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Friday 26 June 2020

Reviews: OHHMS, Falconer, Alarum, The Loyal Order (Matt, Simon, Rich & Bob)

OHHMS: Close (Holy Roar Records) [Matt Bladen]

The Kent based force of nature that is OHHMS return with their new record Close released on the label of the moment Holy Roar Records. It caters for only the best heavy music so it's only natural that a band such as OHHMS would be signed to them. Close is the follow up to their 2018 record Exist which scored highly here and really this one will too, mainly due to OHHMS reliance on the everything being an instrument including the vocals. Waves of cascading riffs nearly drown you in distortion on Revenge which has a long slow repeating sound to it broken up by some hostile drumming it follows the opening number Alive! which manages to lyrically nod to both The Rolling Stones and Bill Withers (impressive).

It's the first visceral heavy track on this record that is cut through with clean ringing melodies these are continued through the three interlude tracks on this album which split up the longer, louder songs on Close. The shortest of the main songs is Destroyer which is full of bile and rage coming as close to a 'normal' song as you can get from OHHMS with some raging hardcore channeled through a post-metal dexterity, it shifts into Asylum which is gruff punk and works as almost and outro to Destroyer. As with most of the OHHMS back catalogue the record is structured to be one long song split into 7 pieces showing the primal force of the band on show throughout, shifting between raging loudness and whispered quietness. It's made to be played live but alas that won't be happening for a while so take comfort in this record being as good as it is and play it so your neighbours can enjoy it too! 8/10

Falconer: From A Dying Ember (Metal Blade Records) [Simon Black]

This is the 9th (and final) album from Swedish Folk/Power metal act Falconer and is often the case, not an easy one to pigeonhole. The band have switched style and emphasis many times, flirting with a heavier sound or a more progressive one in the past, but this feels firmly in the territory of Folk mixed with a good dose of Epic Power and finally I wonder if they have found their feet and sound. Which is a darn shame, as in the time since recording and releasing this, the band have apparently decided to call it a day. From A Dying Day suddenly takes on a different feeling when I realised I was listening to an epitaph. I’m not really familiar with their back catalogue in any detail, but from a quick turn around their greatest hits, it seems a shame that this is the end, as it’s an enjoyable, if not classic album.

Opener Kings And Queens doesn’t hold back, with some blistering double bass drum work driving this record into your face. The vocals are much softer than you would expect, and it’s quite an odd feeling worth this driving metal instrumental sound almost in the background to the much more subtle vocals. The first couple of tracks keep this vein up, pausing only for the always-refreshing step of Bland Sump Och Dy being sung in their native Swedish. Garnets And A Gilded Rose is a superb little instrumental track coming out of left field, but with the best fusion of the acoustic medieval folk elements with yer actual Power Metal, and serves as a feed into In Regal Attire, which is one of the catchiest tracks on the album. Again, I’m finding myself frustrated that vocally this is so restrained, as this song should be an anthem.

Which leads me to the elephant in the room - overall the vocals feel very disconnected from the rest of the album, almost as if they were added afterwards. In order to be heard they are consequently too high in the mix, forcing you to listen hard to distinguish what’s going on in the instrumentals, which is why the mid-way instrumental track is so refreshing. I guess the challenge remains that with a frontman whose background is in musical theatre the more restrained style always feels a little odd, especially since full-on in your face vocals is the Power Metal norm - where communication of raw emotion rather than syllabic accuracy is the priority. I am reminded of an old drama teacher of my youth, always urging us to enunciate clearly and emphatically with your lips, so the little old lady with a hearing aid at the back of the theatre on a pensioner’s discount ticket can understand what you are saying, and Mathias Blad clearly does too. Where he really shines is when he can be the strongest instrument in the mix – as the acoustic Rejoice The Adorned clearly shows. He’s clearly a great singer, but not a metal one.

Ironically at the end of the album we get the more epic finale Rapture, which eclectically by mixing acoustic and electric instrumental sounds throughout actually avoids the feeling of contrast vocally, stepping the acoustic elements back for some of the instrumental breaks. And Blad shines vocally here, as he finally lets rip vocally and a few solo bars go along way here. This one track really works, sounds like a joined up band and if this more effective use of contrast had been employed throughout, then this would be getting a higher score. So in summary, there’s some great music in here, but the sense of discombobulation the vocal approach uses rather undermines the strength of this. (Shame then that this will be their last chance to impress anyone unfortunately - Ed) 6/10

Alarum: Circle’s End (DFW Records) [Rich Oliver] 

The joy of this reviewing gig is being introduced to bands you probably would never have come across. Music is one of my only sources of joy at the moment locked down in the midst of a global pandemic and the endorphins did indeed rush and smiles were cracked thanks to the absolutely stunning new album from Alarum.

