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Wednesday 3 June 2020

Reviews: Frost*, Dätcha Mandala, Ancient Curse, Phil Stiles (Matt & Bob)

Frost*: Others EP (InsideOut Music) [Matt Bladen]

As you may have seen, I'm a bit of a prog nerd, I'm also a bit of a Frost* fanboy having followed the band since their early releases. The pop-influenced prog of Jem Godfrey (keyboards/songwriter) has always struck a chord with me and the often agonising waits between their albums (mainly due to the band members all being involved with other projects) adding to the 'specialness' of the band in my heart. Their last album was Falling Satellites was released in 2016 and there have been rumblings (on social media) that Godfrey has once again been composing with Nathan King (bass) and John Mitchell (guitars) readying another full length. So then when I got the information about this EP my heart did a little skip as I thought this was the new material, but it's not, in fact the songs featured here were half written during the sessions for Falling Satellites but set aside when the idea of making it a double album was shelved. So these songs were brought back to life while they were in the creative process for the new record and are now ready to be heard by the public at large. So what are they like? What did we miss? Why were these rescued from the cutting room floor?

Fathers is first up, a pumping slice of electronic industrial Godfrey's keys/synths drawn from late nights in Ibiza, but with a rockier backing like Jayce Lewis or NIN when they're a bit happier. It's a bouncing start that abruptly stops towards the end for a twinkling fairytale refrain as the full effect kicks back in. The modern electronic music influence comes through again on Clouda with layers of varying synth oscillations all built around the electronic and analogue drumming. This addition of dancy synths came on Falling Satellites and despite being initially jarring (though keys have always had a huge part to play in the music of Frost*), they gradually became another string to this bands bow. Clearly there was a lot more meant for them as the first two tracks of this EP show, Godfrey's mainstream pop background once again fusing with the proggier sounds of King and Mitchell. Exhibit A powers thing up again with neon styled EDM ripe for bouncing to in a tent in Shepton Mallet however with the emotive, downbeat and satirical lyrics. Fathom is a string driven sea shanty that packs a lot of punch for it's short run time and leads into the dirty sounding Eat which is built around samples and a R&B bass/drum pattern, modern chart music distilled through prog virtuosity. Finally we have the dreamy Drown which reminds me of Gabriel fronted Genesis due to it's Olde English meditative sound fused with an underlying naughtiness.

A selection of curios that show how Frost* can turn their hand to any and all genres perfectly. I'm unsure if they would have been welcome on previous albums but here a collection of 'others' they show the wider scope to Frost* project as a whole. If anything it's got me nice an excited for the new full length. 8/10

Dätcha Mandala: Hara (Mrs Red Sound) [Matt Bladen]

French heavy blues enthusiasts Dätcha Mandala channel those late 60's early 70's power trios like Cream, Jimi Hendrix, Blue Cheer and even Wales own Budgie with some thundering, blues rocking base that often evolves into some transcendent space rocking Hawkwind-style. They consider themselves to be a "sensorial experience" and when Stick It Out opens with a filthy riff you can hear those proto-metal vibes with the Budgie influence showing through due to the nasal vocals of Nicolas Sauvey, who also thumps a down-tuned bass leading the charge on the strutting Mother God which has some tasty slide guitar playing from Jérémy Saigne for a country flavoured track that leads into the bouncy Who Are You.

Once again has echoes of Burke Shelley and some good old harmonica honking as Jean-Baptise Mallet's drums leads the way on Missing Blues which sounds exactly as the title suggests, like a lost Robert Johnson number, right the way down to the fuzzy production. Now after 5 rockers it's time to slow things down with Morning Song a piano ballad that moves into Lennon/McCartney territory before Sick Machine becomes ELO. Hara grooves along with a myriad of influences from the late-60's early-70's, but mainly this is heavy blues rocking with psychedelic and oriental sounds coming in (Moha). Switch on to the vibes of Dätcha Mandala who share similarities with Wolfmother and for that I found myself enjoying Hara. 8/10

Ancient Curse: The New Prophecy (Pure Steel Records) [Bob Shoesmith]

Right from the get-go on Track 1; We Follow The Signs, from German prog metallers, Ancient Curse’s latest offering, with its grandiose opening of orchestral/acoustic/neo classical choir accompaniment and power chords before tearing off on the double bass drum and riff adventure, you feel that this is could be either an immense and ambitious body of work or they’ve simply put all their eggs in one basket for the opening song, but actually it doesn’t disappoint at all. The New Prophecy, only the third album from this four piece never lets up over all 9 tracks, no filler all killer. There’s no slaving to clichés or following formula here. Several tempos and metal styles segue seamlessly throughout. Clever writing means that there’s something for nearly every brand of metal fan to be found on the album with passages of prog-metal, classic rock, power metal and even a bit of thrash thrown in here and there.

