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Friday 29 May 2020

Reviews: Alestorm, Rannoch, Geezer, Forged In Black (Simon, Rich & Matt)

Alestorm: Curse Of The Crystal Coconut (Napalm Records) [Simon Black]

I’ve never been a follower of Alestorm’s recorded output, as for me they are one of those acts that I will always seek out at a festival for the simple reason that they are pure unadulterated fun and a reminder that we Metal fans should not take our shit too seriously. My young daughter however is quite incredulous that I am reviewing an album from a Pirate Metal band and saves me from having to answer any awkward motivational questions by asking the obvious “Why are they a Pirate Metal band, Dad?” … ”Because they Arrrrrh” I reply, punching the air that I got both a dad joke and a Pirate joke in one fell swoop and grateful that I don’t have to try and explain that real Pirates probably don’t like Metal, they have an historical preference for Rum and Bass or aRR n’ B. (Apologies - Ed) Yes, these are obvious jokes, but the question is Curse Of The Crystal Coconut an obvious album for Alestorm, and after six records has the joke now not worn a little thin? Well, every time I found a cracking track, I’ve put in a pirate joke, just to make sure you read this.

The label are taking no chances here, so this review is based on a stream only copy of the album (presumably to help prevent Piracy), but you will all be able to listen to it on your Ayye-Phones from Friday. Opener Treasure Chest Party Quest whose verse lyric “We’re only here to have fun, get drunk and make loads of money”, may sound like the Conservative Party Mission Statement, but kicks things off to a promising start, and is clearly intended as a good lively festival pleaser (P.S. Boys, love the cowbell solo). Fannybaws is the second track and single, but doesn’t quite keep the momentum going and although there’s some suitably wry lyricism going on here, Chomp Chomp is a much better track – and belts on at a furious pace, but counterpoints the speed with some well-crafted twists and turns of the accordion, with a guest vocal turn from Finntroll's Mathias "Vreth" Lillmåns.

Tortuga appears to take the pace down a bit before going a more poppy almost Nu-Metal and toned back direction, with just a snort of Rob Zombie-esque refrains to take away the taste of the rum, but actually surprises by being one of the best tracks on the album, proving that Christopher Bowes is able to do something other than the same old Pirate Metal tropes, although by the time you get to the familiar grooves of Zombies Ate My Pirate Ship, all is forgiven and the piratical thematicals are more than welcome back and proves that Bowes still has the hang of his arrrt.

The sound and production are as crisp as you would expect from this level of experience, and the presence of a violin throughout adds a deeper, folkier feel than the usual accordion effect. There are a couple of obvious fillers on here – midpoint Call Of The Waves is also the low point, but this is a generally consistent and entertaining effort. The variation of tone is what makes this tick, and I particularly loved the short and effective clap-along Shit Boat (No Fans), and Pirate Metal Drinking Crew keeps the humour and tap along pace going, but really is fairly standard Alestorm but with a strategically placed “Fuck You” in the chorus guarantees that this one is going to make it into the live set. The finale of the album is the notably heavier follow up to 2014’s Wooden Leg, called surprisingly, Wooden Leg Part 2 (The Woodening) is surprisingly more technical than the normal shanty-along and hauls in at eight minutes of running time, but still dripping in humour and uses the instrumental breaks to poke fun at some of their more proggy peers. The track closes with the witty acoustic led Henry Martin, and then ‘twas gone.

Have they lost their thunder? No, there’s still wind in them there sails, and Bowes’ ability to hook you in with the classic Alestorm sound, then mix up both the pace and sound is what stops this from sitting in the doldrums. Nautical, but nice. 8/10

Rannoch: Reflections Upon Darkness (Self Released) [Rich Oliver]

The worlds of extreme and progressive music were meant to cross paths. Both genres rely on breaking the rulebook and large degrees of experimentation and non-conformity so it always made sense that the genres would combine. Though there are many bands combining the extreme reaches of metal with progressive sounds there are still bands who come out and surprise you. Rannoch are one of those bands. They don’t do anything especially new or surprising but just play their own brand of extreme progressive metal extremely well with high levels of songwriting and technical ability.

Reflections Upon Darkness is the second album by the UK band and is a daunting listen with a duration of around 70 minutes including a 39 minute composition based around the poem Darkness by Lord Byron which is split into seven parts. Music wise Rannoch sound like the lovechild between Opeth and Meshuggah with its mix of luscious melodies, progressive meandering, a dark epic atmosphere and crushing riffs. The vocals by Ian Gillings are a mix of growling harsh vocals, melodic clean vocals and spoken word parts with all styles given prominence throughout the album. After a short but epic intro the first proper song is De Heptarchia Mystica which throws everything in the bands arsenal at you with heavy riffs and atmospheric layers of synths. My favourite song on the album is definitely The Hanged Man with its natural shifts between the melodic and the heavy and the sublime lead guitar playing throughout. The Darkness suite which takes up the last half of the album is definitely the most ambitious part of the album and whilst split into seven tracks is meant to be heard as one long piece.

Rannoch have impressed me with this album. It is a hefty listen and definitely requires multiple listens to digest it all but it is a very rewarding listen with plenty of alternating sounds, moods and shades. A very solid album which will appeal to extreme metal and prog fans alike. 8/10

Geezer: Groovy (Heavy Psych Sounds) [Matt Bladen]

Never has there been more of a temptation to just write the album title as a review and be done with it. But in the tradition of integrity I'll give a bit more information about this fourth album from Geezer. Hold your horses before you explode, they are in no way related to Black Sabbath's legendary king of the groove. No this Geezer comes from New York but they are certainly influenced by Messrs Butler, Iommi, Ward and Osbourne along one of the founders The Guess Who, along with a big heaving doses of the sexy psych rocking of Dave Wyndorf and the more earthy blues base of COC (Pepper version). Because that's what Geezer are in essence (much like the band where their namesake made his bones) they're a blues band but with the fuzz ramped up to its top level and bottom end so fat you could make crackling out of it. As with so many psych groovers Geezer are three piece the trio locking in tight for some heavy rocking jams such as the woozy Atlas Electra, the slinky Dead Soul Scroll, the rollicking title track and the trippy Slide Mountain. If you need some more blissed out blues stoner then turn on and tune out with Geezer. Groovy baby! 7/10

Forged In Black - Ten Years At The Forge (Self Released) [Matt Bladen]

This is a novel idea. To celebrate their tenth anniversary as a band, Southend metal crew Forged In Black have released this 6 track compilation that has been compiled as a follow up to their tenth anniversary show in late 2019. Ten Years At The Forge is a special digital only EP that is made up of the title tracks from Forged In Black's releases including a bonus of The Exodus which was their exclusive 2014 single. All the songs have been remastered by guitarists Chris Bone and Andy Songhurst and serve as glowing retrospective for a band who have worked with both Cardiff's own Romesh Dodangoda and Chris Tsangarides. You can download the EP at a name-your-price tariff on the bands bandcamp but this review is here to show you what to expect.

There's a very strong mixture of music here, the first track is obviously Forged In Black (the final track on their debut of the same name) kicking off this EP with some breakdowns even some screams, the that a darker kind of American style of heavy metal, with similarities to Iced Earth and Jag Panzer. The Tide is a slower and more anthemic stomp, while The Exodus builds into some latter day Maidenisms. Over the course of these six tracks, Forged In Steel show why they have been very well received by the metal press and also why they have survived for ten years with their evolution audible here. An ideal starter into the world of Forged In Black come feel the steel! 7/10

Mountain Witch: Extinct Cults (This Charming Man Records) [Matt Bladen]

We often reference the phrase "Sabbath Worship" in this blog, but the opening riff of Capping Day is ridiculously close to the opening chords of Sabbath Bloody Sabbath that it takes the phrase to new heights. Luckily for them the remainder of the song sounds nothing like it, though it does retain that Sabbath stoner sound that so many bands aim for. Mountain Witch are shamelessly retro influenced unit that play with the occult throughout, referencing those same B-Movie sound tracks that Uncle Acid and Electric Wizard delve into so deeply. The band state that Extinct Cults comes "after four years of conspirative plotting" and with tracks such as Worship You bringing the ringing 70's doom of BOC, as Man Is Wolf To Man keeps things pacy with some choppy riffing. It's produced with the retro effect in mind but never goes into blatant copying, though Capping Day comes close. Witchy, doomy, rocking from Germany. 6/10

Thursday 28 May 2020

Reviews: Grave Digger, Xibalba, Crooked Horns, Centinex (Matt, Rich, Paul S & Dr Claire)

Grave Digger: Fields Of Blood (Napalm Records) [Matt Bladen]

After 40 years (!) Grave Digger reach 20 albums. Fields Of Blood is the final part of their Scottish Highlands Trilogy, the first was Tunes Of War in 1996, the second The Clans Will Rise Again in 2010 and once again Grave Digger have brought their Teutonic Metal assault in force. Why a German band have written three albums about Scottish historical/fantasy is beyond me but hey, Serenity are Austrian and their historical scope goes across Europe, at least parts of this record were actually recorded in the Scottish Highlands. Now after 40 years Grave Digger know what works and what their (probably rabid) fan base want from their albums so after the intro of The Bonnie Banks Of Loch Lomond we get the first proper track All For The Kingdom which has some sturdy trad metal guitar riffs from Axel Ritt that comes straight out of the 80's, though the modern production means that the piledriving rhythms of Jens Becker (bass) and Marcus Kniep (drums) batter you with some low down grooves.

Musically this is a trad metal assault as if grunge never happened it's laser focussed riffs from moment one leaving Chris Boltendahl able to deliver the massive choruses of Lions Of The Sea and Freedom (about William Wallace), often repeated ad nauseum, with his gruff delivery. Now sometimes a repeated chorus can be a tad annoying however it does make many of these tracks earworms, I was singing Lions Of The Sea for hours afterwards! The concept also allows them to ramp up the theatrical elements, with bagpipes throughout as you would expect, most prominently on Gathering Of The Clans and on the stomping Heart Of Scotland, which blatantly steals from Over The Hills And Far Away in the middle/solo section. They manage to to recruit Noora from Battle Beast on Thousand Tears, which as a ballad is the weakest track.

