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Tuesday 30 June 2020

Reviews: Grey Daze, Enslavery, Neverbreath, Bishop Of Hexen (Liam & Paul H)

Grey Daze: Amends (Loma Vista Records) [Liam True]

If you’re going into this album expecting it to sound anything like Linkin Park, then remove all traces of those thoughts. Amends is a haunting, yet thrill ride from the unreleased material of Grey Daze. The plan with Grey Daze was to reunite and release a new album, but due to the sudden passing of Chester Bennington five months after they got together to make the album a reality, the plans never came to fruition. Until now. Due to the wishes of Bennington, the band have released the album with pre-recorded and slightly remastered vocals. 

Amends is somewhat of a compilation album, featuring songs from GD older material, although if (like me) you never experienced any of the band at all, the entire record is a new experience. Sickness shows the band work perfectly together to create a beautiful sounding song with the signature vocals of Bennington. Sometimes & In Time are two haunting songs that bring the album down low and showcase the raw talent of Bennington with the soothing vocals mixed with his harsher tones. Just Like Heroin is the only track that REALLY sticks out to me. The nature of the song is evocative. Knowing Bennington suffered with drug abuse, mainly heroin, is unnerving at times but the song is a masterclass. The band themselves have created an atmosphere like no other with the music. It’s beautiful. It’s heartbreaking. It’s an amazing sounding album.

With the entire album it’s hard not to feel somewhat choked up and on times I myself felt uncomfortable listening to Chester’s performance, but if you make it through the entire album you'll be greeting with such an amazing piece of art. I’m not a fan of the lighter side of Rock, but Amends is a classic tribute to the man that was Chester Bennington. 9/10

Enslavery: Placitis Infectas (Self Released) [Paul Hutchings]

If being pinned to the wall for 40 minutes by some sheer brutal death metal that doesn’t allow a breath from start to finish, then this bludgeoning debut from Finnish outfit Enslavery should be on your shopping list when it is released. The riffs are thick, dirty and downtuned, the drums batter from the off and the vocals are a gruesome combination of guttural roars and demonic mutterings. For a three-piece the sound is astonishing, a generated wall of noise, heavier than the bus full of elephants or the bag full of anvils. Take your pick. Whilst I could find little on the old interweb about the band, Metal Archives informed me that the searing heat is generated by drummer Roope Hokkanen, the barrage of machine gun riffage from guitarist Taneli Välimäki and the bowel disturbance from bassist Eetu Vehkaoja, the latter duo sharing the vocal duties. Shades of Derrick Green emerge on Humans As Parasites, the roar reminiscent of the Seps vocalist at his angry best. Whilst the band are a combination of a fist to the face and a kick to the gut, content wise they are clearly raging at humanity in a variety of ways. The human is truly the scourge of the planet. That’s a bonus point right there. Having been in existence for a decade, this debut is mind-blowing. Huge, and I mean massive slabs of death metal with an old school groove surging through everything they do. It’s mighty impressive and when you finally get up after this album finishes, there is little doubt that the urge to wipe off the dribble and do it all again is uncontrollable. 8/10

NeverBreath: To Defile Is To Transcend (Self Released) [Paul Hutchings]

This is the debut release from Tempe Black Metal project NeverBreath. Ambitious in content, the album is lyrically about the self-destruction of a disciple of Lilith. As you rush towards Wikipedia, I can tell you that Lilith is historically a Jewish demon, originating as far back as the third century AD and referenced multiple times through history ever since. According the blurb, the disciple in question outlines their self-destructive course through the song’s titles and lyrics as the album progresses, holding a dialogue with Lilith, the Seeress of Snakes.

It’s an interesting lyrical theme, and musically there is plenty to interest those who worship strong blends of black and death metal. Vocally, Mark Garrett’s snarling roars swing between the unique delivery of Martin Walkyier and the frenetic pressure generated by Nergal and Eric Danielsson of Watain. A battery of blast beats dominates each track, and the wall of noise due to duel tremolo riffing is intense. The songs hold together well, full of character and emotion, heavy and boisterous but also fiery and intricate. Underneath the sheer nastiness of such an evil assault, there is melody and passion. Tracks like And I See The Profane Through Torn Eyes and the powerful anthemic closing song In Burning My Flesh And Consuming The Ashes, NeverBreath have managed to capture a ferocious style that stands strong for a debut, worshipping as it does at the altar of Scandinavian Black Metal. They have moved a step away from the rawness of those original groundbreaking legends, with a polished production that enhances their modern take on the old school style.

The band includes Nico Mirolla – Guitars, Composition, Recording, Editing and Mastering; Mark Garrett – Lyrics and Vocals; Sean Lang – Drums; Paul Robles – Bass, Lyrics and Guitar Solos with Tyler Allen – Lyrics and Mixing and guest vocals on My Lips Are Flayed Open In Praise! by Adam S. Plenty to get your teeth into here, should the mood take you. 7/10

Bishop Of Hexen: The Death Masquerade (Self Released) [Liam True]

Symphonic Black Metal is always an odd genre because of the amount of things going on at once. It’s not news that there hasn’t been a surge of bands like this is recent years, although there have been some exceptional outputs by others bands. And Bishop Of Hexen have joined the ranks of great records in this genre. With their third full length album to date and their newest album in 14 years, they bring everything they’ve got. Spanning 8 songs over the course of 51 minutes it’s quite the adventure listening to the record. It bodes better for you to listen to the entire album as one instead of plucking out odd songs as it’s a macabre musical more than an actual album.

The sound is great. The production is great. The orchestral compositions arranged by keyboardist Dimrost are gigantic. The thunderous sounding drums and bloodcurdling vocals are performed by Lord Koder. The putrid sounding lead and bass guitar tones of Avicious echo through your brain and are permanently implanted to make sure you never forget this album. It’s an arena sounding album that needs to be caught by the masses and blasted everywhere. The ferocious album is a bitter adventure through the minds of the Israeli Metal bands Symphonic minds which all comes to a halt with album ender Sine Nomine. I won’t spoil it as you need to hear it for yourself. But if Behemoth and Pavarotti ever had a secret love child. You’re looking at it. 9/10

Monday 29 June 2020

Reviews: Wounded Cross, Chapfallen, Groom Lake, Fight The Tornado (Reviews By Matt Bladen)

Wounded Cross: Our Future Is Dead (Self Released)

This is an odd one... Rugby based band Wounded Cross are something of a local legend playing a grand total of 27 gigs since their inception in 2014 supporting the likes of The Skull, Ohhms, Witchsorrow, Kaine. However the band are no-more so the aptly titled Our Future Is Dead is both their first and last album, collecting their songs together in one place as a testament to their legacy, and more importantly I guess something to show that they actually existed in the future. They say in their pr surrounding this album that they never really fitted in with any of the bands they played with and on the back of this album you can sort of hear why. Musically the band draw from NWOBHM, thrash and doom, with every song slightly stylistically different to the last, though final number Cosmic Annihilation is very much a doom song.

The tracks here are very rough and ready, deliberately so as the band wanted to leave them as they were unpolished and demo-like. With the numerous influence swirling it's hard to categorize the band (a nightmare for reviewers) but it does mean there is a uniqueness about them. If I were to make comparisons I'd say bands such as Mercyful Fate and Angel Witch due to the proto-thrash/doom sound, pessimistic lyrics and the 'theatrical' delivery of the vocalist. But also a hint of Faith No More due to the quirkiness factor. The singer does have a similar affliction to Ozzy where from a technical standpoint he is not the best singer but for the type of music he fits well. Shadowplay ramps up the drama, Ascension is all about that riff, Ashes brings a bit of melodic tenderness as does the proggy Tainted Legacy. Outside of the Rugby music scene Wounded Cross may not be known but these nine tracks collect their musical endeavours together in remembrance of what could have been. An interesting footnote from the UK underground metal scene. 6/10

Chapfallen: The Art Of War (Self Released)

Despite rumours of it's demise the UK metalcore scene is still bursting to the gunnels, perhaps it's the perennial shitstorm that seems to be the UK at the moment that inspires this aggressive often emotional style of music. I've said before that it's not what I normally listen to but I can appreciate it as a genre as influential as grunge bringing together that mix of classic metal stylings with both death metal grunt and hardcore anger. Chapfallen are from Stoke-On-Trent and they say themselves that their name is their message, they focus very much on mental wellbeing (suicide being the biggest killer of men under 45) using their music as a cathartic release against the sometimes (more often recently) miserable times that people have to endure. The band have two vocalists (another pet peeve of mine) but both of their voices blend well both giving growls and screams and the music flawlessly mixes metalcore rage with groove metal bounce (A Revelation).

The first two tracks Fugue and Iconoclast show what to expect from Chapfallen the former being a more melodic number with some nifty lead breaks while the latter is a lot more punishing (especially the drumming). Now as is cometime customary with the metalcore bands that evolve out of their genre bracket Chapfallen bring ambience and haunting female vocals from Olivia Wilkes on Liminal Presence which is a track aimed at that catharsis mentioned earlier, placing it in the middle of four ragers is a great idea as it gives them a depth. The Art Of War is a tempestuous record with as much ferocious riffage and affecting lyrics as you could want. 7/10

Groom Lake: Fallen Earth (Self Released)

Yet more metalcore this time from Brighton as Groom Lake take their shot at the genre originated by bands like Hatebreed, Killswitch Engage, Shadows Fall and Atreyu, however Groom Lake owe much more to bands like Northlane, Architects and While She Sleeps with the huge technical riffs that many may call djent but really is still metalcore due to the huge breakdowns and the duality in the vocals. In a marked difference from Chapfallen much of the hardcore influence here has dissipated replaced instead with electronic beeps and bleats and the progressive sounds of bands like Meshuggah. It's an EP full of palm muted guitar playing, huge grooves, dexterous playing but also some brilliant loud/quiet dynamics vocally as you get verses that roar at full extreme metal tilt and choruses that saw with angsty cleans.

