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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

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