I admit that Kansas rarely feature on my radar. Carry On My Wayward Son and Dust In The Wind. Yeah, that’s about my lot. They feature on Planet Rock whenever I tune in. Oh, and Anthrax did a blinding cover of Wayward Son. So, there was a bit of trepidation when beginning to review The Absence Of Presence, their 16th studio album. These are legends of the melodic rock scene. I needn’t have worried. This is a quite magnificent piece of work. The follow up to 2016’s The Prelude Implicit [which Matt reviewed, giving it 9/10], the line-up features original members Rich Williams (guitars) and Phil Ehart (drums), alongside long serving bassist Billy Greer, David Ragsdale (violin, rhythm guitar, backing vocals), Ronnie Platt (vocals), Zaki Rizvi (guitars, backing vocals) and latest recruit Tom Brislin (keyboards, backing and lead vocals). Platt’s vocals grace the Kansas canvas for the second time, whilst Rizvi also makes his second appearance. What surprised me is that Rivzi and Brislin have written just about everything between them. Maybe that’s why there is a fresh, vibrant, and bullish sound that surges through this album.
Opening with the title track which weighs in at over eight minutes, this is a throwback to Kansas staples of longer songs. It’s followed by the splendid Throwing Mountains, which contains a glorious riff and some superb interplay between the guitars and keys. Harmonies and melody are rich and plentiful, Platt’s soaring vocal clean and sweet. The band may be steeped in the 70s and 80s, and there’s no denying their roots, but this album is as contemporary as any melodic rock album I’ve heard for some time.
Kansas blend their music in a way that only bands of their stature can. Thick melodies, gentle interplay between the instruments, the ease of a band pulling in the same direction but with the introduction of fresh blood giving them new life. Brislin’s keyboards are fluid, polished and at times exceptional. There’s a reasonable level of steel underneath, with the duel guitars serving up some red-hot solo work. The opening duo may be relatively lengthy, at over 14 minutes combine, but the rest of this work has the fat trimmed, with the sweet instrumental Propulsion 1 just over two minutes in length and no other track straying much past five minutes. Other stand out tracks include Animals On The Roof and the dramatic album finisher The Song The River sang, which sees Brislin comfortably take lead duties for the first time.
Maybe I’d been a bit naïve about Kansas in the past; this album is flawless. Polished, beautifully produced and delivered, this is solid top-quality stuff. As millions of Kansas fans could have told me, there is much more to this band. This is as good a starting place as any to begin the journey into a back catalogue that promises much. 9/10
Kingnomad are a band that grew out of two friends and neighbours, jamming together back in 2014. The two friends in question were Mr Jay, on Guitar and Vocals, and Marcus who plays Guitars and Psychedelics (not sure if thats sounds or substances, possibly both). The pair quickly added Mano on Drums and Maximillian on Bass and Backing vocals to complete Kingnomad. Since their inception the band have released 2 albums, 2017’s Mapping The Inner Void and The Great Nothing in 2018. So, how is the band's third? Well, it’s a very mellow piece of Psychedelic rock, that is packed full of late sixties, early seventies feel, with a touch of Southern Californian bliss. The style is very psych rock, but it’s not hugely heavy, instead there is a pop sensibility that mixes with the psych elements that keeps this fun and uplifting.
The album opens with Omniverse which has a driving psych rock feel, but also has lots of keyboards and a bit of a Dancey electronic sense, maybe a little bit like early eighties New Wave. The song features a big chorus and some very good guitar work in the second half. Next we get Small Beginnings which starts in a slow and measured way, but gets heavier as the vocals come in. The track has a darkly folk feel to it, and again there is some very impressive guitar work that reminded me a little of Green Lung.
The Omega Experiment is a faster, heavier prospect. It’s driving, taut psych rock with a slightly floaty, shimmery chorus and again a very pleasing guitar solo. Tillbakablick - The Usurper King has a minimal, ballad like opening, before a big layered guitar part comes in making it sound a little bit like early Queen, the track then builds becoming faster, tighter and more purposeful.
Multiverse has an eastern feel to it, and a relaxed tempo. The song also boasts a very expansive chorus and is a nice change in feel on the album. The Fermi Paradox is a short clean, folky instrumental. The Creation Hymn is a melodic, ballad with an ethereal, blissed out quality that is very pleasing. It’s got just the right amount of So-Cal feel to make it feel like liquid sunshine whilst still maintaining enough psych rock to keep it interesting. The Creation Hymn also boasts a really big beautiful chorus. On The Shoulders Of Giants is a great uptempo piece of rock. It’s got lots of keyboards in it and has a big bombastic chorus.