There's a clear Unearth influence on Unearthed (weird that) while there is also the more post-hardcore ambience cutting through the antagonistic tracks such as Someone's Son. This debut EP was recorded at Bandit Studios with producer Jonny Renshaw (Devil Sold His Soul, Blood Youth, Dream State) and he has lent Groom Lake's thumpingly modern metal assault a clarity and volume that makes an impression for the crunching Titan's Teeth, the furious Leech while No Relief is a bit more melodic and anthemic leading into the final number on this 7 track EP the excellently executed Grave (spot the BFMV influence here). Fiercely modern and full of technical skill Fallen Earth is a brilliant EP from these Brighton heavies. 8/10

Fight The Tornado: Maelstrom Of Thought (Self Released)

Fight The Tornado is basically a solo release from vocalist/multi-instrumentalist Jonny Young who along with Lindzi North has written, performed and produced this record after leaving their previous band Curse Of Dawn. It's very D.I.Y with the kitchen sink thrown into every song including symphonic touches, electronic bleeps, djent grooves and even rap metal, this makes things very odd to listen too, varying wildly between various genres. However the major issue I have with this debut record are the vocals with both Lindzi and Jonny falling flat with their clean voices, though the harsh screams are ok. I really struggled with this record, it's all over the place musically and when that is coupled with the jarring vocals I was reaching for the off after the obligatory two listens we give any album. 2/10

Friday 26 June 2020

Reviews: Mike LePond's Silent Assassins, Varus, 5th Machine, Eleven Strings (Bob, Alex, Simon & Rich)

Mike LePond’s Silent Assassins: Whore Of Babylon (Silver Lining Music) [Bob Shoesmith]

With the constant, week to week launch of new bands (or the recycling of other bands and members), these days you really do need a ‘unique selling point’ to catch the eye of management, record companies or publishers to offer an angle and to give yourself a better shop window. Silent Assassins are a vehicle for Mike LePond, and in case you’ve been living under a Prog rock (see what I did there) is the current bass player for Symphony X, or, if you read their incredibly pretentious and grandiose bio they provide; “…one of the foremost bass virtuosos in heavy metal music and a member of progressive metal band Symphony X”. So, while we get that Mike is this projects USP, when you scroll through all the self-penned hyperbole and bragging about this project and see his name in bold in every sentence and only brief nods to other members, maybe it might have just been easier to call it The Mike LePond Band to be honest and be done with it. Those of you who may have read my reviews to date will note that I don’t deal with self-aggrandizement too well but I shall leave that there for now.

Whore Of Babylon is this project’s third full offering and if you haven’t checked them out before and are a fan of Symphony X expecting more of the same, airbrushed, symphonic, classy Prog metal you’ll be quite surprised (& a little disappointed) by Silent Assassins as in places, Whore Of Babylon is much harder, rougher and well, more metal if a little poorer in places than Mike’s main project. This bands writing has locked into the usual heavy metal clichés of history, myth and legend subject matter and when the opening track Dracul Son and the full on Tell Tale Heart take off like Iron Maiden on speed and they don’t back off, they’re hard, they’re fast and borders on thrash and you think, ‘well now, perhaps we have a whole new project here’ and then there’s the second track, Ides Of March which is a slightly poorer version of a lesser Symphony X song – lots of layered harmonies in the chorus and gallops in the verses. Alan Tecchio’s vocals are very, very Bruce Dickinson in style but don’t bare comparison to the clarity and style of say X’s Russell Allen. He has quite a range sure, but not a lot of control. So, what started out as a ripper of a metal, muscles and horns album gets lost somewhere in the middle; there’s a vaguely ridiculous almost Tenacious D like celtic romp of Night Of The Long Knives with chanted ‘Heys’ and ‘Ho’s’ like a Big Country song, which then goes and throws in a Spanish Flamenco guitar solo right in the middle which not really confuses their idioms, the whole track borders on the silly. Oh, and there are tracks that fade out – fade outs? Jesus, I thought we’d outlawed them?

After the Celtic confusion we move onto a Blackmore’s Knight sort of medieval ballad affair of Champion where despite the best efforts of an uncredited female singer and a bass solo (yes, really) we’ve definitely gone off on a strange tangent as a body of work because we are then straight back to the full on high speed Maiden/Viking metal of Ironborn and then the totally Judas Priest-a-like and more classic heavy metal of Lady Bathory and Power Of Steel which while good tracks on their own and are enjoyable for a metalhead like me seem completely out of place with the rest of the album and like a different band completely. The standout tracks are definitely at the beginning and end of the album, such as the eponymous Whore Of Babylon (the heroine/villainess of the Book of Revelations) a much more subtler and considered affair with a slower-paced Arabian feel and a very listenable, storybook style track and the closing Avalon where we get back to what they do best, a Symphony X/Maiden gallop with bass noodling a hooky chorus and Jon Lord like Hammond solo.

Obviously, due to Mike LePond’s day job, Silent Assassin will garner a lot of interest from the legions of Symphony X fans and the glowing praise and promise they heap on themselves will lure listeners in, but their bravado and lack of humility seems a little underserved to me, Whore of Babylon is not a great album given the pedigree behind it. While it claims to have a theme or concept, it really doesn’t. Its vague collection of eclectic songs and ideas, styles and filler (i.e the Priest like songs) that Mike came up with while watching the History Channel apparently, that thematically fit the bill. In places like Night Of The Long Knives and Champion they get it almost laughably wrong but when they get it right Dracul Son, Whore Of Babylon and Avalon they can deliver half decent metal. 7/10

Varus: A New Dawn (Self Released) [Alex Swift]

Channelling an emotional form of symphonic metal, there’s plenty to be found on A New Dawn that leans firmly into the influences of Nightwish, Epica and Kamelot, except these musicians eloquently intertwine folksy balladry into their songcrafting in a way which sounds and feels inspired. Konstantin Raab – the mastermind behind the project – plays with impassioned melodies with emanating from his keyboards and his vocals in stunning style. Meanwhile, much emotional heft is contributed by guitarist Stefan Schwarz whose compositions are affecting without being overbearing. Furthermore, there’s plenty of experimentation scattered throughout, creating cerebral soundscapes.

There’s a hefty influence from more extreme genres like death Metal throughout – the aggressive moments are always contrasted with spellbinding moments of melodic maturity, and while there’s a tendency for the two styles to clash, and feel disconcerting against one another, you can’t deny the exhilaration on display. The title track shines with a sense of magnificence allowing the visceral nature to swell and guide towards an anthem, sing-along chorus. The mixing really aids in fostering this sense of grandeur as well – I’ve been known to mark down for sloppy production, yet albeit a few moments where the instrumentation seems to awkwardly dip in and out, the sound of the record is crisp, detailed and serene.

Perhaps my favourite moments on this album were the Norse and folklore-inspired ones. When they want to Varus can really tug at your heartstrings with the worlds they create from quite humble instrumentation. Take Minstrels Chant which retains a sense of prowess and size, while featuring a pronounced and impressive flute solo. Ascheregen cleverly brings together the vivacious, stampeding side of Varus’s sound, with the melodic and textured elements. Even the doom-laden stomp of Tränk Dein Herz never fails to make an impression on me.

Overall beyond some small discrepancies I have about the albums overall writing and tone, album no. 2 from the German players seems destined to herald ambitious experiments far into the future. I hope they can continue their perplexing melding of genres, in a way that proves continuously fascinating and engrossing. 7/10

5th Machine: Back In Time (Lion's Pride Music) [Simon Black]

Hailing from São Paulo in Brazil, this is the debut album from Melodic Hard Rock outfit 5th Machine. First point, this doesn’t sound like a fresh-faced bunch of youngsters making their tentative first steps into the studio. This sounds like some experienced musicians who know exactly what they want, care nothing for trends and fashions and are happy to wear their influences on their shoulders. This bunch know how to achieve the sounds they like sound and frankly this is a thoroughly enjoyable album as a consequence.

Title track and opener 5th Machine lays its stall out early with some catchy riff and rhythm work, pulling you into a well-crafted mid-paced rocker, and I particularly enjoyed the old school sound mix. The Wind takes this to the next level, with a real 80’s US Radio rock vibe riff and effect, and effortlessly captures a post Van Halen sound that few managed back in the day. Say No To Time takes the pace up a notch and would give a few Power Metal acts a good run for a money, with its thundering drum work, epic vocals and catchy rhythms this is supremely confident and mature stuff. That maturity carries onto single The Song Of The Beggar and gives the keyboards an opportunity to take the lead with a subtle piano intro to another up-tempo head-tapping rocker, interspersed by some haunting verse melodies.

This one is clearly meant to be played soulfully in your face live and it would be nice one day to get that opportunity. That haunting piano is back for Until The End Of Time, which although formulaic just works purely on the back of the strength of the performances. Say No To Time takes things into funkier territory with its in your face bass intro, before dropping into some good old-fashioned speed and energy, bring the album back up with a bang. The pace slows a bit in the last third of the album, but they do save some of the best for last, as the title track explodes into your face, but then pauses to take a melodic interlude without losing any of its power. Cracking stuff.

I’ve hinted at the old school sound and use of reverb, and it’s worth pausing on that. The vocals are heavily reverbed and create a haunting and emotive hook to pull you in, and take you back to an earlier time where that most basic of sound effects created depth and richness. I blame Metallica. They threw reverb out the window and everyone followed like sheep. Well, you can keep your ‘flat and real’ - it more often than not sounds like it was recorded in a biscuit tin in the middle of a desert, and give me this sort of well-layered and mixed unashamed melodic heaven anytime. If there is a heaven, it has reverb in post-production…

Back In Time is an appropriate title for this album. It’s well-crafted, it’s varied and it feels like the work of seasoned bunch of pro’s, which might well be the case, as there’s very little information out there on them, at least in English (something to fix boys, if you are reading this). In a world hungry for information online to go with the tunes and help get them to a wider audience, this isn’t something bands can neglect anymore, and needs to be done quickly to give this album the exposure it deserves. A damn fine start. 8/10

Eleven Strings: Void (Self Released) [Rich Oliver]

Void is the third album by Brazilian metal band Eleven Strings and has been independently released by the band. Eleven Strings are not a band I am at all knowledgeable about and this release is my first exposure to the band.

They are coined as progressive metal but what I heard on Void is more a groove based contemporary metal sound that veers into progressive territories and has some nods to the djent genre as well. There are a lot of groove laden chuggy guitar riffs as well as some very decent lead playing. There is a heavy use of keyboards producing electronic sounds as well as string arrangements. The vocals are a mix of harsh screams and clean vocals though the clean vocals are one of the weaker aspects of this release at times sounding off key or out of place. There are some interesting ideas and complex song arrangements on Void but there isn’t much that stayed with me come the end of the album though Know Your Sins with its ever shifting style and complex structure and Shogun with its nods to traditional Japanese music were clear highlights on the album.