It's a minor blip though in an otherwise very good fist pounding metal album from this very, VERY, experienced metal unit. After 40 years Grave Digger are still delivering the goods with tracks like My Final Fight. Top flight German metal is like top flight German football, highly skilled, full of machine like precision but bloody entertaining. 7/10

Xibalba: Años En Infierno (Southern Lord Records) [Rich Oliver]

Años En Infierno is the fourth album from California hardcore death metallers Xibalba. This is my first exposure to this band and upon reading the words death metal and hardcore terrible images of the defilement that is deathcore came to mind but thankfully Xibalba are not a horrid deathcore band instead being a fetid mix of old school death metal, bruising hardcore and dirgy doom metal.

The first thing that strikes you is the gargantuan guitar tone which is so damn heavy it threatens to loosen one's bowels. The riffing is simplistic but devastatingly effective and the breakdowns are used effectively and sparingly and not just used as a cheap effect to mask shoddy songwriting. La Injustica kicks things off in absolutely crushing style with a barrage of riffs, crushing groove and face wrecking breakdowns. Corredor De La Muerte slows the pace right down being a far sludgier and doomy affair whilst Saka has a tribal rhythm about it mixed in with punishing groove whilst the title track is utter filth with blastbeats and primitive bludgeoning violence. 

Xibalba have a cracker of an album here that shows that hardcore and death metal can be good bedfellows when done right. The production by Arthur Rizk further adds to the building wrecking amounts of carnage this album deals out. If you are in the mood for some skull crushing violence then Xibalba will definitely scratch that itch for you. 8/10

Crooked Horns: The Metamorphosis (Self Released) [Paul Scoble]

Crooked Horns have been in existence since 2012. The 3 piece, made up of Wictor A. Lindström on Guitar and Vocals, Robert Persson on Lead Guitar and Patrick Kullberg on Drums, have made 2 demos before this debut album. The band, based in Gothenburg, formed with the intent to make Rock and Roll with Black Metal influences, and have broadly succeeded in their intentions, although in my opinion it’s closer to Black Metal with some Rock and Roll influences. To my ear the main sound on offer on this album is a mix of Swedish Black Metal in the vein of Watain or Dissection, and the style of Black Metal that Immortal have employed since At Heart Of Winter and perfected on Sons Of Northern Darkness.

The album opens with Vargr which opens with some very nice blasting drums and tremolo picked riffs, after this it goes into a more riffy style that is quite reminiscent of the Immortal track Beyond The North Waves. The track goes back into some nice chaotic blasting before a very heavy ending. The track Anathema is closer to the Swedish Black metal sound, it features some very effective Tremolo picked riffs and has a very dramatic chorus. Another stand out track is Aconitum Napellus which is very thrashy black metal, with a definite punky feel to it, and is absolutely filled with energy and drive, something it shares with the track Nebel.

The album comes to a close with the track In Visions - In Dreams. In Visions - In Dreams starts slow and discordant riffs, which help to drive the track forwards. The song then goes into a faster and very melodic section that tuneful and deeply melodic, there is a feel that I would normally associate with more traditional forms of heavy metal, maybe even a little bit like NWOBHM, the song also has a very effective guitar solo and is a fantastically musical way to end the album. Metamorphosis is a great piece of melodic and tuneful Black Metal. The songwriting is very accomplished, something that is doubly impressive due to this being the bands first album. If you are looking for some very enjoyable Black Metal, packed with melody, great riffs and some very impressive blasting, look no further. 8/10

Centinex: Death In Pieces (Agonia Records) [Dr Claire Hanley]

Sirens. Strong start. I instantly leap out of my skin, having conjured up graphic visual imagery of Silent Hill. Luckily, when the wailing dissipates, I am greeted with blistering riffs and Pyramid Head is nowhere in sight. Only Death Remains is a vibrant and energetic track, with just the right amount of oomph to keep the death metal crowd happy - much like the most recent incarnation of Exodus. Vocals alternate between a barking tone and a raspy growl, equivalent to gargling on a tonne of gravel, during Derelict Souls. This song has a much slower pace but its prominence is sustained by the drummer, particularly the precision of the double kicks. A solid headbanger of a track. By the time you're subject to God Ends.

Here, you're assured that the band are skilled in delivering their brand of bouncy brutality. However, from this point onwards the tracks start to lose their identity. Tomb Of The Dead and Beyond The Dark are similar intense chug-fests. Human Torch and Cauterized, despite their persistent momentum and savage tone, blend into the background. That being said, you're treated to a momentary peek at the epic bassline during the instrumental track, Pieces. However, the bass is buried in the mix for the majority of the record, which is disappointing as it could've been much better utilised to add some variety and maintain interest. The stunning vocal performance on Sacrifice is also a noteworthy, standout element. The album ends on a high with Sky Turning Grey, which catapults the listener back to the type of upbeat double kicks and dominant distinctive riffs that opened the record, with so much potential.

Centinex are clearly experts when it comes to blending the influences of death and thrash metal, which they split straight down the middle. This is no easy feat, so respect where its due. While they are masters of their art, the individual tracks on Death In Pieces blur together, and things get repetitive very quickly, to the extent where the record doesn't bring much in the way of inspiring new material to the table. 6/10.

Wednesday 27 May 2020

Reviews: Vandenburg, Master Massive, Blacktop Mojo, Messerschmitt (Simon & Bob)

Vandenburg: 2020 (Mascot Records) [Simon Black]

So in 1987 the unknown guitarist Adriaan van den Berg suddenly found himself in one of the biggest global bands of the decade as the reinvented pop-rock version of Whitesnake suddenly became absolutely huge overnight – the band to which he had loaned the anglicised version of his name to forgotten to the footnotes of the past. In the last decade or so and with Whitesnake firmly in his past, attempts were made by Vandenburg to resuscitate the band and borrowing a trick from his erstwhile mentor Coverdale, the 2020 moniker attempts to establish the brand with a new line up and approach for this decade.

Part platform for Vandenburg, part supergroup the line-up is pretty much a who’s who of European HR/M with bass duties being undertaken by Randy van der Elsen of Tank fame, Koen Herfst (Epica and Doro plus guest turns from Rudy Sarzo and Brian Tichy. As you might expect, it’s a straight down Hard Rock album – a bit like Whitesnake, but without the excessively charismatic singer - although to be fair erstwhile Blackmore’s Rainbow lungsman Ronnie Romero does a passable job here. The overall sound is good, with some nice production from the expert knob-twiddling of Bob Marlette – what lets it down is the very average sounding end result which doesn’t feel like a band with a mission.

The challenge I have with this album is that although it’s a solid enough Hard Rock album, with well-structured songs and robust workmanlike performances from the musicians, it feels very formulaic and has little to add to a crowded marketplace. Compare this to the ground bursting thirst for growth and energy from the likes of Dynazty’s recent opus, and this feels tired, staid and two decades out of time. 5/10

Master Massive: Black Feathers on their Graves EP (ViciSolum Records) [Bob Shoesmith]

Master Massive from Sweden simply describe themselves simply as “Heavy Metal”, suitably generic and avoiding categorisation which gives them a pretty broad scope – and they need it. It's not a stretch to say they will inevitably be adopted by the Prog/Metal fans as the title track Black Feathers on their Graves is an epic 18 minute long opus with several passages of tempo and style along the way and epic is probably the most apt word to describe it. If you had told me I was about to listen to a rock song lasting that length of time I would have probably rolled my eyes and reached for the Jack Daniels… but surprisingly given my limited attention span, it's a belter of a track (if you have the patience to stay the course!)

The E.P has three tracks in total the Black Feathers title track, Pictures In The Sand comes in at a still hefty 11 minutes and the final Castles In The Air a mere lightweight at 3 mins 49 which does beg the question that if Master Massive added one more track and were brave enough to separate out BFOTG they’d have a whole album of material, but hey, that’s their shout. E.P it is. When you hear the opening bars of Black feathers on Their Graves there’s chuggy classic rock guitars, a great vocalist in Marcus Karlsson, who bares more than a passing resemblance to Graham Bonnet from Rainbow. The Deep Purple similarities don’t end there either, all the songs are underpinned by a lush platform of Hammond organ very reminiscent of Jon Lord or Don Airey and more than a hint of Blackmore-ish guitar licks. The track takes you on a long and winding journey but is so magnificently well played it keeps you listening and listening. I can assure you I am not normally cut out for long winded prog self-indulgence but this Deep Purple meets Porcupine Tree leviathan is very listenable.

Master Massive are magnificent musicians and can write immense and yes, epic tracks (did I mention the 18 minutes thing?). Prog fans are going to love it as is and classic rock fans will equally love it (in sections). I’ve not heard such high-quality musicianship in a while but really…if they could maybe even halve the length of the tracks – as there's so many great passages in one track, like on Castles In The Air they’d be global! 9/10

Blacktop Mojo: Static EP (Sand Hill Records) [Simon Black]

I’ve not had the pleasure of listening to these boys before, so despite three albums already in the bag these Texan Southern Rockers were a new experience for this old hack. This 4 track EP is a good place to start – it’s short, soulful and on the button. Kicking off with the dark and moody The End you can quickly tell that there’s far more going on here than good ‘ole hard rockin’ Southern Blues, with some psychedelic bass swirls and some subtle acoustic guitar layering creating an hypnotic feel to the music. Watch Me Drown follows the mood – opening in a lighter vein but quickly taking a sombre turn - this is a dark and agonising place, with huge dollops of post-grunge that owes far more to Soundgarden than anything the South is traditionally famous for - in our little sub-cultural world at least. Leave It Alone feels more like it’s from the Stoner camp, but then they surprise you with the Southern Steel guitar sound and the EP-closer – Signal’s Gone opens with a single acoustic guitar and Matt James soulful and heart rending voice building up the mood, as the rest of the string instruments creep in, building to a surprising but subtle cacophonic crescendo that I can really see working well live. This is top notch stuff. We may not be able to see these guys up close and personal any time soon, but they’re on the bill for a live stream with Clutch on the 27th May, which in this day and age is something to look forward to. 8/10

Messerschmitt: Consumed By Fire (Self Released) [Bob Shoesmith]

Hailing from Remscheid in Germany Messerschmitt describe themselves as ‘speed metal’ but they are good old fashioned thrashers. What we have on Consumed By Fire is 8 tracks of fast and furious 80’s style thrash metal in the style of very early Metallica, Slayer, Megadeth, Testament and Anthrax. No 21 st century mixing of styles, no death grunts, no niche sub-genre creating here. If you’ve seen the movie ‘Murder in the front row’ about the formation of the Bay area thrash scene (which I can thoroughly recommend), Messerschmitt would have been totally in their element in that area at that time. From the get go you can just feel the denim cut off jackets and mayhem.