Sounds eclectic but it totally works and it’s all stitched together immaculately. There’s drop/twin harmony/riffing guitar heaven, Matthias S’s drums are tighter than a mermaid’s tight bits and very Portnoy-esque in places. There’s, light, shade, pace, power, technical excellence and harmonies. Every track often has passages of different styles within them which don’t sound crowbarred or sound chaotic or self-indulgent (the longest track comes in at a tidy 7 mins). Pepe Pierez’s soaring vocal performance is top drawer, with great range over the whole album. Technically excellent musicians and you can tell that every track has been meticulously planned and executed perfectly in the studio. The production and even the packaging is all first class.

Ordinarily I would give a pen picture of a selection of tracks but in this case, they’re all individually and collectively pretty epic pieces of work. If I was to pick out the ones that had me nodding and smiling the most I would plump for the opening track just for having the balls to throw the metal kitchen sink at it or the rather amazing Forever Young which leaves you a bit breathless. There’s the return of the impressive classic/choral Nightwish-y backing vocals in the opener, on Mind Chaos too, which adds even more depth. Now, I’m most definitely not a reviewer prone to throwing out 10 out of 10 marks for albums as, if you’re going to be objective about anything there HAS to be some room for improvement, somewhere, right? But for fans of bands like Dream Theater, Queensryche, recent Maiden, Trivium, Machine Head, Savage Messiah or All That Remains I’d simply say you just have to check Ancient Curse out. Epic. Fuck it. 10/10

Phil Stiles: The Anchorite EP (Epitronic Records) [Bob Shoesmith]

I’m not a great fan of self-penned bios generally, as the authors are keen to sell you their music and while understandably aren’t going to sell themselves short, are rarely short of hyperbole. Here at Musipedia Towers we get some doozies! So just bare it mind?

So, as Mr Stiles self-penned bio opens with the line “…The Anchorite is the debut solo EP from Final Coil frontman Phil Stiles” which inevitably prompted me to dig a bit deeper. It seems that Final Coil are a post-punk/prog/alt rock outfit from Leicester who have a relatively well received album and a few EP’s under their belt, the singer (Phil Stiles) has now gone off and started a solo career. As an addendum to his work with Final Coil. Both band and Stiles are, clearly fond of social commentary, in their writing and this features heavily on the E.P. I shall leave you to decipher the content description provided by Phil Stiles himself: “The Anchorite portrays the seismic societal shift that is occurring, not just in the UK, but all around the world as the guardians of the Westphalian nation-state system clash with progressive globalists”. So, I hope that clears that up.

I have given The Anchorite several listens and there’s 6 tracks (if you include a rather pointless intro) which is a mixture of trippy electronica and moody effects with an occasional distorted guitar that hints at bands like Swans, and Jesus and Mary Chain. Plus, I hear the nod to Massive Attack musically and even a wink to Sonic Youth in places, it also conjures up the background music in Blade Runner at times for imagery. The Anchorite is a collection of bleak musical ideas (that seems to be a quite deliberate artistic choice) which the bio will warn you, has a lot of political hyperbole and rather grandiloquent lyrics, for example the hushed spoken word on ‘A slide into depravity’ – “Solipsistic minds withdraw reality at times, as we fall upon the swords of a system we despise”. Now, that’s not championing cheesy pop ditties or espousing dumb rock clichés but for me, The Anchorite is quite nihilist and heavy going lyrically and a bit slow musically.

One person’s atmospheric is another’s dry and depressing after all – but preference is a personal choice. The best track for me was in fact the “bonus track” Bury Your Head. I’ll give Phil Stiles his due, he is a very good writer of prog and I could really see him as a competent spoken word performer in the style of George The Poet or Kate Tempest. The lyrics are mainly spoken after all, but despite assertions in the bio that this EP was produced by a ‘legendary’ producer and that he is signed to a label, I am left with the distinct and overriding audio impression of a home studio production and a rather cold and uninviting set of songs. I preferred Final Coil. 5/10

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