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Friday 31 July 2020

Reviews: Valkyrie, Night In Gales, Drops Of Heart, Solemnity (Matt & Liam)

Valkyrie: Fear (Relapse Records) [Matt Bladen]

Being a person who is permanently stuck in the late 60's/70's mindset anything that harks back to those days of the post summer of love downturn when drugs and rebellion reigned, is alright by me. (Thus my love for the Goldray album). That music that accompanied Peter Fonda and Dennis Hopper on the back of those choppers in 1969, often heavy riffing biker rock with psychedelic flourishes and instrumental jams that turn the songs on their head. Valkyrie play the sort of music that influenced heavy metal, it's been called proto-metal but Valkyrie owe more to the stoner and doom off shoots with tracks like The Choice taking things into spacey realms on a low end led doom undercurrent. You can hear elements of The Sword, The Obsessed, Windhand and ASG as the songs fluctuate between thundering stoner riffs and hard rock grooves with glorious twin guitar harmonies.

Fear is their first album in 5 years and it expands their progressive sounds once again adding the fluid melodies on Fear And Sacrifice and the mind altering wooziness on Brings You Down. Recorded in analog it's brimming with that early organic warmth of albums committed to vinyl, without the need for tinkering it's pretty much as you hear it allowing the band to kick out some masterful jams where the songs seem to take on a life of their own. With the proto-metal sound so gloriously back in fashion Valkyrie return after 5 years with a album of heavy rocking for long hairs everywhere. 8/10

Night In Gales: Dawnlight Garden (Apostasy Records) [Matt Bladen]

Now we've mentioned this a few times but melodic death metal or melodeath as it's shortened too. Is usually the reserve of the Swedes, so known for the genre are they that sometimes the melodeath sound is categorized as just Swededeath or hailing from the "Gothenburg Scene". There are of course exceptions to the rule with Night In Gales being one such exception as they come from Voerde/Cologne in Germany. There style of melodeath is very much based around the Swedish influences, heavy death metal rhythms with explosive blastbeating from Adriano Ricci, grinding bass from Tobias Bruchmann and guttural vocals that are delivered with aggression by Christian Müller.

However as with all melodeath bands the death metal power is offset by the melodic guitar playing of Frank Basten and his brother Jens (who also shreds in power metal band Gloryful), their dual guitar harmonies and thrashy riffs are the keys to the Dawnlight Garden's appeal as a record. It's no surprise that the band have released records as part of both Nuclear Blast (back when they had every melodeath band under the sun) and with Massacre Records, but you can't help but feel that their split in 2001 an subsequent reformation in 2011 has meant they can now focus on what they want to play meaning that they can add some Scar Symmetry-like progressive flourishes to Kingdom which develops from slower openings into a full blown chaos for 6 minutes but is followed by the grooving The Spectre Dead showing the duality of their melodeath sound. Dawnlight Garden is drawn from that Gothenburg sound but with a few of their own flourishes meaning that Night In Gales do enough not to be too repetitive. 7/10

Drops Of Heart: Stargazers (Self Released) [Liam True]

Over the past few years there have been more bands coming out of Russia, with Slaughter To Prevail being the biggest. Drop Of Heart are going to change the scene with the introduction of their second full length album. While it’s not the cleanest sound in terms of vocal production, it still hits the spot. From front to back, Stargazers is a great album filled with dirty riffs, monstrous drumming and growls to make you gurn with filth. The vocal work of Denis Fakhrislamov is the stand out on the record, due to him switching his voice from the screaming to the cleans with no effort.

Igor Sapkovsky & Vadim Nizamov both create a crushing technical tone from their deathly guitars to add to the ambiance of the album. Drummer Evheniy Ilyasov manoeuvres around his kit punching holes in the fabric of space with his beautiful blast beats. The album itself is a gorgeous piece of Metalcore and while more work needs to be done to really perfect the bands sound, they’ve got a basis of where they are. They just need to find their golden area and stay on it. 7/10

Solemnity: Through Endless Darkness (Amit Luther Music) [Liam True]

Death Metal has sort of dwindled through the years, but lately it’s making a come back with more bands creating a unique sound or updating an older sound. Solemnity are creating their own sound while using a technique used by older Death Metal bands. Being only a three piece they make a sound remnant of old school Decapitated, just not as polished, which is a good thing as it makes them sound more aggressive and in your face.

Beyond the style of music they play they also have symphonic elements which are prominent throughout the entire album. I’m not a huge fan of it, but the way they’re placed across the EP makes the 27 minutes run like a dream. The band are tight with Dan Benton doing double duty on the screeching guitars and demonic vocals. Amit Luther takes the reins on the keyboards drums. And Dan Dean on the booming bass. 

Even with two instrumental songs on the EP (And I really hate instrumentals) it all goes together so well. Even to the point where you don’t realise they’re even instrumental tracks. It’s a beautiful concoction of Death Metal and symphonic elements that entwine in each other. 7/10

Thursday 30 July 2020

Reviews: Damnation Angels, Fall Of Messiah, Fleshdriver, Satanica (Simon, Alex, Rich & Matt)

Damnation Angels: Fiber Of Our Being (Self Released) [Simon Black]

It would appear that the global capital of Symphonic metal has just relocated from Finland to Doncaster. These chaps have done pretty well for themselves over the last eleven years, although it’s been five years since anything new hit the shelves, which explains why these guys have not come across my radar before (I was quite musically reclusive for a long period until 2014 for reasons no-one cares about). This tells me two things – one, that I should have come out of isolation sooner, and two that there is another band back catalogue I now need to explore.

The first thing that strikes you on this album is the sheer quality of the sound and production. You expect it from the stalwarts that have been around the block for a while with big label budgets to play with, but this is still a band in the early stages of their product output relatively speaking. It’s great that they have had the chance to work with a set of ears like Scott Atkins, who has done a grand job bringing out the rich sound these boys have bubbling under the surface, all the more impressive when you remember that they are only a four piece.

The tone and pace of the album vary enormously, and although I enjoyed the more subtle approach of album closer and single A Sum Of Our Parts it seems a strange choice for a single given the sheer anthemic power of some of its predecessors. I can’t stress how consistently good the tracks on this album are. I’ve dished out high scores to acts in the past for being consistent like this at this as the baseline bar is set very high, but there are four songs on here that absolutely stand head and shoulders above the rest. To be clear, the baseline is ten out of ten - these four take it up to eleven.

Despite being incredibly strong as an opener, More Than Human relatively speaking is like a stepping stone to the rest of the album. When we get to Railrunner, we are in hit territory. This song has an incredibly anthemic chorus, which unusually opens the song before taking things back down to a gentle build before crashing back in full pelt (although to be fair they do this more than once, but it’s a trick that works). This is far more Melo-Metal than Symphonic, but is so damn good who cares about niggling details. Iggy Rodriguez vocals here absolutely soar, and you can tell right here, right now that this is a rock star just waiting to happen.

Instrumentally this isn’t an attempt at radio friendly cop out, as there’s a good two and a half minutes of complex time changes and experimentation that bizarrely don’t detract from the effect at all. The anthemic assault continues with title track Fiber Of Our Being and again I’m reminded how effective the trick of introducing the chorus in the opening bars is, especially when it comes back to the main chorus those soaring vocals jump up a clear octave emphatically and spectacularly.

Fractured Amygdala doesn’t feel like it’s going anywhere initially, but the instrumental section is technically and emotively sublime, and a perfect example of the way this bunch sneak up on you and steal the show. The thirteen minute epic Remnants Of A Dying Star is where things get truly symphonic, and this format suits the genre particularly well. It’s not an easy trick to pull off and so often bands boast about the lengths of their token epic tracks, because let’s face it, playing that long without fucking up live is hard work, and even the best get it wrong on the night. What’s harder to do is write a lengthy song that actually has reason and content to justify the structure, and this one has it in spades. Each of the changes and breaks plays a part on the whole and it works because you don’t actually notice the time passing. This is symphonic metal songwriting at its best.

So apart from the almost unforgivable error of a British band misspelling the word ‘fibre’, this is an absolutely stonking album, showing a maturity and depth that one might expect from the likes of Nightwish or Stratovarius. And before any wag points out that it’s a deliberate global marketing ploy to use ‘American English’ let me point out there is no such thing: there is ‘English’, and there are ‘mistakes’. And when that’s the only fault I can find, I know this is going to be one of those rare albums that’s made its way onto my regular playlist. It should be on yours. 10/10

Fall Of Messiah: Senicarne (Holy Roar Records) [Alex Swift]

Channelling an aggressive take on furious post-hardcore fused with gothic darkness, Fall Of Messiah are poignant and indignant in the originality. They have a lot in common with the ambiance-capturing, mood-altering textures of acts in the vein of Touché Amore or Modest Mouse. The opener, La Reüpublique Du Vide harnesses emotion, the precise instrumental trickery proving perplexing yet mournful and serene. The aura envelopes you as the piece progresses from a slow rumination on complexity to a vicious, brooding, and megalithic titan, not to far detached from Black Metal in the way that the distorted combination of brooding bass textures with crescendoing guitars makes for an apocalyptic vision. Contreforts is just as hazy and surreal, in the way the gnashing, guttural screams of our frontman contrast vividly with the deeply melodic refrains of the instrumentals, and the journeying expanse of percussion experimentation on display – images of summoned of one who is tormented by their past, fleeing through treacherous mountains and frozen wastelands, in a desperate wish to escape. Riveloop continues that sense of loss and desperation in the face of madness, each note reverberating with a psychedelic serenity.

In contrast with the scaling and windswept nature of the previous tracks, Vertes Vignes proves subdued and cloaked in a mysterious yet forbidding shadow – the tortured screams feature again, except rather than commanding the world around them, they feel drowned by the torrent and swell of a tidal wave. Prominently, the lack of longevity means that an impression is made quickly, yet the listener is left feeling perplexed and strangely cold, unable to fully process the experience. Young Pines is most likely the closest resemblance to an actual song on display, the jarring quality of the powerful riffs against the discordant lead harmonies and visceral screaming making for a truly terrifying if beautiful voyage. Admittedly, the experimental nature of these works – although absolutely admirable – wears on you after a while. By the time Atlantique reared, I was becoming tired and dozy, in part due to being lost in the splendour of the sensual qualities, another part due to the repetition and monotony which grows ever more noticeable as the album progresses.