The thing with bands that go all out for a genre, there are clichés that the audiences they are looking for, will want. Messerschmitt will tick all those boxes. The opening track Fairchild sets the scene for the remaining seven tracks perfectly. It flies out of the starting blocks and doesn’t give up before passing the speed baton to the title track Consumed By Fire. If Slayer had released these tracks they’d already be festival favourites. But the Messerschmitt boys are not just all about speed. They are accurate and capable musicians who don’t just put their long-haired heads down and press the accelerator. They capture the vibe and occasionally chaotic style of their forefathers from the Bay area but keep it precise and polished, which takes some skill, bit a no time do they lose their roots. There are also the occasional slower segments, such as half of The Vanishing Strains (with a real For Who The Bell Tolls feel) the start of Masterful Bloodshed, and most of the monster I Crave To Die. But if a full-on thrash is your thing try and keep up with Arms Of Havoc

Vocalist Maik Jegszenties performs in German accented English which is ok and probably a preference of the record company but I wouldn’t mind hearing it in German? I really enjoyed the retro thrash feel of Messerschmitt, they seem to love what they do and, importantly their media doesn’t bombard you with angry faces and fist clenching stereotypes. I really hope that they keep that vibe. 7/10

Reviews: Asenblut, Deified, Ironstone, Astral Sleep (Paul S, Liam, Simon & Bob)

Asenblut: Die Wilde Jagd (AFM Records) [Paul Scoble]

Die Wilde Jagd is Asenblut’s fourth album, it’s taken four years since the bands last album; Berserker. The five piece based in Germany have been making beautifully melodic Death Metal since 2006. There is an elephant in the room with this album, so we’d better deal with it straight away. The style of Melodic Death Metal that Asenblut play is almost identical to a style that is usually associated with Swedish ‘Vikings’ Amon Amarth. All the fundamentals of Asenblut’s sound seem to have come from the Scandinavian Melodeath giants. The guitar riffs are similar, the tempo and rhythms feel like they have been lifted from one of Amon Amarth’s (earlier) albums. There are at least 3 tracks where the rhythm section seem to be playing In Pursuit Of Vikings, the track Weder GottNoch Konige has the same kind of feel as Cry Of The Black Birds. There are so many Amon Amarthisms on this album that I would have called it cheeky if it were not for the fact that Asenblut are so good at sounding like Amon Amarth, that they actually sound better than the huge Swedes.

One thing this album has in spades is melody. The riffs are beautifully melodic, they also tend to be coupled with melody leads, one thing this band is not short of is great tunes. Seite An Seite is slow and driving at the beginning, but has a huge tuneful chorus, and the second half of the song is all about big, strong melodies. Drachentoter is mid-paced and again so full of great melodic moments, it’s impossible to listen to this without picking up and humming all the tunes. In addition to the beautifully melodic Death Metal, there are out and out blasters as well. The aforementioned Weder Gott, Noch Konige is a standout track on the album, it is similar in tempo and pacing to Cry Of The Blackbirds, but it’s such an adrenaline fuelled blast that you won’t mind. The track 300 is another fast, tight blast with a great central riff that drives the song forward, and as you’d expect it also boasts a fantastic melody lead.

Die Wilde Jagd is a great album. Yes, it sound just like Amon Amarth, but it sounds like that band when they were at their best. They sound like With Oden On Our Side era Amon Amarth, not the fat and flabby band that Amon Amarth have become. For the last few albums Amon Amarth have become almost a parody of themselves, churning out a sanitised version of their older sound, selling not really Death Metal to people who want to say they listen to Death metal whilst never actually listening to it. Amon Amarth are no longer capable of producing an album as good as this, if you miss Amon Amarth circa 2006 then you need this album. Ok, it’s another bands style, but as the Swedes can’t cut it anymore, you can get your ‘Viking’ Melodic Death Metal fix from Asenblut. 8/10

Deified: Anthrobscene (Sound Pike) [Liam True]

Hailing from Merseyside, unloading 2 EP’s and a full length album since their formation in 2013, the Liverpudlian quintet are dropping their new EP titled Anthrobscene. And have produced a great piece of underground UK Metal. Their sound is nothing new as it’s reminiscent of Lamb Of God, but, they’ve taken the formula, added their own twist on it and have come up with riffs aplenty.

Between the riffs the vicious vocals of Jamie Hughes ravage your ears as if it was a guest spot from Randy Blythe. The furious drum work of Jordon Stanley-Jones is like a machine gun and the breakdown work of all three guitars working in unison provide a hellish sound for the worlds current state. As soon as the intro track is finished, you’re met with the duel pounding guitars of Matt Pike and Alistair Blackhall cutting through you like a surgical scalpel while Stanley-Jones builds up for what may be the EP of the year so far.

The EP itself tells somewhat of a bleak and blackened story, much like the world right now. Every song on the album is beautiful. Sure with the small break Intermission, there’s a missed opportunity for more mayhem and destruction, but they make up with it with An Ode To Armageddon. And the final parts of An Ode... It’s oh so beautiful. If you’re a fan of Lamb Of God and Devildriver, than welcome their bastard son. Deified. 9/10

Ironstone: Prophecy EP (Self Released) [Simon Black]

With a technical skills and talent that belies their youth, Ironstone are a blisteringly technically proficient Melodic/Progressive Metal act hailing from Melbourne, Australia. This is a very tight little six track EP, with a quality of mix and production of an unusually high standard for such a new band (although to be fair prog musos tend to be the most technically proficient when it comes to equipment and getting the sound they want). Opener Downpour gets things off to a very positive start, which despite the technical twists and turns, still manages to sound commercially acceptable and a good hook to pull people into what they are about. The tone and sounds are fairly varied too and I particularly liked the more technically brutal Better Unseen. What makes this EP work is the absolutely razor sharp timing that give this EP a really modern and fresh sound which is so rare in the progressive world. Check out the drums and bass work on Killed A Man if you don’t believe me. I am also really impressed with vocalist Dan Charlton’s ability to switch from a clean to extreme style at will, like a young Chester Bennington without the angst but plenty of angry cynicism. A really interesting start, and I look forward to hearing a full album from these guys. 7/10

Astral Sleep: Astral Doom Musick (Inverse Records) [Bob Shoesmith]

Someone cleverer than I once said “…There’s two types of art. The art you like and the art you don’t”. So, I need to be objective about reviewing Astral Doom Musick as its properly out of my like zone. So here goes;

Hailing from Finland, Astral Sleep have a very niche corner of the metal market, probably hence why only the 900 Facebook likes. The album only consists of four (thats FOUR) songs and is 44 minutes of (what they describe as) experimental doom metal. The songs are apparently even accompanied by a board game in the 12” gatefold vinyl edition which they say; ‘…delivers the full album experience’. Not sure how that works but its definitely different.

Apart from being slow and dark Astral Doom Musick struggles to find any consistency of style. The four songs themselves (Vril, Intergratron, Schwerbelastungskörper and Aurinko) ebb and flow between slow and the painfully slow. The vocal duties seem to frequently change throughout, typically, in the opening track Vril, the attempts at traditional singing is often hilariously bad in places, but then when the doom/death metal growl vocal is switched on the track and again on Schwerbelastungskörper (translation: Heavy Load- Bearing Body… very apt) it really suits the dark mood they are so earnestly trying to create.

This variety of vocalising also switches between English and (I suspect) Finnish or German, its difficult to tell between tracks. The music is underpinned by some big overdriven, drop tuned guitars and background mood synths. Astral Sleep can slip from some very chunky riffing (like at the start of Intergratron) which gives a Rammstein-esque feel in places but there is all manner of meandering across the long tracks. The best of the four is definitely Aurinko, it still barely accelerates past a funereal pace but the vocals are now on point, backing vocals in place and the relevant gothic atmosphere created. Best of the (small) bunch.

The musicianship of Astral Doom Musick is competent and well produced and if you are into Finnish doom metal, explanatory board games and very slow gothic/Teutonic metal, you might want to check it out. It’s not for me. I found the album hard work and trying a little too hard to tick the stereotype boxes in parts. When they get it right (Aurinko) it quite interesting, when they don’t (Vril) it’s uncomfortable. 4/10

Tuesday 26 May 2020

Reviews: Astralborne, The Wise Man's Fear, Smiling Assassin, Dehumanaut (Matt & Paul H)

Astralborne: Eternity's End (Prosthetic Records) [Matt Bladen]

Originally self released last year, Astralborne have inked a deal to release this album on vinyl as part of a major label. Astralborne can be seen as an offshoot from Viking metal band Hammer Horde formed by Jayson Cessna (drums) and Derik Smith (guitars), it came about when they had some time on their hands and started writing lyrics that didn't fit with tales of Odin, Thor and Valhalla, they added Paul Fuzinski (bass, vocals) and things started to progress. The songs on Eternity's End are much more personal, realistic with some historical concepts that surround a central theme of death and decay covered as well. Despite the lyrical features changing the musical palette blends black, death and thrash metal similar to the Viking metal act two of the members come from, what you could class this as is melo-death, born out of the Gothenburg sound and refined through the American early 2000's adaptations.