Eleven Strings are a very talented bunch of musicians and Void is a decent take on a contemporary progressive metal sound but there wasn’t a whole lot here that grabbed me. The djent leanings didn’t sit well with me as I’m generally not a fan of that style and I just wasn’t wholly engaged throughout the album. A decent release and there will be plenty of people who appreciate this but it wasn’t really for me. 6/10

Reviews: OHHMS, Falconer, Alarum, The Loyal Order (Matt, Simon, Rich & Bob)

OHHMS: Close (Holy Roar Records) [Matt Bladen]

The Kent based force of nature that is OHHMS return with their new record Close released on the label of the moment Holy Roar Records. It caters for only the best heavy music so it's only natural that a band such as OHHMS would be signed to them. Close is the follow up to their 2018 record Exist which scored highly here and really this one will too, mainly due to OHHMS reliance on the everything being an instrument including the vocals. Waves of cascading riffs nearly drown you in distortion on Revenge which has a long slow repeating sound to it broken up by some hostile drumming it follows the opening number Alive! which manages to lyrically nod to both The Rolling Stones and Bill Withers (impressive).

It's the first visceral heavy track on this record that is cut through with clean ringing melodies these are continued through the three interlude tracks on this album which split up the longer, louder songs on Close. The shortest of the main songs is Destroyer which is full of bile and rage coming as close to a 'normal' song as you can get from OHHMS with some raging hardcore channeled through a post-metal dexterity, it shifts into Asylum which is gruff punk and works as almost and outro to Destroyer. As with most of the OHHMS back catalogue the record is structured to be one long song split into 7 pieces showing the primal force of the band on show throughout, shifting between raging loudness and whispered quietness. It's made to be played live but alas that won't be happening for a while so take comfort in this record being as good as it is and play it so your neighbours can enjoy it too! 8/10

Falconer: From A Dying Ember (Metal Blade Records) [Simon Black]

This is the 9th (and final) album from Swedish Folk/Power metal act Falconer and is often the case, not an easy one to pigeonhole. The band have switched style and emphasis many times, flirting with a heavier sound or a more progressive one in the past, but this feels firmly in the territory of Folk mixed with a good dose of Epic Power and finally I wonder if they have found their feet and sound. Which is a darn shame, as in the time since recording and releasing this, the band have apparently decided to call it a day. From A Dying Day suddenly takes on a different feeling when I realised I was listening to an epitaph. I’m not really familiar with their back catalogue in any detail, but from a quick turn around their greatest hits, it seems a shame that this is the end, as it’s an enjoyable, if not classic album.

Opener Kings And Queens doesn’t hold back, with some blistering double bass drum work driving this record into your face. The vocals are much softer than you would expect, and it’s quite an odd feeling worth this driving metal instrumental sound almost in the background to the much more subtle vocals. The first couple of tracks keep this vein up, pausing only for the always-refreshing step of Bland Sump Och Dy being sung in their native Swedish. Garnets And A Gilded Rose is a superb little instrumental track coming out of left field, but with the best fusion of the acoustic medieval folk elements with yer actual Power Metal, and serves as a feed into In Regal Attire, which is one of the catchiest tracks on the album. Again, I’m finding myself frustrated that vocally this is so restrained, as this song should be an anthem.

Which leads me to the elephant in the room - overall the vocals feel very disconnected from the rest of the album, almost as if they were added afterwards. In order to be heard they are consequently too high in the mix, forcing you to listen hard to distinguish what’s going on in the instrumentals, which is why the mid-way instrumental track is so refreshing. I guess the challenge remains that with a frontman whose background is in musical theatre the more restrained style always feels a little odd, especially since full-on in your face vocals is the Power Metal norm - where communication of raw emotion rather than syllabic accuracy is the priority. I am reminded of an old drama teacher of my youth, always urging us to enunciate clearly and emphatically with your lips, so the little old lady with a hearing aid at the back of the theatre on a pensioner’s discount ticket can understand what you are saying, and Mathias Blad clearly does too. Where he really shines is when he can be the strongest instrument in the mix – as the acoustic Rejoice The Adorned clearly shows. He’s clearly a great singer, but not a metal one.

Ironically at the end of the album we get the more epic finale Rapture, which eclectically by mixing acoustic and electric instrumental sounds throughout actually avoids the feeling of contrast vocally, stepping the acoustic elements back for some of the instrumental breaks. And Blad shines vocally here, as he finally lets rip vocally and a few solo bars go along way here. This one track really works, sounds like a joined up band and if this more effective use of contrast had been employed throughout, then this would be getting a higher score. So in summary, there’s some great music in here, but the sense of discombobulation the vocal approach uses rather undermines the strength of this. (Shame then that this will be their last chance to impress anyone unfortunately - Ed) 6/10

Alarum: Circle’s End (DFW Records) [Rich Oliver] 

The joy of this reviewing gig is being introduced to bands you probably would never have come across. Music is one of my only sources of joy at the moment locked down in the midst of a global pandemic and the endorphins did indeed rush and smiles were cracked thanks to the absolutely stunning new album from Alarum.

Alarum hail from Australia and have been active since 1992. Circle’s End is the fourth album from the band with a whole nine years since their last release. Nine years is a good amount of time to formulate a great album and Alarum have certainly done that here. Alarum play a mix of progressive metal and jazz fusion mixed in with elements of extreme metal most notably thrash and death metal. There are a might of influences strewn throughout the album with nods to such colossal acts such as Watchtower, Cynic, Voivod, Atheist, Devin Townsend and Between The Buried And Me. This is complex, challenging and changeable music but Alarum have the skill to make the music equally hooky, memorable and near enough accessible.

The songs themselves are jam packed and positively bursting with ideas but the flow is there throughout with nothing ever sounds forced or out of place which is an achievement in this style of music and showcases the incredible songwriting skill of the band. You get the opening duo of Sphere Of Influence and Syzygy which trade thrashing riffs with fusion and prog tendencies. These two somewhat opposing elements fuse together into something which is quite spectacular and also used to great effect in the title track and the closing epic Sojourn.

 The finest moment of the album is the duo of Crystal and Sand. Crystal is definitely the most wonderfully weird and incredibly joyous song on the album and it is all too brief but then Sand follows with its fusion heavy intro before literally exploding into some absolutely savage thrash riffs. It is jaw droppingly heavy before shifting into this colossally epic cleanly sung chorus that is very reminiscent of Devin Townsend, The song continually shifts into varying sounds and is just an absolutely incredible piece of music.

The playing throughout is nothing less than incredible with some fabulous guitar playing from Scott Young and John Sanders whilst the rhythm section of bassist Mark Palfreyman and drummer Ben Hocking hold this ever shifting beast together with plenty of rhythmic shifts and percussive fireworks. The vocals (also by Mark Palfreyman) shift between a harsh thrash style and an epic clean style both of which are used to great effect.

I think it’s safe to say that Alarum have won me over here. This is easily the best progressive metal album I’ve heard this year and probably the best since Devin’s Empath opus last year. The metal scene in Australia has been steadily gaining more attention and rising in prominence and by the strength of an album like Circle’s End is testament to the sheer quality of bands down under. One of the must hear albums this year. 9/10

The Loyal Order: The Loyal Order (Self Released) [Bob Shoesmith]

So, this morning’s research on the rather Masonically titled The Loyal Order, (I'm pretty sure sure that it's a reference to The Loyal Order Of Water Buffalo from The Flintstones, their album cover even has one on the front - Ed) as pretty swift, as all I can find is a Facebook page with no clear links and very little information on it and a brief mention on musicpage.com site about them with a bit of searching (so I shall assume the 3,000 plus Facebook likes on their page are either their close friends or are equally in the dark). What I CAN tell you is that they identify as a songwriting partnership of Jeff Buehner and Brandon Cook from Portland, Oregon (although the few pictures available online seem to possibly indicate a full band in attendance?). Come on guys, in these days of fast feed social media, information and presentation, this is a game that you really need to embrace, especially for musicians who claim to be ‘…Portland’s most prominent rock players’. Low attention spanned browsers shouldn’t have to work this hard.

The message that this paucity of information sends to a casual visitor like myself is a rather a negative “these guys are chancer” standpoint, however, the album kicks off is surprisingly forthright style with a mid-paced LA style rocker Ready for Dead with a strong likeness to Velvet Revolver or a polite Brides Of Destruction vibe. Jeff Buehner has a great voice and is tunefully on point throughout with a bit of a roughed-up edge in places. He opens up, soars and shines on tracks like the standout Colorblind propped up with some very complimentary backing vocals. There’s a nod to Alice In Chains, Soundgarden and Creed in tracks like Half Life and The River and a very Buckcherry Fuck Or Fight, plus another standout in the raunch and roll of the Blackstone Cherry-esque Superhuman.

As the album progresses it is very West-Coast/LA rock n roll in the style of all those mentioned above and you can tick off all the obvious similarities as you go, so there won’t be any prizes won for originality, BUT, this is a very well-played and well produced album, the vocals are on point, the production is balanced, loud and dirty (which I love) and by the closing, belter of a rock out, Fall To Rise I am a definitely a fan, but increasingly annoyed that these guys are not selling this good stuff better. With the current “New Wave of Classic Rock” in full swing they would be well received and so much more if only they sold themselves better. 8/10

Thursday 25 June 2020

Reviews: Emmure, Exocrine, Cult Of Frey, Battle Born (Liam, Charlie, Paul S & Simon)

Emmure: Hindsight (Sharptone Records) [Liam True]

I’ve never listened to Emmure prior to listening to this record, but I’ve always associated them with Attila. Childish, not a serious band and just downright terrible to listen to. But the opening track (F)inally (U)nderstanding (N)othing instantly changed my perception of the band and their musical abilities. Granted the band isn’t everyone's cup of tea, and with vocalist’s Frankie Palmeri’s past controversies a lot of people might have been turned off with the band. But Hindsight may change that for a lot of people. Beyond the ‘No fucks given’ attitude of the band is a sublime record full of supreme vocal reaches of Frankie. From the clean talking-like vocals to the hideous screams that burrow into your ears like a parasite.