As we move into Sequoia and finally The loneliest whale in the world, I’m left feeling a combination of wonderment and exhaustion. On the one hand, I appreciate the musicianship here and the way they transform a few notes into a tapestry of emotions and feelings by employing distinct rhythmic structures and a brilliant sense of timing and melodic cohesion. On the other, sitting through the entire piece in one gulp became tedious and laborious. That said, I was granted a new perspective on the genre of post hardcore through listening. 7/10

Fleshdriver: Leech (Redefining Darkness Records) [Rich Oliver]

Leech is a very short but sweet EP/demo from Florida death metal band Fleshdriver. Instead of following in the footsteps of the Florida death metal giants, Fleshdriver have gone for a more Swedish inspired sound with that prevailing gnarly HM-2 guitar sound. Inspiration definitely comes from bands such as Dismember and Entombed as well as a big hardcore punk influence with bludgeoning riffs and fat grooves providing a very familiar but vastly enjoyable listen. Fleshdriver are only made up of two members with Tyler Denslow on the vocals and guitar whilst Quinn Riley is on the drums and for a two piece Fleshdriver have a truly massive sound. This may be only a very short release with only five songs and a running length of less than 15 minutes but this is 15 minutes of filthy death metal goodness that whilst wholly familiar and done to death by other bands is a very enjoyable listen. 8/10

Satanica: Resurrection Of Devil's Spirit (Iron Shield Records) [Matt Bladen]

Formed in 2002 Japanese speed metal band Satanica not only boast three previous full length albums, their last being from 2010, but also as of 2014 a singing drummer called, and I shit you not Ritti Danger. The rest of the band are Ozzie Alastor and Shee Lipps on guitars and K. Z. Behemoth on bass and from the the pictures on their social media you get a vibe of Dimmu Borgir meets Motley Crue with black metal face paint paired with bandanas and bullet belts. Now Resurrection Of Devil's Spirit has been in gestation for 10 years so has it been worth the wait? Well if you wear tight jeans, bullet belts, spiked wristbands and play spikier guitars then Satanica will be for you as this album boasts 9 songs of galloping classic metal on the chugging Liar, with touches of speed metal influencing thrash on tracks such as the Judas Priest-like Bloodthirsty and Black Widow while the instrumental Kamikaze has lots of neat twin axe attack. Satanica have a very Western sound that takes its cues from the aforementioned Priest but also from Teutonic sound of Accept with a hint at the more occult themes of Venom, let's hope they have the same excellent choreography as the Germans though! Resurrection Of The Devil is not what I expected at all, it's definitely in line with the NWOTHM bands such as Enforcer, Skull Fist, Bullet etc. The visuals are a little muddled but the music is spot on, well worth 10 years! 7/10

Wednesday 29 July 2020

Reviews: Septicflesh, Warkings, Dun Ringill, Zetra (Rich, Paul H, Matt & Bob)

Septicflesh: Infernus Sinfonica MMXIX (Season Of Mist) [Rich Oliver]

I have always found the mix of heavy metal and symphonic music an awe inspiring mix. Like many, my first exposure to this mix of sounds was the Metallica S&M live album. Of course now symphonic metal is its own subgenre championed by bands such as Nightwish and Epica but I have been massively drawn to the extreme metal bands that incorporate symphonic elements into their sound. Dimmu Borgir were one of the extreme metal bands to successfully mix these sounds but there are a whole host of bands who now do this from Fleshgod Apocalypse to Shade Empire to Hollenthon and the band who in my opinion do it the better than anyone else - the mighty Septicflesh.

Septicflesh have always had more of an air of authenticity with their symphonic death metal sound being that guitarist Christos Antoniou is a classically trained composer. Septicflesh have been seamlessly mixing the intensity of death metal and epic symphonic compositions since their 2008 album Communion and have upped their game with every subsequent release culminating in the jaw dropping Codex Omega album in 2017.

When this show was announced I may have done a squeak of excitement followed by a bout of extreme jealousy for anyone who would be lucky enough to attend. The show took place in the Metropolitan Theater in Mexico City and saw Septicflesh performing alongside the Symphonic Experience Orchestra, Enharmonía Vocalis Choir and the National University of Mexico Children’s & Youth Choir. The result quite frankly is absolutely breathtaking. The album is perfectly mixed so that the band, the orchestra and the choirs are all perfectly audible and never drown each other out. Epic is a word that does this show an injustice. It is completely beyond epic and at times overwhelming just how amazing the performances are. I think nearly every hair on my body was standing on end at points (and I have a lot of hair!). The set is made up of 14 songs with material taken from the Communion, The Great Mass, Titan and Codex Omega albums.

It would have been nice to hear some material which predates this era of the band and given the symphonic treatment but I really can’t complain about the material which we are given. After a massive, awe-inspiring intro from the orchestra and choirs we are hit by the double whammy of Portrait Of A Headless Man and Martyr and it really doesn’t let up from there. We get set staples such as Pyramid God, The Vampire Of Nazareth and Communion whilst songs such as Lovecraft’s Death and The Great Mass get an airing. The highlights for me though were the absolutely massive The Enemy Of Truth which is just staggering in the levels of epic it reaches whilst the rendition of Prometheus is staggering with a wonderful lead in by the orchestra and choirs. The most hair raising moment of the concert though is the jaw dropping Anubis which has the crowd singing along to the main melody of the song being just as loud as band, orchestra and choirs.

As well as hearing the live album I’ve also been able to view a stream of the actual concert footage and it is a wonderfully shot and edited concert with the grand surroundings of the Metropolitan Theater being a suitable venue for such an awe-inspiring concert. Frontman and bassist Spiros Antoniou commands the stage whilst being his usually affable self and drummer Krimh must be applauded for his spectacular performance who literally drums like his life depends on it. Guitarist Sotiris Vayenas makes a rare appearance on stage providing clean and backing vocals whilst his guitar parts are handled by regular touring guitarist Psychon. In a nutshell Infernus Sinfonica MMXIX is an absolutely must-see concert DVD. The album works well alone by itself but it’s always good to watch the concert and see the full experience. Live albums can be a bit hit or miss but the love and care that has gone into this release speaks volumes and is one of the best live releases I’ve had the good fortune to see. 10/10

Warkings: Revenge (Napalm Records) [Matt Bladen]

Power metal based on historical wars and heroes. Sound familiar? Now if you haven't heard Hammerfall then surely you would have heard of Sabaton and if you like those bands well then you'll want to seek out Revenge the second album from International metal band Warkings. It's the follow up to their debut Reborn which saw the Roman Tribune (vocals), a Viking (bass), a Crusader (guitars) and a Spartan (drums), form a bond in the Halls of Valhalla and steal their souls from the Lord Of The Abyss. Now according to the legacy surrounding this record these legates of Odin are now followed by demons. How this has led them to forming a band and playing chest beating power metal I don't know but every band needs a gimmick! The membership of the band is a closely guarded secret though the Roman Tribune may be from the epicentre of The Holy Roman Empire or in classical history Noricum (that classic degree is paying off!).

Still the storyline and gimmick of the band doesn't detract from the powerful metal anthems on this record, with a lyrics drawn from Antiquity on Fight In The Shade, named after Dienekes' quip at Thermopylae, but based around the Cherusci tribes victory over the Romans at the Battle of the Teutoburg Forest in AD 9 and Battle Of Marathon based on the first decisive Greek victory over the Persians. From the strutting mid-paced rocker of Maximus, through the galloping Warriors and the thrashy Odin's Son which features additional vocals from "The Queen Of The Damned" who's an ancient Helvetian. Revenge maintains the classic power heavy metal sounds of Hammerfall and Manowar with the odd ballad (Banner's High) thrown in for balance. Revenge is a better album than the debut with a bit more a focus and lot more heaviness too, especially on final track Warking which closes out the record with a fist pumping anthem, historical power metal silliness that will get your head nodding. 8/10

Dun Ringill: Library Of Death (Argonauta Records) [Paul Hutchings]

Formed in 2017 when The Order Of Israfel took a break, rhythm section Patrik Andersson Winberg (Bass) and drummer Hans Lilja (also in Lotus) began to work on new music with Patrik's old band mate from the Doomdogs era, vocalist Thomas Eriksson(Intoxicate and ex Grotesque). Including guitarists Tommy Stegemann (Silverhorse), Jens Florén (also in Lommi & ex- live guitarist for Dark Tranquillity) and Patric Grammann (SFT, Neon Leon) completed the line-up. Having released their debut album Welcome, Dun Ringill moved forward, the result being Library Of Death.

The opening track to this sophomore release is called Raven’s Tear. A six-minute doom-laden track laced with Nordic folk elements, it is a marmite song and not one that I’m ready to spread on my hot buttered toast. Inevitably as with much doom, the song is a lumbering piece with rather strained ragged vocals. The title track doesn’t do Eriksson any favours, with some out of tune moments but the crashing riffs and thunderous delivery are encouraging. My Funeral Song changed everything though. A gentle, atmospheric build up with some haunting strings is marred by some of the worst opening vocals I’ve heard for a long time and even though the track is a dark, raw piece of work, with some harrowing violin and cello in the mid-section, it’s a bit of a struggle.

Regardless of the haunting vibes of evil wilderness and dark woods that the band create, once you’ve ruined it, it’s impossible to really listen to it with any conviction. Despite the inclusion of guest musicians including opera singer Glenn Kjellberg, Per Wiberg from Kamchatka, Matti Norlin from the band Lugnet and Philip Lindgren (ex-Hypnos), this album turned into a real struggle with Dance Of The Necromancer in particular utterly bewildering with its random flute and brass sections. I tried but Library Of Death degenerated into one of the most disappointing releases I’ve heard this year. 4/10

Zetra: E.P. (Death Waltz Recording Company) [Bob Shoesmith]

Firstly, a quick question, when does a single become an E.P or an E.P an album and vice versa? When I’ve opened the debut release from London based duo, Zetra (described as an, and called E.P) there are nine tracks… so it’s an album called E.P then, or an E.P that has been stretched out? Not sure. Either or, it’s kind of a moot point at this juncture but this anomaly will warm you up nicely for the slight air of mystery and the quirky world of Zetra. There is little information to find out about our intrepid duo other than they are Adam (guitar & vocals) and Jordan (synthesizers and vocal). They have a had a smattering of minor releases of tracks, demos on cassettes (which you can still find on Bandcamp) and are entirely self-recorded on an eight-track machine and using an Atari ST which seems currently, given the easy accessibility of digital recording tools is quite the definition of “underground”, an aesthetic that will appeal to those who like their music a little more hand-made and indie.