This Ohio trio have made an album that will certainly appeal to the wider audience they will now have due their signing to Prosthetic. Now I've said before about some of the problems I have with melo-death but Astralborne keep you enthralled never letting the songs blend into one the drum and bass work battering you but also shifting between bounce and outright speed, this allows the the biting guitar playing to add some virtuoso melodies on tracks such as the anthemic sounding Transcendence Of Flesh where we get more atmosphere as opposed to the blistering Paragon Amiss or indeed the crushing Centuries (In Agony). With their roots in Viking metal you may expect some Amon Amarth styling but Astralborne are a much heavier prospect especially impressive when you consider there are just three of them. Quality Melo-death from the USA, Prosthetic have done a great job getting this record out to a larger audience. 7/10          

The Wise Man’s Fear: Valley Of Kings (Sharptone Records) [Paul Hutchings]

When you are more interested in the cover of the album you are reviewing that what you are hearing, it’s unlikely to bode well. Named after a novel by American author Patrick Rothfuss, The Wise Man’s Fear are deemed a fantasycore band from central Indiana. Now, I’m old, I accept that but fantasycore? What the actual fuck? I suppose the best way to describe it is a horrible mix of post-hardcore, alternative and a dollop of metalcore. The combination of growling roars and soaring cleans, the continual unnecessary time changes and movements makes this an album that was never going to appeal to me. I sat through it twice and found few redeeming features. This is a genre that will never excite me.

When on Tree Of Life the band introduced a penny whistle into the mix of jagged staccato riffs, it was time to put my coat on. I have no doubt the band can play. It’s tight, on point and neat enough. It reeks of angst and sorrow. It is crushingly heavy (such as on Sands Of Time) as well as lighter and mellow; see the gut-churning The River And The Rock. When everyone of your songs sounds like the one you’ve just listened to, and some of the vocals sound like Satan’s coughing up his lunch again, then it’s time to accept that maybe it just isn’t that good. My list of fantasycore bands starts and stops with The Wise Man’s Fear. It is unlikely to increase. I’m sorry. 4/10

Smiling Assassin: Plight Of The Millennial (Warren Records) [Paul Hutchings]

The smiling assassin is a term that can be traced back over a century. Search the meaning on the internet and you will find hundreds of definitions. They all point to the same general meaning. The backstabber, the two-faced villain or as Hardcore Punk four-piece Smiling Assassin define it, ‘a so-called friend who is really an enemy whose main weapons are inconsistency and unpredictability. They use rumour to undermine colleagues and adopt a passive-aggressive, indirect, dishonest style of dealing with people and issues. Basically, this is a friend who stabs you in the back’.

The rage that flows on this debut release fits neatly with the band’s name and the title of the album. Expressions of experiences and frustrations with the current economic and socio-political climate have never been higher. The anger that the Yorkshire outfit feel is evident from the intro which screams with the words “we’ve had enough”. From there it’s a 14-minute burner which is full force in your face. It screams outrage, resistance, and a voice for those who have none. Few albums, short as this one may be, capture the feelings of a generation like Smiling Assassin have here. Full of driving riffs, battering drumming and the intense vocals of George Garnett, tracks such as Divide & Conquer, News Corp. Monopoly and National Pride need no description. Suffice, and I’m no punk expert, this is punchy, fiery, and well worth a listen. It’s reassuring to know that bands of all genres are giving the finger to the powers that be. Music is art. Art is a reflection on society. There remains a glimmer of hope. 8/10

Dehumanaut: Dust In The Giant's Hand (Self Released) [Matt Bladen]

If you've read this blog before you'll probably know that we spend a lot of time across the bridge in our second home of Bristol (at the moment though let's all stay where we are). However in all those times we've frequented the venues of Bristol and South Wales for that matter we've never come across Dehumanaut, a three piece based in Bristol. This is a shame as from listening to their debut album Dust In The Giant's Hand their brand of neck snapping extreme metal is right up our street. If you check out their socials (as the kids say) you'll see they are influenced by Kreator, Testament and Misery Index and it's clear to hear why they cite these bands, their musical style is built around the thunderous explosive drumming of Jon Rudin who blasts the kit like it's hurt him in a previous life and the finger bending riffs and solos of Katy Montgomerie, who also plays bass, manages to be Peterson, Skolnick and Di Giorgio all in one.

Especially on ragers such as In Ruins Of Light and The Noose Is Tight, bringing the rabid thrash assault to Ashes. Though the beginning of This Is Our War is pure bluesy doom before the speed comes back, repeating the same sludgy trick on final song A World Unmade, as Will Jones unleashes his wide and aggressive vocals style made up of snarls, growls and screams. Dust In The Giant's Hand is one of the most abrasive, aggressive albums I've heard in a while and I'm hoping that post lockdown we'll be able to enjoy Dehumanaut live. 7/10

Reviews: Bleed From Within, Revenge, Oxidize, These Wicked Rivers (Liam, Paul S, Simon & Bob)

Bleed From Within: Fracture (Century Media Records) [Liam True]

Bleed From Within are a band that I had heard a great deal about from 2013 – 2015, even though I never actually listened to them. During that time they released three studio albums, an EP, won the Metal Hammer Golden God award for best new band, co-headlined a tour with While She Sleeps, signed to Century Media Records and supported numerous bands, including Testament and even a four date UK tour with Megadeth. But after 2015 they kind of dropped off the radar as I didn’t see them featured anywhere.

Fast forward 5 years, it’s 2020, an with the release of their 5th studio album Fracture, they’ve reinstated themselves to the forefront of the current Metalcore scene. Fracture is a brutal concourse through the previous two years since Era dropped in 2018, and while it’s not a change from their sound they sound more violent, faster, harder and have even gotten a guest solo from one Matt Heafy of Trivium on the blistering Night Crossing. From start to finish of Fracture it’s a no hold barred opportunity to prove that they are the band you need to know about.

With a small line up change by having guitarist Steven Jones from fellow Scottish Metal act, From Sorrow To Serenity take charge of the rhythm section of the band they hit fast and furiously during the 44 minute stampede. It’s as heavy as a cinder block falling on your nuts and as fast as an early morning tequila slammer. This album is quintessential for the dawning of the new decade of Metalcore. And Bleed From Within are at the front leading the charge. 9/10

Revenge: Strike. Smother. Dehumanise. (Season Of Mist) [Paul Scoble]

One of the biggest problems you have trying to review any album by Revenge, is getting across to anyone reading the review who has not heard the band, just how ridiculously savage, nasty and extreme they are. Most people who listen Heavy Metal will think they know what extreme sounds like, but Revenge take extreme so far that they make your average Death metal band sound like radio friendly pop music. Other than asking the reader to have a listen to see just how far Revenge have pushed music, words simply do not suffice.

The band, based in Edmonton, Canada have been in existence since band founder and leader James Read formed the band out of the ashes of previous band Conqueror. Revenge have carried on the extreme work that Read started with Conqueror, making ridiculously extreme music that fits into a Black / Death metal format which a lot of bands refer to as War Metal, Revenge however have never used the War Metal tag, preferring to use Extreme Black Metal or Chaotic Black metal, which are both apt as this is definitely extreme and chaotic. James Read is joined on this album by Vermin, who takes the Guitar and Bass duties while Read takes drums and vocals. Strike. Smother. Dehumanise. is the band's sixth album.

So, now I must make an attempt to describe this chaotic swirling insanity. Well, Chaotic Swirling Insanity is actually a pretty good place to start. Imagine really extreme Black Metal, you know the kind of thing, lots of blast beats, really fast, savage nasty riffs and vicious vocals. Now make it faster, savager, nastier. Add some grindcore to some of the riffs, add the world's harshest pick slides, add some very punishing processed vocals, and some of the fastest, most unrelenting drumming and you are getting close. This probably shouldn’t work, but it does, and it works so well. One of the reasons Revenge have made this craziness work is how well this is produced. The guitar and bass sound is huge, thick and full, the drums sound fantastic, and the mix is just right. Revenge have made sure you can hear the extremity properly, this isn’t a lo-fi, muddy mess of extreme metal, it’s razor sharp and that is one of Revenge’s most effective weapons. There is something metallic about the sound, as if this isn’t a band, but a machine. If someone made a machine that destroys civilisations, when you turned it on it would sound like Revenge.

The band can also do a little bit of variety, this is not just about ridiculously fast blasting (although they do that very, very well). The track Reaper Abyss (Real Rain) has some very slow and grinding sections that are some of the heaviest metal I have heard. They can also do mid-paced and powerful, Salvation Smothered (Genocide Of Flock) has a mid-paced section that is driving and has an unstoppable feel to it, like a runaway bulldozer. No matter what Revenge do it’s bigger, heavier, nastier than anything you have heard before. I’ve really enjoyed listening to this album, I get this sort of extreme, and no-one does it better than Revenge. This will not appeal to everyone, Revenge are definitely an acquired taste (I’m pretty sure the band wouldn’t have it any other way), but if you like extreme, you can’t get any more extreme than this. Ok, it basically does one thing, but it does it so well, if you want Swirling Insane Chaos, then nothing else will do it as well as this. 8/10

Oxidize: Dark Confessions (Wormholedeath Records) [Simon Black]

This is probably one of the saddest and heart-breaking album reviews I will ever write. Whenever I come across an act I am unfamiliar I normally try and listen to the album cold before doing any further research on the band. For me this has always been about the music first and foremost. So I have to tell you the good news first - that this is one of the best albums I have had the fortune and opportunity to review to date this year. The bad news is that this rather wonderful new act have had to deal with the most awful tragedy. In a week where death has stalked my personal life, to discover that Oxidize have lost Tommy Larsson (their Bass player formerly of Dream Evil and Fullforce) on the eve of this debut album’s release is a heart-rending knife twist for a band who really feel poised on the brink of something truly great.

Formed in Sweden in 2017 when guitarist Per Stålfors wanted to start afresh from previous projects with a bunch of like-minded souls, Oxidize have formed from a team of experienced musicians but with the energy and drive of a young band just starting out. This energy is instantly felt from the blistering album opener Heading For Tomorrow – confident opening chords, solid heavy drums with plenty of tightly controlled double bass work and that thundering bass sound that is the backbone of this band, and a strong confident vocal performance from Anton Darusso that immediately makes me think of Jørn Lande. This is confident solid Melodic Metal, unafraid to hint at the technical skill of the artists behind it – but without shoving the virtuosity down your throat. When they let rip, they do so subtly with a clever fill and twist, or a blistering little solo that doesn’t drown out the overall melodic structure.

