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Monday 8 June 2020

Reviews: Fraser Edwards, Necurat, Smackbound, Highride (Simon & Liam)

Fraser Edwards: The Architect (1552193 Records DK2) [Simon Black]

Purely instrumental music by wizard guitarists aren’t always for everyone - although to be clear this album does not fall into this category. In fact in our community there are plenty of folks that get turned off if the solos dare to go beyond 30 seconds mid-song, never mind going any further, but back in the mists of ancient time (when I still thought I could play the guitar), I had my expectations royally brought down to earth by the discovery of Joe Satriani’s Surfing With The Alien album. This quite frankly blew my mind, opened up a pit of self-despair when I recognised I was never going to be that good but also proved to me that there is absolutely a place for the purely instrumental and the more technically indulgent in this genre. My guitar has been gathering dust for many years since…

The Architect is no different as a throat-grabber and although it constrains the pure instrumental work only to the title track and the two shorter tracks that close the album, this is nonetheless one of the most amazingly technical proficient pieces of music I have heard in a while. And it’s not just Edwards guitar work that is proficient – the rest of the musicianship is just as admirable, technically proficient and given an equal platform to shine. The album does so without sounding like it’s there to show off the muso-prowess over-indulgently at the expense of the accessibility to the audience, a problem that you can often find on an older Dream Theater album for example. It’s also got a number of different artists guesting on this which add to the flow and variety nicely – that’s Andrew Scott (King King, Paul Gilbert) and Dick Gilchrist (Ascension, Barque of Dante) on drums, Ricki Carnie (Ascension, Sharky Sharky) and Graeme McDonald (Rise With Honour) on vocals and the phenomenal Sergey Boykov (Vital Science) on keyboards if you are interested.

It’s not all about high speed whizz either, The Dead Zone for example is a bouncy, catchy rocker that’s much more accessible whilst being no less technically brilliant, and would probably make a good ‘hook-‘em-in’ single. I can’t find much fault with any of the songs on here, although ballad Among the Stars had a fairly predictable structure, but is still commendable for some quite moving lyrics dealing with personal loss topped off by an emotive and restrained guitar solo. When the record does go into high-speed virtuosity mode, it does so in a controlled manner with well-times bursts rather than excessiveness that are tighter than a gnat’s backside (This World Can Be Ours is a good example of this).

This is a much more high-paced and thoroughly Metal affair. When it does sound neo-classical, such as the title track and passages of Dio Volendo Lo Faro it doesn’t do so at the expense of accessibility, and is a Power Metal record first and foremost. And a bloody good one at that. It’s also not without moments of humour, given some of the titles in the mix – notably single Stop Saying We Sound Like Dragonforce and Crouching Comrades, Hidden Dragonforce prove. There’s so much more going on than the mono-tempo and structure approach you get on Dragonforce discs (although if he wants to avoid the comparison, he really need to stop playing like them). I also raised a smile to the Benny Hill theme hidden in the solo for Dio Volendo Lo Faro. Topped off with some really on the nose production, this rather made my Friday. 9/10

Smackbound: 20/20 (Frontiers Records) [Simon Black]

New day, new band and first up on the slush pile for me is Finland’s Smackbound. Smackbound are a Melodic Metal outfit founded by Netta Laurenne (who’s done turns with everyone from Amorphis, to Lordi to Elvenking) along with similarly minded musos from Tracedorn, Wintersun and Stratovarius, so very much a coming together of a very strong bunch of musos - although this is clearly her band and vehicle. This album does not pull it’s punches. Despite being firmly in the Melo-Metal camp, there are some strong and brutal moments on here, and Laurenne’s vocal range is quite impressive when she turns on the aggression.

The music isn’t all the major chord stuff you might expect from the genre too, and has some really dark and moody notes. Wall of Silence opens with a fast up-tempo freneticism driven by Rolf Pilve’s relentless footwork (a man whose work I have admired for some time, and who really kicked Stratovarius into being relevant again on their last couple of disks), but Teemu Mäntysaari’s blistering guitar work deserves calling out here as well. The track’s got a solid basis and is an impressive opener, but much better is to come.

