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Friday 12 June 2020

Reviews: Angelcrypt, Restive Nation, Moonlight Haze, Rubber Tea

Angelcrypt: Dawn Of The Emperor (Boersma-Records)

Now every critic/reviewer/music lover has genres they love and ones they hate. For me I've never been a big fan of thrash, metal/deathcore or melo-death, the reasons for this are that for me many of these bands have latched on to one of 'influences' and ridden them out until the end. However there are always exceptions to the rule *cough* Testament *cough* but in terms of melo-death I've always been fond of Maltese melodic death metal act Angelcrypt, maybe it's there WWI themed songs, or the fact or they are one of the leading lights of the small Maltese metal scene. Having been around since 1997 Dawn Of The Emperor is only their second full length coming off the back of their debut full length in 2016, it serves as a tribute to perseverance in a very underground scene.

In fact former drummer Robert Friggieri who also plays in the previously reviewed Blind Saviour told me that in Malta there are only usually one metal gig a month as anymore may split the crowd. Despite this Angelcrypt have played with numerous huge acts all around Europe honing their more extreme style. Dawn Of The Emperor opens with a choral/string into, the kind of music that would be featured in a WWI movie or video game. A spoken word passage tells of the assassination of Franz Ferdinand, one of the major catalysts of the start of WWI. After this is Clockwork Blood Red which opens with some rampaging melodic death metal driven by the artillery barrage that is new stickman Paul Formosa's drumming as Jean Cutajar gives the fast paced rhythmic grunt.

They strike a balance between thrash and death metal with the meaty rhythm section running riot like a marching army of evil on On Killing Fields as Joseph Grech's guttural croak sings of the horrors of 'The Great War'. Of course though this is melodic death metal so all the heavier parts are counterpointed by the cleaner riffs and technical soloing from Shawn Mizzi and Peter Grech the six string double team bringing down-tuned riffs to Iron Creed but also the soaring leads on tracks like Martyred Soul which sounds a lot like the leaders of Melo-death genre Amon Amarth and also the frantic assault of As Death Endures. Dawn Of The Emperor is a cinematic, aggressive sophomore album from these bastions of the Maltese metal scene, do yourself a favour and put it on your 'to buy' list. 8/10

Restive Nation: Lucidum (Self Released) [Matt Bladen]

Formed originally as a quartet after witnessing a NIN, this Dublin band were created to play industrially driven metal music similar to that of Mr Reznor. Uniquely the band had no vocalists relying on a guest singers for their shows, shortly after they became a trio of Chris Cahill (guitar/sound design), Ciarán Timmy Lynch (bass), Cion O’Callaghan (drums). From here on, there were numerous shows and singles released, as well as an EP, culminating in their cover of Mike Oldfield's Tubular Bells (well the part featured in The Exorcist) being chosen as Hotpress' track of Halloween.

Now here's where things really get interesting as the band have now swelled their ranks from a trio to a septet adding Ben Thonett on synths and three permanent vocalists in the shape of Tony Carberry, Pawney and John Atmahead all brought in ready to unleash another EP called Lucidum. So with all this in mind it was time to press play on this 5-track EP to see exactly what this Irish band's electronic/industrial/metal crossover style was like. A discordant opening is Tapetum which has a grinding guitar stomp, it's more of an intro leading into the bouncing Coma which shows that metal-meets-electronica sound reminding me of Jayce Lewis, Gary Numan and even Fear Factory, the tribalistic drumming mixing with the twisting synths and industrial bleeps.

Next up is the darker tones of The Prouder Ones while the NIN influence is all over Heretic Head (If Ya Die On Me). Lucidum is a very intriguing album from a unique band, three distinct vocalists and a true crossover sound fusing metal and electronic/industrial music. Try something a little different and check out Restive Nation. 7/10   

Moonlight Haze: Lunaris (Scarlet Records) [Simon Black]

So, this is the sophomore album from Italian Symphonic / Power metallers Moonlight Haze. I’ve not heard their 2019 debut De Reum Natura, but the fact that this album has followed so quickly implies either that the first one had a long gestation period or this band has a prolific song-writing engine. They are a five piece, so the sound is more stripped back than many of the genre for most of the album and the Power and Symphonic elements have an equal weight in the blend. It’s hard not to compare any female fronted Symphonic acts with Nightwish, but this bunch are closer to the other Finnish bunch, Stratovarius in tone and mood.

Opener and one of the singles ‘Til The End, is an engaging start to the album, and works well as a commercial earworm to wing in the less arcane fan, which let’s face it, most of us who enjoy Symphonic Metal definitely are. The Rabbit Of The Moon (the first single from this album) is an equally accessible track with an even beat, ambient keyboard feel and gentle chugging underpinning of guitars that isn’t going to offend anyone. Title track Lunaris starts to take things up a notch and is definitely much more heavyweight than its predecessor’s with more in your face guitars and some more effective double bass pounding of the skins coming out to play, along with a bit more.

