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Monday, 13 April 2020

Reviews: Wolfheart, Maya Mountains, Dark Forest, Hexvessel (Rich, Paul S, Paul H and Matt)

Wolfheart: Wolves Of Karelia (Napalm Record) [Rich Oliver]

Tuomas Saukkonen has been keeping himself a busy man so far this year. Not only did he release a new Dawn Of Solace album in January but we also have the fifth album from Wolfheart which is titled Wolves Of Karelia. Wolfheart are a mix of the more atmospheric and melancholic style of melodic death metal championed by bands such as Insomnium and Be’lakor and the more riff based and aggressive style of bands such as Amon Amarth and Hypocrisy. The result are songs which are heavy and energetic but with that distinctive Finnish gloom and melancholy permanating through. It’s an infectious combo which is used to great effect on songs such as the epic opener Hail Of Steel, the straightforward rage of Reaper, the pounding metal of Born From Fire and the sweeping orchestral tones of album closer Ashes. Wolves Of Karelia is another fine addition to the Wolfheart discography. It straddles the fine line between anger and melancholy and shows there is still fire in the melodic death metal scene in 2020. It is not a vastly different album to predecessors Tyhjyys and Constellation Of The Black Light but when it sounds as good as this variation is unnecessary. Tuomas Saukkonen proves once again that he is a force to be reckoned with in Finnish metal. 8/10

Maya Mountains: Era (Go Down Records) [Paul Scoble]

Italian three piece Maya Mountains have been making music together since 2004. In their sixteen years together the band have only released 1 other album in that time in 2008’s Hash And Pornography. However, Maya Mountains can be forgiven for taking their time with releases as Maya Mountains are very clearly playing Stoner Rock/Metal, so taking their time is customary. The band, who are named after a Central American mountain range, is made up of Marco on Drums, Emanuel on Guitar and Ale on Guitar and Vocals.

As I mentioned before, Maya Mountains play a style of Stoner Rock/Metal that is clearly influenced by Sleep and Black Sabbath. The band aren’t just about Black Sabbath and Sleep worship, there's the odd element of Alt Rock, psychedelic rock and even a little bit of Punk as well. Enrique Dominguez is a good example of the basic sound of this album, it’s melodic but heavy, with a similar tempo to a lot of Sleep material, that slow but with a nice groove to it that keeps your head nodding. The track does have sections where everything calms down and we get a much more measured, minimal feeling, before those huge riffs come crashing back in. In The Shadow has a simple stoner rock style, it’s slow and relaxed with a tight hard rock sense to the riffing.

The band can do fast as well, Baumgartner has a much faster and more driven feel that a lot of the tracks on here. It’s simple, uptempo stoner rock, that gives the album a little more variation of tempo. Raul is a very interesting track. It’s quite soft, with a very pleasing psychedelic feel. The track starts soft, but constantly builds and grows as the song goes along, until the end where the track feels huge. Vibromatic has an interesting Alt Rock feel to most of the song and has a definite punk feel to the pacing, and tempo. Era is a great Stoner Rock/Metal album. It is very influenced by Black Sabbath and Sleep, but then, which Stoner band hasn’t been? There is also a lot of other influences added to make this a much more interesting proposition than a lot of Stoner Rock/Metal, Maya Mountains haven’t fallen into the ‘Generic’ trap. It’s packed full of huge riffs, and great songwriting, and is very enjoyable. 7/10

Dark Forest: Oak, Ash And Thorn (Cruz Del Sur) [Paul Hutchings]

2016’s Beyond the Veil earnt a 7/10 from me. Transporting me to days of yore, when it was fashionable to wear chainmail to the shops, the Dudley power metal outfit proved that the UK could go mano et mano with the German power metal giants. Four years later and Dark Forest return with album number five, and once again they’ve delivered a thunderous 52 minutes which is fabulously enjoyable. Shorn of bassist Paul Thompson, Dark Forest have an otherwise stable nucleus including the dual guitar attack of Patrick Jenkins and founder member Christian Horton, as well as the powerful engine of Adam Sidaway and the vocal prowess of Josh Winnard. Winnard possesses one of the best voices in British metal, and although the band edge into Maiden territory on multiple occasions, this fits perfectly with their style and delivery. Maintaining their stories of Medieval history, sometimes you really want this type of music in your life. 

The centrepiece of the album are two huge tracks, the seven-minute Avalon Rising, which gallops like an armoured horse racing into battle and the massive title track which at 11:55 dominates. The former song sees Winnard open the vocal range and soar closer to Bruce Dickinson than anyone has since Blaze Bayley left the Irons in 1998. The latter is magnificently epic, gently cantering in parts whilst elegantly slowing to an acoustic mid-section before galloping once more. Sometimes this type of journey can really grate but whilst it’s a little cliched and cute, there’s no denying that when a band can hit their stride and deliver with a decent level of quality then it’s guaranteed to bring a smile to your face. Dark Forest have bettered their previous efforts; this is a cracker of an album and one to enjoy in such dark times. 8/10

Hexvessel: Kindred (Svart Records) [Matt Bladen]

You've probably heard of Hexvessel. They are one of those bands that people make a fuss about. Covered extensively in metal magazines and websites (I guess we are adding to the problem). Their music in invocative and has the same beating heart as heavy metal but you won't find any distorted guitars, blast beats or sprawling vocal ranges here. No Hexvessel are much more 'organic' band sitting much more in the darker reaches of the Folk/Americana, with dashes of blues and even prog thrown in to complete things. Their sound owing it's existence to acts like Nick Cave but also to the psychedelic leanings of King Crimson and Jethro Tull, just listen to first song Billion Year Old Being to understand what I mean. Hexvessel is the creation of Mat McNerney of Grave Pleasures/Beastmilk and for a while now it's his way to delve more into the spiritual side of his musical talent.

Kindred is the bands fifth full length album and once again it brings a sense of otherworldliness to the listener, conjuring emotions and thoughts of dense forests and late night fireside rituals. As I've said Billion Year Old Being opens Artifacts with a blast of 70's prog layered with Hammond stabs and poetic spoken vocals, somewhere Ian Anderson is phoning his lawyer, Deiman brings a woozy Woodstock sound, before the cover of Coil's Fires Of The Mind is the first true folk song, richly layered with sombre cello, this also has an almost train of thought lyrical style that adds to it's sparseness. Kindred was written and recorded in the depths of Tampere, Finland where the nights are long and cold so you can understand why the empty bar jazz of Bog Bodies suits this band to the ground. The mystical Phaedra has that bring drum sound and brooding vocal of Nick Cave (and also Madrugada) making things ominous so the beautiful strumming of Family can cut through like a single beam of moonlight through a dense thicket. Kindred is an album carrying massive emotional resonance, it's best enjoyed in the wee small hours with your favourite tipple. 8/10 

NOTE: Hexvessel have also, following the current outbreak of COVID-19, been donating all proceeds of their Bandcamp Kindred album sales to Age UK in order to help their communities and the elderly.

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