Drive It Like You Stole It takes us into more tradition melo-rock territory with an almost Def Leppard beat and keyboard riff to nod your head along too, and is definitely a good hook to bring in a more radio-friendly audience, despite the full on vocal performance. Close To Sober starts with a haunting vocal introduction, but is definitely no happy ballad and turns on the dark power fairly quickly. The song structure of this one is one of the more predictable ones, but still stands out from being a by the numbers affair by building the intensity very effectively into a cacophony of powered rhythms. Run is a bit more of a bland affair and one of the singles, but doesn’t drag before we get to current single The Game, which is definitely the most commercial ballad on the album which takes a while to build to a crescendo, but is still an effective track. The pace really goes back up a few notches for Those Who Burn and really keeps going until the end.

The production is very high quality and Laurenne is very much front and centre on the mix, although instrumentally the keyboards often dominate a bit. This is sometimes a shame as there’s some cracking other instrumental work happening in the background, so this one is worth paying loud to give the rest of the band a chance to be heard. The only criticism I have is that the choice of singles is a bit bland – there are much better tracks on the album which will appeal to the metal crowd, and the risk is they get pigeonholed as a soft band which they clearly are not. A really good effort. 8/10

Necurat: Brimstone (Self Released) [Liam True]

Deathcore is an odd genre. As you either have the bands that are on the more melodic side or the bands that are just balls to the wall downright heavy. German Deathcore is another genre. The only band I can think of that comes close in terms of sheer force would be Kreator. But even they don’t stand a chance. Necurat sits firmly between these two sides to create a perfect blend of heavy Deathcore and Metalcore. The Metalcore comes in the music, as it is heavy, it’s also extremely melodic in it’s own way.

The small album has a lot to offer, from the minute and a half neck breaker To Hell all the way to final song and near seven minute disgustingly heavy epic Flesh Flowers In Prime Bloom. Surprisingly enough the album was done by just two people. Niels Grube handles all instrumentation, from the bludgeoning drums to the furious work on the fretboard. Then there’s vocalist Fabian Nyga, who with the help from the devil himself, summons a putrid collaboration of growls so low they stand aside the groans of a whale. And the high feral witch like shrieks which shatter glass in a 5 mile radius.

Combined together Fabian & Niels have created the heaviest offering of 2020 yet. The malicious vocals pierce through the blast beat filed battlefield that is Brimstone. Most Deathcore bands wouldn’t dare to venture outside of a song that goes over 4-5 minutes each. Necurat however have included to songs that stand between 6-7 minutes each. And they’re the crème de la crème of the entire album. Even if you don’t like Deathcore, check this album out as it hops the fence over to Death Metal at some points and it blends together beautifully. 9/10

Highride: Excellence & Decadence (Self Released) [Liam True]

Swedish Sleaze Rock has got to be one of, if not, the best genre of rock music due to the insanely catchy chorus’ and the amount of riffs they produce. Highride are one of the next biggest bands in that genre, and out of Sweden. The riff work of guitarist Millie Lithander shows that the band are on top form and have no worries of running out of any steam yet. The furious drum work of Nickie Rosell compliments the soaring vocals of Peter Waljus.

The album itself is a classic in the modern day of Sleaze Rock, while it does tart off kind of dull, by the third song, Red Light Rambler, that’s where it starts to pick up and show what the band is made of. They don’t hold up from there as A Good Day (To Die) shows the true extent of Peter’s voice and Sex Is My Substitute cements them in Sleaze Rock history. Through the album Peter sounds a lot like Axl Rose, but pulls it off so well that you’ll notice it at first but then it’ll drift away into the sublime instrumentals provided by the band as the backdrop for their sheer force. Blending Glam & Sleaze is a weird combination but Highride have pulled it off so well. Great album filled with great moments. 8/10

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