out to in the future. Despite my usual taste it’s such a good album, with good instrumentals, vocal work and everything in between. And to be completely honest, I've found myself a new summertime album to blast in the sun. 10/10

Devil's Dice: War Of Attrition EP (Self Released) [Rich Oliver]

War Of Attrition is the second release from Birmingham classic metallers Devil’s Dice following on from their debut album Libertarian and being a stopgap release before a new album later in the year. Devil’s Dice have garnered a following in the Midlands honing their craft on the live circuit and being finalists in the Midlands Metal To The Masses in 2017. This experience clearly shows in the songwriting and recording quality of War Of Attrition. Comprised of four songs (five if you get a physical copy) it is very much a homage to the hard rock and heavy metal of yesteryear with twin lead guitars and good melodies. The songs are melodic but also quite restrained with the vocals by Matt Gore sounding like a less dramatic Bruce Dickinson. The songs can be a bit too restrained in my opinion as it sounds like the band is gearing up to unleash some energy but always end up falling short. The songs are all good but none of them are great though the highlight is the very Iron Maiden leaning title track. War Of Attrition is a decent little EP. It lacks some energy and dynamics but it is a perfectly serviceable release. The band definitely has potential and from what I’ve read they thrive in the live environment. 6/10

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