The album comes to an end with The Unanswered Question, which features big keyboards, an interesting spoken word part in the first half, before the track gets more driving and purposeful in the second half with big, strong melodies and some interesting gang vocals. Sagan Om Rymen is a great album. It is on the lighter end of the Psychedelic Rock spectrum, but what it lacks in heaviness, it more than makes up for with huge melodies, great choruses and some really beautiful moments. Musically it is very accomplished, all those involved can really play; whether it’s beautiful keys, fantastic guitar work (really great solos all over the album), or great vocal melodies and harmonies. It’s upbeat, fun and will put a huge smile on your face. 8/10
Rebel Wizard: Magickal Mystical Indifference (Prosthetic Records) [Paul Hutchings]
If the devil had norovirus, this is what it would sound like. A brutal eruption of bile, vomit and excrement that explodes with an almighty force. Rebel Wizard roar at you from the forests of Australia, in a spectacular blast of what is self-titled 'Negative Wizard Metal'. It is certainly a cacophony of searing rage, a combination of thrash, black metal, and the occasional burst of melody. Look into the history of the band and there is a prolific output since the initial self-tilted demo in 2013. Eight EPs and two long-players have come and gone with Magickal Mystical Indifference the third album. Further investigation establishes that this blackened wall of grotesque noise is the result of just one artist, Bob Nekrasov, or NKSV as he operates under in this guise. So, another multi-instrumentalist who produces shitloads of material, especially with many other projects on the go including Mors Sonat and Nekrasov. Although this is a solo project, the tracks are well constructed and ferocious, with a cohesion that is often lacking for these projects.
It’s not a long album, at 34 minutes it certainly comes at you all guns blazing and rarely allows a pause for breath. A visceral salvo opens the release, heavy negative wizard metal in-fucking-excelsis, a slavering punk/thrash hybrid instrumental which rages hard and fast. This segues into the first song with lyrics, Upholdeth All That Fall, And Raiseth Up All Those That Be Bowed Down, the echoing female narrative that appears throughout the album making the first appearance. NKSV’s vocals are horrific, devilish screams that rise from the deeps without warning. This would scare the shit out of your sleeping granny. But underneath it all is a melody that echoes the virtuoso skills of Satriani and Vai. It’s all a bit confusing and somewhat a blur. A bit like being beaten around the head with a cucumber. It hurts, but at the same time you know you’re getting one of your five a day, so you accept it.
With each song title a real jumble of words, I found that sitting back and letting it come at me was the best approach. White Light Of Divine Awe Smelling Of Sweat And Sex for example, a rampant vomiting detonation, which segues into the almost Satanic grindcore thrash of You Are Being Lived, Dear One. It’s all a little batshit crazy, but repeated listen allows you to warm to it. The most coherent song is probably the closing title track, a thunderous anthemic six minute plus piece that has groove, drive and some insane vocals, all with a Celtic jig feel and a deep, dark Opeth style breakdown allowing the horror to spread its tentacles. The visceral shrieks will peel paint from the walls, but this is in many ways spectacular. Thousands will hate it. I must be honest. Three plays got me nodding along. Take a step towards the dark. You might just enjoy it. 7/10
Devastator: Baptised In Blasphemy (Self Released) [Paul Scoble]
Devastator share their name with quite a few other bands, this Devastator are a Derbyshire based 4 piece. The band, who were born from the ashes of two other bands; Reulsive and Hellrazer, have been making loud, fast music since 2017. Baptised In Blasphemy is the band's first album. So, what has Devastator’s first album got in store for us? Well, we get 26 minutes of Black Thrash, 7 tracks of high energy Thrash lunacy. As this is Black Thrash there are no progressive elements on display, perish the thought. What we get is fast, simple thrash riffs, ridiculously infectious tempos and some very impressive solos. This album takes me strait back to the mid eighties, there’s loads of references to Venom, Bathory, early Slayer, Destruction and of course Motorhead. However the album also reminds me of more recent acts like Toxic Holocaust, Aura Noir or Hellripper.
What this album really excels at is massively energetic riffing. This is an album that will not let you sit still, opener Howling Night is simple fast thrash, bristling with razor sharp riffs and a beat that will definitely have you headbanging. Death Slut is another track where the riffing is just superb, tight, meticulous and bombastic, it takes me back to 1986 and reminds me of Destruction and early Slayer. Spiritual Warfare is another beautifully riffy song, it’s nice and choppy and in the second half has a fantastic melody lead. Which brings me to another really impressive aspect of this album; the solos. This might be a fairly simple style of thrash, but there are clearly some very talented people in Devastator. The solos are just superb, packed with melody whilst at the same time screaming and savage, they really add to the songs and the album as a whole. Worship The Goat has a fantastic solo, as does Hail Death and final title track Baptised In Blasphemy.
Which brings me to the aforementioned final track Baptised In Blasphemy. What a great way to end the album! It starts in a way that is very reminiscent of Overkill by Motorhead, before blasting the album to an end in a way that is similar to Kill ‘Em All era Metallica, particularly the track Motorbreath (not really surprising considering how the track opened). Although I have mentioned a lot of other bands in this review, I’m not trying to suggest the band are ripping anyone off or are derivative, these are nods to their influences rather than being copyists. Devastator are very clearly their own band, with their own sound. Baptised In Blasphemy is a fantastic piece of Black Thrash. It feels rooted in the origins of thrash, whilst also being fresh and new. The album is so packed with energy, drive and vitality, every time I listen to it I can’t help smiling, it’s difficult to be poe faced when confronted by an album that is this much fun! 8/10
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