The EP itself tells the tale of ill-fated Russian cosmonaut, Vladimir Komorov who perished on Soyuz 1 - affording him the distinction of being the first human to die in space so quite an interesting concept to throw your musical ideas behind for a debut. The album/EP frequently returns to a spacey vibe with an opening introductory forty-four seconds of A Death In Space (a slowing breathing apparatus sound with an ethereal synth note behind it) which sets an atmospheric scene for their story perfectly to the Mission Control radio transmissions in Normal Behaviour to the sampling and ethereal sci-fi sounds in the final two tracks, ‘Descent’ and ‘Accendent’. What Zetra then provide is a further 35 minutes or so of fairly well-constructed storytelling around their chosen tale. Often bands 'concepts' can get buried or blurred in the music and remain a mystery to everyone but the bands themselves. Zetra stay in the zone thematically throughout however, which is commendable for a debut and the theme/music compliments each other well. Musically what we have is a collection of slower paced, shoe-gazey, reverby electronica where Tame Impala meet My Bloody Valentine, with added Gary Numan-esque synth fills supported by gritty, fuzzed out guitars. When they nail their ethereal sound, like in the stand-out Phaethon, they are intriguing and listenable.

The issue here is that every track sits firmly in the doomy, dreamy slow pace zone and becomes aurally, very samey after three or four tracks which can make the overall experience drag despite some worthy ideas and decent story telling going on. Its crying out for something to take the attention somewhere else – a trick Type O (a Zetra declared influence) introduced early in their career – a change in tempo or structure somewhere amongst the doom just to keep the listener on their toes. An interesting debut that has a better production than the DIY description would have you believe. Interesting but samey. 6/10

Tuesday 28 July 2020

Reviews: Imperial Triumphant, Thundermother, Deathcraeft, Joe Bouchard (Paul S & Paul H)

Imperial Triumphant: Alphaville (Century Media Records) [Paul Scoble]

Imperial Triumphant’s journey began back in 2005. By 2008 founder and at the time only member Zachary Ilya Ezrin was able produced one EP with the help of fellow New Yorkers Pyrrhon’s rhythm section. Since then Imperial Triumphant have become a full band with the inclusion of Kenny Grohowski on Drums and Steve Blanco on Bass. They have also added 3 full length studio albums to their discography; Abominamentvm in 2012, Abyssal Gods in 2015 and Vile Luxury in 2018. Over the course of that discography the band have moved from Avant-Garde Black Metal into the realms of Technical Black/Death Metal, the Avant-guard has stayed despite the added technicality.

The music that Imperial Triumphant play is a mix of Black and Death Metal, to be honest it’s difficult to put it into either camp due to how this band approach extreme metal. It’s a form of Extreme Metal that is technical in the way that Gorguts or the aforementioned Pyrrhon are Technical. So, dense, complex sometimes atonal riffs mixed with very fast ultra technical drumming and harsh vocals throughout. In many places the rhythms feel lurching and stumbling, but still fit together. Zachary Ezrin’s guitar uses a lot of tremolo bar dives as part of the rhythms, it’s something that feels risky as it seems as if the guitar is about to go out of tune, but it always fits. There is a definite Jazz sensibility to this as well; experimental Avant-Guard jazz, maybe a little bit like John Coltrane in his later years. Another feeling that you get from Imperial Triumphant’s music and aesthetic is a nineteen twenties futuristic feel. Almost as if the film Metropolis had become a Black Metal band. This is an Art Deco Technical Death/Black Metal album as rooted in New York of the nineteen twenties as it is in Early Nineties Florida or Norway.

Although I’ve mentioned the aspects of Imperial Triumphant’s music that might be challenging to the listener, that does not mean it’s unpalatable. Yes, it’s technical but you don’t need a degree in music to appreciate it. Rotted Futures has some very intricate technical riffs, but although its technical it’s also very melodic. The rhythms are slightly fractured and lurching, but you quickly find your head nodding along, on the surface it seems chaotic but there is an underlying order that as a listener you can latch onto pretty quickly. City Swine is another standout track. It opens with clean riffs, almost a Post Metal guitar sound, this helps the Jazz aspects to shine through. The track also features a fantastic part with only drums before adding some chaotic Piano parts. The piano then joins in with what I can only term as Blast Beat Jazz.

The track Atomic Age is a simpler song. Opening with vocals that sound like they were recorded in the nineteen twenties, the track then goes into some very rhythmic riffs that are much less complex than the other material on the album. This makes the track feel more direct and straightforward than a lot of the material on the album. It’s still much more complex than a lot of extreme metal, but for Imperial Triumphant it’s simple. Title track Alphaville is a lurching monster of a track that also features more vocals that sound as if they were recorded in the nineteen twenties. The abrasiveness of the music is tempered by the beautiful vocals in a really affecting way. Final track The Greater Good is dense and harsh, with some very impressive atonal riffing. The track features an organ in the second half, which as the guitar bass and drums fade out, brings the track to an end.

Alphaville is a stunning album. Yes it’s very technical, something that some people might find difficult and challenging, but Imperial Triumphant manage to make an album that is technical and challenging, whilst at the same time being melodic, tuneful and affecting. The difficult aspects are tempered by stunning musicality, and an atmosphere that feels like jazz age futurism. Making music like this whilst still making it palatable to your average metal fan is a clever trick to pull off, and Imperial Triumphant have pulled it off with aplomb. I feel like this album is destined to be a classic, an album that will be remembered for years to come, and will inspire many more musicians to attempt to do what Imperial Triumphant have done here. 9/10

Thundermother: Heatwave (AFM Records) [Paul Hutchings]

I remember reviewing the third album by Thundermother two years ago. At the time I stated that I’d have wagered substantial cash on them being from down under. I was wrong at the time, but the band’s antipodean stomp sits very much in the AC/DC and Airbourne hard rock quarter. There was certainly nothing to dislike on that album and the good news is that the Swedes have maintained the style and drive on album number four. It’s a raucous, vibrant, and punchy record which once more bristles with energy.

Whilst 13 tracks may be a bit ambitious, there was only the occasional ballad which didn’t impress within the close to 50 minutes of stomping, big sounding heavy rock. Having reformed the band in 2017 founder and guitarist Filippa Nässil now has a solid line up with which to move things forward. Singer Guernica Mancini’s smoky blues roar is back whilst the engine room of drummer Emlee Johansson and Majsan Lindberg on bass keeps things purring along.

At times, the music is relatively basic and the band stick to a tried and trusted formula. But their feisty style and punk-tinged attitude win out. With all four members of the band now contributing to the writing, there is clear progression and Heatwave is an album that would work well on a hot day with a long drive and the stereo pumped way up. To initiate the test; would you watch them at a festival? The answer is most definitely yes. 7/10

Deathcraeft: On Human Devolution (Self Released) [Paul Scoble]

Borrowing elements from various genres of metal is not new but it doesn’t always work that well. It’s pleasing to note that Greek outfit Deathcraeft ’s debut release On Human Devolution does blend elements of thrash, death, and black metal into a maelstrom of chaos. Fitting really, given that the album is a concept loosely based on the Cthulhu mythos, whilst the lyrics shape around the socio-political self-destructive nature of humanity. Kind of on point as well, given the current state of the planet. Although the band follow the route through HP Lovecraft’s novels, sometimes the journey is more exciting than the destination.

A brave opening sees The Ritual – Beginning Of The End, all 12:31 of it. A kaleidoscopic journey which explodes with insane blast beats, a range of vocals that switch between dark death growls and occasional cleans and more time changes than a Swiss clock maker’s average day. Massive progressive elements underpin the entire piece, which at times is crushingly heavy, a driving rhythmic groove pushing it to the conclusion. From here on the tracks may be shorter but there is ample drama. The cinematic horror scope which introduces Spreading Lies gives way to a pulverising battery of riffs and drums, accompanied by soaring synthesisers which add the classical symphonic element. Vocals switch between black metal snarls and the blunt delivery of Sepultura's Derrick Green, as the track switches between genres at will.

And so it continues. Welcome To Oblivion’s orchestral build-up segues into a calmer but no less atmospheric beginning, the song bristling with energy and the imminent eruption which inevitably arrives. A more jagged and less fluid song, there are ferocious punkish tinges to this whilst the blast beats are relentless. Further changes occur the deeper into the album you delve, the combination of industrial and death metal on Survival is followed by the metallic edges of Daydreaming in the Abyss, with its jarring introduction. By the time final song Free Into The Void arrives, the head should be truly bemused, but in a good way. There may be only one way to address this and that is to dive back in for a second listen.

Recorded and mixed at Infinite Loop Studio, (Ionnina, Greece) by owner and guitarist Kostas Kalampokas, Deathcraeft ’s line up is completed by drummer Giannis Chiondis (also of Echidna) and vocalist Nikonas Tsolakos. On Human Devolution is a complex and intriguing release and one that is well worth taking the plunge into. 8/10

Joe Bouchard: Strange Legends (Deko Entertainment) [Paul Hutchings]

It would be impossible to review the latest solo album by Joe Bouchard without referring to Blue Öyster Cult. Bouchard was a founder member of the rock giants, composing many of their popular classics. Indeed, there are several references to BÖC in the press release that accompanied the album. Strange Legends is Bouchard’s sixth solo release since 2009’s initial Jukebox In My Head and Bouchard enlisted some big names to assist. Current Bryan Adams drummer Micky Curry brings a big drum sound with songs co-written with lyricist and Sci-Fi writer John Shirley, a long-time lyricist for BÖC whilst other songs were written by the late John Elwood Cook. Bouchard plays guitar and bass as well as singing and the production and mix is as polished as you’d expect.