After the dark and heavy start, the album changes tone with the much lighter but no less-proficient Bleeding Heart, the galloping and short Coma, to the pounding, heavyweight and much slower Not An Angel, highlighting that this is a band who can turn their hand to almost any pace and tone, all the time retaining a clear and distinctive sound that I really hope they can hang onto in the future. Even when they move into ballad territory with Tell Me Why (which at one point effortlessly twists into a far more extreme vocal style and back again without jarring in the slightest), they retain the dark and evocative tone without losing any of the heaviness, creating the same kind of subliminal emotive effect that Paradise Lost do at their best, whilst sounding absolutely nothing like them. And they keep this going for the whole record, and without an average sounding filler anywhere to be found.

The experience shows in the production too, and this is a band who know how to capture their sound, with every instrument clearly audible in the mix, whilst still holding onto a clear and distinctive signature sound. I really don’t want this to be a hit for the wrong, macabre reasons - this is an absolute blinder of an album and deserves to be a success for that alone. I really hope that Oxidize can recover, especially in this most challenging of times for the whole industry because this band deserve your ears for mere 52 minutes of your life. You will not be disappointed. Horns raised, gentlemen. 10/10

These Wicked Rivers: Eden (Rock People Records) [Bob Shoesmith]

Having been involved in the music scene since the mid 70’s I have had the fortune to witness a lot of “waves” of different genres of popular music coming through and (often) dissipate, leaving only the best of the best to survive. Hell, I can even remember when ‘classic rock’ was just plain ‘rock’! Often these eras are born from opposition to the music industry attempting to direct the populace to what is easily marketable, dictating what people must like and buy whilst filling its heads with disposable pop nonsense and attempting to consign the very notion of guitar based bands to history (I mean, have you ever seen a band on X Factor?). Now in 2020, we are currently seeing the current trending of the so called ‘New Wave of Classic Rock’ with bands like Massive Wagons, Kris Barras, Those Damn Crows, Gin Annie, Revival Black and several other compulsorily bearded guitar slingers, recycling their 70’s forefathers with long haired riffing and strutting. To be fair, rock music has just about managed to endure in spite of certain media mogul’s best efforts, but this latest ‘wave’ is clearly a much-welcomed nose-thumbing at ‘the man’ and you’ve got to love that.

Step forward Derby based, These Wicked Rivers and their debut album Eden. These guys are safely housed in the NWOCR camp, in fact they already share the same management as a fair few of their contemporaries, who are currently working overtime on the music press at promoting their acts. But look, if there’s a wave to ride – I’m all for this one. So, on to TWR. An album cover reminiscent of 70’s psychedelia. Stripped back 70’s blues/rock n roll -check, beards - check, big fat rumbling riffs (Shine On, Hit The Ground, the crushing riff of World In Chains and the single Floyd) – check. You can hear right off the bat TWR are tailor-made for a festival. They sound like a whiskey soaked barroom rock n roll band, speaker stacks and a 70’s Sabbath like riff-fest. 

There’s more than a touch of the Ricky Warwick's about singer John Hartwell’s voice and in his deep, gravelly lower register really nails the style, (but there’s still maybe a little growing to do in his range and control in the higher). Some good old fashioned, complimentary emotive guitar solos are ripped out (not the techno-shredding that has become so ever present) and they do exactly what it says on the tin. TWR, despite their first outing have also been bold enough to vary up the tempos (This Train, Ceasefire, Count To Ten) and show some great light and shade, interspersing crushing riffs sandwiched by some softer edges, but most importantly have successfully avoided any sound-a-like comparisons to their predecessors and swerved obvious clichés despite the retro nature of the music.

For a debut album Eden is a really chunky, big old slab of riffing, swaggering classic rock (new wave or otherwise) and while there is still room for a bit of growth and honing their writing skills it’s a really promising introduction. Eden is going onto my playlist and I will watch this space with interest. They already have some backing, so let’s hope “the wave” doesn’t get too crowded. 8/10

Monday 25 May 2020

Reviews: War Cloud, Fairyland, Hybrid Children, Black Falcon (Matt & Simon)

War Cloud: Earhammer Sessions (Ripple Music) [Matt Bladen]

Rising from Oakland California (now Austin, Texas) riff masters decided to record this as a live-in-studio to capture their fierce live energy. The recording took place at Earhammer studios (thus the title) recorded by Greg Wilkinson and mastered by Alan Douches who endeavoured to make this album sound as close to a live recording as they could get but without the often varying audio quality and crowd noise. Earhammer Sessions is eight tracks of heavy dirty biker rocking that is rooted in the leather clad bravado of bands such as Motorhead and Saxon, numbers like Divide And Conquer having that NWOBHM bounce to it and some glorious lead guitar breaks leading into the the instrumental Tomahawk which has a the propulsion of all great Maiden instrumentals. Elsewhere there are tributes to God himself (Lemmy) with the Speed Demon and Chopper Wired having that Motorhead snarl, the latter featuring a drum solo. Earhammer Sessions is, according to frontman Alex Wein the band's frontman; "the setlist we performed every night of our most recent European tour" so this is why it's paced the way it is. War Cloud rage with a primal rock fury that you can hear in this delicious record full of meaty riffs and lashings of attitude. 7/10

Fairyland: Osyrhianta (Massacre Records) [Simon Black]

French Symphonic/Power metal outfit Fairyland are back, and it has been a long time since 2009’s Score To A New Beginning, which closed their last trilogy of albums and three years have passed since they actually released the track listing for this album, so clearly rushing things is not on their agenda. That's what you actually get with the album as well, and this beast takes time to get the best out of. The core of the band remains songwriter/keyboards man Philippe Giordana, with the rest of the band being more or less a completely new one, but followers of this act will not be disappointed – Osyrhianta picks up where its predecessors left off.

Fortunately, this mouthful of a title is actual pronounced ‘Oh-Syria’ and yes it’s a concept, serving as a prequel to the original trilogy. Fans of the band are used to hearing different singers on each album, so this one goes a step further by having at least three different singers on different tracks, borrowing from the Avantasia style of adding guest artists playing individual characters from the concept as well as adding guest musicians. Not knowing this act well, I found myself having to work at this album. On the first spin I found it a little too Symphonic and inaccessible, but playing it again on the main sound system with the volume up loud I find myself being drawn into this little world. It still took another full listen before I felt that I could even begin to do this any justice, but by then I was hooked.

I can see why this had such a difficult gestation – there is a hell of a lot going on in the nearly hour long running time of this piece, with some incredibly fast and technical performances at some points, - counterpointed by some incredibly well crafted, lengthier and more measured pieces. We also have what sounds like full on actual orchestration and choral recordings, not just keyboard voices creating an incredibly rich sound. The point this jumps home is when you get to the fully instrumental Mount Mirenor, which also has a lovely catchy violin and flute parts and an atmosphere that wouldn’t sound out of place on a Nightwish album and which they manage to successfully carry for 7 minutes.
This isn’t going to be for everyone, even those who love the ostentatious bravado of the symphonic/power genre will need to work at this, but Giordana has spent ten years crafting this complex beast, so don’t expect to unpick it from a single listen. When you try, play it loud on a good quality system, and your patience will definitely be rewarded. 8/10

Hybrid Children: Where The Pub Roses Grow (Self Released) [Simon Black]

Finland’s Hybrid Children have been around the block for a while, and what I generally find refreshing about this sort of Punk-influenced Rock ’n’ Roll is that sounding fresh is absolutely part of their DNA, and this album is no different. Despite being around since the early 1990’s, Where The Pub Roses Grow has that energy and rawness of a much younger act. If you want the answer to the question posed by the album’s title (and you somehow missed the cover), then the answer is the gutter, which is absolutely where this album sounds – it’s down, it’s dirty and it’s borderline sleaze on a couple of tracks.

From the opening bars of Gimme Some Blackout, this album pogo’s its way into your life, leaving this old hack feeling a much happier chap than I started the day and before you know it, it had passed. The whole album flew by quickly, despite the fact that it has more tracks and a longer running time at 38 minutes than is usual for the genre, with the vast majority falling into the 3 minute wham, bam, thankyou-Ma’am category – to the point where I actually had listened end to end 3 times before putting a single word down, which is always a good sign that I’ve found a band I’m gonna follow.

The top track for me is Dee Dee’s Always Home, which is a great love letter to The Ramones, and absolutely stands out for its energy and sheer unmitigated joy and I defy anyone to not bop, or at least tap along some part of their anatomy when taking this track out for a spin. There’s moments of good old Hard Rock heaviness as well, with tracks like Sick Delusion and the positively heavy (almost to the point of full-on Metal) and for this band epic Armies Of The Underdog (well, 5’15’ is epic compared to the rest of the running times on here), proving that these guys aren’t a one-trick pony. Refreshing, lively, varied and catchy – this is absolutely a Friday album. 8/10

Black Falcon: Ego Mortem Machina (Morning Star Heathens Music Group)

With Covid-19 pandemic still enforcing strict social distancing, the live music scene has been ground to a halt. With bands scattered to the winds recording too can be a hassle at the moment however we live in the age of technology so nothing is impossible anymore and many bands, such as Chaos Over Cosmos who exist despite being at separate ends of the world, still manage to produce records despite their geographical location. Add to that list Black Falcon, the Bradford stoner rockers who have produced an EP recorded entirely in their homes. Each band member recorded their parts at home before e-mailing them to bassist Liam Hunter who applied the mixing and mastering finish.

This EP is a follow up to their debut and it opens with some Vangelis-like synths on the bubbling intro Hawkmoon. The first song proper is the title track and it's got some big, groovy stoner riffing and a raw vocal style similar to South Wales' own Lacertilia. You can hear why the band have played shows with L.A Guns, Puddle Of Mudd and at Bloodstock as they know exactly how to grind out a big hooky riff. It's short and yes the production is a little bit D.I.Y, as you'd expect for something turned around so quickly but the little synth flourishes and general good time vibe win you over. 7/10

Reviews: Blind River, Dennis DeYoung, Temnein, Souls Of Tide (Paul H, Bob, Rich & Simon)

Blind River: Made Of Dirt (House Of Bones) [Paul Hutchings]

It’s no secret that we love this band here at MoM Towers. Search the band’s name on the site and you’ll find several live reviews of the band where they are at their most ferocious and impressive. 2018 saw Blind River release their self-titled debut and it was a stormer. Blind River quickly became an old friend, an album to rely on, to go to when a bit of filthy grinding heavy rock was needed. I still play it about once a fortnight. But, having seen the fire that burns inside these musicians, you know that they must have been gagging to get more music out from the inside. After all, these boys have been around with a list of bands in their history including Earls Of Mars, Pig Iron and Godsized.