The drums echoing as Josh Miller beats them to a pulp. The chugging guitar of Joshua Travis has a completely filthy tone to it adding to the heaviness of the albums structure. The album itself is full of crushing songs, Pigs Ear is a thrilling electronic background chug of certain death, Persona Non Grata is the slower section of the album but it makes it sound like a car crash with the devastating production. Pans dream is a dirty heavy slow burner which also samples a meme of all things (If you know the meme, then you know). Action 52 is as brutal as the entire album. All things considered the album is produced beautifully and sounds great. There are a couple things I’d change personally, but all in all it’s a terrific album. If you’re an older fan I highly doubt you’ll be disappointed. Me? I’m very impressed and will be keeping this on repeat for some time. 9/10

Exocrine: Maelstrom (Unique Leader Records) [Charlie Rogers]

Fierce, furious, and full of aquatic fervor, Exocrine blast open this record. There’s no lead up, just straight into it. Diving straight into the riffs, the depth of the variation these musicians bring to the table is as vast as the pacific. The sheer variation of sounds brought forward is as bewildering as it is breathtaking. Influences stretching across the abyss, from punishing Deathcore beatdowns, to electronic middle eights, then Archspire-esque link passages, and even some sombre trumpet playing heralding the end. Their sound is akin to an Archspire meets Necrophagist meets Beyond Creation, with all the best bits of Rings Of Saturn, and still having a clear, distinct sound that is their own. The album is incredibly impressive, showcasing some absolutely stellar musicianship, and talent for creating songs that are both exciting and full of wonder. I’ll always have the utmost respect for bands in the extreme metal space that manage to break away from the standard gore and perversion trope we all lean on when the well of new ideas runs dry, and given this album has both a nautical and space theme, it’s a really welcome change of pace.

The production is sublime, with clear space for every single instrument to shine, but also gel seamlessly when the time comes for it. There’s certainly plenty of rope laid out for the band and the engineer to trip over with the compositions, and yet they dance through it effortlessly - changing keyboard tones and samples as if they were frets on a guitar. The end result is a magnificent opera that truly delights the senses. Aside from a small handful of passages that linger a tad long, there’s really not a lot you can fault with Maelstrom, and it will come down to personal taste whether you get on with it or not. For me, as an avid tech death fan with a keen ear for melody, it pushes pretty much all of my buttons. If intelligent songwriting or the occasional sound of a trumpet gives you scurvy, might want to consider giving it a miss. I can’t wait to go and see this band in a live setting, and in the meantime I’m going to get my hands on their back catalogue to plug the hole. 9/10

Cult Of Frey: By The Blood Of Odin Part 1 - Midgard [UKEM Records) [Paul Scoble]

Cult Of Frey formed back in the heady days of 1991 in Bedfordshire. The band recorded an album demo called Sons Of Ing in 1994, before breaking up with said demo being their only recording. Cult Of Frey reformed in 2005 under the name Sleipnir, this time they recorded and released 2 albums, Bloodbrothers in 2008 and Oaths Sworn In Blood And Mead in 2013. During this period the band, made up of Paul Clark on all musical instruments and Tossell on Vocals, also relocated to Yorkshire. So, the band have now changed their name again, this time due to the name Sleipnir already being used by another band, and that band having links to Neo-Nazi organisations, something the 2 members of Cult Of Frey did not want to have anything to do with. This means that By The Blood Of Odin Part 1 - Midgard appears to be a debut album, but is in fact the bands third album.

Musically the band describe themselves as Epic Viking Metal, which is an accurate description as I would say the sound on offer on By The Blood Of Odin Part 1 - Midgard, is a mix of classic, Bathory influenced Viking Metal (definitely not the savage Lo-Fi first wave black metal sound on Bathory’s first 3 albums, this is the style Quarthon pioneered on Hammerheart or Blood Fire Death) and Epic Black Metal; the style of black metal originated by Summoning and perfected by Caladan Brood. The Bathory influence is very evident on the tracks Lament Of The Fallen, or We Forge This Land (In Blood And Steel). Both tracks have a mid-paced tempo that is quite folk influenced, with big riffs and very melodic tunefulness throughout the songs, which is helped by the use of strings and horns. There is a definite traditional metal feel to these tracks, there's a nod to early Manowar in the rhythms and structure. The vocals throughout this album are multi layered and chanted, so they sound like a male voice choir, which is a little odd but I got used to it quite quickly and after a few listens, really enjoyed.

The Epic Black metal style comes through on the tracks We Were Born Of Odin (Once We Were Kings Part 3)The Bravest Ones Are First To Fall and Life In The Shield Wall. These tracks have a similar sound to the more strait Viking metal songs but with the inclusion of Tremolo picked riffs, giving them bags of energy and drive. These tracks add some extra energy to the album and work well with the slower tracks. By The Blood Of Odin Part 1 - Midgard is a very enjoyable album. It’s packed full of melodic and tuneful Viking metal. Whether the tracks are traditional Viking Metal or the style that is closer to Epic Black metal, Cult Of Frey have excelled themselves on this album, a hugely entertaining album. 8/10

(Editor's Note: This album was scheduled to be released 26 June but will now be released in July)

Battle Born: Battle Born EP (Self Released) [Simon Black]

I was really divided on this one when I started listening. Our chosen music genre of choice has never been an easy one to live with, particularly in the critical eyes and ears of the ‘not-we’. We always like to accentuate the musicianship when discussing and critiquing, but often find ourselves being slightly defensive when it comes to the lyrical and vocal aspects of the bands we love. Even the best raise eyebrows from time to time – much as I love Judas Priest, some of their lyrics are positively cringe worthy and Power Metal is often the worst offender here. Battle Born are in danger of falling slightly foul of this, as there’s just too much clichéd use of the word ‘Metal’ throughout the five tracks to let it ride. I mean, it’s really obvious – cropping up a lot in all bar one of the five tracks on this EP. An EP that in almost every other respect plays an absolute blinder of anthemic European influenced Power metal…

The title track opens the piece and starts well, with some good classic Power Metal thundering major chord madness of the kind that always works well in a field in Slovenia where no-one speaks the same native language. The rhythm section of this band is a veritable powerhouse and clearly a key part of what makes them tick. Despite some fairly non-technical power chord work through the majority of the song, the guitarists get to show that there is no small amount of technical skill going on in their ranks when they open up with the solo lick and at 3’29” it’s a short, but effective opener. Second track Bring The Metal Back is a bit more technically complex, but again builds on the powerhouse with some of the more traditional keyboard and guitar technical interplay. Man Of War slows the pace down a little with an effective mid-tempo rocker, with a great catchy anthemic chorus and riff that you can’t fail to tap along to.

Power ballad For Our Home is trying very hard to show these guys have some range to them, and is an effective, if by the numbers interlude and the strongest use of vocals on the whole EP, not for any other reason that the voices is in the right place in the mix on this track. Sovngarde Awaits closes the EP, bringing all the best aspects of the band together – a blistering opening and chorus, a good mid-paced verse to vary the tone, top notch technical playing and vocally throwing every trick available into the mix and some nice non-intrusive pace changes taking to an epic conclusion. It also doesn’t use the word ‘Metal’, and is by far the strongest track on the EP.

I have to remind myself that this is a new band finding their feet and from the perspective of overall effect, the instrumental side of things is clearly in safe hands. They are also a welcome UK addition to a genre dominated by Germany and Sweden. Where the EP doesn’t quite hit the mark is vocally on the first 3 tracks. I’m surprised by this and can’t help feeling that most of this is about the recording and engineering process, rather than what lungsman Jack Reynolds can do. He clearly has got both range, power and a huge portion of theatrical presence, but sounds a little flat in the mix early on but absolutely in the right place on the last two tracks. I’m going to put this down to budget and ask you to bear with them on the lyrics, because despite being torn initially, I know this is a band I am really going to grow to love as they develop. More please. 8/10

Reviews: Pyrrhon, On Atlas' Shoulders, Glasswork, Draemora (Paul S, Paul H, Bob Matt)

Pyrrhon: Abscess Time (Willowtip Records) [Paul Scoble]

Pyrrhon have been making challenging music together since 2008. I say ‘Challenging’ as this is a far more experimental form of Death Metal than most Death Metal fans are used to. The four Brooklyn natives are on to their fourth album with Abscess Time, in a style that rides the line between complex and chaotic. As I alluded to before this is a very experimental type of Death Metal, there is a similarity with Gorguts more difficult work, and when I say this I am thinking more of Gorguts album Obscura rather than the slightly easier to get along with material like that on Coloured Sand.

Pyrrhon are clearly quite happy to challenge their audience, at times seeming to be deliberately obtuse; however, if you give this album a few listens it will open itself up to you and become easier to digest, but giving it time is essential. Rhythmically the album feels like a huge lurching monster, all the rhythms feel slightly off kilter, time signatures change abruptly, moving from slow stagger to blasting fast in the blink of an eye. Initially this feels off putting, but with time you start to get your head around the strange timings, and it becomes more accessible. A good example of this is the track The Cost Of Living, which opens in a slow and brooding manner, it’s minimal, lurching and dissonant, but slowly builds and adds complexity, by the end the track is fast and chaotic and brilliantly savage.

There is just as much difficult experimentalism in the riffs as well. Ultra technical, highly complex riffs that feel as if they are constantly changing (this is an album that will not let you settle). There is a style of playing that uses the tremolo bar to detune chords as they are being played, something that I am first aware of hearing on Gorguts Obscura, and a style that has also been used by Imperial Triumphant to great effect. This is very apparent in the title track Abscess Time, which opens the album, no note or chord is held without somehow messing with the pitch. This coupled with the lurching, constantly changing tempo gives the track a feeling of constant flux, and stops the listener from settling, or relaxing with the music.

The vocals are very good as well, vocalist Doug Moore uses two different styles on this album. The main voice is closer to hardcore than death metal, it’s a higher register scream that cuts through the chaotic music very effectively. The other voice is an ultra guttural, very low register voice that is pretty close to pig squealing. There are also some really effective atonal guitar solos on offer here as well. The Lean Years features a very good dissonant solo, and the guitar on the track Another Day In Paradise is pretty much an atonal guitar solo all through that song, which reminded me a little of crazy experimentalists Psyopus.