As well as relatively routine cover of The Kinks’ All Day And All Of The Night, Strange Legends features 11 short and sharp rock tracks which vary in style and feel but all of which have that undeniable BÖC quality and flavour. Hit And Run is a classic example, a bluesy solo oozing out of the mid-section, driving bass and catchy hooks. Bouchard keeps things relatively simple, but there is plenty of groove to get interested in here. Racin' Thru The Desert is a smoking instrumental which wouldn’t be out of place in a film score, some 60s style guitar and interplay with brass and keyboards get the foot tapping along nicely. Elsewhere, opening track The African Queen is based on the book and film and is a smooth introduction to the album. She’s A Legend sees thick synths and saxophone add depth, whilst Strangely In Love is the only ballad on the record and is a gentle semi-acoustic number.

Bouchard is rightly enthused by his latest release. “I really got to explore the production and mixing of this album like nothing I’ve ever done before. The guitar sounds are especially well produced. I play all the bass on this album, one thing that many of the Blue Öyster Cult fans miss on other projects and wanted to hear more of. The vocals and guitars fit so well with Micky’s drums. It’s the best I’ve ever done.” As a long time BÖC fan, there is plenty to enjoy here and if you fancy taking a break from skull splitting riffing, blast beats and the like, Strange Legends will provide that alternative with ease. 8/10

Monday 27 July 2020

Reviews: Goldray, Sepulchral Curse, The Acacia Strain, Defeated Sanity (Matt, Paul H, Liam & Charlie)

Goldray: Feel The Change (Akashic Records/Cargo Records UK) [Matt Bladen]

From the very first moment Feel The Change lives up to its namesake, it sharpens and lifts everything Goldray are about to another level. The driving riff of Oz that opens this record with insistence as the synths phase behind and you get the "whoop" before that otherworldly voices brings the shamanistic lyrics to a track with a Middle-Eastern quality found so often in latter-period Led Zeppelin, it's a quality that doesn't detract rather enhances the song as you can hear that guitarist Kenwyn House draws a lot of his playing style from Jimmy Page, Jimi Hendrix and other masters of the psychedelic guitar sound that is rooted in the blues but often transcends into something more, such as Peter Green (who died while I was reviewing this album). Oz slows into some dreamy echoes before an incendiary guitar solo finishes you off at 7 minutes it's a serious statement to open the record, in opposition to the darker, bluesier title track where Leah Rasmussen shows off the other side of her vocal style with some soulful Janis Joplin yearning, which is in opposition to track one's Ann Wilson histrionics.

So far then so good as the second album from Goldray is yet more of the same but as I said with much more rounded and balanced soundscape without sacrificing the psych-rock experimentation. The album was written by House and Rasmussen and mixed by Pedro Ferreira at Spinroad Studios in Gothenburg, Sweden and there's a definitive Swedish sound here, that retro rock style that the Scandi's do so well is being taken back to it's British roots of early Floyd and Zep with some Big Brother & The Holding Company and Jefferson Airplane thrown in from over the seas. Now we've written about Goldray before and they truly embody the music they create Leah bewitching as the "High Priestess Of Hard Rock" and Kenwyn always stripped to the waist and cranking out riffs in drainpipe denim. And as funny as it sounds you can hear that visual style on this record, the two part The Forest starts out folksy before kicking out some heavy proto-metal jams as it goes back into the psych ether at the end.

I mentioned about those Eastern influences coming out more on this album and How Do We Know has almost a chanting vocal where Rasmussen channels Grace Slick over the slinky musical backing. But for all of the zonked out psych passages on this album, sometimes you just need a thumping rock riff and The Beat Inside provides with a bit of Hawkwind simplicity with the synths twisting and tweaking like the mighty Space Rockers. We gave Goldray's debut Rising a strong 8/10 as it delivered where needed but it was really live that their songs came alive, Feel The Change goes the other way, these songs have been crafted on stage and then unleashed onto a record giving a much more accurate picture of what Goldray are and as Phoenix Rising climaxes you want to dive deep into their album again. 9/10 

Sepulchral Curse: Only Ashes Remain (Transcending Obscurity Records) [Paul Hutchings]

The blurb that accompanied this release descried Sepulchral Curse as ‘Finland's best kept secret’. That’s obviously an unquantifiable statement but one thing is for certain, Sepulchral Curse’s debut long player, Only Ashes Remain is something that is exceptionally good. Retaining classic Finnish death metal traits of bands such as Demilich, Adramelech, Convulse, Demigod, the quintet from Turku have deftly crafted their music into a package of irresistible death metal. Whilst not familiar with their two EPs which were released in 2014 and 2016, there is something about this release that snares the listener like a fly on a spider’s web.

Maybe it’s the swirling combination of powerful death metal and darker, doom-soaked passages that catches the attention. Or maybe it’s the howls which are presumably from drummer Tommi Ilmanen (?) (Yawning Void) providing contrast with Kari Kankaanpää’s (Solothus, Yawning Void) unearthly growls or maybe it’s simply the passion and freshness which the band have breathed into this album.

Tight and meticulously composed, there are numerous subtle elements which draw the listener close. The Black metal influences are evident but do not overpower at any time, this contrast something that may challenge the band in later years of development. For now, it’s worth sitting back with eyes closed and allowing the maelstrom of Sepulchral Curse to wash over you. Blistering death metal which ebbs and flows, a variable pace that never loses momentum, with latter tracks descending into murky, domains of doom. It’s an album that gives more on each listen. Engrossing, fascinating and simply stunning. 9/10

The Acacia Strain: Slow Decay (Rise Records) [Liam True]

The Acacia Strain have been a band I’ve never really been into. I’ve tried with past albums Wormwood and Coma Witch but nothing seems to hit the mark for me. Unfortunately Slow Decay doesn’t change anything for me. The blend of Deathcore & Metalcore is something to behold and is something a lot of bands can dream of producing, but it falls flat. Sure the grizzly vocals of Vincent Bennett are foundation shattering and stomach churning. The face melting guitars of Devin Shidaker and Tom Smith are phenomenal and deserve as much praise as they can get. The heavy as balls drumming of Kevin Boutot is fierce and hits harder than a wrecking ball. But none of it matters because the album, while pretty damn good, is predictable and boring. There’s nothing new and no new elements. If you’re a fan of the band then don’t skip the release by any means. But if you’re wanting a new Metalcore/Deathcore band then check out their earlier material. It’s fresher and much better. 5/10
Defeated Sanity: The Sanguinary Impetus (Willowtip Inc) [Charlie Rogers]

Hailing from Germany, Defeated Sanity are a name known to most on the death metal scene as their career has spanned nearly 3 decades. With their 6th studio album on the plate today, I was eager to finally give these acclaimed brutal tech maestros a listen. I almost wish I hadn’t. Evidently not keen on starting the record on solid ground, Phytodigestion accelerates the album from a standstill by introducing the snare and kick first in a sort of snowball effect - a blastbeat builds gradually from nothing, and as the bass and guitar enter the drum volume dips to match the crescendo created. 30 seconds in and I’m already bewildered. 

The following riffs appear to be discordant for discordant’s sake - phrasing makes very little obvious sense and what appears to be the focus is directly on trying to sound both as brutal and as technical as possible. The resulting sound is an unlistenable cacophony of swirling guitar noodles, frantic bass counter melodies, and relentless machine gun drumming. It’s apparent that the individual musicians are clearly extremely talented and versatile at their instruments, displaying some incredible fingerwork and athleticism, but the riff-writing varies from incredibly basic to over the top technicality and not much in between. I’m left jarred by the clashing styles, floundering in a sea of monotonous shred with no hooks to reel my attention back in. It doesn’t help either that the vocal style seems very bland, mainly sticking to incomprehensible gurgles devoid of any flair.

On the upside, the last 3 tracks of the album do cobble together some semblance of melody, and there’s glimmers of hope that you’d be able to remember even small passages. Propelled Into Sacrilege is probably my favourite track from the release, being the least tiresome to listen to, and occasionally crossing the line into enjoyable. It isn’t enough to encourage me to check out the rest of their albums however, which is a shame given how high their technical mastery of each instrument is. You’d probably enjoy this album if you get on with over the top brutality, but if you need strong melodic hooks, give it a miss. 3/10

Friday 24 July 2020

Reviews: Let Us Prey, Neck Deep, Broadside, Spirit Possession (Matt & Alex)

Let Us Prey: Virtues Of The Vicious (M-Theory Audio) [Matt Bladen]

Let Us Prey...um where to start with this. They are self-categorized as a "dark, melodic, power, thrash metal" band, hailing from Boston in the USA the band was created by vocalist/producer/songwriter-arranger Marc Lopes (Ross The Boss) and guitarist Jon Morency (Candy Striper Death Orgy) with a focus on blending thundering power metal with more vicious extreme textures they have influences such as In Flames, Soilwork, Judas Priest and Nevermore. In fact that last one is very much what Let Us Prey sound like, there is a strong Nevermore/Sanctuary vibe on this debut album, much of this is due to Morency's thrash/death metal riffage, the sweeping orchestrations/synths and Lopes' insane vocal range where he displays a Warrel Dane-like vocal style that wildly moves between growling lows, snarling mids and explosive screams that will annoy your dog.

Along with Lopes and Morency the band features Jesse Near (guitars) and Darin Moyen (drums), as well as a supporting cast of additional guests all of whom contribute guitar solos in the shape of  Jonathan Donais (Anthrax), Metal Mike Chlasciak (Halford, Testament), Jimi Bell (House Of Lords), Matt Fawcett (Sinate) and late All That Remains guitarist Oli Herbert along with guest drummer Yanni Sofianos (Obsession). So as you press play you are met with Above The Vaulted Sky where Lopes sounds like several different singers at once as the melo-death riffs kick your ass from the first moment, while it closes with the beautiful All Hell That Followed With Me. Elsewhere you have the thrashing groove assault of Virtues Of The Vicious which has Mike Chlasciak unleashing as things get very eardrum bursting as Professor Stephen Hawking makes a sneaky appearance. The lyrical content here is darker than many of their ilk maintaining the Nevermore/Sanctuary influence, with the album evolving as it progresses adding more technicality by The Cruel Creation Of Me moving things into the Nevermore realms.

