Having been knocking around in bands and listening and reviewing music for an embarrassingly long time now, I have lost count of the bio’s from bands that proclaim themselves to be ‘the next big thing’, throw self-aggrandisement around like confetti and promise the moon and stars. I once learned a valuable lesson from a (very) well-known music producer who said: “Compliments are far more palatable when provided by others”. Yes, I know you need to get heard above the crowd. Yes, I know it’s a metal trope to be bombastic and self-assured but, when I opened Brazilian classic rockers Electric Mob’s pre-release package, it had me reaching for the sick bucket, such are the extraordinary levels of bravado and self –aggrandisement offered. I’ll spare you the detail, gentle reader, but you get the picture?
So, naturally, having set the bar that high, my first response, even before the music gets near my headphones is ‘right then, let’s see if you’re as good as you say you are’. It’s either a super confident move or they’re setting themselves up to be shot at (or both). My combative mood is somewhat soothed on seeing the well-considered cover of the album – Discharge. It is a simple but clever representation of a rock venue’s back door (much akin the cover of Rise And Fall Of Ziggy Stardust) all brickwork, posters and neon, but it’s a good selling point for a salty old musician and gig-goer like me, as it feeds into all sorts of warm nostalgia of sweaty classic rock gigs back in the day, their target audience, at places like The Marquee and The Whiskey, so it will chime well with the fans of that era who’ve ever tried to catch a glimpse of their heroes outside a venue. It should also be said that they do look every inch the rock band in their promo photos too, so let’s forgive their grandiose claims for now and move on to the album.
Electric Mob are clearly built around vocalist Renan Zonta. His TV appearance on Brazil's version of The Voice and his substantial, subsequent video plays on YouTube because of it, obviously needed a new vehicle. In a market, crowded with newly released rock and metal bands, I don’t blame them at all for making much of this their unique selling point, but, with the focus then placed firmly on him and the big build up, it certainly does ramp up the expectations and an anticipation of quality before you even hear them. They definitely talk the talk but do they deliver? Well actually yes, yes they do, or I should say, more accurately, HE does. Discharge is 12 tracks that are very much built to showcase Zonta’s immense vocal range. Let’s be honest, he didn’t clear The Voice auditions without having a set of pipes! He is very much a blues rock belter in the style of Axl Rose, Myles Kennedy, or Thunder’s Danny Bowes – there’s lots of over accentuation on words to highlight the vocal ‘styyyyyaaaayyyayyyaaal’ - a la Axl – you get the idea? (the Axl comparisons even stretch to some novelty G'N'R type whistling on Your Ghost) and he is never shy of hitting the ‘vocal gymnastics’ button throughout.
So, we’ve established that Zonta is a really good singer, right? Musically though we are talking some fairly stock classic rock/hair metal riff and rock out fare, although for a first outing it is has been done incredibly well. No virtuosity by musicians over-shadowing the front man doing his thing and all the tracks are very well executed, well produced and clearly offers the appropriate platform for Mr Zonta to show off his wares. In fairness though, you would, wouldn’t you? You wouldn’t put your Ferrari in the garage…They can also mix it up within the genre and are a very listenable classic rock band with some belting hook's and riff tracks such as Gypsy Touch and Burn and Higher Than Your Heels (with the addition of a cheeky brass section) and the crunching We Are Wrong.
Electric Mob will definitely be going on my playlist for sure and it IS an incredibly good debut. The vocal performance alone probably DOES deserve the hype they’re pushing out about themselves but would it be justified without the considerable talent of Renan Zonta fronting? Probably not. 9/10
Divine Weep: The Omega Man (Ossuary Records) [Matt Bladen]
Ah The Omega Man, a 1971 film featuring Charlton Heston traversing a post-apocalyptic wasteland to create an antidote for a pandemic, while using a massive gun (obviously). If it sounds familiar I Am Legend is basically a reboot and while these days of pandemic have yet to reach the infected zombie-like state of the film, Polish power metal band Divine Weep have brought the themes of those of then very dark sci-fi's to their second full length record. Now I've not encountered many power/trad metal bands from Poland as many of the countries metal acts are from the death/black, but Divine Weep are not a typical European power metal act, in fact they draw from the more American sound with a darker more thrash based edge on songs like Firestone which has some bludgeoning drumming from Dariusz Karpiesiuk who drives the heavier sounds of the first few songs on this record locking in with bassist Janusz Grabowski while guitarists Bartosz Kosacki and Dariusz Moroz play galloping yet down-tuned riffs.