Abscess Time is a very challenging album. It’s meant to be difficult, if you are after simple blast beats then you should look elsewhere. This is extreme metal treated as an art form, it’s not about comforting people with styles they have heard before, if you want that then there are plenty of Death metal bands who are continually releasing the same album. However, if you are looking for something that is creative and demanding, then this is a great place to be challenged. If you are willing to put in the effort, you will get a lot out of this, just don’t expect anything simple or easy. 8/10

On Atlas’ Shoulders: Invictus (Self Released) [Paul Hutchings]

Invictus is the debut release from German outfit On Atlas’ Shoulders. The band formed in 2018 and play a style of epic heavy metal that will please some and be completely irrelevant to others. Bombastic riffs, soaring harmonies, interspersed with acoustic, almost folk segments on paper make for interesting listening. At 54 minutes it’s too long, and the songs are at times a little disjointed. Searching For The Blue is case in point; a track that labours through various styles, swaying from ballad to anthem, using slow paced harmonies but never reaches where it needs to get to. There’s the pedestrian A Lion’s Heart, which contrasts with the dramatic way in which the album opens with Legend Pt. I, a fiery start which sadly doesn’t continue through the whole album.

On Atlas' Shoulders seem in need of direction. I’m not sure that epic metal is that easy to pull off. There needs to be a gravitas that isn’t yet present within the compositions or the song structures. To put it politely, some of this music is just boring. It’s not beyond redemption. There is some solid guitar work, the duel guitars of Björn Anders and Ben Chadwick work well together and the youngest member of the band, Leo Pick is a solid drummer. I’m unconvinced by the vocals of Marius Bönish; he certainly has a range which fits with the band’s music but there are moments of struggle. Invictus has flashes of genuine promise and the band have gone for the big hit early. There is still some way to go. 5/10

Glasswork: Metabole (Self Released) [Bob Shoesmith]

Glasswork are a four piece from Malaga in Spain who operate in a kind of slightly surreal area of soft floaty jazz/Prog, in fact so soft and floaty you almost imagine the introduction of Whale song at the next turn of the winding tracks. Right off the bat I should also add that if you are not a great flute or sax fan within your Prog, this may not be the album for you either, as their appearance feature heavily. Not the aggressive, agricultural flute of say Jethro Tull but the lull you to sleep type of pan pipe flute. Glasswork are very difficult to categorise, they are, without doubt, 100% Prog but the tracks have long flute laden musical passages that float along and then swiftly change directions like a dragonfly over a stream, to other musical ideas and back again.

Musically Glasswork veer from the ‘fairly’ commercial A Song For Grace where they have recruited Jesus Sanchez to produce a gentle ballad reminiscent of Bread with a twist of Tull in the bridges to the downright weirdness of Zierra which is (and I’m being as literal as I can be here) 1 minute 4 seconds of sound effects that appear to be someone fiddling with an organ next to an open fire…in a restaurant…very random. They also swing within tracks between some styles that could be closest compared to acid jazz tinged, swing timings, to soft floaty balladry such as in the stand out track Solitude. Then, I glance at their bio and they describe their influences as Black Sabbath (!) Tool and Iron Butterfly, but that is very misleading, none of those styles appear within a country mile of this album. The one consistent of each track is their inconsistency. 

I am aware that twisting and turning of ideas and moving timings and direction around is what Proggers are prone do, but as a body of work the flitting about between ideas and styles becomes quite unsettling. There are a lot of soulful moments within the tracks such as the Procol Harem-esque start to For Everyone And No One before sliding off into the angular timings and style of Steve Hillage or Frank Zappa, a bit of up tempo rock lite and then back round again to something else. It all becomes quite a complex listen, if you listen all the way through.

For me, when Glasswork are inhabiting their genteel, ethereal, moody, emotive song writing areas, they are a blissed out, soporific and a beautiful listen (yes, even with the rather ubiquitous flute & sax bits) but they don’t last long enough for me and when they go all experimental and crudely stitch together tapestries of ideas around them, they lose me a bit. I do know Prog fans who love their non-linear musical journeys with eclectic interludes and alternative pathways so I would definitely recommend them to give Glasswork a go, but not essential listening for me. 7/10

Draemora: Awakening (Ultra Nast Records) [Matt Bladen]

Awakening is the debut EP from Pittsburgh heavies Draemora and it starts off well with some thunderous heaviness, thick grooves and a harsh croak that reminds me of French extreme kings Gojira. Now this band are probably the primary influence on Draemora their melodies climb very high on tracks such as Guilt, they also bring those low end rumbles on Dead Inside while Reckoning has a very propulsive thrash/blackened edge. The EP is about frontman/guitarist/engineer/mixer Terry Jenkins' struggles with drugs and alcohol and these hardships have been channeled into this very aggressive music that does have melody, you can feel the ferociousness on the final two tracks Reckoning and Legion Of Scum which are the heaviest on the album and the two that don't feature clean vocals which are unfortunately a very big deterrent for my enjoyment of this record, on Guilt especially any emotion trying to be conveyed is dissipated quite quickly when the flat cleans try to carry the weight of the lyrics. At five songs there's a lot to like here but those vocals stop it from reaching the next level for me. 5/10    

Wednesday 24 June 2020

Reviews: Blackberry Smoke, Jessica Wolff, Arabs In Aspic, Thunderlight Project (Paul H & Bob)

Blackberry Smoke: Live From Capricorn Sound Studios (Capricorn Sound Studios) [Paul Hutchings]

It’s a well-established fact that Blackberry Smoke are one of our favourites. The Southern rockers have been doing their laid back Southern drenched Country Rock for over two decades, each release proving to be a little more sophisticated than their last. Whilst the band prepare for their seventh full length, they have released a six-track homage to the historic Capricorn Sound Studios in Macon, Georgia, an epicentre of the Southern Rock genre in the early Seventies. The Smoke are donating a portion of sales to the Recording Academy’s MusiCares COVID-19 Relief Fund. This EP consists of tracks recorded earlier this year at the legendary studios – the first project cut there by a major recording act in over 40 years. It sees Blackberry Smoke take songs tied to the Capricorn’s studio and record label.

As one would expect, it’s a polished and flawless recording, with the band tackling one of their live staples, Midnight Rider by the Allman Brothers Band in typically relaxed yet flawless style. Of note on this legendary song is that Charlie Starr plays Duane Allman’s iconic Goldtop Les Paul guitar. The Marshall Tucker Band’s Take The Highway features Marcus Henderson on flute, and whilst the band are tight and capture the essence of the track superbly, the flute is a minor irritant. Two songs from Wet Willie sees guest vocals from Jimmy Hall, a member of Wet Willie during Capricorn’s heyday, with Keep On Smiling holding a nice Van Morrison vibe. The other Allman Brothers Band song featured is Revival, and there’s little to say other than that Blackberry Smoke make this music sound easy. It’s fluid, comfortable and totally enjoyable.

Whilst the band’s Spirit of the South Tour: A Celebration of Southern Rock and Roll Music is postponed (at present only until August but likely to be extended), this is a timely reminder that Blackberry Smoke are rarely inactive and that everything they do is simply fabulous. 8/10

Jessica Wolff: Para Dice (Metalapolis Records) [Bob Shoesmith]

Jessica Wolff would appear to be a very busy Finnish artist, as, according to her bio, when she isn’t writing or performing music she is acting, doing stunt work and practicing Kung Fu. This multifaceted lady is the singer for her eponymous band which were formed in 2013 who, unfortunately, apart from the odd photo don’t get much credit or be named, so it's pretty much just about her. Para Dice is the ‘band's’ third album. My initial reaction when viewing the heavily filtered promo pics and the opening bars of the first track Ella’s Song I suspected a cookie cutter, female fronted pop-metal band, muscling in on Halestorm’s territory, but Jessica has a clarity of voice in the mould of Pink, Sharon den Adel (Within Temptation, Ayreon), the clean end of Doro Pesch’s vocals and if you’re as old as me, even a hint of Pat Benatar. Jessica keeps her range away from the faux growl which some female rock singers feel is necessary to chuck in, which is to her credit and prevents stepping on any of her contemporaries’ toes. She will certainly appease rock fans (Ella’s Song, Superhero, Demons) but won’t frighten the pop princesses away with really some big hooky choruses and action-woman imagery (All The Right Things, Kill Switch, Fight Forever, Take Me Away)

Throughout the album, Wolff shows a clean set of vocal and lyrical heels and all the songs could sit in the metal or the pop charts quite comfortably. The album grows with listens and imprints on the memory. The juxtaposition of pop sensibility and melodic metal roots sit naturally enough although none of the remaining tracks quite hit the highs of the commercial metal of the opening two tracks (Ella’s Song and Perfect Kind Of Wrong) of which the former would make her a perfect, commercial crossover single. The ‘band’ are a stock Nu Metal affair who are skilled enough but are clearly a vehicle for Ms. Wolff’s ambition rather than breaking any new ground (and as a drummer I couldn’t let the jarring, Limp Bizkit snare drum sound go without a brief mention).

Overall the package being presented here is all about Jessica Wolff and her aspirations to be recognised and successful; super glossy photo shoots and the focus on being this multifaceted renaissance action-woman is all well and good and good luck to her with all that but I can’t help feeling that she has a sufficiency of songwriting talent without the added gilding of the CV. 8/10

Arabs In Aspic: Madness And Magic (Karisma Records) [Bob Shoesmith]

This Norwegian 5 piece have been knocking around for a little while having released their first full album, Progeria in 2003. Six albums later across five record labels we have their latest offering, Madness And Magic. They happily declare they are a 60’s and 70’s Prog influenced band and there is absolutely no mistaking that vibe. The album is made up of six tracks containing 45 minutes plus of genteel, organ and Mellotron washed, slightly hypnotic, hippy-ish, Paisley shirt wearing late 60’s early 70’s proggery with heavy nods to the sounds and styles of the Sgt Pepper album, Woodstock and King Crimson. Yes, I did have an initial twinge for the potential cultural insensitivity of the band name but as they’ve been using it for the last seventeen years without any issue that I’m aware of, I guess it’s ok, but these are changing times and it’s an area we are forced to consider.

On first listen I couldn’t help feeling that the album was maybe TOO derivative of those years, perhaps aping their predecessors a little too much. For example, Lullaby For Modern Kids Part 2 is essentially A Day In The Life by the Beatles and the sixteen minutes plus of Heaven In Your Eye starts out its journey as Strawberry Fields and drifts into Court Of The Crimson King before exhausting every early Prog style of the late 60’s during the remaining 14 minutes. But the one thing about the music of Arabs In Aspic and the era they’re echoing is that it is soft, pleasant, organic and soporific. They nail that style and period and none of the comparisons are criticisms.