When I first started listening to this album I did think it was all over the shop, but as I listened to it more times it really started to grow on me until I started to involuntarily bang my head as the volume went up as loud as it can got. A riotous metal album from a band a worthy successor to the sadly now vacant Nevermore crown. 9/10

Neck Deep: All Distortions Are Intentional (Hopeless Records) [Alex Swift]

‘We’ve come so far from where we were before’ frontman Ben Barlow sings on I Revolve (Around You). That’s an understatement. Neck Deep’s 2017 album, The Peace And The Panic catapulted the Welsh pop-punkers into the spotlight alongside acts in the vein of Don Broco or All Time Low. However, while that album still rejoiced in genre tropes, a significant maturation on their previous work was demonstrated. Pop-punk to me is at its absolute finest when the tone on display is either high-energy and fun as all hell a la. Bowling For Soup, Four Year Strong, or soulful and heartfelt – think, The Wonder Years, Spanish Love Songs. While these have fallen firmly in the former category in the past, there have been signs of a move towards a more emotional, serious sound and on All Distortions Are Intentional they show a far more nuanced and clever side to themselves than before. The melodies are dynamic and wide-ranging, the instrumentals variable, and exciting. Here's a case of a genre that I expect to grab my attention and captivate me, and in this case, I can definitely see myself returning to the project multiple times if only to hear the little reinventions and trials which are piloted throughout.

Sonderland opens powerfully, the glam styled hits at the guitar and drums emanating energy. The melodies are captivating and inspired to the extent that you’ll be humming if not howling along within one listen if you let yourself. The elusive acoustic interludes, matched with the changing rhythms and the nods to politics and the anxiety faced by a generation of people desperately looking for a start in life, usher in this era of Neck Deep with pride. Fall is a contemplative piece somewhere between a ballad and a cathartic rumination on escapism, the soaring production quirks mixed with the hazy feeling of loss brings to mind images of racing through a bright city on a starless night. Even Lowlife despite being more of the ‘dumber’ tracks on the first half of the album, seizes this particular listener with the greatly entertaining changes in tone – the track gives the feeling of being with friends and having a great time, irrespective of how many smug self-important people made you feel worthless that week. Better though is Telling Stories – where the rhythm section, a particularly impressive aspect of this band, command every moment in this enthusiastic tale of resilience in the face of crisis. Rounding off the first part though is the sentimental singalong of When You Know, which brings us to a joyous point in the peaks and crests of this records emotional journey.

Sick Joke acts as an exemplar of this act ongoing maturity – they don’t need to rely on huge, swaggering riffs to carry the sombre character of the anthem. Rather, the track is underpinned by Barlow's impassioned delivery and the erratic though measured nature of the musicianship. What Took You So Long? Continues on that mood, the use of synthesisers and light, delicately dancing lead melodies lending a stimulating feel, to this otherwise simply beautiful tune. Empty House and Little Dove make affable use of acoustics, the minimalistic use of instrumentals until the glorious outros, cleverly lending weight to the stories of reflecting on your past life and how you’ve progressed since then. The experiment also brings out Barlow's voice which I have to acknowledge is an acquired taste, especially if you're not familiar with the genre. However, I can only look at this from a personal lens and I find his range and vocal style complements the sentimental yet simplistic tone of the overall sound. We finish on Pushing Daises which brings to the forefront the vibrancy and optimism of Neck Deep's new sound, in satisfying fashion.

For an album about moving on to live up to those themes both lyrically and musically while championing and acknowledging the musical scene from which these players originated is bold and a difficult balance to perfect. I feel that as time goes on Barlow and co. will learn to refine and understand that sound better, yet that doesn't take away from the fact that All Distortions are Intentional has to be their most musically mature album to date. 8/10

Broadside: Into the Raging Sea (Sharptone Records) [Alex Swift]

Of the metal genres that reigned triumphant into the late 2010’s modern metalcore ruled above them all, commercially anyway. Characterized by Bring Me The Horizon, Asking Alexandria and Avenged Sevenfold (although I debate the definition in the case of the later) If you were coming of age around the time the genre was really popular, and you were part of your schools probably very marginal metal community – you had to like one of these bands. Admittedly my love for post-hardcore at the time elicited a certain amount of ‘hip credential’ with the ‘cool crowd’ (shocking that I didn’t have any friends in school, right?), though any mention of prog metal even from the angle of Djent, or alternative prog would elicit strange looks. If I’m being completely honest though outside of the contingent of bands in the subgenre who I love – Parkway Drive, August Burns Red, Architects, even A Day To Remember – the genre doesn’t do much for me emotionally, so when I hear the new albums from Bury Tomorrow or Bleed From Within my reaction is simply to shrug with an indifferent ‘oh, that’s nice’ but the formulaic combination of downturned guitars with altering rhythmic and melodic structures does very little for me. And in the case of broadside, we have yet another case of (….) wait, actually, this is good, genuinely exciting.

That’s right, I set up a falsified intro based on my history with metalcore to fake my audience out on how much I do genuinely like this album – I’m a card. Oh, don’t get me wrong, this is metalcore. Its Metalcore with a capital ‘M’. Many of the traits – the overdramatic vocals, huge guitar melodies, and sentimentalism are all here in droves. What Broadside do differently is using their instrumental palate and their very clear proficiency as an act to create a serene, tranquil, and atmospheric feeling that can relax you, before sending you to the stars with an inspirational change in tone. The albums titled nautically, through I’d say the tone on show is far more one of space exploration, far more Star-Wars than Pirates Of The Caribbean. Distinct from many albums in its genre, we don't start out on a stomping riff, in fact, that’s one element they almost completely discarded of. Rather, blissful through complex guitar harmonies begin The Raging Sea, immediately elevating the listener to a place of imagination and in my case, relief.

Foolish Believer continues this sense of exploratory optimism, the colourful layers of synth upon strings upon uplifting melody, creating a feeling of intergalactic immersion. Later, moments in the vein of Dancing On The Ceiling (With You) and Breath You In do lunge into a more frenetic territory, yet the glorious soundscapes they create go beyond any fundamentally generic elements that might lie within Broadside's sound – there are influences from ambient, new wave and art-pop at play, and they’re brought together with the same grace as the triple harmonies interact on the rising crescendos with ripple and rear throughout the work. As I said, there are generic – wow, I hate that word – elements on show. You might turn your nose up at the glossy production and the overreliance on hooks to carry the anthems, though speaking as someone who welcomes those facets, I find very little to dislike here.

Has Broadside opened my eyes to a new side of metalcore? Well, sort of, I was more than aware acts were taking the genre in interesting directions before listening, yet I certainly enjoyed their take on the idea, and if they should see stratospheric success, I’d look forward to seeing how they further their atmospheric, hypnotising and at times beautiful sound. Until then, I’ll continue to seek out good music, not judging an album by a genre label yet assessing artists on their own merits. After all, I’m a long way from the infighting and rivalry of high school. 7/10

Spirit Possession: S/T (Self Released) [Matt Bladen]

Raw and erratic black metal from Portland, Oregon as Spirit Possession are duo of S. Peacock (Ulthar, Mastery, Pandiscordin Necrogenesis) and A. Spungin (Ormus, Tarus), between them they create a primitive, blistering black metal that whips up maelstroms of angular biting riffs, rage fuelled vocal croaks and walloping drums that is bolstered by the bands avant-garde use of handmade synthesizers to make these songs imbued with D.I.Y the sound of the first and second wave of black metal but with the addition of the synths that came in the late 90's early 2000's. Eleven Mouths rages with some early Venom nastiness, the death metal touches crush on Swallowing Throne those pinched harmonics holding on as the riffs start back up. What you notice about this record is that the analogue/basement sound of this record is very deliberate, it's supposed to roar, unlike the millions of one man bands out there peddling fuzzy, poorly mixed extreme metal only a few of the songs here fit that mold with others such as Diamond Depth Illumination making use of those home made synths. Nasty, visceral and never letting you get comfortable. It's perfect for mysterious bedroom lurkers from around the world. 6/10

Thursday 23 July 2020

Reviews: Primal Fear, Judicator, Volcano X, Inhalement (Reviews By Simon & Matt)

Primal Fear: Metal Commando (Nuclear Blast)

Primal Fear are one of a number of established Euro Power Metal acts for whom the UK seems to hold little interest. You know, the ones who can appear mid and top table at the likes of Wacken festival regularly, but who rarely grace this country’s shores with anything more than a token theatre show in London to fill a stopover to the USA or South America. Which is odd and bloody frustrating, because this band ought to be huge over here. For those like me who unashamedly love the genre, Primal Fear releasing an album is an event and you don’t listen to it, you anoint it – so apologies in advance for a slightly longer review than normal, but this baby deserves it.

Germany have always been at the top of this sub-genre, and this particular line up sounds very rich with the continuation of the three axe-attack approach of the last two albums. The recent addition of erstwhile Gamma Ray drummer Michael Ehré also brings a freshness to the rhythm section with some thundering footwork, but also some more subtle heaviness rather than the constant double-bass work so common in the sub-genre. Despite a mid-paced introduction, with its catchy hammer-on riff opener I Am Alive is full on speed-metal with a catchy chorus, and classic Primal Fear. This album starts how it means to go on – unashamed top notch Power Metal from one of the best in the game and still sounding on form thirteen albums after singer Ralf Scheepers, the man whose career arguably proved more successful than the man did get the filler job in Judas Priest first formed the band.

Along Came The Devil brings superb and pure Halford-esque screaming and it’s refreshing to hear Scheepers hit those notes again with such ease, and I really can’t see any sign of him or anyone in this band slowing down. The lyrics are pure Power Metal cheese, and bloody marvellous with it to, because let’s face it this is the sort of band you want to be listening to in a field, ale-filled tankard in hand and able to pick up the singalong chorus of a song you’re hearing fresh. Hear Me Calling is a really catchy and effective Power ballad and a great addition to the numerous successes they have had with that type of song, walking the tightrope between ballad and full on Rock-out in much the same way as Seven Seals did way back in 2005.

