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Monday 13 July 2020

Reviews: UDO, Phobetor, Onocology, Scourge Of Suffering (Paul H, Paul S, Charlie & Rich)

U.D.O & The Musikkorps Der Bundeswehr: We Are One (AFM Records) [Paul Hutchings]

Just when you think you’ve heard it all, this arrives. German band U.D.O, including icon Udo Dirkschneider (for those who don’t know, the original voice of Accept), together with the renowned Concert Band of the German Armed Forces under the command of Lieutenant Colonel Christoph Scheibling present a quite crazily unique worldwide musical project. The album contains 15 new songs, developed and arranged by U.D.O. together with Christoph Scheibling whilst two former Accept musicians, Stefan Kaufmann and Peter Baltes have been part of the songwriting too: as well as the German Armed Forces´ composers Guido Rennert and Alexander Reuber.

Whilst there have been numerous 'rock band meets orchestra’ collaborations I would wager that this is amongst the most elaborate and impressive. The meat and two veg hard rock and metal of U.D.O. is intensified by a 60-piece orchestra and some exceptional arrangements. It all sounds a bit big band, but underneath, We Are One is a critical reflection of the world, a call to arms to all to show responsibility. Taking on topics including climate change (Future Is The Reason Why), the worldwide refugee movements (Live Or Die, Fridays For Future, Children Of The World) or the pollution of the environment (Mother Earth), U.D.O. and co are tackling the big issues. Opening track Pandemonium takes a clear position against society's right wing whilst the song Rebel Town is a hymn for a 30 years reunited Germany.

Dirkschneider has ploughed his own furrow for many years since leaving Accept, and whilst his music has been relatively routine, his rasping vocal delivery is one of the most distinctive in metal. This album combines big band brass sections, choral singing, string pieces as well as the more routine heavy metal from his band: Andrey Smirnov (Guitars), Fabian Dee Dammers (Guitars), Tilen Hudrap (Bass), Sven Dirkschneider (Drums). It’s hard to really summarise what is included in the 77 minutes here. Huge soundscapes emerge without warning, sweeping classical movements combining with thundering metal riffs.

There are elements of speed metal, classical metal through to funk, and ballads. Flutes, tympany, percussion, strings, and soloists, it’s all bound up in this musical maelstrom. It’s a massive project, with elements that will no doubt confuse and challenge, as well as attract new fans and lose the odd old one. Not that U.D.O fans should be unused to collaborations. Head back to Wacken 2015. The Last Defender for example, combines female solo vocals, piano and strings. Neon Diamond opens gently, a cinematic score before launching into a metal stomp accompanied by soaring saxophone solo. We Are One is the musical equivalent of a box of Milk Tray, but one where some bastard has pinched the list of contents.

As someone who believes in the defence of the planet, the treatment of fellow man with humanity and equality, the subject matter is as important as the music to me. Dirkschneider has the last words. “We all live on this planet. No matter who we are or what we do, we all just have this one planet. There is no planet B. When I see the pictures of all the plastic in our oceans and when I hear about the next climate catastrophe in the news, I really start wondering how respectless and irresponsible we sometimes are. It’s not just about us, it’s also about all the others and last but not least about our children!” 8/10

Phobetor: When Life Falls Silent (Black Jasper Records) [Paul Scoble]

Phobetor have been in existence since 2018. The London based band made up of Debora Conserva on Vocals, Mitch Revy on Guitar, Marc Dyos on Drums were helped out on bass by session musician Richard Hunter, have released one Ep before this album in 2019’s Invisible. When Life Falls Silent is the bands first album. The music on offer on When Life Falls Silent can broadly be described as Death Metal, but there is an awful lot more going on than just Death Metal.

There is a large amount of groove to this album, tempo and pacing are very important elements in this bands sound. So, these aren’t simple tempos, there is a certain amount of lurch and stumble in the the riffing, not quite as extreme as Gorguts or Pyrrhon, but enough to make it clear that this is not a standard Death metal album. Whispers Of Dissonance has some very interesting rhythmic parts, slow lurching riffs are coupled with faster more syncopated sections that make a really interesting contrast. As the title of the song suggests, there are some very dissonant parts to this song as well. Bury My Name is another song that is very interesting rhythmically. On this track the lurching, choppy and dissonant sections are mixed with some really high energy parts that flow beautifully. Several of the tracks also benefit from a tempo that has an unstoppable, relentless feel to it. This is ably demonstrated by the final track When Life Falls Silent; it’s a tempo that, although not hugely fast, feels like it could destroy anything in its path like a runaway bulldozer.

This album also has influences that stray very far from Death Metal. The opening track Merging Infinity has a brooding, minimal opening, before going into a section that feels far more Doom than death, which, as it develops, seems to be influenced by Post Black metal or even Post Hardcore. As the song progresses these elements are mixed with faster parts that have a really interesting groove to them, and it all fits together seamlessly. In fact merging different styles seems to be one of this bands strong points. Another standout aspect of this album is the vocals. Debora Conserva has excelled herself, the harsh vocals are really good, nasty but with loads of character and nuance, and the clean vocals, although used sparingly, are also very good particularly when they are juxtapositioned with the harsh vocals as they are on Harmony Of Solitude.