All the tracks on Madness And Magic are well engineered and have a Summer Of Love floaty vibe with very listenable, jointly shared vocals and backing vocals and there is enough of their own individuality present in the song writing to not be mistaken for a tribute band, such as the gentle jazz funk of High-Tech Parent. There are two members of the band who are drummers and percussionists; Eskil Nyhus – Drums and cymbals and Alessandro G. Elide – Percussion and gongs and they are certainly not under-employed, as there is a vast array of whistles, bells and tippy-tappy things – literally - underpinning all of the tracks (they don’t overly intrude on the songs but once you are aware that they’re there, constantly in the background, you do wonder if they were all entirely necessary as their constant rattley presence becomes a little irritating). 

The album does travel well though and bares and improves with repeated listens whether you’re a fan of the era or an early Prog fan or not. The songs are pleasant and would be a decent addition to a warm summer festival on the West Coast. 7/10

Thunderlight Project: Metal Nation - Hail To The Steel, Pt. 1 (Self Released) [Paul Hutchings]

A solo project from multi-instrumentalist Artur Pereira, this is hopefully the only release that ever sees the light of day. Within minutes of the opening track, Beast of the Seven Seas, I was checking connections and hearing. Tinnier than the Tin Man tapping empty tins, and with vocals that had me searching for a wounded cat, this was particularly uncomfortable listening. Learn To Forgive features the vocals of Alba Karry but doesn’t improve things, the rapid fire programmed drumming continues to tap away like a furious Morse Code operator which the frenetic riffing lacked any depth or feeling. I’m loath to be critical about anyone who has invested time, energy, and their talent into a project like this, but I will also call a spade a spade. This was a poor, uninspiring release, with the inclusion of several guest vocalist helping not one jot. Carry On (featuring Susan Power & Marcos Moreira) is in the top two worst songs I’ve heard in 2020; lethargic, out of tune and utterly dreadful. Whilst I hope it brings Artur plenty of joy and plaudits, I’m afraid that after four songs I moved onto something that didn’t cause me so much aural pain. 1/10

Tuesday 23 June 2020

Reviews: Carach Angren, Ahab, Votane, Green Claws, (Paul H & Matt)

Carach Angren: Franckensteina Strataemontanus (Season Of Mist) [Paul Hutchings]

Album number six for the Dutch outfit who revel in their label as masters of horror. This may be their most flamboyant album of their 17-year history, and the final one to feature drummer Ivo ‘Namtar’ Wijers who left the band in February. Franckensteina Strataemontanus sees Carach Angren resurrect the gruesome story of troubled soul ‘Johann Conrad Dippel’, the late 17th and early 18th century German occultist and alleged inspiration for Mary Shelly’s novel 'Frankenstein'.

If you are familiar with the band, you’ll know that the two masterminds behind it are Dennis ‘Seregor’ Droomers (vocals and guitar) and Clemens ‘Ardek’ Wijers (keyboards, orchestration, guitar, bass and backing vocals) who along with ‘Namtar’ had crafted and weaved five previous albums in similar dramatic and dazzling style. ‘Ardek’ has collaborated with the likes of Till Lindemann (Rammstein) and Peter Tägtgren (Pain) in the past, a sign of his orchestral mastery.

Having set out to tell ghost stories since their 2004 demo The Chase Vault Tragedy, Franckensteina Strataemontanus is the latest instalment and quite spectacular in both delivery and formatting. From the narration on Here In The German Woodland that opens the album, this an opulent sonic experience which weaves through harsh melodies and blisteringly driving drumming, giant sweeping orchestral arrangements and massive guitar riffs. All of this is underpinned by the savage vocal delivery, Seregor’s fierce rasps and shrieking vocals adding to the haunting compositions.

At times, this album drifts in its eccentricity, the band’s preference for switching language once more in use, particularly on the title track and the impressive Der Vampir von Nürnberg. The use of the orchestral elements won’t be to the taste of all, but by now, Carach Angren’s fanbase will be familiar and accepting of the variations and dramatic interplay that is their trademark. There’s still plenty of brutality, with punishing black metal segments on songs such as Skull With A Forked Tongue contrasting with soaring string sections. Of course, it’s impossible not to think of Fleshgod Apocalypse when listening to Carach Angren, but although the symphonic elements bear comparison, the Dutch approach is lighter and more melodic throughout. With a push to the most flamboyant and extravagant recording yet, Carach Angren have delivered another release that is lightly to delight their hardcore fans and may well lure in new interest at the same time. 8/10

Ahab: Live Prey (Napalm Records) [Matt Bladen]

A band that identify themselves as playing "Nautic Funeral Doom" Ahab have always carved their own path as a band creating melancholic, pessimistic, despondent heavy music that pairs guttural chanting vocals with thunderous rapid drumming, a grooves from the bowels of the deepest sea. Now this record comes from their seminal live performance at Death Row Fest 2017 in Jena, Germany. It was recorded by the festival's in-house sound engineer, and transferred to a USB stick where it has now been mastered by Role Wiegener at Tonmeisterei and culls five songs originally featured on their 2006 album The Call Of The Wretched Sea! Live Prey. Now despite this being live there is very little crowd noise on the record just punishing, relentless funeral doom. A genre I have love hate relationship with as I do find it does drone on a little too long sometimes and yet again I struggled to make my way through the record in full, when you consider the shortest track here is 10:34, the longest being 16:55, there are moments where there is depth and tonal shifts but much of the songs are just long, slow repetition. I understand how revered Ahab are as a band but it's not for me, those who want miserable funeral doom will take themselves away to the briny deep with Ahab but call me Ishmael this is one lot of Live Prey I won't be hunting down again. 5/10

Voltane: Killing Fields (Self Released) [Matt Bladen]

First seen at the Voluntas album release show last year in Bristol, Voltane are a groove-based thrash outfit from Bristol that impressed us as the first act of the night. Their style is very much in the ultra-confrontational style of US heavyweights such as Lamb Of God with the croaky roars of Christopher Grey barking the title track before we get a bluesy refrain in the middle that also brings some nods to the Southern metal acts such as Pantera and COC before it breaks down at the end. This is their debut EP and it has a massive swagger to it as Resolution which is driven by the crushing riffs from Theo Lezzeri and Jarod Frankum, it's probably the most LOG song on the record taking that blueprint of stomping aggression and steamrollering the track with it. However after this we get Joker's Mind which is more akin to Down or Crowbar before finally Burning Earth's huge grooves finish things off with Tom Southon's thumping basslines and Simon Leibbrandt's massive drum beats, taking a slower pace than he does on the rest of the EP. Well at least until the We said back at that show last year that there was a lot of potential and this EP reinforces that claim, heavy grooves from the Bristol mob that loom large on this debut. 7/10

Green Claws: Hell Is For Hugo Part I: Descent (Self Released) [Paul Hutchings]

The first instalment of a planned six-part release, Hell Is For Hugo Part I: Descent is a rock musical that loosely follows the Inferno section of Dante’s Divine Comedy (this appears to be a popular topic this year in the rock and metal world). Set in a fictional town, it follows the story of Hugo, who ends up in Hell after following a group of demons on Halloween and his journey through the nine circles, accompanied by Emily, who he meets when he arrives and the mysterious Theodore who aims to help them escape.

Conceived almost five years ago by Singer/songwriter George Purves, who plays all instruments and sings, it is well produced and the four tracks that total 12 minutes are adequately performed. The challenge is the quality. It’s, well, to put it bluntly, a bit basic. The sugary pop feel of this EP may well sit at home with fans of Puppy, Haunt and Weezer (according to the PR anyway) but it merely irritated me. Like a wasp trapped in the curtains, it simply annoyed me with its noise. Purves is obviously a competent musician, although the alt-rock style vocals did nothing for me at all. The four tracks are routine, repetitive, and somewhat unimaginative, despite the storyline contained within them.

If there are another five parts to come, I’ll probably give them the swerve. I’m sure this will appeal to some people. Just not me. Sorry. 4/10

Monday 22 June 2020

Reviews: Long Distance Calling, Behold The Void, Bell Witch & Aerial Ruin, Wino (Alex, Dr Claire, Paul S & Paul H)

Long Distance Calling: How Do We Want To Live? (Inside Out Music) [Alex Swift]

Instrumental prog out of Germany, the impressive, spacey soundscapes long-distance calling create, do not require vocals to add to their sense of majestic composure. We begin on a note, many may not expect – The Curiosity Suite has more in common with an electronic ambient piece, inspired by the elusive musical movements of dream pop and trip-hop. The effect is hallucinogenic in tone and epic in magnitude, feeling akin to a film score, with the constantly swelling sense of tension which these musicians muster. Hazard is more traditional and guitar-led, yet still bears a serene feeling of travelling – of fleeing from a plane of existence, exploring planets, worlds, and galaxies – the intriguing voice-overs paint surreal images not of what our future will look like, yet the different possibilities in front of us. To clarify, Long Distance Calling are not laying down some grand, dystopian narrative here, yet using their skill to create a set of ambiances and musical realities that explore the realms of how our world may look as technology advances its relentless march and political realities take form before our eyes.

The reason pieces such as Voices and Immunity are so effective in crafting auditory narratives is that they refuse the stagnation of sticking to singular ideas - instead choosing to change and investigation. We stray serenely between haunting synthesiser and electronic passages, to impressionistic percussive moments, and sections of pure elation and melody. All this allows the scientific themes to sprawl and rejoices, as though the playing is providing the precise and exciting soundtrack to a revolutionary experiment. That's not to say there aren’t instants where this particular experiment goes awry – where sung vocals are incorporated such as on the disenchanting Beyond Limits, they dull the grandiose and molecular feel of the surrounding musicianship. Also, at times there is too much emphasis placed on creating an atmosphere as opposed to doing anything inspiring – I’m not sure if they intended to be subtle or brooding, yet the closer Ashes failed to tir much of anything in my emotions. That said, I won’t deny the talent on show, and certainly, lots of thought has been utilized in creating a vast and expansive work of art with How do we want to live? 7/10

Behold The Void: Disintegration (Self Released) [Dr Claire Hanley]

Instantly bludgeoning, Merciless One kicks off proceedings with an incredible intensity. The steady, purposeful pace locks you firmly into the Djent groove from the outset. Punchy drum patterns and slamming bass riffs dominate throughout. Behind the brutality is a blackened edge with tempo changes that layer perfectly with the overriding Deathcore influence, and the howling vocals accentuate the crushing soundscape. Encircled In Death leads with a comparatively melodic opening but maintains that sense of the macabre, fading out into Plots And Schemes which showcases a blend of symphonic synth effects and throat-stripping screams, with an atmospheric interlude that wouldn’t be out of place on a Swallow The Sun album. There is no let up from the intensity as Blindfold embodies the aural equivalent of being dragged through Hell; continuing to unleash more abrupt, blackened switches in tempo, while Light enhances this by introducing some galloping guitar riffs.