The Lost And Forgotten sees those long high vocal notes back, along with some much more guttural and aggressive vocal touches that keep this sound hard, fresh, heavy and above all relevant. The fact that Scheepers can so effortlessly slide up and down the many octave range in between those two points leads me to the conclusion that the 1990’s incarnation of Priest’s loss is Euro-Metal’s gain (and one can only conclude that Ripper Owens must have been a hell of lot cheaper to hire…). Add to this the highly effective interplay between the three guitar players and you have a really powerful bit of riffage pile driving this song forward. When they do go full on crazy-ape bonkers with a double bass drum and sex, as with My Name Is Fear, this doesn’t sound like it’s going into predictable territory. This is after all one of the bands who established and lead this genre, and I guess the reality is that although Primal Fear have been churning albums like this every couple of years, when the quality is this consistently good, who cares?

I Will Be Gone proves that they can go full-on ballad without sounding like they’re hunting airplay, but because they have something to say, and Scheepers voice is soul-touching, emotive and absolutely impeccable, counterpointed by some subtle and touching acoustic guitar work – understated and beautiful. This is one of the high points of not only this, but probably the last three albums if I’m honest, and really does deserve to close the show on a big crowd somewhere where the beer flows free. Raise Your Fists takes us back into fist-pumping crowd-pleasing territory, and despite the fact they have churned out many tracks in this vein, this does not feel like filler or padding material, and this doesn’t let up with Howl of the Banshee which is one of the most addictively tap along tracks these boys have ever done. And my, that solo….

The album concludes with something different for Primal Fear - the thirteen minute epic Infinity, their longest composition to date. It builds the mood slowly with some haunting semi-acoustic guitar work and an almost unaccompanied Scheepers pulling you into the song vocally. The sounds gradually layer up and by the time you get to two and a half minutes in, you’re hooked. This is dark, moody, powerful stuff and would give Iron Maiden a run for their money when it comes to epic album closers. The instrumental sections show the technical proficiency of these guys, do not sound contrived or repetitive and this song alone really deserves a headline Bloodstock slot and a shed load of pyro. The hooks here are catchy, and there’s enough heavy interplay to remind you who is actually playing here and what they are giving you, which is value for money as it builds to an epic crescendo.

The production is really rich and lavish as well, with the kind of full sound that experience (and budget) inevitably bring, but which cannot be compromised if you want to stay in the lead. I’ve had something to say about nearly every track on here, because every song has something to say in a fresh and positive way. Primal Fear, please come and play here soon - the UK needs to understand what all the fuss is about. 10/10

Judicator: Let There Be Nothing (Prosthetic Records) [Simon Black]

Some bands have really been disrupted by Covid-19, forcing a creative injection of energy into working out how to overcome geography and isolation to continue to produce material in the new world we find ourselves. Judicator seem to be taking it in their stride. Given that all of the guys are based in different parts of the USA from Arizona, Utah, Pennsylvania to California, this meant recording their inputs locally, with mixing taking place somewhere else entirely. As with all their four previous albums, it’s a concept and heavily influenced by the sound of Blind Guardian, which is probably not surprising given the two founder members met as the first people through the door at a Guardian gig in the early part of the decade. My challenge with this album is time, as complex concept pieces like this take many listens to unpick all the subtlety, something this old hack sadly doesn’t have enough of and I get the feeling that if I had the time to do that I would probably appreciate it more.

The opening title track has touches of Clannad in its opening bars, before launching into a full on Speed metal assault. That Blind Guardian influence is loud and clear, not least in John Yelland’s vocals which have a very similar intonation and timbre to Hansi Kirsch, but I would argue a slighter widely range, and don’t sound at all forced when aiming for the testicle rattling high notes. Musically and technically this is tight stuff and a lot of effort has gone into making this sound like a band working together despite the challenges of the time. It’s held together by some really solid guitar work – Gloria is a good example and probably the best song on here, as the uncredited female guest vocals add a bit of variety to the tone and a good choice for single.

Like many Power Metal concept albums, there’s a lot going on in the nearly hour long run time, with many of the 8 Acts/tracks running at an average 8 minutes, none of which are bad. The challenge I have with this is that it’s fairly similar throughout in terms of pace, tempo and sound, meaning that there’s little differentiating the individual songs from their peers. Where this album scores over many of its European contemporaries, is it doesn’t sound orchestrated and avoids the clichés of the dreaded cheesy introduction track or, worse still, the spoken word linkage track, both of which just sound naff in this day and age. The focus is on technically proficient and complex tracks that stand on their own two feet, but for some reason the overall sound quality is not as punchy as I would expect. Good, but samey throughout. 7/10

Volcano X: The Sacrifice (Self Released) [Matt Bladen]

Hailing from the Ancient Kingdom Of Dundee (if Gloryhammer are to be believed) Volcano X are a heavy/power metal band who are influenced by the NWOBHM but also heavier stuff such as thrash and modern metal. It means that they really have much more of an American style of power metal taking from acts such as Iced Earth, Jag Panzer, Nevermore and latter period Judas Priest (Ram It Down Painkiller). Songs such as punky Helloween styled Dead Behind The Eyes (you'll know what I mean when you hear it) and the bouncing Truth Is A Convincing Lie are lead by the twin guitar fury of JP and Mike as that rhythm gallop is delivered like FedEx from Robi (bass) and Gav (drums). The songs on The Sacrifice are 6 strong slabs of heavy metal played by a band who have honed their sound on shows all around Scotland, if the heavier/more epic end of power metal is your bag then I suggest you check out Volcano X especially that in Johnny Steel (I know) they have an excellent singer with a wide range, something that many underground power/heavy metal bands fail to nail. He has a gruff delivery that has a lot of depth but he can also go high when needed and even do some growl for the thrashier tracks. Raise your fist and yell The Sacrifice is worth it. 7/10

Inhalement: Eternally Stoned (Horror Pain Gore Death Productions) [Matt Bladen]

Boston bruisers Inhalement have a 4 word ethos to their music: "Drugs, Gore & Death Metal" they have been dealing drug-addled death metal since 2018 though before that they were known as Toke. Eternally Stoned is their second EP and once again it's blistering, face ripping death metal where each song is about weed, from MJ Ultra to the title track what you get here is just over 13 minutes of furious death metal which only ever slows for grinding breaks such as the one towards the end of Drowning In Reclaim. None of the songs here are longer than 4 minutes and it shows that Inhalement's plan is to play a short sharp shock of death metal with nods to grindcore brutality, it's destructive blast beats, paint peeling riffs and animalistic vocals that are the order of the day. Recorded in March you can only assume that the lockdown period has meant that they are gaining more 'inspiration' for their subject matter so another EP or even an album may be on the horizon, on the back of this EP it'll be less 'Sweet Leaf' more 'Devil's Lettuce'. 7/10

Reviews: Bush, Morse/Portnoy/George, Gaerea, Thomas V Jager (Bob, Simon, Paul S & Paul H)

Bush: The Kingdom (BMG Rights Management) [Bob Shoesmith]

With a career spanning nearly thirty years its always worth looking deeper at the journey travelled before we get to the here and now, especially if there’s a back story! Back in 1992 founder member, Pixies fan and guitar/vocalist Gavin Rossdale formed his alt.rock/grunge band Bush in London before disappearing off to the States to find their fame & fortune. It is often said, his timing was impeccable as thanks to the global phenomenon that was Nirvana preceding them, Bush’s hooky, emotional grunge and Rossdale’s chiselled frontman looks swept them to be one of the biggest selling rock bands in the States during the 90’s, largely due to their debut album Sixteen Stone going stellar in 1994, despite some critics accusing Bush of mimicking Cobain’s shtick especially after his suicide that same year.

Details that went, and still goes, largely under a lot of people’s radar in the UK, having only ever had one single in 1996 (Swallow) bother the UK charts. It was when Rossdale became Mr Gwen Stefani in 1995 his celebrity status went huge Stateside but it somewhat overshadowed Bush’s work as a band and after album number four, Golden State in 2001 the band eventually split. Rossdale pursued several solo projects and collaborations such as the very good Alt.Rock band, Institute or playing bass for indie punks Helmet, all while providing tracks for Hollywood movies and subsequently some critically acclaimed acting jobs. Bush later reformed in 2010 to far less hoopla than their first time round and The Kingdom is their fourth full release since then, having been touring the States with 90’s contemporaries like Stone Temple Pilots and The Cult.

I confess, I’ve always had a soft spot Rossdale’s musical take on post-grunge; the wall-of-guitars, the emotive sound which, while it has matured over the decades, still totally wears its heart on its sleeve. His and their career have often been dogged by the knocks of green-eyed critics over the years, claims of Cobain mimicry, being overshadowed by Gwen Stefani’s celeb status and subsequent tabloid divorce, but through it all Rossdale has always been and, given the evidence of his latest release, still is, a talented, raw, indie vocalist and songwriter that has never lost the ability to write massively catchy tunes. I have always felt they deserved better. The first few tracks on the album Flowers On A Grave the Killing Joke-esque, The Kingdom’ and Ghosts In The Machine are classic Rossdale; raw, emotional and powerful. He still has THAT voice and even in 2020, at 55 years old, Rossdale’s lyrics show no evidence of softening or easing up although musically, Bush are far closer these days to the likes of A Perfect Circle than The Pixies. 

The 90’s grunge DNA that they were founded on often makes reappearances in tracks like Bullet Holes (which has beeen used on the soundtrack to the movie John Wick III) Falling Away and Crossroads although the Cobain vocal mannerisms (that used to put some American critics into a lather) of yesteryear have long been consigned to history. The songs now often darkly detail a lot of the knocks and deep scars the band and Rossdale in particular have accrued over the last three decades and there is raw power and emotion in abundance unleashed on song after song, like the slow riff-monster of Blood River or the catharsis of pent up bad feeling behind Send In The Clowns. There is also, for me, the stand-out Undone which starts like a heartfelt ballad that while it threatens to unleash itself as a rock monster, never does. Rossdale puts it all in on the table during this track and clearly unburdens lyrically, its heartfelt and beautiful, it holds back while the vocal emotes to the max - slightly reminiscent of Snow Patrol’s Chasing Cars stylistically but way more in the feels than the British chart toppers effort.

