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Wednesday, 1 April 2020

Reviews: Testament, Parkway Drive, Candlemass, Natur (Paul H, Liam, Matt & Rich R)

Testament: Titans Of Creation (Nuclear Blast) [Paul Hutchings]

It was 2016 when the Bay Area titans last hit us with new music. They’ve hardly been strangers to these shores since, regular visits over the past few years ensuring that the thrash fix was sated. Live, Testament are virtually untouchable, and on record it’s been business as usual for many a year. Looking back on 2016’s Brotherhood Of The Snake, I was slightly underwhelmed at the time although like many of the releases we cover, time allows a more measured view. It wasn’t bad at all. No such problem on Titans Of Creation. This is a monster from start to finish. Chuck Billy (get well dude) is on imperious form, a cleaner less death growling style adopted whilst that rawness remains. Duel guitar work of Alex Skolnick and Eric Peterson is as surgically clean as ever, whilst that engine room of Gene Hoglan and Steve Di Giorgio provides a mighty anchor that could hold the largest shipping container.

It’s a roaring start. Children Of The Next Level is about the Heaven’s Gate Cult who committed mass suicide in 1997 in order to ascend to reach an extra-terrestrial spacecraft. A thundering, galloping track; Billy is booming, the harmonies on the choruses on point whilst Hoglan has this nailed, but it’s still a privilege just to hear the master hammering away. There are more hooks than a fishing exhibition, the razor-sharp axe work leaving the listener in no doubt where this album is heading. There are few sounds better in the world of metal than these Bay Area titans in full flight, and WWII maintains every ounce of power. Crushing, punchy thrash, few can match this band. Raucous anthems simply pour out of this release, and Dream Deceiver maintains the momentum. A song about being trapped in a dream world whilst the mind is slowly degenerated, it’s a fist pumping rager with Di Giorgio’s pumping bass lines holding court with Hoglan’s brutal drumming. Night Of The Witch is influenced by Robert Egger’s 2015 horror masterpiece The VVitch: A New England Folktale. One of the album’s longer tracks, it features Peterson taking lead vocals, his snarling almost black metal style complimented by Billy’s guttural roar. This is what Testament do best. Create an atmosphere which compliments the subject matter and then blitz it with direct action: face melting guitar work, and the blast beats of Hoglan scaring the crap out of those who would aspire to his throne. The man is a beats machine.

Few albums these days contain all killer, but Titans Of Creation pushes hard towards achieving that accolade. City of Angels welcomes the melody in, the gentle chorus a refreshing antidote to the punishing riffs, the sludgy feel allowing the band to explore the gruesome tale of the Nightstalker Richard Ramierz. Di Giorgio’s thumping bass lines open the Eastern themed Ishtars Gate, the eighth gate of Babylon, dedicated to the Babylonian goddess Ishtar by King Nebuchadnezzar II. It’s another ripping song and by now there is the distinct realisation that Titans Of Creation is edging closer to one of Testament’s best ever records. If you want thrash metal, there are hundreds, nay, thousands of bands out there but I’d struggle to suggest more than a handful who are even close to Testament. Symptoms is simply massive, the sound immense, this is sonic heaviness on a level few can match. Written by Skolnick, it’s intricate guitar work blends seamlessly whilst the song tackles the impact on mental health on wider society. The vibrant The Healers mixes thrash and death metal, with Billy’s words reflecting on his own experience of dealing with natural medicine men, the elders of the earth and their impact on his healing. (We can only hope that he draws on these spirits again in his current fight).

A Geezer Butler bass sound paves the introduction to Code Of Hammurabi, which unsurprisingly refers to the well-preserved Babylonian code of law of ancient Mesopotamia, dated to about 1754 BC. Aggressive, furious and 100mph thrash, the guitar work soaring about the battery underneath. it’s another example of how Testament have drawn deep on their 37 years’ experience. Curse Of Osiris is another fine anthem, this one crossing the line to death metal at frequent intervals, whilst the closing track, Catacombs echoes the opening of Slayer’s Hell Awaits before haunting choral voices chant as the album finishes in a final flourish. Pre-production and the initial recording process was completed with Juan Urteaga of Trident Studios before Andy Sneap was able to work his magic in the production chair. The stellar artwork of Eliran Kantor once again graces the cover. Titans Of Creation encapsulates everything you need from Testament. Enough old school to ensure that they stay in touch with their roots, yet with a continual, steady evolution evident in their writing. This album shows once again that there is plenty of fuel in the tank. Sheer thrash magic. 10/10

Parkway Drive: Viva The Underdogs (Epitaph Records) [Liam True]

In under 10 years Parkway Drive have gone from supporting bands in the smallest of venues, to full blown arena tours & festival headline slots. Granted this was due to the shift musically from their previous two albums by going more ‘radio friendly’ but keeping their aggressive edge from the Metalcore they were born of in Byron Bay. Since they’ve been touring, they’ve been known for their energetic live performances and crown interaction. If you’ve had the unfortunate pleasure of not seeing them live, then here’s your lucky day. With the release of their documentary of the same title, the band showcases their headline slot from 2019’s Wacken festival in Germany.