The pinnacle of the album, Distant brings the aforementioned layers together. The mix is exquisite, expertly meshing the blackened elements and borderline-beatdown riffs. However, from this point, things become repetitive. Into The Bliss possesses similar characteristics as the previous tracks, so fails to add anything novel. Much the same story for Enemy, which feels comparatively weak and lacklustre. The addition of an instrumental track, Agonia, sets the record on an upward trajectory again, before the title track Disintegration closes with some tremendous, thundering double kicks. Far more accomplished than similar offerings by artists such as Lorna Shore, Behold The Void manage to seamlessly integrate largely divergent genres. The result is impressive but sticking to a similar formula prevents individual tracks from standing out, which leaves the record teetering on the brink of background music. 7/10

Bell Witch & Aerial Ruin: Stygian Bough Volume 1 (Profound Lore Records) [Paul Scoble]

Firstly, this album is not a split, this is not one side Bell Witch, one side Aerial Ruin. This album is a rarer beast than a simple split album. This is a collaboration between Bell Witch and Aerial Ruin, in all intents and purposes the two acts have formed a three piece to make this album. Collaborative albums are not that common, some have been incredibly successful (The Body and Thou or Mare Cognitum and Spectral Lore) some haven’t (Metallica and Lou Reed), it’s a risky thing for bands to do. However Bell Witch duo Dylan Desmond (Bass and Vocals) and Jesse Shreibman (Drums and Vocals) and Aerial Ruin’s only member Erik Moggridge have worked together before in this way. Erik Moggridge has been involved with all 3 Bell Witch albums, most obviously on Bell Witch’s third album Mirror Reaper where he provided vocals. So, these two acts have some experience of working together, which bodes well for this collaboration.

The album opens with the track The Bastard Wind, which starts with strummy clean guitar and clean vocals, this has a soft, folky feel to it. The softer feel is quickly dispensed with as a huge and heavy riff comes crashing in, the clean vocals continue. Extra layers are added, suddenly this collaboration starts to feel really special, as this is similar in style to Bell Witch, but with guitar. This means that there are more depth and complexity to the layering, this also creates some extremely effective harmonies. As the song continues the feel moves towards a more menacing sense, the vocals get harsher and for a while it feels almost claustrophobic. After this nastier section everything slows down and the clean vocals are back. This section has a more relaxed tempo, slow and heavy but with a slightly drifting feel. A big and very melodic guitar line comes in over the huge and slow riff and the song slowly moves to an end.

Heaven Torn Low I (The Passage) is a piece of dark folk. Simple, slow acoustic guitar, with ethereal vocals. The track is graceful and delicate, it feels sombre and old. The track has an almost ambient break in the middle before going back to the dark, melancholy folk. Heaven Torn Low I (The Passage) leads us into the next track Heaven Torn Low II (The Toll) which erupts into life out of the melancholy, minimalism of the preceding track. Heaven Torn Low II (The Toll) is huge and heavy, it’s shorter than the other two big and heavy tracks on here as it’s only 8 and a half minutes. The track is slow and very mournful, the huge harmonies are there as well which, with the pacing of the song, has an effect that is similar to Warnings masterpiece Watching From A Distance.

Prelude is a short instrumental that leads us into the final song The Unbodied Air. As with the first track, The Unbodied Air is nearly 20 minutes long, and is a sprawling, huge track. It opens with a huge, heavy and quite discordant riff, there is a menacing quality to this part. A melody lead guitar part is added, it’s also dissonant and so makes the whole sound feel nasty and unpleasant. This feeling is continued through into a faster section, which has more drive and purpose and has harsh vocals which add to the menace. And then all of a sudden it all fades and a solitary church organ is the only instrument to be heard. Clean vocals and some very minimalistic clean guitar come in, this is now soft lilting, and genuinely beautiful. After this section the huge and heavy riffs come thundering back, but this time they are very slow, and melancholy, without the menacing feeling that this song had before. The organ has decided to join in as well, and we can also welcome back the huge and very melodic harmonies that again remind me of Warning. This track now feels as if it has almost limitless depth, it’s huge and cathartic, as it slowly builds to a massively heavy climax.

Stygian Bough Volume 1 is a stunning piece of work. It’s monumentally heavy and huge, but is also packed with melody, nuance and power. This feels like something enormous, if mountain ranges could make music this is what it would sound like, but at the same time the folk influences brought to this project by Erik Moggridge also give it a beautiful feeling of lilting, delicate beauty. The album has enormous depth, this is a very impressive compositionally, and structurally, whilst at the same time containing some great melodies that will stick in your head, I must admit I have been humming a lot of this album over the last few days. This is probably going to be a very important album, this will probably be one of the best doom albums released this year. It also gives us a hint of more amazing music to come, after all if this is Volume 1 then that suggests a Volume 2, and hopefully a Volume 3. I’m already exited at the prospect! 9/10

Wino: Forever Gone (Ripple Music) [Paul Hutchings]

One of the most recognisable frontmen in the hard rock world, Scott “Wino” Weinrich is best known as the iconic frontman of cornerstone doom metal founders Saint Vitus and The Obsessed. His history is well documented with his move to California to join Saint Vitus in the 1980s, with whom he released the seminal Born Too Late widely regarded as one of the most powerful statements in doom’s early history. His raspy, heartfelt, and punk-charged vocals have been easily identifiable for over three decades. His third album Forever Gone is his first release on Ripple Music and his first since 2010’s Adrift.

Forever Gone is 11 tracks of acoustic stripped-down melancholic rock. His third solo album ranges from Americana inspired music to deeper, darker unplugged tracks. Joined once again by fellow Maryland rocker and Clutch drummer Jean Paul Gaster, it is likely to be an album that appeals to die hard fans as well as those who appreciate the efforts of a man and his guitar. The closing track is a cover of Joy Division’s Isolation, and with the addition of drums and electric instruments it’s probably the most exciting track on the album.

Elsewhere, the opening title track is an updated version of his 2015 song with Conny Ochs, a gentle play which provides the basis for many of the tracks on this release. As pleasant as it is, there isn’t a whole lot to get excited about here and I must admit I found it just a tad dull. It’s Wino and his guitar at a slower pace than normal. Beautifully performed, just a bit dull. If you enjoy acoustic sets then this may well be something to relax to. For me, well, let’s just say it’s not going to get the heart rate much above normal. 6/10

Saturday 20 June 2020

Reviews: Kyros, Hail Spirit Noir, Stygian Crown, Hadean Cult (Reviews By Matt Bladen)

Kyros: Celexa Dreams (White Star Records)

"Citalopram, sold under the brand name Celexa, is an antidepressant of the selective serotonin reuptake inhibitor class. It is used to treat major depressive disorder, obsessive compulsive disorder, panic disorder, and social phobia." So you can imagine that any dreams that you have while on this drug would be quite severe, varying wildly from euphoria to nightmare. However does it sound like synth-driven progressively tinged rock? I don't really know but I can tell you that Kyros' style has a certain lucidity to it that would certainly counterpoint a journey into the mind. Previously known as Synaesthesia (it all makes sense now) Celexa Dreams is the band's third full length release and they are very deep in that 80's synth revival that has been brought to a wider audience by Bastille, The 1975, Blossoms Foals and even artists like Dua Lipa and The Weeknd.

However Kyros filter this through some classic synth pop template of Depeche Mode, Duran Duran  and The Pet Shop Boys while also having a decidedly prog sound of bands like Asia and Toto who played synth/percussion driven 80's rock and also hints of both Marillion, Genesis and more recently Voyager on In Vantablack which is built around epic synths and soaring vocals from Adam Warne, some Level 42-esque bass playing from Peter Episcopo and clocks in 14 minutes of progressive deliciousness. It's one of two colossal tracks on this record the other being the 10 minute Technology Killed The Kids III a song that conjures the darkness of Porcupine Tree.

The remaining tracks though are shorter while still carrying emotional weight. Just listen to Phosphene which has the echoing vocal and balladic beauty of White Star Records co-founder John Mitchell, there's some Floydian sax parping on the jazzy shine of Rumour and robotic dreamscapes on Sentry where Robin Johnson plays some of those huge sounding Phil Collins electronic drums. I haven't yet mentioned guitarist Joey Frevola who plays it very understated for most of the record but occasionally is given the chance to shine with rocking numbers such as Uno Attack. The final track is the hair-raising Her Song Is Mine which has some jazz-lounge piano, stirring strings and a restrained sadness to it that closes the album with a heart-wrenching bang. Celexa Dreams is an evocative, beautifully sequenced and performed record from this London based band. It defies expectation and genre constraints and proves yet again White Star Records has it's finger on the pulse of modern progressive music. 9/10

Hail Spirit Noir: Eden In Reverse (Agonia Records)

Mind-Bending, the one (hyphenated) word to describe the fourth full length album from Thessaloniki's Hail Spirit Noir. Billed as a psychedelic/progressive black metal band, I did struggle a little to pick up the black metal references though, the riffs and drumming do come from a similar place as Emperor and Opeth and the end of Alien Lip Reading does contain some screamed vocals. It seems as if they have knowingly moved away from the black metal sound and that it's the Akerfeldt influence that looms the largest with vocalist Cons Marg, who makes his debut on this record, having that sonorus baritone vocal style of Mikael while musically the band have the retro leanings of the Swedish heavyweights.

