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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

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