Made Of Dirt picks up where Blind River left off, and from the opening bars of Waste Of Life, you know this is going to be an enjoyable ride. There is still dirt under the fingernails, and I doubt that will ever change with this band; nor should it. These guys don’t do polished. It’s down, it’s dirty, it’s a pint in your hand as you sway and bounce to the energy. But don’t let that for one minute mislead you because this is quality from start to finish. The title track is as raucous as anything on the debut record, thick riffs, and the roaring delivery from Harry Armstrong right in your face. But Blind River can mix it up with ease. There’s the smouldering bluesy swagger of Acid Tongue, which the band do so well, and the similar smoking Gone which builds slowly but drips with emotion. Evidence if you somehow required any convincing.

Slow Begins The Sickness draws its roots from the swamps of the deep south, and I don’t mean Guilford. There’s a NOLA feel to it, a soulful, all encompassing vibe which harnesses Armstrong’s blistering vocals. Horsehead demonstrates the band can change pace, the short punchy style contrasting with Burn The Sun, Will Hughes pumping bass lines and the subtle interplay between guitarists Dan Edwards and Chris Charles making the track reminiscent of Soundgarden at their finest. Of course, it’s the riotous fist pumping rock n’ roll that is what makes Blind River such a stunning band and Learn To Lose steers the ship back in that direction, all filthy groove and hook, before the final duo which once more change the tone and flavour. Psycho Sapien is possibly the band at their most reflective, deep and mellow, Armstrong’s gravel-soaked tones blending with the gentle yet forceful soundtrack. The punk edged rage of No Surprise provides a feisty finish with a song that should be great fun live, if that kind of thing is ever a thing again.

I make no apology for my love of this band. They combine the steel of metal, the soul of the blues and the spirit of rock n’ roll. There’s a maturity to Made Of Dirt which comes because of the band’s experience and hard work. This will be in my top ten. It should be in yours. 9/10

Dennis DeYoung: 26 East - Volume 1 (Frontiers Records) [Bob Shoesmith]

Unless you’re a fan, the name Dennis DeYoung may not instantly register with you, but his history will. DeYoung is a founder member, vocalist and major contributor to the Chicago based, arena (soft) rockers Styx. He fronted them 3 times over their nearly 50-year history of bust ups, splits & some untimely deaths of its members. Since they last parted ways he has had a mixed career of some acting, some Broadway shows and some appearances performing the songs of Styx (apparently due to ‘legal reasons’ he can’t use the name despite having penned most their hits – rock stars eh?!).

Now at a seemingly still productive 73 yrs old, Dennis has gone back in the studio with a collection of songs and a roster of session musicians that timeline his lengthy personal musical career. He clearly feels he has more in his locker. As soon as you hit the first track, East Of Midnight you instantly hear THAT distinctive voice, instantly recognisable from 1980’s, Grammy Award winning No.1 single Babe (ask your parents). His voice has stood the test of time remarkably well. Given Dennis was the main writer behind most of his former bands array of huge selling, hook laden power ballads and stadium anthems, 26 East: Volume 1 is very much more of distinctive Styx stamp, it is unmistakably and unsurprisingly all over most of the songs (You My Love, Damn That Dream, To The Good Old Days, Run For The Roses and the rather sad epilogue track, A.D 2020). It is also apparent that Dennis’s stints on Broadway has coloured his songwriting as a lot of this album would sit very comfortably in musical theatre (The Promise Of This Land, Unbroken). I’m guessing that despite the passing of time, Dennis’s Styx experiences still rankle as there is a rather wonderfully unexpected bit of feistiness and fire about the track With All Due Respect (You’re An Asshole). Go Dennis!

According to the bio, sufficient songs were recorded for a Volume 2 to be released, but we’ll see. It wouldn’t be on my personal shopping list as it’s a little too saccharine for my tastes but your Mum will love it. Dennis DeYoung, despite advancing years, still writes a great hook, has a tune in him and still has, for the most part, the crystal-clear vocals that won so many awards & plaudits back in the day. A word of caution though, if you are looking for rock, despite a few guitar licks and solos here and there this is very much at the softest edge of that classification. Its more Broadway than Black Sabbath. I wish Dennis DeYoung well with it though, he has earned his success over decades of hard work and I hope I could still be as creative in my 70’s. 9/10

Temnein: Tales: Of Humanity And Greed (Bloodblast Records) [Rich Oliver]

Melodic death metal is one of my favourite subgenres of metal. It has its ups and downs like with any long running metal subgenre either sounding tired and generic or powerful and dynamic reminding you why you love this music in the first place. One melodic death metal band I have not come across until now are Temnein who hail from France and have just released their third album titled Tales: Of Humanity And Greed. Thankfully this album is a prime example of just how melodic death metal should sound in 2020. This is an incredibly solid melodic death metal album which is chock full of fantastic melodic death metal riffs with plenty of slick leads and melodic solos. The musicianship is very tight throughout with a powerful rhythm section as well as an effective use of synths in the background which compliment the rhythm and the melodies. The harsh vocals by Jocelyn Fidry are at that nice mid level growl which perfectly suit melodic death metal being not too deep and therefore full of clarity. The songwriting has a progressive nature throughout which keeps the songs flowing and invigorated. 

There was rarely a moment throughout where my attention started to wander as the songs are nicely varied throughout. You have very solid melodic death metal songs such as The Blind And The Greedy and A Few Drops Of Blood, solid headbangers such as Rise Of The Sontarans, more epic and atmospheric songs such as I Am Davy Jones, dark and doomy songs such as Dirge For Terminus and far more progressively minded songs such as Scums Of Hamelin. Lyrically there are songs about fairytales and folklore as well as songs based around popular culture such as The Legend Of Zelda video games and the television series Doctor Who (which pleased this Whovian reviewer). Tales: Of Humanity And Greed is a fantastic album from Temnein and encapsulates a lot of what I love about melodic death metal. It is not wholly original sounding but to be honest not much is these days. It is incredibly well written, performed and produced. If you are a fan of Dark Tranquillity, Omnium Gatherum or In Mourning then this album is highly recommended. 8/10

Souls Of Tide: Black Magic (Mighty Music) [Simon Black]

Black Magic is the second album from Norwegian 6-piece Classic Rock influenced Souls Of Tide, and a long time has passed since their debut Join The Circus in 2016. These guys wear their influences proudly and there is a healthy dollop of Deep Purple in here, along with some touches of the more moody late-sixties sound – not quite psychedelic, but you can tell someone found The Doors and Cream in their dad’s record collection at some point. At this point I should point out that I’m always a sucker for the sound of the Hammond Organ, especially as here when it’s used as an instrument in its own right, rather than just as an occasional setting on a synth. Equally, this is very much a modern metal band doing their thing, and the two styles blend very well together here to create a fresh-sounding record with keeps you listening for its 34 and a bit minutes.

Title track Black Magic probably encapsulates my feelings towards these guys – a bouncy guitar intro with a well-paced flow into a catchy chorus, but with enough interesting fills that tip the hat to decades past whilst still sounding news and racy, topped off with a riff-driven instrumental section, and definitely the stand out track on the record. They even pull it off when the go full-on instrumental with the appropriately titled Interlude, which takes the album into its more even-paced and moody closing tracks. I get a strong sense that this album will play well in its entirety live, and there’s a string conceptual feel running through the whole piece that just works, and is topped off by a strong vocal performance from Vegar Larsen, who knows how to hold your attention. Groovy Man, 7/10

Friday 22 May 2020

Reviews: Caligula’s Horse, Ignition, Leather Witch, Mad Hatter (Alex, Bob, Rich & Simon)

Caligula’s Horse: Rise Radiant (Inside Out Records) [Alex Swift]

Across Bloom in 2016 and In Contact in 2017 Caligula’s horse proved themselves deserving of the progressive metal stage – harnessing a sense of sonic exploration that brought together the cosmic beauty of lauded acts in the genre, with the viscerality and darkness of latecomers. One criticism that could be made of those albums though is that they did lean powerfully upon their influences – that’s nothing damming, most acts in the scene do, especially when trying to create an audience for themselves in a genre imbued with rich technical skill and multifarious composition. Yet, on Rise Radiant there’s an earnestness and sincerity. The intricate soundscapes on display take you on a wild journey through the depths of these musicians' wild imaginations. The artwork, a surreal take on the traditional colour palates the act has experimented with – seriously, I love the visuals they employ – pictures the tone as one of adventure, of exploration through different worlds, perplexing to the human eye. The band themselves describe the piece as ‘an anthem for the regeneration of self-belief, an exploration of the themes of legacy, and a rallying cry for survival’. Considering the musical directions twist and turn like a bird in fleeing from a predator, I couldn’t have thought of a finer description.

The Tempest begins on gigantic, soaring guitar phrases, lending a sense of flight to the album's distinct musical composers. The amazing element about the piece is that even in the moments that focus on tension and mood, the instrumentation is diverse. From the colossal riff that defines the backbone of the verses, to the gentle yet entrancing stylings which constantly float in the background, everything on display proves beautiful, if strangely dark. For all the alterations our opener makes, you could be forgiven for worrying if one of them will not unfurl gracefully – they all do. Everything feels considered, and intertwined with each element working in harmony. Frontman Grey and Guitarists Vallen and Goleby demonstrate their skills exquisitely throughout – the former having improved as a vocalist, his voice reaching into echelons not previously tapped into – the fascinating order of the notes, only matched by the latter two who command their instrument with a sense of groove and precision. Violence brilliantly shows off the epic skill of the rhythm section, led by Griffin and Prinsse – a song led by pulsing and volatile tempo changes, there’s an always present feeling of mystery throughout – except in the chorus of course, which explodes into vibrant melody at the strike of the final, reverberating bass frequencies. Here’s an anthem reinforced by ideas dating to funk-metal, yet their take on the idea makes for the sensation that they’ve invented a new artifice, made from the bones of their exploratory concepts.