Vocally the first couple of tracks are clear, operatic and radio friendly but Chiara Tricarico’s (ex Temperence) voice works well when she pushes herself into the more full on rock vocals that she is more than capable of, which starts to show on the title track. Under Your Spell is the traditional power ballad, and to be honest is a fairly predictable affair until half way through when once again pushing the vocals into more aggressive territory brings some much needed rawness and emotion to proceedings. Enigma is a much more full on Power metal track and sung in Italian (although there is also an English version), which actually works incredibly well in the original because let’s face it even ordering a bag full of poo in Italian is going to sound beautiful compared to English or German. Also at this point some more extreme backing vocals also start to be introduced, generally making this a much more interesting sound than the more inoffensive material at the start of the album. It’s also the first time on the album that we get to see a nice bit of high speed neo-classical interplay between the keyboards and guitars, and I can’t help feeling that if there was more like this on the album it would be getting a much higher score from me.

Wish Upon A Star keeps the pace going and Chiara’s pushing her voice from the get go here, creating a more pacing engaging song, and a really nice keyboard solo and some really nifty rhythm work in the fills. The Dangerous Art Of Overthinking is the epic centrepiece of the album and far and above the best piece of music on the album, bringing all of the strongest elements of the band’s sound together for long enough to actually go somewhere, and the song I keep coming back to. The PR blurb says we can expect more folky melodies on this album as well, but apart from Of Birth And Death, (which features a guest turn from Elvenking’s violinist Fabio Lethien Polo) this is not the case, but you forgive them because it’s a cracking track and the best of the ballads on offer on Lunaris. The album closes with another lengthy track Nameless City which has a cracking bouncy power metal riff driven by some cracking interplay between drums and keyboards, which is let’s face it, not something you write in a review every day, and brings closure to the album. 

Although I’m the first to criticise if an album sounds the same all the way through, in essence, when this album is playing radio-safe, it’s merely OK. When the instrumentals turn on the Power metal, the vocals get more gutsy, and is unafraid to use their mother Italian tongue then this baby rocks up 5 notches and makes you wish that the whole album was like that. 7/10

Rubber Tea: Infusion (Self Released) [Bob Shoesmith]

My 18-year-old daughter is quite the ‘hipster’ and like most Dads throughout time, I have often found myself sticking my head round her door to enquire, “what on earth is that you’re listening to” in a way only Dads can. Much to my surprise she tells me of how her age group are not all into Drill, manufactured girl groups or singer/songwriters like Lewis Capaldi. No, it seems that these days if you are truly trendy, you’re into retro indie like Iggy Pop, Lou Reed, Velvet Underground or The Smiths (who knew?) also, modern day purveyors of some pretty eclectic, trippy, left field stuff by Mac DiMarco or King Gizzard And The Lizard Wizard. Why do I mention this? Well during my second listen to Infusion by Rubber Tea (see what they did there?), I had to ask ‘hipster-daughter’, whether what I was listening to was its own thing or part of this latter young indie style, I’m clearly out of touch with. She confirms this most definitely NOT the new wave of trippy indie and rolled her eyes at me. So that me told.

Rubber Tea, a five-piece band from Germany have released this, their debut seven-track album. It has an animated album cover that harks back to the animation of the Beatles Yellow Submarine cartoons (they also have some prototype animations on their Facebook page in a similar style as well) or the Gong/Steve Hillage illustrations. But the music Rubber Tea produce is particularly hard to pidgeon-hole. It’s quite bipolar in that it is half genteel and floaty and sits closest in style to acid jazz, with tinkling piano, sax solos and swing beats and half early Pink Floyd (early Floyd references appear in most tracks). I could see Rubber Tea making appearances on several Prog playlists with their more old-school neo prog parts on tracks like, ‘American Dream’ with its spoken passages and Trump samples, straight out of Dark Side of the Moon, ‘Storm Glass’ or the nod to the Barrett era Floyd of ‘The Drought’.

Vocalist Vanessa Gross has a soft pleasant singing style that floats on top of the songs but unfortunately, she only makes brief appearances as they mostly favour the meandering jazz meets prog instrumental sections. ‘Plastic Scream’ for example, is a more traditional ballady type track that creates space within the tempo that provides gives Gross the opportunity to stretch out a bit and show what a decent singer she can be. She is however, sadly under used and side-lined to cameo roles. Rubber Tea plagiarise from modern Jazz and an awful lot from traditional Proggers like Floyd, Yes or Tangerine Dream. They’re all very competent musicians, but this stylistic mish-mash and lack of a clear identity makes the final product slightly confused as to what it is, what it could be and where they’re taking it. I liked their jazzier, cooler side, I really liked the parts where Vanessa Gross appears which I wish they’d explore more, but they just can’t seem to leave their early Pink Floyd albums alone and keep going back there. Its been 47 years since this was on point. Infusion really feels like their song writing is pulling in the two different directions leaving quite the identity crisis. 7/10

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