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Thursday 16 July 2020

Reviews: Dark Sarah, Razor Sharp Death Blizzard, Desecrate, Valvetrain (Bob, Liam, Rich & Matt)

Dark Sarah: Grim (Napalm Records) [Bob Shoesmith]

I really shouldn’t read the bios provided by the bands themselves, as me eye-rolling about their proclamations about being “Cinematic Metal Icons” is not an endearing start…icons? really?

Ok. Just in case you haven’t encountered these ‘icons’ before, Dark Sarah are a Finnish symphonic metal five piece and Grim their fourth album released on Napalm Records. They have shuffled their musician pack a couple of times since their inception in 2012 and brought in occasional hired guns along the way, but their style has stayed very much the same and sits firmly in realms of gothic/fairy tale neo classic, storybook symphonia of Nightwish, Epica and earlier Within Temptation and the like. Grim won’t take you very far away stylistically from any of those comparisons either. The clear, classic soprano female vocals over drop-tuned guitar riffs, propped up with layers of supporting synth/strings – all present and correct. So, do Dark Sarah offer anything that hasn’t gone before them within the genre? Not that much if I’m honest, but they do give it a good go. They claim that Grim is a horror/fantasy fairy-tale concept for the album.

The ‘concept’ is fully explained in their press release because I’m not entirely sure you would easily grasp it without. The scene is set early on with a two-minute introductory piece called ‘My name is Luna’ which is all cinematic background mood noise, chirping crickets and howling wolves before launching into a crunchy riff-heavy The Chosen One which blends the drop metal guitars and beefy drumming with the clarity of Heidi Parviainen’s soprano vocals. All the symphonic whistles and bells are in there and it’s a great start. There are some fairly epic rock moments throughout the album (as the genre would dictate) like the barnstorming start of Melancholia, The Wolf And The Maiden, the whirlwind of The Hex or the standout, almost black metal-edge of Mork which has Parviainen now vocally supported duetting with Jasse Jatala (best known for his appearance on The Voice, Finland apparently). This double teaming of a soprano and classic rock male vocal works well and totally shifts and lifts the dynamic of the band out of bog standard symphonic metal, it’s quite surprising it doesn’t feature more heavily.

The power-metal & symphony is occasionally interspersed with some lighter, slightly more surreal interludes, which I suspect is part of the story telling element they’re after, such as the opening track and Iceheart and La Folie Verte which have an almost audiobook, cinematic quality to them which wouldn’t be out of place in a Tim Burton cartoon noir and provide some interesting diversions. But overall, Grim is well-played, well produced if a bit ‘by the numbers’ slab of symphonic metal with some attempts to break up the pastry cutter clichés with some more interesting moments and storytelling ideas as well as some powerful songwriting, but it does blow hot and cold. There is only so many ways this format can go. If Nightwish or Epica really don’t float your boat would you appreciate it? Not really. Does it stand out from their musical contemporaries all using a very similar format? Not so much. Is it a good listen if you like the genre? Very much. Are they “icons” – not that I’m aware. 7/10

Razor Sharp Death Blizzard: The World Is Fucked (Self Released) [Liam True]

I’d never have Scotland picked in my top 10 places of best Hardcore bands. But Razor Sharp Death Blizzard have but themselves on the map for one of the best Hardcore bands in the UK. While Hardcore isn’t my preferred genre of of music I do have a few favourite bands. And Razor Sharp.. are definitely on that list. The gurgles and yells of Jamie Clark are disgusting throughout the album. The title track The World Is Fucked is a vile noise filled with turbulent instrumental bashing, while Fascist is much the same, only shorter. Auto Erotic Asphyxiation is a slower work but it hits just as hard with the riffs of Mohammad McSwellstein melting your skin away from your face. Small Town shows off the beefy bass riffs of Ross Corbett. 

Parasitic Cunts is as brutal as it sounds with drummer Liam Roberts. Suicide is a gut wrenching bast of Scottish Hardcore heat from a jet engine. And album ender Chug Chuggery is a perfect nearly 8 minute end to the phenomenal album. With the chugs and riffs getting slower and filthier toward the end. This was a hard album to review because of the content within. I don’t normally get along with Hardcore music, so when it’s actually good it’s difficult to put into words. But Razor Sharp.. have hit the nail on the head with TWIF. It’s an angry, hate filled record spitting more venom than a pissed off rattlesnake. 7/10
Desecrate: Kingdom (Wormholedeath Records) [Rich Oliver]

Kingdom is the second album from Turkish melodic death metal band Desecrate. It is their first album for label Wormholedeath and follows on from their self released debut album in 2018. What we have on Kingdom is some very straightforward melodic death metal. It is very much rooted in the Swedish melodic death metal sound and specifically the Gothenburg scene. The album is made up of eight songs kicking off with lead single Narcissus which is fast paced and chock full of the melodic riffs that typify the genre. It is a decent song whilst not mind blowing but nearly all the songs that follow sound pretty identical. They all have the same pacing and structure to them and have little that distinguishes one song from the other. It’s a solid sound but it does mean that the album is a very forgetful listen. The musicianship throughout is very solid and professional but the songwriting is very one-sided. I’m a big fan of melodic death metal but this album was just too repetitive and straightforward to hold my attention. Desecrate take the melodic death metal sound and strip it back to its most basic form but whilst sacrificing the dynamics of the genre. It’s a listenable album but very little sticks out. 5/10

Valvetrain: Broken World (Self Released) [Matt Bladen]

Hailing from Brisbane Australia Valvetrain have previously released an EP and an album called Rust in 2017. Broken World is their second full length release and it's a showcase of the band heavy rock style. What I mean by that is that the songs on Broken World have hard rock grooves with metallic influence. Unfortunately this is where the positives end, essentially Valvetrain are a club band, you could see a band like this in any pub/rock club in the UK (pre/post Covid obviously) on any given night and while you'd be entertained they wouldn't live long in the memory. Simplistic songs, a rawk attitude, with some thrash and heavy metal heaviness but very little else that will make you pick up this record. Maybe they're popular in Australia and that's great but I won't be returning to this album any time soon. 5/10  

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