Soon after, Salt begins on a twinkling of piano before spilling over into a far more grandiose arrangement. The track revels in uniqueness and exceptionality. Almost feeling like going behind the scenes in a demented and ingenious circus, there’s a theatrical flair to the way the opening lead harmonies cascade and flow in truly bombastic stature – the keys, gentle yet erratic contradiction and sinuous progressions, furthering the surreal and existential feel. Furthermore, no section lasts longer than needed. Every moment is commanded as if with the expertise of performers who have absorbed the full spectrum of genre knowledge and learned its secrets. Resonate achieves exactly that – the slow-burning, sombre development arising an instant of genuine serenity, even if the sparse instrumentation makes for more of an emotional experience than a complex one. Oceanrise, by logical sequence, begins on that same sombre note, yet explodes into glorious colour as the instruments come flowing into an expressive chorale – the layers upon layers of cerebral splendour working wonderfully with the ominous assets. By reflection, these differences make the record work supremely well – from minute to minute, you never grow tired, and each rabbit hole throws up new, exhilarating journeys.

Granting yet more life to the experiences lasting permanence is the abrasive and striking Valkyrie – so variable is the fast-moving evolution, that the listener feels cast high to witness a landscape view of different environments – from desolate wastelands to rolling hills and lively rivers. I mentioned earlier that through the exuberant artwork, you capture a glimpse of that soaring majesty that operatic experimentations like these impart – Breathtaking. If you feel I’m being exaggerated in my exciting use of language – And, I am a little, to be honest – l ask you, hear for yourself, tell me whether I’m right or wrong. Seven tracks in and I’m failing to find a single flaw with Rise Radiant. Autumn is a luscious and serenading acoustic piece with touching bass and key embellishments, that ascent to a heroic solo, wrapping sadness up with elation in comforting style. We end on The Ascent – a ten-minute swelling that brings the components of extremity, pure musical glory, and adventurous spirit to an epic and affecting climax. Everything Caligula's Horse are is captured in these 10 minutes. Indeed throughout this record, they prove themselves and excite us for their future. 10/10

Ignition: Call Of The Sirens (Roll The Bones Records) [Bob Shoesmith]

This is the second album release from 5-piece power metal band from Duisburg, Germany on Roll The Bones Records since their 2016 debut - Guided By The Waves. If you are a fan of Trivium, Testament or Savage Messiah (with more than a nod to Maiden or Scorpions) you will be right at home here.This albums strength is its variety of writing. It has a collection of tracks that has some satisfying changes of pace and power - compared to others in the genre – that keep it fresh and you listening. While you will definitely find all your favourite metal ingredients on display; Twin guitar embellishment, occasional blast beats and some familiar, well-trodden, metal imagery with tracks like The CleansingMarching Into Battle and the eponymous Call Of The Sirens. For a relatively young band they know when to push the accelerator and thrash out and when to ease off and even throw in some commercial hooks like on the stand-out track Cobra Kai.

The musicianship is tight throughout with Dennis Marshallik’s vocals, sung in perfect English, have a great balance of melody, complimentary backing vocals and just enough gruffness to please most genres of metal fans. Dominik Timms busy but razor sharp drumming is also worthy of a special mention. Ignition are a good, melodic metal band who will be competing with a lot of similar bands in their genre. They can clearly write and perform some great, hooky and powerful music and if they can avoid some of the major clichés that metal bands love, and keep it fresh as this they could start to stand out from the crowd. 7/10

Leather Witch: Leather Witch (Self Released) [Rich Oliver]

With a name like Leather Witch you pretty much know what you are going to get and that is a shot of pure 80’s styled heavy fucking metal. Leather Witch certainly meet those expectations with the self titled debut album from the Colombian metal band. I have to say I am a bit of a sucker for this traditional heavy metal revival. As much as I love different and experimental subgenres and avant-garde crossovers into other musical genres it is testament to the longevity of heavy metal that it still sounds good in 2020 when taken back to its basic form. Although there are bands that do it better than Leather Witch this is a very solid album full of fist pumping metal anthems harking back to the days of denim and leather. There is a big NWOBHM influence running through the album with nods to the speed metal bands of the early 80’s. You are not going to find anything new here just a band wearing their influences on their sleeves and playing heavy metal in the style of yesteryear. 

Songs such as Day Of Glory, Pull The Trigger, Leather Witch and No Pain, No Game certainly got the foot tapping and the head a nodding. The vocals by Tania Ospina Gomez are a bit inconsistent sometimes sounding awesome and other times a bit on the uneven side. Her gritty and gnarly style does fit in with the rough and ready heavy metal sound throughout the album. Leather Witch is a very good debut for the band and it sounds excellent and very professional (having been produced by Fredrik Folkare of Unleashed). If you are looking for a genre spanning progressive masterpiece then look elsewhere but if you want some straight up heavy metal to play loudly whilst you chug a load of beers then you can’t go wrong here. 7/10

Mad Hatter: Pieces Of Reality (Art Gates Records) [Simon Black]

I can’t tell you much too much about this band, other than it’s their sophomore album not helped by the fact that there are plenty of other acts out there using the same name, but this Swedish 4 piece appear to be great fans of Lewis Carol’s works, as there’s plenty of conceptual and thematic content from the two Alice books in here, if the name of the band wasn’t a clear enough signal of their direction of travel. Oh, and that it’s as cheesier than a Wallace And Gromit movie set in a cheese shop on the moon (which as everyone knows is made of cheese).

The album opens with one of the cheesiest power metal intros I’ve heard since at least last month and we’re talking a plateful of gooey past it’s sell by and eat by date Stinking Bishop here - not the kind of safe hard cheese they like shaving off so much in Sweden, before heading into Master of the Night - a very predictable power metal piece. Although there’s some really nice drum work hidden in there, along with some nifty guitar breaks, unfortunately the positively ridiculous theatrical interlude in the middle 8 complete with cat-strangulation vocal effect leaves the impression that this is not so much spoof early-Helloween, as a band who may actually genuine in their intentions, but so lacking in self-awareness to the point of hilarity. Queen Of Hearts starts more positively, with a thundering drum line, but once again the forced vocals completely ruin what would otherwise be a competent and well-structured power metal anthem. Rutledge Asylum seems to be straight out of Lewis Carol’s pages lyrically, and after a couple of hit and miss numbers is actually a reasonable and well-structured song.

The title track is actually a lot more manageable, as the band try and slow the pace down slightly, and the vocals come back into a much more normal range. When they do, this band works, so I think they need a piece of reality here, and that reality is that this is a promising album that is completely spoilt by the vocal performance from a guy who should not try and emulate the likes of Michael Kiske and feel more confident in his natural range. I’m also not convinced by the comedy elements, Power Metal is self-parody incarnate at the best of times, and pushing the envelope like this doesn’t work, especially when the couple of tracks on here that seem more straight up really well. 4/10

Reviews: Black Rainbows, Her Chariot Awaits, Maelstrom, Cellar Stone (Reviews By Matt Bladen)

Black Rainbows: Cosmic Ritual Supertrip (Heavy Psych Sounds)

As we seem to be nearing closer to another space launch (in the middle of a pandemic?) maybe those heading to Kennedy Space Centre should just invest in the newest album from Black Rainbows. Now established as one of the preeminent heavy psych stoner rock bands around Cosmic Ritual Supertrip is the the bands latest foray into the stratosphere through the medium of big riffs and mind melting psych soundsBlack Rainbows are led by Gabriele Fiori (guitar/vocals) who knows what stoner/psych rock is all about, not just because of his band but also through being the founder of Heavy Psych Sounds, who have released this album (funny that). So in the two years since their last record has anything changed in the Black Rainbows camp? Not really no, this 8th studio album is once again crafted through countless tours and festival slots, transfering that live energy to a disc/mp3.

Fiori and the rhythm section consisting of Filippo Ragazzoni (drums) and Edoardo Mancini (bass) are old hands at this now so the music here has a certain deliberately relaxed feel, as if it's all been thrown together and jammed out but there's a professionalism that betrays the space rock ethos. Though it never intrudes, Cosmic Ritual Supertrip bursts out of your stereo with fuzzy, riff worship right from the off. While At Midnight You Cry flashes by with a punk energy, Universal Phase has more in common with doom, The Great Design is a trippy semi-interlude to the Monster Magnet-like Master Rocking Power Blast. Dave Wyndorf and co are a band you can definitely say have influenced Black Rainbows with nods on IsolationGlittereyzedRadio 666 and in fact all the way through there are transmissions beamed through the prism of the Space Lords. Ballsy space rock from these Romathafuckers (their words not mine), play it at volume. 7/10

Her Chariot Awaits: S/T (Frontiers Records)

I can hear the thought process that went into making this debut album. "Hey guys!? Do you like Halestorm?" the answer of "Yes" came back and then they set about writing music similar to this, though Her Chariot Awaits being another project from guitar virtuoso Mike Orlando (Adrenaline Mob), there was always going to be plenty of fret-fireworks to go along with the poppy hooks of tracks such as Stolen Heart. Mike Orlando formed this band with Spanish singer Ailyn (ex-Sirenia) who has very gritty, attitude filled, radio friendly but distinctly European vocal, moving away from Sirenia's more symphonic sound to the groovy American metal sound of Orlando's other projects such as Adrenaline Mob.

It's heavy yes, Orlando plays some powerhouse, straight down the line, riffs such as Turning The Page but there is a sense of sparkly pop that comes into play on Line Of FireConstant Craving is a bittersuite ballad perfect for Ailyn to show off her classical strains. As with most Orlando projects he plays guitar, bass, writes everything and produces the album so this can be really seen a duo though they have Jeff Thal (drums) and Brian Gearty (bass) as additional musicians on this bouncy heavy rock record. I'll level with you here, if the US radio metal of Adrenaline Mob, Halestorm, Shinedown etc appeals, then you'll love Her Chariot Awaits, it's a s simple as that. 6/10

Maelstrom: Of Gods And Men (Self Released)

Maelstrom? Never 'eard of them! That could be because they fall into that category of bands that formed in the 80's, flash brightly and then disappeared, much like so many NWOBHM acts. However Maelstrom are not a a British band, no they were born out of US thrash scene in Long Island, New York playing between 1988 -1992 and then grunge happened and Maelstrom just blew away. However this was a storm worth revisiting for writing partners Gary Vosganian (vocals) and Joey Lodes (guitar/bass) and in 2007 they reconvened and after numerous fits and starts they have finally released their debut record Of Gods And Men. So after 32 years has it been worth waiting for? Well they have certainly worked extensively on the cinematic aspect of this record, this is progressive thrash metal with added theatricality, built on the thrash style of those early Metal Blade artists along with Savatage, Sanctuary and even our own Sabbat. 