Hail Spirit Noir take it much further though as they managed to employ two keyboardists Haris and Sakis Bandis (a debutant here) for layer upon layer of fizzing psych synths, massive organ stabs and the sort of space rock sounds you'd expect from bands like Hawkwind and Greece's own Aphrodite's Child melded with the electronics of Jean Michel Jarre and even a loving spoonful of musical wizard Steven Wilson. Even the other instruments ascribe to this obscure style Alien Lip Reading has Theoharis's guitar playing shimmering like 60's surf rock against some theremin, as the drumming Foivos (again on his first album with the band) and driving basslines of J. Demian add some head nodding groove. Certain parts of this record are haunting, such as the Katatonia-like beginning of Crossroads, before it becomes almost like a Ghost track but on others they really ramp up the mind melting for The Devils Blind Spot which has lots of electronica elements pulsating through it as First Ape On The New Earth brings a more black metal assault leading into the closing otherworldliness of closing track Automata 1980 a propulsive, hymn-like tracks that builds into the Vangelis synth attack at the end. Totally bonkers and utterly brilliant, I can't wait to get my arse back to Thessaloniki and watch this band live! 9/10

Stygian Crown: Self Titled (Cruz Del Sur Music)

Epic doom band Stygian Crown's self titled debut album is a statement of intent from this L.A. five piece. They have called their musical style "Candlethrower" with an equal influence from epic doom heavyweights Candlemass and death metal FUCKING LEGENDS Bolt Thrower. Now I was a little sceptical about the the second one but as soon as you hear those massive drums on tracks such as The Hall Of Two Truths and the grind on When Old Gods Die both of which come from  "An album tuned to B, with a 26” bass drum and a singer who doesn’t need auto-tune" (the bands words not mine). But that being so this is a very heavy album with some crushing guitar riffs, throbbing bass, those smashing drums and the bold, loud, classically trained vocals. Stygian Crown were formed by drummer Rhett A. Davis, bassist Jason Thomas and guitarist Nelson Miranda, then adding guitarist Andy Hicks and powerhouse vocalist Melissa Pinion, written in an unorthodox manner Stygian Crown is a cohesive doom metal record with a powerful chug witnessed on the closing Two Coins For The Ferryman the tale of Charon the boatman on the river Styx. Doom metal played with the unrepenting thunder of death metal Stygian Crown is a really powerful debut record from the band of the same name. 8/10

Hadean Cult: Don The Mantle (Self Released)

To ascribe to a Hadean Cult then you would have to worship Hades the lord of the underworld so this would have been the Ancient Greek equivalent of being a Satanist, walking the left hand path against the normal confines of society. That is certainly what Thessaloniki based two-piece Hadean Cult do, their music is imbued by the occult rock spirits of bands like Blood Ceremony, Purson, Lucifer and The Devil's Blood, pairing 70's proto-metal with doom touches, sort of like Blue Oyster Cult but with a bit more witchery. Now as I've said Hadean Cult are a duo, they feature the bewitching incantations of Stoicheia's soulful pipes along with virtuosity of self proclaimed "garage magician" Hadean who plays all of the instruments on this record. Don The Mantle is their debut release that kicks off with the slinky Witches' Circle that slides into the atmospheric 60's rocking of He Will Guide Your Hand while we get some doom folksy on Love With The Void replete with harpsichord, the keys continue on lilting interlude The Wide Black Yonder that leads into the The Broken Crook which is very reminiscent of Rosalie Cunningham's work. There's a warm analogue vinyl production to this record to that makes it sound very authentic to those days of 70's rock, join the cult and allow Don The Mantle to wash over you. 7/10

Friday 19 June 2020

Reviews: Enterprise Earth, Thirteen Stars, Exit, Airbag (Liam, Simon, Rich & Bob)

Enterprise Earth: Foundation Of Bones (eOne) [Liam True]

Born from the ashes of Dan Watson leaving Infant Annihilator, Enterprise Earth have been on my radar for a few years, and I got the chance to see them back in 2018, and they blew me away from the technicality of their playing to the live vocals of Watson. It's now 2020 and EE have dropped Foundation Of The Bones. A short, but sweet, surprise EP. And no matter how short it is, it’s packed full of their typical slams, blast beats and Deathcore nuances. Title track FOTB is classic EE. From the moment the track kicks in to the very last cymbal hit, it’s a non-stop adrenaline rush that takes over your mind and with Watson growling at you and the band being as tight as a string of fishing wire. Now here where it gets interesting. There are two cover songs on this EP. Now You’ve Got Something To Die For by Lamb Of God & Fermented Offal Discharge by Necrophagist. Both covers are done magnificently by staying true to the bands who created them, but also with the EE Deathcore twist on it providing a brutal environment for their abilities to flourish. There Is No Tomorrow from previous album Luciferous, gets an acoustic treatment which is both beautiful and haunting as the vocals of Watson resonate through you and send shivers down your spine. The title track is then given another appearance, but this time as an instrument, if you want to try and outshine Watson’s monstrous vocals. From start to end it’s a great EP and provides us with covers from a band we didn’t know that we needed. Beautiful. 8/10

Thirteen Stars: Finest Ramshackle Jam (Rock People Records) [Simon Black]

Sophomore album for UK Southern Rockers Thirteen Stars, and they’ve been cooking this one for a while, since it’s been a five year wait since their debut The White Raven. I guess a lot has happened in the world since then and the album is very much pitched as an antidote to the madness of today, because clearly what we all need in our lives is bit more old-fashioned Southern Blues. Which is just as well because this album is positively dripping in it (who would have known that Cumbria is where it’s at?) The title of this piece tickles my sense of humour, because the album’s anything but. It’s the mark of good Rock’n’Roll that it leaves the listener feeling that what they have just heard was fresh, off the cuff and dripping with spur of the moment improvisation, whilst actually being the complete opposite, and Finest Ramshackle Jam does this very, very well indeed.

So, the highlights: Are You Ready a solid mid-paced rocker that gets things going nicely, with some nice riffage and guitar harmonies and a solid beat. The song is about the concept of music as an anthropomorphised Gypsy, and Gypsy rock is a good handle for where this and much of the rest of the album is heading. Running So Long is a bit slower and does singer/guitarist Hoss Thompson more justice (think Spike from The Quireboys) and his voice sounds much more relaxed from this second track. It stays there ‘till the end to be fair, and Sleeping is a good example of the tighter, more controlled technical interplay that goes on under the hood of a good band, with some strong rhythm interplay and a willingness to get a bit more experimental with the guitar effects. It has a highly effective hypnotic streak running through it, and is a high point of the album for me. Sorcery take sit back to more familiar R’n’R territory with some nice subtle Hammond layering in the background. Be There In The Morning opens with a great clap along drum sound and a meandering guitar line, and you could be forgiven to thinking you were listening to the opening bars of a Travelling Wilburys album, but the nods in that more Country direction work remarkably well. 

When it goes straight rockin’ it does so with ease and panache. Single Mint Jelly with its Dr And The Medics greatest hit sounding beat and intro (along with a massive nasal snort of Primal Scream), this track has a great chorus and an unexpected and effective horn section interplaying well with honky tonk piano and guitars, and you have for me the strongest song on the album. It’s quite a long album too, with 15 tracks and a run time of 55 minutes to play with and it doesn’t drag because the mix of styles is so eclectic whilst staying very much in its genre box, so think of it as a Rock’n’Roll album taking a tour round their influences. The simple sounding end product belies a tightly structured bit of music under the hood, that made this week pass just that little bit better. 7/10

Exit: Traces Of Human Existence (Art Gates Records) [Rich Oliver]

Exit are a band from Switzerland who formed in 1996 as a death metal band. From the release of their album III in 2009 the band have shifted more in a modern thrash/groove/metalcore direction and this is where we still find them with the release of their fifth album Traces Of Human Existence. The album is comprised of nine songs of fast and aggressive melodic death metal and metalcore. The death metal roots of the band aren’t forgotten as the music is played with a ferocity and intensity with a heavy use of blastbeats and ferocious riffs as well as the heavy use of melody and the chugs and breakdowns of metalcore. The vocals are a mainly done in a screaming style though there is a use of clean vocals especially in the song Empire. The music on Traces Of Human Existence though fast and intense I just generally found rather generic and pretty forgettable. This contemporary mix of modern thrash, groove, melodic death metal and metalcore is done very well though in this case it didn’t do much for me. 6/10

Airbag: A Day At The Beach (Karisma Records) [Bob Shoesmith]

In one of my other guises I am currently promoting an album with my musical co-conspirator. For reasons best known to the gods of music, said album has been warmly adopted by the Prog scene. In recent times, it seems that the Prog scene has mushroomed exponentially and has become a MUCH broader church than the traditional double album, with 25 minute keyboard fests about wizards and middle earth (although that style still lurks in there). In fact, the current Prog scene has become one of the most inclusive and encompassing categories out there, seeing a massive resurgence in interest and various mutations of the genre by new artists (I know, who saw that coming, right?). So, with my other hat on, I had already stumbled across a bit of a buzz about the latest offering by this Norwegian trio long before it came across my desk.

A Day At The Beach, is Airbag’s fifth album, and has already caused ripples on Prog based radio shows, webzines and magazines ahead of its release. Airbag, while self-confessed, unashamed Proggers, often get compared to Pink Floyd and Porcupine Tree and while those comparisons are valid to a point, the band do have their own, distinct sound too. Bjørn’s Riis’s slow, Neo-Prog guitar sections are definitely reminiscent of Gilmour, for sure, and there are swathes of slow burn atmospheric keyboards and gentle emoting that would ease the soul of many a beard stroking old school Prog aficionado. But dig a little deeper and there’s a far more of an 80’s electronica vibe that permeates all the tracks and, for example (and bear with me here) on tracks like the opener Machines And Men this track genuinely bares comparison – in my head anyway - to Morten Harket singing for OMD more than leaning towards the self-indulgence of older artists they lazily get compared to, which really works – even if my comparison doesn’t. Airbag have a great commercial ear for hooks amongst the ambience. Yes, they do create soundscapes, yes, there are at least three tracks that are over 10 minutes long (hence only six of them) but they have moments of commerciality not often associated with the genre. One of the little conundrums is why the excellent bass playing of Kristian Karl Hultgren is only a guest appearance? Snap him up quick Airbag.

Only two of the six tracks you could described as more up-tempo (the aforementioned opener and Sunsets) and the remainder are slow burning mood enhancers, although, I for one would personally like to hear more in the style of Machines and Men and lose the Gilmour safety blanket references, but that’s just me. I enjoyed A Day At The Beach, the production is wonderfully crisp and deep and all the tracks draw you in, keep you interested and encourage you to engage with them. The whole album package is well conceived and you can see why it has already intrigued the Prog community as they fuse 70’s Floyd (or 80’s Marillion of you prefer) with more updated electronica and production values. Something for everyone. 9/10