Bush are a band who are now playing with complete freedom and producing some of the best and most personal music of their careers since Sixteen Stone went stratospheric in the 90’s and yet possibly to the smallest audience? They’ve quite literally been there and got the tshirt, suffered all the slings and arrows the rock n roll life can throw at you along the way and through it all, in 2020 they have released an excellent album. Definitely in my top three for 2020 so far. 10/10

Morse/Portnoy/George: Cov3r To Cov3r Anthology (InsideOut Music) [Simon Black]

Well this is a bit of a monster! The third instalment in the ongoing covers project from Neal Morse, Mike Portnoy and Randy George comes to a conclusion, with the third album in the series. Just in case you missed the first two volumes, they are also including a special version including the remixed (and indeed, re-sequenced) versions of the previous two instalments, giving you a whopping 2’48” run-time and 35 tracks to glut yourself on … assuming that listening to covers bands is your thing of course. It’s an odd project, compiling a number of batches of recordings made during the normal recording sessions of Morse’s band, which is prolific enough on its own. They aren’t trying to kick the door down here, just to share their love of their influences, so the material is nearly all 1970’s and earlier. But then Prog is nothing if not a self-indulgent niche and it certainly gives a different view on what these three guys are normally about, being a magical mystery tour through their joint favourite tracks and influences. Unfortunately for me, we’ve not had the opportunity here at MoM Towers to review the previous two releases, so I have no choice but to take on this beast single handed (thanks Matt). This monster is way to long for me to give you the low down on every song, so I will give you my personal highlights for your delectation and delight.

Volume One kicks off with U2’s Where The Streets Have No Name, is a gentle start to the beast and is noteworthy alone for Morse’s attempt at an Irish accent, so I hope Bono is getting double publishing royalties on that one. It’s a nice cover, but very close instrumentally to the original. A bit further on and Paul McCartney’s Maybe I’m Amazed is an enjoyably energetic take on the song, helped by Portnoy’s more full on drums style which gives the song much more welly than the original. I also quite enjoyed their take on The Monkees Pleasant Valley Sunday, although how much of this was down to relief that Portnoy’s backing vocals are in key, as there’s some live Dream Theater recordings that positively chill the blood in this regard. Also unexpectedly good is The Moody Blues Tuesday Afternoon, which really suits Morse’s voice and with some well-layered use of keyboard voices to create a modern take on a band many in our bubble world would not normally listen to. It’s also refreshing to hear them take on I’m Free/Sparks from The Who, which surprises to start with, having a rougher rock’n’roll edge to it, but quickly gives us a nice prog twist with the instrumental second half. It’s an odd track, with a very rough sound mix and makes you wonder what would happen if they were free from the shackles of the genre and prepared to let a bit more rock’n’roll into the proceedings on a regular basis.

Volume Two is a much harder listen and feels a little bit like the idea had worn a bit thin by this point. The version of The Osmonds Crazy Horses (sung by Portnoy I assume) is certainly entertaining and a lot more lively than many of the tracks, proving again that when they go for a looser and more rock’n’roll approach, the concept works much better. I also enjoyed Styx’s Come Sail Away, for no other reason that it was nice to hear this bunch do what they do best – progressive and technically challenging rock music, taking the 70’s vibe and delivering a polished modern take on this classic band. The more obscure Bee Gees Lemons Never Forget also is worth a note – not a track of theirs I can say I had ever come across before, but one that had a soulful tint to it, with enough looseness to feel slightly improvised, although for a funky jazz-jam feel, Joe Cocker’s The Letter ticks boxes too. One of the more amusing aspects of this compilation is when Morse takes it upon himself to mimic the vocal style of the original artist, which when you have someone with such a distinctive nasal tone as Ian Anderson certainly raises eyebrows. With Jethro Tull’s Teacher, I feel that he should have just used his own voice, but 10 out of ten for including the instrumental flute sections.

Yes’s No Opportunity Necessary, No Experience Needed opens up Volume 3 and also features Jon Anderson on guest vocals, proving to me for once and for all that if Yes played harder and heavier more often I would listen to them more often. It’s a fast and furious take on this band’s work and a promising start to the current volume, after the slightly average interlude that was Volume 2. That energy continues with Tull’s Hymn 43, which is a much more successful cover not that Morse has ditched trying to sing through his nose and some nice guitar and piano interplay keep the energy going nicely. Less successful is the cover of Bowie’s Life On Mars, but I suspect that’s my own personal prejudice: some songs should be just left as they are. They’ve chosen Gerry Rafferty’s Baker Street as the single for the beast, and although it’s a great track this version isn’t doing anything that the original isn’t – once again if it ain’t broke, don’t fix… Tom Petty’s Runnin’ Down A Dream starts the beginning of the end, and is a lively rendition of this classic and leaves you with the feeling that in choosing better known tracks for this volume, the end result is more successful.

Any Spock’s Beard/Dream Theater completist is probably going to enjoy it and it’s certainly an easy background listen, with some unexpected gems. For me it’s a bit of a vanity project and releasing all three in one package feels like overkill. As always with these three, you cannot fault the performances, and Portnoy in particular brings some thunder and fury to a bunch of tracks that would otherwise be flat and uninteresting. It’s a bit of an eclectic mix, and the production bounces all over the shop given that it’s been recorded over a very long period of time, although the remixes of the first 2 albums allow a certain amount of consistency. The most recent volume is head and shoulders above the others however, so my advice if you’re tempted would be to start there and definitely give Volume 2 a miss. Volume 1 - 5/10, Volume 2 – 3/10, Volume 3 – 7/10

Gaerea: Limbo (Season Of Mist) [Paul Scoble]

Portuguese Black Metal troupe Gaerea have made some very impressive music in the short time they have been together. Formed in 2016 the band have released one self titled Ep and a very well received album in 2018’s Unsettling Whispers. So now the band, who are all ‘Unknown’ according to the bands biography although there appear to be 5 unknowns from the photos I’ve seen, are about to release their second album, and those “Difficult Second Album” clichés are forming in lots of reviewers minds. Unsettling Whispers was a really great debut album, it showed a band that was clearly making interesting music, and seemed happy to chart their own course. Although their sound was rooted in Black metal, they were also happy to add elements from outside the Black metal orthodoxy; there was a slight Hardcore feel to a lot of the material, and even a nod towards doomy sludge. So, have Gaerea built on this very strong debut? Have they moved from being a very promising emerging act, to creating something truly unique, distinctive and special? Have they lived up to massive amount of promise that their very strong debut hinted at?

The album opens with To Ain which has a very dissonant, doomy beginning, dark and brooding before a huge, powerful blast beat section with some savage tremolo picked riffs. Despite the ferocious nature of this section there is also a lot of melody in the blasting sections. The song goes between these two aspects before a much softer, and in many ways, uplifting feel comes in. At this point we get a very tuneful piece of Post Black Metal. Delicate tremolo picked riffs are layered to form a beautiful, affecting section that is reminiscent of bands like Alcest, Sadness or Italian band Falaise. This mix of savage and extreme with softer and more melodic material works so well, it gives the song a huge amount depth and makes the track feel cathartic.Null is a simpler track. The song vacillates between some very savage and extreme blasting sections with much slower, mid-paced and melodic parts. There is a Post Black metal feel to some of the softer sections. Glare is a very powerful, track. Again it mixes softer, slower sections with some really nasty blasting fast parts. The blasting nasty feel predominates on this track; the softer parts acting as more of a tempering of the nasty and extreme.

Conspiranoia is a big powerful song that is all about build up and waning back down. Slow, dissonant and heavy parts are juxtaposed with some very effective blast beats and tremolo picked riffs. This gives the track the cathartic feel that I mentioned earlier. The track eventually drifts off in a dissonant but melodic way. Urge is the shortest track on the album. It’s mainly about viscous blasting, with the odd heavy as it gets section. It’s beautifully direct. The album comes to an end with Mare. This track is a mix of blasting and and slow and very dissonant, until for the last few minutes we get another of the beautiful Post Black Metal sections, of brilliantly layered tremolo picked melodies. This is a great way to end the album; the cathartic nature of savage mixed with lilting beauty works so well. This is an album that is all about catharsis, so this track is the perfect way to bring the album to an end.

Limbo is a stunning album. Gaerea have definitely moved to from very good and promising, to being something very special. In many ways what Gaerea have is similar to what makes bands like Ultha or Regarde Les Hommes Tomber special, in that they have a sound that is unique. Although I’ve mentioned other bands in this review, Gaerea now have a sound that is unique to them, the mix of very savage blasting sections with delicate layered tremolo picked Post Black metal sections gives them a sound that is unique and lifts them above all the also rans in the Black Metal scene. With this album Gaerea have carved out their own place in Black metal history, and are likely to become huge in Black Metal. This will be one of the stand out albums released this year, make room in your album of the year list! 9/10

Thomas V Jager: A Solitary Plan (RidingEasy Records) [Paul Hutchings]

You may be familiar with Thomas V. Jäger from his role as vocalist/guitarist in Monolord. But if you are expecting the crushing melodic doom that his band are rightly noted for, you will be surprised to discover seven tracks of intimate and personal songs that are completely acoustic, and synth based. Described as a ‘cathartic depiction of very real and heart-wrenching situations’, Jäger tackles a central theme of coming to terms with the likelihood of not becoming a parent after so long in wanting to have a family. A massively personal and brave move, Jäger sees the album as a means of musical therapy. “This album is me venting all of this emotional energy I’ve been carrying around,” Jäger says. “Now I’m feeling more open about it, but at the start I had a hard time talking with friends and family. The record is what came out instead of talking about it.”

Other songs deal with personal challenges including health scares, existential searching and death in the family. Created organically, Jäger sketched out his ideas on acoustic guitar and the result is a melancholic but inspiring 30 minutes which see a side to the Swede, far removed from the pummelling riffs we are more used to hearing from him. A combination of acoustic guitar and synths support a fine vocal performance. The opening track A Solitary Plan gives a taste of what is to come, the simple arrangements complimenting his clean vocal lines. Emil Rolof plays a real Mellotron on the song, the only other musician to contribute to this solo outing. From The Ashes is a standout track, the subtle guitar work and lush melodies underpinned by some simple synth backing. Meanwhile Goodbye is written for Monolord bassist Mika and wife Emma after they had to put their dog Eskil to sleep. Telling them it’ll be alright; this song will strike a sentimental chord.