Things get a bit more melodic and lighter on at the beginning of Riders Of Navia while that battering drumbeat kicks back in leading into the very thrashy Screaming Skull Of Silence that evolves into the big stomp at the end. If I had to make a comparison I'd say that Divine Weep sound like the long forgotten Ripper Owens project Beyond Fear due to the similarities Mateusz Drzewicz has to The Ripper especially on tracks like Walking (Through Debris Of Nations). It's no wonder why they have supported Blaze Bayley along with featuring on festivals with names such as Primal Fear and Behemoth. If you enjoy the dirtier end of the trad/power metal spectrum then I'd say it's worth checking out The Omega Man, at least before the world ends! 7/10
Meridan Blank: Scenes & Fragments (Self Released) [Matt Bladen]
I bet you've always wondered what sort of music 5 pre-graduate engineering students from Athens and Crete, would make? Well I guess prog would be a good guess and lo-and-behold this is what we have here, 5 technically minded musicians all striving together to create intelligent, sonically dexterous music. So yes it is prog rock but with the introspectiveness of post rock band too, it means that tracks such as Endeavours and the beautiful Pivot have some shimmering Floydian guitar playing from George Kolombus who takes the David Gilmour roll as both lead guitarist and vocalist providing the driving melodic cleans. Elsewhere Sotiris Tragazikis (bass) and Chris Kastrinakis (rhythm guitar) provide the throbbing hypnotic backing to Lament which sounds a lot like Tool due to it's low grooves and odd time signature which relies a lot on the bass taking a lead roll.
I've mentioned PInk Floyd and Tool but there are also nods to Mogwai and Mono but also bands such as Deftones, Porcupine Tree and Anathema too. What is excellent about this record, other than the virtuoso musicianship on offer is the sequencing of this record with the instrumental Nature Of Life the first of two 9 minute plus numbers that that have long steady builds to them, it's almost as if the whole record is built around leading to these two tracks, Nature Of Life is burns at a steady pace as Panos Theodorou's drumming is both open and propulsive leading into heavier parts where Kolombus can once again show his dexterous guitars style. Underneath all this glistening post rock are the ambient keys/synths of Kostas Pantelakis who provides a buttress for the more melodic parts of this album almost trip-hop styled at times, on Endeavours he beats the keys as a duel with Kolombus' guitar. Scenes & Fragments is definitely the sort of record engineers would make, complex and intricate but with a passion behind it. Worth checking out! 8/10
Griot: Elisabeth (Self Released) [Bob Shoesmith]
Elisabeth by Griot have quite a few parallels with an album I have recently been involved in releasing and I can’t help but notice that they liked on Facebook by a few of the same Prog DJ types, so should be an interesting review for me as I fully understand the complexities of producing this kind of project.
Griot are a Portuguese outfit who are essentially made up of the core of the project, João Pascoal and Sérgio Ferreira. They describe themselves as having multi-national contributors and, having been involved with a similar collaboration I understand how time consuming and complex a project like that can be. Even more so with this album when you consider there are seventeen other contributors credited, which shows a lot of ambition and attention to detail. This album is a concept piece that revolves around the tale of a woman (who I’m assuming is a fictional character) of the title, who also features on the front cover. As they say; ‘Griot tells a story about Gerald and Elisabeth, exploring their journey in search of something grand’. Each track is also given a chapter making it like a musical novella, which is further explored with the inclusion of an actual story book that comes with the album. This idea provides happy memories of immersive, when conceptual albums were done right, gatefold sleeves, lyrics and listening to the whole thing back to back. In these days of cherry picking 3 minute tracks from digital streaming platforms, a rare but wonderful thing and a habit we should definitely encourage.
The music drives deep into the heart of emotive Prog territory. From the opening track, A Weak Foundation. Chapter 1 to the closing and beautifully haunting Introspection it has an array of interesting percussion sounds and a wide variety of instrumentation, with tempo twists and turns all held together by the ethereal icing on the cake of the Dido-esque vocals of Maria Branco who elevates all of the nine tracks she appears on, from the good to the great across the album. Particularly on Atonement, Intertwined and Retrospection- she is a genuine class act. That said, Joao Rodrigues who shares vocal duties with Branco also has an amazing voice particularly on the closing track, so vocally these two are a real coup for Griot to have on the album and raises their game by some margin.
Soft and sensitive storytelling combined with some harder edged Prog metal passages throughout. Ferreira’s drums are hard hitting and very technically adept with Peart and Portnoy fills when he gets going (if maybe a little bit OVER-zealous at times) in those rockier passages, on tracks like ‘Lights Out’ for example. There is an abundance of light and shade within all the tracks plenty of nods to Gilmour and Peter Gabriel along with modern influences to keep all flavours of Progressive Rock fans happy. The multi-instrumentation (a LOT of different instruments make guest appearances throughout) is cleverly interwoven, each track is immersive and given the amount of work that must have gone into putting it all together and making it sound as competent and cohesive as it does, was obviously a labour of love. Make no mistake, this is a great Prog album. It’s by no means perfect and if I wanted to nit-pick; why the technically excellent drummer would choose the rather nasty cymbal sounds he does, is a bit of a mystery and why Maria Branco and Joao Rodrigues are guests and not snapped up as permanent features is another, but I can see why they’re being closely watched by the Prog crowd. A comprehensive and quite outstanding piece of work. 9/10