Another interesting part of this album is the production. It’s very well produced, and has a slightly Industrial sense to how this all feels, there is a tonal quality to the guitar and bass sound that gives this feeling. This is highlighted by there being some processing on the vocals during the final title track When Life Falls Silent. When Life Falls Silent is a very interesting and enjoyable album. Some of the rhythmic elements might be a little bit challenging at first, but given a few listens this is a very rewarding album. It manages to be different to a lot of the extreme metal scene, whilst still being accessible and listenable. You will get a lot out of it if you make the effort, and it is definitely worth making the effort. 8/10

Oncology: Omniversal Antigenesis (Rising Nemesis Records) [Charlie Rogers]

Occasionally mistaken for a medical dept bearing the same name, Oncology is a truly interesting, international outfit. With members from Ireland, to England, to Romania, there’s a lot to be said about the ability to write music both collaboratively and remotely. With social distancing and lockdown still in full swing, there’s a lot we can all learn from Oncology’s success in being able to create from a distance. And success it is. The album opens with a sinister sample, as is tradition, before a languished overture creeps into existence. Geoff’s disgusting swamp monster vocals paired with Connor’s discordant fretwork sets the stage for what’s to follow - an absolute sonic barrage, full of meaty riffs and bludgeoning drumwork. There’s a lot of variety on offer within the songs, from frantic blastbeat encrusted sections no doubt designed for pits, to dank crushing pauses where it feels like the gravity has increased tenfold. It took a few listens to appreciate the light/dark shades that come across from this approach, and perhaps that’s due to my inexperience with brutal death, but once the album clicks with you it certainly invokes a consistent stinkface throughout. Both the guitar and bass sit really well in the mix, neither overpowering the other, and are tonally complimentary. There’s several different vocal sounds Geoff has managed to master, and he displays them with a prowess that exudes confidence.

Some of the parts are genuinely terrifying too - if I didn’t know the guy already you’d have trouble convincing me he’s not some sort of gelatinous 30ft demon from another dimension. These elements are splendid on their own, but are nailed in place by some breathtaking drumming from resident stickman Doru. The drum tone takes a little getting used to at first, with some of the more open parts sounding strange, but are quickly blended in when the fuller riffs and patterns dominate the soundspace. Often in death metal, there can be the temptation to overuse certain styles of drumming, or try to display as many techniques as possible, but Doru walks between these paradigms perfectly, excelling in both a wide variety of beats and knowing how long to utilise them for the desired effect. Joining the band are two guests; on track 6, Tumultuous Echoes Of Punished Humanity we’re treated to Tom Bradfield from Twitch Of The Death Nerve, and featured on track 9 Transdimensional Blood Orgies In Overture is Chris Pervelis of Internal Bleeding, both adding some additional spice to this already well prepared meal. While the high points are very high, I do find that the use of samples is relied on too heavily, and cutting these out would yield an album both a lot sleeker and more to the point.

There’s a disjointed feel to the intro of Liturgies Etched In Blood that still feels uncomfortable even on repeat listens. Perhaps it’s the exposed bass and drum parts not quite syncing together, but it’s jarring enough to throw me off at this point. Stand out track for me is definitely the closer, Transdimensional Blood Orgies In Overture, and I wish there had been more of this added to the album, as for me it certainly felt like the album was over just as I enjoyed it the most. Maybe it’s the quit while you’re ahead paradigm, but more tracks in a similar fashion would’ve been more than welcome. Overall, it’s a solid listen, and if you’re particularly into the more brutal side of death metal I can see this as a must listen. 7/10

Scourge Of Suffering: Scourge Of Suffering (Sefl Released) [Rich Oliver]

Scourge Of Suffering is the self titled and self released album from Australian band Scourge Of Suffering. The band are based in the Lismore/Byron Bay region of Australia and they formed in 2018. What we have on this debut album is a mix of death metal and mainstream leaning contemporary groove metal. The death metal parts of the songs are brutal and relentless with savage riffs, blast beats and harsh vocals. It is not mind blowing death metal but is perfectly competent. The other side of the sound of Scourge Of Suffering is heavily influenced by bands such as Machine Head (especially their latter day material) and as such is that typically simplistic and generic groove sound. 

They also seem to try and push that edginess in their sound but like so many bands who try and do it it just sounds forced and cringe inducing. These two opposing sounds just do not work together as you have the death metal part of their sound which is very listenable and then the edgy groove sound that is to me virtually unlistenable. Unfortunately the parts of their sound I dislike override any parts I actually liked. Scourge Of Suffering sound like they are trying to force together underground and mainstream metal sounds but it’s not done in a subtle style and just sounded jarring. The death metal parts were good but the rest was just completely grating to my ears. Not for me unfortunately. 4/10

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