Whilst the subject matter may be sobering stuff, Jäger doesn’t intend for the album to be a “woe is me” exercise, but rather something constructive. “I know that music helps people,” he says. “This is without any irony, it’s therapeutic. I know fans can interpret and use the songs for their own purposes. That feels meaningful to me.” Closing with The Bitter End, you may catch a tremble in Jäger’s vocals. Something that rarely happens this heart filled baring of the soul not only surprises but connects. Gentle, deep and full of spirit you may be surprised by an album lovingly crafted. 7/10

Wednesday 22 July 2020

Reviews: Zombi, Stonebirds, Ahtme, Ice War (Reviews By Matt Bladen)

Zombi: 2020 (Relapse Records)

2020 is the first album in 5 years from Zombi. A band who supported none other than on a UK tour a few years ago Ghost. There, their style of pulsating synthwave was a little out of place with the proggy doom metal of the Swedish occult rockers. However it seems as if Ghost's sound has influenced the two piece of Steve Moore (synthesizers, guitars, bass) and A.E. Paterra (drums) as 2020 sees them once again adapting their sound as they have done through their 20 year(!) existence. They have certainly really upped the 'rock' quota on this record, yes songs such as XYZT and Fifth Point Of The Pentangle do have those huge swathes of ambient synths that you hear throughout the synthwave genre with the powerful drumming really driving the latter. However as I've said this record has embraced the riffs wholeheartedly with the doom-laden heaviness of Earthscraper and the colossal sludgy First Flower while there are Gothic twists of Family Man and the soaring Mountain Ranges has some post-rock vibes. For those who are initiated with Zombi's music 2020 may come as a surprise mainly due to the heavy rock influences that have crept in, but it's another string to their already impressive bow. An exciting mix of slick synthwave grooves and heavy riffs 2020 is one of the few instrumental albums that I really enjoyed this year! 8/10  

Stonebirds: Collapse And Fail (Ripple Music)

There's always something a little primeval about sludge/post-rock, so often pairing crushing brutality with moments of ethereal bliss. There are often names you can recycle in every one of these reviews and once again French trio put the names of Neurosis, Cult Of Luna, Isis and Yob in their FFO section so with these names pride of place it's easy to know what to expect. and what I would say that is Stonebirds owe a debt to early-Mastodon as well especially vocally where they have that Mastodon-esque clean/harsh dynamic over the top of the waves of sludge riffs that often break into psychedelic flights of fancy designed to bewitch your brain, Down is an example of this where the frothing riffs bubble under the surface as the vocals . The 8 minute Only God opens the record with that Atlantan-like chug, before moving into slower patches of unbridled aggression and cavernous riffs, it's followed by the chugging Stay Clean, which isn't a Motorhead cover but another track that follows the Neurosis/Mastodon blueprint of quiet/loud dynamics and progressive riffs. Collapse And Fail hits all those sludge/post-rock peaks you'd want with a towering heaviness, powerful vocals and a progressive edge. 7/10

Ahtme: Mephitic (Unique Leader)

Ahtme formed in Kansas City Missouri under the name The Roman Holiday, but I guess they realised that people don't want tech death metal inspired by Gregory Peck and Audrey Hepburn and changed their name to Ahtme (a settlement in Estonia) Mephitic is the follow up to their critically acclaimed debut Sewerborn in 2018 and it sees them ramping up the brutal, virtositic style again holding on to what made that debut impressive while refining everything again. From the opening chug of Swarm Of Fools to the closing extremity of Devourment Empowerment these lazer focussed riffs are as precise as a Swiss watch and as technical as a micro engineering project but also they bring with them some head nodding, pit inciting groove with some nods to Fear Factory on Valley Of The Gourds where they adopt some industrial flourishes to go along with the blitzkrieg drumming and chonky basslines. It's a decidedly modern metal record, the vocals never really moving out of deep growl with the musical base battering you at every turn on tracks such as Putrid Perforation and the jazzy start/stop sounds on more melodic thrash sound of Node. It will be lapped up by the tech death lovers (you know the guys in shorts that start pits at gigs) but too much of this record is similar for you to really latch on to anything, it makes for a blur of ferocious, masterful playing but no real differentiation. 6/10

Ice War: Defender, Destroyer (Fighter Records)

Much like Toxic Holocaust's Joel Grind, Ice War is a band with only one member. Jo Capitalicide is the sole musician on Defender, Destroy playing every single instrument here along with producing/mixing recording etc. Formed in Ottawa, Ontario in 2015 Defender, Destroy is the fourth album of biting speed metal anthems that deal with "Anti-Government, Anti-Capitalism, and Native Issues", it's the meaty mix of NWOBHM and proto-thrash with a sound that has been clearly influenced by Ontario underground legends Razor, there is that same kind of rough and ready riff fest that Razor are known for, the album uses the old school "left/right" production to punch the riffs into your head as speedy but simplistic drums carry on unrelenting and Capitalicide's raw punky vocals urgently howling on tracks such as Demonoid and the Running Wild influenced Skull And Crossbones. It's nasty, angry and has the pace of runaway freight train Defender, Destroy is a record that belongs playing in a van on a cassette deck. 7/10

Tuesday 21 July 2020

The Spotlight: Interview With Haken's Richard Henshall by Alex Swift

Interview With Haken's Richard Henshall by Alex Swift

MoM: ‘Virus’ is the sequel to ‘Vector’. Was there a conscious decision at the time that there would be an accompanying record or did that decision come later, and what went into that thought process?
RH: We always knew they’d act as a double album and even had the title ‘Virus’ in mind as far as two years ago. Messiah Complex’, for an example, was a song we began working on during the Vector sessions. We felt it needed more time to grow into what it deserved to be, and I’m very happy we did as it ended up one of the most intricate and exciting pieces we’ve ever written as a band. I can’t wait to take that one to the stage!

MoM: On that note, in what ways do the lyrical themes carry across from Vector?

RH: The lyrics on ‘Vector’ and ‘Virus’ tell the story of the protagonist from our song ‘Cockroach King’, which is a track from our 2013 album ‘The Mountain’. For me, it’s always been a song that stood out from the rest of the album, largely due to its quirky nature. The song contains musical and conceptual themes that we felt had potential to be revisited on a larger scale. On top of this, we talk about psychotherapy in a broader sense on ‘Vector’, and deal with the various negative aspects to human nature of society on ‘Virus’. ‘Prosthetic’ is the opening track on ‘Virus’ and acts like a summary of the story to that point, which helps bridge the gap between both albums. The protagonist in our works his way to his own destruction as the album progresses.

MoM: As you said pre-empting the promotion of ‘Virus’, you could never have anticipated that the world would be in the situation it is now, when you made the album. However, do you feel the album is arguably more relevant now than it would have been otherwise?
RH: What are that chances that we’d be releasing an album called ‘Virus’ at the same time as the only major pandemic outbreak we’ve experienced in our lifetime! It’s a pretty unfortunate coincidence. On our album, the virus is more of a metaphor for the sour aspects of human nature and society as a whole. Each song looks at different ideas based around this overarching theme. Since the “Virus” we’re talking about is not too literal, I’m not sure many people will see too many parallels with what’s happening in the world right now. Having said that, the recent events have definitely highlighted the fragility of society in a way, so maybe the album will resonate will people on a deeper level because of that.

MoM: You are often described as ‘prog-metal’. Is that a term you’d use to describe yourselves and what does the genre mean to you?

RH: I personally don’t feel like there’s much to gain by worry too much about labelling bands, it’s all just music at the end of the day. I just end categorising music into 2 groups, music I like and music I don’t like. However, if people feel the need to pigeonhole our sound, I would say calling us progressive band would be a safe bet. For me, the term “Progressive” covers a lot of ground and truly sums what we try to achieve in Haken. With each album we write, we like to explore new ideas and sonic landscapes and are always trying to grow as individual players and songwriters.

MoM: ‘Prosthetic’ is quite volatile and abrasive, while ‘Canary Yellow’, experiments with a lot of ambient, spacey textures. What were you hoping to achieve musically in writing ‘Virus’ and do you feel you’ve achieved everything you set out to do?
RH: ‘Virus’ feels like one of our most eclectic releases to date and strongly reflects the broad range of music we listen to within the band. ‘Canary Yellow’ and ‘Prosthetic’ highlight the two extreme ends of the sound across the album. As well as being diverse, ‘Virus’ also feels like our most cohesive effort to date, which is always one of our primary concerns when it comes to writing. There’s always a juggling act between eclecticism and cohesiveness, which a delicate balance we’re always striving to achieve.

MoM: You toured with Devin Townsend last year, and your keyboardist was also his. Do the bands you tour with influence your own writing style to any extent?

RH: Devin has always been a source of inspiration for me so it was such a cool experience opening for him the Europe and the US. I’ve been listening to his music since Terria and it still remains one of my favourite albums to this day. He’s such humble and down to earth guy to hang out with, which made touring with him incredibly fun. On a more general level, I would definitely say all the bands we’ve toured with in the past have influenced us. The likes of Leprous, Between the Buried and Me and Thankyou Scientist are oozing with talent, so it’s almost impossible not to be inspired by them. Another band that really stick out for me is Be t Knee. We took them out with us in Europe and North America and they blew me away. They’re one of those rare bands that have the ability of making their music sound better in a live context.

MoM: What music are you listening to in order to get you through lockdown?

RH: I’ve been digging back into Jacob Collier’s back catalogue in the run up to the release of his new album. His genius never ceases to amaze me. I’ve also been listening to a lot of Elbow too recently as I was supposed to be seeing them around this time for the first time in ages! It’s obviously not happening due to the lockdown but I hope I’m around for when they reschedule the show.

MoM: Any further quarantine tips?

RH: Eat good food, excessive as much as possible and exclusively watch kung fu movies.