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Monday 15 June 2020

Reviews: Michael Angelo Batio, Beyond Deth, Zilf, Dim Gray (Simon, Rich, Liam & Matt)

Michael Angelo Batio: More Machine Than Man (Rat Pak Records) [Simon Black]

I’ve said previously on these pages that Shredder Guitar albums are very much a niche appeal thingie. To be honest an album that is basically there to show off one guy’s technical virtuosity on the guitar for the best part of an hour is a hard listen for many who are not musicians themselves. It’s also quite often a turn-off for the ones who are because let’s face it, it’s depressing to discover just how good some other people are in comparison to ourselves. Personally I love them, but then that’s because I grew up in an environment where I got exposed to a lot of classical music and had already decided that the complexities of the Baroque period … er rocked. When we talk Neo-Classical in the metal world, we are talking people equally influenced by Mozart and Motörhead, or where Black Sabbath are considered as relevant as Bach, so technical complexity and blistering speed are nothing new and every shredder has this in their DNA. The challenge is making it accessible to a wider audience, and to be fair the mighty Joe Satriani is probably the best example of someone who has.

Batio has been at this a long time and this is his 13th solo affair, although it’s been 7 years since Intermezzo. It’s a purely instrumental album (apart from one track) and he has chosen to strip back some of the traditional Neo-Classical tropes, so you don’t get any prodigious interplay between keyboards and guitar here. The overall effect is very much more of a strong rhythm and lead role for the guitar sound, making this a more metal album than many of his previous ones. More Machine Than Man is an incredibly strong album musically. For me where it scores is that although it’s ostensibly a vehicle for the man whose name is on the cover, every other musician on here is just as proficient - with some great guest performances from the likes of Ex Lamb Of God drummer Chris Wisko (whose footwork on the title track is nothing short of incredible), bassist Victor Wooten and fellow shredder Andrea Martongelli all putting in great performances.

The challenge remains accessibility, as a lot of the fifty-minute runtime is playing to those of us who appreciate this kind of thing. That said there’s some much more accessible stuff in there, which doesn’t downplay the skill in any way and consequently gives some of the best moments on the album. Put All Fear Aside is one of the strongest tracks, with a mid-paced catchy bassy riff interspersed with moment of blistering speed and time changes that will blow you away live, assuming Batio can find a human being physically capable of not dropping dead on the stool after playing it live. Avtd continues the futuristic theme of the title track, is again accessible, has some nifty hand drum work and a haunting verse line creating a slightly cheesy but effective ambient sound, interspersed by moments of technical brilliance. I also really liked the acoustically led Rhythm Reprise, which avoids the usual approach of high-speed guitar in favour of a more gentle picking style and the chance for some moody keyboards. Simple, but really effective, proving speed is not all in this space.

The trouble is that when you are working against the stereotypes, having possible one of the worst covers I have seen in decades is not going to help your cause and man that’s a truly bad cover, displaying a cartoon half robot-half Batio holding his traditional double guitar in the air. All I can say is ignore the cover, what’s inside is fantastic. 9/10

Beyond Deth: Accept Your Fate (Vargheist Records) [Rich Oliver]

I’m a simple man. If it thrashes hard and thrashes well then I am pleased and pleased is definitely my response to Accept Your Fate the second album by Chicago thrashers Beyond Deth. Beyond Deth play a raw, gnarly and aggressive form of thrash with some elements of black metal, death metal and even melodic metal mixed in. The resultant mix is a heady mix of thrash riffing, blast beats, guttural vocals, tremolo riffs, and a keen sense of melody. It is a winning formula and used to great effect in raging thrashers such as Live Again, Infernal Dreams and Kill The Weak whilst the melodic aspects are brought to the fore in songs such as Servants and Astral Invasion whilst Endless Repent brings that old school thrash stomp. The intensity and aggression is through the roof during the album which is always guaranteed to bring a smile to this thrash and death metal freak. If the aggressive excesses of thrash tickle your fancy then Accept Your Fate comes very much recommended. A potent extreme metal cocktail that is guaranteed to get your head banging and your horns up in the air. 8/10

Zilf: The Album (Self Released) [Liam True]

I’ve never understood why Math Rock is a genre. If anything it should be joined into Progressive Rock, but I’m not here to argue about that. We’re here to discuss the absolute madness that is Zilf. I can’t tell you enough how hard this album was to review. The absolute fusion of genres together in this 45 minute epic crusade through the divisions and sub genres of Metal is just unreal. How the band twist and twined everything together to make a massive organised mess of a studio album is incomprehensible. As you can image the band, composed of just two people, Joe Campbell-Murray and Bret Ware, don’t take themselves serious at all. Their band is listed a ‘Heavy AF Indie band’ on their Facebook page, the lyrical content is sometimes tongue in cheek and their debut album is literally called The Album. The record is about two friends having fun making music together. And that’s great.

With the album itself however its almost impossible to label a genre to. Every song uses a different formula to construct the song from the lyrics to the music. And it’s unfathomable how great this record sounds. It utilises numerous genres from Metalcore all the way to Jazz-Fusion. I don’t want to ruin the album for you, but it starts off like a sludgy mess, but picks up by the time Endless starts. Then that’s where the riffs come into play. The catchy chorus’. Where the genres really start to integrate with each other and make the wackiest and ambitious sounding album I've ever heard. I can't describe it to you, but it’s 100% worth a listen because there some stand out tracks. Zef is a riff based adventure. When The Cat Has Your Tongue is a homage to the older side of Hardcore. Tarantula Hawk is the calmest song on the album but still retains the Zilf sound. A ridiculous sounding album but Zilf have smashed all expectation by creating it so well. 9/10

Dim Gray: Flown (Grim Day Records) [Matt Bladen]

Dim Gray are: Håkon Høiberg (guitars, vocals), Oskar Holldorff (vocals, keyboards) and Tom Ian Rogne Klungland (drums, vocals) a Norwegian trio, that play anthemic, post-progressive soundscapes that bring together chamber pop, dark indie, acoustic folk and art rock through a continuous story of loss and loneliness where the drama and emotion are brought through the enveloping musical dexterity and ambition. Filled with aching, haunted vocals and shimmering guitars that evoke the artistic prog Steven Wilson and Radiohead along with the post-rock realms of Godspeed You! Black Emperor and Sigur Rós, in fact there is also quite a lot of Peter Gabriel genre-bending on Flown as 52 minutes of music that dreamily carries you through the story that links it with focus on the loud/quiet dynamics that come throughout. 

Dim Gray are actually a band who revel in silence, similarly to the impact of the the Jaws theme, the parts of this record where there are gasps for air it allows the plucking of strings on Again to ring out in your mind until they return again. Now as I said earlier there are so many different stylistic changes on this album that it needs to be heard in one sitting from the joyous Closer, the jaunty Rath, the introspective piano-driven Wandering that leads into the ambient title track which is a small segue into the beautiful twosome of Light Anew and Yore. Flown is a difficult album to put into words as it is supposed to be a strictly musical journey. I suggest you just listen to it and be carried away with Dim Gray's intuitive sound. 8/10   

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