Alarum hail from Australia and have been active since 1992. Circle’s End is the fourth album from the band with a whole nine years since their last release. Nine years is a good amount of time to formulate a great album and Alarum have certainly done that here. Alarum play a mix of progressive metal and jazz fusion mixed in with elements of extreme metal most notably thrash and death metal. There are a might of influences strewn throughout the album with nods to such colossal acts such as Watchtower, Cynic, Voivod, Atheist, Devin Townsend and Between The Buried And Me. This is complex, challenging and changeable music but Alarum have the skill to make the music equally hooky, memorable and near enough accessible.

The songs themselves are jam packed and positively bursting with ideas but the flow is there throughout with nothing ever sounds forced or out of place which is an achievement in this style of music and showcases the incredible songwriting skill of the band. You get the opening duo of Sphere Of Influence and Syzygy which trade thrashing riffs with fusion and prog tendencies. These two somewhat opposing elements fuse together into something which is quite spectacular and also used to great effect in the title track and the closing epic Sojourn.

 The finest moment of the album is the duo of Crystal and Sand. Crystal is definitely the most wonderfully weird and incredibly joyous song on the album and it is all too brief but then Sand follows with its fusion heavy intro before literally exploding into some absolutely savage thrash riffs. It is jaw droppingly heavy before shifting into this colossally epic cleanly sung chorus that is very reminiscent of Devin Townsend, The song continually shifts into varying sounds and is just an absolutely incredible piece of music.

The playing throughout is nothing less than incredible with some fabulous guitar playing from Scott Young and John Sanders whilst the rhythm section of bassist Mark Palfreyman and drummer Ben Hocking hold this ever shifting beast together with plenty of rhythmic shifts and percussive fireworks. The vocals (also by Mark Palfreyman) shift between a harsh thrash style and an epic clean style both of which are used to great effect.

I think it’s safe to say that Alarum have won me over here. This is easily the best progressive metal album I’ve heard this year and probably the best since Devin’s Empath opus last year. The metal scene in Australia has been steadily gaining more attention and rising in prominence and by the strength of an album like Circle’s End is testament to the sheer quality of bands down under. One of the must hear albums this year. 9/10

The Loyal Order: The Loyal Order (Self Released) [Bob Shoesmith]

So, this morning’s research on the rather Masonically titled The Loyal Order, (I'm pretty sure sure that it's a reference to The Loyal Order Of Water Buffalo from The Flintstones, their album cover even has one on the front - Ed) as pretty swift, as all I can find is a Facebook page with no clear links and very little information on it and a brief mention on musicpage.com site about them with a bit of searching (so I shall assume the 3,000 plus Facebook likes on their page are either their close friends or are equally in the dark). What I CAN tell you is that they identify as a songwriting partnership of Jeff Buehner and Brandon Cook from Portland, Oregon (although the few pictures available online seem to possibly indicate a full band in attendance?). Come on guys, in these days of fast feed social media, information and presentation, this is a game that you really need to embrace, especially for musicians who claim to be ‘…Portland’s most prominent rock players’. Low attention spanned browsers shouldn’t have to work this hard.

The message that this paucity of information sends to a casual visitor like myself is a rather a negative “these guys are chancer” standpoint, however, the album kicks off is surprisingly forthright style with a mid-paced LA style rocker Ready for Dead with a strong likeness to Velvet Revolver or a polite Brides Of Destruction vibe. Jeff Buehner has a great voice and is tunefully on point throughout with a bit of a roughed-up edge in places. He opens up, soars and shines on tracks like the standout Colorblind propped up with some very complimentary backing vocals. There’s a nod to Alice In Chains, Soundgarden and Creed in tracks like Half Life and The River and a very Buckcherry Fuck Or Fight, plus another standout in the raunch and roll of the Blackstone Cherry-esque Superhuman.

As the album progresses it is very West-Coast/LA rock n roll in the style of all those mentioned above and you can tick off all the obvious similarities as you go, so there won’t be any prizes won for originality, BUT, this is a very well-played and well produced album, the vocals are on point, the production is balanced, loud and dirty (which I love) and by the closing, belter of a rock out, Fall To Rise I am a definitely a fan, but increasingly annoyed that these guys are not selling this good stuff better. With the current “New Wave of Classic Rock” in full swing they would be well received and so much more if only they sold themselves better. 8/10

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