Brought along by the Vosganian and Lodes is drummer Daniel Kleffmann who brings the driving percussion, Ed Marks was conscripted for the waves of synths and keys and Dawn Marie Macaluso provides a counterpoint to the expansive vocals style of Vosganian. Now this is where I have to stop with both the exposition and the praise as Of Gods And Men and Maelstrom themselves are just a very poor Sanctuary copy, the songs are a little schizophrenic meaning at times they also try to be Savatage. Now I'm not saying they are as bad as Aftermath (https://musipediaofmetal.blogspot.com/2019/02/reviews-within-temptation-steve-hackett.html) but there is far too much going on for these songs to resonate at all, meaning it's a bit of a mess and I struggled through the record if I'm honest. After 32 years I was expecting something a little more grandiose, especially when you check out the bands bio which is probably the most overblown I have read in 10 years of doing this! The record doesn't live up to this hyperbole, it's actually rather average. 5/10   

Cellar Stone: One Fine Day (Self Released)

Formed in Athens by members of Diviner, 4Bitten, Persona Non Grata and The Slayerking. One Fine Day is the debut album from Cellar Stone a band who were formed by George Maroulees (guitar) and Aris Pirris (vocals) adding Akis Rooster (bass) and George Karlis (drums) they set about writing a record that blends the classic rock of Zep, AIC, Metallica (Black Album) with the modernity of Black Stone Cherry and Alter Bridge. So you have groovy riffs, a big rhythm bounce and some gritty powerful vocals from Aris who has that same style as Shinedown's Brent Smith. Now this is a sound that has been done to death but not often does a debut do it a slickly as Cellar Stone do, there's certainly an American shine to One Fine Day the songs coming out as 10 fully formed heavy hitters, pairing meaty riffs with melodies that have you singing along on Wash My Sins Away, songs like the title track and Live While You're Alive pound away, Spread Your Wings has some Tremonti-esque riffs and solos while Wasted Tears and Hands Of Fate show they can do a mean ballad too. As I said earlier One Fine Day has emerged a full formed, skillfully composed with a slickness of our cousins over the Atlantic. 7/10

Thursday 21 May 2020

Reviews: FM, Voodoo Gods, Illumishade, Pile Of Priests (Bob, Paul H, Alex, Charlie & Dr Claire)

FM: Synchronized (Frontiers Records) [Bob Shoesmith]

If you’re a fan of melodic rock you will probably be already aware of FM, but if not, they’re a British band founded in 1984. Over 10 years of support slots with big names providing highly polished AOR, they somehow didn’t progress to the major leagues and were very underrated. Despite line-up changes and a 12 year split they have been back in the saddle since 2007 and seen a bit of a renaissance, touring festivals and releasing albums, including 2019’s live offering The Italian Job. They’re now often popping up at festivals such as Download and Graspop on the bill with the likes of Foreigner, Journey and Whitesnake and were, until recent events, due to be touring as headliners in their own right.

Fast forward to 2020 and the bands 12th Album – Synchronized. Historically FM have inevitably been compared to their American counterparts and genre cousins, Journey, Foreigner and REO Speedwagon et al, which on a musical level they can certainly hold their own next to. There is no escaping those similarities any time soon either. Synchronized doesn’t stray too far from the comparisons either, but why would you. This album provides a huge slice of highly polished Americana bordering on country rock in places (Best Of Times, Ghost Of You) which could come straight out of the new crop of Nashville compilations. Very occasionally the songs do slip back to their 80’s haydays with ‘of the era’ keyboards and multi layered vocals straight out of the Foreigner playbook (Change For The Better, Walk Through The Fire) but when they get a bit more adventurous the songs are as good as anything currently out there in the genre.

Much like their website, the production and playing on the album is of the very highest quality, Steve Overland’s vocals are on absolute top form – particularly on tracks like Pray or Ready For Me and the album oozes the class that you’d expect from a tight knit, long- standing group of talented musicians like FM, who totally get what melodic rock fans want and deliver it in spades. With fewer and fewer bands delivering this brand of AOR, maybe now it’s finally FM’s time to fulfil their destiny and be appreciated for who they are. 9/10 

Voodoo Gods: The Divinity Of Blood (Reaper Entertainment Europe) [Paul Hutchings]

Formed in 2001, originally as Shrunken Head, Voodoo Gods is a collective of artists which most notably features the death metal vocals of George ‘Corpsegrinder’ Fischer as well as the screaming rage of Seth Van De Loo who famously stood in for Glen Benton of Deicide in 2007 when Benton refused to travel to Europe at the last minute [source: metal-archives.com]. Alongside the vocal department comes the duel guitars of Jacek Hiro and Victor Smolski, bassist Jean Bandu and founder member [alongside Van De Loo] Alex Voodoo [Alex Von Poschinger] on drums. The Divinity Of Blood is the follow up to 2014’s Anticipation For Blood Levelled In Darkness.

With a line-up that promises death and thrash metal, the explosive Rise Of The Antichrist which savagely opens the album is no surprise and lays down a high level of power and punishment that whets the death metal appetite. The beautiful calming section of Flamenco guitar work in the middle of the delightfully titled From Necromancy To Paraphilia provides and unexpected yet pleasant alternative. Elsewhere this album does what you’d expect. Fischer isn’t likely to break with form and his guttural roars at low level contrast with the venomous rasps of Van De Loo. Plenty of pulverising blast beats, jagged riffing and punishing aggression but The Divinity Of Blood is tempered at times by the random but welcome acoustic breakdowns.

It’s the guitar work that takes centre stage for much of the album, duelling solos compete across the ferocity of Rise Of The Antichrist whilst the gentler passages such as the intro to Serenade Of Hate soon defer to the muscular approach and death vocals. There is balance and variation across the album. The track Forever! for example, starts as a standard heavy metal foundation overlaid with speedier riffing and Van De Loo’s rasping delivery but breaks down to an almost jazz frisson in the middle whilst Isa that follows is straight down the line thundering brutality. The Divinity Of Blood is a solid and enjoyable release which may not achieve full acceptance with Corpse fans due to its less straight in-your-face approach. It’s still a thick slab well worthy of a listen. 7/10

Illumishade: Eclyptic - Wake Of Shadows (Self Released) [Alex Swift]

Symphonic metal is a genre I have a natural camaraderie with. It requires the musician to get into the mind of an orchestral composer, and that can lead to some of the most unique and ambitious ideas the genre has ever witnessed. That’s not to say symphonic music can't be generic – hell, just listen to any of Within Temptations recent work, to disprove that assumption – yet most artists that embrace the style (them included), tend to utilize a wide range of influences in their writing, creating bombastic if verbose compositions. If you know anything about me, there tends to be a key factor leading me to give great reviews, so in theory, I should love Wake Of Shadows. Right?

Well, look, while I certainly appreciate everything these musicians are trying t bring to the table, by writing a piece which creates atmosphere, measuring out its grandiloquence into showstopping crescendos, I’m not quite sure they achieved that effect here. First of all, there's too much emphasis on luscious atmospherics as opposed to vast and towering compositions, which would work if they carried any real sense of emotion or tension. Rather, while I definitely admire the eloquent production and the commitment to try something different in a genre that often – let's face it – gets caught up in its own pretensions, leaving little room for nuance, both Passage Through The Clouds and The Calling Winds left me drowsy. I’m sad to say the piece didn’t get much better from there. Although you can get a sense from the pacing that illumishade understand the beats that have to go into an arrangement, the sparse instrumentation – both skill and palate wise – hinders any sense of uplift or impetus the record could have had. This is a trend that’s prevalent from Tales Of Time to the closer of Worlds End.

I don’t believe that the problem here lies in lack of ability – from a pure structure and artistry standpoint, some of the ideas here are absolutely fascinating. It’s the execution that drags the experience down. Obsessed with interludes, not having a rich enough guitar variation and writing songs which practice symposium, off the back of hard rock and death metal – makes for a deeply tiresome experience. I have no doubt that the next album or the one after that may see improvements, yet until then I remain far from impressed. 4/10

Pile Of Priests: Self-Titled (Extreme Metal Music) [Charlie Rogers & Dr Claire Hanley]

Pile Of Priests were not a band we were familiar with but having been told they were for fans of Death, Pestilence, and Cryptopsy, we jumped at the chance to review the new self-titled record. A curious mix of death and thrash metal, with melodic overtones, the band certainly looked good on paper. Given our high expectations; sadly, this was the most uninspiring album we’ve reviewed so far this year. First off we’re greeted with a somewhat superfluous piano-based introduction, which stands in stark contrast to The Aversion - a bouncy track filled with double-kicks, bright, energetic riffs, and growls reminiscent of Dark Tranquillity’s Mikael Stanne. This offering along with Bloodstained Citadel are the songs to write home about, which grab hold of the listener and display some semblance of momentum and drive. The latter shines above the rest of the material due to a mesmerising bassline; a real fretless wonder, which is otherwise buried for the majority of the album.

There are also flashes of brilliance during Death Of The Paragon and Exile Unto Divination (where the rhythmic intro really stands out) but these moments are anything but consistent. For the most part, the record chugs along, meandering from track to track. Entirely inoffensive but that’s the problem. A solid death metal record needs to have some grit about it in order for it to be memorable. This just doesn’t have the bite. It’s, dare we say, mediocre. This is likely due, in no small part, to the identity crisis of the material. Absolutely nothing wrong with instrumental interludes and switching things up in terms of vocal performance, providing it adds something to the overall product. The highs mid-way through Conjunction Of Souls and The Restitution seem incredibly out of place, like a fish in a kettle, and the latter being over 8 minutes long is entirely unnecessary.

A death/thrash metal record shouldn’t lure you into a vegetative state but unfortunately that is where we ended up. Given the standard of other new releases, the latest offering from Pile of Priests seriously pales in comparison. There is no place for a record of this standard in the current musical landscape. 4/10.