Everything about this live album is terrific. The sound is amazing. The setlist is phenomenal. The band are as tight as they’ve ever been & the crowd is a sea of hungry fans. Opening with Prey from 2015’s Ire Winston McCall is frantic & full of energy to get the crowd as pumped as he can for their powerful performance. The rest of the set is overpowered by the bands insatiable nature for controlling the crowd and the stage simultaneously. Old heavy songs such as Carrion, Idols & Anchors fit side by side with newer tracks The Void, Absolute Power & Dedicated. The crowd themselves during Idols & Anchors, Wild Eyes & Prey gave me goosebumps with the way they scream every word & guitar riff with Winston & the band.

During the set Winston call out bassist Jia O'Connor for being ‘In the air’, as for the festival run last summer, he was confined to a wheelchair due to tearing his ACL just two days before leaving for the tour. Either way they deliver a blinding performance full of singalongs, heavy riffs, breakdowns, circle pits and everlasting memories. Closers Crushed & Bottom Feeder provide the perfect final hits for Wacken as they crowd is fed the aggression they were begging for. With three extra tracks with re-recorded vocals (Vice Grip, The Void & Shadowboxing) with Winston singing in German, it’s a beautiful tribute to Wacken and the nation themselves.

If anything, this show has captured the heart, passion and souls of Parkway in no other way. And with a bigger arena tour prepped for UK/Europe later this year they’ve proved they’ve earned it. There’s one thing that the band have on their mind, and that’s global domination proving that with the right amount of hope and dedication even the smallest and heaviest of Metalcore bands can grow into the biggest and well known in the scene. Viva The Underdogs indeed. 10/10

Candlemass: The Pendulum EP (Napalm Records) [Matt Bladen]

The Pendulum is an EP from the masters of epic doom Candlemass. It's comprised of songs that were left on the cutting room floor after their previous full length The Door To Doom. What you get here is one fully formed, mastered number, the crushing title track, and five unreleased demo songs. The demo songs are the most interesting, though The Pendulum is a great opening number, giving you everything you want from the pioneers of this sound, but as soon as Aftershock kicks in you can hear how much Leif Edling's throbbing bass directs these songs along with the wandering guitar playing of Mats "Mappe" Björkman and Lars "Lasse" Johansson coming on Snakes Of Goliath. It means that the fuzz-drenched riffs can wash over you forcing your head to nod throughout. The Pendulum EP is Candlemass doing what they do best, while giving you a heads up into their production process, an interesting stopgap as we wait for more epicus doomicus metallicus. 6/1

Natur: Afternoon Nightmare (Crypt Of The Wizard) [Rich Rees]

When I was first sent this album and saw the name of the band, I thought someone had sent me atmospheric black metal. A band name like Natur tends to give off that kind of vibe. However having looked at the cover my interest suddenly peaked. Old-school heavy metal style logo and picture? Count me the fuck in. The first thing to note is the production quality and I can see what they’ve gone for. It sounds like an old tape album of some kind, however when it comes to mixing there are a few cardinal sins. As a fan of the genre I can listen past it but most wouldn’t. Ryan Weiburst comes in sounding as if a young James Hetfield was fronting Candlemass and his vocal delivery is great but on a few songs there needs to be a little more theatrics in the voice for my liking.

Each song has its own unique personality and feel to it and the last song on the album is an absolute monumental effort. Natur’s Afternoon Nightmare was a great listen, and they’ve definitely gained a fan here. Guitar work that is reminiscent of Brocas Helm or Angel Witch comes to mind, accompanied by a vocal style that isn’t perfect but isn’t meant to be either. That to me seems to be the biggest takeaway here. If you are one of those metal listeners who like their improvised jazz-style solos over B7 flat with an augmented 9th tuned in A standard this isn’t for you. If you like head banging, doomy riffs, soaring vocals and an overall sense of dread in a good way you’re going to love it. Can’t wait for the next one. 8/10

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